Hydrogen fuel cocktail mixes vinegar and bacteria
The latest recipe for clean-burning hydrogen fuel is a dash of vinegar, a pinch of electricity and a smidge of—bacteria. Pennsylvania State University researchers say they have improved a technique for harnessing bugs called exoelectrogens to munch acetic acid (found in vinegar) into protons and electrons, which collect on opposite sides of a so-called wastewater fuel cell. When zapped with as little as 0.2 volts of electricity, the two components fuse into hydrogen gas. Because organic matter such as cellulose and glucose yields acetic acid when fermented, the research team proposes that the method could generate hydrogen to power cars and buses without relying so heavily on natural gas or other carbon-releasing fuels. "It's crossed the line from a science fair project to feasible technology," one of the researchers told Wired News. Or maybe not: technology experts told National Geographic News that the system so far produces too little hydrogen to make much of an impact. (press release; Wired News; National Geographic News)

HIV vaccine recipients to be told their status
The 3,000 participants in a recently halted trial of a failed HIV vaccine will be told which of them received the vaccine—found to be ineffective at best and possibly conferring an added risk—and which received a placebo, researchers announced this week. The decision to "unblind" the study comes a week after its co-organizers, drugmaker Merck & Co. and the federally sponsored HIV Vaccine Trials Network, got their first detailed look at how participants had fared. Designed to prime the immune system's hunter–killer T cells against the virus, Merck's V520 vaccine consisted of three HIV genes carried by a deactivated adenovirus, which normally causes colds. Researchers announced last week that those who had received the vaccine were more likely to be infected by HIV the more prior exposure they had to the adenovirus—an unexpected result that could still be chalked up to the diverse groups taking part in the study but which nonetheless put researchers in an ethical tight spot. Unblinding the study might change participants' behavior, possibly limiting what researchers could learn from them, but keeping it blind would leave volunteers in the dark about a possibly higher risk of infection. (press release)

U.N. launches preemptive attack on clone army
A U.N. study this week urged world governments to swiftly ban human reproductive cloning, or be prepared to enact measures that would protect clones against discrimination and abuse—not to mention enslavement by the Empire. The report, from the U.N. University Institute for Advanced Studies, notes that more than 50 countries have already barred the still hypothetical procedure, but any loopholes could give unscrupulous researchers such as disgraced Korean biologist Woo Suk Hwang the opportunity to move their work to another country. Reproductive cloning, or bringing a cloned embryo to term, differs from so-called therapeutic cloning, in which a cloned embryo would be used to harvest stem cells for studying or repairing diseased tissues. The study said that the latter research should be allowed to proceed under strict regulation. (Reuters)

Bird flu hits British turkeys (again)
Just in time for Thanksgiving, the U.K.'s beleaguered farmers suffered another setback this week as they began culling nearly 30,000 turkeys and other fowl in the wake of an outbreak of H5N1 bird flu. Health officials confirmed that the virus, which has killed at least 206 people worldwide since 2003 and raised concerns of an eventual human pandemic, struck a farm near Diss, Norfolk County, home to more than 6,000 turkeys, geese and ducks. Another possible outbreak on a Suffolk farm (owned by the same company) had not been linked to the virus as of late today. Nevertheless, owner Redgrave Poultry began slaughtering the 5,000 free-range turkeys there as well as 17,000 birds at three other area farms as a precautionary measure, according to news reports. A bird flu outbreak in the Suffolk area last February led to the destruction of 160,000 turkeys. Just months later, Brits were hit with bouts of the cattle diseases foot-and-mouth near Surrey and bluetongue again in Suffolk. (Reuters, U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, WHO avian flu FAQ)

School troublemakers can make the grade
Good news for parents: a pair of new studies finds that kids who act up or zone out in the early school years need not fall behind as they ascend to higher grades. An analysis of 16,000 schoolchildren found that those who routinely disrupted class or picked fights in kindergarten were reading and doing math as well as intellectually matched but more docile peers by fifth grade. More telling were math scores at ages five or six, which strongly lined up with academic success in fifth-grade boys and girls alike. A second study found that kids diagnosed with attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had brains that developed normally, but just at a slower pace than their counterparts—as opposed to showing some permanent deficit. Researchers cautioned that the results do not mean that troubled kids can succeed without specialized help, but rather that such help may be working. (press release, Developmental Psychology paper; New York Times)

What's in a name? Apparently success
A new study claims that the first initial of a person's name may influence his or her success—at least in professional school or pro baseball. Two researchers found that of 6,397 baseball players from the years 1913 to 2006, those whose names began with "K"—baseball shorthand for a strikeout—struck out in 18.8 percent of at bats, compared with 17.2 percent overall. Moreover, they discovered that people whose names started with "A" or "B" (Anne, Bobby, etcetera) scored higher than "Chucks," "Dianes" and other "C" and "D" compatriots during 15 years of business school classes, and they were more prevalent at higher rated law schools such as Stanford University. What to make of it? Well, the authors (Leif and Joseph) attribute the link to people's subtle affinity for their first initial. But then again, statistical relationships will turn up anywhere if you dice enough data. Say what you will, this superstitious SciAmese proudly sports the "J" and "R," which as everyone knows stands for "just right." (Social Science Research Network; Newsweek Lab Notes blog)