Science in the News Weekly, Vol. 6 No. 42

Science in the News Weekly is a digest of science news stories appearing in the mainstream media. It is delivered every Monday afternoon (or Tuesday afternoon in the case of a Monday holiday) as part of Sigma Xi's public understanding of science program area, in conjunction with American Scientist magazine.

 

Science at the Top of the News for October 20-24

The most viewed articles last week by subscribers to Science in the News Daily included a report on Francisco Ayala's efforts to reconcile Darwin and religion; an update on a researcher who has left science, on whose work a 2008 Nobel Prize depended; and the new battleground for creationists: neuroscience. Subscribe now for free daily updates.

 

Space: India Aloft, Hubble Back to Work

India launched its first lunar mission last week. While orbiting the moon, the unmanned Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft will compile a 3-D atlas of its surface, including the distribution of elements and minerals.

In other space news, the Interstellar Boundary Explorer was launched on a two-year mission to chart the boundaries of the solar system. It will study the distant region where the solar wind collides with the cold space of the interstellar medium.

NASA officials were optimistic that the Hubble Space Telescope would soon resume scientific observations following efforts to start a backup computer used to manage the telescope's cameras and other instruments.

France's Corot space telescope has been used to record the sound of three stars similar to our sun, providing information for the first time about processes deep within stars.

And a new study has found that large Jupiter-like planets outside our solar system have supersonic jet streams that circulate heat from their sunny side to their dark side. The gas giants orbit extremely close to nearby stars.

 

Environment: Clouds, Water and Emigrating Fish

Scientists are hoping to learn how clouds over the Pacific, some of which are as large as the United States, affect global climate and weather systems. The monthlong study will involve more than 200 experts from 10 countries.

In other environmental news, the New York Times looked at the different methods researchers are pursuing to develop drought-resistant crops. "Scientists at many of the biggest agricultural companies are busy tweaking plant genes in search of the winning formula."

Speaking of water, construction began last week on a $172-million reservoir in California that will store water from the Colorado River. It will provide more water for coastal Southern California, southern Nevada and central Arizona, but Mexico will get less.

Warming waters are apparently pushing Alaskan pollock so far north that they are becoming Russian pollock. The fish are swimming across an international boundary in search of food and setting off what could become a geopolitical dispute.

 

A Surprising Source of X-Rays

When a researcher made an X-ray image of his own finger with decidedly low-tech Scotch tape, it was bound to make news. The surprising experiment, reported in last week's issue of Nature, was widely featured by the news media.

Elsewhere in technology news, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced the first round of grants aimed at promoting bold, risk-taking innovation in medical research, and MSNBC highlighted 10 innovations inspired by nature.

Scientists are currently gathering a DNA barcode for every species of plant and animal on the planet to aid in identifying and tracking them. The technology promises to have many practical applications.

And global warming has given new life to geoengineering schemes. But it seems that all of the ideas for cooling the planet under discussion have drawbacks and side effects that probably cannot be anticipated.

 

Fossil News From Asia, Europe, North America

Dinosaur fossils were much in the news last week. In one story, researchers said the remains of an ancient relative of birds found in Mongolia had tail feathers that may have evolved for show rather than flight. In another, researchers reported using an X-ray technique to glean important insights about early evolution from fossilized sea creatures found in Herefordshire, England.

Two finds were reported in Utah. One, described as "a dinosaur dance floor," consisted of more than 1,000 dinosaur footprints, estimated to be 190 million years old, that were preserved in rock. The other involved a "dinosaur graveyard" that has yielded a wealth of fossils and footprints, including the well-preserved skeleton of a sauropod.

Among investigations into the more recent past, archaeologists reported insights gained from old houses and streets in Annapolis, Md., where they have uncovered artifacts of the early American slave culture.

 

Injuries Associated With Prescription Drugs Up 38 Percent

According to a new report, U.S. prescription drug injuries and deaths reached record levels in the first quarter of this year. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices said the most dangerous medications were the anti-smoking drug varenicline and the blood thinner heparin.

In other biomedical news, researchers said a leukemia drug called alemtuzumab has shown promise in treating early multiple sclerosis. The drug depletes the body of the white blood cells that attack myelin around nerve cells.

Health officials aren't sure why it's happening, but food allergies in American children seem to be on the rise. About 3 million are now affected, according to the first federal study of the problem.

Some U.S. lawmakers and concerned citizens are calling for a moratorium on expansion of the country's biowarfare defense program, in light of a study that raised questions about the safety of government biodefense labs.

A Harvard professor's Personal Genome Project is aimed at building the only public genomic database that connects genes with diseases. George Church believes it will allow scientists to correlate more easily many millions of genetic variants with medical and other traits, from asthma to acne, eye color to perfect pitch.

The controversy over bisphenol A continues, with the Canadian government adding the chemical to their federal list of toxic substances. Bisphenol A is used in plastics and epoxy resins found in many consumer products, including baby bottles and the lining of food cans.

 

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