To help transition toward transparent open access (OA), eight journal publishers, including SpringerNature, PLOS, and Annual Reviews, will share detailed pricing information with a limited group. This is part of a test of a transparency template proposed today in a report commissioned by cOAlition S, a group of funders leading a push for immediate OA to science publications. If the pilot is successful, funders may ask that publishers use a similar template to share data more widely.
The template aims not to influence pricing, but to give funders and libraries information to decide what to pay for, says Alicia Wise, director of the consulting company Information Power who co-authored a report presenting the template. “I would hope that by providing these data we can build trust and a better atmosphere,” she says.
Many discussions about publishing prices and services have been “emotive rather than constructive,” says Bernd Pulverer, head of scientific publications at EMBO Press, which will take part in the pilot with four of its five journals. Sharing information could encourage more “pragmatic” discussions, he says. “It is legitimate for the research community, funders, and taxpayers to be able to understand how taxpayer-supported research is being published,” he adds.
cOAlition S funders will require from 2021 that grantees publish their work OA immediately. Under this mandate, called Plan S, journals and publishing platforms must provide “transparent costing and pricing.” The template presented today, after Information Power surveyed and consulted with funders, librarians, and publishers on behalf of cOAlition S, proposes a detailed way publishers can do so.
The template lists 24 items in three areas that publishers should provide: basic information about journals, including OA article-processing charges and subscription prices; metrics to convey journals’ nature and quality, such as acceptance rates and citations per article; and pricing information, with a percentage breakdown across seven tasks, including peer-review management and sales.
The test will share data only among the eight publishers and a group of customers. It aims to determine whether the template is practical and useful, Wise says; depending on how well the pilot works, cOAlition S funders will then decide how to use the template.
The report summarizes worries about the template from publishers who were consulted. Among these are that the numbers will be open to misinterpretation, that some metrics don’t reflect value accurately, or that like-for-like cost comparisons across diverse journals are difficult.
“It would be really difficult for us to [provide the data requested] in any kind of consistent way across a portfolio of 1600 journals,” says Liz Ferguson, vice president of editorial development at Wiley, a large for-profit publisher. For the requested measures—for example, the percentage of a journal’s price that finances editorial work after a manuscript is submitted until the decision to accept or reject—“it’s actually really quite difficult to unbundle [them] and make it meaningful.” Adding to the complexity, she says, Wiley publishes most of its journals in partnership with scientific societies, and financial arrangements for supporting the societies’ editorial work on those journals vary widely.
Pulverer, too, cautions against reading too much into detailed quantitative comparisons. But people ought to understand the value publishers provide, he adds. For example, “Some think peer review is free [because reviewers are usually unpaid], but it has to be organized and represents a very significant cost.” (In October 2019, EMBO Press independently published figures about its journals’ finances in a bid to provide “clarity about what it costs to publish articles in high quality, selective journals,” EMBO said in a statement at the time.)
The pilot project will start this week and run until the end of March with publishers of different types and sizes. The list includes publishers such as PLOS and Hindawi that publish only OA journals as well as publishing giant SpringerNature, which says it will take part “with a suitable sample” of its publications. It did not say whether any of the Nature family of titles would be included. A few more slots are available for other publishers to join, says Wise, who admits that the team did a “poor job” at involving journals in the global south.
The consultation, report, and pilot are funded on behalf of cOAlition S by two of its members in the United Kingdom: UK Research and Innovation, the country’s main research funding agency, and health research charity the Wellcome Trust.
Long-lived humans having nothing on trees. Some, like the Ginkgo biloba, can live more than 3000 years. Now, in the most comprehensive plant aging study to date, researchers have revealed the molecular mechanisms that allow the ginkgo—and perhaps other trees—to survive so long.
The new study provides the first real genetic evidence for something scientists have long suspected: “The default condition in plants is immortality,” says Howard Thomas, a plant biologist from Aberystwyth University who was not involved in the work.
To make this bold claim, researchers started with thin cores from 34 healthy G. biloba trees in Anlu, in China’s Hubei province, and Pizhou, in Jiangsu province. (Excising the cores did not harm the trees.) Examining the growth rings, Li Wang, a plant molecular biologist at Yangzhou University, and colleagues discovered that the ginkgos’ growth didn’t slow down after hundreds of years—in fact, their growth rates sometimes sped up. What’s more, the leaf size, photosynthetic ability, and seed quality of the trees—all indicators of health—didn’t differ with age.
To find out what was happening at a genetic level, the researchers compared gene expression in leaves and the cambium, a thin layer of stem cells between the internal wood and external bark that differentiate into other tissues throughout a tree’s life. Because older trees have only a few layers of cambial cells, collecting enough material to work with proved difficult, Wang says. The team sequenced the trees’ RNA, examined hormone production, and screened miRNA—molecules that can turn specific genes on and off—in trees ranging from 3 years old to 667 years old.
As expected, the expression of genes associated with senescence, the final and fatal stage of life, increased predictably in dying leaves. But when researchers examined the expression of those same genes in the cambium, they found no difference between young and old trees. This suggests that although organs such as leaves perish, the trees themselves are unlikely to die of old age, they report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
However, there is evidence that the trees do experience some changes over time. The older trees had lower levels of a growth hormone called indole-3-acetic acid and higher levels of a growth-inhibiting hormone called abscisic acid. Those 200 years or older also saw decreases in gene expression associated with cell division, differentiation, and expansion. This means that cambial stem cells in older trees don’t divide into new wood and bark as easily as in younger trees.
Plant biologist Jinxing Lin of Beijing Forestry University and an author of the study, says it’s possible that if the division rate of cambial cells continues to decline after thousands of years, tree growth could slow, and ginkgo trees might eventually die of old age. Most trees, however, appear to die from “accidents” such as pests or droughts.
To see whether the trees become more vulnerable to such stressors as they age, the researchers examined genes related to pathogen resistance and the production of protective antimicrobial compounds called flavonoids. They found no difference in gene expression for trees of different ages, suggesting the trees do not lose their ability to defend against outside stressors. That’s a “striking” ability that helps the ginkgos grow healthily for thousands of years, says paper author and molecular biologist Richard Dixon of the University of North Texas, Denton.
Not needing to worry about growing old is “something that for humans is difficult to understand,” says plant physiologist Sergi Munné-Bosch of the University of Barcelona, who was not involved in the study. “Aging is not a problem for this species,” he says. “The most important problem that they have to deal with is stress.”
The researchers say they will continue to study mutation rates in ginkgo trees and examining the mechanisms behind aging. Meanwhile, Thomas and Munné-Bosch both predict that other scientists may use similar methods to study aging in other trees, ranging from short-lived, “lab rat” poplars to towering, ancient sequoias.
A NASA satellite has discovered an Earth-sized world within its star’s “habitable” area — where liquid water could possibly exist.
The world is known as an exoplanet. This term is used for planets that orbit a star outside of our own solar system.
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, made the discovery. TESS was launched in 2018 to expand on the work of earlier exoplanets that space telescopes had discovered. Exoplanets are hard for telescopes to identify; the bright lights of the stars they orbit can hide them.
TESS contains four individual cameras that search for drops in light levels. This may be linked to planetary movements. Scientists then attempt to confirm the presence of worlds and try to estimate the size and orbit of the planets.
The newly found planet, called “TOI 700 d,” is about 100 light years away from Earth, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. It is about 20 percent larger than Earth. TOI 700 d is one of three planets orbiting a star known as TOI 700.
The discovery was announced during a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Being in a star’s habitable area means that a planet has temperatures that could permit liquid water to exist on the surface. Since water is necessary for life as we know it, the presence of liquid means it
Donor livers can now be kept alive for a week and repaired using a new machine which charities say has the potential to ‘dramatically improve’ organ transplantation in Britain.
Currently livers intended for transplant typically survive for only about eight to ten hours on ice, or 24 hours if hooked up to a special perfusion device, severely limiting how far they can be transported.
But the University of Zurich in Switzerland has shown that not only can they keep the organs alive for seven times as long, but their system also repairs damage in livers that would normally have been rejected.
It means that around 60 per cent of diseased or injured livers could now be used.
Researchers and charities say the new machine, which keeps the liver alive by mimicking core body functions, is a major breakthrough in transplant medicine.
Prof. Pierre-Alain Clavien, Chairman of the Department of Surgery and Transplantation at the University Hospital Zurich (USZ), said: “The idea is that we trick the liver, and let it believe it is still in the body.
“We’ve spent four years trialling this in pigs and now we’re ready to use these organs in humans, hopefully this year.
“In the future, for patients with liver cancer, we may be able to take a section of the liver, grow it bigger and transplant it back into the patient. And it should work for other organs as well.”
The mystery of why quantum matter jumps from a wave-like state to a well-defined particle when it is observed has puzzled scientists for nearly a 100 years.
Known as ‘the measurement problem’ it is widely seen as the major complication in quantum theory and has led even well-respected scientists to suggest that the human mind may be having some kind of telepathic influence on the fabric of the universe – our thoughts actually shaping reality around us.
But physicist Jonathan Kerr, who has studied quantum mechanics for 35 years from his cottage in Surrey, believes he has solved the riddle, and the answer is more prosaic than some might have hoped.
He thinks that it is actually impossible to measure anything without a tiny interaction taking place and it is that ‘bump’ that tells the particle where it is in space and fixes its form.
Kerr, the nephew of the late author Judith Kerr, has just published a book on his theory and an article is due to appear in a well-respected peer reviewed journal soon. The idea was first posited by some scientists in the 1990s but it has been an unfinished until now.
Kerr told The Telegraph: “For 70 years it was assumed that just observing the world brings it into a more concrete state of existence.
“But when we make a measurement, we have to cause an interaction – bumping bits of matter together – and people started to suspect that the interaction necessary for the measurement is what causes it.
“This idea would remove what some might see as the ‘woo-woo’ from quantum physics – mind, consciousness, the observer.”
The world of quantum exists in a baffling fog of uncertainty where particles change states, pop in and out of existence for seemingly no reason, and interact at speeds faster than light.
The American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman once said: “I think it is safe to say nobody understands quantum mechanics.”
The secret of why hummingbirds are so brightly coloured has been discovered by scientists, in a breakthrough that could lead to more vivid materials.
Although many birds have bright plumage, virtually none are as iridescent and shimmering as hummingbirds and until now researchers did not know why.
But a new study shows that while their feathers have the same basic makeup as other birds’, the special shape of their pigment-containing structures enables them to reflect a rainbow of light.
“The big question that keeps me up at night is, why are some groups of birds more colorful than others?” said Dr Chad Eliason, of the Field Museum in Chicago.
“You can look out your window and see drab brown birds, and then you have this glittering gem flutter to your hummingbird feeder.
“Why are hummingbirds so colorful? Is it the environment, is it sexual selection? Or is it something about the internal mechanisms, the physics and the way colors are produced?”
Scientists at King’s College London have become the first university in the world to formally end ‘cruel’ mouse swimming tests, following campaigns by animal rights charities.
In the widely discredited test, small animals are placed in inescapable beakers filled with water and made to swim to keep from drowning, in experiments designed to evaluate antidepressant drugs.
The more time that an animal swims – trying to survive – is thought to be an indicator that the drugs are working, as depression brings hopelessness, despair and a desire to give up.
Yet the test has been heavily criticised by academics who argue that floating is not a sign of depression but rather a positive indicator of learning because the mouse is saving energy and adapting to a new environment.
And crucially, the test has been shown to be a poor predictor of whether a drug will work to treat depression in humans.
The aerospace company SpaceX launched 60 of its Starlink broadband Internet satellites into orbit on 6 January — including one, called DarkSat, that is partially painted black. The probe is testing one strategy to reduce the brightness of satellite ‘megaconstellations’, which scientists fear could interfere with astronomical observations.
Various companies plan to launch thousands of Internet satellites in the coming years; SpaceX, of Hawthorne, California, aims to launch 24 batches of Starlinks this year. By the mid-2020s, thousands to tens of thousands of new satellites could be soaring overhead. Bright streaks caused by light reflecting off them could degrade astronomical images.
“I was complaining to my wife that I can’t sleep very well these days because of this,” says Tony Tyson, a physicist at the University of California, Davis, and chief scientist of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, a major US telescope under construction in Chile. (It was renamed this week from the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope to honour the late Rubin, who discovered evidence for the existence of dark matter.)
Astronomers discussed the potential impacts of the satellites on various telescopes, and what could be done about them, on 8 January at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu, Hawaii. “2020 is the window to figure out what makes a difference in reducing the impact,” says Jeffrey Hall, director of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and chair of the society’s committee on light pollution.
“SpaceX is absolutely committed to finding a way forward so our Starlink project doesn’t impede the value of the research you all are undertaking,” Patricia Cooper, SpaceX’s vice-president for satellite government affairs, told a session at the astronomy meeting.
Star light, star bright
Three batches of Starlinks have been launched, for a total of about 180 satellites so far. They are most obvious in the night sky immediately after launch, before they boost their orbits to higher altitudes where they are farther away and appear dimmer. It’s not yet clear how significant a problem Starlinks will be for astronomy; scientists have complained about trails in their images since the first launch, but if the company ultimately moves to paint most of the Starlinks black, the impact could be substantially reduced.
Many astronomers panicked in June, soon after SpaceX launched the first batch of 60 Starlinks and telescopes began photographing their trails. Their brightness came as a surprise, says Patrick Seitzer, an astronomer at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “The new megaconstellations coming online have the potential to be brighter than 99% of everything else in Earth orbit, and that’s where the concern comes from,” he says.
Several factors contribute to their puzzling brightness, astronomers reported at the meeting. SpaceX says the position of the solar panels might have something to do with it: at lower elevations, before the orbit boost, the satellites’ panels are positioned like an open book to reduce drag. That temporary orientation could make them reflect more sunlight. The speed at which a satellite moves across a telescope’s field of view is also important — the slower it moves, the more brightness accumulates per pixel of imagery.
There are no regulations that control how bright or dim a satellite needs to be, notes Ralph Gaume, director of the astronomical-sciences division of the US National Science Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia.
Calculations suggest the Starlink trails will interfere with astronomy most significantly during the hours surrounding twilight and dawn. That’s a particular problem for observations that need to be made during twilight, such as searches for some near-Earth asteroids. And on short summer nights, the satellite trails could be visible all night long.
The Rubin Observatory is particularly vulnerable because it will scan huge amounts of the sky very frequently. When it begins operating in 2022, it will photograph the entire night sky every three days, for ten years.
Tyson’s team is working on possible software fixes for the anticipated satellite trails, such as ways to electronically erase trails and other glitches they induce in astronomical images. But “we’re still left with all the complexity of having all these things removed and all these systematic errors”, Tyson says.
If telescope operators know precisely where each satellite will appear and at what time, they can swivel the telescope to point at a different part of the sky that does not have a satellite in it, says Tyson. That’s feasible if there are 1,000 satellites, but not if there are tens of thousands, because the telescope loses so much time manoeuvring that “it’s hopeless”, he says.
That leaves darkening as a leading option. With DarkSat, SpaceX engineers painted surfaces on the satellite that scatter light or reflect light diffusely, says Cooper. That could make them faint enough to be invisible to anyone looking up at a typical night sky — but almost certainly still visible to most astronomical research telescopes.
“It’s still going to be very much a part of astronomers’ lives,” says Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Just not a part of everyone’s lives.”
SHANGHAI—A new coronavirus identified by Chinese scientists is the putative cause of an outbreak of unusual pneumonia in the central city of Wuhan, according to Chinese news reports yesterday. In an interview today with Science, Xu Jianguo, head of an evaluation committee advising the Chinese government, confirmed that scientists have a complete sequence of the novel virus’s genome.
The World Health Organization on 9 January requested sequence data, a spokesperson in Geneva says, and many scientists urge the country to make the sequence public quickly, but the decision is up to the top leadership of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, says Xu, who is director of the Beijing-based State Key Laboratory for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control, part of China CDC. (The center’s head, George Gao, did not respond to emails from Science seeking comment.)
Xu says the investigation is being led by China CDC but numerous groups in other government agencies are involved. “Plenty of people are working on the outbreak,” he says. The role of the evaluation committee Xu leads is to review all the findings and make recommendations to the National Health Commission. Xu also said the novel coronavirus resembles known bat viruses, but not the coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
The following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: The virus has been isolated from one patient, is that correct?
A: Correct. Two groups isolated the virus from samples from one patient. The viruses are nearly identical in morphology under electron microscopy. Researchers did laboratory investigations of 34 patients. A total of 15 were positive for the novel virus, [based on] sequencing samples of [fluid injected into the lung and collected for examination]. The teams got complete genome sequence data from about 10 patients. They are now attempting to isolate the virus from those samples as well. There are 19 cases with no evidence of the virus. There is no information available for the results of the remaining 25 cases.
Q: How close is this new virus to the SARS coronavirus?
A: The virus is similar to some of the published viruses collected from bats. But it is not close to SARS and not close to MERS.
Q: Are close contacts of patients and market workers being tested for antibodies to the new virus?
A: [Investigators] have just gotten the virus, they now need the chance to prepare reagents for antibody tests, but there are no data yet.
Q: The 5 January report from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, the latest available, says a total of 59 pneumonia patients have been identified as possibly carrying the virus. Have more patients been found?
A: It should be mentioned that the 59 reported pneumonia patients in Wuhan were clinically diagnosed; of those, 15 were confirmed to be infected by the new coronavirus. No new patients have appeared, as far as I understand. It’s good news. People fear something like SARS in 2003, but this is a different case. The outbreak is limited, but we should test patients one by one [to identify] pneumonia caused by other pathogens.
Q: Are researchers trying to replicate the disease in lab animals to prove that it is really the cause of the outbreak?
A: People have recommended that [investigators] do tests to see if the virus can cause the infection in animals, but they need time.
Q: Is there any progress in tracing the original source of the virus?
A: I have no information. Personally, I’m interested, too. The virus looks like viruses isolated from bats, but how it was transmitted from bats to people is still a question. Several groups in China have been working on bat coronaviruses for years. I imagine they’re working on this but so far there is no information.
Q: Are other live animal markets being checked?
A: The Wuhan market has been closed. I have no information about other [markets]. Wild animals carry the risk of exposing people to new viruses. I think we should have more strict regulations and inspections of markets that sell wild animals, especially since the source of the new coronavirus has not been identified and eliminated.
With reporting by Jon Cohen.