theoretically

New therapies for HIV and Aids, such as protease inhibitors and the basic discovery that some natural molecules can suppress HIV, constitute the "Breakthrough of the Year", according to Science magazine. It said that the new work (which includes the discovery that some people are naturally highly resistant to HIV) "raises the possibility that HIV infection may one day become a chronic rather than fatal disease".

The Museum of Improbable Research is now open if you're dropping by Harvard University. It's devoted to collecting "irrelevant objects" from research efforts that are "unlikely to receive funding through normal channels", says curator Marc Abrahams, who is also editor of the Annals of Improbable Research - devoted to research which "could not, or should not, be repeated". Among exhibits is an unclaimed 1996 Ig-Nobel prize, a decapitated Barbie and a "Studmuffins of Science" calendar - as featured on this page a year ago.

Could some breast cancer be caused by underlying genetic abnormalities in apparently normal tissue? That's the suggestion of a team from California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco who analysed breast tissue from a small number of patients after mastectomies. Some patients showed genetic changes in otherwise normal tissue next to the cancer.

The conclusion: some breast cancers may arise because the normal tissue near the tumour acts as localised, predisposed regions. They say, however, that larger studies are needed to confirm the work.

Hi-tech industry in the UK has a bright future, thanks to the quality of research being done in universities, said a survey published last week. As part of a rating exercise of every university department in the country, by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, computer science was found to be healthier than ever. Relative newcomers to the top table included Bath, Bristol, Lancaster and Southampton universities. Top scorers were Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College, Warwick, York and Glasgow universities.

Radiation doses received by people living near Greenham Common and Newbury, where a US airbase stored nuclear weapons, are no different from those received elsewhere in the country, according to the National Radiological Protection Board. It studied 29 locations outside the base and 18 inside it. None of the measurements was higher than would be expected for natural radiation in the area, it says in a report published last week.

Not a breakthrough, but a break: the Science page is taking a seasonal week's break, and will be back in the New Year. We hope readers experience a happy Christmas - within experimental limits, of course.

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