New Locks on 2 Rivers

Unjustified, Panel Says

The Army Corps of Engineers still has not justified its desire to build new, longer locks on the Mississippi River and the Illinois River, a National Academy of Sciences panel said yesterday.

The academy's National Research Council reported that grain exports are unlikely to grow enough to justify a $1.46 billion replacement of aging locks on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

"There are no overwhelming regional or global trends that clearly portend a marked departure from a 20-year trend of steady U.S. grain export levels," the panel said.

The Corps of Engineers argues that longer locks are necessary for barges to get grain and other commodities to Gulf of Mexico ports quicker.

It is the second time the research council has said the corps had failed to justify the construction. The agency has tried for more than a decade to replace the locks, but the project stalled after a whistle-blower accused the corps of inventing its justification.

The corps came up with a new plan that would spend as much on restoring the environment as on new lock construction.

Illegal Trade in Skins

Of Big Cats Grows

The illicit trade in tiger and leopard skins is growing sharply in India, Nepal and China and posing a serious threat to the survival of the big cats, a conservation group said yesterday.

The Environment Investigation Agency reported its findings at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

EIA investigator Julian Newman said that 56 tiger and 997 leopard skins were seized by authorities in India, Nepal and China in the decade from 1985 to 1994, but that over the past five years, 94 tiger skins and 1,079 leopard skins were seized.

There are about 5,000 tigers believed to be left in the wild, and perhaps half of them are in India. Leopards are also endangered throughout their Asian range.

Tiger skins can bring as much as $10,000 each.

Genetic Map of Cow

Available, U.S. Says

For the first time, scientists have created a genetic map of a cow, providing researchers a new tool to reduce animal disease and improve the nutrition of beef and dairy products, the Agriculture Department announced yesterday.

The initial draft involved genes of the Hereford breed. Gene sequencing of half a dozen other breeds will follow, the agency said.

The announcement was a major development in the $53 million project to sequence the genome of different breeds of cattle.

The program, launched last December, is aimed at documenting each of the 3 billion "letters" -- or base pairs -- of the cattle DNA code, about the same number as in humans and other mammals.

The first draft sequence has been put into a free public database.

By identifying and better understanding the function of genes in cattle, researchers hope to be able to track the genetic makeup of the animals and breed cattle that are more disease-resistant and require fewer antibiotics. That will increase the safety of the food supply, said the department.

The research was carried out by a team at the Baylor College of Medicine's Human Genome Sequencing Center in Houston.

-- From News Services