News this Week

Science  19 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6275, pp. 792
  1. SCI COMMUN

    News at a glance

    3D printed body parts, large as life

    PHOTO: WAKE FOREST INSTITUTE FOR REGENERATIVE MEDICINE

    The outer contours of this freshly printed ear may look complex, but they're simple compared with the structure inside. The 3D manufacturing system that crafted it, called the “integrated tissue-organ printer” (ITOP), laces the artificial body parts with living cells, according to a study published on 15 February in Nature Biotechnology. Researchers have printed with live cells before, but until now they only made tiny pieces of gelatinous living material, both because large structures tended to collapse and because the cells inside tended to die from lack of oxygen. Thanks to two innovations, the ITOP can make life-sized body parts in which cells thrive. First, it interweaves a gooey, cell-friendly hydrogel with a stiffer substance that offers structural support. Second, it leaves tiny channels for oxygen to enter so that cells in the middle won't suffocate. When researchers implanted ITOP-generated bone, muscle, and cartilage into rats and mice, the printed materials developed blood supplies and internal structures resembling those of natural tissue. The researchers are currently working with the Food and Drug Administration to set up human trials, with the ultimate goal of creating replacement body parts for people who need them, says Anthony Atala, a tissue engineer at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and one of the study's authors.

    Scottish astronomer will be first woman to appear on U.K. money

    Mary Somerville was an astronomer, mathematician, and science writer.

    IMAGE: THOMAS PHILLIPS/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

    Astronomer Mary Somerville (shown), who lived from 1780 to 1872, was a pioneer in her field, studying math and science over the objections of her family and first husband, serving as the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society, and contributing calculations that led to the discovery of the planet Neptune. Now, she's set to be a pioneer in a different arena: Somerville will be the first woman, other than the queen of the United Kingdom, to appear on a Scottish banknote. Following a contentious Facebook vote that pitted her against two other Scottish scientists, physicist James Clerk Maxwell and civil engineer Thomas Telford, Somerville emerged victorious last week. Her likeness will appear on the Royal Bank of Scotland's €10 note in 2017. (Meanwhile, Jane Austen is set to appear on the Bank of England's €10 note next year.)

    Battling Zika in Brazil

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (at far left) launched a national campaign to fight the Zika virus on 13 February.

    PHOTO: REUTERS/RICARDO MORAES

    As part of a campaign to limit Brazil's ongoing Zika outbreak, President Dilma Rousseff took aim at mosquitoes carrying the virus, spraying larvicide on 13 February in a Rio de Janeiro neighborhood. Three days earlier, scientists reported in two separate papers that they had found Zika virus in the brains of several infants with microcephaly, bolstering suspicions that the virus causes the birth defect (http://scim.ag/Zikamicro). The babies' mothers had symptoms of Zika early in their pregnancies, but had recovered. The researchers also found the virus in placental and fetal tissues from two women who miscarried after suffering symptoms of Zika infection. The findings strengthen the case for a link between the virus and an observed increase in microcephaly incidence in Brazil. Brazil's ministry of health said on 12 February that it had confirmed 462 cases of microcephaly that might be linked to an infection during pregnancy, out of 5079 suspected cases. Also last week, 30 journals and research funding organizations pledged to encourage wide sharing of Zika-related work, by making all Zika-related papers available for free and requiring grantees to share their data as rapidly and widely as possible.

    The race to keep an amphibian-killing fungus out of the U.S.

    Biologists worry that a deadly fungus devastating European salamanders may reach the United States, threatening native species such as this red eft.

    PHOTO: JASONONDREICKA/ISTOCK PHOTO

    Two years ago, scientists first described the deadly fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, or Bsal, which wiped out the fire salamander population in the Netherlands. Now, U.S. scientists are fighting to keep the fungus out of the United States, which has the world's largest biodiversity of salamanders—and the best way to do that is by restricting the salamander pet trade, said amphibian biologists speaking at the annual AAAS meeting in Washington, D.C., last week. Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission banned the import of 201 species of salamander into the United States, as well as between state boundaries. Bsal, which likely originated in Asia, is a sister species of the Bd fungus that has caused declines and extinctions in multiple amphibian species around the globe. Both cause chytridiomycosis, which eats away at the skin of amphibians. Those extinctions ripple through ecosystems, said Karen Lips, an ecologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, at the meeting; among other ecosystem services, amphibians can help control insect populations, including mosquitoes that spread diseases such as Zika and dengue fever. http://scim.ag/Amphfungus

    “Sleep well, little @Philae2014!”

    ESA Science (@esascience), tweeting on 12 February, as scientists from the German Aerospace Center announced they'd given up hope of re-establishing contact with the comet lander, last heard from in July 2015. http://scim.ag/_Philae

    Around the world

    Tempe, Arizona

    United against sexual harassment

    An online statement against sexual misconduct in academia, written and circulated by three human evolution experts at Arizona State University, Tempe, has garnered about 900 signatures since it was launched on 9 February. The petition, inspired by recent cases of alleged sexual harassment in astronomy, biology, and anthropology, calls on those who sign it to make an “individual commitment” to “zero tolerance of sexual misconduct” and to publicly support its victims. Paleoanthropologist William Kimbel, anthropologist Katie Hinde, and paleoecologist Kaye Reed say that asking researchers to make an individual, public commitment to ending sexual misconduct will accelerate the cultural change in academia that many scientists believe is essential to enforcing zero tolerance policies. “It is an easy thing to sign the form, but the power of the collective commitment of hundreds of signers is undeniable,” Kimbel says. http://scim.ag/harasspetition

    Stockholm

    Karolinska head resigns

    The vice-chancellor of the Karolinska Institute (KI) resigned last week in the wake of a scandal involving surgeon Paolo Macchiarini (Science, 5 February, p. 546). Anders Hamsten had dismissed misconduct charges against Macchiarini last year, but new attention to the case from a television documentary aired in January persuaded Hamsten that he had “completely misjudged” the surgeon and that his decision in the case was likely wrong, he wrote in a newspaper commentary in which he also said he would step down (http://scim.ag/Hamstenresig). The resignation came 2 days after the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences issued a statement saying it was worried that the credibility of Swedish science is at stake. “A number of shortcomings and ethically indefensible working methods have been uncovered, leading to a crisis of confidence in Swedish medical research,” the 11 February statement said. The academy demanded a new, fully independent investigation and called for a 2011 The Lancet paper by Macchiarini, which detailed the first artificial trachea implant, to be corrected. It says it is establishing a separate committee to propose recommendations for clinicians and scientists working at the intersection between clinical research and medical care. http://scim.ag/KIscandal

    Huntsville, Texas

    Panel recommends bite-mark ban

    The analysis of bite marks as a way to identify an attacker is unscientific and has no place in the courtroom, a Texas commission made up of scientists, attorneys, and forensic practitioners ruled last week. The recommendation is the first of its kind in the United States, and arose from a 6-month review by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, a state agency that investigates allegations of negligence of misconduct in crime labs. Some specialists have claimed that they could reliably identify who left a bite on a victim based on similarities to dental impressions from a suspect, despite a lack of scientific evidence; since 2000, bite-mark analysis has played a role in at least 25 convictions that were later reversed based on DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project. The commission's call to ban such testimony from trials is not legally binding, but is expected to influence judges and lawyers nationwide.

    Washington, D.C.

    CRISPR dubbed a WMD

    “Genome editing” joins North Korea's nuclear weapons program and Russian cruise missiles on a list of weapons of mass destruction released by U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last week. The worldwide threat assessment report from the U.S. intelligence community evokes fears that terrorists might harness increasingly cheap and efficient genome-editing techniques such as CRISPR to create “potentially harmful biological agents or products.” The U.S. public, meanwhile, registered its uneasiness about some of CRISPR's potential uses in a poll released on 11 February by Stat and Harvard University. Of 1000 people surveyed, 65% thought it should be illegal to alter the genes of unborn babies to reduce the risk of serious diseases, and 83% opposed such editing to improve “intelligence or physical characteristics.”

    London

    U.K. allows animal-human chimeras

    The United Kingdom has issued new guidelines for research that involves using human material in animals. The new rules say that it could be permissible for researchers to insert human cells into animal embryos, if they clear multiple levels of ethical and scientific review by local and national regulators. Several researchers have said they would like to try to grow human organs in animal bodies using such techniques. The U.S. National Institutes of Health said last year that it would not fund such research while it reconsidered the ethical implications of the work (Science, 16 October 2015, p. 261).

    Newsmakers

    Pachauri in hot water again

    The former chair of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Rajendra Pachauri, was already facing charges of sexual harassment made against him in February 2015 by a former co-worker. Last week, a second former co-worker made a fresh set of allegations, on the heels of a media storm surrounding Pachauri's promotion from director-general of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, where he has been since 2001, to its executive vice chairman. Pachauri denied last year's allegations and stepped down from IPCC (Science, 27 February 2015, p. 931). Although an internal TERI investigation concluded that his alleged actions constituted harassment, the institute has taken no disciplinary action against him. But last week, a second former TERI employee released a statement alleging that Pachauri repeatedly sexually harassed her from 2003 to 2005. Pachauri is on voluntary leave from TERI, he told Science in an email. “I have a large amount of writing to do, which is the reason for this decision, and I would also focus on several other pending matters,” he wrote. http://scim.ag/Pachauripromotion

    McNutt elected to head NAS

    Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of Science, has been elected president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS). She begins her 6-year term in July, succeeding Ralph Cicerone, who is stepping down after 12 years as president. A geophysicist, McNutt was director of the U.S. Geological Survey from 2009 to 2013 during the first Obama administration. Before that she had been chief executive of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California. Her election was a foregone conclusion after the NAS governing council put her name forward last July, as she faced no opposition in a vote by the NAS membership (Science, 10 July 2015, p. 123). A search is underway for her successor at Science.

    Findings

    Nanobubble pops kill cancer cells

    Clusters of gold nanoparticles on a cancer cell.

    PHOTO: D. S. WAGNER ET AL., BIOMATERIALS, 31 (2010)

    Clusters of gold atoms known as nanoparticles can detect and kill cancer cells left behind after tumor-removal surgery, researchers report online this week in Nature Nanotechnology. Scientists have previously shown that when nanoparticles are injected into the bloodstream, they tend to seep out of vessels and congregate around tumors. The tumor cells engulf the nanoparticles—which act as Trojan horses. Researchers hit the gold atoms with infrared laser light, and the particles heat up and kill the cancer cells. But this can also damage healthy tissue. In the new study, scientists showed they could focus the heat damage on the cancer cells by decorating the nanoparticles with immune protein antibodies that latch onto receptors on the surface of human squamous cells implanted in mice. This not only prevented the heat from damaging healthy cells, but also increased temperatures around the clusters, vaporizing nearby water molecules; the bursting bubbles ripped apart the cancer cells. The researchers are now designing a clinical trial that could begin testing the therapy in humans in the next 2 years. http://scim.ag/explodenanobub

    AAAS

    2016 Annual Meeting

    The AAAS (which publishes Science) Annual Meeting, held in Washington, D.C., from 11 to 15 February, drew thousands of participants, including scientists, journalists, and visitors to Family Science Days activities. Here are some highlights from the meeting; for more AAAS coverage, including reports from sessions and interviews with scientists, visit http://scim.ag/aaas2016.

    Toward a better bug light

    Choice of light bulb matters when it comes to keeping flying pests away from the veranda on a summer evening, finds a study that compared insect traps outfitted with six major types of commercially available lights, including traditional incandescent bulbs, LED bulbs that emit warm and cold colored light, and yellow tinted “bug lights” marketed as being less attractive to insects. In one summer, researchers collected and catalogued 8887 insects and spiders from a neighborhood in Appomattox, Virginia. Incandescent bulbs brought in the largest insect haul, averaging about eight per hour. The bug lights and warm-colored LEDs were roughly tied for least attractive, at about 4.5. But bug lights had a downside—two insect orders found them more enticing than the warm LED: Hemiptera, which includes so-called “stink bugs,” and Dermaptera, better known as “earwigs.”

    Preserving sites with 3D scans

    Historical sites around the world are threatened by weathering, as well as pollution, vandalism, and even terrorism. Last year, a structure protecting a 2.5-millennia-old Olmec altar in Chalcatzingo, Mexico, burned down, exposing the altar to the elements. Repairing the site would have required guesswork—had researchers not scanned and digitized it 3 years earlier using 3D laser scanning technology. Along with a team of Mexican archaeologists working to preserve the Chalcatzingo site, archaeologist Lori Collins of the University of South Florida in Tampa and her team digitally de constructed the 3D model of the altar into individual rocks. They were able to map out each piece—and this week, on-the-ground archaeologists are working to reconstruct the site exactly as it was before the fire. Thanks to their meticulous digitization work, the team even found details in the rock carvings that had never before been noticed. Such 3D scans will help archaeologists preserve heritage in politically unstable regions, Collins says, while also allowing students and researchers around the world to access a piece of history.

    Keen students on one wavelength

    Teachers who wonder whether their class is engaged could one day be able to find out—by checking how synchronized their brain waves are with one another. Neuroscientist Ido Davidesco of New York University in New York City and colleagues logged the neural activity of 12 high school students and their teacher with electro encephalography headsets over 11 classes. Not surprisingly, patterns of brain activity were more similar when students were all focused on the same task. But the researchers also found that when a student reported being more engaged, the frequency of their brain waves better matched the group. Activities the students liked more—group discussions and videos versus a lecture or being read to aloud—seemed to put them more in sync.

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