News this Week

Science  19 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6203, pp. 1434

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  1. This week's section

    Rosetta lander aims for site ‘J’


    The European Space Agency's (ESA's) Rosetta mission has chosen its landing site on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, ESA mission managers announced this week. Rosetta arrived at the comet on 6 August; it's the first spacecraft to accompany a comet as the sun heats it up and turns on its jets of gas and dust. On 11 November, Rosetta's Philae lander will set down at a site near the top of the comet's head known as site J. It will scoop up a sample of dust and ice from the site, which has an area of about a square kilometer, and analyze its composition. Scientists and engineers picked the site from five candidates, based on surface terrain, dynamical considerations of the descent, and, of course, prospects for exciting science. The primary goal: a scoop of the comet's black, organic-rich dust, which may be material unaltered since the earliest days of the solar system, more than 4.5 billion years ago.

    “I've always been interested in light, since very early in my youth. My first word after ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ was ‘light,’ believe it or not.”

    Physicist Ed Moses, former associate director of the National Ignition Facility, to Physics Today on why he's a good fit for his new job: head of the Giant Magellan Telescope.

    By the numbers

    28%—Fraction of its players that the NFL expects will have long-term cognitive problems, according to a report provided for a settlement between the league and 5000 former players.

    68%—Five-year U.S. survival rate for all cancers from 2003 to 2009, compared with 49% from 1975 to 1977, according to the American Association for Cancer Research's Cancer Progress Report 2014.

    29%—Jump in the rate of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest over the past year, according to the Brazilian government, which documented the destruction through satellite data.

    Chimp violence is adaptive behavior

    Alpha male Pimu was killed by males in his own community in the Mahale Mountains of Tanzania in 2011.


    Pity poor Pimu, an alpha male chimp at Mahale national park in Tanzania, pictured here being murdered in 2011 by members of his own troop. But such warfare actually serves an evolutionary purpose, concludes a new study of 18 chimpanzee and four bonobo communities across Africa published this week in Nature. Warfare makes the winners more fit by giving them greater access to food resources and females to mate with, the study finds. Those findings contradict claims by some anthropologists that chimp warfare is a response to the stress of human impacts on their habitats, such as deforestation and hunting, although it confirms previous assumptions that bonobos are relatively morwe peaceful than chimpanzees. Thus, of 153 total killings, only one involved a bonobo. But researchers are still arguing about whether chimp warfare has anything to tell us about the origins of human conflict.

    Remembering Lonesome George, an icon of the Galápagos

    Lonesome George's shell on a lightweight sculpture, part of the taxidermy process (left); the giant tortoise in 2005 (right).


    Lonesome George, a giant long-necked, saddle-backed tortoise who came to embody biological conservation in the Galápagos Islands, died of old age in June 2012 at about 102 years old. First spotted on Pinta Island in 1971, the tortoise was the last known member of his subspecies, Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii. Multiple attempts to mate him with closely related subspecies failed, and his death, conservationists fear, marked the end of the subspecies (though researchers have now discovered hybrid tortoises descended from Pinta Island tortoises on nearby Isabela Island). Even after death, Lonesome George remains an important conservation icon: The body was placed in deep freeze and sent to taxidermists at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City, who began preserving it in 2013, placing him in a classic Lonesome George pose—neck extended, head raised. From 19 September through 4 January 2015, he'll be on display at AMNH, before being sent back to the Galápagos for permanent display.

    Around the world


    Horizon 2020 reopened to Swiss

    Starting 15 September, scientists in Switzerland will again be able to apply for some research funds from the European Union's Horizon 2020 program. Switzerland lost its “associated country” status after a referendum to curb immigration in February. As a result, Switzerland said it couldn't include Croatia, which entered the union last year, in its agreement on the free movement of labor. The European Commission and Switzerland have now agreed to a short-term deal to restore Switzerland's associated country status for the “first pillar” of Horizon 2020, worth €24.4 billion for 7 years, but Swiss researchers will be considered third-country applicants for most of Horizon 2020, including its €29.7 billion third pillar. If Switzerland doesn't extend free movement of persons to Croatia before 9 February 2017 it will again lose its associated status.

    Geneva, Switzerland

    Ebola response ramps up

    After weeks of increasingly desperate calls from the World Health Organization (WHO) and medical charities for help fighting West Africa's Ebola epidemic, several countries have pledged substantial new assistance. On 12 September, WHO and the Cuban government announced the country would send 165 doctors and nurses to Sierra Leone in October. On 16 September, WHO announced China would send 59 more experts to join 115 already at the China-Sierra Leone Friendship Hospital. The same day, U.S. President Barack Obama said the U.S. military would dedicate 3000 U.S. forces and $500 million to an outbreak containment effort headquartered in Monrovia that will build treatment centers, recruit and train health care workers, and distribute more than 50,000 home health care kits to help people care for patients outside treatment centers.;


    Woman gets iPS cell treatment

    In the first human use of tissue derived from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, on 12 September surgeons implanted a 1.3-millimeter-by-3-millimeter sheet of retinal pigment epithelium cells into the eye of a Japanese woman suffering from macular degeneration. The patient is the first of six to undergo the procedure to determine its safety. “This is the first step toward using iPS cells in regenerative medicine,” said Masayo Takahashi, an ophthalmologist heading the research effort at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, in a statement. Routine use of the procedure is years away, but may still represent remarkably quick progression from basic finding to clinical use: Kyoto University researcher Shinya Yamanaka announced the discovery of mouse iPS cells in 2006 and human iPS cells in 2007, earning him a Nobel Prize in 2012.

    Washington, D.C.

    Stem cell papers didn't convince

    The fallout from two now-retracted stem cell papers includes a national hero accused of scientific fraud, the revamping of one of Japan's major research institutes, and the suicide of a respected cell biologist. Last week, Science obtained e-mail correspondence between a Nature editor and Haruko Obokata, lead author of the papers, that revealed the work initially received a rocky reception. Dated 4 April 2013, the e-mail includes criticisms of the two papers and suggestions for new data to support claims of a simple, novel way to make stem cells that could form the myriad cell types within a body (dubbed stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluri potency, or STAP). The Nature editor initially rejected the papers, but they were accepted 10 months later. A representative for Nature declined to comment.


    Plan to save bluefin tuna

    Frozen bluefin tuna at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.


    The multinational Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which coordinates fishing activities in the region, is throwing a lifeline to heavily overfished Pacific bluefin tuna. During a 10 September press briefing, Japanese officials provided details on a new plan agreed to by a WCPFC subcommittee this month: The proposal calls for keeping total Pacific bluefin catches below 2002 to 2004 annual average levels and for reducing catches of juveniles too young to spawn to 50% of those levels. The full commission will almost certainly adopt the proposal at a meeting to be held in Samoa starting 1 December, said Masanori Miyahara, an adviser to Japan's ministry of agriculture who chaired this month's meeting.

    Hong Kong

    Academics support student strike

    Hong Kong's academics are being drawn into a debate over election procedures as student activists organize a boycott of classes to protest what they argue are undemocratic restrictions proposed by Beijing. More than 500 professors and staff members at 20 of the city's colleges and universities have signed a statement supporting the students. Universal suffrage by 2017 in elections for Hong Kong's chief executive was a key principle underlying agreements to transfer Hong Kong from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. But on 31 August, a committee of China's National People's Congress announced that only two or three people should be eligible to run and that candidates should be selected by a nominating committee widely seen as favoring Beijing.


    New head of European research


    Carlos Moedas, secretary of state to Portugal's center-right prime minister, last week was appointed European commissioner in charge of research, science, and innovation. If approved by the European Parliament, he will take over from Máire Geoghegan-Quinn for a 5-year term at the European Commission, the European Union's executive branch. Moedas will oversee the use of funds from Horizon 2020, the European Union's €80 billion research program. Moedas, 44, earned his civil engineering degree at the Higher Technical Institute of the University of Lisbon, and after earning an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2000, he worked as a banker for Goldman Sachs and Aguirre Newman and founded his own investment company in 2008.