|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 WorldFindingsNewsmakersRandom Samples
In science news around the world, the National Park Service decides not to introduce mainland wolves to rescue the declining wolf population on Lake Superior's Isle Royale, Japanese researchers plan to resume controversial whaling in 2015, Australia's Antarctic research program faces budget cuts, and more.
Molecular biologist Feng Zhang wins the National Science Foundation's Alan T. Waterman Award for young researchers, President Barack Obama nominates White House budget office director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace outgoing Health and Human Services head Kathleen Sebelius, physicist Stuart Parkin wins the 2014 Millennium Technology Prize, and more.
The winners of the Science, Play and Research Kit Competition reimagine the childhood chemistry set—on a microfluidic chip.
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the original estimate made in 2006. The soaring cost prompted a key member of Congress to raise questions about continued U.S. support for the project, which aims to make fusion power feasible. "I'm really beginning to believe that our involvement in ITER is not practical," said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D–CA), the head of a spending panel that controls ITER funding. Her panel could soon move to cut next year's spending on the project, proposed to be $150 million. The House of Representatives and the White House, however, would have to sign off on any move to withdraw from the ITER commitment, which some U.S. diplomats view as unthinkable. Still, ITER leaders are worried that if the United States withdraws, the entire project could be in jeopardy. Author: Adrian Cho
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now, researchers have engineered a mouse with a humanized liver that readily detects the drug's toxicity and may serve as a novel toxicity screen for other drugs that have yet to enter human trials. Author: Jon Cohen
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity in these long-gone species by computationally mapping where a chemical modification called methylation occurred in the DNA during the lifetime of the individual. The method takes advantage of how DNA degrades through time. When compared with methylation in modern humans, these methylation maps revealed a possible explanation for the skeletal differences between Neandertals and modern humans. Many more ancient methylomes must be mapped to determine which methylome is representative of these species, and more work needs to be done to show that methylation really does underlie these skeletal differences. Author: Elizabeth Pennisi
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. In an advance, however, the report's authors have used increasingly sophisticated models to evaluate how political and economic issues could affect various strategies to reduce emissions. It finds that growing opposition to biofuels and carbon capture strategies, for instance, could drive up costs of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. But it also finds that these technologies could offer significant co-benefits, such as improved public health. It also finds that policies not specifically targeted at reducing emissions—such as air pollution and energy efficiency regulations—could help reduce emissions. The report is the last of three IPCC reports on climate science and policy. Author: Eli Kintisch
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500 light-years away. Because such stars make up three-quarters of all stars in the Milky Way, the finding could open a wide new hunting ground for extraterrestrial life. Author: Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the northern polar jet stream, the high, fast-moving torrent of air that circles the pole. The jet stream is slowing and meandering more, she proposes, causing extreme weather patterns to linger longer over North America. The idea has drawn extensive attention from the media, the public, and influential policymakers, such as White House science adviser John Holdren. Many researchers, however, are skeptical, and some have been vociferously critical. But Francis, whose life and work has been shaped by two round-the-world sailing adventures, has remained calm throughout the storm. Author: Eli Kintisch