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2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
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Results of GSAT are in schools this week
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2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
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Detecting True Art
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Human Body
Sleeping Soundly for a Longer Life
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The tell-tale bacteria
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How children learn
Expert report highlights the importance to parents of reading to children!
The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Nursery Rhymes
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Invisibility Ring
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Hungry bug seeks hot meal
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Pluto, plutoid: What's in a name?
A Puffy Planetary Puzzle
Solving a Sedna Mystery
Technology and Engineering
A Light Delay
Drawing Energy out of Wastewater
Spinach Power for Solar Cells
The Parts of Speech
Problems with Prepositions
What is a Noun
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Transportation
Ready, unplug, drive
Revving Up Green Machines
Flying the Hyper Skies
Weather
Recipe for a Hurricane
A Change in Climate
Antarctica warms, which threatens penguins
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Bugs with Gas

You may know of propane as the gas that fires up camp stoves or fuels outdoor grills. Researchers have now found that microbes living under the ocean floor appear to produce propane and another gas called ethane. These microbes chew up ancient organic material, such as leaves and twigs buried in the sand, and they generate the gases as waste products. That's a surprise. Scientists had thought that propane and ethane could be produced only in the same way that petroleum is—by great heat applied to ancient, buried material. A team led by Kai-Uwe Hinrichs of the University of Bremen in Germany went on a research ship equipped with an enormous drill that dug out cylinders of sand or rock thousands of feet long. When the researchers examined these cylinders, they found traces of ethane and propane locked in the sediment. Normally, to generate these gases, Earth's heat cooks organic material in sand for many thousands of years. This can happen only at spots above cracks in Earth's crust, where heat can leak out from inside Earth, and where thick layers of sediment would act like a blanket. But the samples that Hinrichs and his coworkers had looked at contained thin layers of sediment. Some cylinders had also been obtained from places far from any cracks in Earth's crust. So where could the gases be coming from? Scientists already knew that microbes could break down organic material to produce a related, simpler gas called methane. So, undersea microbes were the only thing that made sense. "When you can't come up with any geologic source, then biology is an obvious candidate," Hinrichs says. The finding may someday lead to practical applications. Propane is valuable as a fuel, and ethane is used to make plastics. Pulling propane and ethane out of sediment is too difficult to be practical. But if scientists can better understand how microbes create the gases, they might be able to use the microbes' methods to make ethane and propane directly from organic material.—J. Rehmeyer

Bugs with Gas
Bugs with Gas








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