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Woman in Biosphere Cuts Off Fingertip : Science: Two-year experiment’s resident doctor reattaches segment, but victim may need outside surgery if hand doesn’t heal properly.

TIMES SCIENCE WRITER

One of the eight environmentalists sealed inside a gigantic greenhouse in Arizona accidentally cut off the tip of her left middle finger Wednesday morning and may have to be removed from the closed system briefly for further surgery, a spokeswoman for the project said Thursday.

Jane Poynter, 29, was operating a rice-hulling machine in the agricultural area of Biosphere 2 when she accidentally stuck her finger in too far, Kathleen Dyhr said. “She was trying to clean something out and got her finger in somewhere it shouldn’t have been,” Dyhr said.

The finger was amputated nearly to the base of the nail. “It’s the kind of thing somebody could do in their kitchen,” Dyhr said.

Fortunately, Biosphere 2’s resident physician, Roy Walford, was standing next to Poynter when the accident happened. He retrieved the fingertip and had it sewn back on “within 15 to 20 minutes,” he said in a telephone interview.

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But because such repairs do not normally “take” very well in adults, he said, the tip of the finger may simply “shrivel up and fall off.” In that case, additional surgery would be required to graft skin over the end of the finger. Because hand surgery is a delicate operation, Poynter might have to leave Biosphere 2 briefly through its air lock to have the procedure done by physicians at the University of Arizona.

“I would don my space suit, zoom down to the hospital, have a specialist sew it up and come back in,” Poynter said Thursday in a telephone interview with Associated Press.

Biosphere 2 is a 3.15-acre greenhouse that contains, in addition to the agricultural area, five “biomes” modeled on a desert, a savanna, wetlands, a rain forest and an ocean. These areas recycle and purify air and water for the eight residents.

The environmentalists sealed themselves inside Biosphere 2 last month for a two-year study.

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The goal of the project is to demonstrate that the so-called biospherians can grow all their own food and survive comfortably in a structure completely sealed off from the rest of the Earth--Biosphere 1 in the project’s nomenclature. The only things that enter Biosphere 2 are energy, sunlight, and electronic communications.

The project is viewed by its organizers as a model for a habitat on another planet. It has been sharply criticized by many researchers for lacking scientific rigor, but has attracted much public attention because of its perception as a great adventure.

Dyhr said that removing Poynter from the facility briefly would not invalidate the project’s attempt to prove that humans could live in a self-sustaining environment. “It wouldn’t be considered breaking closure,” she said.


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