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News at a glance: South Korea’s lunar orbiter, the U.S. monkeypox response, and a lost Earth-science satellite

The latest in science and policy

Launch of the South Korean lunar probe
A South Korean lunar probe was launched on 4 August from Cape Canaveral in Florida.JOHN RAOUX/AP PHOTO
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Table of contents
A version of this story appeared in Science, Vol 377, Issue 6607.Download PDF
PLANETARY SCIENCE

South Korea sends orbiter to Moon to search for ice

South Korea’s first Moon probe was lofted into space from Cape Canaveral in Florida on 4 August by a SpaceX rocket. The $200 million Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, also called Danuri—“enjoy the Moon” in Korean—will study the Moon from a polar orbit for at least a year. One of the probe’s five instruments will capture polarized light to measure the grain sizes of lunar dust, an indicator of “weathering” by the solar wind and hence of the age of features such as lava flows and impact craters. In another first, a highly sensitive camera on Danuri will peek into the depths of the Moon’s permanently shadowed craters to inventory the water ice known to lurk there. Other instruments on the satellite will find suitable locations for a lander, planned for the early 2030s, as South Korea’s next step into deep-space exploration.

PUBLIC HEALTH

U.S. boosts monkeypox response

President Joe Biden’s administration last week designated the monkeypox outbreak a national public health emergency, allowing U.S. health officials easier access to funds and procedural flexibility as they respond to rising cases (more than 8900 as of 8 August). Earlier in the week, the White House appointed Robert Fenton, a senior official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as national monkeypox response coordinator. Demetre Daskalakis, a physician who directs the Division of HIV Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will serve as deputy coordinator. Daskalakis has experience working with the LGBTQ community; 97.5% of monkeypox cases with available data on sexual behavior have been in men who have sex with men, according to a 3 August report from the World Health Organization. As Science went to press, the United States had the world’s largest number of confirmed monkeypox cases.

COVID-19

Long Covid gets U.S. office

President Joe Biden’s administration last week published a plan for research on Long Covid, the long-lasting sequelae of acute SARS-CoV-2 infection, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated affects up to one in five U.S. adults previously infected with the pandemic coronavirus. The blueprint creates an Office of Long COVID Research and Practice at the Department of Health and Human Services. It will be headed by Rachel Levine, the department’s assistant secretary for health, who has been overseeing the administration’s Long Covid response. The new research will explore diagnostics and treatments and build on existing studies by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs to seek genes associated with Long Covid.

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We [worry it] will hinder Lilly’s and Indiana’s ability to attract diverse scientific talent from around the world.
  • Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co.
  • on the state’s passage of what the corporation called “one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the United States.”
INFECTIOUS DISEASE

Few get prompt hep C treatment

Less than one-third of people infected with the hepatitis C virus in the United States who have medical insurance receive lifesaving treatment for the disease within 1 year of their diagnosis, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported this week. The liver-damaging virus caused 14,000 deaths in the United States in 2019. But an 8- to 12-week course of pills that were hailed as a medical breakthrough when they came to market nearly a decade ago can cure most infections. CDC analyzed the treatment records of 47,687 insured people from January 2019 through October 2020 and blamed the low uptake on eligibility restrictions and what are known as preauthorization requirements that insurance plans often impose. The treatment rate was lowest, 23%, among people on Medicaid, the federal program that covers low-income Americans.

SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY

Primate center director stays on

Critics have panned a decision by the Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) to retain its director with full duties despite a finding by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) that he engaged in research misconduct. As Retraction Watch first reported, ORI found that Deepak Kaushal fabricated data on testing tuberculosis drugs in monkeys in a study published in 2020 and in two grant applications. He and colleagues produced the data while he was working at the Tulane National Primate Research Center; he became SNPRC’s director in 2019. Kaushal, who did not respond to several interview requests from Science, has not escaped all consequences: His settlement agreement with ORI requires a committee of senior faculty members to supervise his research for 1 year. SNPRC, based in San Antonio, said the misconduct finding does not affect his leadership of the center, however. The Texas Biomedical Research Institute, which oversees SNPRC, noted that Kaushal’s team retracted the original study and published a corrected version, whose conclusions did not change. But some outside scientists say the misconduct finding could feed public doubts about animal research generally and should prevent Kaushal from leading SNPRC. The center received $10.3 million in federal funding in 2021 and houses about 2500 marmosets, baboons, and macaques.

BIOMEDICINE

Probing HIV’s cellular fortresses opens cure avenues

fluid-filled channels isolate HIV-infected cells and trap their genetic contents in droplets
Microscopic fluid-filled channels isolate HIV-infected cells and trap their genetic contents in droplets (shown) for analysis.IAIN CLARK AND ADAM ABATE

A research team has developed a way to assess the gene activity of single cells that harbor latent HIV genes—a technique that could aid the search for a cure. People living with HIV who take existing antiretrovirals invariably retain infected cells that dodge the drugs and natural immune responses. Even though scientists could identify these rare reservoir cells, technical constraints prevented them from evaluating the cells’ gene activity. The new method, revealed at the 24th International AIDS Conference last week, hinges on “microfluidic” devices (above) that allow investigators to retrieve genetic material from the infected cells for sequencing. The team found that the reservoir cells had unique patterns of gene activity, turning on genes that protect them from immune attack and self-destruction. Targeting these genes could, in theory, reduce, if not eliminate, the HIV reservoirs.

REMOTE SENSING

Radar mapper declared dead

In a blow to scientists who monitor tiny movements of Earth’s surface caused by earthquakes, volcanoes, and glaciers, the European Space Agency said last week that Sentinel-1B, a radar mapping satellite, cannot be revived after a power supply malfunction caused it to go dark in December 2021. Investigators say a defective capacitor probably caused the fault. The loss of the satellite, launched in 2016, leaves the agency with a twin, Sentinel-1A, which was lofted into orbit two years earlier and is operating past its designed lifetime of 7 years. The duo had surveyed the globe, measuring surface changes as small as a few millimeters every 6 days as it orbited the planet. Until the agency launches Sentinel-1C in 2023, the intervals between observations will drop to 12 days, hampering data collection and mapping efforts.

NUCLEAR POWER

Small reactor design wins OK

NuScale Power, a startup based in Portland, Oregon, came closer to bringing a small, modular nuclear reactor to market when the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week certified its design. NuScale says it would be safer, more versatile, and more economical than larger conventional reactors. The company has a deal with an electricity supplier, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), to build a power plant comprising six of the factory-built reactors at Idaho National Laboratory. NuScale isn’t done with NRC reviews, however. The regulator certified the new reactor to produce 50 megawatts of electrical power—about 5% of the capacity of a typical power reactor—but the UAMPS plan now calls for running each of the six at a more cost-efficient 77 megawatts. That 54% “uprate” in power will require further NRC review before the Idaho plant can be licensed for operations. Other countries are also developing small reactor designs.


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