News this Week

Science  19 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6241, pp. 1292

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  1. This week's section

    Paris's historic Museum of Man is reborn

    The Musée de l'Homme's huge anthropology collection is coming out of mothballs after 6 years in storage.


    In the years before it closed in 2009, the Musée de l'Homme in Paris had lost its luster as a major research center and museum of anthropology and ethnography. In light of its fading reputation, French officials decided to shut its doors to carry out both interior design and intellectual renovations and scattered its collections and its scientists to other museums and institutes around Paris. But in October, this neoclassical building on the Place du Trocadéro, just across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower, will reopen to the public. Last week, journalists were treated to a press preview of the newly built laboratories that will house 150 of France's top researchers in the field, including an ancient DNA lab and a state-of-the-art uranium-thorium and paleomagnetism dating facility. Many researchers have already started to move in, although work will continue all summer on the public exhibition spaces, which museum officials promise will be more dynamic than the staid and dusty reconstructions that greeted visitors in the old days.

    The universe's earliest stars

    An artist's impression of the distant bright galaxy CR7.


    Astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope at Cerro Paranal, Chile, have spotted the brightest galaxy seen to date from the early universe. It's three times the brightness of the current record holder—and, they note, some of the galaxy's light contains no trace of any elements other than hydrogen and helium. That, the scientists say, is the strongest evidence yet of a sighting of the universe's very first generation of stars, ones made solely from the light elements created in the big bang. That first generation, known as population III stars, started the process of forging light elements into heavier ones, producing the variety of matter seen today in the universe. “Those stars were the ones that formed the first heavy atoms that ultimately allowed us to be here. It doesn't really get any more exciting than this,” team leader David Sobral of the University of Lisbon said in a statement.

    Back to Earth: Scientists leave Mars simulation dome

    A HI-SEAS scientist collects a soil sample during the study.


    After 8 months of living within a solar-powered dome meant to simulate life on Mars, six scientists with the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS, “returned” to Earth this week. The dome, on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano, is part of a NASA-sponsored study of the effects of a prolonged mission to Mars on an individual's performance and the cohesion of a crew. The location's remoteness and rocky scenery helped simulate the martian landscape, and the scientists donned space suits whenever they left the dome to make scientific measurements. Learning how to help astronauts deal with bad food, group conflict, and long, mundane days in cramped quarters could inform potential Mars missions in the future, say the researchers who conducted the study.

    “The scientific debate about salt to me is reminiscent of the debate about tobacco in the 1950s.”

    Cardiologist Lee Goldman to The Wall Street Journal, defending New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's controversial proposal to require chain restaurants to label salt-heavy foods.

    Around the world

    Sejong, South Korea

    Korea's MERS outbreak contained?

    A joint mission of international and local health experts, brought together by the World Health Organization (WHO) and South Korea's ministry of health, expressed cautious optimism this week that the country may be turning the corner on the recent outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Speaking at a press conference 13 June, the experts agreed that the outbreak caught the South Korean health sector by surprise, but noted that the government has recovered its footing. “Those steps needed to control this outbreak are being put in place and strengthened on a very rapid basis,” said panel member Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general for health security. The team emphasized the need for continued surveillance and strengthening infection control measures in health care facilities, but urged South Korean officials to reopen more than a thousand schools closed because of MERS fears, as the vast majority of MERS cases has occurred inside hospitals, not in homes, public transport, or other public places.


    Promised cuts won't slow warming

    Nations' pledges to cut greenhouse gases would buy the world only a little time before global temperatures shoot past the 2°C warming goal agreed on during climate talks in 2010, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said 15 June. Promised emissions reductions would keep temperature increases below the 2°C threshold until about 2040—just an extra 8 months compared with projected increases in the absence of those reductions. After that, global temperatures are projected to increase by about 2.6°C by 2100. The agency called for stronger action—including a global peak in energy emissions by 2020—through a series of steps including banning construction of inefficient coal power plants, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and a 50% hike in annual renewable energy investment.

    Pasadena, California

    LightSail's rise and fall

    LightSail's deployed solar sails on 8 June.


    It was a brief moment in the sun: The nonprofit Planetary Society's LightSail mission success fully deployed a solar sail in low-Earth orbit last week before falling back to Earth days later, landing in the south Atlantic Ocean. LightSail, packed into a tiny, low-cost spacecraft called a CubeSat, hitched a ride on 20 May on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. It transmitted an image of its unfurled solar sails on 9 June, confirming the mission's primary objective, said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye at a press conference on 10 June—and paving the way for a larger scale solar sail flight in 2016. Solar sailing works by using sunlight for propulsion; when the photons strike the Mylar sails, they transfer their momentum to the spacecraft, accelerating it through space. “We're changing the way humankind explores space,” Nye said.

    Vatican City

    Pope stresses climate science

    Pope Francis squarely blames the burning of fossil fuels for climate change, a leaked version of his long-awaited environmental encyclical revealed on 15 June. There is “a very consistent scientific consensus indicating that we are in the presence of a disturbing heating of the climate system,” says the leaked draft, which is in Italian. Vatican watchers have speculated whether the pope—who was trained as a chemist—would delve into scientific and policy details or would focus on climate change's impacts. The draft does both, discussing soil and water acidification, methane release feedback loops, and policy ideas for curbing emissions—while decrying a “culture of waste” and noting the damaging health effects of fossil fuel pollution on the poor. As Science went to press, the Vatican was expected to release the final document as planned on 18 June.

    Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Research protections overhaul

    The University of Minnesota last week released a 75-page document that announced sweeping changes to how it protects its research subjects. The report comes after two damning reviews earlier this year related to the suicide in 2004 of Dan Markingson, a 27-year-old who signed on to a psychiatric drug trial while involuntarily committed to a University of Minnesota hospital. One review charged the university with failure to protect the most vulnerable subjects of clinical trials (Science, 6 March, p. 1048). The other, an in-depth review of Markingson's case, noted “serious ethical issues,” among them that Markingson's treating psychiatrist was also one of the trial's leaders. The university says it plans to tighten conflict-of-interest rules, including a ban on researchers accepting consulting fees from companies for which they're running trials.


    Three Q's

    In 2003, Madagascar's then-President Marc Ravalomanana promised to triple the island's preserved land to protect its unusual and highly threatened biodiversity. That goal was more than reached in April with the addition of 94 new parks and preserves totaling 5,783,779 hectares. The effort was aided by local and U.S. scientists affiliated with the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), based in St. Louis, which helped prioritize areas and, for a dozen of particularly important ones, developed community-based conservation efforts. MBG's vice president for science and conservation, Jim Miller, describes its role in the conservation feat.

    Q:How was MBG involved?

    A:We have 100 people working in Madagascar. In 2004 and 2005, we went over Madagascar in 1° of latitude and 1° of longitude squares. We've been at some of these sites for more than 10 years and are still surveying them. We've identified some 90 [biodiversity-rich] places.

    Q:How will these parks affect biodiversity?

    A:Madagascar is a massive island, bigger than Arizona and California combined. Adding parks adds a lot of vegetation types. Some of them were chosen because we know they harbor many species that are endangered, or species that are new to science.

    Q:What's next for scientists there?

    A:Madagascar is so incredibly diverse that we don't seem able to find the bottom of it. We can't name the new species fast enough. In the 1980s, we thought there were 8000 [total species]; now we think there are more than 13,000. Protecting these forests gives us more time to explore them.

    In and out at NIH

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is losing its extramural grants chief and gaining a permanent director for its neurological institute. Sally Rockey is stepping down in September after 5 years as NIH's deputy director for extramural research. Rockey, who served during a time of unprecedented budget pressures on biomedical research, drew praise for sharing grants data and policies on her Rock Talk blog. An entomologist by training, she will direct a new agricultural research foundation created by the 2014 Farm Bill ( Elsewhere at NIH, neurologist Walter Koroshetz, deputy director of the $1.6 billion National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), has been named NINDS director. Koroshetz had been acting director of NINDS since last fall.

    A Nobelist's fall

    Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, 72, who made headlines in 2001 when his work on cell division earned a share of the prize in physiology or medicine, dominated the news cycle last week for a more unfortunate reason: remarks he made about women in science at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul. His comments—he said he supports “single-sex labs,” in part because female scientists cry when criticized and “fall in love” with male scientists—were widely decried as sexist. In the ensuing firestorm, Hunt has resigned from his post as an honorary researcher at University College London and from the European Research Council's Scientific Council, as well as from the Royal Society's Biological Sciences Awards Committee. While apologizing for his “inexcusable” statements—meant to be funny, he has said—he told The Guardian this week that he felt the response has been extreme and unfair.


    Guinea pigs, rain, and Chagas

    Guinea pig populations in Peru are linked to Chagas disease.


    Nearly 40% of people in some South American communities are infected with the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite that causes Chagas disease, an infection that can lead to heart and bowel failure. Scientists now suggest that—at least in the Andean region of Arequipa, Peru—a combination of fluctuating guinea pig populations and seasonal rains may be behind the high incidence. The guinea pigs, which are raised as food, can act as reservoirs of T. cruzi, infecting kissing bugs that bite them. When alfalfa prices spike in the dry summer months, guinea pig populations plummet as people kill their stock rather than pay more to feed them. The parasite is more likely to become concentrated in the small subset of animals maintained for reproduction—which, in turn, increases the number of human infections, the researchers report this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.