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Science news: Bits and bytes

Web site helps makebuying phone easier

Shopping for wireless phone service is only slightly less complicated than shopping for a new car, with the "best" deal based on the customer's needs.Internet retailer Point.com has a wireless phone shopping site that helps prospective buyers compare plans and features. Visitors to http://www.point.com can tell the Web site where they live, and if the visitor is in one of the top 50 wireless phone markets, Point.com then lists the wireless phone vendors that serve that area. Utah is among the top 50, with more competing vendors than most U.S. metropolitan areas.

Users can then select several options from a list of advertised rate plans and get a side-by-side comparison of fees and features and see a map of each vendor's coverage area. Web users then have the option to buy online or elsewhere.

Scientist appointed for USU department

Mark C. Healey has been appointed chief of the Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences Department at Utah State University, Logan, replacing Robert Lamb, who retired in December.

Healey, the department's assistant director since 1990, holds two patents. The first is for bacterial extract vaccines, issued in 1991, and the more recent is for a method he developed to control Cryptosporidium infections with protease inhibitors, issued last year.

Healey earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Utah. He collected a Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1976 and a doctorate in veterinary medicine at Mississippi State University in 1981.

U.S., Europe join forces on telescope

Representatives from the United States and Europe signed an agreement last week in Washington to continue collaboration on the first phase of a giant new radio telescope project.

"The telescope will image the universe with unprecedented sensitivity and sharpness in the millimeter wavelengths," part of the spectrum between radio and infrared wavelengths, said Amber Jones of the National Science Foundation.

"It will be a major step for astronomy, making it possible to study the origins of galaxies, stars and planets."

The radio telescope is planned for the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. Planners hope construction will take place throughout most of the first decade of the 21st century. Limited operations could begin in 2005, with the array becoming fully operational by 2009.

Scwewy Web site

Elmer Fudd has infiltrated the Web with an Internet engine that translates the contents of any Web site into Fudd's cartoon talk. "The Dialectizer," at http://www.rinkworks.com/dialect/ also translates Web sites into other dialects that have not been screened by the committee for the politically correct.

Visitors to Rinkworks choose from a list of seven dialects and then enter the URL for a Web site they want to visit. The Dialectizer then acts as a translator for the Web site, displaying the site's text in the chosen dialect.

With Fudd as the anchorman, a CNN.com headline becomes "Supweme Couwt: Wibia can be sued fow Pan Am 103." With The Dialectizer in redneck mode, a headline on a presidential candidate reads: "Bush has suppo't of past White House occupant -- his pappy."

The Dialectizer also does jive, cockney, Swedish Chef, moron and Pig Latin. A news story in moron reads like this: Meanwhile, uh uh uh, NATO officials said alliass f'ces webuhre spreadigg out droughout de Sehb probiss smood and on schedule..."

Neither RinkWorks or dialect writer Samuel Stoddard hold themselves liable for less-than-comical results from uses of The Dialectizer, which is published for private use only.

911 from plants

When a plant cell detects a threat, it can send out a warning throughout the whole plant, triggering defenses to meet the crisis, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department's Agricultural Research Service.

The existence of such warning systems has been known for years, but scientists were at a loss to understand how they worked. Now, Frank J. Turano of the Agricultural Research Service reports that plants seem to use some equivalent to the nerve networks that animals have.

"Plant cells respond to changes in their environment and warn distant parts of the plant of potential problems," he said.

At the ARS Climate Stress Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., Turano has identified and cloned a dozen plant genes that let plants make receptors similar to that found in animal nerves. Previously, only two plant genes of this type had been reported.

He believes the receptors may be responsible for an electrical signaling system in plants. "Knowing where the receptor genes are the most active could help pin down the basic mechanism for cell-to-cell signaling that may be involved in plant grown and environmental responses," he said.