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Good news, if cats make you sneeze

Question: In the movie Cats & Dogs, Professor Brody's latest project was creating a cure for people with allergies to dogs. Is such research being conducted in real life?

Answer: Yes, but with cats. Transgenic Pets, a company in Syracuse, N.Y., says it has developing a genetically engineered cat that won't cause allergies, an effort that could allow millions of people who are now allergic to cats to keep them as pets. The company says it plans to sell the cats for $750 to $1,000 each. It will protect its investment by making sure the cats are spayed or neutered to prevent the allergen-free trait from passing on.

"We feel confident by 2003 we'll be able to produce an allergen-free cat," Xiangzhong Yang, who is working to develop the cat for Transgenic Pets, told the New York Times last month.

Scientists say most allergic reactions to cats are caused by a single protein that is secreted by the cat and is thought to help keep its skin moist. The gene for this protein was isolated and sequenced years ago.

Producing the allergen-free cat will require deleting the gene so that the protein is not produced, but scientists are unsure of what other bodily function might be affected by knocking out the gene.

If Transgenic Pets succeeds in genetically engineering cats, it might turn to dogs, but that could prove more difficult because dogs carry more than one allergen.

The speed of "feed'

Question: I was watching a baseball game on cable TV and listening on the radio. The radio announcers were calling the game a second or so before I saw it on TV. Why is this?

Answer: Charles Kinney, director of engineering at WSB Radio, explained it this way: WSB Radio runs a digital phone line between the stadium and its studio, which allows the commentary (or "audio feed," as it is called) to be put on the air immediately.

For a cable channel, the video feed has to "go from the stadium to a satellite uplink, on to the satellite and down to the studio in the city where the channel is based," Kinney said. "From there, it goes back up to the satellite and comes down to the local cable company, which then puts it out for distribution."

If you're watching a home game on TBS, you'll notice that the video feed is slightly ahead of the radio feed because TBS has a fiber optic cable line from Turner Field to its studio, which allows for faster transmission than a digital phone line.

Where did it come from?

Question: What is the symbol used in e-mail addresses called?

Answer: The little "a" with a circle curling around it found in e-mail addresses is most commonly referred to as the "at" symbol. There is no universal name for this sign. Before it became the standard symbol for electronic mail, the symbol was used to represent the cost or weight of something. For instance, if you purchased six apples, you might write it as 6 apples $1.10 each.

The origin of the symbol remains uncertain. Some historians say it originated during the Middle Ages. Before the invention of printing presses, every letter of a word had to be transcribed by hand for each copy of a published book. The monks who performed these copying duties looked for ways to reduce the number of individual strokes for common words.

Others say the symbol originated as an abbreviation for the word amphora. Amphora was the unit of measurement that determined the amount held in the large terra cotta jars used to ship grain, spices and wine. This also would explain why it became common to use the symbol in relation to quantities of something.

Rain on the runway

Question: Why are airports used as the measuring site for rainfall in metropolitan areas?

Answer: Most official weather reporting sites that record conditions at least once an hour are located at airports because current weather observations are critical to the smooth operation and safety of air traffic, said Colin Marquis, senior meteorologist for the Weather Channel.

Because most airports are on the outskirts of cities, conditions can be significantly different than those downtown. In Atlanta, for example, Hartsfield International Airport, with all its concrete and asphalt, is typically 5 to 10 degrees warmer during the summer months than many surrounding greener locales, Marquis said.

Though it would be valuable for meteorologists to have hourly observations from every single town, that's impossible logistically and financially. However, aside from official government sites, thousands of private citizens, companies, universities, etc., record weather data, though it is usually reported to the government much less frequently, often once a day.

Rebate deductions

Question: For those taxpayers who filed for an extension to pay taxes still owed for 2000, will that balance be deducted from the tax rebate checks?

Answer: Yes. The amount of the rebate payment will be applied first to any federal income tax you owe, said IRS spokesman Mark Green. If the amount is larger than the debt, you will get a check for the difference. If the full amount is applied to the taxes, you won't receive a check.

If you owe more than the rebate amount, that balance remains to be paid.

Have a question about the news? Colin Bessonette will try to get an answer. Call (404) 222-2002, or write him at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, P.O. Box 4689, Atlanta, GA 30302, or e-mail him at q&aajc.com. Please include your name and hometown.

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