News this Week

Science  16 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6258, pp. 258

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  1. This week's section

    Third global coral bleaching event on record is underway

    A marine biologist assesses bleaching at Airport Reef in American Samoa in February 2015.


    A trifecta of coupled climate-ocean events—ongoing global warming, a strong El Niño, and the warm “blob” in the Pacific Ocean—have led to the third worldwide coral bleaching event on record, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced 8 October. The bleaching could ultimately destroy more than 12,000 square kilometers of coral this year. The event began last year in the north Pacific and expanded this year into the south Pacific and the Indian Ocean. NOAA's models suggest that a strong El Niño will extend the global bleaching well into 2016. U.S. coral reefs in Hawaii and the Caribbean have already been acutely affected, NOAA says, and 95% of U.S. reefs will have been exposed to warm ocean temperatures that can cause bleaching by the end of the year.

    Russian project proposes to ‘verify’ Apollo moon landing

    NASA last week put thousands of images from the Apollo missions on Flickr, including this Apollo 11 astronaut's boot and footprint.


    Even as NASA released a treasure trove of archived photos of the Apollo missions to the moon last week (, a Russian team of space enthusiasts has announced a plan to convince stubborn skeptics that the landing actually happened. Led by Vitaly Yegorov, a public relations specialist with Moscow-based Dauria Aerospace, the group is proposing to build a private satellite that would head to the moon and snap high-resolution pictures of the U.S. landing sites there—along with any lingering traces of the astronauts' presence, if they can be seen. The group hoped to crowdfund the mission by raising at least 1 million rubles on for the research stage of the project and to attract investors; at press time they had raised about 1,200,000 rubles (about $20,000).

    “Last week we were reminded that U.S. weather forecasting is not what it should be.”

    Representative Bill Foster (D–IL), a physicist, arguing for more research spending after a European model correctly predicted Hurricane Joaquin's path out to sea, whereas U.S. models forecast a direct hit.

    Around the world


    U.K. launches cancer challenge

    Cancer Research UK, the giant U.K. research charity, announced a £100 million ($150 million), 5-year “grand challenge” competition that invites scientists to tackle seven tough questions in cancer. Teams including industry and academic researchers from around the world can submit ideas for solving the challenges, which range from distinguishing between lethal and nonlethal tumors to devising drugs that target MYC, a gene involved in many cancers. Preproposals are due in February and the first winning team, which will receive a grant of up to £20 million, will be announced in fall 2016. Cancer Research UK plans to fund a new challenge each year for 5 years.


    Finding refugees science jobs

    Syrian refugees arrive in Greece in October.


    More than 500,000 refugees fled civil war and unrest in 2015 and sought safety in the European Union. Last week, the European Commission launched Science4Refugees, a program it says will help match refugees who are scientists with universities willing to hire them. Refugees and asylum-seekers with a science background can upload their resume on Euraxess, the E.U. research careers website; universities willing to help can advertise jobs, internships, or training programs as refugee-friendly. The program follows other efforts to support refugees at the local or national level, including a planned pilot project by the Fraunhofer and Max Planck societies in Germany to ease integration of refugee scientists, and the United Kingdom's Council for At-Risk Academics, which in the 1930s helped scientists escape the Nazi threat and is now helping scientists from Syria.


    Consumer spending nabs Nobel

    This year's Nobel Prize in Economics went to Angus Deaton, 69, a British-American economist at Princeton University whose work pioneered the study of consumption among poor families and individuals and how it differs from that of more affluent people. Deaton's research has injected data into the realm of conjecture and enabled economists to better model overall consumption and the effects of economic policies, playing an important role in the dramatic reduction in abject poverty seen globally in the past 3 decades. “It's long overdue,” says Oriana Bandiera, a labor and development economist at the London School of Economics and Political Science, of Deaton's prize. “Professor Deaton's contributions to the field have been profound and transformative.”

    Melbourne, Australia

    Patients win gene patent victory

    On 6 October, Australia's highest court ended a legal saga over whether two genes related to breast and ovarian cancer—called BRCA1 and BRCA2—can be patented. The court ruled that an isolated gene sequence is not a “patentable invention.” In 2010, cancer survivor Yvonne D'Arcy challenged the patents, held by U.S. firm Myriad Genetics and its Melbourne-based licensee Genetic Technologies. Myriad had used the genetic information to develop diagnostic tests over which it held a potentially lucrative monopoly. The ruling aligns Australian legislation with that of the United States, South America, and most of Asia. Canada allows human gene patenting, as does the European Union if the biological material has been isolated by a technical process.


    AIDS pioneer starts vaccine trial

    Robert Gallo's U.S. National Cancer Institute laboratory published the four landmark papers in Science in 1984 that convinced the world that HIV causes AIDS. Although he has closely monitored the AIDS vaccine search, which has seen more than 100 products tested in humans, he has remained a spectator—until now. Gallo, 78, now runs the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) in Baltimore, Maryland. In collaboration with Profectus BioSciences, a biotech that spun off from IHV, Gallo and his team are launching their first clinical trial of an AIDS vaccine. The vaccine has an unusual method of protection: It attempts to trigger an antibody that can attach to HIV at a point in the infection process when the virus temporarily shows a vulnerable side. The trial is expected to enroll 60 people and will assess safety and immune responses to the “full-length single chain” vaccine.

    Astronomer guilty of harassment

    A prominent astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, has been found to have violated the university's policies on sexual harassment and told to shape up. But neither Geoffrey Marcy nor the university, which earlier this year completed its investigation into complaints against him going back more than a decade, is providing any details of the case, first reported last week by the website Buzzfeed. And the American Astronomical Society has rejected his request to publish an intended letter of apology that he posted on his website. Berkeley said Marcy has agreed to follow “clear expectations” regarding his conduct with students or face the possibility of immediate “sanctions.” Marcy says in his letter, “While I do not agree with each complaint that was made, it is clear that my behavior was unwelcomed by some women.”


    Gene editing for safer organs

    Researchers have made a stride toward engineering safer pig organs for human transplants, thanks to the powerful gene-editing technique CRISPR. As reported this week in Science, the technology can slice up and inactivate potentially harmful viral sequences, known as porcine endogenous retroviruses, from 62 locations in the DNA of pig kidney cells. When tested in a lab dish, the edited cells showed as much as a 1000-fold reduction in their ability to infect human kidney cells with the retrovirus. The results are the most extreme example yet of the scope of genetic alterations possible with gene editing—previous work has altered only six sites at a time. The group must next demonstrate the same feat in pig embryos, which could be implanted into surrogate mothers.