News at a glance: Monkey shipments, controversial visa and support for geoengineering research | Science


The lab stops importing monkeys

Charles River Laboratories, one of the largest importers and suppliers of research monkeys in the US, announced last week that it was suspending shipments from Cambodia after receiving a subpoena from the US Department of Justice. In November 2022, the agency charged members of a smuggling ring that illegally exported wild-caught cynomolgus macaques to Cambodia, labeling them as captive-bred. Charles River said the subpoena related to several shipments it received from its supplier in Cambodia. Charles River said the suspension was voluntary and prompted by “ongoing investigations” of the “supply chain” from Cambodia. The United States is by far the world’s largest importer of animals, primarily for research by pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Endangered Cynomolgus macaques accounted for 96 percent of the nearly 33,000 nonhuman primates imported into the country in 2022, according to US government data. About two-thirds of the cynomolgus animals came from Cambodia.


UK-EU deal opens door to science capital

Researchers in the UK breathed a sigh of relief this week after the government struck a deal with the European Union to resolve post-Brexit disputes, including trade on the Northern Ireland border. The tentative pact, called the Windsor Framework, does not explicitly include science. But it could end a 2-year delay in finalizing plans to allow UK researchers to apply for grants from Horizon Europe, the European Union’s giant science funding programme. In December 2020, the UK agreed to pay a fee to ‘connect’ to Horizon Europe, as did other non-EU countries such as Israel, Norway and Turkey. But a diplomatic deadlock in Northern Ireland – which is part of the UK but shares a border with EU member Ireland – has blocked the deal. If the UK parliament approves the Windsor framework, negotiations on a new agreement for Horizon Europe could resume. Even then, some researchers predict they will last a long time.


Embryo-processing scientist loses visa

He Jiankui, the Chinese biophysicist jailed for 3 years after he gene-edited human embryos resulting in three live births, was granted a visa to work in Hong Kong last month – only to have it revoked 10 days later. The 2-year Top Talent visa he received is aimed at attracting people “with rich work experience and good academic qualifications”. In comments on social media and in the local press, he said he hoped to find a position at a Hong Kong university or research institute. Instead, after He’s visa attracted attention, Hong Kong officials reviewed it and canceled it, saying he may have made false statements on his application form. They announced that they would revise application forms to require disclosure of any criminal convictions. After his release from prison in April 2022, he set up a laboratory in Beijing and asked philanthropists to support his research to improve gene therapies for rare diseases. He has not revealed whether he has found any backers.

There is no consensus in the US government.

  • US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby
  • responding to reports that the Energy Department now believes “with low confidence” that SARS-CoV-2 arose from a laboratory leak in China rather than natural spread. Several other bodies favor a natural origin.

Call for Geoengineering Research

More than 60 prominent climate scientists called this week to break a taboo on solar geoengineering – artificially cooling the planet by making it more reflective – by boosting research on it. Some activists and scientists strongly oppose even studying geoengineering, arguing that it distracts from the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the open letter states that decisions on implementing geoengineering schemes are likely in the coming decades and that simulations and field experiments are needed to understand the effectiveness and risks of the systems. Among the signatories are retired NASA scientist James Hansen, one of the first to warn of the dangers of global warming, and climatologist David Keith of Harvard University, who for years has been trying to get permission to carry out a small scale geomechanics experiment.


Price of cancer: $25 trillion

Cancer will cost the world $25 trillion from 2020 to 2050, equivalent to an annual tax of 0.55% on global gross domestic product, according to a study. The analysis calculated treatment costs and lost economic productivity from people who get or die from 29 types of cancer, taking into account differences between countries in education and experience of people in the workforce. The costliest cancers include those of the lung, colon, breast and liver, several of which are also among the most prevalent worldwide. Increased spending on screening, diagnosis and treatment could have significant health and economic benefits, especially in low- and middle-income countries, which account for about 75% of cancer deaths, according to the study. published last week by an international team at JAMA Oncology.


Whale skin bears records of obscure migration journeys

Southern right whale breach
A southern right whale is breached as it rolls in the Southern Ocean for krill and other food.FRANCO BANFI/SCIENCE SOURCE

Scientists used small pieces of skin from southern right whales to investigate how climate change has shaped their migrations. The technique could help inform conservation measures for the animal, which is recovering from whaling but remains threatened. The kind (Eubalaena australis) is difficult to detect. However, the team collected the skin samples from whales in coastal breeding grounds, in part by shooting them with recoverable darts that pierce a small section of skin. The researchers then analyzed chemical signatures—isotopes of carbon and nitrogen—in the skin samples and matched the signatures to isotope ratios mapped in the Southern Ocean over the past 30 years. The whales eat krill and copepods that carry these isotopes, which show up in the whale’s fresh skin about 6 months later, creating a record of the whales’ previous travels. Among the team’s findings is that mid-ocean latitudes have consistently remained an important feeding ground. In some parts of the Southern Ocean, whales are migrating south less often to feed, likely because climate change has reduced krill populations near Antarctica in some places, the team reports this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Boron fuel shows promise for fusion

Researchers have ignited fusion in a reactor using an alternative fuel mix that could make potential fusion power plants safer and easier to operate than those that burn more conventional fuel. Most experimental fusion reactors use the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium. But tritium is hard to find, and this fuel combination produces high-energy neutrons that are dangerous to humans and damage reactor walls and components. The proton-boron alternative fuel produces no neutrons and produces only harmless helium, but requires a temperature of 3 billion degrees Celsius—200 times the heat of the Sun’s core—to burn. Now, a team using a conventional fusion reactor in Japan called the Large Helical Device has reported seeing some fusion reactions at a lower temperature, using a powerful beam of particles to accelerate protons and help fuel the reactions. The project, reported this week on Nature communications, is far from a practical fusion plant. But a fusion startup, TAE Technologies, which collaborated on the study, hopes to develop one that uses the fuel.


He was named NASA’s chief science officer

NASA this week named solar physicist Nicola Fox as its new science leader. As deputy administrator for the agency’s science mission directorate, Fox will be responsible for a $7.8 billion budget and more than 100 missions across four divisions: earth science, planetary science, astrophysics and heliophysics. Fox joined NASA in 2018 to become the chief of the heliophysics division. Before that, he worked at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, where he was the project scientist for the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe, a mission that is now sampling the Sun’s corona in a series of close flybys. Fox replaces Thomas Zurbuchen, who stepped down at the end of 2022.


Climate change opens new migration destination for Arctic geese

A warm climate has led some pink-footed geese to begin meeting to mate in a new location in northern Russia, nearly 1000km north-east of their traditional summer breeding grounds. The speed with which the new population developed, in just 15 years, is “amazing” and rarely seen, says team leader Jesper Madsen of Aarhus University. It’s a sign that some species can adapt beneficially to the effects of climate change, at least in the short term, he adds. Each spring, about 80,000 geese (Anser brachyrhynchus) migrate north from Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium to breed in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. After a few thousand birds started showing up in Sweden and Finland – east of the traditional migration route – scientists caught and attached GPS trackers to 21 birds. Half of those birds flew northeast to Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago in northern Russia, researchers report this week in Current Biology. There, the researchers found the new breeding population, which they estimate could consist of 3,000 to 4,000 birds. Novaya Zemlya’s spring temperatures are now similar to those of Svalbard decades ago. The birds may have found their new, welcoming breeding ground by drifting or following another species, the taiga goose, already on its way there.

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