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  • Jul 27, 2014
  • Updated: 12:46am
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SHORT SCIENCE

Short Science, May 11, 2014

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 May, 2014, 3:19am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 May, 2014, 3:19am
 

Ill-fated Mars pioneer dead

Britain's would-be Mars explorer, Colin Pillinger, has died, aged 70. Pillinger, best known for his failed attempt in 2003 to land Beagle 2 on Mars, championed the project despite some mocking by the public. He was subsequently criticised for the failed mission. The ill-fated Beagle 2, which crash-landed on the red planet, carried advanced soil-sampling equipment developed by Hong Kong dentist and independent researcher Dr Ng Tze-chuen and engineers from the Polytechnic University. Reuters

 

Spider genome may generate spin-offs

Scientists have published the first spider genome, helping the quest to uncover secrets that could lead to smarter insecticides and man-made, super-strong spider silk. Bio-researchers led by Trine Bilde at Denmark's Aarhus University unravelled the DNA sequence of the tarantula and the African social velvet spider, each representing the two main groups of spiders. Researchers hope to replicate spider silk, a complex protein many times stronger than steel or kevlar, and to use neurotoxins in spider venom, which kill specific insects, as the basis for greener, more selective pesticides. The genomes have been published in the journal Nature Communications. AFP

 

Environment big factor in autism

A large study in Sweden has shown the environment is as important as genes in assessing the causes of autism. Researchers were surprised to discover the inheritability of the neuro-developmental disorder was about 50 per cent - much lower than previous studies that put it at 80-90 per cent, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The findings were based on data from more than two million people in Sweden from 1982 to 2006, and is the largest to date on the topic of understanding whether genes or the environment contribute to autism, which affects about one in 100 children globally. "We were surprised by our findings, as we did not expect the importance of environmental factors in autism to be so strong," said study author Avi Reichenberg, from the Mount Sinai Seaver Centre for Autism Research in New York. It did not pinpoint which environmental factors could be at play, but said generally they could include the family's socioeconomic status, birth complications, maternal infections or medications taken during pregnancy. Co-authors on the study came from Kings College London and Sweden's Karolinska Institutet. AFP

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