Science news digest – 29th May 2013
In the science news this week, frozen plants start to grow, H7N9 shows drug resistance, and finally… missing moon dust is returned to NASA.
Frozen plants brought back to life
Plants that were frozen during the “little ice age” centuries ago have been observed sprouting new growth, reported the BBC.
The 400-year-old plant samples, known as bryophytes, have flourished in the laboratory at University of Alberta.
The team found the samples in an area around the Teardrop Glacier in the Canadian Arctic, where there has been an increased rate of glacier retreat since 2004 at about 3-4 metres per year.
The researchers believe the revival of the plants could have implications on how the ecosystems around the glacier recover from long periods of ice cover, such as during the “little ice age”, which occurred from about 1550 to 1850.
"We ended up walking along the edge of the glacier margin and we saw these huge populations coming out from underneath the glacier that seemed to have a greenish tint," said Catherine La Farge, lead author of the study.
"When we looked at them in detail and brought them to the lab, I could see some of the stems actually had new growth of green lateral branches, and that said to me that these guys are regenerating in the field, and that blew my mind," she told BBC News.
"If you think of ice sheets covering the landscape, we've always thought that plants have to come in from refugia around the margins of an ice system, never considering land plants as coming out from underneath a glacier."
"It's a whole world of what's coming out from underneath the glaciers that really needs to be studied," Dr La Farge said.
"The glaciers are disappearing pretty fast - they're going to expose all this terrestrial vegetation, and that's going to have a big impact."
Drug resistant strain H7N9 kills two people in China
Scientists have confirmed the first cases of the bird flu virus H7N9 that are resistant to treatments, like Tamiflu. Currently, the virus has killed 36 people in China and has been confirmed in 95 others.
Researchers from Shanghai and Hong Kong tracked the course of the virus and the use of antiviral treatments in 14 patients, and found that three of the patients didn’t respond to the group of medicines that are the standard treatment at the moment. Two of these three died, and the third was still critically ill when the paper was submitted to the Lancet journal, reported the Guardian.
Genetic testing showed there was a mutation in the virus in these cases, and for one of the patients, the mutation seemed to take place after infection – probably as a result of the treatment.
"The apparent ease with which antiviral resistance emerges in (H7N9) viruses is concerning: it needs to be closely monitored and considered in future pandemic response plans," the authors explained in the paper.
However, they said that in most cases, treatment with oseltamivir (Tamiflu) "even when started 48 hours or more after disease onset, was associated with falling viral load in most patients … Therefore, early treatment of suspected or confirmed cases is strongly encouraged".
Missing moon dust is found
Vials of dust brought back by the first men to walk on the moon have turned up in storage more than 40 years later, reported New Scientist.
In 1969, NASA sent 68 grams of lunar dust to the Nobel prize winning chemist, Melvin Calvin at his laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. However, only 50 grams were returned, but it seems it was assumed that the rest had been destroyed through the research process.
However, 20 vials with 3 grams of the space dust have turned up at a warehouse in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory earlier this year. The lunar dust has now been returned to NASA.