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Showing posts with the label Latest Journal Issue

[Editorial] Science advice for Europe

On 23 July, exactly 1 month after Britain's momentous decision to leave the European Union, around 4500 scientists and friends of science will assemble in Manchester, UK, for the opening of the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF), Europe's largest interdisciplinary research conference. The vote for Britain's exit (“Brexit”)—with worrying repercussions for European science and wider society—and questions about the plans of the new UK Prime Minister Theresa May, will inevitably cast a shadow over proceedings. But as Jerzy Langer, chair of ESOF's program committee, argues, the meeting has now acquired a sharper purpose: to demonstrate at a time of acute uncertainty that “we, the scientists, are one big family, whose rules and values extend beyond political and geographic borders.” Author: James Wilsdon

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[In Brief] News at a glance

In science news around the world, a United Nations panel rules against China's claim to a vast swath of the South China Sea, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research reverses course on its controversial online peer-review system, a U.S. federal appeals court finds that the Navy failed to protect whales from its low-frequency sonar, and researchers at the International Space Station prepare to test a DNA sequencer in orbit. Also, U.K. science and universities minister Jo Johnson keeps his job amid a shakeup in the cabinet, researchers demonstrate single-atom memory storage using chlorine and copper, and scientists from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III unveil the largest 3D map of the universe to date.

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[In Depth] Vaginal microbiome affects HIV risk

South African teen girls and young women have astonishingly high rates of HIV infection, and researchers for years have suspected that there might be biological factors making them unusually susceptible to infection. New studies presented at the International AIDS Conference being held in Durban, South Africa—located in KwaZulu-Natal province, the hardest hit region in the country—suggest a possible culprit, Prevotella bivia, a bacterium found in the vagina that causes inflammation. The close examination of the vaginal microbiome found a second bacterium, Gardnerella, may help explain why a microbicide gel that contained the anti-HIV drug tenofovir failed to protect many uninfected women who used it in a clinical trial. In test tube experiments, Garnderella "gobbled up" tenofovir, rapidly reducing levels of the drug. Author: Jon Cohen

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[In Depth] African HIV/tuberculosis institutes merge

Two prominent biomedical research institutes in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province announced that they plan to merge and form the Africa Health Research Institute. One of the partners, the Africa Centre for Population Health, has long focused on epidemiological and demographic studies. Its funder is the Wellcome Trust. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute founded the second partner, the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV. The Africa Health Research Institute is a new lease on life for both struggling institutes, which plan to combine their clinical and basic research skills to address major research questions in both HIV and tuberculosis. The Wellcome Trust is eventually expected to take over, but, for now, both philanthropies are backing the endeavor. Author: Jon Cohen

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[In Depth] To save caribou, Alberta wants to fence them in

An imperiled caribou herd in western Alberta province in Canada could become a high-profile test case for a controversial plan to save some of Canada's woodland caribou from extinction: herding them into pens enclosing 100 square kilometers or more and ringed with electric fences, and killing or removing every predator inside. The approach, proposed last month by Alberta's government, is an attempt to arrest the decline of the animals, threatened by development and preyed on by wolves. But some caribou advocates are skeptical that the expensive pens will work. They also fear that the strategy, which the energy industry has helped fund, will undermine efforts to curb habitat destruction. Author: Warren Cornwall

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[In Depth] Do genomic conflicts drive evolution?

Two billion years ago, an early cell swallowed an energy-producing microbe, giving birth to the mitochondria that are the hallmarks of all eukaryotes. Evolutionary biologists now think that was just the start of the influence that the cell's "powerhouses" have on the tree of life. Mitochondria, which can exist by the scores in a eukaryotic cell, have their own set of genes, which can replicate and mutate faster than the cell's better-known complement in the nucleus. Yet both genomes code for products that have to work together in the mitochondria. Researchers are now finding hints that cells' efforts to keep nuclear and mitochondrial genes in sync could play a major role in evolution. At a recent meeting, biologists suggested out-of-sync nuclear and mitochondrial genomes may explain many biological puzzles—from why some female birds prefer the reddest mates to the evolution of new species in both plants and animals. Author: Elizabeth Pennisi

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[In Depth] Wild bird comes when honey hunters call for help

Of all relationships between wild animals and people, few are more heartwarming than that of African honey hunters and a robin-sized bird called the greater honeyguide. Flitting and calling, the bird leads the way to a bee's nest and feasts on the wax after the honey hunters have raided it. Researchers have discovered that this mutualistic relationship is even tighter than it seemed, with the bird recognizing and responding to specific calls from its human partners. In the new work, the researchers quantify the benefit to people helped by the birds and test how much more guiding occurs when the honey hunters attract the birds first with a "trill-grunt" call. This work was done in Mozambique, but it seems honey hunters elsewhere also have special calls, albeit different ones. Author: Elizabeth Pennisi

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[In Depth] Huge statue suggests early rise for Buddhism

Archaeologists excavating at the sprawling Buddhist complex of Bhamala Stupa, north of Islamabad, at first thought they were digging up yet another stone wall. But they soon realized they had discovered the shattered remains of a massive statue—a monumental reclining Buddha that stretched more than 15 meters, the length of a shipping container. Radiocarbon dates on wood recovered from the site came back at 240 C.E. to 390 C.E.—several centuries before Buddhists were thought to have created the massive sculptures common in temples across Asia. If confirmed, the early date would make this the oldest evidence of monumental Buddhist sculpture. And big statues have big implications, because they require wealthy patrons and rulers to fund their creation. Author: Andrew Lawler

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[In Depth] A lichen ménage à trois

Lichen isn't much to look at—often just a gray, yellow-green, or garish orange crust on rock or bark. Yet lichens cover up to 6% of Earth's surface, by one estimate. Now, modern genomics is revealing that lichens are startlingly complex. For some 140 years, scientists have understood lichens to be a symbiosis between a fungus, which provides a physical structure and supplies moisture, and a photosynthesizing alga or cyanobacterium, which produces nutrients. Studies of gene activity have now revealed that many lichens are instead a threesome, with two fungi in the mix. The role of the second fungus, a yeast, is uncertain, and some lichen aficionados aren't convinced it is a true symbiotic partner. But others say it's time to throw the textbook understanding of lichens out the window. Author: Elizabeth Pennisi

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[Feature] Rules of the game

Proteins consist of long chains of building blocks known as amino acids that fold up into precise 3D shapes that govern their function. David Baker, a computational biochemist at the University of Washington, Seattle, has spent years deciphering the rules that govern how these amino acid chains fold, and develop software to predict the 3D shape unknown amino acid chains are likely to take. Recent improvements to this software from Baker and others now make it possible to extend such prediction to the majority of proteins in nature. That's likely to lead to novel insights for biochemists working to understand what all these proteins do. It is also allowing Baker and his colleagues to design novel proteins to work as everything from medicines to materials, and catalysts to biochemical sensors. Author: Robert F. Service

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[Feature] Red star rising

China is in the midst of launching a clutch of space science missions, with four put into space within a 13-month span. Its lunar exploration program is also increasingly science-driven, with a sample return mission scheduled for next year and the first ever landing on the far side of the moon planned for 2018. Beginning in 2020, China will launch another round of four science missions and the nation's first Mars probe. Chinese space administrators say that to build on these advances, the space science program needs reliable annual funding, instead of the 5-year lump sums now provided. They also think merging the country's different space agencies could maximize the scientific impact and lead to greater efficiencies. Author: Dennis Normile

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[Feature] Who's missing from this picture?

Space scientists from around the world are lining up to collaborate with their Chinese colleagues in planning, developing, and analyzing the data from scientific missions. The country's two main space programs have cooperative agreements with most of the world's major space agencies. The European Space Agency has gone so far as to officially designate China one of its three official partners, along with Russia and the United States. The big player missing from this action is NASA, which is barred by U.S. Congress from using its funding to cooperate with China or any Chinese-owned company. U.S. scientists say the ban is hindering U.S. interests in space science and exploration. Author: Dennis Normile

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[Perspective] Can Apulia's olive trees be saved?

On 21 October 2013, the Italian phytosanitary service notified the European Commission (EC) that the plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa had been detected in olive trees near Gallipoli, a tourist destination in Italy's southern region of Apulia (1). This xylem-limited bacterium is spread by insect vectors and causes disease in crops such as grapevines, citrus, coffee, and almond; various ornamentals; and trees such as oaks, elms, and sycamores. Because of the risks of X. fastidiosa being introduced, established, and spread throughout Europe, this species is a regulated quarantine pest. Yet, X. fastidiosa has been left unchecked and has marched northward, leaving destruction in its wake (see the photo) (2). The establishment of X. fastidiosa in Italy has been an agricultural, environmental, political, and cultural disaster. Author: Rodrigo P. P. Almeida

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[Perspective] Is triclosan harming your microbiome?

Antibacterial soaps were originally used only in hospitals, but since the 1990s, their use has expanded into households. Antimicrobial chemicals are now found in many soaps, wipes, hand gels, cutting boards, detergents, cosmetics, and toothpastes, as well as toys and plastics. One of the most common antibacterials, triclosan [5-chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy)phenol], is found in ∼75% of antibacterial soaps (1). In 2008, it was detected in ∼75% of urine samples in the United States (2). There are concerns that triclosan use contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance and may adversely affect human health. Partial bans exist in the European Union and the U.S. state of Minnesota (3, 4). However, recent studies exploring triclosan's effect on the microbiome have given conflicting results. Authors: Alyson L. Yee, Jack A. Gilbert

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[Perspective] Hominid superorganisms

Mutualistic symbiotic relationships are those in which both species benefit; for example, the vivid colors of coral reefs come from symbiotic algae that provide their living coral hosts with nutrients and oxygen through photosynthesis in exchange for protection. A similar mutualistic relationship exists between gut-dwelling bacteria and their animal hosts (1). It remains unclear, however, to what degree symbiosis has shaped host-microbial interactions and coevolution. On page 380 of this issue, Moeller et al. show that gut bacterial strains cospeciated with hominids (apes and humans) over the past 15 million years (2). These findings set the stage for exploring the evolutionary processes that underlie the symbiotic relationship between hominids and their gut-dwelling microbes. Authors: Julia A. Segre, Nick Salafsky

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[Perspective] Demystifying the demise of paternal mitochondrial DNA

The vast majority of genes in sexually reproducing eukaryotes can recombine during the production of gametes. This reshuffling generates new genotypes that may provide selective advantages. However, reshuffling does not occur among the few genes in the genomes of cytoplasmic organelles (chloroplasts and mitochondria). Instead, these organelles are almost always transmitted through maternal inheritance (1). Why is this phenomenon widespread and how is it achieved? On page 394 of this issue, Zhou et al. (2) solve part of this puzzle by identifying the enzyme that degrades sperm mitochondrial DNA after fertilization. Author: Alexander M. van der Bliek

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[Policy Forum] Countering the Zika epidemic in Latin America

As evidence grew for a causal link between Zika infection and microcephaly and other serious congenital anomalies (1), the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Latin American Zika epidemic a public health emergency of international concern in February 2016 (2). The speed of spread [see the figure, top, and the supplementary materials (SM)] has made effective public health responses challenging. Immediate responses have included vector control (3) and advice to delay pregnancy in a few countries (4), followed by an extended recommendation to all affected countries by WHO in June 2016. These have merits but are likely to have limited effectiveness (5) and may interact antagonistically. Fuller understanding of dynamics and drivers of the epidemic is needed to assess longer-term risks to prioritize interventions. Authors: Neil M. Ferguson, Zulma M. Cucunubá, Ilaria Dorigatti, Gemma L. Nedjati-Gilani, Christl A. Donnelly, Maria-Gloria Basáñez, Pierre Nouvellet, Justin Lessler

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[Book Review] Power to the people

The American electric grid is the largest machine in the world. But bigger is not necessarily better. While other technological innovations sprint ahead of social change, when it comes to deeply institutionalized systems like the grid, we often neglect urgent maintenance and delay critical upgrades. In The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future, cultural anthropologist Gretchen Bakke dives deep into the history of the electric power grid, revealing how the social sciences help us understand infrastructure and technological management as deeply social qualities. Author: Cymene Howe

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[Book Review] The GDP and its discontents

In his new book, The Great Invention: The Story of GDP and the Making (and Unmaking) of the Modern World, Ehsan Masood discusses the outsized influence that gross domestic product (GDP) has come to bear on public policy, citing factors such as income inequality, non-monetary quality-of-life indices, and environmental impact that the statistic fails to take into account. Reviewer N. Gregory Mankiw acknowledges the metric's shortcomings, but wonders whether a single number can (or should be expected to) capture all of what matters about a society. Author: N. Gregory Mankiw

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[Letter] 324 million minorities

Author: Sonsoles de Lacalle

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