Illinois Public Media News
A misconception about African elephants can be put to rest.
Researchers from the University of Illinois, Harvard University, and the University of York discovered that there are actually two species of African elephants, rather than one. The DNA of African elephants was compared with the extinct American mastodon and wooly mammoth.
"Experimentally, we had a major challenge to extract DNA sequences from two fossils - mammoths and mastodons - and line them up with DNA from modern elephants over hundreds of sections of the genome," said research scientist Nadin Rohland of the Department of Genetics at the Harvard Medical School.
African forest elephants are smaller, but have a greater genetic diversity compared to African savanna elephants, according to University of Illinois animal sciences professor Alfred Roca. Roca said the African forest elephants make up about one tenth of the country's elephant population. He said these mammals could face extinction unless there is more of a concentration dedicated to preserving their existence.
"In the forest of Central Africa and certainly in the forest of West Africa, the protection is limited in some countries, and in many cases you have a lot of organized gangs of poachers that are coming in," Roca said. "Really the focus has to be on protecting the forest elephant."
Roca said the evolutionary differences between the mammals are about as old as the split between humans and chimpanzees. He added that it is likely climate change in Africa five million years ago led to their creation.
This research was funded by the Max Planck Society and by a Burroughs Wellcome Career Development Award in Biomedical Science.
(Photo courtesy of Mark Turner/flickr)
Jimmy John's restaurants in Illinois are pulling a key ingredient from their sandwiches.
The company announced Tuesday that it will temporarily discontinue alfalfa sprouts, which are linked to dozens of salmonella outbreaks in nine counties, including Champaign, McLean, and Cook.
"As a good faith and good will gesture, I am asking Illinois stores to pull sprouts until the state can give us some better direction," restaurant owner Jimmy John said in a statement.
The company said its main supplier of sprouts was tested for salmonella last week, and came up negative. There have been no reported cases in recent weeks of people in Illinois becoming ill after eating the sprouts, but the state's Public Health Department is investigating the restaurant's food suppliers and producers. The reported incidents took place between November and early December.
People who eat alfalfa sprouts and become ill with diarrhea and a fever should contact a physician. Illness usually wears off after three to seven days.
As many had expected, Illinois will be losing a U.S. House seat as a result of the 2010 Census. With an official population of 12,830,632, the state's population grew 3.3 percent --- an increase dwarfed by double-digit growth in many western and southern states.
Eastern Illinois University political science professor Andrew McNitt said the new census includes a downwards reapportionment for Illinois, from 19 House seats to 18. Unlike the legislative remaps of 1990 and 2000, Democrats are now in firm control of state government, and McNitt said they will not have to send the job of redistricting to a bipartisan commission. But he said they will still have to produce a map with one fewer member of Congress.
"What happens is that somebody has to lose," McNitt explained. "So if there is a congressman who retires, their district will mostly likely be cannibalized. It also has to do with relative population shifts within the state. Probably it means a somewhat larger increase in the districts downstate."
McNitt said a lack of growth in most downstate communities means that congressional districts in the region will be redrawn to cover more territory. He said the suburban collar counties surround the counties have seen most of Illinois' population growth in recent years, and will probably take a larger share of the remaining 18 House districts.
"The seats go to where the population goes," McNitt said. "And if it goes to the collar counties, which seems to be where it's going mostly, both the downstate and the inner city of Chicago are going to suffer some difficulties in terms of representation."
The neighboring states of Iowa, Michigan and Missouri will also lose one U-S House seat each as a result of the census, but Indiana, Kentucky and Wisconsin will keep the seats they currently have in place.
A federal judge has ruled that former Illinois Gov. George Ryan must remain in prison.
Ryan's attorneys want elements of his conviction tossed based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision curtailing anti-fraud laws known as "honest services'' laws.
Last week, Ryan's attorneys made an urgent plea for his release after his wife was hospitalized. Doctors have given Lura Lynn Ryan as few as three months to live. She's been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled that Ryan must remain in prison.
The 76-year-old former governor has served three years of a 6 1/2-year sentence on convictions of racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI.
(Photo courtesy of spsarge/flickr)
With the expectation that Illinois will lose one of its congressional seats, the state's politicians are poised to begin their once-a-decade finagling over drawing the state's political boundaries based on new census data.
On Tuesday, Census Bureau officials plan to release initial population estimates for the nation. A continuing population shift from the north to the south and west means Illinois is likely to lose one of its 19 seats in the House, and the clout that goes with it.
While nationally the reapportionment is expected to help Republicans, Democrats in Illinois have an advantage because they control both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor's office, which are tasked with determining how the new political lines are drawn.
Census data so far suggests new Hispanic-dominated districts could emerge, particularly with growth in some Chicago area neighborhoods. States are required under the Voting Rights Act to respect the interests of minority voting blocs.
Other scenarios include a lost seat in downstate Illinois, which has lost population.
"It could be good news for Democrats," said U.S. Rep. Phil Hare, who lost a former Democratic stronghold to tea party-backed GOP challenger Bobby Schilling in November, but could benefit from redrawn lines if he decides to run again in 2012.
Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, warned that the GOP would push back if the Democrats in Springfield become too "heavy handed" and don't cooperate in creating new congressional and legislative districts that are competitive for both sides.
He appealed to Gov. Pat Quinn to make sure that Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton play fair.
"When it's too much one-party control, there's unintended consequences, and it's going to backfire," Brady said. "I don't think for a second that (Illinois House Speaker) Mike Madigan's not going to shove this right down our throat."
Steve Brown, a spokesman for Madigan, said that the Illinois process will comply with federal election laws. "That makes who's in the majority, who's in the governor's office, not nearly as important as some of the hand-wringers want you to think," he said.
So-called redistricting is a tedious and politically charged process that protects strongholds, affects influence in Washington and makes or breaks political careers. The task over the next few months is analyzing population data while considering geography, race and political interests so legislators can re-divide the state's population into nearly equal pockets.
"Redistricting is the most political activity that occurs in a decade," said Chris Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois in Springfield. "It's almost purely about who gets what and who wins what seat."
Officially, the state legislature comes up with a plan and approves it like a bill. It also requires the governor's signature. In cases of deadlock, Illinois leaves the key decision over which party gets to draw the political map to random chance: One year, the secretary of state picked the winner out of Lincoln's stovepipe hat.
The process, outlined in the 1970s Constitution, can drag for months and undergo court challenges. Efforts to reform the system stalled earlier this year.
Each decade brings a set of unpredictable and unprecedented circumstances. This year is the first time since the current redistricting laws have been in place that Illinois has both a Democratic governor and Democratic-majority in both houses of the legislature.
The last time Illinois redrew its congressional map -- in 2001, when Republican George Ryan was governor and the state Senate was Republican majority -- the state also lost a seat.
Two Illinois congressmen, then Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Lipinski, came up with a plan that largely protected incumbents. But it left out Democratic Rep. David Phelps, whose district was combined with others.
State Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, heads a committee which has been looking at overhauling the state's redistricting laws. He said there has been surprisingly little chatter on new boundaries so far, which he believes means the state legislature will maintain a central role instead of "just punting to the congressional delegation."
The sprawling 17th District, which the GOP's Schilling just won, hugs a long stretch of the state's western border, but juts into central Illinois to include Decatur and portions of Springfield. Hare said lines could be drawn to pick up more Democratic areas from Republican Rep. Don Manzullo's 16th District.
Another scenario includes making two districts from the 17th District and two others represented by Republican Congressmen Aaron Schock in the 18th District in west-central Illinois and Tim Johnson in the 15th District, which covers a chunk of eastern Illinois.
Brady said he doesn't see any district being particularly safe, and that any of them -- Democratic or Republican -- could be subject to change. And he said he's confident that GOP candidates will be competitive, especially those who won in November.
"No matter how they slice and dice it, we're going to have good candidates," Brady said.
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is investigating nearly four dozen cases in which people became sick with salmonella after eating at Jimmy John's restaurants in nine counties, including Champaign, McLean, and Cook.
The reported incidents took place between November and early December. No new cases of salmonella have been reported in the last couple of weeks, according to the IDPH. However, the agency is continuing to investigate the outbreak.
"Right now the Department of Public Health is investigating the producers and suppliers of alfalfa to determine where the potential beginning of this problem is," said Tom Green, a spokesperson with the health department. "While the investigation is ongoing, there's no reason for people to stop going to Jimmy John's because of something that happened in November and early December."
Green said not all of Jimmy John's restaurants get their sprouts from the same vendor. A company spokesperson said it closely monitors its food suppliers, and will remove the sprouts from its sandwiches if there is a health warning.
People who eat alfalfa sprouts and become ill with diarrhea and a fever should contact a physician, said Green. Illness usually wears off after three to seven days.
The companies working with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the FutureGen clean-coal project say they've cut the list of six potential carbon dioxide storage sites to four.
The FutureGen Alliance announced Monday the city of Quincy and Pike County north of St. Louis are no longer being considered, but Tuscola in Douglas County is still being considered. Other sites under consideration include Christian, Fayette and Morgan counties.
"This next step in the site selection process keeps FutureGen 2.0 on track," said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in a press release. "While the geology was not ideal in the communities that received disappointing news today, the four communities that remain in competition will now have the opportunity to strengthen their proposals. Hosting FutureGen 2.0 in Illinois will create thousands of good-paying jobs and put our state on the forefront of clean coal research and technology."
Morgan County in western Illinois is the location of the power plant FutureGen plans to refit with newer technology. Carbon dioxide from the coal used at the plant in Meredosia would be piped to the underground storage site. The Energy Department earlier this year scrapped plans to both build a new FutureGen plant and store CO2 in Mattoon.
The FutureGen 2.0 project and pipeline network is expected bring in around 1,000 jobs to downstate Illinois and another 1,000 jobs for suppliers across the state.
The alliance said it expects to pick a site in February 2011.
The committee has been named, and a website is up and running for the search for a new vice president/chancellor for the University of Illinois Urbana campus.
U of I spokesman Tom Hardy said the website will be providing information to two different constituencies.
"One, it's a portal for those who might be interested in the position - getting information about the search and then going deeper into the website to learn more about the campus itself and the university itself," Hardy said. "And it's also a way to keep the very many constituents of the campus as to what's going on, who the members of the committee are."
Hardy said the website will eventually feature the formal position announcement and white paper describing the job duties and the U of I Urbana campus, and he said it will also include a Facebook link, and information about upcoming town-hall style meetings --- as ways to gather input from the university community.
"(The search committee) was done in the presidential search process earlier this year, that resulted in Mike Hogan coming on as president," Hardy said. "I think that the search committee for the president and everybody involved viewed those as beneficial. And again, it's just another kind of two-way communications tool that the committee can use."
With the announcement of the Urbana Chancellor Search committee, the U of I is now looking for two new vice-president/chancellors --- one at the Urbana campus, and another at Springfield. In Urbana, Richard Herman resigned last year, and interim Vice-President/Chancellor Robert Easter plans to retire once a successor is found. In Springfield, Harry J. Berman became interim vice-president/chancellor, after Richard Ringheisen stepped down at the end of October.
Hardy said the U of I hopes to have new chancellors in place at both campuses in time for the fall 2011 semester.
The members of the Urbana Chancellor Search Committee are:
FACULTY Douglas Beck, Physics (Chair) James D. Anderson, Educational Policy Studies Nicholas Burbules, Educational Policy Studies Andreas Cangellaris, Electrical/Computer Engineering Kim Graber, Kinesiology and Community Health Anne D. Hedeman, Art and Design William Maher, University Library/ Archives Robert Warrior, American Indian Studies Matthew Wheeler, Animal Sciences
ACADEMIC PROFESSIONAL: Tim Barnes, International Programs and Studies
STAFF Debbie Kemphues, Office of the Provost and VCAA
STUDENTS: Amy Allen, Engineering Carey Hawkins, Grad. (Law/Education) David Olsen, Business
DEAN Ruth Watkins, Liberal Arts and Sciences
Conservation groups upset over a plan to reuse a former Army weapons facility in western Indiana say the group charged with finding a new role for the property is not addressing concerns about a restored prairie on the site.
The Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority hopes to develop a business and industrial campus on 11 square miles at the Vermillion County site that once produced and stored the deadly VX nerve agent. Conservationists tell the Tribune-Star that the plan would destroy all but about 44 acres of the state's largest restored black-soil tallgrass prairie. They want the group to reconsider.
Phillip W. Cox of the Wabash Valley Audubon Society says the Army spent nearly $128,000 from 1994 to 2005 to restore 336 acres of tallgrass prairie.
Students Adopt StoryCorps Model to Learn English
Every week on NPR, people share their memories and stories on the long-running series, StoryCorps. As Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, a Champaign elementary school is adopting the StoryCorps model - complete with musical backgrounds -- as a way to teach English.
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