Anchorage voters are heading to the polls today for municipal elections. Generally, these local contests – especially in years without a mayoral race – see low voter turn out, but arguably have some of the biggest impacts on residents. To talk about whats on the ballot, I’m joined by Alaska Public Media reporter, Zachariah Hughes.Download AudioTOWNSEND: Hi Zach.HUGHES: Hi, Lori.TOWNSEND: So what are voters deciding on today, and what do you have your eye on?HUGHES: Well, voters in Anchorage are deciding on three things. There’s ballot propositions, nine of them all together. There’s also five Assembly seats that are up for grabs, and that’s a big number since the Assembly itself is only 11 people. And then there are two School Board seats that are also up for grabs. So between the three of those, you can think of them as three separate issues and I’m going to be watching a lot of the ballot measures quite closely. A lot of them are for bonding propositions, some of which feel sort of routine. About $36 million for repairs to roads, resurfacing drainage, stuff like that. Just what an area wide bond should go for. And a really big School Board bond.TOWNSEND: What about the Assembly races? What do you think is important in that mix?HUGHES: Well. The Assembly races are interesting because there’s the potential for the balance of power on the Assembly to shift. The Assembly is not a partisan race. There’s no Democrats or Republicans affiliations that are part of it. But for people who watch city politics, there’s definitely a sort of balance and a contest between liberal and conservative approaches or ideologies that are brought to bear on issues like budgeting or some social issues like the equal rights amendment that this current mayor’s administration signed off on. And with five of the 11 seats up for [grabs], we could see a change on the Assembly.TOWNSEND: You have lived in rural Alaska, outside of Anchorage. Do you think this is the kind of election that has any bearing on the lives of people across the state, whether that’s in the Valley, or Deering, Yakutat? What do you think?HUGHES: Yes and no. I’d say this is much more important than tennis courts were a couple years ago for rural voters. But I think sometimes in Anchorage we can get pretty myopic with things that feel really important within the bounds of the municipality. Because there’s so many people here, because so many people pass through here because Anchorage has such a big footprint on the state’s finances, what happens here resonates outward. Some of that is just zoning requirements change and there’s more hotels in midtown and that ends up having an impact on people’s visits whether it’s for medical or conferences and stuff like that. There’s other things like the Assembly where you might not see that that’s the body that’s green-lighting a Capitol project request to the state which ends up potentially financing a report which influences all of the state. So there’s a lot of invisible strings that connect back to a lot of the Anchorage elections – financially especially – even if it might not feel relevant or particularly immediate to somebody in Nome, Kotzebue or Ketchikan, what’s happening here, I would say that here the ripples are going outward.TOWNSEND: Alright Zach, we’ll look for results tomorrow.
A consortium of scientists announced Thursday in Science that they’ve sequenced the coffee genome for the first time. By determining all of the genes that make up robusta coffee, a plant variety that accounts for about one-third of the world’s consumption, they’ve opened the door to better breeding practices and even genetic engineering.The researchers were most surprised by the genes used to produce caffeine. There are several theories as to why a plant would want to give its leaves and berries an energy buzz: It might be meant as a deterrent against leaf-eating bugs, to make surrounding soil less hospitable to rival seedlings, or to turn potential pollinators into happy caffeine addicts. Whatever the drive, plants such as tea, coffee and chocolate developed enzymes to make the addicting (and sometimes toxic) compound.But when researchers compared the coffee genome to that of chocolate, they found that the enzymes used to make caffeine in the two plants aren’t closely related enough to share a common ancestor. In other words, coffee and chocolate found their way to caffeination independently of each other. So while the reasons for evolving caffeine production are still hard to pinpoint, we know it was a valuable enough trait to inspire multiple adaptations. Scientists don’t have a genome for tea yet, so we can’t be sure whether it developed caffeine on its own, as well.Some members of the group are proceeding to sequence arabica coffee, which produces the world’s fancier varieties of coffee bean. Since arabica is a hybrid of robusta and another variety of coffee plant, it has a duplicated genome. With twice as much genetic information to sift through, Victor Albert, the lead author and a professor of biological sciences at the University at Buffalo, said, this becomes “a much more complicated affair.”Albert and his colleagues have high hopes for the useful application of the sequencing. “When we compared the coffee to several other species, we saw a huge enrichment in disease-resistant genes,” he said. “Those can now be rapidly explored in more detail, and could be of use in both coffee breeding and in the molecular modification of coffee.”The obvious route, he said, would be to make coffee crops more resilient to climate change and increased pest problems. But his team’s work on coffee’s caffeine-producing enzymes could also help take the buzz out of your brew. “This might make it possible to knock off caffeine production in a variety of coffee plant,” Albert said, “So to make decaff coffee, you wouldn’t have to go through the process of extracting the caffeine. You could just grow coffee beans that don’t make it at all.”© 2014, The Washington Post Facebook Comments Related posts:New Anacafé chief: Guatemalan state must do more to finance battle against coffee rust Brazil coffee output set for worst slump since 1965 Morning caffeine fix gets cheaper as rains boost Brazil supplies USAID to invest $5 million to combat coffee fungus epidemic in Central America