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This Week in Science: Sep 12, 2008

Science curricula in the UK have changed multiple times during the last decade to encourage students to continue studying science in their last years at school. A new report from the Royal Society says that the changes have come so quickly that they can't really gauge how or if they've affected what students chose to study, but what they can see doesn't bode well. In Scotland, where changes weren't made, 12 percent of 17-year-olds studied physics, while 3.6 percent of English students whose curricula did change continued with physics.

In the Policy Center, researchers from the Hastings Center discuss whether synthetic biology merits its own subsection of bioethics. They say that the ethical challenges that synthetic biology brings up are not too distinct from those of genetic engineering or nanobiology. They conclude, "Although creating such a subfield might be in the short-term self-interest of bioethicists, in the long run, further balkanization of bioethics would be a mistake."

University of California, Riverside, researchers report that microRNA turnover is needed for plants to develop properly. Taking a candidate gene approach in Arabidopsis, the researchers uncovered enzymes needed for miRNA metabolism, especially homologs of yeast 3'-end processing exoribonucleases. They identified a family of exoribonucleases encoded by the small RNA degrading nuclease that degrades mature miRNAs in Arabidopsis. When all three SDN genes are knocked down, the plants exhibit pleiotropic developmental defects.


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.