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News at a glance: Stan the T. Rex’s new home, China’s ethics reviews, and bleaching reefs | Science

PALEONTOLOGY

Stan the T. rex gets new home

The Tyrannosaurus rex fossil known as Stan, auctioned in October 2020 for a record $ 31.8 million, will be housed in a new natural history museum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to be completed by 2025, the city’s Department of Culture and Tourism announced last week. The 67-million-year-old, 11.7-meter fossil (above) was found in 1999 in South Dakota and has generated many research papers because it’s well preserved and almost complete. It was dug up and owned by the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research until its auction. The private buyer was anonymous, and scientists feared they wouldn’t be allowed to conduct further studies. But the museum will provide access, officials there told National Geographic, which first reported the new museum’s acquisition. Joining Stan will be a sample from the Murchison meteorite, which landed in Australia more than 40 years ago and has advanced scientists’ understanding of the early Solar System.

I’ve often heard folks say, ‘Let’s get back to normal.’ Well, normal was not equitable.

  • Higher education researcher Christa Porter
  • at a US national science academies forum, on the pandemic’s long-term impact on the careers of women scientists.
POLICY

China seeks more ethics reviews

China’s government last week released guidance for strengthening the ethical governance of research in life science, medicine, artificial intelligence, and other “sensitive” fields. Research institutions and companies working in these areas must establish committees to review and monitor research involving humans and animals and ensure compliance with national and international ethical standards. Many Chinese institutions already have such boards, but national oversight was lacking. China’s handling of such issues has been under scrutiny since biophysicist He Jiankui produced the world’s first gene-edited babies, for which he was sentenced in 2019 to prison. The guidelines are wide-ranging but rather vague, says bioethicist Jing-Bao Nie of the University of Otago, Dunedin. For example, they call for the public to participate in the reviews but don’t say how. Details are to be worked out among the National Science and Technology Ethics Committee, national ministries, and local governments.

COVID-19

FDA OKs second booster

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week authorized a second booster dose of COVID-19 vaccines for adults ages 50 and older and for the immunocompromised ages 12 and older. The agency cited the waning effect of earlier doses and data it said revealed no new safety concerns. FDA will allow these groups, which are more vulnerable to poor outcomes from COVID-19 infections, to receive Pfizer’s and Moderna’s messenger RNA vaccines beginning 4 months after their first booster dose. Also this week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance that members of these groups may receive an additional booster. FDA did not consult with a committee of outside advisers before making the decision, which came after Israeli scientists last week posted a preprint analyzing recent data from more than 563,000 people ages 60 and older. It found that a second booster shot substantially reduced COVID-19 mortality.

POLLUTION

Microplastics in blood measured

Researchers have measured tiny particles known as microplastics in human blood, a first that could aid research on the particles’ health risks, which are unknown. The microscopic particles come from plastic degrading in the environment. People are exposed by breathing air and consuming food and drink laced with the microplastics, which have been found worldwide. Previously, they had been detected in human placentas and animal organs. But until now, measuring them in blood had proved technically difficult because of its complex mix of molecules. Heather Leslie, a chemist and ecotoxicologist at the Free University of Amsterdam, studied samples from 22 volunteers with a mass spectrometer. Blood from only one volunteer had no detectable microplastics, the team reported last week in Environment International.

ECOLOGY

Bleaching hits Great Barrier Reef again

bleached corals
A Great Barrier Reef coral turned white last month, after warm ocean temperatures caused it to eject symbiotic algae living in its tissues.GLENN NICHOLLS / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

Warm ocean temperatures have again caused mass bleaching of coral that makes up the famed Great Barrier Reef, for the fourth time since 2016. The damage is occurring in many locations along its 2000-kilometer length, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said last week . The increasing frequency of bleaching “decreases the ability of the coral community to bounce back,” says ecologist Kathy Townsend of the University of the Sunshine Coast, Fraser Coast. This year’s damage was unexpected because it has occurred during a La Niña event, which typically brings cooler weather to the region. A UNESCO team has been visiting Australia to study whether to recommend that the Great Barrier Reef, which is a World Heritage Area, be formally classified as “in danger,” a step that would raise pressure for Australia to take action to limit climate change. A year ago, the Australian government, concerned about the impact on tourism, successfully lobbied the World Heritage Committee to hold off making that designation.

BIOMEDICINES

WHO boosts traditional medicine

The World Health Organization inked a deal with the Indian government last week to launch a global center for the study of traditional medicine, a field that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus predicts will be “a game changer for health when founded on evidence, innovation , and sustainability. ” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, has strongly promoted traditional medicine, but scientists have blasted his government’s embrace of unproven therapies, including for COVID-19. The center, which opens on 25 April, will be based in Jamnagar, a city in Gujarat state that is a bastion of the ayurvedic school of traditional Indian medicine. India will invest about $ 250 million in the center to pay for land, a new building, and operating costs for 10 years.

CLINICAL RESEARCH

Gene therapy gel shows promise

A DNA-laden topical skin gel has helped heal wounds from a rare inherited disorder in what is proving to be the first clinical success for this form of gene therapy. In a small study published this week in Nature Medicine, a team used the gel, which contains a modified herpesvirus carrying a gene for the protein collagen VII, to treat nine people with recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa. Due to by a mutated version of the collagen gene, the disease causes their skin to tear easily, resulting in painful open wounds, persistent infections, scars, and sometimes skin cancer. Repeated applications of the gel over 25 days healed most patients’ wounds within 3 months after treatment; a wound treated with a placebo kept opening and closing. Trial sponsor Krystal Biotech Inc. reported positive results from a larger, 31-person trial at a meeting last week and plans to seek regulatory approval this year.

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