Decoded Corn Genome Promises Higher Yields, Better Biofuels, New Plastics

Corn, Illinois:  Randy Wick/Flickr
With its annual output of over 330 million tons a year feeding animals, running cars, and decorating South Dakota tourist attractions, maize is clearly Americas most important crop. That's why the newly published complete corn genome could drastically change the food, automotive and plastic industries.

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The Future Will Be Tastier: Scientists Discover Key To Year-Round Soft Shell Crabs

Whether they're tossed with Old Bay and served in a sandwich, fried at Great NY Noodle Town, or sauteed as a base for pasta, soft shell crabs always come out delicious. Unfortunately, this delicacy is only available a few times a year. But hopefully not for long.

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Fed Up With Tabletop Puddles, Scientists Engineer a High-Tech Dripless Teapot

We've all experienced the fluid-dynamics phenomenon known as the "teapot effect." Every time you pour out a nice relaxing cup of tea, a little of the elixir dribbles down the outside of the spout of the teapot, dampening your doily and your spirits.

It happens because liquid clings to the lip of the spout instead of exiting neatly, especially at low rates of flow.

Cyril Duez and his team of fluid dynamicists could not tolerate one more dribble. They have identified the root cause, a "hydro-capillary effect" that makes the tea fail to leave the spout material gracefully. Two techniques can be used to combat this.

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Robots That Eat Bugs and Plants for Power

Controversial robots devour biomass to gain energy independence

No matter how intelligent a robot might be, it’s nice knowing you can pull its plug to halt the anti-human insurrection. Whoops, not anymore. A new cohort of ’bots that make energy by gobbling organic matter could be the beginning of truly autonomous machines.

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Video: MIT Scientist Explains How OLEDs Work, Using a Glowing Pickle

No, that glowing pickle isn't a promotion for rave night at Katz's, it's a demonstration for how your TV works. In this ingenious twist on the classic potato clock, MIT professor Vladimir Bulovic transforms a humble full sour into a giant OLED pixel for our learning pleasure.

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Food-Generating Microwave Wins Electrolux Design Challenge

How will people make dinner in 90 years? If the newly crowned winner of the Electrolux Design Lab 2009 challenge is any indication, it'll be as easy as 1-2-3. Cocoon is a fish- and meat-generating microwave, intended as a solution to preserve fishing and farming resources.

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The Fastest (and Most Dangerous) Way to Light a Grill

Go from cold to cooking in 30 seconds with a big can of liquid oxygen

About a year ago, when resident mad scientist Theo Gray pitched me a Gray Matter column on liquid oxygen, an extremely flammable energetic form of the element, he first proposed showing how to use it to light a grill nearly instantaneously. The lawyers, however, suggested we go a more tame route, so instead we showed how you could make a few drops of the hooch yourself.

But of course, when left to his own devices (and free of legal oversight), Theo couldn't help himself.

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Better Tomatoes Via a Fertilizer of...Human Urine?

You say tomayto, I say tomahto.

You say Miracle-Gro, I say ... pee.

Apparently, human urine works remarkably well as a fertilizer for tomatoes, according to a new study out of Finland.

Plants fertilized with a mixture of stored human urine and wood ash produced 4.2 times more fruit than plants without the pee, the study found. The urine-fertilized tomatoes had more beta-carotene than unfertilized ones, and much more protein than traditionally fertilized plants.

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Is It Ethical To Engineer Delicious Cows That Feel No Pain?

Most people don't think too much about bovine hurt when they chow down on a Big Mac or Whopper. But for those with moral pangs, scientists say genetic engineering might provide a solution, by creating pain-free animals that can satiate the human appetite without suffering.

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Is This the Perfect Temperature-Regulating Coffee Mug?

It's an everyday irritation: Your coffee's too hot to sip, so you dump in some milk and set it aside for a minute while you answer just one email. Turn back to the coffee, and now it's tepid and unappetizing.

The geniuses at the Fraunhofer Institute, just like us regular folks, are fed up with such nonsense. Unlike us, though, they're German engineers, so they've created the Perfect Coffee Mug to extirpate imperfect coffee once and for all.

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Genetically Engineered Rice Plants Grow "Snorkels" To Survive Floods

Scientists introduce deepwater rice genes into high-yield rice for better survivability

Rice farmers in Asia may no longer need to fear monsoon season's devastating floods. Japanese scientists have identified genes that allow deepwater rice to grow hollow "snorkels" to avoid drowning, and have also introduced those genes into other rice variants.

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ChefStack is Like an ATM For Pancakes

ChefStack Automatic Pancake Machine:  courtesy ChefStack

At $3,500, this little beauty may not find its way onto my kitchen counter any time soon, but I have to admit it's tempting. Fill it with batter, close the lid, and the ChefStack shoots out perfectly formed pancakes at a rate of 200 per hour.

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Metal Oxide Sensors Can Sniff Out When Fruit, Pork Are Ready to Eat

Researchers at the ever-prolific Fraunhofer Institute have developed a system based around metal oxide sensors to detect whether a fruit is ripe, green, or rotten.

The system is meant to be used primarily by food suppliers, so that they can automatically detect the best moment to deliver pieces of fruit to a store. By using the sensor to detect levels of gasses emitted from fruits (in the test case, a pineapple), they know exactly what condition the fruit is in. And the equipment is as sensitive as the stuff used in food laboratories.

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Coca-Cola Freestyle Is the Most Advanced Soda Fountain Ever

If you never thought that soda machines would adapt to the high-tech world, think again. Coca-Cola's Freestyle fountain comes equipped with a touchscreen that is able to mix flavors on the spot, using precise machinery originally developed for dialysis and cancer treatments.

There are over 100 flavors available, across an array of drink brands, including Coke, Fanta, energy drinks, flavored waters, and more. When you select a drink, you're able to select from a variety of flavors, some of which are unfamiliar (Raspberry Coke?! Peach Fanta?!).

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Darpa's Self-Feeding Sentry Robot is Not a Man-Eater, Company Protests

"We completely understand the public's concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission," says CEO

There hasn't been such a scare over the future of green since Soylent Green. But a DARPA-funded robot that forages for biomass will only consume plant matter, as opposed to dead bodies or wayward pets, its creators assure us.

The makers of the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR) have issued a statement saying that "this robot is strictly vegetarian," after news outlets ranging from Fox News to CNET pounced on the flesh-eating potential of the bot.

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