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This Week in Science: Jul 18, 2008

This week Science has a special section on multi-drug resistant bacteria. MRSA, says one of the news articles, is responsible for 100,000 serious infections a year, with almost 19,000 related fatalities and there are half a dozen recently approved or in the pipeline antibiotics that should work on MRSA, for a little while anyway. Another article outlines how Clostridium difficile cases have grown in number and severity and yet two more look at resistant strains of tuberculosis. Also, drug resistance isn't limited to bacteria. Fungal pathogens are also increasingly resistant to multiple drugs.

After the terrorist attacks in 2001, US federal research agencies created a category for research called "sensitive but unclassified" with the hopes of preventing technical research from getting into the wrong hands. Some grants in that category awarded to universities came with caveats, such as that foreign nationals working on the project have to be vetted, which violates many university anti-discrimination policies and a 1985 directive from the Reagan Administration. The Pentagon since released a memo that says, "The performance of fundamental research, with rare exceptions, should not be managed in a way that it becomes subject to restrictions on the involvement of foreign researchers or, publication restrictions."

More and more researchers are looking toward fruit flies and other model organisms to study sleep, says Science, though not all scientists are convinced that studying sleep in these organisms will shed light on human sleep. Also, a research article from Amita Sehgal's lab at the University of Pennsylvania identifies a fruit fly gene needed for sleep. Found through a forward genetic screen, this gene encodes a brain-enriched, glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored protein, which, when lost, leads to an 80 percent reduction in sleep. The authors suggest that the protein affects sleep by enhancing potassium channel activity and reducing neuronal excitability.

The University of Chicago's John Evans reports that as scientific journals came online, people began to cite more recent articles and, overall, referenced fewer journals and articles. Evans combed through citation data and the online availability of journals and, after modeling his data, saw that citation patterns changed as journals came online. "By enabling scientists to quickly reach and converge with prevailing opinion, electronic journals hasten scientific consensus," writes Evans. The Economist weighs in, saying, "As a wag once put it, an expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until, eventually, he knows everything about nothing. It would be ironic if that is the sort of expertise that the world wide web is creating."

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.