Laboratory stops imports of monkeys
Charles River Laboratories, one of the largest US importers and suppliers of research coveralls, announced last week that it will suspend shipments from Cambodia after receiving a subpoena from the US Department of Justice in November 2022, the agency pointed to members of a smuggling ring illegally exporting wild-caught cynomolgus macaques in Cambodia, labeling them as captive-bred. Charles River said the subpoena is related to several shipments it received from its Cambodian supplier. Charles River said the suspension was voluntary and motivated by pending investigations into the Cambodian supply chain. The United States is by far the largest importer of animals globally, primarily for research by pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Cynomolgus macaques, which are endangered, accounted for 96% of the nearly 33,000 non-human primates the country imported in 2022, according to US government data. About two-thirds of the cynomolgus animals came from Cambodia.
UK-EU deal opens door to funding for science
Researchers in the UK breathed a cautious sigh of relief this week after the government reached a deal with the European Union to settle post-Brexit disputes, including trade across the Northern Ireland border. The tentative pact, called the Windsor Framework, does not explicitly involve science. But it could end a two-year delay in finalizing plans to allow UK researchers to apply for grants from Horizon Europe, the European Union’s giant science funding programme. In December 2020, the UK agreed to pay a fee to “partner” with Horizon Europe, as did other non-EU countries, including Israel, Norway and Turkey. But a diplomatic impasse over Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK but shares a border with EU member Ireland, blocked the deal. If the UK Parliament approves the Windsor Framework, negotiations could resume for a new agreement on Horizon Europe. Even then, some researchers predict they will be long.
Embryo editing scientist loses visa
He Jiankui, the Chinese biophysicist jailed for 3 years after he edited the genes of human embryos, resulting in three live births, obtained a visa to work in Hong Kong last month, only to have it revoked 10 days later. The 2-year Top Talent visa he received is aimed at attracting those “with rich work experience and good academic qualifications.” In comments on social media and in the local press, he said he hoped to find a position at a Hong Kong university or research institute. Instead, after He’s visa drew attention, Hong Kong officials reconsidered and canceled it, saying he may have made false statements on his application form and announcing they will review application forms to require disclosure of any criminal convictions. After his release from prison in April 2022, he set up a laboratory in Beijing and has been asking philanthropists to support his research to improve gene therapies for rare diseases. He has not disclosed whether he has found sponsors.
There is no consensus in the US government.
- US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby
- responding to reports that the Department of Energy now believes “with little confidence” that SARS-CoV-2 arose from a laboratory leak in China rather than a natural spill. Several other agencies favor a natural origin.
A call for geoengineering research
More than 60 leading climate scientists called this week to break a taboo on solar geoengineering (artificially cooling the planet by making it more reflective) by boosting research on it. Some activists and scientists strongly oppose even studying geoengineering, arguing that it distracts from the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But open letter says that decisions on the implementation of geoengineering schemes are likely to be made in the coming decades, and that simulations and field experiments are needed to understand the effectiveness and risks of the schemes. Among the signatories are retired NASA scientist James Hansen, one of the first to warn of the dangers of global warming, and Harvard University climate scientist David Keith, who has tried for years to get permission to conduct a small scale geoengineering experiment.
The price of cancer: 25 trillion dollars
Cancer will cost the world $25 trillion from 2020 to 2050, equivalent to an annual tax of 0.55% on the global gross domestic product, has found a study. The analysis estimated the costs of treatment and the loss of economic productivity for people who get sick or die from 29 types of cancer, which explains differences between countries in terms of people’s education and work experience. The costliest cancers include lung, colon, breast, and liver cancers, several of which are also among the most prevalent globally. Increased spending on screening, diagnosis and treatment could yield substantial health and economic benefits, especially in low- and middle-income countries, which account for around 75% of cancer deaths, according to study published last week by a team international in JAMA Oncology.
Whale Skin Keeps Record of Dark Migratory Journeys
The scientists used small patches of southern right whale skin to investigate how climate change has shaped their migrations. The technique could help inform conservation measures for the animal, which is recovering from whaling but remains threatened. The species (Eubalena australis) is difficult to trace. But the team collected skin samples from whales in coastal breeding areas, in part by shooting them with retrievable darts that pierce a small section of skin. The researchers then analyzed the chemical signatures (carbon and nitrogen isotopes) in the skin samples and compared the signatures to isotope ratios mapped in the Southern Ocean over the past 30 years. The whales eat krill and copepods containing those isotopes, which show up on the whale’s fresh skin about 6 months later, creating a record of the whales’ previous voyages. Among the team’s findings is that the mid-latitudes of the oceans have consistently remained an important feeding area. In some parts of the Southern Ocean, whales migrate south less frequently to feedlikely because climate change has reduced krill populations near Antarctica in some locations, the team reports this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Boron fuel shows promise for meltdown
Researchers have sparked meltdown in a reactor using an alternative fuel mix that could make potential fusion power plants safer and easier to operate than those burning more conventional fuel. Most experimental fusion reactors use the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium. But tritium is hard to come by, and that fuel combination produces high-energy neutrons that are dangerous to humans and damage reactor walls and components. The alternative fuel made of protons and boron does not generate neutrons and produces only harmless helium, but requires a temperature of 3 billion degrees Celsius, 200 times the heat of the Sun’s core, to burn. Now a team using a conventional fusion reactor in Japan called the Large Screw Device has reported see some fusion reactions at a lower temperature, by using a powerful beam of particles to accelerate the protons and help trigger the reactions. The work reported this week in nature communications, it is far from being a practical fusion plant. But a fusion startup, TAE Technologies, which collaborated on the study, hopes to develop one using the fuel.
NASA Chief Scientist Named
NASA this week named heliophysicist Nicola Fox as its new science lead. As associate administrator of the agency’s science mission directorate, Fox will be responsible for a $7.8 billion budget and more than 100 missions in four divisions: earth sciences, planetary sciences, astrophysics and heliophysics. Fox joined NASA in 2018 to become head of the heliophysics division. Before that, he worked at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where he was a project scientist for the Parker Solar Probe project, a $1.5 billion mission that is now sampling the Sun’s corona in a series of close flybys. Fox replaces Thomas Zurbuchen, who stepped down at the end of 2022.
Climate change opens a new migration destination for Arctic geese
Warm weather has prompted some pink-footed geese to begin gathering to mate at a new location in northern Russia, nearly 1,000 kilometers northeast of their traditional summer breeding grounds. The speed at which the new population has developed, over only about 15 years, is “astonishing” and rarely observed, says team leader Jesper Madsen of Aarhus University. It’s a sign that some species may beneficially adapt to the effects of climate change, at least in the short term, he adds. Every spring about 80,000 geese (Goose brachyrhynchus) migrate north from Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium to breed in the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. After a few thousand birds started turning up in Sweden and Finland, east of their traditional migration route, the scientists captured and attached GPS trackers to 21 birds. Half of those birds flew northeast of Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago in northern Russia, researchers report this week in current biology. There, the researchers found the new breeding population, which they estimate could consist of 3,000 to 4,000 birds. Novaya Zemlya’s spring temperatures are now similar to those of Svalbard decades ago. The birds may have found their new hospitable breeding ground by straying off course or following another species, the taiga bean goose, which already goes there.