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Naturally Resistant HIV Foils Therapy

from the Scientist (Registration Required)

HIV's rapid mutation rates can lead to the evolution of drug resistance in HIV-positive patients receiving antiretroviral therapy, but naturally occurring resistance mutations can also accumulate to establish highly resistant HIV strains, according to new models published today (June 7) in PLoS Computational Biology. If true, the models suggest new interpretation for why HIV drug therapy can fail right off the bat.

"The paper is interesting, and may be important for getting scientists to think about evolution of drug resistance," said Andrew Read, an evolutionary biologist at Pennsylvania State University who did not participate in the study. "The mechanism of drug resistance seems straightforward, but it's not." Even relatively simple questions, like whether drug resistance can be avoided by cycling between two different drugs, randomly assigning the drugs, or giving all patients both, have yet to be answered, added Read, who studies the evolution of malaria drug resistance.

Scientists have been debating the relative contributions of pre-existing mutations and mutations that arise after therapy begins to HIV drug resistance since the mid-1990s, explained Robert Shafer, who studies mechanisms of evolved HIV drug resistance at Stanford University but was not involved in the project. It's generally understood that a multi-drug regimen works to prevent resistance from becoming established by forcing the HIV virus to acquire several mutations--raising the "genetic barrier" to resistance--and making it highly unlikely that viruses carry enough mutations before therapy, said Shafer.

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Ants in 3D: Project Begins to Image Every Known Species

from BBC News Online

The US team is visiting museums around the world to photograph all of the ant specimens in their collections. They are using a technique that, for the first time, allows microscopic anatomical detail of the insects' bodies to be photographed.

The aim is to make an online catalogue called Antweb, providing a unique tool for scientists who study the insects. It will also allow anyone with access to the internet a detailed glimpse of the diverse world of ants.

Brian Fisher from the California Academy of Sciences is leading the study. He and his colleagues have started their "world ant tour" at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London.

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Freezer Failure at Brain Bank Hampers Autism Research

from the Boston Globe (Registration Required)

A freezer malfunction at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital has severely damaged one-third of the world's largest collection of autism brain samples, potentially setting back research on the disorder by years, scientists say.

An official at the renowned brain bank in Belmont discovered that the freezer had shut down in late May, without triggering two alarms. Inside, they found 150 thawed brains that had turned dark from decay; about a third of them were part of a collection of autism brains.

"This was a priceless collection,'' said Dr. Francine Benes, director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, where the brains were housed. "You can't express its value in dollar amounts,'' said Benes, who is leading one of two internal investigations into the freezer failure. The damage to these brains could slow autism research by a decade as the collection is restored, said Carlos Pardo, a neuropathologist and associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University.

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U.S. Astronomers Discover It, Then It's Outsourced

from the San Francisco Chronicle

When three U.S. astronomers won the Nobel Prize in physics last year, for discovering that the expansion of the universe was speeding up in defiance of cosmic gravity--as if change fell out of your pockets onto the ceiling--it reaffirmed dark energy, the glibly named culprit behind this behavior, as the great cosmic surprise and mystery of our time.

And it underscored the case, long urged by U.S. astronomers, for a NASA mission to measure dark energy--to determine, for example, whether the cosmos would expand forever or whether, perhaps, there might be something wrong with our understanding of gravity.

In 2019, a spacecraft known as Euclid will begin such a mission to study dark energy. But it is being launched by the European Space Agency, not NASA, with U.S. astronomers serving only as very junior partners, contributing $20 million and some infrared sensors.

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Records of Birds from a Time Gone By

from the San Francisco Chronicle

At first glance, the contents of the 15 glass jars in Sam Droege's collection do not look like much--bivalve shells, twigs, a fishhook. But they hint at a story that would fill a vast ornithological library. In fact, they once did.

The jars are the remnants of the federal government's first major study of birds. From 1885 to the 1940s, scientists from the Division of Economic Ornithology in the U.S. Agriculture Department dissected at least 230,000 bird stomachs. The aim was to determine which species were helping farmers and which were harmful.

To do so, the government scientists went out shooting and recruited local hunters to donate birds' innards to science. At the dissection table, the scientists recorded the stomach contents of each bird in meticulous detail--for one mallard duck, a scientist estimated that it had eaten 72,710 seeds from various plants--and preserved many of them in jars at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland.

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Cholera Vaccine Deployed to Control African Outbreak

from Nature News

For the first time, health officials in West Africa have begun a vaccination campaign to try to control cholera during an active epidemic.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Health in Guinea, the charity Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF; also known as Doctors Without Borders) has been administering the cholera vaccine Shanchol in the region of Boffa, 150 kilometres northwest of the country's capital, Conakry. The programme began in late April, with patients receiving a two-dose oral vaccine. In total, almost 150,000 people received at least one dose of vaccine, and just over 110,000 people received a second dose.

Iza Ciglenecki, project manager for diarrhoeal diseases at MSF, ran the campaign in Guinea. She hopes that the results will lead to more widespread use of the vaccine in epidemics. "Until very recently, no one was using this as an extra tool to control cholera," she says. "We hope to add to the evidence base regarding this vaccine to help develop an intervention criterion for the control of cholera in outbreaks."

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Turning Saltwater from Earth and Sea into Water Fit to Drink

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

SAN ANTONIO -- Drilling rigs in the midst of cow pastures are hardly a novelty for Texans. But on a warm May day at a site about 30 miles south of San Antonio, a rig was not trying to reach oil or fresh water, but rather something unconventional: a salty aquifer. After a plant is built and begins operating in 2016, the site will become one of the state's largest water desalination facilities.

"This is another step in what we're trying to do to diversify our water supply," said Anne Hayden, a spokeswoman for the San Antonio Water System.

More projects like San Antonio's could lace the Texas countryside as planners look to convert water from massive saline aquifers beneath the state's surface, as well as seawater from the Gulf of Mexico, into potable water. The continuing drought has made desalination a buzzword in water discussions around the state, amid the scramble for new water supplies to accommodate the rapid population and industry growth anticipated in Texas. But the technology remains energy-intensive and is already causing an increase in water rates in some communities.

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N.R.C. Nomination Shines Spotlight on Waste-Disposal Issue

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

WASHINGTON -- When the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets on Wednesday to consider President Obama's choice to head the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, three themes are likely to dominate the questioning: waste, waste and earthquakes.

Collegiality and diplomacy may also be mentioned, given that the commission's current chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, has drawn criticism for his aggressive management style. The nuclear industry would, no doubt, prefer more uplifting confirmation hearing topics, like new reactor construction or progress on radical new designs that would make nuclear plants more useful or economical.

But for the first time, the president has chosen a geologist for the post, Allison M. Macfarlane of George Mason University, and her expertise aligns with the pressing concerns facing Congress and the nuclear industry. She is a longtime critic of the idea of burying waste at Yucca Mountain, a volcanic structure about 100 miles from Las Vegas chosen by Congress in the late 1980s, considering its geology too unpredictable. With little new plant construction, the commission's main responsibility these days is assuring the safety of the 104 plants now operating, and what to do with the decades-old problem of waste.

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China to Carry Out Manned Space Flight

from BBC News Online

China has announced it will carry out a manned space flight at some point in the middle of June.

A rocket carrying the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft has been moved to a launch pad in the north-west of the country.

According to state news agency Xinhua, it will carry three astronauts--possibly including a woman--to the Tiangong 1 space station module.

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Lack of Sleep Increases Stroke Risk

from USA Today

The 30% of working adults who routinely sleep less than six hours a night are four times more likely to suffer a stroke, says a new study. The findings are the first to link insufficient sleep to stroke; they're also the first to apply even to adults who keep off extra pounds and have no other risk factors for stroke, says Megan Ruiter, lead author of the report. It will be presented Monday at the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston.

"People know how important diet and exercise are in preventing strokes," says Ruiter, of the University of Alabama in Birmingham. "The public is less aware of the impact of insufficient amounts of sleep. Sleep is important--the body is stressed when it doesn't get the right amount."

The number of people who report eight or more hours of sleep a night has dropped from 38% in 2001 to 28%, says the National Sleep Foundation. A government study in May found 30% of working adults get six hours or less. Experts recommend seven to nine.

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