March 2014 Briefing Memo

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In November 2013 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made a preliminary ruling that partially hydrogenated oils—the primary source of trans fats—could no longer be “generally regarded as safe.” Studies have shown that trans fats increase the risk of coronary heart disease and have adverse metabolic effects. This ruling will lead to actions that will save thousands of lives in the US every year and is likely to stimulate similar changes worldwide. Forum: The Case for Banning Trans Fats

Gene therapy, an experimental technique that uses genes to treat or prevent diseases such as certain types of cancer and viral infections, triggered great excitement in the 1990s. After several tragic setbacks, researchers spent a few years refining their understanding of the fundamental biology and techniques involved. New, safer treatments are now poised to enter the clinic. Europe approved its first gene therapy in 2012, and the U.S. may follow by 2016. Medicine: Gene Therapy's Second Act

A foreign fungus introduced by humans has eradicated more than three billion American chestnut trees. To revive the American chestnut, scientists have hybridized it with its more resilient Chinese cousin. If researchers receive federal approval to plant the se trees in the wild, they will be the first genetically engineered plants used to restore a threatened species to its native range. Ecology: The American Chestnut's Genetic Rebirth

To better understand the complexity of our emotions, memory and mental disorders, neuroscience needs new tools to analyze the functions of the neural circuits in the human brain. The Obama administration's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, or BRAIN Initiative, which promises more than $100 million in 2014 for the development of such technologies, is a crucial first step. Neuroscience: The New Century Brain

With the proliferation of dubious, fly-by-night journals, it has become easier to publish plagiarized work. Software that analyzes articles for signs of plagiarism is crucial. It may be time to consider new models for scientific publishing—perhaps ones in which researchers continually edit a single Wikipedia style electronic corpus. Information Technology: The Case of the Stolen

Some 70 kinds of snails and mussels, two fishes and one crayfish species from the southeastern U.S. are believed to have gone extinct. In 2012 the U.S. government spent roughly $500 million to protect steelhead trout and Chinook salmon alone versus the $13.5 million spent to protect freshwater snails and mussels. Conservation groups are asking that the spending allocation for lower-profile species in the region be increased. Advances: The Rain Forest of Alabama

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For more information, contact Will Dempster
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