Findings

Science  15 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6027, pp. 289
  1. Cosmic Feast May Be Producing Universe's Biggest Blast

    CREDIT: NASA/SWIFT/STEFAN IMMLER

    Astronomers have observed possibly the biggest blast ever seen in the cosmos. When NASA's SWIFT space observatory first spotted it on 28 March, observers thought it was a massive star blowing up as a supernova and expected it to fade within hours or even minutes. But as Science went to press, the blast, while considerably fainter than its maximum intensity, was still going strong.

    Observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory pin the source to the center of a galaxy 3.8 billion light-years away, suggesting that it's a black hole.

    It could be that a star flitting too close to the black hole has been grabbed by its gravitational pull. As the black hole consumes the star's gas, it releases enormous amounts of energy in jetlike bursts of particles.

    Although astronomers have seen black holes gobbling stars, this blast is putting out far more energy than previously seen. If it stays bright for weeks, astronomers say, they will have to look for another explanation, such as a dormant quasar suddenly turning on. http://scim.ag/big-blast

  2. Caffeine Fiend? Could Be A Gene Thing

    Researchers have found two genetic variants that may help explain why some coffee drinkers keep going back for refills.

    CREDIT: ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

    Twin studies suggest that genes may account for between 43% and 58% of the variability in coffee-drinking habits. To pinpoint the responsible genes, genetic epidemiologist Marilyn Cornelis of the Harvard School of Public Health, along with colleagues at six institutions, scanned the entire genomes of 47,341 adult subjects from five U.S. studies that had collected data on caffeine intake. Two variants emerged. One neighbored a gene called CYP1A2, which “is up to 95% responsible for caffeine metabolism,” Cornelis says. The other big hit, the team reported last week in PLoS Genetics, was a variant near a gene called AHR, which regulates how CYP1A2 is expressed. Cornelis speculates that the variants could ramp up caffeine metabolism, meaning people who have the variants require more refills to maintain the same buzz as those who don't. But she says the findings suggest that other genetic variants also come into play.

    http://scim.ag/coffee-gene

  3. Sex After a Field Trip Yields Scientific First

    Bitten.

    Kobylinski (left) and Foy (right) with entomologist Massamba Sylla in Senegal.

    CREDIT: COURTESY OF BRIAN FOY

    A U.S. vector biologist appears to have accidentally written virological history simply by having sex with his wife after returning from a field trip to Senegal.

    Brian Foy of Colorado State University in Fort Collins and graduate student Kevin Kobylinski got bitten mercilessly while collecting mosquitoes in Senegal for their malaria research. About 5 days after returning home on 24 August 2008, both researchers developed a rash, fatigue, swollen and painful joints, and other unpleasant symptoms. Days later, Foy's wife, Joy Chilson Foy, fell ill as well.

    The scientists suspected a mosquito-borne virus, but lab studies failed to turn up a culprit. On his next Senegal trip, however, Kobylinski told the tale to Andrew Haddow, a medical entomologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston whose grandfather had isolated a virus called Zika in Uganda in 1947. Haddow suggested that the obscure mosquito-borne agent might be to blame—and sure enough, lab tests turned up Zika antibodies in samples from all three.

    Zika-transmitting mosquitoes don't live in northern Colorado. A paper published online 2 weeks ago in Emerging Infectious Diseases points instead to “vaginal sexual intercourse in the days after patient 1 [Foy] returned home”—which would be the first known case of sexual transmission of a mosquito-borne virus. “My wife wasn't happy,” says Foy; she is, however, an author of the paper.

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