Science: Theoretically - Nasa cops out/ Apes and inequality/ Tonga's fatties/ Genes and tonguetwisters

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The Independent Culture
They caught it, but they're not throwing it back. Nasa has decided not to re-release the solar observation satellite which was hauled back on board the space shuttle Columbia last week. The seven-hour recovery mission followed the satellite's failure to work when it was released the first time. But after "considerable debate" Nasa decided on Sunday that there is not enough fuel left to do it again. There was a tentative plan to let the Spartan satellite free for 18 hours - less than half the time it was meant to operate - but ground control said no. "If you were deploying a brand new, fresh spacecraft, you wouldn't do it under those circumstances," explained mission operations director Lee Briscoe. The astronauts were philosophical: "After all, the sun will still be there and we don't want to risk losing the satellite altogether," said Winston Scott.

While we report (right) on changing legislation for great apes in Britain, the closure of a primate laboratory in the US has annoyed scientists and critics, Nature reports. The Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates - acronymed, bizarrely, Lemsip - will shut down at the end of December after the Aaron Diamond Aids Research Center decided not to buy it. But the facility's 28 chimpanzees will be transferred to one in Coulston, New Mexico, which has upset animal rights activists.

Deadlier than the Bomb? Dr Robert Scragg of Auckland University commented yesterday that fatty cuts of meat exported to the Pacific Islands are causing more health woes and early deaths among islanders than nuclear testing. Scragg recently returned from a World Health Organisation consultancy to Tonga, where he reviewed diabetes and heart disease rates, and advised on prevention programmes. More than 70 per cent of Tongans suffer from health problems related to bad diet, including heart disease and obesity: deaths from heart disease are 50 per cent higher than a decade ago, and they also have one of the highest diabetes rates in the world; it has risen fourfold since 1971. But the Tongan government cannot afford dialysis treatment for those with kidney failure.

Sweets, alcohol, white bread and fast foods have become regular fare for Pacific Islanders, whose ancestors lived on a healthy, vitamin-packed diet of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. However, Peter Gianotti, of New Zealand's Meat Producers Board, said New Zealand offers a range of cuts and countries choose what they can afford. "It's a question of people's incomes and what represents value to them," he said.

Still, the King of Tonga has personally tried to set an example for his people - dieting and exercising to shed 68kg of his former 200-kg weight, and leading a national weight-loss competition.

Here's the really worrying thing about gene research: a team at the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Alberta say it can play havoc with spellcheckers.

In a letter to Nature, they comment: "We are concerned by the profligate habit of assigning three-letter names to genes and their corresponding proteins ... there is a tendency for such names to lack vowels, thus rendering their pronunciation inscrutable." They point to "Lck" - for the protein tyrosine kinase. Well, how would you pronounce it? And, they note: "Many of us struggle to reconcile euphony with civility when faced with the likes of Crk, Drk or Suc." Hmm.

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