Science

The best in science news, commentary, and research
  • [Editorial] NIH research: Think globally
    [Apr 2015]

    The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has for more than 60 years supported research to improve the health and prolong the lives of people in the United States and around the world. Mean life expectancy worldwide has doubled to more than 70 years, due in large part to medical and public health interventions developed with NIH funding. Now, in the face of serious fiscal constraints, the idea has reemerged from some congressional leaders and disease constituency groups to more closely align NIH funding for disease research with disease burden in the United States. Although the nation must maintain robust research support for diseases that cause illness and death among large numbers of Americans, it would be unwise to deemphasize diseases that exact their largest toll elsewhere in the world. The United States has a vital interest in the health of people around the globe, rooted in an enduring tradition of humanitarian concern as well as in enlightened self-interest. Engagement in global health protects the nation's citizens, enhances the economy, and advances U.S. interests abroad. Authors: Anthony S. Fauci, Francis S. Collins
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [In Depth] Iran deal would transform its nuclear infrastructure
    [Apr 2015]

    According to the outline of a deal reached last week with the United States and five other nations, Iran will convert the sensitive Fordow uranium enrichment facility into an international research center that would produce isotopes for industry—and may even host one or more small linear accelerators for basic science. Fordow's emergence from the shadows is one highlight of the tentative agreement, which is designed to dismantle large pieces of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing crippling economic sanctions. Other technical elements include reengineering a plutonium-producing reactor and removing or diluting enriched uranium that could otherwise be further enriched to make several atomic bombs. The plan seeks a delicate balance: preventing Iran from building an atomic arsenal while allowing it to retain nuclear R&D. Author: Richard Stone
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [In Depth] Acid oceans cited in Earth's worst die-off
    [Apr 2015]

    The Permian mass extinction, 250 million years ago, was the worst in Earth's history, killing off some 90% of living species. A team of European geoscientists has found the most direct evidence yet that ocean acidification was a major part of the die-off. Scientists have long suspected that volcanoes dumped trillions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and that some of it dissolved in the oceans, leading to an acidity that can weaken sea creatures' ability to make calciferous shells. Now, locked in limestone that was formed in shallow seawater offshore of the supercontinent Pangaea, scientists have found an isotopic signal to support a sharp drop in pH. The catastrophe holds a cautionary lesson: Due to the burning of fossil fuels, today's oceans are acidifying at an even faster rate than they were at the time of the extinctions, although it hasn't yet persisted nearly as long. Author: Eric Hand
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [In Depth] U.S. agencies fall in line on public access
    [Apr 2015]

    Last month, the National Science Foundation unveiled a plan to require its grantees to make their peer-reviewed research papers freely available to the public within 12 months of publication. The agency's move meant that six federal agencies that provide the bulk of the nation's basic research funding now have public access policies required by a 2013 White House order. The mandate, which applies to federal agencies that spend more than $100 million a year on research and development, will eventually make hundreds of thousands of papers once hidden behind paywalls available to anyone with an Internet connection. Science took a look at the details of the policies. Author: Jocelyn Kaiser
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [In Depth] Bully for Brontosaurus!
    [Apr 2015]

    For generations the name Brontosaurus has been taboo. Even lay dino aficionados and many 8-year-olds have taken pride in knowing that the correct scientific name for the iconic beast was Apatosaurus. But now a dinosaur-sized study of the dinosaur family tree has resurrected Brontosaurus. By studying 81 skeletons and 477 skeletal features or characters, paleontologists conclude that the fossils originally called Brontosaurus show enough skeletal differences from other specimens of Apatosaurus that they rightfully belong to a different genus. The study, published online this week in the open-access journal PeerJ, brings the long-banished name back into scientific respectability as a genus coequal with Apatosaurus. Author: Michael Balter
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [In Depth] Infectious cancer found in clams
    [Apr 2015]

    Soft-shell clams along North America's east coast suffer from a fatal leukemia-like condition. Researchers report this week that the cancer is transmissible, a phenomenon previously known only in dogs and Tasmanian devils. The finding suggests that transmissible cancers may be more common than was thought. Following up on the discovery of retrotransposon, called Steamer, the researchers found genetic similarities among the cancer cells in clams from various parts of the coast. The cancer cells' DNA did not match the genomes of the clams they afflict, further suggesting that all the cancer cells derive from one primordial immune cell gone rogue, which then spread from clam to clam. Questions remain about how the disease is transmitted and how the cancer cells escape the clams' immune systems. Author: Erik Stokstad
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Feature] Startup liftoff
    [Apr 2015]

    For decades, engineers have been building satellites like bespoke Swiss watches, sparing no expense and spending years to perfect them. Enter the CubeSat, a cheap and small satellite form factor that is gaining momentum and finally starting to perform real science: In 2014, a record 132 were launched. Planet Labs, based in San Francisco, California, is the poster child for the movement, and a prime example of Silicon Valley ideals and technology being applied to aerospace. For less than $1 million, the company can build and launch a CubeSat telescope that it calls a Dove. With 5-meter resolution or better, each Dove can make out trees and buildings. If it can get between 150 and 200 Doves in orbit, the company will fulfill its overriding mission to assemble a daily snapshot of the entire Earth. This time-lapse flipbook will reveal flooding on rivers, logging in forests, and road building in cities, as they happen. Commercial companies—and earth scientists—are eager to get their hands on the data. Author: Eric Hand
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Feature] Thinking inside the box
    [Apr 2015]

    Why a 10-centimeter cube? The trademark size of the CubeSat emerged somewhat accidentally, recalls Jordi Puig-Suari, an aerospace engineer at California Polytechnic State University. Student-built satellites date back to the 1980s, but they were often unwieldy. Not only were they expensive to launch, but commercial rocketeers were also wary of packing them alongside primary payloads. But in 1999, Puig-Suari met with Bob Twiggs, at the time an aerospace engineer at Stanford University, to discuss ways of getting more student projects into space. They focused on slimming down the spacecraft. They thought hard about the potential capabilities of a 10-centimeter cube with a mass limit of 1 kilogram and found the perfect life-size demonstration model: a plastic box used for storing Beanie Babies. A standard was born. In 2003, the first six student projects rode a Russian Eurockot into orbit, for about $30,000 a pop; early on, the biggest single expense was the ride, though in recent years, launch prices have stayed put around $100,000 for a 1U CubeSat. Many early CubeSats tackled problems in space weather, but other areas of science are opening up, and some scientists think CubeSats can play a role far beyond low-Earth orbit. CubeSats are also opening space to new participants; Bruce Yost, deputy manager of the small spacecraft integrated product team at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, calls it "the democratization of space." Author: Eric Hand
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Policy Forum] Transatlantic lessons in regulation of mitochondrial replacement therapy
    [Apr 2015]

    Mutant mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) gives rise to a broad range of heritable clinical syndromes (1). A cure for those affected remains out of reach (1). However, recently developed mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) has raised the prospect of disease-free progeny for women carriers (2–4). Moreover, the feasibility of replacing mutant oocytic or zygotic mtDNA with a donated wild-type counterpart in humans has now been firmly established (2–4). In the United Kingdom, legislation regulating the clinical application of MRT, now 10 years in the making, has recently been approved by the House of Commons (5) and the House of Lords (6). The regulatory vetting of MRT in the United States, under way for a year, remains a work in progress (7). Here, we compare and contrast the regulatory history of MRT in the United Kingdom and the United States and examine potential lessons learned. Authors: I. Glenn Cohen, Julian Savulescu, Eli Y. Adashi
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Perspective] Aneuploidy and mother's genes
    [Apr 2015]

    Biology, ecology, and culture have shaped human genetic variation over thousands of generations. Technology now allows us to know the sequence of our genomes and to act on this knowledge. Which genes did a child inherit from either parent? With the direct-to-consumer genome scan products now available, this question can be answered at the cost of a few hundred U.S. dollars and a few milliliters of spit. Which fertilized embryo is free of genetic and genomic abnormalities? By combining in vitro fertilization, preimplantation genetic screening, and whole-genome scans, this is also now possible to assess (1, 2). But what if genes themselves select potential children? On page 235 of this issue, McCoy et al. (3) indicate that this may be the case. The authors describe paradoxical results of a genomic study of thousands of preimplantation human embryos and their parents. They turn up a maternal-effect genetic variant that occurs at high frequency in many populations, that was likely under positive selection in our recent past, and that dramatically decreases embryonic viability. Authors: Samuel H. Vohr, Richard E. Green
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Perspective] Finding nascent proteins the right home
    [Apr 2015]

    Cells must deliver the thousands of polypeptides they synthesize every minute to various specific subcellular locations. Precisely how this happens has been a topic of intense research, and some controversy, for the past 20 years, as critical components of the translation and translocation machineries—the ribosomes and the signal recognition particle (SRP)—do not confer full target discrimination. On page 201 of this issue, Gamerdinger et al. (1) elegantly demonstrate how the nascent chain associated complex (NAC) enhances the specificity of the metazoan protein-sorting machinery to provide more discriminatory targeting for newly synthesized proteins in vivo. Authors: Günter Kramer, D. Lys Guilbride, Bernd Bukau
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Perspective] Details of destruction, one molecule at a time
    [Apr 2015]

    Essential cellular processes, such as cell division, rely on the coordinated destruction of proteins. The predominant means of accomplishing this involves a large cellular machine, the proteasome (1). Proteasomal degradation ensues when proteins are modified with ubiquitin, a small protein, that has many different roles (2). This tagging involves a carrier protein (an E2 ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme) and a substrate-determining protein (an E3 ligase). For example, during the cell division cycle, a large multiprotein E3 ligase, the anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome (APC/C), utilizes two E2 enzymes, UBE2C and UBE2S, to target proteins for destruction (3). On pages 199 and 200 of this issue, two Research Articles by Lu et al. focus on these reactions and illuminate, at the single-molecule level, the process of ubiquitination by APC/C (4), as well as the recognition and subsequent destruction of APC/C substrates by proteasomes (5). Both studies substantially enrich our knowledge of ubiquitination and degradation, reveal new properties of APC/C and the proteasome, and challenge established concepts about the ubiquitin-proteasome system. Author: David Komander
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Perspective] Assembling a complex quantum ensemble
    [Apr 2015]

    Statistical mechanics provides a systematic approach for predicting the behavior of systems when only partial information is present. The key assumption underlying all of statistical mechanics is that every allowed configuration of the system, called a microstate, occurs with equal probability. This approach, valid for both classical and quantum systems, requires only minimal additional information for it to be astonishingly predictive. On page 207 of this issue, Langen et al. (1) describe a system in which this paradigm is violated and conventional statistical mechanics fails; almost all of the usually allowed microstates are inaccessible via the system's dynamics. Author: I. B. Spielman
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Perspective] An early start for the Panama land bridge
    [Apr 2015]

    The birth of the Panama land bridge, which connects the Americas, has been associated with one of the biggest biological exchanges in Earth history as numerous species migrated from one continent to the other (1). Nevertheless, the timing of formation of the land bridge is still much debated (2). On page 226 of this issue, Montes et al. (3) propose that the Central American Seaway, which separated South and North America, closed about 15 to 13 million years ago, more than 10 million years earlier than previously thought (4), with important implications for ocean circulation, climate, and biotic exchange. Authors: Carina Hoorn, Suzette Flantua
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Perspective] Are trade secrets delaying biosimilars?
    [Apr 2015]

    On 6 March 2015, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved, under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA), a biosimilar of filgrastim (Neupogen), for treating chemotherapy-caused neutropenia (1). Although this action represents a step toward cheaper medical treatments, it masks systemic problems. Not only has it taken 5 years since the BPCIA's passage (2), but economists estimate that even by 2020, biosimilar competition will reduce consumer prices only modestly (3). Why will price competition be so lacking? One key reason is the barrier to competitive entry created by trade secrecy in biologics manufacturing. Authors: W. Nicholson Price, Arti K. Rai
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Perspective] A chaotic approach clears up imaging
    [Apr 2015]

    Lasers appear to be ideal light sources for a variety of projection and imaging systems because of their spectral brightness and their ability to produce a beam of light that can be tightly collimated to travel long distances. Lasers owe these extraordinary properties to a quality called coherence. Yet, lasers are not widely used in imaging and projection applications, because the coherence of laser light is just too extreme. Spatiotemporal coherence of the imaging source leads to artifacts such as speckle, caused by the uncontrolled scattering of laser light and multipath interference that degrade the image considerably. Redding et al. (1) now report how a semiconductor laser based on a chaotic cavity can offer a “compact” solution to this problem. The availability of such low-cost, on-chip semiconductor lasers and the possibility to electrically modulate them make such lasers attractive light sources for a variety of applications, ranging from compact projectors to optical coherence tomography. Authors: Harald G. L. Schwefel, Hakan E. Türeci
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Book Review] Speaking of science
    [Apr 2015]

    "You are able to read this sentence." Surely this assertion, which opens Scientific Babel, is self-evident. But as author Michael Gordin goes on to show, there was nothing inevitable about the rise of "global English". Reviewer Lynn Nyhart considers this account of how short-lived language movements, translation efforts, and publication schemes interacted with global geopolitics to make English the language of science… for now. Author: Lynn K. Nyhart
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Book Review] Cyber crime 2.0
    [Apr 2015]

    According to author Marc Goodman, the shadowy "Crime Inc." (a catch-all term for all that is malicious on the Internet) is a virtually unstoppable force that, combined with the trend toward a global Internet of Things, leaves us more susceptible to criminal activity than ever. What's worse—we are complicit in our own exploitation, wantonly sharing our personal and private information online, while ignoring the maxim "If you're not paying for it, you're not the customer, you're the product." Reviewer Dov Greenbaum welcomes this well-researched whirlwind tour of Internet-based crime, and offers some suggestions to help readers avoid falling victim to the criminal capers described in Future Crimes. Author: Dov Greenbaum
    Categories: Journal Articles
  • [Books et al.] Books Received
    [Apr 2015]

    A listing of books received at Science during the week ending 03 April 2015.
    Categories: Journal Articles