Oliver Sacks dies; rare nautilus spotted after 30 years; and mystery of Knut’s death is solved.
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Bear-brain clues Knut, the celebrity polar bear hand-reared at the Berlin Zoological Garden, had an autoimmune brain disease, according to the latest investigation into his death. Knut drowned in 2011, aged 4, after suffering an epileptic fit and falling into a pool. An autopsy at the time blamed an unspecified encephalitis — brain inflammation. An analysis published on 27 August found antibodies that signify anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, in which the immune system harms nerve cells (H. Prüss et al. Sci. Rep. 5, 12805; 2015). The treatable disease was first reported in humans in 2007, but was unknown in animals. Knut’s case suggests that autoimmune brain diseases may be more common in mammals than was thought.
NASA’s icy choice NASA has chosen New Horizons’ next probable target: an icy body called 2014 MU69. The spacecraft will fly by the object in 2019, making it the mission’s second destination after the historic encounter with Pluto in July. Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69 is about 45 kilometres across, and New Horizons will fly within 12,000 kilometres of its surface. According to the 28 August announcement, the spacecraft will ignite its engines in a series of four burns, beginning in late October this year, to set itself on course for the fly-by. See go.nature.com/ojobwg for more.
E-waste woes Only 35% of Europe’s annual 9.5 million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste is legally disposed of, according to a study funded by the European Union and released on 30 August. The remaining 65% is either exported, recycled under non-compliant conditions, scavenged for the valuable elements in the waste or thrown away with the ordinary rubbish. Electronic waste contains toxic metals including mercury, cadmium and chromium, as well as valuable materials that can be reused, including gold, silver, palladium and rare-earth metals. The report offers detailed recommendations, with particular emphasis on educating consumers.
Slimy sea creature rears head once more Thirty years after its last sighting, a rare species of nautilus (Allonautilus scrobiculatus) has been spotted near Papua New Guinea. A type of cephalopod, the species is distantly related to squid and octopuses, and was first discovered in the 1980s by Peter Ward of the University of Washington in Seattle and Bruce Saunders from Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania. On 25 August, the University of Washington announced that Ward had again glimpsed the species, with its distinctive, ‘slimy’ shell covering (pictured), while visiting Papua New Guinea in July.
Explosion arrests The Chinese authorities have detained 12 people and are investigating another 11 in relation to a warehouse explosion in Tianjin earlier this month, state media report. Among those under scrutiny are senior executives of Rui Hai International Logistics, which owns the warehouse, the head of the Tianjin Municipal Transportation Commission, the president of Tianjin Port and a senior official with the Chinese transport ministry. As of 31 August, the disaster’s death toll was 158. Questions have arisen over the handling and storage of chemicals implicated in the explosions.
Iran-science uplift Iran plans to boost international science collaboration once sanctions are lifted, Mohammad Farhadi, the country’s science minister, said on 27 August. Speaking to Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency, Farhadi reported that preparations are under way to increase the country’s cooperation with foreign universities, including the development of academic exchange programmes and a visit from an Austrian university delegation. Sanctions have hampered scientists’ movement in and out of Iran, as well as the country’s involvement in international projects, but will end once a nuclear-deal agreement made on 14 July is implemented.
Australian merger The digital-research arm of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) will merge with National Information Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) to form a CSIRO digital-innovation team, called Data61. Announced on 28 August, the merger follows the Australian government’s decision to halt NICTA’s funding after June 2016. Funds for Data61 will come from CSIRO’s already-stretched budget, itself subjected in 2014 to cuts of Aus$115 million (US$82 million) over four years. The merger could result in the loss of as many as 200 jobs.
Grant cash rejected The University of Florida in Gainesville announced on 27 August that a US$25,000 grant from agriculture giant Monsanto, originally earmarked for a science outreach programme, will instead be given to the campus food bank. The statement comes after Florida plant scientist Kevin Folta faced public threats over his acceptance of the money, which Nature first reported on 6 August (see Naturehttp://doi.org/66p;2015). Monsanto refused to accept the university’s offer to return the money. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing or scientific misconduct by Folta.
Oliver Sacks dies Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks (pictured) died at his home in Manhattan on 30 August, aged 82. Sacks worked at several clinics in New York, and much of his writing revolved around the curious cases that he encountered. He found worldwide fame when his 1973 book Awakenings — which described how he roused encephalitis patients from a coma-like state with the Parkinson’s disease drug l-dopa — was made into a film in 1990. Last month, he created the Oliver Sacks Foundation to promote understanding of the human brain through narrative non-fiction like his own.
Misconduct ruling Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who is famous for implanting synthetic tracheas into humans, was cleared of scientific misconduct charges on 28 August by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, where Macchiarini is a visiting professor. The university’s vice-chancellor overruled a finding by an independent investigator that seven papers contained unsupported assertions of the success of artificial grafts. The decision to overrule was based on more than 1,000 pages of documents that Macchiarini and his co-authors submitted after the independent report was released. See go.nature.com/ynxom8 for more.
Monsanto backs off The world’s largest seller of seeds, Monsanto, announced on 26 August that it has abandoned its US$4.65-billion takeover attempt of Swiss competitor Syngenta after months of discussions. Executives of pesticide specialist Syngenta rejected multiple offers, despite pressure to negotiate a deal from some of their shareholders. The proposed merger was opposed by farmers’ unions, who said that the move would reduce competition and push up seed and pesticide prices at a time when farmers’ profits are under pressure from low food prices.
Sanofi Googled The technology giant Google, based in Mountain View, California, announced on 31 August that it will collaborate with Paris-based drugmaker Sanofi on ways to better monitor and treat people with diabetes. Sanofi is the second pharmaceutical company that Google has partnered with. In July 2014, it revealed a licensing deal with Novartis, based in Basel, Switzerland, for Google’s ‘smart lens’ technology, which is designed to monitor glucose in tears. Financial terms of the Sanofi deal were not disclosed.
Gene-therapy trial A first-of-its-kind clinical trial to test a treatment for a degenerative disease that causes blindness was given a green light by the US Food and Drug Administration on 24 August. The trial will test a treatment for retinitis pigmentosa devised by RetroSense Therapeutics of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The gene therapy will attempt to deliver a gene encoding a protein for light sensitivity called channelrhodopsin-2, which the firm hopes will make new light-sensing proteins in retinal cells. The trial will start by the end of the year.
Poor decision-making, improper camp placement and lack of good forecasting were to blame for 75% of avalanche fatalities on the world’s highest mountains, says a report from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada (D. M. McClungAnn.Glaciol.http://doi.org/66c;2015). Analysis of 10,000 mountaineering reports for Asian mountains during 1895–2014 found that 300 people died in avalanches while trying to climb peaks higher than 8,000 metres, one-third of the fatalities.
3–6 September Neurologists gather at the World Congress on NeuroTherapeutics: Dilemmas, Debates, Discussions, in Prague. go.nature.com/zmysnp
5–6 September Robotics engineers battle it out to find who has the best rover, at the European Rover Challenge near Chęciny, Poland. roverchallenge.eu/en
5–8 September Molecular biologists convene at EMBO’s 6th meeting, in Birmingham, UK. the-embo-meeting.org
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The week in science: 28 August–3 September 2015. Nature 525, 10–11 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/525010a