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Scientists Move Closer To a Universal Flu Vaccine 205

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Vaccines for most diseases typically work for years or decades but with the flu, next fall it will be time to get another dose. Now Carl Zimmer writes that a flurry of recent studies on the virus has brought some hope for a change as flu experts foresee a time when seasonal flu shots are a thing of the past, replaced by long-lasting vaccines. 'That's the goal: two shots when you're young, and then boosters later in life' says Dr. Gary Nabel, predicting that scientists would reach that goal before long: 'in our lifetime, for sure, unless you're 90 years old.' Today's flu vaccines protect people from the virus by letting them make antibodies in advance but a traditional flu vaccine can protect against only flu viruses with a matching hemagglutinin protein. If a virus evolves a different shape, the antibodies cannot latch on, and it escapes destruction. Scientists have long wondered whether they could escape this evolutionary cycle with a universal flu vaccine that would to attack a part of the virus that changes little from year to year so now researchers are focusing on target antigens which are highly conserved between different influenza A virus subtypes. 'Universal vaccination with universal vaccines would put an end to the threat of global disaster that pandemic influenza can cause,' says Dr. Sara Gilbert."
The Almighty Buck

ITER Fusion Project Struggles To Put the Pieces Together 138

ananyo writes "The world's largest scientific project is threatened with further delays, as agencies struggle to complete the design and sign contracts worth hundred of millions of euros with industrial partners. Sources familiar with the project warn that the complex system for buying ITER's many pieces could put the fusion reactor project even further behind schedule. Rather than providing cash, ITER's partners have pledged 'in kind' contributions of pieces of the machine. Magnets, instruments and reactor sections will arrive from around the world to be cobbled together at the central site in St-Paul-lès-Durance in southern France. Because no one body holds the purse strings, designs for the machine's components face a tortuous back-and-forth between the central ITER Organization and national 'domestic agencies', which ensure that local companies secure contracts for ITER's components. Managers say the project remains on schedule. But it would hardly be the first time that ITER had been delayed or faced budgetary difficulties."

Brain Scans Show the Impact of Neglect On a Child's Brain Size 206

An anonymous reader writes "A shocking comparison of brain scans from two three-year-old children reveals new evidence of the remarkable impact a mother's love has on a child's brain development. The chilling images reveal that the left brain, which belongs to a normal 3-year-old, is significantly larger and contains fewer spots and dark 'fuzzy' areas than the right brain, which belongs to that of a 3-year-old who has suffered extreme neglect. Neurologists say that the latest images provide more evidence that the way children are treated in their early years is important not only for the child's emotional development, but also in determining the size of their brains. Experts say that the sizeable difference in the two brains is primarily caused by the difference in the way each child was treated by their mothers."

Camera Technique Captures New View of Space & Time 75

kkleiner writes "What if you could compress a video clip into a single image? That's what Jay Mark Johnson, an artist and visual effects director, has accomplished through the use of a special camera technique. He calls the images 'photographic timelines,' and his collected works offer quite a shift to conventional perception. Slices of photos are strung together in progression to make a single composite image of a sliver of space spread over an extended period of time."

26 Nuclear Power Plants In Hurricane Sandy's Path 392

pigrabbitbear writes "Hurricane Sandy is about to ruin a bunch of people's Mondays. In New York City alone, the storm has already shut down public transportation, forced tens of thousands to relocate to higher ground and compelled even more office jockeys to work from home. (Okay, that last part might not be so bad, especially for the folks that don't actually have to work at all.) But if it knocks out power to any of the 26 nuclear power plants that lie directly in its path, the frankenstorm of the century will ruin Tuesday, too. Heck, a nuclear meltdown would be a much bigger problem."

Ancient Tsunami Devastated Lake Geneva Shoreline 41

ananyo writes "In ad 563, more than a century after the Romans gave up control of what is now Geneva, Switzerland, a deadly tsunami on Lake Geneva poured over the city walls. Originating from a rock fall where the River Rhône enters at the opposite end of the lake to Geneva, the tsunami destroyed surrounding villages, people and livestock, according to two known historical accounts. Researchers now report the first geological evidence from the lake to support these ancient accounts. The findings suggest that the region would be wise to evaluate the risk today, with more than one million inhabitants living on the lake's shores, including 200,000 people in Geneva alone. The researchers cannot say exactly what created the tsunami (nothing suggests it was an earthquake), but they propose that the falling rock caused an accumulated heap of sediment in the Rhône delta to collapse. This would have launched the wave and carried the sediment from the delta to the center of the lake, where the researchers detected it. The researchers used the geological information gathered in the study to recreate how the wave might have behaved. Their model predicted that a 13-meter-high wave would have hit Lausanne 15 minutes after the rock fall, with an 8-meter-high wave reaching Geneva after 70 minutes."

Video Dr. Richard Dawkins On Why Disagreeing With Religion Isn't Insulting 1152

In part 2 of this video interview (with transcript), Dr. Richard Dawkins explains the function of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, headlined by his website. They're holding it up as a blueprint for similar groups: "We're trying to encourage, with some success, other organizations to make use of our facility, so that they will use our website, or have their own websites which are based upon ours, and have the same look and feel and use the same infrastructure." One of the Foundation's other purposes is to oppose organizations like the Good News Club. "What it is, is a group of Fundamentalist Christian organizations, who go into public schools after the school bell has rung for the day. So that it's no longer violating the Constitutional separation of church and state. ... And it's actually the Good News Club people masquerading as teachers, and they're being extremely effective." Dr. Dawkins also talks about his own comments, and explains why they're perceived as offensive: "Ignorance is no crime. There are all sorts of things I'm ignorant of, such as baseball, but I don't regard it as insulting if somebody says I'm ignorant of baseball, it's a simple fact. I am ignorant of baseball. People who claim to be Creationists are almost always ignorant of evolution. That's just a statement of fact, not an insult. It's just a statement. But it sounds like an insult. And I think that accounts for part of what you've picked up about my apparent image of being aggressive and offensive. I'm just telling it clearly." Hit the link below to see the rest of the interview.
The Military

Designing DNA Specific Bio-Weapons 227

Hugh Pickens writes writes "The Atlantic reports that experts in genetics and microbiology are convinced we may be only a few years away from the development of advanced, genetic bio-weapons able to target a single human being based on their DNA. The authors paint a scenario of the development of a virus that causes only mild flu in the general population but when the virus crosses paths with cells containing a very specific DNA sequence, the sequence would act as a molecular key to unlock secondary functions that would trigger a fast-acting neuro-destructive disease that produces memory loss and, eventually, death. The requisite equipment including gene sequencers, micro-array scanners, and mass spectrometers now cost over $1 million but on eBay, it can be had for as little as $10,000. According to Ronald Kessler, the author of the 2009 book In the President's Secret Service, Navy stewards gather bedsheets, drinking glasses, and other objects the president has touched—they are later sanitized or destroyed—in an effort to keep would-be malefactors from obtaining his genetic material. However no amount of Secret Service vigilance can ever fully secure the president's DNA, because an entire genetic blueprint can now be produced from the information within just a single cell. How to protect the President? The authors propose open-sourcing the president's genetic information to a select group of security-cleared researchers who could follow in the footsteps of the computer sciences, where 'red-team exercises,' are extremely common practices so a similar testing environment could be developed for biological war games. 'Advances in biotechnology are radically changing the scientific landscape. We are entering a world where imagination is the only brake on biology,' write the authors. 'In light of this coming synbio revolution, a wider-ranging relationship between scientists and security organizations—one defined by open exchange, continual collaboration, and crowd-sourced defenses—may prove the only way to protect the president.'"

Hurricane Sandy Nears East Coast 281

An anonymous reader writes "Scientists have been following and projecting Sandy's path with all the tools at their disposal: ocean buoys, radar and satellite imagery, and computer modeling. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also gathers information from special reconnaissance aircraft, which fly over hurricanes and can drop instruments into them to measure wind speeds, air pressure, temperature, and altitude. The latest data gathered on Hurricane Sandy point to an unprecedented and mighty tempest, scientists say." A couple of our East Coast offices are closed today and people have been told to work from home. Please share your storm stories, and updates while you still have internet access.

Terrestrial Hermit Crabs Learning Social Tricks 81

An anonymous reader writes "When it comes to abandoned snail shells that hermit crabs expropriate as mobile homes, size matters, for room to grow, room for eggs, and protection from predators. UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Mark Laidre found that terrestrial hermit crabs on the Pacific shore of Costa Rica congregate in aggressive swap meets where one crab is forced from a relatively large shell, whereupon the rest trade up (one loser and multiple winners, pretty good odds). The loser gets the smallest shell, which means likely doom. Laidre and his colleagues note that most hermit crabs live in the ocean, where there are usually enough abandoned shells to go around so most can live, well, hermit-like lives without much interaction with fellow crabs. Not so on land, at least in Costa Rica."

Dragon Capsule Heads Home From ISS 70

An Anonymous Coward sent word that the SpaceX Dragon capsule is heading home from the International Space Station. From the article: "The unmanned Dragon space capsule set off from the International Space Station Sunday for the cargo-laden return trip to Earth after successfully delivering its first commercial payload, NASA said. Using a robotic arm, an astronaut aboard the floating laboratory detached and released the capsule at 1329 GMT after an 18-day mission to resupply the space station, the first ever by a privately-owned company, SpaceX. The next step will be to bring the capsule out of orbit by intermittently firing its onboard engines to slow its speed. It is then supposed to parachute into the Pacific Ocean off the California coast at 1920 GMT."

Paintball Pellets As a Tool To Deflect Asteroids 153

SternisheFan sends this quote from an article at MIT's Technology Review: "In the event that a giant asteroid is headed toward Earth, you’d better hope that it’s blindingly white. A pale asteroid would reflect sunlight — and over time, this bouncing of photons off its surface could create enough of a force to push the asteroid off its course. How might one encourage such a deflection? The answer, according to an MIT graduate student: with a volley or two of space-launched paintballs. Sung Wook Paek, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, says if timed just right, pellets full of paint powder, launched in two rounds from a spacecraft at relatively close distance, would cover the front and back of an asteroid, more than doubling its reflectivity, or albedo. The initial force from the pellets would bump an asteroid off course; over time, the sun’s photons would deflect the asteroid even more."

Our Weather Satellites Are Dying 193

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that some experts say it is almost certain that the U.S. will soon face a year or more without crucial weather satellites that provide invaluable data for predicting storm tracks. This is because the existing polar satellites are nearing or beyond their life expectancies, and the launching of the next replacement, known as JPSS-1, has slipped until early 2017. Polar satellites provide 84 percent of the data used in the main American computer model tracking the course of Hurricane Sandy, which at first was expected to amble away harmlessly, but now appears poised to strike the mid-Atlantic states. The mismanagement of the $13 billion program to build the next generation weather satellites was recently described as a 'national embarrassment' by a top official of the Commerce Department. A launch mishap or early on-orbit failure of JPSS 1 could lead to a data gap of more than 5 years. The second JPSS satellite — JPSS 2 — is not scheduled for launch until 2022. 'There is no more critical strategic issue for our weather satellite programs than the risk of gaps in satellite coverage,' writes Jane Lubchenco, the under-secretary responsible for the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. 'This dysfunctional program that had become a national embarrassment due to chronic management problems.' As a aside, I know from personal experience that this isn't the first time NOAA has been in this situation. 'In 1992 NOAA's GOES weather satellites were at the end of their useful lives and could have failed at any time,' I wrote as a project manager for AlliedSignal at that time. 'So NOAA made an agreement with the government of Germany to borrow a Meteosat Weather Satellite as a backup and drift it over from Europe to provide weather coverage for the US's Eastern seaboard in the event of an early GOES failure.'"

Gut Bacteria Cocktail May End Need for Fecal Transplants 183

sciencehabit writes "A tonic of gut microbes may be the secret recipe for treating a common hospital scourge. Researchers have pinpointed the exact mix of microbes required to cure mice of chronic infection by Clostridium difficile. The hard-to-treat bacterium infects alomst 336,000 in the US each year and causes bloating, pain, & diarrhea. A similar bacterial cocktail may be able to replace the current controversial treatment involving the intake of a healthy person's fecal matter to restore the right balance of microbes in the gut."

Why Can't Industry Design an Affordable Hearing Aid? 549

Hugh Pickens writes "Tricia Romano writes in the NY Times that over the last 10 years, purchasing a hearing aid had become even more difficult and confusing than buying a new car — and almost as expensive. 'I visited Hearx, the national chain where I had bought my previous aids. There, a fastidious young man spread out a brochure for my preferred brand, Siemens, and showed me three models. The cheapest, a Siemens Motion 300, started at $1,600. The top-of-the-line model was more than $2,000 — for one ear. I gasped.' A hearing aid is basically just a microphone and amplifier in your ear so it isn't clear why it costs thousands of dollars while other electronic equipment like cellphones, computers and televisions have gotten cheaper. Russ Apfel, an engineer who designed a technology now found in all hearing aids, says there is no good reason for the high prices. 'The hearing aid industry uses every new thing, like digital or a new algorithm, to raise prices,' says Apfel. 'The semiconductor industry traditionally reduces the cost of products by 10 to 15 percent a year,' he said, but 'hearing aids go up 8 percent a year annually' and have for the last 20 years."

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