Report: Human embryo edited for first time in US, pushes limits

A team of researchers in Oregon have become the first in the US to attempt genetically altering human embryos, according to reporting by MIT Technology Review. The attempt is said to represent an advance in the safety and efficacy of methods used to correct genetic defects that spur disease.

Until now, the only three published reports of human embryo gene editing were from researchers in China. But their experiments—using a gene-editing method called CRISPR—caused “off-target” genetic changes, basically slopping edits in the DNA that were not intended. Also, not all the cells in the embryos were successfully edited, causing an effect called “mosaicism.” Together, the problems suggested that the technique was not advanced enough to safely alter human embryos without unintended or incomplete genetic consequences.

Scientists familiar with the new US work told MIT Technology Review that the Oregon team has improved these issues. They’re said to have shown in experiments with “many tens” of human embryos that they can correct genetic mutations that cause disease while avoiding mosaicism and off-target effects. Their improved method allows for earlier delivery of CRISPR into cells at the same time sperm fertilize an egg.

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Meta-analysis finds sperm counts dropped 50%, media predicts human extinction

Men’s spunk may be getting noticeably less spunky in some high-income countries, according to a meta-analysis of international swimmers.

Skimming and re-examining sperm data from 185 past independent studies, researchers estimated that sperm counts of men from select high-income regions—North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe—dropped about 52 percent between 1973 to 2011, from 99 million sperm per milliliter to about 47 million per milliliter. Likewise, estimates of total sperm count per batch dropped 59 percent, from 337.5 million in 1973 to 137.5 million in 2011.

The researchers, led by Hagai Levine of Hebrew University, also looked at data from what they referred to as “other” countries, including some in South America, Asia, and Africa. They saw no trends in these places, but they also had relatively little data from them.

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Thirty Meter Telescope nears a construction permit—with conditions

The Big Island of Hawaii has perhaps the best astronomical seeing conditions in the Northern Hemisphere, and the University of California system and Caltech have a $1.4 billion plan to build the world’s largest telescope there. The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) would open up an unprecedented window into the early history of the Universe—and other unknown wonders.

But some native Hawaiians do not want further telescopes built on the sacred summit of Mauna Kea, which at nearly 14,000 feet is the highest point in the chain of Pacific Islands. They have put up fierce opposition to the telescope’s construction alongside other instruments already on the summit and have scored some wins. For example, after the state’s Board of Land and Natural Resources issued a building permit to the TMT institutions, the State Supreme Court invalidated it in 2015 because proper state procedures had not been followed.

Now, the telescope builders have won an important victory. On Wednesday, retired Judge Riki May Amano, who is overseeing the contested-case hearing, issued a ruling that recommended the Board of Land and Natural Resources issue a construction permit to the TMT institutions. The favorable ruling included 31 conditions, such as “ensuring that employees attend mandatory cultural and natural resources training,” and a “substantial” but unspecified amount of sublease rent.

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Japanese company preparing for country’s first private rocket launch

Interstellar Technologies

The United States has by far the most rich and diverse commercial aerospace industry in the world, but that doesn’t mean companies in other countries aren’t giving it a go as well. One of those companies is Interstellar Technologies, which began as a group of hobbyists in 1997 and became a corporation in 2003.

After more than a decade of engine and booster development, Interstellar is poised to make its first launch attempt—and the first launch of a private rocket from Japan—this weekend. As early as Saturday, the company will attempt to launch a sounding rocket named Momo from the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The launch window opens from 10:20 to 12:30 local time.

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Brains of former football players donated to science are rife with disease

Signs of a degenerative brain disease were widespread among a sample of donated brains of former football players, researchers reported Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The finding bolsters the connection between playing American football and developing Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is linked to repeated blows to the head and was first described in boxers. However, the large study provides little new information about the disease, its progression, or prevalence.

The bank of 202 former football players’ brains is a “convenience sample,” meaning it’s a biased sampling not representative of football players overall. Instead, players and their families donated the brains after players experienced symptoms connected with CTE during life or the players were suspected or considered at risk of developing CTE. The athletes represented in the sample reported much higher rates of CTE symptoms in life than those found in surveys of living, retired National Football League (NFL) players. Also, the study only had pathology data from one time point—after death—so progression of the disease couldn’t be examined. And, last, the study did not include a sampling of brains from people who were not exposed to football—a control group.

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Great Scott! This astronaut has probably endured more extremes than anyone

NASA

Scott Parazynski has chased extremes all of his life. Not in a reckless way, perhaps, but rather because his life’s goal seems to have been to experience just about as much crazy stuff that one human possibly could. As a result, it seems plausible that Parazynski has experienced more extreme environments than any human ever has—and he has written a new book that brings the reader along for the ride: The Sky Below.

Consider the following places he has visited in his lifetime:

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Democrats slam EPA head, want to understand his climate inquiry

Lamar Smith, head of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, has a penchant for releasing letters in which he complains about issues related to climate change. He has targeted everyone from state attorneys general who are investigating fossil fuel companies to NOAA scientists (and their e-mails).

But Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the ranking Democrat on the committee, has released a letter or two herself, including one in which she sharply questioned whether Smith was appropriately overseeing scientific research. Now, Johnson and two other Democrats on the committee have turned their attention to Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The subject? Pruitt’s plan to have the EPA engage in a show debate over our understanding of climate science.

For the letter, Johnson was joined by Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), fellow members of the Science Committee. The letter cites a Reuters report about Pruitt’s idea of creating a “red team” with the goal of poking holes in our current scientific understanding of climate change. The letter notes that Pruitt has claimed that “there are lots of questions that have not been asked and answered” about climate change, though he hasn’t clearly specified what those are.

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Democrats slam EPA head, want to understand his climate inquiry

Lamar Smith, head of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, has a penchant for releasing letters in which he complains about issues related to climate change. He has targeted everyone from state attorneys general who are investigating fossil fuel companies to NOAA scientists (and their e-mails).

But Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the ranking Democrat on the committee, has released a letter or two herself, including one in which she sharply questioned whether Smith was appropriately overseeing scientific research. Now, Johnson and two other Democrats on the committee have turned their attention to Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The subject? Pruitt’s plan to have the EPA engage in a show debate over our understanding of climate science.

For the letter, Johnson was joined by Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), fellow members of the Science Committee. The letter cites a Reuters report about Pruitt’s idea of creating a “red team” with the goal of poking holes in our current scientific understanding of climate change. The letter notes that Pruitt has claimed that “there are lots of questions that have not been asked and answered” about climate change, though he hasn’t clearly specified what those are.

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