[ASC-media] NEW SCIENTIST PRESS RELEASE 12 NOVEMBER 2005
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Wed Nov 9 09:34:47 EST 2005
NEW SCIENTIST PRESS RELEASE - MAGAZINE ISSUE DATE: 12 NOVEMBER 2005 (Vol. 187 No 2524)
THESE ITEMS BELOW ARE NOT TO BE USED FOR PUBLICATION BEFORE:- 04:00 HRS AEST THURSDAY 10 NOVEMBER 2005
THE BIOWEAPON IS IN THE POST
Biotech firms that make up sequences of DNA to order could unwittingly be helping terrorists build vicious pathogens for biological weapons. Commercial gene synthesis has grown in the past few years with dozens of firms now offering to build complete genes from the chemical components of DNA. Yet some are making no checks on who is doing the ordering. New Scientist approached 16 such firms offering this service on the internet, to ask whether they screened either the customer or the orders for potential bioterror concerns. Of the 12 who replied, just five said they screen every sequence. And three admitted not screening at all. Pages 8-9
AVIAN FLU - WE HAVE A PLAN, BUT WILL IT WORK?
Recent weeks have shown that governments around the world are starting to take the fight against a bird flu pandemic seriously. Last week the US published a pandemic plan that pledges $7.1 billion, mainly for vaccines and drugs. For the first time, meetings are including financial institutions such as the World Bank, which plans a global pandemic fund in 2006. And in a meeting in Geneva last week vaccine companies agreed to test low-dose vaccines against the H5N1 strain, which can be produced quickly. This means, if low-doses are effective, existing vaccine factories could be capable of producing enough for everyone. Page 20
THE SHOCKING USE OF POLICE STUN GUNS
Do non-lethal Taser stun guns really offer police a safe alternative to firearms or are police forces using the stun guns as an indiscriminate compliance tool against non-violent people? British research shows Tasers are being used against people who pose no risk, and who are already restrained. Pages 30-31
SHOOT A PIC FIRST, FOCUS LATER
Digital cameras that can refocus blurry photos after the picture has been taken could be useful for sports action shots or CCTV surveillance cameras. US researchers have figured out a way to adjust the angles and levels of light rays after they have reached the camera. Page 32
IS HOME TEST FOR HIV A GOOD IDEA?
Last week the Food and Drug Administration in the US started debating whether an HIV kit should be available for people to use at home. The test, which is as simple as a home pregnancy test, could potentially draw out those who live with the infection but don't know about it. But what happens when someone tests positive at home? Without the counselling you would get in clinics, would people be more likely to get depressed or even attempt suicide? Page 16
IF A CONVOY CRASHED...
Simulations of accidents involving trucks carrying nuclear weapons have revealed that the UK authorities were not fully prepared to protect the public from being exposed to radioactivity. This is according to a confidential report obtained by the New Scientist detailing four exercises carried out by the Ministry of Defence over the past decade. They reveal delays in public warnings, "erroneous" evacuation advice, and poor monitoring of the spread of contamination. Pages 10-11
COVER STORY - THE DEEP (3 FEATURES)
THE UNDISCOVERED OCEANS
You might think that there is little left to be discovered on Earth, but you'd be mistaken. The ocean covers 70 per cent of the planet, and yet only a tiny fraction of the sea floor has been explored. It's cold, dark, low in oxygen and under intense pressures, yet every time researchers wander into the abyss, they discover life. Every journey to the deep reveals more surprises, like entire ecosystems around hydrothermal vents, 7 metre high corals and dancing viperfish. And with plans to build ambitious underwater observatories, there are likely to be many more exciting discoveries to be made. Pages 38-43
SPRINGTIME IN THE ABYSS
The chemical rich waters around hydrothermal vents on the seabed support an abundance of creatures, without any need for photosynthesis. But researchers have recently found an unexpected connection linking these creatures that live around vents to the outside sunlit world. They found vent shrimps with seasonal reproductive cycles - which hints that they are not independent of events such as global warming. Pages 44-48
TEATIME FOR ZOMBIE WORMS
Researchers are dragging beached whales out to sea to find out about the strange afterlife of a whale that dies in the open sea. A dead whale is a massive bonanza of food for vast communities of creatures that can live off the carcass for decades, including the bone-eating zombie worms. Pages 50-51
A vast nuclear fusion experiment called ITER is to be built in southern France. The aim is to tame the same nuclear fusion process that powers the sun, leading to unlimited, cheap electricity. But no one knows what will happen to the reactor's structure when it is blasted by subatomic cannonballs. Enter a patch of land in Japan that researchers hope will become home to a centre which will test potential reactor materials. Pages 52-55
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