Defense mechanisms

 

COLORADO

"Plants can't run and hide" in the world, so over time, some have evolved the ability to alter their structure when they perceive a threat. That's the mechanism now being exploited by Colorado State University biologist Jane Medford, as she and some 30 undergraduate and graduate students genetically engineer plants to signal the presence of pollutants or explosives like TNT by turning from green to white. Medford says the altered "detector plants" should be able eventually to act as guardians at airports and other public places. And thanks to a $7.9 million grant from the Defense Department's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Medford's team can speed along its research. Speed, not surprisingly, is important: In the presence of a chemical threat, the first-generation plants are still taking hours to drain their leaves of color.

NEW MEXICO

The Earth Island Journal recently profiled a cohort of 10,000 baby boomers who, incredibly, remain on the federal dole even though they haven't done a lick of work during the last six decades. Writer Gar Smith reports that this privileged group does nothing "but sit around, radiating the serenity that goes with being part of a select and pampered minority." What's perhaps most galling about the members of this group, who are all employed by the Department of Defense, is their cushy living arrangements: They receive about $650 million each, live in a gated community in New Mexico and have 20,000 government specialists assigned just to serve their needs. Just who are the members of this seldom-talked-about elite? "Oh, forgive me. I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Mark-61. I'm a nuclear weapon."

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