Science  28 Jan 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5453, pp. 561

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  1. No Holds Barred

    Researchers are planning to debate a controversial theory on the origin of AIDS. The United Kingdom's Royal Society will host a meeting in London in May to explore the contentious idea that HIV entered humans through a contaminated polio vaccine tested in Africa in the 1950s. The thesis, which received a flurry of attention in 1992 following an article in Rolling Stone, last year became a hot topic again when British journalist Edward Hooper published The River, a weighty tome on the subject.

    The meeting, proposed by Simon Wain-Hobson, an AIDS researcher at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, will examine the notion that HIV or one of its simian cousins infected the primate cells used to manufacture an oral polio vaccine developed by Hilary Koprowski, then head of the Philadelphia-based Wistar Institute. An independent scientific panel convened by Wistar concluded in 1992 that there was an “extremely low” probability that the theory was correct, but Hooper and other critics say the panel failed to make a convincing case.

    Wain-Hobson hopes that if Hooper, Koprowski, and other key players agree to attend the meeting, they can clarify the scientific issues. “Discussion is better than a year's worth of invective delivered at arm's length,” Wain-Hobson says.

  2. Can't Stand the Heat?

    Eager to avoid another failure, a suddenly timid NASA has delayed the launch of a science satellite pending further tests. The High Energy Transient Explorer 2 (HETE-2), the first spacecraft dedicated to the study of powerful gamma ray bursts, was ready for a 28 January lift-off from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. But last week NASA brass halted the countdown so that technicians could make sure the $8.5 million satellite is ready to withstand launch vibrations and the frigid cold of space.

    The delay “came as a complete surprise,” says HETE-2 investigator Kevin Hurley of the University of California, Berkeley, who worries that engineers might inadvertently create new problems when taking apart the craft for tests. But NASA's Don Savage says it was only prudent “to look over everything” given the agency's recent string of losses, including two high-profile Mars probes. If all goes well, HETE-2 should be bound for space by mid-May.