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Friday, February 18, 2022 5:46 PM

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LIMA, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Farmers in Peru say they've sent 1,500 varieties of potatoes to a "doomsday" seed vault in the Arctic Circle to safeguard the future of the crop.

The samples will be kept in a vault inside a mountain designed to protect world food crop species against natural and human disasters, the BBC reported Friday.

Potatoes are considered the world's most important non-cereal crop, but scientists say some native species in Peru are at risk.

"Peruvian potato culture is under threat," said Alejandro Argumedo, a plant scientist involved in the project. "The work we begin today will guarantee the availability of our incredible potato diversity for future generations."

The samples are being sent to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault by the Cusco Potato Park, set up by six indigenous communities to protect biodiversity and protect food security in the region.

The park faces an uncertain future because climate change could undermine the farmers' weather-dependent agricultural systems, scientists say.

"Climate change will mean that traditional methods of maintaining this collection can no longer provide absolute guarantees," said Lino Mamani, head of the indigenous collective.

"Sending seeds to the [vault] will help us to provide a valuable backup collection -- the vault was built for the global community and we are going to use it," he said.

SpaceX to focus on astronaut capsule

HAWTHORNE, Calif., Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Commercial space company SpaceX says it has put off development of its Falcon rocket to focus on its Dragon capsule intended to take astronauts into orbit.

The company said the Falcon 1 rocket, which has had five successful test launches, will be temporarily put aside to concentrate the firm's efforts on Dragon, contracted to carry astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station, Florida Today reported Friday.

SpaceX says it also plans to accelerate development of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which could compete with United Launch Alliance for government launches.

ULA, which employs about 700 people in Florida, conducts about a dozen launches a year from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

"The Air Force (Space and Missile Systems Center) in Los Angeles told us that we needed to fly Falcon Heavy and activate our new launch facilities at Vandenberg in order to compete for the (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle) contract currently held by ULA," SpaceX Communications Director Kirstin Brost said.

In a statement, the U.S. Air Force confirmed it has given SpaceX guidance for developing the Falcon Heavy, but said, "We do not have a (formal) agreement with SpaceX regarding the development of the vehicle."

Britain delays decision on badger cull

LONDON, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- A British government department says its decision on whether to order a cull of badgers to combat cattle tuberculosis will be delayed,

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had said it would to announce its policy decision around the end of this month, but now says it could come as late as May, raising doubts about whether a cull could be conducted this year at all, the BBC reported Friday.

A source told the BBC that DEFRA did not want to "mess up" again after abandoning its plans to sell some public forests, a proposal it abandoned Thursday in the face of heavy public opposition.

"They've messed up on forests -- they don't want another one," the source said.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, in announcing the about-face on plans to transfer 640,000 acres of state-owned woodland in England into private management, acknowledged the government had "got this one wrong."

Opponents of the badger cull say more frequent testing of cattle and curbs on their movement are tackling the disease and that culling is unnecessary.

A fall in the number of cattle TB cases has been recorded from 2008 to 2010, authorities said.

"Plainly, what's happened does demonstrate that the disease can be controlled without the necessity of killing wildlife," Badger Trust spokesman Jack Reedy said.

London hospitals announce staff layoffs

LONDON, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Two London hospitals plan to lay off almost 1,000 staff members despite U.K. government pledges to protect the country's National Health Service.

St. George's Hospital said it was laying off 500 personnel, including nurses and some senior doctors, and closing three wards with the loss of about 100 beds, The Guardian reported Thursday.

A hospital spokesman said the reductions were part of an attempt to save $89 million in 2011-12.

"St. George's Healthcare [trust] is not immune from the financial challenges currently facing the wider NHS," the spokesman said.

Kingston Hospital announced it would shed 486 staff members, almost 20 percent of its workforce, during the next five years.

Hospitals in England are struggling to meet a $32 million cost-saving drive and decisions by the U.K. government to restrict budget increases to 0.1 percent a year and to reduce fees hospitals receive for treating patients.

Health Minister Andrew Lansley and Prime Minister David Cameron have repeatedly said the NHS would escape the reductions on public spending, The Guardian said.

(Source: UPI )
(Source: Quotemedia)
 

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