NASA probe will slam space rock in test of saving Earth
NASA was expected to launch this week a robotic probe that in late 2022 will hurtle into a sizable asteroid in the hope of nudging its orbit. Although the celestial target of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART, illustration above) poses no danger to our planet, the mission will assess the feasibility of deflecting potentially hazardous objects away from Earth. NASA has determined that no known large asteroid—at least 1 kilometer wide—endangers our world anytime in the coming centuries. But the space agency is also worried about smaller threats yet to be identified. The $325 million DART mission will spend about 10 months cruising to its target, Dimorphos, which is approximately 160 meters in diameter and gravitationally bound to a larger, companion asteroid, Didymos. When DART crashes into Dimorphos at 6 kilometers per second, radar instruments on Earth will record any resulting change in the asteroid’s path. The collision’s effect depends on many factors, including whether the angle of impact maximizes the force imparted.
Few warnings on missing trial info
Over an 8-year period, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent “preliminary notices of noncompliance” to only a few of the sponsors of clinical trials who ignored a legal mandate to report their results, a study shows. The 57 notices cover just a fraction of the thousands of trials already identified as failing to have posted a summary of results in the ClinicalTrials.gov database. Although few, the preliminary notices, sent from 2013 to this past April, appear to have had the intended effect: By August, 52 of the 57 recipients had reported the required information to the database, usually within 3 weeks after the notice was sent, according to the study, published on 12 November in JAMA. Its authors obtained the FDA notices through the Freedom of Information Act. They recommend that FDA issue many more and post them publicly. A 2020 investigation by Science of 4768 trials found that more than 55% violated the reporting law. As of last week, FDA had publicly threatened only three sponsors in violation with a fine.
Quantum chip exceeds milestone
In the race to build bigger and better quantum computers, IBM took the lead last week when it unveiled its new Eagle processor with 127 quantum bits or qubits. It’s the first fully functioning quantum computer with more than 100 qubits, each of which can be set to 0, 1, or, thanks to the strange rules of quantum mechanics, 0 and 1 at the same time. Each of IBM’s qubits is a tiny superconducting electrical circuit that, when cooled close to absolute zero, has two distinct energy states. Microwave controllers embedded in the chip coax the circuits into one, the other, or both energy states simultaneously. IBM plans to scale up to 1000 qubits or more in a few years.
Share of Delta variant samples in nearly 800,000 SARS-CoV-2 sequences collected globally from mid-September to mid-November, reflecting that the highly transmissible variant has all but taken over. (World Health Organization/GISAID)
Value of labor of U.S. scholars who reviewed journal manuscripts in 2020, mostly for free. Reducing multiple reviews of the same manuscript by different journals would lower these costs, some argue. (Research Integrity and Peer Review)
U.S. inspectors blast beagle firm
Envigo, a contract research organization that breeds beagles for researchers including intramural scientists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, has been cited for 26 animal welfare violations at its breeding facility in Cumberland, Virginia. During a July visit to the site, U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors found ill and injured animals unattended, mothers deprived of food to curb mastitis, 33°C temperatures in enclosures, inadequate space, insect-infected food, and “overpowering” odor from standing waste, according to reports posted last week. The facility had one staff veterinarian for 3000 adult dogs and 2000 puppies, and Envigo attributed more than 300 puppy deaths in the previous 7 months to “unknown causes.” “We had previously initiated and are continuing to take the necessary corrective actions for all issues outlined in the reports,” Envigo said in a statement.
Austria mandates shots for all
With one of the highest SARS-CoV-2 infection rates in Europe and only two-thirds of the population vaccinated, Austria announced last week it will require all adults to be inoculated against COVID-19 by February 2022—making it the first country in Europe, and one of the first in the world, to impose a nationwide vaccine mandate. At the same time, the government announced a 20-day lockdown, allowing adults to leave their homes only for grocery shopping, medical appointments, and work.
A developing eye notches a prize
2021 FASEB BIOART WINNER—2ND PLACE, FLUORESCENCE OR ELECTRON MICROSCOPY CATEGORY: “ZEBRAFISH EYE” BY LYNNE NACKE/UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, CHICAGO
Developmental cell biologist Lynne Nacke was studying how the nose develops in embryonic zebrafish when she became fascinated with how this growth was influenced by the eyes forming right next to it. So she expanded her investigation of the signaling molecule Notch, which guides the transformation of stem cells into specialized cells, to consider its role in what she calls “this beautiful structure.” A stained and fluorescently labeled 3-day-old eye (above)—which can already see—earned Nacke, of the University of Illinois, Chicago, second place in this year’s BioArt Scientific Image and Video Competition, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology announced last week. (Green shows Notch, blue the locations of cell nuclei, and magenta the eye’s structural components.)
Bill boosts U.S. ag research
The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better bill, part of which would fund a broad range of research and climate projects, including agricultural research at minority-serving institutions. The bill, a centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s agenda, includes an emphasis on increasing social equity. It gives more than 200 minority-serving colleges and universities, which have historically been underfunded compared with other research institutions, $1 billion for agricultural research buildings and equipment. The bill also includes an increase for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s competitive grants program. But it faces hurdles in the Senate.
Ancestral Puebloans rebounded
Two giant volcanic eruptions in the mid–sixth century, likely in North and Central America, caused both crisis and evolution for people around the world, including the Ancestral Puebloans, who lived in small farming groups across the U.S. Southwest, a study suggests. Using tree-ring data, anthropologists found temperatures and rainfall plummeted after the eruptions, which likely killed crops and forced people to relocate. However, the researchers suggest in the February 2022 issue of Antiquity, this breakdown enabled the rise of a larger, more cohesive society: As rain and warmth returned, the Ancestral Puebloans regrouped and grew new crops and built great communal buildings.