Home Science and Nature News at a glance: An ancient Mars river, blood screening rules, and sex-research funds blocked

News at a glance: An ancient Mars river, blood screening rules, and sex-research funds blocked

by News7


Mars rover spots signs of big river
NASA’s Perseverance rover has snapped images indicating a river on Mars once flowed fast and furiously, scientists said last week. The waterway was part of a network that flowed into Jezero crater, which the rover has been exploring since landing in February 2021. The new clues include rows of rocks that may be remnants of sandbars or shifting banks, in an area dubbed Skrinkle Haven (mosaic image, above). A river may have also formed a nearby hill, Pinestand, bearing sedimentary layers up to 20 meters thick, much thicker than similar deposits on Earth. Studying these features could shed light on the past climate of Mars and whether it could have been habitable for microbial life.


U.S. eases blood screening for HIV
In a move aimed at making it easier for men who have sex with men (MSM) to give blood, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week issued revised recommendations for screening potential donors for HIV. Previously, the guidelines called for asking people about their sexual orientation, a practice some called discriminatory. Now, screening will ask all volunteers, regardless of gender identity, whether they recently had unprotected, risky sex. Monogamous MSM will no longer be automatically excluded. Because the nucleic acid tests used to screen blood for HIV may not detect recent infections, FDA now recommends that blood banks defer all prospective donors, regardless of gender identity, who report having a new sexual partner or more than one sexual partner in the past 3 months and who’ve had anal sex in that span. The agency says the new recommendations are based on data from countries with similar policies, including Canada and the United Kingdom.


EU science leader steps down
The European Commission’s science chief has left her post 1 year before the end of her term, as decisions loom over some of the EU’s science priorities. On 10 May, Mariya Gabriel was granted unpaid leave from her EU job as commissioner overseeing multiple portfolios—innovation, research, culture, education, and youth—to help form a government in Bulgaria, her home country. She was tapped by the head of Bulgaria’s conservative party to try to break a political deadlock; if she succeeds, Gabriel will become prime minister. Her absence comes as the European Commission is developing a strategic plan for the second part of the current €95 billion research program, Horizon Europe, which would start in 2025 and last 3 years. For now, Gabriel’s portfolios will be covered by two Commission vice presidents.


State yanks Kinsey center funds
A spending bill signed on 4 May by Indiana’s governor bars state funding for the famed research center on human sexuality founded by Alfred Kinsey in 1947. Indiana University Bloomington, which houses the Kinsey Institute, has drawn on the university’s overall state appropriation to help support the center and its 11 research faculty members; the institute will continue to receive the majority of its funding from external grants and donations. But the spending measure “singling out a specific research institute sets a troubling precedent with implications that could limit the ability of public colleges and universities to pursue research and scholarship that benefits people and improves lives,” said Pamela Whitten, the university’s president, last month. The funding prohibition was introduced as an amendment to the bill by state Representative Lorissa Sweet, a Republican who alleged the institute has enabled sexual abuse. State Representative Matt Pierce, a Democrat whose district includes Bloomington, said Sweet’s claims were based on “old, unproven allegations of conspiracies” that have reappeared as “warmed-over internet memes.”


Australia to set up CDC
Australia is establishing a Centre for Disease Control (CDC), joining the majority of advanced countries in having a national health agency. Australia’s states and territories will retain responsibility for public health; the new CDC is meant to provide nationwide surveillance of disease outbreaks and help improve coordination, “something that was sorely lacking during COVID,” says Ben Marais, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Sydney. The 2023–24 federal budget announced last week includes $61 million over 2 years to get the center up and running.


Extrasolar radiation belt spotted
Researchers have spied the first radiation belt outside the Solar System. These particle racetracks—rings of high-speed electrons and other charged particles—circle planets with strong magnetic fields, including Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn, but it was not known whether they existed in other planetary systems. A team reported in Nature this week that they found one around a Jupiter-size brown dwarf—a gas giant too small to have been a hydrogen-fusion star—about 20 light-years away. Electrons whipping around the giant ring, 18 Jupiter diameters across, emitted radio waves detected by an array of 39 radio telescopes spanning the globe.


Biden nominates NIH director
It’s official: President Joe Biden wants cancer researcher Monica Bertagnolli to be the next director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). On 15 May Biden confirmed weeks of media speculation by nominating Bertagnolli to succeed Francis Collins, who stepped down in December 2021. Bertagnolli has spent the past 8 months as head of NIH’s largest unit, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and has championed Biden’s signature Cancer Moonshot initiative, designed to cut the U.S. death rate from cancer 50% by 2050. Bertagnolli faces a grilling in the U.S. Senate on issues such as NIH’s funding for a Chinese lab that some believe was the cause of the pandemic and how the agency can help lower drug prices. But the Democrat-controlled body is expected to confirm her.


Spider ecologist’s fraud confirmed
McMaster University last week released results from its investigation into former faculty member Jonathan Pruitt, finding that the internationally acclaimed behavioral ecologist engaged in fabrication and falsification of data reported in eight papers. Starting in 2020, co-authors brought allegations of data manipulation. McMaster placed Pruitt on leave in 2021, and they resigned in 2022 in a settlement. To date, 15 of Pruitt’s papers on social behavior in spiders have been retracted, work that had earned them a prestigious Canada 150 Research Chair title. Pruitt declined Science’s request for comment, but said, “I’ll be available to chat in the fall when my first book comes out.”


WHO cancels mpox emergency
The World Health Organization (WHO) last week ended the global health emergency for mpox, 10 months after declaring it, as cases have fallen dramatically in Europe and the Americas. Caused by the monkeypox virus (MPXV), the disease is endemic in Africa, but a new strain surged elsewhere last year, spurring WHO to invoke a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Nearly 90% fewer mpox cases were reported to WHO in the past 3 months compared with the preceding 3 months. In total, WHO has received reports of more than 87,000 mpox cases and 140 deaths from 111 countries. MPXV is spread by intimate personal contact. In the current outbreak, men who have sex with men have been predominantly affected. Mpox commonly causes a painful rash and flulike symptoms but can kill immunocompromised people. Natural immunity and changes in behavior helped slow the outbreak, but WHO said progress was hampered by a scarcity of vaccines and an absence of international funding.

$451 billion
Upper estimate of the cost of unequal health risks and access to health care borne by U.S. racial and ethnic minorities in 2018. Costs included premature death, lost work productivity, and excess spending for medical care, amounting to 2.2% of gross domestic product. Among all Americans including white people, adults without a 4-year college degree had costs up to $978 billion. (JAMA)

Source : ScienceMag

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