Medicine

Malaria Vaccine Passes Key Regulatory Hurdle 34 34

An anonymous reader writes: The BBC reports that the European Medicines Agency has approved the world's first malaria vaccine for real-world use. The vaccine is far from perfect, and the World Health Organization still has to make a final decision on it, but it's a key victory for GlaxoSmithKline, who have been developing the vaccine for three decades. "The best protection was among children aged five to 17 months who received three doses of the vaccine a month apart, plus a booster dose at 20 months. In this group, cases of severe malaria were cut by a third over four years." Unfortunately, the boosters are quite necessary for protection, and it doesn't protect young babies from malaria. The disease "kills around 584,000 people a year worldwide, most of them children under five in sub-Saharan Africa."
Science

Four-legged Snake Fossil Stuns Scientists, Ignites Controversy 153 153

sciencehabit writes: Scientists have described what they say is the first known fossil of a four-legged snake. The limbs of the 120-or-so-million-year-old, 20-centimeter-long creature are remarkably well preserved and end with five slender digits that appear to have been functional (abstract). Thought to have come from Brazil, the fossil would be one of the earliest snakes found, suggesting that the group evolved from terrestrial precursors in Gondwana, the southern remnant of the supercontinent Pangaea. But although the creature's overall body plan—and indeed, many of its individual anatomical features—is snakelike, some researchers aren't so sure that it is a part of the snake family tree.
Science

The Science and Politics Behind Colony Collapse Disorder; Is the Crisis Over? 174 174

iONiUM writes: An article at the Globe and Mail claims that there is no longer any Honeybee crises, and that the deaths of the Honeybees previously was a one-off, or possibly non-cyclical occurrence (caused by neonics or nature — the debate is still out). The data used is that from Stats Canada which claims "the number of honeybee colonies is at a record high [in Canada]." Globally, the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization says that "worldwide bee populations have rebounded to a record high." The story reports: "I have great news for honey lovers everywhere. The Canadian honeybee industry is thriving. Despite those headlines about mass die-offs and and killer pesticides, the number of honeybee colonies is at a record high. Last year, according to Statistics Canada, nearly 700,000 honeybee colonies produced $200-million worth of honey. Bee survival rates have rebounded even in Ontario, which was hard hit by unusually high winter die-offs."
United States

"Breaking Bad" At the National Institute of Standards and Technology 98 98

sciencehabit writes: Police are investigating whether an explosion inside a Maryland federal laboratory was the result of an effort to make drugs. Authorities who responded to the explosion at the National Institute of Standards and Technology found pseudoephedrine, Epsom salt and other materials associated with the manufacture of meth. Federal and local law enforcement agencies are investigating the cause of the explosion and if a security guard injured in the blast might have been involved. Sciencemag reports: "Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), chairman at the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, got involved today, expressing grave concern over the incident in a letter to Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. NIST is part of the Commerce Department. 'I am troubled by the allegations that such dangerous and illicit activity went undetected at a federal research facility. It is essential that we determine exactly where the breakdown in protocol occurred and whether similar activities could be ongoing at other federal facilities,' wrote Smith in an accompanying press release. He has requested a briefing with NIST no later than 29 July."
Mars

Interviews: Shaun Moss Answers Your Questions About Mars and Space Exploration 48 48

Recently the founder of the Mars Settlement Research Organization and author of The International Mars Research Station Shaun Moss agreed to sit down and answer any questions you had about space exploration and colonizing Mars. Below you will find his answers to your questions.
Space

NASA Spies Earth-Sized Exoplanet Orbiting Sun-Like Star 134 134

An anonymous reader writes: NASA has announced that a new Earth-like planet has been discovered that may be the closest thing yet to a first true "Earth twin." Kepler 452b is located 1,000 light years away, is 60% larger than Earth, and orbits Kepler 452 at a distance similar to that between Earth and the Sun. "It is the first terrestrial planet in the habitable zone around a star very similar to the Sun," says Douglas Caldwell, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.
Space

Astronauts' Skin Gets Thinner In Space, Scientists Say 60 60

An anonymous reader writes: Living in space can be hard on the human body. Muscles atrophy, bones lose density and new research suggests that spending time in space can make your skin thinner. Professor Karsten Koenig from the Department of Biophotonics and Laser Technology at Saarland University, has used high-resolution skin imaging tomography to look into the skin cells of several astronauts before and after a trip into space. "NASA and ESA came to us and asked, 'is it possible to also look in the skin of astronauts? Because we want to know if there's any ageing process going on or what kind of modifications happened to astronauts as they work for six months out in space.' Because many astronauts complain about skin problems," he said.
Science

How Pentaquarks May Lead To the Discovery of New Fundamental Physics 65 65

StartsWithABang writes: Over 100 years ago, Rutherford's gold foil experiment discovered the atomic nucleus. At higher energies, we can split that nucleus apart into protons and neutrons, and at still higher ones, into individual quarks and gluons. But these quarks and gluons can combine in amazing ways: not just into mesons and baryons, but into exotic states like tetraquarks, pentaquarks and even glueballs. As the LHC brings these states from theory to reality, here's what we're poised to learn, and probe, by pushing the limits of quantum chromodynamics.
Shark

Since Receiving Satellite Tags, Some Sharks Have Become Stars of Social Media 31 31

Lucas123 writes: A research project that tags the world's most dangerous sharks with four different tracking devices and then offers all the data to the public has taken off, garnering hundreds of thousands of users; one shark even has more then 80,000 followers on Twitter. OCEARCH, a non-profit shark tracking project, has tagged about 130 sharks, from great whites and tigers to hammerheads and makos, and open sourced the data in the hope that it will create citizen scientists who will follow the animals and care about what happens to them. To further personify the apex predators, the researchers at OCEARCH have also given the sharks names such as Katharine and Mary Lee, two sharks that are more than 14 feet long and weight more than a ton. OCEARCH's shark tracker has garnered 10 times the traffic it had last year, and it's expected to grow 20 times more by the end of this year. Along with data from satellite, acoustic and accelerometer tags, the project expects to begin using big data analytics to offer more granular data about the animals and their lives to scientists and the public at large.
Australia

Studies Find Genetic Signature of Native Australians In the Americas 97 97

Applehu Akbar writes: Two new research papers claim to have found an Australo-Melanesian DNA signal in the genetic makeup of Native Americans, dating to about the time of the last glacial maximum. This may move the speculation around the Clovis people and Kennewick man to an entirely new level. Let's hope that it at least shakes loose some more funding for North American archaeology. Ars reports: "The exact process by which humanity introduced itself to the Americas has always been controversial. While there's general agreement on the most important migration—across the Bering land bridge at the end of the last ice age—there's a lot of arguing over the details. Now, two new papers clarify some of the bigger picture but also introduce a new wrinkle: there's DNA from the distant Pacific floating around in the genomes of Native Americans. And the two groups disagree about how it got there."
Medicine

Giving Doctors Grades Has Backfired 245 245

HughPickens.com writes: Beginning in the early 1990s a quality-improvement program began in New York State and has since spread to many other states where report cards were issued to improve cardiac surgery by tracking surgical outcomes, sharing the results with hospitals and the public, and when necessary, placing surgeons or surgical programs on probation. But Sandeep Jauhar writes in the NYT that the report cards have backfired. "They often penalized surgeons, like the senior surgeon at my hospital, who were aggressive about treating very sick patients and thus incurred higher mortality rates," says Jauhar. "When the statistics were publicized, some talented surgeons with higher-than-expected mortality statistics lost their operating privileges, while others, whose risk aversion had earned them lower-than-predicted rates, used the report cards to promote their services in advertisements."

Surveys of cardiac surgeons in The New England Journal of Medicine have confirmed that reports like the Consumer Guide to Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery have limited credibility among cardiovascular specialists, little influence on referral recommendations and may introduce a barrier to care for severely ill patients. According to Jauhar, there is little evidence that the public — as opposed to state agencies and hospitals — pays much attention to surgical report cards anyway. A recent survey found that only 6 percent of patients used such information in making medical decisions. "Surgical report cards are a classic example of how a well-meaning program in medicine can have unintended consequences," concludes Jauhar. "It would appear that doctors, not patients, are the ones focused on doctors' grades — and their focus is distorted and blurry at best."
Medicine

How Drug Companies Seek To Exploit Rare DNA Mutations 93 93

An anonymous reader writes: With so many people in the world, humanity can't help but generate a large amount of genetic outliers. Most random mutations are undetectable, and many of the rest lead to serious diseases. But there's another class of mutation that has drug companies salivating. For example: a few dozen people worldwide have a condition that prevents them from feeling any pain. Another condition called sclerosteosis affects less than 100 people, giving them incredibly dense bone structure. Both of these conditions have serious downsides, but drug companies are beginning to see the dollar signs behind isolating these mutations and making them safe.

"People with sclerosteosis lack a protein that acts as a brake on bone growth. Without that protein, bones grow abnormally thick. It stood to reason, researchers thought, that a drug that could block the protein in patients with osteoporosis would encourage bone regrowth. Amgen's scientists created hundreds of antibodies that they tested to determine which might be able to get in the way of the protein. It took them three and a half years of research before they were able to identify the best antibody to inhibit the protein. Then NASA came calling." It's an unfortunate situation for those with the rare conditions; there's a lot more potential profit in finding a way to genetically prevent pain for billions of people than it is to cure the handful with the condition.
Medicine

Tallying the Mistakes and Malfunctions of Robot Surgeons 64 64

An anonymous reader writes: El Reg reports on a new study (PDF) that looked into malfunction and injury reports for medical procedures that used robot surgeons. From 2007 to 2013, 1.74 million such procedures were carried out, 86% of which were related to urology and gynecology. Of those, the study looked at reports of "adverse events," which were sent to the FDA. In that time period, there were 144 deaths, 1,391 patient injuries, and 8,061 device malfunctions. The malfunctions included "falling of burnt/broken pieces of instruments into the patient (14.7%), electrical arcing of instruments (10.5%), unintended operation of instruments (8.6%), system errors (5%), and video/imaging problems (2.6%)."

The more complicated surgeries involving vital organs were naturally the most dangerous. Head and neck surgeries accounted for 19.7% of all adverse results, and cardiothoracic procedures accounted for 6.4%. The much more common urology and gynecology procedures had adverse event rates of 1.4% and 1.9%. The researchers are quick to note that despite the high number of malfunctions, a vastly higher number of robotic procedures went off without a hitch. They say increased adoption of these techniques will go a long way toward resolving bugs and device failures.
Medicine

The Mystery of Acupuncture Partly Explained In Rat Study 159 159

hackingbear writes: A biological mechanism explaining part of the mystery of acupuncture has been pinpointed by scientists studying rats. The research showed that applying electroacupuncture to an especially powerful acupuncture point known as stomach meridian point 36 (St36) affected a complex interaction between hormones known as the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. In stressed rats exposed to unpleasant cold stimulation, HPA activity was reduced (abstract). The findings provide the strongest evidence yet that the ancient Chinese therapy has more than a placebo effect when used to treat chronic stress, it is claimed. "Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs exert their therapeutic effects on these same mechanisms," said lead investigator Dr Ladan Eshkevari, from Georgetown University medical center in Washington DC.
Earth

Fossil Fuels Are Messing With Carbon Dating 108 108

Taco Cowboy writes: The carbon dating method used in determining the age of an artifact is based on the amount of radioactive carbon-14 isotopes it contains. The C-14 within an organism is continually decaying into stable carbon isotopes, but since the organism is absorbing more C-14 during its life, the ratio of C-14 to C-12 remains about the same as the ratio in the atmosphere. When the organism dies, the ratio of C-14 within its carcass begins to gradually decrease. The amount of C-14 drops by half every 5,730 years after death.

The fossil fuels we're burning are old — so old they don't contain any C-14. The more we burn these fossil fuels, the more non-C-14 carbon we pump into the atmosphere. If emissions continue as they have for the past few decades, then by year 2050 a shirt made in that year (2050) will have the same C-14 signature as a shirt worn by William the Conqueror a thousand years earlier.
Biotech

Genetic Access Control Code Uses 23andMe DNA Data For Internet Racism 312 312

rjmarvin writes: A GitHub project is using the 23andMe API for genetic decoding to act as a way to bar users from entering websites based on their genetic data — race and ancestry. "Stumbling around GitHub, I came across this bit of code: Genetic Access Control. Now, budding young racist coders can check out your 23andMe page before they allow you into their website! Seriously, this code uses the 23andMe API to pull genetic info, then runs access control on the user based on the results. Just why you decide not to let someone into your site is up to you, but it can be based on any aspect of the 23andMe API. This is literally the code to automate racism."
Space

New Horizons Returns Best Images of Pluto's Moons Hydra and Nix 33 33

An anonymous reader writes: Over the weekend, the New Horizons probe sent back more data from Pluto, including two of the best images we'll get of its small moons Nix and Hydra. Nix measures about 42km long by 36km wide, and has a large reddish spot on it. The resolution allows us to see features about 3km across. Hydra is slightly bigger, and the pictures were taken with a different instrument, so resolution is a bit better. "Although the overall surface color of Nix is neutral grey in the image, the newfound region has a distinct red tint. Hints of a bull's-eye pattern lead scientists to speculate that the reddish region is a crater. ... Meanwhile, the sharpest image yet received from New Horizons of Pluto's satellite Hydra shows that its irregular shape resembles the state of Michigan. ...Although the overall surface color of Nix is neutral grey in the image, the newfound region has a distinct red tint. Hints of a bull's-eye pattern lead scientists to speculate that the reddish region is a crater." Images have been taken of Styx and Kerberos, the most recently discovered moons of Pluto, but they won't be transmitted back for a while, yet. NASA has also released an image of a mountain range inside Pluto's heart-shaped region.
Biotech

Scientists Arm Cells With Tiny Lasers 35 35

sciencehabit writes: Scientists have implanted tiny lasers within living cells. A team of physicists and biologists have coaxed a cell to envelop a tiny plastic sphere that acts like a resonant cavity—thus placing a whole laser within a cell (abstract). The spheres are seasoned with a fluorescent dye, so that a zap with one color of light makes them radiate at another color. The light then resonates in the sphere, triggering laser action and amplifying itself. So although demonstrated only in cultured cells, the technique might someday be used to track the movement of individual cells, say, within cancerous tumors.
Education

Video CanSat Helps Students Make & Launch Sub-Orbital 'Satellites' (Video) 22 22

The Magnitude (motto: "Powered by Curiosity") "Can-sized satellites" aren't technically satellites because they're launched on rockets that typically can't get much higher than 10,000 feet, or as payloads on weather balloons that can hit 100,000+ feet but (obviously) can't go beyond the Earth's atmosphere. But could they be satellites? Sure. Get a rocket with enough punch to put them in orbit and off you go -- something Magnitude Co-founder and CEO Ted Tagami hopes to see happening in his local school district by 2020. Meanwhile, they'll sell you assembled CanSat packages or help you build your own (or anything in between), depending on your schools resources and aspirations. Have a question or an idea? Talk to Ted. He'd love to hear from you. Use the Magnitude Web form or send email to hello at magnitude dot io. Either way works.
Communications

Comet Lander Falls Silent; Scientists Fear It Has Moved 36 36

vivaoporto writes: European scientists say the Philae comet lander fell silent on Monday, raising fears that it has moved again on its new home millions of miles from Earth. Over the last few weeks, Rosetta has been flying along the terminator plane of the comet in order to find the best location to communicate with Philae. However, over the weekend of 10-11 July, the star trackers struggled to lock on to stars at the closer distances. No contact has been made with Philae since 9 July. The data acquired at that time are being investigated by the lander team to try to better understand Philae's situation.

One possible explanation being discussed at DLR's Lander Control Center is that the position of Philae may have shifted slightly, perhaps by changing its orientation with respect to the surface in its current location. The lander is likely situated on uneven terrain, and even a slight change in its position – perhaps triggered by gas emission from the comet – could mean that its antenna position has also now changed with respect to its surroundings. This could have a knock-on effect as to the best position Rosetta needs to be in to establish a connection with the lander.

The current status of Philae remains uncertain and is a topic of on-going discussion and analysis. But in the meantime, further commands are being prepared and tested to allow Philae to re-commence operations. The lander team wants to try to activate a command block that is still stored in Philae's computer and which was already successfully performed after the lander's unplanned flight across to the surface to its final location. "Although the mission will now focus its scientific priority on the orbiter, Rosetta will continue attempting – up to and past perihelion – to obtain Philae science packets once a stable link has been acquired," adds Patrick Martin, Rosetta mission manager.