Random Samples

Science  09 Mar 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5817, pp. 1345
  1. A 21st Century Beagle


    To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, a pair of Brits have gotten together to build a working replica of HMS Beagle, the ship that bore Darwin around the world.

    The HMS Beagle Project Wales, founded by David Lort-Phillips, a Welsh farmer, and British environmental writer Peter McGrath, intends the ship as a sailing classroom and laboratory. Identical to the original on the outside, the $6.4 million, privately funded ship will be furnished with 21st century navigation, safety, and communications equipment.

    For its first voyage, the replica, crewed by 30 scientists and sailors, will sail around the world following the path of the original Beagle in the 1831–36 voyage that inspired Darwin's On the Origin of Species. After that, scientists will be able to use the new Beagle for research, primarily on climate change, says McGrath. One project he is considering is using the Beagle's logs to compare the climate of the 1830s with that of today. Broadcasts of experiments as well as lectures will be available to labs and classrooms around the world via an as-yet-unbuilt Web site.

    The project is intended to put some “awe back into science” and attract more young people to the field, says McGrath: “We need to use props like the Beagle to get their pulses to quicken.” Construction is to begin early next year in Milford Haven, Wales.

  2. Bird Flu Futures

    Will North America have its first confirmed case of avian influenza before July? Health agencies can't answer such questions. But they may gain a much better sense of the bird flu menace thanks to a project at the University of Iowa that lets experts place bets on how the disease will spread.

    With a $250,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the university will stake experts to Avian$1000 (U.S. $100) to play the futures game in a 2-year experiment starting this month. Players will buy “yes” or “no” shares in 11 different predictions, such as when and where the flu will spread and whether the World Health Organization will raise its pandemic warning level before 1 July. The price per share ranges up to Avian$1 depending on the market. Winning bettors collect Avian$1 for every share bought. The game is limited to experts who are members of ProMED, the disease-monitoring network of the International Society for Infectious Diseases.

    “From our perspective, it's very innovative and exciting,” says ProMED Editor Lawrence C. Madoff of Harvard Medical School in Boston, who hopes to enroll about 100 players (see fluprediction.uiowa.edu). University of Iowa physician Philip Polgreen says the Iowa Electronic Markets, which began in 1988 by predicting the outcomes of presidential elections, started selling flu futures for the state of Iowa 2 years ago. Polgreen says despite the tiny profits—winners can gain only about $100—the project decided to deal in dollars because “there's a sense that people take less extreme positions” if real money is involved.

  3. NETWATCH: When Molecules Meet

    Webs of interconnected proteins and genes keep cells running. To explore these networks, visit BioGRID from molecular biologist Michael Tyers of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto, Canada, and colleagues.

    Stowed here are all known genetic and protein interactions in budding yeast, along with partial lists for humans, nematodes, and fruit flies—more than 167,000 associations in all. Curators glean data from the literature and update the collection monthly. Each entry maps the liaisons of a particular protein or gene and summarizes the experimental evidence for each association. Included is the interaction network for the enzyme Cdc14, which controls the exit from mitosis.




    Scientists keep a close eye on Vesuvius, one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes, which looms over the Bay of Naples. When it erupted in 79 C.E., it caused thousands of deaths. A similar eruption today would be far worse: More than a half-million people now live in the “Red Zone,” a designated evacuation area around the volcano. Researchers headed by Augusto Neri at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Pisa, Italy, have now completed what they say are the most detailed 3D simulations yet of just how things might unfold. Above is an image from a medium-scale eruption scenario involving “partial collapse” of the volcanic column. The two gray clouds represent pyroclastic density currents—avalanches of hot gases, ash, and rock—700 seconds after the onset of the collapse. The simulations are described in the 27 February Geophysical Research Letters.

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