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New Scientist

New Scientist

29-Feb-20

New Scientist covers the latest developments in science and technology that will impact your world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields from all over the world. Our editorial team provide cutting-edge news, award-winning features and reports, written in concise and clear language that puts discoveries and advances in the context of everyday life today and in the future.

Country:
United Kingdom
Language:
English
Publisher:
New Scientist Ltd
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51 Issues

In this issue

2 min.
a pandemic in all but name

WILL the coronavirus outbreak become a pandemic? It is increasingly looking like it won’t – but only in name. At a press briefing on 25 February, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, expressed a reluctance to use the term until the covid-19 disease spreads more widely and causes more harm, in order, it seems, to prevent fear or panic. In fact, it looks like the WHO is no longer using any particular official criteria to trigger the use of the word pandemic, although it says it is still prepared to use the term when it sees fit. The decision seems like an odd one: to many infectious disease experts, the virus – which now has significant outbreaks in South Korea, Iran and Italy (see page 7) – has…

3 min.
covid-19 goes global

THE global spread of the covid-19 virus seems to have exploded, with outbreaks discovered in Italy and the Middle East, and a surge in cases in South Korea. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, has warned that “the window of opportunity we have for containing this virus is narrowing”. In fact, it may already have shut. On 21 February, epidemiologists said that we are failing to detect two-thirds of infected people travelling globally, “potentially resulting in multiple chains of as-yet undetected human-to-human transmission outside mainland China”. Some of those chains have now been detected, and many of these new cases can’t be traced to their source of infection. By 25 February, Iran had reported 95 cases. This may be an underestimate, as two people who flew from Iran to…

3 min.
medical mind-reading

WHEN a person sustains a severe brain injury that leaves them unable to communicate, their families and doctors often have to make life-or-death decisions about their care for them. Now brain scanners are being tested in intensive care to see if mind-reading can enable some patients to have their say, New Scientist can exclusively reveal. At the moment, doctors ask the families of people who have a poor prognosis and cannot communicate if they think their relative would want to continue life-sustaining treatments such as being on a ventilator. “Life would be so much easier if you could just ask the person,” says Adrian Owen at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. “Following a severe brain injury, over a quarter of people have their treatment withdrawn” Owen’s team previously developed a brain-scanning…

1 min.
temporarily locked in

Brain-scanning techniques can also help people with temporary paralysis communicate. In Guillain-Barré syndrome, people may lose their ability to move and spend a few weeks immobile in intensive care, but they usually recover. Most people are sedated while they are “locked in”, but a few ask to remain conscious. In three cases, at their doctors’ request, Adrian Owen at the University of Western Ontario in Canada has used brain scanning to talk with the person while they were paralysed, to check they wanted to remain unsedated. “It takes 5 minutes to get absolute confidence in their response to each question,” he says. “But there is no other way to communicate with these patients.”…

2 min.
seeds deposited in upgraded arctic doomsday vault

HUNDREDS of plant species around the world have been backed up at a “doomsday vault” in Svalbard, Norway, in the first big deposit to the Arctic facility since an upgrade to future-proof it against climate change. The seeds of onions from Brazil, guar beans from central Asia and wildflowers from a meadow at Prince Charles’s home in the UK are among the species being safeguarded at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, housed in a mountain cavern about 1200 kilometres from the North Pole. Around 60,000 new seed samples have been added, taking the total to more than a million. Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg attended the mass deposit, the single biggest since the opening of the facility in 2008. “The deposit event is especially timely”, she said, because this is the year…

2 min.
a planet may have been stolen from our solar system

THE universe is a dangerous place. An analysis has revealed that stars can steal planets from each other in high-speed fly-bys, something that may even have happened in our own solar system. Our knowledge of how planets form was developed by looking out at our own cosmic neighbourhood, but it can’t account for some of the other star systems we have found, such as Jupiter-like planets orbiting extremely close to low-mass stars, says Rosalba Perna at Stony Brook University in New York. Perna and her team used computer simulations to investigate what happens when neighbouring stars have a close encounter. They found that fly-bys inside dense clusters of stars wreak havoc on planetary systems, destroying, ejecting or even stealing planets away from their hosts about once every billion years per system (arxiv.org/abs/2002.05727). That…