Science: Untested Alzheimer's/ Honouring Laika/ Brazil's splashdown/ The flames in Spain

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Genetic testing for Alzheimer's Disease is inappropriate for most people, even where the purpose is diagnostic, according to a group convened by Stanford University's Program in Genomics, Ethics and Society. The group, comprising doctors, lawyers and patient advocates, said that the extra information that genetic testing for Alzheimer's would provide should be balanced against the financial and psychological cost. A number of genes that produce different levels of susceptibility to the debilitating disease have been discovered, but none is a copper-bottomed predictor. A diagnostic test for one gene, called APOE, was offered in the US in 1993 but withdrawn, following criticism, after three months.

It should happen to a dog. Russian space scientists yesterday unveiled a plaque to mark the 40th anniversary of the first living creature sent into space - Laika, a mongrel dog that died during the famous flight. Laika was a stray found on the streets of Moscow, which literally (for once) rocketed to fame aboard a Soviet space ship on 3 November 1957, just a month after the Soviet Union began the space race by putting Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, into orbit. Laika's spacecraft had no descent capsule, and she burned up along with the satellite as it returned to the Earth's atmosphere.

Meanwhile Brazil joined the cream of space nations on Sunday when its first space rocket ended up in the Atlantic Ocean. Well, everyone who's anyone has lost a rocket early on. The unscheduled splashdown happened 65 seconds after take-off from Alcantara, on the country's northern coast. The 50-tonne rocket only managed to reach a height of 3,300 metres before turning tail and plunging into the sea just offshore. One of the four engines failed to ignite, probably due to an electrical failure. "It's not a major setback," the head of the project told TV news. It was due to put a data collection satellite in orbit to gather environmental and agricultural data. But surely that's a setback for Brazil, with its environment problems?

A lucky change in wind direction and brave scientists wielding fire extinguishers may have saved a project to detect and analyse cosmic rays in La Palma in the Canary Islands. Fire raged through the site of the High-Energy Gamma Ray Array (Hegra), just before it was due to start operating. Hegra consists of an array of gamma ray detectors spread over 200 square metres of land. But a third of these were destroyed when tinder-dry brush caught fire - possibly caused by landscaping work being carried out in the national park where Hegra is sited. Most of the damage was caused by the gorse bushes burning between the detectors. Staff did their best, but have to assess the full extent of the damage, estimated at around pounds 500,000. Smoke detectors too next time?

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