News this Week

Science  10 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6231, pp. 160

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  1. This week's section

    Sheep, goat virus targeted for eradication

    A viral disease is threatening goat herds like this one in Tanzania.


    Animal health specialists meeting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, last week agreed to try to rid the world of peste des petits ruminants (PPR), a viral disease devastating goat and sheep flocks throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Control efforts have fallen short, and the time has come for a “bolder next step,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, at the meeting FAO organized with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to kick of a global eradication program. Also called ovine rinderpest, PPR kills up to 90% of the animals it infects within days. The virus has spread rapidly over the past 15 years and is now in 70 countries, putting 80% of the world's more than 2 billion goat and sheep at risk. FAO and OIE believe they will need $4 billion to $7 billion over the next 15 years to accomplish their goal.

    Was T. Rex cousin a cannibal?


    The group of ferocious meat-eating dinosaurs known as tyrannosaurs—of which the most famous member is Tyrannosaurus rex—may have turned their sharp teeth on each other. A distinctive pattern of tooth marks on the skull and jaw of a 75-million-year-old tyrannosaur discovered at Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada, offers the best evidence of that yet, scientists say. The dinosaur, known as Daspletosaurus (pictured above in an artist's reconstruction), was not fully adult when it died, but still weighed about 500 kilograms and was almost 6 meters long. Full-grown Daspletosaurus were just a tad smaller than T. rex, which lived 7 or so million years later. In a study published this week in PeerJ, the researchers conclude from the spacing and shape of the puncture marks on its skull that it was bitten by another tyrannosaur—quite possibly another Daspletosaurus—while it was still alive, probably as the result of fraternal infighting. Those wounds healed, but tooth marks on its jaw suggest that it was chomped on by yet another tyrannosaur after it died.

    Telescope protesters arrested

    Protesters gathered at Mauna Kea last week to prevent construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.


    Ongoing protests against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the summit of Mauna Kea led to the arrest of a dozen people last week, according to the Hawaii Police Department. About 100 people gathered on 2 April to block construction machinery from reaching the summit, which Native Hawaiians say is sacred ground. The protesters have cited concerns that construction of the $1.4 billion telescope will irreparably harm the environment and Native Hawaiian ancestral graves and sacred places. Protesters also disrupted the TMT's groundbreaking ceremony last October (Science, 17 October 2014, p. 284), but last week marked the first arrests. The protesters were released after posting bail. TMT, which w ill be one of the most powerful ground-based telescopes in the world, is scheduled to achieve first light in 2022.

    “We just figured, we'll go with [a name] that has some meaning to us.”

    Biochemist Tom Schmidlin, founder and namesake of the recently launched Postdoc Brewing Company.

    By the numbers

    1000—The amount of plastic, in tonnes, in an accumulation zone recently identified within the Mediterranean Sea.

    10%—Fraction of samples, advertised online as pure human breast milk, that had been adulterated with cow's milk, according to a study in Pediatrics.

    $1 billion—Damages sought in a lawsuit filed last week by 774 plaintiffs against Johns Hopkins University and the Rockefeller Foundation, alleging they deliberately infected hundreds in Guatemala with sexually transmitted diseases between 1945 and 1956.

    Around the world

    Long Island, New York

    Biomed lab inks hospital deal

    Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), a bastion of basic biomedical research, is making a major foray into more applied drug development. Last week the lab and North Shore-LIJ Health System, a local hospital system, announced a new alliance and a more than $120 million investment aimed at moving basic cancer discoveries into the clinic. Scientists at the not-for profit CSHL have used genomics, RNAi screens, and mouse models to find important cancer drug targets. Now, the lab wants to turn those discoveries into drugs by conducting early stage clinical trials with North Shore-LIJ, which has 16,000 new cancer patients each year in the New York City area. CSHL chief Bruce Stillman says the new venture will not compromise the lab's basic research.

    Sindh Province, Pakistan

    Banana disease spreads


    A fungus that devastates banana plants has been confirmed in Pakistan, raising worries that it might spread to India, the world's largest producer of bananas. The fungus, a strain of Fusarium oxysporum called tropical race 4 (TR4), emerged in the 1990s and has ravaged thousands of hectares in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Growers in Pakistan first noted suspicious symptoms, such as brown rot in stems (below), on a small plantation in 2012. By January 2014, about 121 hectares had succumbed. A team led by Gerrit Kema of Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands analyzed samples of the bananas from Pakistan and Lebanon—and confirmed in Plant Disease last week that TR4 has now reached both countries. TR4 is soil-borne, so it could spread to India by flooding or human transport. “We are afraid it will show up everywhere,” Kema says. TR4 hit Mozambique in 2013 and was confirmed last month in Queensland, Australia.

    Dodewaard, Netherlands

    Open Access 3.0: Pay the author

    Most open-access journals have authors pay an article processing fee to publish a paper. Now, a small online malaria journal based in the Netherlands is promising to pay its authors—€150 for every article it publishes. The idea behind the move, possible thanks to a Dutch funding agency, is both to lure authors to the journal and to drive home the message that academic publishing is too expensive, says the journal's editor, Bart Knols. The upstart journal—which has so far published only 57 papers—is part of MalariaWorld, a website and networking tool that has some 8500 registered users in 140 countries. Two experts review papers submitted to the journal, Knols says; if they disagree, the journal's editors decide whether to publish. The plan is to reward every published paper; multiple authors split the €150.


    Three Q's

    In 2012, a Harvard University freezer containing more than 50 donated brains from people diagnosed with autism failed. Autism researchers were left with less than 10% of the brain tissue experts say they need to untangle the disorder's biological basis. Last month, the National Institutes of Health and private research foundations launched a collaboration to collect new donations. David Amaral, research director of the University of California, Davis, MIND Institute, discussed the project, called the Autism Brain Net.

    Q:Why isn't there enough brain tissue to study autism?

    A:There are probably 500 deaths a year of people with autism, and yet the number of brains donated is a small fraction of that. It's vital to get samples from all ages. You also have to make sure [the brain] is from someone who really did have autism.

    Q:How many brains do you have?

    A:We did an inventory in January of last year, and counted roughly 20 [intact] brains.

    Q:What questions can the brain tissue answer?

    A:The brains of young individuals with autism are enlarged, but we don't know why. Is it too many neurons, too many connections? [To answer that] we have to do the neuropathology.


    How Europeans evolved white skin

    Pale skin, and other traits such as tallness and the ability to digest milk as adults, arrived in most of Europe relatively recently, scientists reported last week at the 84th annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in St. Louis, Missouri. The international team of researchers searched DNA from 83 ancient individuals from archaeological sites throughout Europe for genes under strong natural selection—including traits so favorable that they spread rapidly throughout Europe in the past 8000 years. By comparing the ancient European genomes with those of recent ones from the 1000 Genomes Project, they found five genes associated with changes in diet and skin pigmentation that underwent strong natural selection. The finding offers dramatic evidence of recent evolution in Europe and shows that most modern Europeans don't look much like those of 8000 years ago.

    How the Dutch became tallest

    The Dutch are the tallest people on Earth, with an average height of 1.84 meters for men and 1.71 meters for women. Better nutrition and health care help explain a growth spurt of 20 centimeters over 150 years, but natural selection may also have played a role, suggests a study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. From a database tracking 94,516 Dutch people, behavioral biologist Gert Stulp of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and colleagues found that taller Dutch men have more children than those of average height and more of them survive, which likely helps spread genes contributing to tallness. Previous studies showed that tall men in the United States don't have more children; why the Dutch are different is unclear, Stulp says.

    Terror of the late Triassic


    North Carolina was a tropical swamp 231 million years ago—and at the top of the food chain was a 3-meter-tall crocodilian ancestor that walked on its hind legs and ate the ancestors of early mammals. A newly analyzed fossil, which includes parts of a skull, spine, and upper forelimb found more than a decade ago in central North Carolina, represents one of the earliest examples of crocodylomorphs, paleontologists reported last month in Scientific Reports. The team used high-resolution surface scanners and skulls of close relatives to create a three-dimensional model of Carnufex carolinensis, known as the “Carolina butcher.” Crocodylomorphs vied with theropod dinosaurs at the end of the Triassic for top predator slots and succeeded—for a time. Only their smaller cousins remained following the end-Triassic extinction event 201.3 million years ago, allowing dinosaurs to take over for the next 135 million years.