As expected, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced that the agency plans to retire all but 50 of its 360 research chimpanzees and phase out much of the research that it supports on these animals. NIH Director Francis Collins, who called the decision a milestone, explained that "chimpanzees are our closest relatives" and "they deserve special respect." New scientific advances "have made it possible to replace experiments done in the past on chimps with other strategies, making it now possible to greatly reduce our support for research on these special animals."
Geoscientists still can't predict when a major quake will strike, and many have given up trying. But many do try to issue more general forecasts of hazards and potential damage. This week, researchers added a potentially powerful new tool to their kit: the largest seismic database of its kind ever constructed, based on tens of thousands of earthquake records stretching back more than 1000 years. Together with a new global map of strain accumulation at plate boundaries, the data sets will form the core of an international public-private partnership intended to reshape the science of earthquake forecasting.
The U.K. government is moving toward allowing a new type of in vitro fertilization that would enable patients with mitochondrial diseases to avoid passing the condition to their children. The technique is controversial, because it involves introducing new DNA into a human embryo. But a public consultation earlier this year found broad support for the technique.
Scientists have sequenced the oldest genome to date—and shaken up the horse family tree in the process. Ancient DNA derived from a horse fossil that's between 560,000 and 780,000 years old suggests that all living equids—members of the family that includes horses, donkeys, and zebras—shared a common ancestor that lived at least 4 million years ago, approximately 2 million years earlier than most previous estimates. The discovery offers new insights into equine evolution and raises the prospect of recovering and exploring older DNA than previously thought possible.
Why does obesity raise the risk of developing cancer? A new study suggests that the wrong mix of gut bacteria could be to blame. Researchers report that obese mice carry altered communities of intestinal bugs, which produce DNA-damaging acid that leave the mice more susceptible to liver cancer. The findings hint that bacteria help drive cancer development and may eventually help scientists better predict and prevent the disease.