Every month, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN—the longest-running magazine in the U.S. and an authoritative voice in science, technology and innovation—provides insight into scientific topics that affect our daily lives and capture our imagination, establishing the vital bridge between science and public policy.
>> Key information from this month’s issue:
Many neuroscientists have greeted the Obama administration’s goal of preventing or treating Alzheimer’s by 2025 with skepticism, but the $50-million funding provided by the National Alzheimer’s Project Act may make finding a treatment a realistic goal. New methods of studying Alzheimer’s are detecting the buildup of aberrant proteins characteristic of the disease some 10 to 15 years before the first symptoms appear. Research may be able to find even better markers to help in early detection and treatment of this type of dementia. See: Advances: The Mind Recovery
• GLOBAL HEALTH
Since the worldwide campaign to eradicate polio began in 1988, the number of cases has dropped dramatically to around 650 in 2011. However, one of the key components in the most widely used vaccine is now causing more polio cases than preventing them. To bring the number to zero, the current vaccination program must change; but the transition to a new vaccination plan must be done carefully to make sure that more cases are not ignited. See: Polio Special Report: Polio’s Last Act
• FOOD SAFETY
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2011 that foodborne organisms in the U.S. cause 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths every year. New findings suggest that food poisoning could lead to lifelong aftereffects, including reactive arthritis, urinary tract problems and damage to the eyes. Proponents of this theory are calling for better mechanisms for identifying and tracking victims of foodborne illnesses so that we can greater understand how significant these long-term health effects are. See: The Science of Health: Food Poisoning’s Hidden Legacy
Now that NASA’s space shuttle is retired, scientists are turning to privately funded rockets to get themselves and their equipment into space. The Google Lunar X PRIZE competition offers $20 million to the first nongovernmental team to get a rover on the moon. See: Space Science: Bound for Moon
In 1976 a rare set of excellently preserved human remains from nearly 10,000 years ago were found in southern California and entrusted to the custody of the University of California, San Diego. Soon these bones may be handed over to the local Kumeyaay Nation tribes, who contend that these are their ancestors and that they may rebury the remains. While respecting Native Americans, it is time for the federal government to rethink recently passed federal regulations that were added to the original Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. Further consideration of regulations will allow archaeologists and anthropologists to work with Native Americans to study significant findings that lend insight into where early Americans came from. See: Science Agenda: Who Owns the Past?