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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

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News,Science and Technology

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are helping search for evidence of alien life not by looking into outer space, but by studying some rocks right here on Earth.

Some of the rocks are up to 3.5 billion years old. The scientists are looking for crucial information to understand how life might have arisen elsewhere in the universe and guide the search for life on Mars one day.

"There's a story always hidden in rocks," said geoscientist Clark Johnson, the lead investigator for the Wisconsin Astrobiology Research Consortium. "... It's up to (geologists) to be clever enough to find the tools that we need to interrogate those rocks to find what story they preserve."

The project is funded through NASA, which provided a $7 million, five-year grant that started in January. It was the group's second five-year, $7 million grant.

The consortium includes about 50 staff, students and post-doctoral fellows from 24 institutions in five countries. About 25 of the participants are at UW-Madison.

The consortium has been tasked with finding footprints of biological activity, or biosignatures, which are substances such as elements or isotopes that show evidence of ancient life. The scientists are looking for microscopic signs of life, including microbes, which are bacteria, and other tiny, one-celled organisms that are much more adaptable than more complex organisms.

The team is also sending microbes into Earth's orbit on the International Space Station to see how they react to radiation and a space environment.

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has watched quietly in recent days as a handful of other Republican governors decided to accept billions of dollars from the U.S. government to expand Medicaid as part of the federal health care overhaul.

Walker planned to reveal Wednesday whether he will go along with those six GOP governors, stick with 11 others who have rejected the expansion, or chart his own course somewhere in the middle. He was to announce his plans in a speech about entitlement reform before the state's chamber of commerce.

Walker signaled Tuesday that he may strike a middle path, not fully embracing the expansion allowed under the law championed by President Barack Obama but also making it possible for more people to get coverage under the state's BadgerCare Medicaid health programs.

"My goal was to look at it not as a black and white issue," Walker said at a news conference on another topic.

Full expansion would mean an estimated 175,000 childless adults would be covered under the state's Medicaid program starting in 2014. To qualify, the household income must be below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $15,414 for an individual this year and $20,628 for a couple.

The possibility of Walker not expanding Medicaid worried health care groups and others that have lobbied him for months to go forward with it.

There is no credible middle ground that can be taken to guarantee coverage to people who have fallen through the cracks of the current system, said Robert Kraig, director of the liberal health care advocacy group Citizen Action.

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker plans to announce Wednesday his much-anticipated decision on whether Wisconsin will expand its Medicaid services to cover 175,000 childless adults as allowed under the federal health care overhaul law.

Walker signaled Tuesday that he may strike a middle path, not fully embracing the expansion allowed under the law championed by President Barack Obama but also making it possible for more people to get coverage under the state's BadgerCare Medicaid health programs. He reiterated that position when asked Tuesday what the announcement would be.

"My goal was to look at it not as a black and white issue," Walker said at a news conference on another topic.

Walker said he would be unveiling a broad agenda of entitlement reform focused on reducing the number of uninsured people and those receiving state assistance.

Walker is among the last Republican governors to decide whether to move forward with the expansion. Six Republican governors, including John Kasich in Ohio, already have agreed to the expansion while 11 other Republican governors have turned it down.

Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie said Tuesday that the governor would announce his decision on Wednesday.

There is no credible middle ground that can be taken to guarantee coverage to people who have fallen through the cracks of the current system, said Robert Kraig, director of the liberal health care advocacy group Citizen Action.

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker wants to spend $6 million on expanding DNA collection efforts to include anyone arrested on a felony charge and anyone convicted of a crime, a move the Republican has argued will help police solve more crimes.

Walker on Tuesday toured the state with fellow Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to highlight $14 million in law enforcement spending that will be included in the state budget he'll propose to the Legislature next week.

In addition to expanding DNA collection, Walker wants to provide $3 million in grants to allow for GPS monitoring of high-risk offenders who are the subject of restraining orders. Walker voiced support for that following the October shooting at a Brookfield spa in which a man killed his wife and two other women days after the wife obtained a restraining order against him.

Wisconsin law already allows authorities to use GPS to track people who violate a domestic abuse restraining order. Walker wants judges to be able to order such monitoring of first-time restraining order recipients if the judge determines that person is more likely than not to cause serious bodily harm.

But it's the expansion of DNA collection that's certain to draw the most opposition, especially among those concerned about the infringement upon innocent people's civil rights.

"It's really a government intrusion that undermines the notion of the presumption of innocence," said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Wisconsin chapter. "If you don't have to be convicted and the government can come and do this to you, it offends a lot of people."

If approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, Wisconsin would join 25 other states and the federal government in taking DNA upon felony arrests. Walker's proposal is projected to lead to the collection of an additional 68,000 DNA samples a year in Wisconsin.

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