News this Week

Science  24 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6246, pp. 350

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  1. This week's section

    Chile and the Canaries to share gamma-ray observatory

    The array (artist's rendition shown) will detect radiation by gamma rays striking the atmosphere.


    The governing board of the world's largest and most powerful gamma-ray observatory has announced its selection of the two sites that will host the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA). The sites, in Chile's Atacama Desert and La Palma island in the Canary Islands, were chosen ahead of rival sites in Namibia and Mexico for the northern and southern portions of the CTA, a €297 million facility that will allow astrophysicists to study some of the most energetic phenomena in the universe, from the origin of cosmic rays to particle acceleration around black holes. Each site is already home to major astronomical facilities. The board, made up of representatives from 14 of the project's 31 member countries, did not give final approval for the site selection—that is the job of the CTA Council—but it did vote to start formal negotiations with the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which operates the Paranal Observatory in Chile, and Spain.

    Genetically modified moth fathers sire defective daughters

    Diamondback moths are crop pests with increasing resistance to insecticides.


    Scientists may have found a way to limit damage done to vegetable crops by diamond back moths by altering the DNA of some of the insects. The U.K. company Oxitec genetically modified male moths to have a “self-limiting” gene that causes them to produce female offspring that die before they, in turn, can reproduce. As the males mate with females in the wild, the idea goes, populations of the insect should decline over time. Now, the technique has been shown to work in confined greenhouse conditions, Oxitec-funded researchers report in a study published last week in BMC Biology. The moths, which eat cabbage, broccoli, and other crucifers, cause an estimated $5 billion in damage worldwide each year. The technique could one day offer farmers pest control methods that are nontoxic and pesticide-free, the researchers say.

    “The doctor is saying you are gravely ill.”

    Oceanographer Jeff Severinghaus, to the Associated Press, on the findings of last week's State of the Climate in 2014 report, which showed the year had the highest average global surface temperatures on record.

    By the numbers

    65—Number of countries that will require “game-changing” strategies to meet the World Health Organization's goal of three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine for 90% of their children.

    123—Number of potential medicines for Alzheimer's disease that were halted in clinical trials between 1998 and 2014. Four medicines were approved in that time.

    11%—Reduction in U.S. CO2 emissions between 2007 and 2013—a drop driven primarily by the economic recession, scientists say (Nature Communications).

    Around the world

    Washington, D.C.

    U.S. education bills advance

    Science education advocates are holding their breath now that the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have passed revisions to the No Child Left Behind Act, which has governed federal education policy since 2002. Both bills (H.R. 5 and S. 1177) would retain an annual testing regimen for reading and math and would measure a student's progress in science once each during elementary, middle, and high school. The Senate version, approved last week, also contains programs to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. However, the House bill, passed on 8 July, doesn't require states to do anything with the results of the tests. It would also prohibit the federal government from promoting any national standards, including fledgling ones for science. STEM advocates fear the science provisions could be horsetraded away in upcoming negotiations on a final bill.


    Institute honors HIV pioneer

    One year ago, the missile attack on Malaysia Airlines flight 17 (MH17) ended the life of Joep Lange, a towering figure in the world of HIV/AIDS and global health. Now, the new Joep Lange Institute aims to bring the researcher's characteristic combination of research and on-the-ground action to bear on health problems in developing countries. It will open its doors in Amsterdam later this year, supported by some $20 million from various private sources in the United States. Lange was instrumental in convincing pharmaceutical companies in the mid-1990s that a cocktail of drugs was the best way to fight HIV; once those cocktails proved successful, Lange advocated for bringing them to the millions of HIV-infected people in developing countries. In the last decade of his life, Lange became interested in increasing access to health care in general—by setting up health insurance plans in Africa, for instance—and driving down poverty.


    Nigeria hits 1-year polio mark

    A health official gives a child polio vaccine in Nigeria.


    Nigeria has hit a milestone: The country's last known case of wild polio was exactly 1 year ago. Before sounding the all-clear, the World Health Organization's (WHO's) Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) must finish analyzing stool samples collected through 24 July, a task they expect to complete by September. If no virus is found, WHO will remove Nigeria from its list of polioendemic countries where transmission of the wild virus has never stopped. That will leave two countries on the list (down from more than 125 in 1988): Afghanistan and Pakistan. Vaccine-derived polio viruses still circulate in Nigeria, a consequence of using live oral vaccine, which will begin to be phased out in 2016. And the risk that the wild virus lurks in the strongholds of jihadist group Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria is “not zero,” although unlikely, says Hamid Jafari, GPEI's director. Until the final data are in, he says, the country is “on eggshells.”


    Arctic nations sign fishing ban

    The five nations ringing the Arctic Ocean have signed a declaration to prevent unregulated commercial fishing within the ocean's high seas—the unclaimed waters that don't fall within 370 kilometers of any country's coastline. Commercial fishing is not yet a reality in the Arctic Ocean, but the rapidly retreating sea ice has prompted the five nations—Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Norway, Russia, and the United States—to agree to a moratorium on commercial fishing until the ocean's fish stocks have been studied and a science-based management plan can be established. The five countries stated in the declaration that they would authorize their fleets to conduct future commercial fishing only once international standards are in place; they also agreed to establish a joint scientific research program to study the region's ecosystems.