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Science  12 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6202, pp. 1224-1227
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6202.1224

No dumping in Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef's coral formations won't be flooded with dredge spoil.


Plans to dump dredge spoil inside Australia's Great Barrier Reef of the Queensland coast have been blocked by the state's government. Last December, federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved a plan by the business consortium building one of the world's largest coal ports at Abbot Point to dispose of the spoil of shore in the World Heritage Site. The state's about-face follows intense public and scientific criticism as well as a call last week by a federal Senate committee for a total ban on disposal of any dredge spoil in reef waters. On 8 September, Queensland Deputy Premier Jef Seeney announced that he would ask Hunt to fast-track a new plan to dispose of the anticipated 3 million cubic meters of spoil on land.

“In Monrovia, taxis filled with entire families … crisscross the city searching for a treatment bed. There are none.”

A World Health Organization report from 8 September on the rapidly worsening Ebola outbreak in Liberia. For more on Ebola, see pages 1228 and 1229 in this issue, and visit

A bird to watch


Like all 32 other species of forest birds in Hawaii, the ‘I'iwi, a honeycreeper, is faced with shrinking habitat and threats from introduced species. They need conservationists’ attention, according to The State of the Birds 2014: United States of America, a report released this week by the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, a partnership of 23 government agencies, academic labs, and conservation organizations. Based on long-term data from bird surveys, including the Christmas Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird Survey, 230 of the 720 breeding bird species in the United States are on the report's watch list, and 33 others are still common but their numbers are dropping fast. Shorebirds and birds in arid lands are in the most trouble. On a positive note, conservation has helped wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, and other waterfowl increase their numbers.

Flowing over the ice

Using SABVABAA (background), scientists monitored earthquakes along the Gakkel Ridge in 2012.


Somewhere in the Arctic Ocean, two Norwegian scientists are adrift on an ice floe, equipped with a year's worth of food and fuel—and one research hovercraft named SABVABAA (Inuit for “flows swiftly over it”). University of Bergen/Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center professor emeritus Yngve Kristoffersen, 72, and crew member Audun Tholfsen established ice drift station FRAM-2014/15 on the 1.1-meter-thick floe on 30 August, when it was 280 kilometers from the North Pole. Over the next few months, they will drift northward along the submarine Lomonosov Ridge, taking sediment cores to learn about the polar environment more than 60 million years ago. It's the hovercraft that makes the setup truly unique: Using SABVABAA, they can travel up to 100 kilometers from their floating base, assessing ice properties, currents, and water temperatures. The hovercraft—the brainchild of Kristoffersen and geophysicist John K. Hall, 74, of the Geological Survey of Israel—also makes it possible to conduct a year-round study, Hall says. The ridge is covered by thick multiyear ice, forbidding to icebreakers, but SABVABAA (pictured) “allows you to have boots on the ground.”

By the numbers

$350 million—Donation by real estate tycoon Gerald Chan to the Harvard School of Public Health, to fund research on obesity, cancer, infectious pandemics, and more.

2.9—The rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, in parts per million, from 2012 to 2013, according to the World Meteorological Organization's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, released 9 September. It's the largest annual increase since 1984.

266—Minimum number of different food items—including ants, dandelions, algae, and even dirt—that grizzly bears in Yellowstone Park are known to eat, according to a study in Ursus.

Around the world

Silver Spring, Maryland

New cancer drug approved

A new type of cancer drug that harnesses the body's immune system to fight tumors has won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Merck's Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is an antibody that blocks a protein on T cells called programmed death receptor 1 (PD-1); tumors use the protein to hide from the immune system. Approved for patients with advanced melanoma, it will cost $12,500 a month. Keytruda is less toxic than so-called CTLA-4 inhibitors, a similar type of melanoma drug already on the market. They are among a wave of cancer treatments targeting the immune system that have prolonged the lives of some patients far longer than conventional therapies. In 2013, Science named cancer immunotherapy the Breakthrough of the Year.


U.K. backs animal research

Embattled U.K. biomedical researchers can find comfort in a new survey showing that a sizable majority of the public continues to support the use of animals in research. But the government's decision this year to field two almost identical surveys on the topic reveals that the question's wording can influence the answer. For example, “animal research” garners more support than “animal experimentation,” and “medical research” is much more popular than “research.” Also, more people see its merits if told there are no other choices. Bottom line: Some 68% of adults say “I can accept the use of animals in scientific research as long as it is for medical research purposes and there is no alternative.”

Sydney, Australia

Australia upholds gene patents

Bucking last year's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Australia has greenlit gene patenting. Australia's Federal Court last week upheld a lower court's verdict that handed private companies the right to own human genes, arguing that isolating genetic material creates something new and patentable. Last year, cancer survivor Yvonne D'Arcy and advocacy group Cancer Voices Australia challenged the validity of patents, held by U.S. firm Myriad Genetics and Melbournebased Genetic Technologies Ltd., covering DNA sequences linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad has developed diagnostic tests for breast cancer based on partial sequences of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Critics of the decision contend it will slow the quest for new treatments. As the plaintiffs weigh an appeal, advocates are pushing the federal government to sidestep the court and ban gene patents.

Dania Beach, Florida

Anglers dispute records' impact

Anglers say records for trophy fish like the goliath grouper don't impact their numbers.


A prominent trophy angling group has rejected a call from fisheries scientists to stop awarding weight-based world records for threatened species—and challenged the numbers behind a recent scholarly paper that argued the record-keeping encourages people to kill the largest, fittest fish. The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) in Dania Beach maintains records for some 1200 species. Last month, researchers reported in Marine Policy that 85 of those species have been judged vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. They urged IGFA to shift to length-based records for the threatened fish. But anglers have submitted just 15 potential world records for the threatened species since they were listed, IGFA argued in a response earlier this month, suggesting trophy fishing has “a disproportionately low impact” on population declines.

Washington, D.C.

NASA extends seven missions

Saturn, viewed by NASA's Cassini mission.


NASA will extend seven ongoing planetary science missions, based on a review by senior scientists, NASA officials revealed 3 September at a meeting of a planetary science advisory committee. Earlier this year, there were fears that two long-standing missions—the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars rover Opportunity—might be shut down. But everyone appears to have escaped the knife. The highest ranked extension proposal came from Cassini, which will get 3 more years to explore the Saturn system. The lowest grade went to the Mars rover Curiosity; the panel was disappointed that the rover team was planning to drill and analyze just eight more samples during its extended mission, prompting NASA to ask the Curiosity team to revise its science plan.


2014 Lasker prizes awarded

Five researchers who study a cellular system for fixing misfolded proteins, deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's disease, and breast cancer genetics have won this year's prestigious Lasker Awards. The award for basic medical research goes to Kazutoshi Mori, 56, of Kyoto University in Japan and Peter Walter, 59, of the University of California, San Francisco, for work on the unfolded protein response. Alim Louis Benabid, 72, of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, and Mahlon DeLong, 76, of Emory University in Atlanta won the clinical award for research on deep brain stimulation. And Mary-Claire King, 68, of the University of Washington, Seattle, won the special achievement award for her work on breast cancer genetics and DNA techniques for identifying people.

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