vostok life hopes still on ice

1
27 October 2012 | NewScientist | 5 announced on Tuesday that the guns would stay silent. One reason for the delay is a new government estimate that there are roughly twice as many badgers in the cull areas as first thought – about 4300 in west Somerset and 3600 in west Gloucestershire – raising the cost to farmers of the hired guns. Thirty-two senior scientists signed an open letter to the UK government earlier this month expressing doubts about the justification for the cull. But Paterson said that “we remain committed to beginning the cull as soon as possible”. Planet paparazzi EXOPLANETS are about to get their own A-list, a sign that the hunt for alien worlds is entering a new phase of maturity. On 19 October, the European Space Agency approved the Characterising Exoplanets Satellite, or Cheops, which will hound known alien worlds for signs of habitability. It represents a shift in exoplanet research, which until now has focused on the hunt itself, namely finding new planets in alien star systems. The most famous exoplanet hunter to date, NASA’s Kepler space telescope, detects the dips in starlight as newfound planets pass in front of their stars. Set to launch in 2017, Cheops will look for such transits in a more focused, paparazzi fashion. While Kepler uses a wide-angle crowd shot to scan several systems, Cheops will home in on one star system at a time in search of the most interesting planets. From estimates of mass and radius, Cheops will calculate the density of these planets and thus infer their internal structure, including whether they are rocky. It will also use transits to tell if a planet has an atmosphere. Top of the A-list right now is Alpha Centauri Bb, the closest known exoplanet to Earth. Tainted drugs IT HAS been called a “calamity waiting to happen”. But in reality, the drug-contamination incident that has so far claimed the lives of 23 people in the US from fungal meningitis is a calamity that’s disturbingly common. All were injected with a tainted steroid. Records compiled by Eric Kastango of the consulting firm Clinical IQ in Florham Park, New Jersey, and Michael Cohen, president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices in Horsham, Pennsylvania, reveal many cases of infection that are linked to contamination at compounding pharmacies, which mix drug ingredients, like the current case. Such pharmacies are regulated by individual states, less than half of which require compounders to adhere to guidelines for sterile practice, laid down by the US Pharmacopeial Convention, when mixing drugs. “[Contamination] is happening way more than we can even imagine,” says Kastango. “The drug contamination scandal in the US is a calamity occurring with disturbing regularity” NOTHING to see here – at least, not yet. Lake Vostok, hidden beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, has so far shown no signs of life. Isolated from the rest of the planet for 14 million years, Vostok was finally breached in February by a Russian team. Reaching it required drilling through 3.5 kilometres of ice. To find out if Vostok is the only body of water on Earth harbouring no life whatsoever, Sergey Bulat of the Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute in St Petersburg, Russia, and colleagues analysed ice samples retrieved by the drilling team. In preliminary results, reported at last week’s 12th European Workshop on Astrobiology in Stockholm, Sweden, Bulat says they found DNA from four species of bacteria – but all of it is likely to have come from contamination from the drilling fluid. He cautions, though, that it is too early to say for sure that the upper layers of the lake are lifeless, as microorganisms could be present at minute densities that he cannot reliably detect. “The concentrations expected for indigenous stuff are very low,” Bulat says. Lake Vostok is one of many subglacial lakes in Antarctica. There are plans to drill into two others, Ellsworth and Whillans. Ellsworth could yet become the first Antarctic lake to yield life. Within the next few months, a UK team will drill into it and lower in a probe that will collect sediment samples from the bottom. Vostok life hopes still on ice Haven’t struck life yetREUTERS 60 SECONDS The eggs are all right The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has determined that the freezing and thawing of egg cells to preserve a woman’s fertility is no longer an experimental procedure. The society reviewed more than 900 births from frozen eggs and found no increased risk of birth defects or DNA abnormalities. Liar banished Earlier this month, Hisashi Moriguchi falsely claimed to have carried out the first treatment of patients using induced pluripotent stem cells. He has now been dismissed from the University of Tokyo, says a statement issued by the university this week. Faeces swap Transplants of faecal material from healthy family members vanquished infections of the potentially fatal bacterium, Clostridium difficile, in 43 of 49 patients treated. Mayur Ramesh of the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, announced the result at the Infectious Diseases Society of America meeting in San Diego, California, last week. Abort! Abort! Blue Origin, the spaceflight company run by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is no longer receiving NASA funding to develop a successor to the space shuttle, but it is still very much in the space game. On 19 October, during an uncrewed flight by one of the Blue Origin prototypes, the company, based in Kent, Washington, tested an astronaut-escape system required for future crewed, private flights. Swarmongers The ongoing armed conflict in Mali is hampering locust-control operations, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned this week. Growing swarms are being successfully controlled in Niger and Chad through spraying, but breeding grounds in Mali are currently inaccessible. For daily news stories, visit newscientist.com/news

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Page 1: Vostok life hopes still on ice

27 October 2012 | NewScientist | 5

announced on Tuesday that the guns would stay silent.

One reason for the delay is a new government estimate that there are roughly twice as many badgers in the cull areas as first thought – about 4300 in west Somerset and 3600 in west Gloucestershire – raising the cost to farmers of the hired guns.

Thirty-two senior scientists signed an open letter to the UK government earlier this month expressing doubts about the justification for the cull. But Paterson said that “we remain committed to beginning the cull as soon as possible”.

Planet paparazziEXOPLANETS are about to get their own A-list, a sign that the hunt for alien worlds is entering a new phase of maturity.

On 19 October, the European Space Agency approved the Characterising Exoplanets Satellite, or Cheops, which will hound known alien worlds for signs of habitability. It represents a shift in exoplanet research, which until now has focused on the hunt itself, namely finding new planets in alien star systems.

The most famous exoplanet hunter to date, NASA’s Kepler space telescope, detects the dips in starlight as newfound planets pass in front of their stars. Set to launch in 2017, Cheops will look for such transits in a more focused, paparazzi fashion. While Kepler uses a wide-angle crowd shot to scan several systems, Cheops will home in on one star system at a time in search of the most interesting planets.

From estimates of mass and radius, Cheops will calculate the density of these planets and thus infer their internal structure, including whether they are rocky. It will also use transits to tell if a planet has an atmosphere.

Top of the A-list right now is Alpha Centauri Bb, the closest known exoplanet to Earth.

Tainted drugsIT HAS been called a “calamity waiting to happen”. But in reality, the drug-contamination incident that has so far claimed the lives of 23 people in the US from fungal meningitis is a calamity that’s disturbingly common. All were injected with a tainted steroid.

Records compiled by Eric Kastango of the consulting firm Clinical IQ in Florham Park, New Jersey, and Michael Cohen, president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices in Horsham, Pennsylvania, reveal many cases of infection that are linked to

contamination at compounding pharmacies, which mix drug ingredients, like the current case.

Such pharmacies are regulated by individual states, less than half of which require compounders to adhere to guidelines for sterile

practice, laid down by the US Pharmacopeial Convention, when mixing drugs. “[Contamination] is happening way more than we can even imagine,” says Kastango.

“The drug contamination scandal in the US is a calamity occurring with disturbing regularity”

NOTHING to see here – at least, not yet. Lake Vostok, hidden beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, has so far shown no signs of life.

Isolated from the rest of the planet for 14 million years, Vostok was finally breached in February by a Russian team. Reaching it required drilling through 3.5 kilometres of ice.

To find out if Vostok is the only body of water on Earth harbouring no life whatsoever, Sergey Bulat of the Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute in St Petersburg, Russia, and colleagues analysed ice samples retrieved by the drilling team.

In preliminary results, reported at last week’s 12th European Workshop on Astrobiology in Stockholm, Sweden, Bulat says they found DNA

from four species of bacteria – but all of it is likely to have come from contamination from the drilling fluid.

He cautions, though, that it is too early to say for sure that the upper layers of the lake are lifeless, as microorganisms could be present at minute densities that he cannot reliably detect. “The concentrations expected for indigenous stuff are very low,” Bulat says.

Lake Vostok is one of many subglacial lakes in Antarctica. There are plans to drill into two others, Ellsworth and Whillans. Ellsworth could yet become the first Antarctic lake to yield life. Within the next few months, a UK team will drill into it and lower in a probe that will collect sediment samples from the bottom.

Vostok life hopes still on ice

–Haven’t struck life yet–

reute

rs

60 SecondS

The eggs are all rightThe American Society for Reproductive Medicine has determined that the freezing and thawing of egg cells to preserve a woman’s fertility is no longer an experimental procedure. The society reviewed more than 900 births from frozen eggs and found no increased risk of birth defects or DNA abnormalities.

Liar banishedEarlier this month, Hisashi Moriguchi falsely claimed to have carried out the first treatment of patients using induced pluripotent stem cells. He has now been dismissed from the University of Tokyo, says a statement issued by the university this week.

Faeces swapTransplants of faecal material from healthy family members vanquished infections of the potentially fatal bacterium, Clostridium difficile, in 43 of 49 patients treated. Mayur Ramesh of the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, announced the result at the Infectious Diseases Society of America meeting in San Diego, California, last week.

Abort! Abort!Blue Origin, the spaceflight company run by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is no longer receiving NASA funding to develop a successor to the space shuttle, but it is still very much in the space game. On 19 October, during an uncrewed flight by one of the Blue Origin prototypes, the company, based in Kent, Washington, tested an astronaut-escape system required for future crewed, private flights.

SwarmongersThe ongoing armed conflict in Mali is hampering locust-control operations, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned this week. Growing swarms are being successfully controlled in Niger and Chad through spraying, but breeding grounds in Mali are currently inaccessible.

For daily news stories, visit newscientist.com/news

121027_N_Upfront.indd 5 23/10/12 16:49:16