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News 2007

December 19, 2007 By Daniel D Cressey This article courtesy of Nature News.

The year in whichâ?¦

Pluripotent stem cells created from human skin

Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan and his colleagues and James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and his co-workers separately managed to create pluripotent stem cells from human skin. Reported on the same day in November, the cells can differentiate into any tissue type, and raise hopes that regenerative medicine will be possible from cells other than human embryonic stem cells.

Nobel Peace Prize goes to climate change

In the year it released three reports and an influential synthesis document on climate change, only winning a Nobel prize could have given the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) a higher profile. And that is exactly what happened in October. The IPCC shared its prize with climate activist and former US-presidential hopeful Al Gore.

World goes crazy for a baby polar bear

After being abandoned by his mother in 2006, the Berlin Zoo polar-bear cub Knut hit the headlines in March when animal-rights extremists demanded he be put down. Being raised by humans is worse than death for a wild animal, they claimed. Knut survived to celebrate his first birthday this December, having generated a year's-worth of headlines from Norway to Australia.

Earthquake triggers radiation fears

Japan was shaken twice in July; first by a magnitude 6.8 earthquake and then by the discovery that the quake had caused a radiation leak at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear reactor. Although the plant's owner insisted the that leak had not led to dangerous radiation levels and posed no threat to people, the incident still caused concern over the safety of Japan's 55 operating nuclear reactors.

China's head of drug regulation is executed

Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of China's food and drug regulatory agency, was executed on 10 July. Xiaoyu had been convicted of corruption over allegations he took 6.49 million yuan (US$85,000) for pushing questionable drugs through the approval process. The execution followed a series of scandals over the approval of counterfeit medicines by the State Food and Drug Administration that led to the deaths of dozens of Chinese citizens.

Avandia drug troubles

A meta-analysis of data on the diabetes drug Avandia (rosiglitazone) triggered concerns about the drug's safety in May. As well as linking the drug to an elevated risk of heart problems, the study also sparked debate about the use of meta-analyses in medicine. The US Food and Drug Administration later demanded that new warnings be attached to boxes of Avandia and changed the prescribing information for the drug, detailing the new risks.

First whole human genome decoded

James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, and genomics pioneer Craig Venter announced that their full genomes had been sequenced. The achievements were the first in an anticipated wave of personal-genome sequencing and crucial steps towards personalized medicines tailored to an individual's genetic makeup. Watson's genome, announced in June, was analysed by Connecticut company 454 Life Sciences' new rapid-sequencing technique. Venter's, published in September, was the first fully sequenced diploid genome — detailing DNA inherited from both parents — and revealed that human genetic variation is greater than previously thought.

In November, Google-backed Californian biotech firm 23andMe launched a $1,000 personal genome service; the same month that Icelandic deCODE genetics offered DNA testing for disease-linked genes for the same price. And 2007 saw a splurge of research papers from genome-wide disease-association studies, including diabetes and cancer.

Asian nations reach for the Moon

Japan and China joined the growing band of countries intent on grabbing a piece of Moon-related action. Both nations launched probes that returned photographs to Earth, although China was then forced to deny that it had faked its shots.

Private companies also looked to the Moon after Google announced a US$30 million lunar X-Prize in September for whoever could land a robot there and complete a series of tasks before 2013.

Arctic ice shrinks to record low

Arctic sea ice retreated to an all-time low, covering just over 4 million square kilometres in September. This year's melt also opened the long-coveted Northwest Passage shipping route, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Chikyu drilling ship sets sail

Japan's gigantic research ship Chikyu set off on its first scientific expedition. The 210-metre, US$526-million drilling vessel completed its first mission in November. Its long-term goal is to obtain six kilometres of rock samples from the Nankai trough earthquake zone off the coast of Japan.

Biolab security blunders

The United Kingdom's farming community was rocked by an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in August, caused by a biosecurity lapse at an animal lab in Surrey. Subsequent inspections pointed to a leaky pipe on the site, the responsibility for which seemed to fall between the government-owned facility and a privately run lab that share the site.

In June, Texas A&M University was ordered to stop research into bioweapons after an investigation by a pressure group revealed that researchers there had been exposed to dangerous bacterial agents and toxins in its labs.

Geysers disappear … and return

Some of the 41 water displays in Russia's Kamchatka Valley of the Geysers re-emerged in September, three months after being buried in a landslide.

Libyan medical team freed

After eight years in jail, medical workers sentenced to death in Libya for deliberately infecting children with HIV were freed by a consortium including the eleventh-hour, scene-stealing involvement of French President Nikolas Sarkozy and his wife.

The Palestinian-born doctor and five Bulgarian nurses were incarcerated after an outbreak of HIV in Al-Fateh Hospital in Benghazi in 1998, despite a lack of scientific evidence. The case met with international condemnation and outrage by scientists.

The medical workers' sentences were commuted to life imprisonment and they were flown to Bulgaria, where they were pardoned on the airport tarmac in Sofia in July.

Storms rage at the National Hurricane Center

Bill Proenza was appointed director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami in January and soon became involved in a political spat. He ostracized his employers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and many of his own staff, who demanded he go. In July, he was placed on leave and he has since left the centre.

First primate cells cloned

Researchers in the United States created embryonic stem-cells from cloned primate embryos, publishing their results in Nature in November. A similar success in humans could lead to therapeutic cloning. One researcher in the field said that the results were “like breaking the sound barrier”. After the controversy surrounding Woo Suk Hwang's fraud, Nature took the unusual step of having the work independently verified.

China destroys its own satellite

China sparked international star wars fears after testing a space weapon on one of its own satellites. According to sources in the United States, a Chinese vehicle deliberately smashed into the redundant Feng Yun 1C weather satellite in January. Debris from the remains of the satellite and its assassin may endanger future satellites in similar orbits, experts warned.

Russia claims the North Pole

A previously obscure United Nations' rule that allows countries to claim parts of the sea floor beyond the continental shelf was thrust into the public arena after workers on a Russian submarine planted their national flag on the bottom underneath the North Pole in August. “The Arctic is Russian,” said expedition leader Artur Chilingarov. Canada, Norway and Denmark disagreed.


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