Science: Update

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The Independent Culture
BEING AGAINST genetic engineering would be "like being against the steam engine in the last century," according to Professor Stephen Hawking, the renowned Cambridge physicist. In a statement issued yesterday he said that "what I want is a recognition of the possible dangers and proper controls. The potential benefits are so great, it's no good trying to outlaw it."

TEN OR more different genes could contribute to each individual's risk of developing schizophrenia, says Peter McGuffin, of the University of Wales in Cardiff. "The population risk is 1 per cent, but if you have relatives who have schizophrenia then it changes that risk," he explained this week at the British Association. "There could be 10 or more genes and it may not always be the same ones in different people." However, population studies do show that the root cause of the illness is genetic, rather than simply environmental.

THE NUMBER of people who speak English as a second language will soon overtake those for whom it is their native language. "English has proved to be a useful natural broker in many countries in negotiations of power between ethnic groups," said Dr David Graddol, of the Open University. "Chinese, by contrast, doesn't look as if it's about to take over as a global lingua franca." Yet while in 1950 9 per cent of the world population spoke English as their first language, by 2050 that will decrease to 5 per cent - the same as for Spanish, and the Indian and Arabian languages.

MORE THAN 3 million people may travel to Cornwall to try to see next August's total solar eclipse, the first to be visible in the UK since 1927. But scientists this week launched a safety campaign to encourage people not to try to view the eclipse directly, and instead to view the sun's image projected on to a surface. People are also being encouraged not to go as far as Cornwall: the "totality" will occur in Devon, too, said John Parkinson, of the UK Eclipse co-ordinating group.

BY THE age of 30, women who once lived on the island of Ensay, in the Outer Hebrides, suffered permanent changes to their vertebrae caused by their manual labour - carrying sacks weighing up to 80lb (36kg) full of peat fuel on their backs. The distinct changes, which have been detected in the skeletons of people who lived in the island between the 16th century and the 19th, will be used as an indicator to help scientists to quantify changes found in other, more ancient skeletons, said Dr Joanna Sofaer- Derevenski, of the University of Cambridge. Her database required 96 measurements on each of the 24 vertebrae from 118 skeletons.