en español: El Innovador de Texas
State’s Economic Engine Improving
Last month I reported to the 2005 Legislature that the state will have $64.7 billion in general revenue available for my certification of the budget for the 2006-07 biennium. Revenue available from all funds of state government, including federal funds, will total $130.5 billion.
The 2005 Legislature will have $6.4 billion more in general revenue than was appropriated by the 2003 Legislature. However, $6 billion of that new money would be needed to maintain today’s spending levels through fiscal 2007, leaving a scant $400 million extra over the next two years.
Texas has rebounded from the shocks that confronted it the last time I presented the biennial revenue estimate. Our state’s great economic engine is improving. We have experienced 16 months of positive sales tax growth and seven of the 10 economic indicators I watch every day are up.
I expect to see a continuation of growth trends in 2005 and into the next biennium. Growth in the economy reflected in my estimate will be solid and sustained. I am projecting growth in the gross state product of 3.5 percent in fiscal 2005, and of 3.2 percent in both 2006 and 2007.
I estimate that by the end of this fiscal year the state’s Rainy Day Fund balance will have grown to $715 million. And the fund’s balance will climb to more than $2 billion by the end of fiscal 2007. I renew my call on the Legislature to allow this balance to grow to $3 billion – only 5 percent of our general fund balance and the minimum needed for a reliable source of cash in case, God forbid, we have a natural disaster or terrorist attack in our Lone Star State.
I will continue to fulfill my constitutional responsibility to monitor the performance of the economy and the state revenue system and report any changes, positive or negative, to the 2005 Legislature and the governor as quickly as possible.
Carole Keeton Strayhorn
Tortillas on Mars
Month-old tortillas may not be headed for the trash bin thanks to a professor at Texas A&M University.
Professor Ralph Waniska discovered that adding salt to the tortilla mix and reducing the amount of baking powder creates a fresher-tasting tortilla.
“The tortilla has a chemical taste when it has too much baking powder,” Waniska said. “We have more of a wheat/flour taste in the tortilla.”
Waniska said tortilla manufacturers already can prevent mold from growing on tortillas through quality control measures, but as bakery products age, they become firmer. He found that adding an enzyme during the baking process made the tortillas more flexible over a longer period of time, helping retain freshness.
Waniska said the next step is to make a tortilla that could make it to Mars.
“Every mission has tortillas because there are no crumbs,” Waniska said. “We are looking at how to get tortillas in space that could possibly last the three or four years it would take to go to Mars.”
For more information, contact Ralph Waniska,
Assault on allergies
Three months without food allergies probably sounds like a dream come true to Texans who are forced to forgo favorite foods for most of their lives. The Stanford School of Medicine developed vaccines that reduce allergic reactions to three foods that have worked in dogs. The researchers hope the vaccines, made for peanuts, milk and wheat, will work on humans.
Dogs in the study went from being able to tolerate eating one peanut before showing symptoms of an allergic reaction to being able to tolerate as many as 37 peanuts during the test. The vaccines for milk and wheat provided similar relief for allergy-prone pups.
“We are working on how this therapy might work, so we can refine it and perhaps make it even better,” said Dr. Dale Umetsu of Harvard Medical School, Children’s Hospital Boston. “We are also continuing studies with dogs and in mice.”
About 3 million Americans suffer from peanut allergies, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. About 100 people a year die from the allergies, usually from peanuts.
For more information, contact Dr. Dale Umetsu,
A bridge with smarts
A $6.3 million bridge along Interstate 10 in Las Cruces, N.M., can “talk” to researchers who are studying the effects of age and wear on its concrete.
This “smart bridge” is the product of a New Mexico State University (NMSU) study, in which researchers outfitted the bridge with sensors and fiberoptic lines. The fiberoptic lines transmit light and detect changes in the properties of the light and report the data to an on-site collection box.
The sensor equipment cost $500,000, which NMSU received through a grant from the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. Researchers will monitor the bridge for three years as part of the study.
Researchers hope the fiberoptic cables will detect any changes in the bridge’s support columns as it ages, according to NMSU. Similar technology could aid scientists studying the stresses on buildings and streets in earthquake-prone areas.
NMSU won an additional $400,000 grant for a similar study on a second bridge on Interstate 25 near Dona Ana, N.M.
For more information, contact Rola Idriss,
Some of San Francisco’s high-dollar restaurants and everyday burger joints are teaming up to turn their cuisine into fertilizer.
NorCal Waste Systems collects leftovers and table scraps in large recycling bins left with restaurants and households. NorCal turns the food into high-grade compost, called Four Course, which it sells to Northern California organic farms and vineyards.
The Four Course compost is rich in nutrients that benefit plants and help improve soil structure and crops, said Robert Reed, a NorCal spokesperson.
More than 2,200 restaurants and 75,000 households in San Francisco participate. The program has spread to 140 restaurants in Oakland and to more than 40 in Los Angeles, Reed said.
Food scraps account for 16 percent, or more than 5 million tons, of all material disposed of in California landfills annually, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board.
For more information, contact Robert Reed,
In the future, drivers may commute in cars fueled by flower power.
British researcher Dr. Valerie Dupont is testing a new system that extracts hydrogen from sunflower oil. Dupont, an energy engineer with the University of Leeds in England, is developing a hydrogen generator that obtains hydrogen from sunflower oil using air, water vapor and two catalysts.
Scientists at the University of Leeds view hydrogen as the fuel of the future because it can create electricity with no harmful emissions and can power everything from cars and cell phones to homes and factories.
“Most methods of producing hydrogen burn another fuel for energy, which itself creates pollution—carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and other emissions,” said Dupont. “Our catalyst uses oxygen from the air to heat up naturally and this heat is used to reform the oil with steam to create hydrogen.”
Dupont and researchers are working with industrial partners to help identify the best catalysts for their system. She said the process could be applied to other forms of renewable fuel and to oils made from waste.
For more information, contact Dr. Valerie Dupont,
Upgrading your brain
People who find that their memory isn’t what it used to be—as near as they can remember—may get help someday from a silicon chip implant designed to help the brain create and store memories.
The implant would imitate the function of the brain’s hippocampus, an area linked to memory production. A multidisciplinary effort involving six laboratories and led by Professor Theodore W. Berger, director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Neural Engineering, spent nearly a decade developing this “neural prosthetic.”
The hippocampus is the region of the brain responsible for encoding short-term memories for long-term storage. Injuries, strokes and conditions such as Alzheimer’s frequently damage the hippocampus, and the effects of aging reduce its ability to function as well.
In extreme cases, people with damaged hippocampuses cannot form new memories, making normal life almost impossible.
The chip Dr. Berger’s team developed would take over the hippocampus’ duties by accepting, transforming and passing on electrical signals from neurons. The process worked in slices of rat brain with 95 percent accuracy. Tests with live animals will come next, and potential uses in human subjects could follow within 15 years.
For more information, contact Professor Theodore W. Berger,
University of Southern California, email@example.com
Womb to learn
British researchers are developing a “virtual womb” that they hope will prevent premature births. The womb is actually a three-dimensional computer-generated model of a pregnant uterus. Arun Holden, a biomedical sciences professor at the University of Leeds, said it will help researchers study reasons labor sometimes starts too soon, tailor specific treatments to individuals and test treatments and drugs with no risk to patients.
Leeds researchers said nearly 10 percent of babies born in the United Kingdom are premature. In May 2004, Duane F. Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health, said the premature birth rate in the U.S. is about 12.5 percent and that premature births are a leading cause of infant mortality.
Holden said the virtual womb will revolutionize doctors’ ability to monitor uterus activity and health during pregnancy. He said the new technology will give a greater understanding of uterine electrical signals, enable doctors to accurately predict the onset of labor and identify conditions that initiate premature labor.
For more information, contact Arun Holden,
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging equipment, researchers at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia found the brains of people who are telling the truth look different from those who are lying. The results of the study suggest the equipment might be used as a lie detector in the future. The research team plans additional tests.
For information, contact Eryn Jelesiewicz,
Two Japanese scientists are working on a device to help blind pedestrians navigate in traffic. Their goal is to create glasses with a camera that identifies traffic light colors, the white stripes on a pedestrian crossing and the distance across a street. The researchers hope to translate that data into speech, which emanates from a speaker near the wearer’s ear.
For more information, contact Tadayoshi Shioyama,
Japanese researchers said they found a way to produce rubber from a commonly found wild mushroom.
Researchers at Gunma University, near Tokyo, produced rubber from the edible chichitake mushroom.
Hiroshi Mitomo, head of the research team at the university’s biological and chemical engineering department, said researchers are trying to commercialize the product and cut production costs. He said producing rubber from the mushrooms cost 10 times more than obtaining it from rubber trees or making it from petroleum products.
For more information, contact Hiroshi Mitomo,
Gunma University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor: Karen Hudgins
Contributing to this issue: Angela Freeman, Magdalena Hamner, Ann Holdsworth, Greg Mt.Joy, Edd Patton, Clint Shields, Suzanne Staton, Pam Wagner and Bruce Wright