|Science: This Week's News|
Follow the links below for a roundup of the week's top stories in science, or download a PDF of the entire section. Around the WorldFindingsRandom SamplesNewsmakers
In science news around the world, scientists find Middle East respiratory syndrome in camels from Africa; Japan launches a test of a space debris cleanup scheme; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency halts the permit for a large copper mine near Bristol Bay, Alaska; and more.
Researchers interested in studying and preventing strokes have their eye on the capybara. The world's largest rodent shuts off a main blood supply to its brain, then manages to compensate by expanding another artery.
Theoretical physicist-turned-filmmaker Mark Levinson tells Science about directing Particle Fever, a new documentary on the discovery of the Higgs boson.
Magdalena Koziol, a former postdoc at Yale University, was the victim of scientific sabotage. Now, she is suing the alleged perpetrator, who she claims poisoned her zebrafish, as well as her former boss at Yale, who she says became hostile and unsupportive after the sabotage was discovered, and Yale University. The complex case raises a host of questions about research sabotage, a type of misbehavior that some scientists believe is more common than the few known cases suggest. Author: Martin Enserink
Antiretroviral drugs can protect people from becoming infected by HIV. But so-called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, only works if people take pills daily—which studies show they have trouble doing. Now, monkey experiments with an integrase inhibitor that's injected show how a single shot protects them from the AIDS virus for 11 weeks on average. The drug lasts even longer in humans, which may provide a promising new approach to PrEP. Author: Jon Cohen
Two studies show that eating a diet low in protein and high in carbohydrates is linked to a longer, healthier life, and may even help explain why extreme calorie restriction delays aging. But the findings are controversial and underscore the complex interplay between food, health, and aging. Author: Jennifer Couzin-Frankel
Considered an icon of conservation science, researchers at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) headquarters in Washington, D.C., innovated many approaches to conservation. Now, in a move that mirrors that of most other conservation groups, WWF is downsizing the unit and putting many of its scientists into conservations teams. Observers worry that WWF will lose the ability to innovate and anticipate emerging issues. Author: Erik Stokstad
The new atlas, which shows the distribution of important trace metals and other substances, is the first product of GEOTRACES, a $300 million international effort. It draws on careful measurements from more than 30,000 seawater samples drawn from nearly 800 locations. One map, for example, shows the distribution of minute trace levels of the toxic metal lead, once a major component of gasoline. In the Atlantic Ocean, GEOTRACES researchers show that lead-tainted water that was once at the surface has now sunk some 1000 meters, creating a kind of time capsule recording past pollution. But the map also shows that contamination in continuing, with relatively high trace levels entering the Atlantic from the Indian Ocean, which is bordered by nations where cars still burn leaded gasoline. Overall, however, lead levels in the Atlantic have been dropping since the United States and Europe banned leaded gasoline decades ago, and the levels pose no threat to humans or wildlife. Author: David Malakoff
Early in April, the first of a fleet of environmental monitoring satellites will lift off from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The Sentinel-1A satellite is part of a program called Copernicus, which will launch a half-dozen craft over the next 7 years and then send up an identical copy of each to boost data gathering and serve as backups. The result will be the world's first operational environmental monitoring system, a cousin to the operational meteorological services that have provided weather forecasts for decades. Sensors on the Sentinels will measure the state of the ocean surface and its temperature, monitor changes in land use, and take soundings of the atmosphere's composition and temperature. Author: Daniel Clery
Since 2000, U.S. government health research agencies have spent almost $1 billion on an effort to churn out thousands of 3D structures of proteins. The Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) funded large teams of biologists, physicists, chemists, and engineers to transform the science of protein analysis. So far, PSI investigators have worked out the structures of 6507 proteins. But last fall, a National Institute of General Medical Sciences advisory council bowed to long-standing criticism of the program and pulled the plug, allowing its current round of funding to expire in June 2015. Now, researchers and policymakers are asking what the huge experiment learned and what its demise will mean for the future of structural biology in the United States. Author: Robert F. Service
Over the past century, x-ray crystallography has transformed scientists' understanding of the structure and behavior of materials. Johannes Kepler's 1611 speculation that snowflakes are hexagonal grids of water particles—a hypothesis that could not be tested for centuries to come—sets the very early stage for a field filled with achievements. From Max von Laue's diffraction pattern in 1912 to James Sumner's 1937 demonstration that any protein can be crystallized to crystallography's detailed picture in 2013 of the protein that HIV uses to invade immune cells, this is crystallography at 100. Author: Thomas Sumner
A technique for crystallizing fragile biomolecules without disrupting them is helping researchers probe the structures of some of the body's most important but elusive proteins: those that usher other chemicals through the cell membrane. To map a protein's atomic structure using x-rays, crystallographers have to coax its molecules to align themselves in crystals, like soldiers in perfect formation. That's difficult enough for ordinary proteins, which are complex, flexible molecules. But the membrane proteins—perhaps the most important molecules in biology—that straddle the cell's surface and control the chemical traffic in and out are an even bigger challenge. Lipidic cubic phase (LCP) has been essential for understanding them. Getting the LCP mixtures right and handling them is tricky, but now, thanks to decades of painstaking work by a small band of researchers, the technique is beginning to hit its stride. Author: Robert F. Service