Science: Theoretically...

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Japan's science agency is suspending operations at its state-run fast-breeder nuclear reactor as a penalty for falsifying reports. That followed the leak of three tonnes of sodium from its secondary cooling system in autumn 1995. Although the Monju reactor in Tsuruga on the Sea of Japan coast, which only opened in August 1995, has been shut since the accident, the suspension - expected to last at least six months - has a symbolic value, too. The Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp (PNC), which operates the reactor, agreed that the suspension was a serious move. The only other previous suspension order in Japan was issued against the Japan Atomic Power Co's plant in Tsuruga after its operators failed to react appropriately to a radiation leak in 1981.

Blast-off is scheduled for tonight for the two Russian cosmonauts due to repair the holed Mir space station. Yesterday, they got their final go-ahead for their work, which will get under way once they dock with Mir on Thursday night. Anatoly Solovyov, the commander, is confident that that he and Pavel Vinogradov will be able to restore full power to the space station, which has been running on about half power since a June 25 space collision. "I understand it will be a very difficult job, but I'm rather impatient to get there," said Solovyov, who is making his fifth trip to Mir and has spent a total of 15 months in space.

Twins really are useful - especially to other twins. Australian scientists yesterday announced a clinical trial, in which HIV-positive patients who have identical twins will receive genetically modified immune system cells from those healthy individuals in the hope that the altered cells will attack the virus. The 12-month trial, involving a group of identical twins in Sydney and Los Angeles, will test whether modified T-cells can boost the immune system by inhibiting the replication of affected cells. The trial, starting at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital, will use a genetic process known as "gene shears" to alter T-cells, the key immune system fighters, to make them attack HIV naturally.

After recent announcements about scientific fraud in Germany and the US, editors of British medical journals have had an ethics committee to try to fight research fraud. The British Medical Journal and The Lancet will encourage their editors to "respond more rigorously" if they think that the research might be dubious, rather than "taking the easy option" and rejecting papers. The committee is the brainchild of Michael Farthing, editor of Gut. And before anyone accuses us of fraudulently passing off information, that announcement appeared in Nature.

Remember the news earlier this year that human skin has its own antibiotic? Scientists who discovered it suggested that such chemicals "might be ideal therapeutic agents, avoiding the problems of acquired resistance". But writing to Nature, Chris Inglehearn of the department of molecular genetics, University College London, points out "Imagine the consequences if this antibiotic were overused, as others have been, and microorganisms developed resistance... Perhaps this should be kept in what is the last line of defence - our skin."