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Seven days: 27 June–3 July 2014

Subjects

The week in science: Retracted GM study republished; Mars landing gear passes first test; and UK public votes for antibiotics research in Longitude Prize.

Research | Events | Policy | Business | Awards | Facilities | Trend watch | Coming up

RESEARCH

GM-study furore A controversial retracted paper linking genetically modified (GM) maize (corn) to tumours and other diseases in rats has been republished in a different journal (G.-E. Séralini et al. Environ. Sci. Eur. 26, 14; 2014). The paper was originally published in Food and Chemical Toxicology in 2012 and was retracted last year. But the second journal, Environmental Sciences Europe, conducted no further scientific peer review, its editor-in-chief Henner Hollert told Nature. Critics say that the study is still flawed. See go.nature.com/8x2ky9 for more.

Land-sales promise ‘Land-grab’ deals could help to alleviate food shortages, according to a study published last week (M. C. Rulli and P. D’Odorico Environ. Res. Lett. 9, 064030; 2014). Over the past 15 years, international investors have acquired some 22 million hectares of land in developing countries for agricultural purposes. If imported technologies raise crop yields by the amount hoped, this could feed an extra 100 million people, the study calculated — although local people will benefit only if the food is not exported elsewhere. See go.nature.com/cxuony for more.

Bones reburied The 12,600-year-old bones of a young boy that revealed the origins of the earliest Americans were reburied on 28 June in Montana, where they had been discovered. A genetic analysis of the remains, which belonged to the Clovis culture, showed that all indigenous people in the Americas had descended from a single group that migrated from Asia across a land bridge (M. Rasmussen et al. Nature 506, 225–229; 2014). The removal of the bones, which were discovered in 1968, was criticized by Native American tribes, who asked that they be returned to their original site.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

EVENTS

Mars landing gear passes first test NASA has successfully tested landing gear for use in spacecraft destined for Mars. The saucer-shaped low-density supersonic decelerator (pictured) is designed to land large loads of supplies and materials needed for long-running human missions to the red planet. It launched from the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, on 28 June, attached to a high-altitude balloon. At about 36,600 metres above the Pacific Ocean, the landing gear detached and started a powered flight, climbing 55,000 metres before starting its descent towards the ocean. It uses a new type of parachute and an inflatable Kevlar ring to slow the fall. Two more tests are scheduled for early next year.

Parafoil record A test of a high-altitude balloon that is planned eventually to carry tourists has set a record for the world’s highest parafoil flight. World View of Tucson, Arizona, said on 24 June that it had sent a scale model of its balloon system to a height of 36 kilometres on 18 June, from a launch site in Roswell, New Mexico. The parafoil deployed at 15 kilometres as the craft was descending, to help guide its landing. The 36-kilometre altitude is much lower than the 100 kilometres planned by suborbital-spaceflight tourism companies, but the ride would have the advantage of lasting several hours instead of just minutes.

El Niño brews There is a 60% chance that an El Niño will be in effect by the end of August, and an 80% chance that it will be established by the end of December, the World Meteorological Organization said on 26 June. El Niño, which is marked by surface warming in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, affects weather around the world, producing characteristic patterns of drought and flood. The last El Niño, in 2009–10, was generally considered moderate, but scientists say that it is too early to predict the strength of the one that seems to be brewing.

POLICY

Presidential decree Rectors and deans at Egypt’s universities will now be appointed by the president, according to a decree issued on 24 June by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was elected in May. This reverses a law change made after the short-lived 2011 revolution that allowed faculty members to elect the heads of their institutions. New university heads are likely to be selected before the next academic year starts in September. Critics worry that the decree encroaches on universities’ independence. See page 5 for more.

Forest saved On 23 June, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) rejected Australia’s proposal to reopen 74,000 hectares in a Tasmanian rainforest to logging. The affected region, added in 2013 to the country’s 1.58-million-hectare Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, includes several Aboriginal archaeological sites. Australia’s government argued that removing the protected designation from this particular part of the forest was warranted because the region is already logged and degraded, a claim that UNESCO dismissed.

Green agreements The first United Nations Environment Assembly ended on 27 June with national representatives from around the world agreeing to push their leaders to tackle air pollution, which is linked to an estimated 7 million deaths annually. Delegates at the meeting, held in Nairobi, promised to encourage governments to set standards and policies to cut emissions. Representatives also agreed on a host of other non-binding resolutions, including support for international efforts to tackle illegal trade in wildlife and improved management of chemicals and hazardous waste.

Credit: ReWalk Robotics

BUSINESS

Exoskeleton device US regulators have approved a device that allows people with lower-body paralysis to sit, stand and walk. The US Food and Drug Administration announced on 26 June that it would allow marketing of ReWalk (pictured), a motorized exoskeleton made by ReWalk Robotics in Marlborough, Massachusetts. The device is the first such exoskeleton to be approved, and it is intended for use by people with some types of spinal-cord injury. It includes a brace to support the legs, motors at the joints, motion sensors and a computerized control system.

AWARDS

Longitude Prize The British public has voted antibiotic resistance as the theme of the £10-million (US$17-million) Longitude Prize, set up by the UK government to tackle society’s biggest issues. Competitors have five years to create a simple, cost-effective, accurate and rapid test for bacterial infections. That could help health-workers to avoid dispensing antibiotics when they are not needed, and so slow the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. The prize was inspired by the British government’s Longitude Act of 1714, which spurred development of the first accurate marine chronometer for determining longitude at sea. See go.nature.com/wingbw for more.

FACILITIES

Duke centre shuts The Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy in Durham, North Carolina, closed its doors on 30 June. The institute, which has obtained more than a quarter of a billion dollars in federal grants, was started by Duke University in 2002 as an interdisciplinary centre combining fields such as bioethics and human genomics. According to the university, the institute will now be split into three units: genomic and computational biology; applied genomics and precision medicine; and science and society.

X-ray space scope A powerful X-ray telescope will be Europe’s next major space-science venture, the European Space Agency announced on 27 June. The telescope, called Athena, would be the biggest X-ray observatory ever built and is scheduled for launch in 2028. It has been a favoured project since October 2013 (see go.nature.com/r3jiil), when the agency picked the “hot and energetic Universe” as one of two themes for its next large projects, each worth €1 billion (US$1.4 billion). Athena will image X-ray sources to study how hot gas evolves into galaxy clusters and how black holes grow.

Credit: Source: Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA

TREND WATCH

Male life scientists train fewer women than do their female peers, a study shows (J.M.SheltzerandJ. C.SmithProc.NatlAcad.Sci.USAhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1403334111;2014). The bias is most marked for lab heads who are members of the US National Academy of Sciences, are funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute or have won major awards. The skew could help to explain why the proportion of women drops from graduation to full professorship. See go.nature.com/qitnip for more.

COMING UP

9–11 July The Infectious Diseases World Summit in Boston, Massachusetts, discusses topics such as the development of influenza vaccines. go.nature.com/spacpc

14–18 July At the Eighth International Conference on Mars in Pasadena, California, subjects include Martian geology and the red planet’s first billion years. go.nature.com/w1oxxo

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Seven days: 27 June–3 July 2014. Nature 511, 10–11 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/511010a

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