News this Week

Science  17 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6134, pp. 792

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  1. Around the World

    1 - Washington, D.C.
    Supreme Court Upholds Soybean Patents
    2 - Moscow
    Scientists Decry New Funding Rules
    3 - Paris
    No Financial Misconduct, Says Institut
    4 - Berlin
    Unraveling the History of East German Clinical Trials
    5 - Mogadishu
    Wild Polio Reappears in Somalia
    6 - San Francisco, California
    Call to Abandon Journal Impact Factors

    Washington, D.C.

    Supreme Court Upholds Soybean Patents

    No beans.

    Bowman at the Supreme Court in February.


    Don't blame the bean: In a unanimous decision on 13 May, the U.S. Supreme Court backed the agribusiness firm Monsanto on its soybean patents. The justices concluded that an Indiana farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, violated the company's intellectual property rights when he refused to pay royalties on unlabeled soybeans that he bought that contained genes patented by the company.

    Bowman didn't dispute Monsanto's patents, which apply to genes that make soybeans resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. But he argued that his seed purchases weren't covered by Monsanto's patent license, claiming that the company's right to charge royalties had been "exhausted" because the unlabeled seeds he bought and planted were the progeny of plants grown from previously purchased Monsanto seed.

    The court also rejected an argument that Bowman was not liable because the beans themselves—and not the farmer—replicated Monsanto's patented genes. "We think that blame-the-bean defense tough to credit," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the 13 May opinion. "Bowman was not a passive observer of his soybeans' multiplication."


    Scientists Decry New Funding Rules

    Russian researchers are up in arms over a government decree issued last month, which requires any organization that wants to award a grant to Russian researchers to obtain permission from the Ministry of Education and Science. If the project to be funded is not in line with the priorities of basic research and R&D in Russia approved by the government, the ministry may decline the request and the organization will not be allowed to award the grants.

    "Effectively, the decree introduces a total ban on foreign grant funding of research," says Andrey Tsaturyan of Moscow State University's Mechanics Research Institute. "If organizations know that each time they award a grant to a Russian candidate they will have to request permission and risk refusal, they will just stop giving us grants," he says. The decree does include a list of 13 agencies that are exempt from the rules, including IAEA [the International Atomic Energy Agency], a few U.N. organizations, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, etc., "that is, bodies of which Russia is a member," Tsaturyan adds. "There is no serious scientific foundation on this list."


    No Financial Misconduct, Says Institut

    The Institut Pasteur has denied accusations by a government watchdog that it misleads research donors. In a scathing report published earlier this month, the Inspection Générale des Affaires Sociales (IGAS) said the biomedical research organization massages figures to attract private donations and government funding. The institute "artificially" presents its balance sheet to funders as "structurally in the red" to appear vulnerable, the authors write, although the institute's endowment was worth €658 million in investment funds in 2011—bringing its total wealth to about €1 billion.


    Institut Pasteur denies misconduct.


    The accusations have shaken up the venerable institute, a nonprofit research foundation focused on infectious diseases. Pasteur receives about €60 million from the French government and €50 million in donations every year.

    In a statement dated 3 May, Institut Pasteur dismissed IGAS's accusations as unfounded. "The endowment allows the Institut Pasteur to shield itself from uncertainties that could affect the level of its different funding sources in the long term," the statement says.

    But Alain Guédon, who served as Pasteur's vice president for business development between 2007 and 2009, says the report reflects his own experience and frustration during his stint at the institute.


    Unraveling the History of East German Clinical Trials

    Germany's Charité University Hospital has halted the routine destruction of decades-old clinical trial records to help researchers piece together whether drug tests performed in the East Berlin hospital during the Cold War adhered to international ethics standards. Allegations that pharma companies used East Germany as a cheap testing ground have been voiced before. But on 13 May, the news magazine Der Spiegel charged that more than 600 such trials had been carried out in East German hospitals by German, Swiss, and U.S. companies, often without informing patients about possible risks and side effects.

    Volker Hess, director of the Charité's institute of the history of medicine, responded in a 13 May statement that he is preparing to examine how patients at the time were informed, how consent was handled, and how doctors dealt with side effects.

    "We're hoping to achieve a fairly systematic report on this contract research," he said. A spokesperson for the German Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, meanwhile, said that standards for clinical studies in East Germany had been similar to international standards and were adhered to in practice.


    Wild Polio Reappears in Somalia


    A Somali baby gets polio vaccine in April.


    Wild poliovirus is back in Somalia after a 6-year hiatus. On 11 May, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed a case of poliovirus type 1 in a 32-month-old girl in Banadir in south central Somalia. Virus was also isolated from three of the child's close contacts. This is the first case of wild polio since March 2007, although the country has had an ongoing outbreak of vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) since 2009, with 18 reported vaccine-derived cases, the most recent in January 2013. Last year, the vaccine strain spread to Kenya, causing three cases in a refugee camp. (VDPVs occur when the virus used to make the attenuated, live vaccine regains its virulence and transmissibility.)

    The new outbreak poses a serious threat—both to Somalia and across the Horn of Africa—a WHO spokesman says, because large swaths of conflict-torn Somalia have not conducted vaccination campaigns since 2009. On 14 May, the country began vaccinating in the Banadir region, with the goal of reaching 350,000 children. More rounds are being planned. Meanwhile, a genetic investigation is under way to determine which country the wild virus came from.

    San Francisco, California

    Call to Abandon Journal Impact Factors

    More than 150 prominent scientists and 75 scientific groups have taken a stand against using impact factors, a measure of how often a journal is cited, to gauge the quality of an individual's work. They say researchers should be judged by the content of their papers, not where the studies are published.

    Journal impact factors, calculated by the company Thomson Reuters, were developed to help libraries decide which journals to order. Some scientists consider the metric flawed: It doesn't distinguish primary research from reviews, and a few highly cited papers can skew a journal's score. Yet impact factors are also now widely used to assess the performance of individuals and research institutions.

    In a declaration drafted last December in San Francisco at the annual American Society for Cell Biology meeting and posted online this week, scientists write: "It is … imperative that scientific output is measured accurately and evaluated wisely." Their 18 recommendations include urging the research community to "eliminate" the use of journal impact factors in funding, hiring, and promotion decisions. Signatories include Science's editor-in-chief (see p. 787); AAAS, Science's publisher; dozens of other editors, journals, and societies; and the Wellcome Trust, a major research charity.

  2. Random Sample

    Lending STEM a Helping Hand


    Last week, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the winners of a unique initiative addressing President Barack Obama's call for U.S. high-tech companies to help train 1 million more STEM graduates by 2020. Nine university-based teams taking novel approaches to lowering dropout rates among minorities, women, and low-income students in computer science and engineering will share $10 million—and the money comes not from federal coffers but from Intel and GE, under a unique arrangement spawned by the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

    The jobs council is defunct, but Intel's Tiffany Sargent worked with NSF officials to piggyback on an existing $25-million-a-year NSF program to expand the undergraduate STEM talent pool. Acting NSF Director Cora Marrett, shown with computer science major Cassandra Martin at an event honoring the winners, calls the Graduate 10K+ initiative "a starting point" for further government collaborations with corporate and nonprofit donors.


    Prepare for a lean year at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which expects to slash its number of funded new and competing research grants by 703. Total awards, including continuing grants, will fall by around 1357 to 34,902, the lowest in a decade. The figures reflect a 5.5% cut to NIH's $30.9 billion 2012 budget, mostly due to sequestration.

    Eating Bugs Could Save the World


    With global population rising almost as fast as atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, food security experts are scrambling to find sustainable, environmentally friendly sources of protein to feed those extra mouths. According to a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the answer may be one that makes many Westerners squirm: edible insects.

    The FAO estimates that about 2 billion people regularly dine on more than 1900 species of insects, mostly as part of traditional diets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Small, flightless grasshoppers called chapulines and maguey worms are often on the menu in Mexico, while fried Thai zebra tarantulas are so popular in Cambodia that they may soon be driven to extinction. To prevent such overharvesting of wild insects, FAO recommends that sustainable insect farming strategies be developed in concert with local farmers, for whom edible insects can provide an important source of income.

    But for those who aren't excited to chow down on a plate full of termites, no matter how protein-rich (and delicious) they may be, don't worry: FAO argues that insects have even more potential as affordable, nutritious, and environmentally friendly feed for the animals we'd rather eat, such as chickens and cows.


    Join us on Thursday, 23 May, at 3 p.m. EDT for a live chat on the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders standards. Are they still a good guide to psychiatric illness?

  3. Newsmakers

    Mass Spectrometry Innovator Nabs Dreyfus Prize



    R. Graham Cooks, a chemist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, has been awarded the 2013 Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences. Cooks was hailed by the award foundation as an "innovative giant" in mass spectrometry, which identifies molecules by tearing them apart, weighing their constituents, and determining their likely original structures.

    Cooks is best known for pioneering tandem mass spectrometry, in which molecules in a sample are repeatedly subjected to an electric field that rips the molecules apart and ionizes their components. Doing so successively allows researchers to first separate one class of molecules—say, protein fragments called peptides—and then separate individual peptides further to identify them. The pharmaceutical industry uses this technique to identify both drug targets and potential therapeutics.

    Cooks also pioneered efforts to shrink automobile-sized mass spectrometers down to the size of a shoebox—opening the door to myriad uses in homeland security, food safety, and forensics. "Mass spectrometry has had an extraordinary impact on modern science, and Graham Cooks has changed the field in many important ways," says Richard Zare, a physical chemist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The Dreyfus Prize comes with a medal and a $250,000 award.

    Cell Biology Pioneer Dies

    de Duve


    Biochemist Christian de Duve, who helped reveal the internal organization and operation of cells, died on 4 May. Suffering from cancer and other ailments, the 95-year-old Nobel laureate opted for euthanasia.

    De Duve earned his M.D. and Ph.D. at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. When he began research as a faculty member there in 1947, his ambition was to determine how insulin works. But de Duve's career detoured into cell structure and function when he decided to follow up on a tangential observation about a metabolic enzyme.

    He likened himself to a voyager, writing, "I have roamed through living cells, but with the help of a centrifuge rather than of a microscope." Using centrifugation to sift cellular contents, de Duve discovered the lysosome, a digestive organelle that breaks down food and debris. He also identified another organelle, the peroxisome, which is important for metabolism. De Duve, Albert Claude, and George Palade, all of whom were recognized as "largely responsible for the creation of modern Cell Biology," shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1974.

  4. Troubled Waters for Ancient Shipwrecks

    1. Heather Pringle*

    As archaeologists find new ways to pull precious data from wrecks, they are squaring off against those salvaging ships for profit.

    Timber treasure.

    Careful analysis of every remaining hull timber allowed archaeologists to reconstruct the Pepper Wreck.


    In 1993, archaeologists surveying the seafloor near Lisbon spied several pieces of old timber jutting out from a mash of mud and peppercorns 10 meters below the water's surface. The site was modest in appearance and partially looted, but it contained a key find: fragments of an ancient wooden ship known as a Portuguese Indiaman, built during the Renaissance to sail what was then the longest and most dangerous commercial route in the world—from Portugal to India, the land of pepper and spice. Designed for an age of discovery, the Indiaman "was the space shuttle of its time," says nautical archaeologist Filipe Vieira de Castro of Texas A & M University in College Station.

    Renaissance fortune.

    When the Pepper Wreck sank, it spilled tonnes of peppercorns and the odd coconut across the sea floor.


    Historical accounts described the ship as a miniature floating city that carried 450 people—but many researchers thought the accounts were exaggerated. Castro and colleagues began excavating in 1996 and in 17 years of detailed study have produced research on everything from the ship's design to its sailing abilities; their latest findings appear in the February issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science. The team has extracted "more data [from the wreck] than you would think possible," says nautical archaeologist Wendy Van Duivenvoorde of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. The overall conclusion: the Indiaman lived up to its press and was indeed a sophisticated—if congested—craft.

    This detailed portrait of a Renaissance ship is just part of the scientific bounty now accruing from advanced new techniques for excavating and analyzing underwater wrecks. But as scientists dig into this wealth of data, they are also waging bitter, high-profile battles to protect these sites. Finding shipwrecks has never been easier, and a spectrum of archaeologists, explorers, salvage operators, and treasure hunters all are setting out to do so. Local divers scavenge wrecks for coins and ingots, while companies equipped with remote-sensing technology recover artifacts for sale to collectors and museums. Specialized antiquity dealers do a brisk trade in shipwreck artifacts such as coins and Chinese porcelain.

    For years, the law of the sea was essentially finders keepers, and salvors who located shipwrecks and brought up their cargo were entitled to a reward at the least. But in recent years, archaeologists have argued that this maritime right of salvage should not be applied to ancient, archaeologically valuable ships. "We stand to lose access to enormous segments of the human story, information about our ancestors and ourselves," says archaeologist Douglas Comer of Cultural Site Research and Management, an independent consulting firm in Baltimore, Maryland. Underwater archaeologist James Delgado, director of maritime heritage at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington, D.C., asks: "Where does it all stop, if we accept that evidence of our past can be converted into something that people can buy and take home?"

    Firms that sell artifacts say there is nothing inherently wrong with the practice, particularly when it applies to only coins and duplicate cargo items. Such sales can benefit museums struggling to maintain large collections, points out Greg Stemm, chief executive officer of Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc., a deep-ocean exploration company based in Tampa, Florida, in an e-mail interview.


    Most archaeologists, however, sharply disagree with the idea of selling artifacts. The history of archaeology has repeatedly shown that "where exploration and fieldwork were steered by the market value of objects, the approach and documentation are so compromised that even the most basic observations become unreliable," says maritime archaeologist Thijs Maarleveld of the University of Southern Denmark in Esbjerg.

    As more and more ancient wrecks are revealed, shipwreck preservation stands "on a knife edge internationally," says archaeologist Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. He also holds a seat in the House of Lords, and from there he recently blasted plans to allow Odyssey and a charitable trust known as the Maritime Heritage Foundation to excavate a historic British warship, HMS Victory, which foundered in the English Channel in the mid-18th century. It is very clear, he told Science, that governments should not allow "salvage of this kind."

    Floating city.

    A digital reconstruction of the Pepper Wreck showed it could carry 450 people.


    The battle lines are hardening. "We speak two different languages," says Castro. "We are after knowledge and they are after money."

    Aboard a Renaissance craft

    Sunken ships are packed with archaeological information, says maritime archaeologist Paul Johnston of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Often the vessels went down with all the tools, supplies, and cargo needed to succeed on their voyage, and "the organic artifacts tend to be much better preserved than they are on land," he says, due to anaerobic conditions in many marine sites. Unlike terrestrial sites that were often occupied repeatedly over centuries, shipwrecks date to one moment in time, offering tight chronological control.


    Computer models of a Portuguese Indiaman and the air pressure around it show that the ship met modern stability criteria; sails colored red took most of the wind.


    However, wresting knowledge from an underwater site is often a slow, laborious task. In the case of the Pepper Wreck found near Lisbon, Castro's team used $500,000 from the Portuguese government to dig the site and raise the hull timbers over four field seasons under the supervision of Portugal's national agency for nautical archaeology. (The equipment the team bought became part of a new national center for underwater archaeology in Lisbon.) Team members spent 2 years conserving artifacts to avoid rapid deterioration on land.

    To help identify the wreck, the researchers searched historical records. In 1606, they learned, a Portuguese Indiaman christened Our Lady of the Martyrs sank in the area of the wreck site with a large cargo of peppercorns. Many artifacts from the Pepper Wreck fit that ship's description, including Chinese porcelain dated to 1600 and a navigational instrument called an astrolabe inscribed with the date 1605. Because the ship "was built in the royal shipyard in Lisbon, and wasn't just an anonymous ship, the level of analysis that could be carried out was immensely greater," says nautical archaeologist Brad Loewen of the University of Montreal in Canada, who was not part of the team.

    To reconstruct the ship's design, Castro painstakingly recorded the size and shape of every piece of wood, as well as the location of shipwright marks, caulking, and spikes used to join pieces together. Then he studied shipwright marks and design formulae in ancient shipbuilding treatises. By combining the formulae with their measurements, Castro and colleagues extrapolated the design, revealing a sturdy, massive ship with a 28-meter-long keel and a 31-meter-tall main mast (see image).

    Could such a ship really carry 450 people and some 250 metric tonnes of cargo safely around Africa's Cape of Good Hope and through Indian Ocean monsoons? Castro and a small team combed historical records to compile a list of items needed to outfit an Indiaman for this voyage and calculated their volume and weight, from 175 tonnes of ballast to 292 tonnes of water, wine, and food. Using 3D software, the team positioned the items inside the digitally reconstructed ship to determine how much space was left for passengers and crew. Their study, published in Historical Archaeology in 2010, revealed that the ship indeed could have departed from Lisbon with 450 people, although conditions aboard would have been very crowded early in the voyage (when the ship was fully loaded with food and water), with just 1.3 square meters of living space per person. Such cramped quarters were "common at the time," Castro says.

    What about safety? One well-known 18th century book, The Tragic History of the Sea, painted a bleak picture of the Indiaman's record. So the team used modern mathematical tools to see how well the reconstructed ship rode out storms. In a Journal of Archaeological Science paper in 2012, they found that the reconstructed Indiaman met modern stability criteria set by the U.S. Coast Guard for large wooden sailing ships. Even when the wind gusts strongly, the reconstructed ship goes "back to the vertical condition so quickly that seasoned sailors could get seasick," Castro says.

    Passage to India.

    Archaeologist Filipe Castro (above) recovered artifacts and wood from the Pepper Wreck (below), which would have made the long journey around Africa to India and then back to Portugal in routes shown on this antique map.


    Van Duivenvoorde, who was not involved in the research, calls the work "valid and very important," adding that "we now know that these ships were well designed and well built, given the constraints of the period."

    Laws of the sea

    Castro and his colleagues' three books and 17 primary publications serve as an outstanding example of the archaeological knowledge that a single shipwreck can generate. Other wrecks are also yielding rare and detailed findings about the past. Seeds from Israel's Hahotrim wreck, for example, have revealed the ancient spread of an exotic plant along the Mediterranean coast, probably carried by ships, while marble aboard the Kizilburun ship has yielded new information on the workings of marble quarries in Roman-era Turkey (see sidebar, p. 805). Sailors' personal effects found in the 17th century Swedish warship, Vasa, are shedding light on the privations of naval life, including the lack of medical equipment. Such studies fill in many blanks in the archaeological record, says archaeologist Deborah Carlson of Texas A&M University, offering "tremendous insight into what people were doing and eating, where they were going, what music they were listening to, and what games they were playing."

    The superb preservation that attracts archaeologists to shipwreck sites, however, also draws local divers hunting for treasure. As a result, wrecks around the world are being outright looted or salvaged quickly, with little if any attention paid to documenting the sites. "It's a very, very serious problem," says Wu Chunming, a maritime archaeologist at Xiamen University in China.

    It's not a new problem for archaeologists—terrestrial sites have long been plagued by looters and still are. But on land, researchers have several legal weapons: A U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) convention bars international trade in looted artifacts, and some archaeologically-rich countries have declared all undiscovered artifacts state property. The situation in the sea is different. Under the ancient maritime law of salvage and the common law of finds, salvors who find sunken ships and their cargo are often entitled to a reward, either a flat fee or a percentage of the value of the discovery. Sometimes they can even claim legal ownership of a wreck and its contents. As a result, salvors are often entitled to sell part if not all of what they discover on a wreck, a nearly universal right that long extended to ships carrying key archaeological data.

    Recently, advances in remote-sensing technology have allowed salvors to locate ancient ships where they never looked before—in deep water—putting more of the world's archaeological record in danger. So in the mid-1990s, nautical archaeologists began pressing for a new international law to protect ancient sunken ships. The 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage is the result. It recommends the preservation of shipwrecks in situ as the first option, and prohibits buying, selling, and dispersing their artifacts, because this practice encourages excavation for the marketplace rather than for knowledge and boosts trade in objects of scientific value.

    The convention entered into force in 2009, after 20 countries ratified it, and the number of states signing on is steadily climbing. It's now 42. Public opinion appears to back shipwreck preservation: 60% of American adults agreed that artifacts from the RMS Titanic should not be auctioned off, according to a poll released last week by the Marist College and Sea Research Foundation. But nations as diverse as Mozambique, the United States, and Cape Verde have yet to sign on to the convention, leaving wrecks in many waters open to salvage.

    Tracking salvage in the world's oceans is difficult, so nautical archaeologists monitor eBay and online auction catalogs, and watch high-profile lawsuits to find out what's happening. One such case heard by the U.S. District Court in Florida in 1997 reveals how some treasure-hunting operations have worked.

    In this case, the U.S. government alleged that a Florida company, Salvors Inc., illegally destroyed seagrass and removed artifacts from a shipwreck site in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area. In its findings of fact, the court determined that Salvors used three ships equipped with propeller-wash deflectors, large bent pipes that channel the powerful thrust of a ship's engines towards the ocean floor, blasting sediments away in order to swiftly find coins and ingots. Archaeologists don't use this technique because it also blows away important but lightweight organic materials such as leather and wood. In 3 months, Salvors blasted more than 600 holes of 6 to 9 meters in diameter in the seafloor, seriously damaging at least 1.63 acres of sensitive seagrass habitat, according to the findings of fact. The court ordered the company to pay restoration costs and compensation totaling $589,311 and to return the recovered artifacts to the government.

    This kind of operation would be legal in many waters today, a situation that worries most nautical archaeologists. Equipped with sophisticated gear for locating wrecks, these operators "drain a non-renewable resource," Johnston says.

    Rights to wrecks

    Many companies that today excavate and sell artifacts from shipwrecks vigorously disavow such destructive practices. The Lisbon-based company, Arqueonautas Worldwide Arqueologia Subaquática, S.A., for example, has a scientific board, employs two archaeologists, and self-publishes archaeological reports on its website, which proudly proclaims: "Saving World Maritime Heritage since 1995." Arqueonautas has negotiated exclusive licences with the governments of Cape Verde and Mozambique to conduct maritime archaeological operations, according to documents posted on its website.

    Arqueonautas has located 150 historic shipwrecks worldwide and excavated 20 in Africa over the past 18 years, notes company spokesperson Miguel Gomes da Costa. He argues that sunken ships are seriously threatened globally by both local looters and fishing trawlers' nets, and that this demands rapid recovery operations.

    But the firm does sell artifacts. In developing nations such as Mozambique, Gomes says, you can't expect "these countries to finance with the taxpayers' money marine archaeology." He says that Arqueonautas provides an important service in Mozambique, excavating endangered ships and recovering important cultural objects which are then displayed in the country's museums—work it funds in part by selling "repetitive cargo artifacts," primarily coins and old Chinese porcelain. According to its website, the company has also sold a rare, 17th century mariner's astrolabe from a wreck off the coast of Cape Verde, which was purchased by an American museum for some $200,000 at a Sotheby's auction in 2000. "Of course this [selling of artifacts] is not accepted by a lot of the fundamentalists, principally, that like very much the UNESCO convention," Gomes says.

    Going, going, gone.

    To learn what salvors have found on wreck sites, archaeologists monitor the catalogs of shipwreck artifacts sold at auctions around the world.


    The Sotheby's lots also included what Gomes described as Arqueonautas's "share" of recovered artifacts from the American warship USS Yorktown, which sank near a Cape Verde coast in 1850; the artifacts included items such as a powder flask and an inscribed teaspoon. But the U.S. Navy claims jurisdiction to its wrecks all over the world, and does not allow salvage, in order to prevent trade in artifacts and to protect sailors' graves. A member of the scientific board of Arqueonautas noted in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice that the company's staff members couldn't identify the ship until after excavation. Sotheby's cooperated with the U.S. Navy to return some Yorktown artifacts, and the Navy is still seeking any items retrieved from the ship (

    Law of the sea.

    Salvors have used destructive equipment such as propeller wash deflectors (above) to quickly find and recover valuables like these old coins from Spain and the New World.


    Some archaeologists think that the Arqueonautas license in Mozambique, which covers 700 kilometers of coastline, has hindered the development of underwater archaeology by local researchers. Local studies were just gaining momentum before the Arqueonautas deal was signed, says Ricardo Teixeira Duarte of Eduardo Mondlane University in Ihassoro, Mozambique. "Why does a group of scientists need exclusivity?" he asks.

    In a paper published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Maritime Archaeology in 2012, Duarte uses data from the Arqueonautas website to suggest that the firm's choice of excavation sites looks like cherry-picking of wrecks that are likely to contain valuable goods such as gold and silver. The selection suggests that "the real objective of the interventions is profit," Duarte wrote. The paper adds that the company's online scientific reports for its operations in one region, Mozambique Island, are "incomplete," chiefly presenting "brief documentation in view of determining the financial value [of] the finds." Exclusive licenses to salvage firms, Duarte says, are "a wrong approach."

    Other researchers critical of such recovery operations argue that salvage is not the best policy for dealing with fishing trawler damage. Simply banning trawling in certain waters—as the Turkish government does near its shores, for example—can protect wrecks, says oceanographer Michael Brennan of the University of Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay. Brennan and colleagues found that this policy works, in a study published in Continental Shelf Research last year. They analyzed remote-sensing images and calculated the numbers of broken and unbroken amphorae on 14 shipwrecks off Turkey's coast, finding breakage rates from 0.6% to 62.5%. Some damage was clearly due to trawler nets. But the closer ships lay to shore, the fewer the shattered amphorae. Brennan argues that governments are better off creating no-trawl zones around shipwreck concentrations than opening these areas to companies that sell artifacts. "Trawling may threaten an important site to the point that excavation is warranted," he says, but "it does not in any way justify or make commercial salvage acceptable."

    Victory, or defeat?

    In the developed world, governments are also grappling with the issues of what to do with wrecks and how best to pay for the cost of underwater excavation. In the United Kingdom, an intense battle is brewing over a plan that many archaeologists say would commercially exploit Victory, once "the most powerful ship afloat," says Robert Yorke, chair of the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee, an umbrella organization representing 26 organizations as well as individual members in the United Kingdom. Victory sank in a violent storm in the English Channel in October 1744, claiming the lives of more than 1100 British sailors. Six weeks later, a Dutch newspaper reported that "people will have it that on board the Victory was a sum of £400,000 that it had brought from Lisbon for our merchants."

    In 2008, Odyssey located the ship's wreckage beyond the United Kingdom's territorial waters, at a depth of about 75 meters. Since then, the company has described itself as "salvor-in-possession," and published online archaeological papers arguing that fishing and looters are damaging the wreck. These are "signs that the idea of preserving the site in situ is clearly not practical," noted CEO Stemm in a 2012 company press release.

    Bitter battle.

    Despite its cannons, viewed today on the seafloor (right), Victory sank in 1744, as depicted in this painting, and researchers now debate the fate of what was once considered the most powerful ship afloat.


    Under a provision of international maritime law, the U.K. government claims jurisdiction over its naval wrecks, and it has adopted the UNESCO convention's annex, which rules out buying and selling artifacts, as "archaeological best practice."

    Nevertheless, in January 2012, the government gifted Victory to The Maritime Heritage Foundation, a charitable trust established in October 2010 by Robert Balchin—a prominent Conservative peer who holds the title Lord Lingfield—and two other trustees. One week after the deed of gift was announced, Odyssey posted an online press release stating that it had signed an agreement with the foundation to excavate the wreck. The government later explained the gift by noting that it did not want to spend its money on managing the wreck.

    Many archaeologists are up in arms over this proposed excavation, given some of Odyssey's practices: The company currently sells shipwreck artifacts on its website, and its business model includes "commercial monetization of recovered cargo" from wrecks, according to the 2012 annual report that Odyssey filed with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission. In 2004, the company obtained in court legal ownership of a treasure-bearing 19th century steamer and its contents, the SS Republic, that the firm discovered in international waters off the east coast of the United States. Odyssey retrieved more than 51,000 gold and silver coins from the wreck, plus 14,000 artifacts, some of which it currently sells on its website.

    In an online press release concerning the Victory deal, Odyssey noted that The Maritime Heritage Foundation has agreed to reimburse the firm for its project costs, as well as paying a percentage ranging from 50% to 80% of the "fair value" of the coins and other artifacts recovered. The announcement also noted that the preferred plan was to pay the company in cash, but that the foundation "may choose to compensate Odyssey with artifacts in lieu of cash." These announced terms infuriate Yorke. "This is a salvage contract," he says. "It is not an archaeological contract."

    Stemm says critics have based their attacks on "false and misleading information." Odyssey, he says, employs four archaeologists, has conducted substantial excavations on "about half a dozen" wrecks, self-publishes its own scientific reports, and creates museum exhibits that have been seen by more than 2 million people. "I believe that the quality of our fieldwork equals and in terms of deep-sea capabilities surpasses that of most academic archaeologists because of the quality of equipment and technology we can afford," he says. But this comes at a cost. With today's technology and remotely operated vehicles, the work costs $20,000 to well over $30,000 per day, according to Stemm.

    Critics wonder where the money for the Victory's excavation will come from. "The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage makes clear that the excavation of historic wrecks should not be financed by selling off the finds recovered," stated Renfrew in the House of Lords (he holds the title Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn). "But that may be just what is now being planned for HMS Victory."

    Stemm denies this, however. The foundation will own the ship's artifacts, and Stemm notes that the charity doesn't have to sell them in order to compensate Odyssey—the payment could come from many sources. But the foundation's plans for coming up with this compensation are unclear. Asked about this last November in the House of Lords, Balchin said that "such things will be revealed" when the foundation reported on its finances at the end of its financial year. However, the charity's year-end statement filed a few weeks later revealed a fund balance of just £13,275 (about $21,000)—sufficient at best to cover just one day of Odyssey's fieldwork.

    Renfrew and other opponents are now waiting to see whether the Ministry of Defence will consent to Odyssey's proposed excavation. Renfrew believes that the decision will influence governments around the world. "There are major ethical issues involved here," he said during the House of Lords debate, "and it is difficult to avoid the impression that the government are giving a poor and ill-informed lead internationally in their dealings with Britain's underwater heritage."

    Nautical archaeologists and excavators around the world are watching the bitter struggle over Victory closely. It's a symbolic battle in a widening front, as more and more wrecks are located in their deep-water resting places.

    • * Heather Pringle is a science writer based in Victoria, Canada.

  5. From Quarry to Temple

    1. Heather Pringle

    Two thousand years after the Kizilburun shipwreck, excavating archaeologists have figured out exactly where it came from, where it was headed, and why.

    Missing link.

    A shipwreck's marble cargo reveals the construction of a Roman-era temple.


    Sometime between 100 B.C.E and 25 B.C.E., a wooden ship carrying almost 60 tonnes of stone foundered in Aegean waters just off the coast of Turkey. It went down bearing its entire cargo, including eight massive drum-shaped blocks of white marble. Those blocks fit together to form part of a tapering column that likely stood more than 11 meters tall, plus a square uppermost piece: a Doric column.

    Two thousand years after the ship went down, archaeologists excavating what is now called the Kizilburun shipwreck have figured out exactly where the marble blocks came from and where they were heading, illuminating the marble trade in the Roman province of Asia Minor. The work shows how underwater archaeology can add a new dimension and precise information to a period researchers thought they knew well (see main story, p. 802). "In the 1st century B.C.E., the Mediterranean was the highway by which everyone in the region was linked," says nautical archaeologist Deborah Carlson at Texas A&M University in College Station, who led the analysis. "This means shipwrecks connect sites on land in ways that archaeologists didn't see before."

    Carlson and classical archaeologist William Aylward of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. first set out to learn where the marble came from. As reported in a 2010 study in the American Journal of Archaeology, the team sent out samples of the marble for stable isotope analysis and other tests. The marble's values of the isotopes δ13C and δ18O and its spectroscopic details led them to Marmara Island, known as Proconnesos in Roman times, in the Sea of Marmara, the inland sea connecting the Aegean and Black seas. This island was the site of an important marble quarry when Asia Minor became a Roman province around 130 B.C.E.

    But where was the marble heading? The blocks' size and style suggest that the column was intended for a major public building, most likely a temple. Carlson and Aylward drew up a list of all the Doric-style monumental buildings under construction in the 1st century B.C.E. on coastlines south of the wreck site, the probable direction of travel away from the quarry. Then they searched for sites with a finished lower-column diameter of about 1.73 meters. They concluded that the marble was headed for the Temple of Apollo at Claros, where people in Roman times flocked to seek advice from oracles, just 50 kilometers from the wreck. That finding is "utterly convincing," says architectural historian Lothar Haselberger of the University of Pennsylvania.

    The data show that the quarry workers on Proconnesos were in close contact with the temple builders some 500 kilometers or more away, shaping the marble to the builders' exact specifications. The findings also show that the builders received columns in pieces in small shipments, hinting at a lengthy construction process. This information, says Carlson, "is the missing link that tells us a lot about this process."

  6. Food Science

    Following the Flavor

    1. Kai Kupferschmidt

    Scientists are beginning to unravel why we love some types of food and hate others. It's a vastly more complex topic than they once thought.


    COPENHAGEN—When Per Møller, a Danish food scientist, was in the United States a few years back, he tried a well-known U.S. chocolate bar. "It tasted awful to me, like vomit," he says. His American colleagues disagreed. "They told me this is what chocolate is supposed to taste like," he says. To Møller, who works at the University of Copenhagen in a yellow building known as "the cheese," the episode illustrates how little we understand why some things taste great and others awful—or why people can disagree so strongly on the issue.

    Møller is one of a growing group of researchers trying to answer these questions. Using a variety of approaches—including genetics, physiology, and psychology—they are beginning to piece together a picture of how genes, receptors, nerve cells, and experiences interact to create a flavor experience in the brain.

    They find questions everywhere. It's well known that humans are born liking the tastes of sweet and fat, and disliking bitterness—but it's a mystery why steak and Béarnaise sauce go well together, or gin and tonic, and why some people learn to like Campari, olives, and cilantro, and others don't. Even more important, says Katrin Ohla, who heads a research group at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam, little is known about the path a stimulus takes from the moment food touches the tongue to the diner's decision that it's disgusting, delicious, or somewhere in between.

    Change on the menu.

    Per Møller believes his research on taste will help chefs create better dishes.


    Compared to the other senses, science has long neglected taste, Ohla says. The receptors for umami, which lets humans taste glutamate and other amino acids, were discovered only in the 2000s, for instance, and scientists are still looking for fat receptors. Only in February did they discover why too much salt in your soup tastes bad: In high concentrations, it activates sour and bitter receptors on the tongue, presumably to prevent intake of dangerous amounts of salt.

    How sweet it is

    In recent years, scientists have found a number of genetic variants that seem to affect how people perceive certain foods. A mutation that influences whether cilantro tastes soapy, for instance, or one that determines whether someone can taste a bitter chemical called phenylthiocarbamide.

    But DNA tells only a very small part of the story, says geneticist Danielle Reed of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. She compares taste to vision. There are individual differences in color perception, and an impressionist painting may be less appealing to the colorblind. "But overall, your vision does not affect what kind of art you like," Reed says. "It is the same for food." In fact, the researchers who discovered the genetic variant affecting cilantro taste calculated that it accounted for only half a percent of the variance in its perceived soapiness.

    What makes flavor so difficult to study is that it consists of much more than molecules sensed by taste receptors. For one, when you swallow a piece of food, some air is forced up at the back of the mouth, so that receptors in your nasal cavity can detect its odor, a process called retronasal olfaction. "We used to think that was the same as smelling, but in fact, the brain records which way the odor came in and sends it to a different place," says Linda Bartoshuk, a psychologist at the University of Florida's Center for Smell and Taste in Gainesville. "Flavor is created in the brain through integrating taste and retronasal olfaction," she says.

    Just how important volatile compounds are became clear from an experiment in which Bartoshuk studied the flavor of tomatoes. She found that subjects perceived a tomato variety called matina as twice as sweet as one called yellow jelly bean, even though it contained less sugar. The effect appears to be due to the fact that matina has higher levels of six volatile compounds that enhance the perception of sweetness.

    Even things as difficult to measure as expectations seem to influence flavor. In a study published last year, Ohla showed participants photos of high-calorie or low-calorie food; afterward, a short electric current was passed through their tongue to create a standardized, slightly metallic sensation. Participants who had seen pictures of high-calorie food described that taste as more pleasant than those who had not. Food color and temperature also have a strong effect, Ohla says: "It's as if we're not really trusting our sense of taste alone."

    Past exposure appears to play an important role as well. In one experiment, Møller gave pureed artichokes to 2- and 3-year-old kids. Over ten consecutive sessions, they then received either the normal puree, a sweetened version, or one fortified with sunflower oil. The idea was that the children would learn to like the puree through association with sweetness or the energy-density of oil, both known to affect food choices. But at the end of the experiment, those exposed to the unmodified puree the whole time liked it the most. "We come to like what we eat," Møller says—which may be why Americans liked the chocolate bar he found repulsive. This type of learning starts in the womb: In several studies, babies from mothers who ate anise or garlic during pregnancy showed an increased preference for those foods.

    That taste is conservative isn't surprising from an evolutionary viewpoint. "You need a system that will protect you from eating foods that will poison you and kill you," Møller says. That's the reason a preference for sweet and an aversion to bitter are hardwired in our brain, says Bartoshuk. But it appears that retronasal olfaction allows learning and refining food choices during life. "What makes lasagna loved is that the odors have been paired to a source of calories," she says.

    Smoked salmon ice cream

    As the field of flavor perception develops, it's seeking collaborations with the world of gastronomy. Møller started a new journal last year, Flavour, that seeks papers not just from scientists, "but also from the growing number of chefs and other food professionals who are introducing science into their kitchens." Flavor scientists are also joining hands with culinary labs associated with top restaurants, such as the Nordic Food Lab, not far from Møller's office (see sidebar). Psychologists at the University of Sussex worked together with famed chef Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck, a topnotch eatery in Bray, U.K., to examine how people reacted to ice cream with a smoked salmon flavor. (Not surprisingly, they liked it better if they were told what to expect).

    In the long run, understanding why things taste well will allow chefs to come up with better food, Møller believes. "Romans built bridges but they didn't know anything about Newtonian mechanics. We do, and, therefore, we can build enormous bridges that do not collapse," he says. Similarly, humanity has developed paella and pizza, without knowing why they are so good. If chefs understood the principles, they too, could build bolder and bigger, Møller argues. And maybe create a chocolate bar that everyone likes.

  7. A Floating Lab Explores the Fringes of Science and Gastronomy

    1. Kai Kupferschmidt

    Ben Reade and the Nordic Food Lab are part of a movement known as molecular gastronomy that started in the 1990s as a project to understand how ingredients are transformed during cooking.

    A dash of science.

    Ben Reade of the Nordic Food Lab is developing new ways to prepare food, including fermented sauces (inset).


    COPENHAGEN—Ben Reade wants to know if you can serve toxic mushrooms for dinner. From a paper he recently read, Reade learned that the toxins in Amanita muscaria, a mushroom commonly known as fly agaric, are soluble in water. Now he is waiting for the fall to collect some specimens; by slicing and parboiling them, he hopes to get rid of the toxins and create a new dish.

    It's just one of many experiments at the Nordic Food Lab, which Reade, a chef with a degree in gastronomic sciences, leads. Housed on a small boat in the harbor here and connected to Noma, a nearby, world-famous restaurant, the lab employs cooks and scientists to develop new cooking techniques and mouth-watering new dishes. They're investigating how well bee larvae go with granola (very well) or what happens when garlic cloves sealed and stored for weeks at 60°C turn black. (Among other things, the enzyme alliinase, which produces garlic's pungent compounds, stops working).

    Whether people like Reade are actually doing science is a point of debate. Occasionally, results are published—as in a recent paper about seaweeds and umami flavor—but the work is "not driven by wanting to discover something," says University of Copenhagen food scientist Per Møller. "It is more that if a problem arises they consult with whatever scientific field is necessary." Still, labs like this can help him and other scientists, for instance by creating the unusual dishes needed in experiments to test how expectations modify the perception of taste, Møller says: "If somebody comes up with a creation that really freaks out your nervous system, you get a stronger signal." Chefs like Reade "are also asking questions and doing experiments that are opening up new questions for basic science," says Harold McGee, an American author who has explored the interplay between science and cooking.

    The Nordic Food Lab is part of a movement known as molecular gastronomy that started in the 1990s as a project to understand how ingredients are transformed during cooking. Pioneers like French physical chemist Hervé This were advocating a new, evidence-based way of cooking. "They thought it strange that we know more about what goes on in the nucleus of a star thousands of light-years away than about what goes on in a soufflé," Møller says. But they also wanted to introduce new tools and methods—and invent new recipes.

    Indeed, renowned chefs started using professional laboratory equipment such as water baths, liquid nitrogen, and rotary evaporators to produce radically new dishes. Ferran Adrià's restaurant El Bulli in Spain, voted the world's best restaurant five times between 2002 and 2009 by Restaurant magazine, became the beacon of this new, science-inspired cuisine. Reade says research at the Nordic Food Lab, which opened in 2008, is ultimately driven by the "pursuit of deliciousness." As one researcher at the lab put it in a recent paper, "if it's not delicious yet, experiment and play with it until something interesting happens."

    The approach has proven successful from a gastronomic and business point of view. Noma dethroned El Bulli as the world's best restaurant in 2010, a position it held on to until last month. Its popular $260 menu currently features items like live shrimp and fermented pears. The restaurant also serves ground grasshoppers, and the Nordic Food Lab is experimenting with other ways of preparing insects—which scientists say could provide an abundant and green protein source (see p. 794). "Very few of them," Reade observes, "are concentrating on making recipes that are delicious."