“Biological clock” scientists win 2017 Nobel Medicine Prize

Winners of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (L-R) Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young are pictured on a display during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on October 2, 2017. The 2017 Nobel prize season kicks off with the announcement of the medicine prize, to be followed over the next days by the other science awards and those for peace and literature. (AFP)
Updated 02 October 2017
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“Biological clock” scientists win 2017 Nobel Medicine Prize

STOCKHOLM: US-born scientists Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling our biological clocks, the award-giving body said on Monday.
The mechanisms help explain issues such as why people traveling long distances over several time zones often suffer jet lag and they have wider implications for health such as increased risk for certain diseases.
“(The three scientists’) discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions,” the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said in a statement.
The laureates used fruit flies to isolate a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm and showed how this gene encoded a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night and degrades during the day.
“The clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism,” the Assembly said on awarding the prize of 9 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million).
Thomas Perlmann, secretary at the Karolinska Institute Nobel Committee, described the reaction of Rosbash when first informed of the award: “He was silent and then he said ‘you are kidding me’.”
Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year. The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were created in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901.
Nobel medicine laureates have included scientific greats such as Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, and Karl Landsteiner, whose identification of separate blood types opened the way to carrying out safe transfusions.
The prize has not been without controversy, especially with the benefit of hindsight, such as with 1948 award for the discovery of DDT, a chemical that helped battle epidemics but was later banned due to its harmful environmental impact. ($1 = 8.1622 Swedish crowns)


New 3-D map of Milky Way will ‘revolutionize astronomy’

Updated 25 April 2018
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New 3-D map of Milky Way will ‘revolutionize astronomy’

PARIS: Europe’s Gaia satellite has produced a “stunning” 3-D map, published Wednesday, of more than a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, complete with their distance from Earth, their color, and their motion through space.
The eagerly-anticipated catalogue was compiled from data gathered by Gaia on some 1.7 billion stars over 22 months in 2014-2016, from its unique vantage point in space about 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth.
“The dataset is very rich and we believe it will revolutionize astronomy and our understanding of the Milky Way,” Gaia’s scientific operations manager Uwe Lammers told AFP of the massive data release.
“This catalogue is the most precise, most complete catalogue that has ever been produced. It allows studies which have not been possible before.”
Launched in 2013, Gaia gathers data on about 100,000 stars per minute — some 500 million measurements per day. Its first map was published in September 2016, with about 1.15 billion stars.
An update, released at the ILA international air and space show in Berlin, adds stars and provides more data on each one. Some were measured as many as 70 times.
The map contains 1.7 billion stars “for which we can tell where they are in the sky with very high accuracy, and how bright they are,” said Anthony Brown of the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium.
For 1.3 billion of those, “we know their distance and we know how they move through space.”
There is, furthermore, information on the radial velocities of some seven million stars — indicating the rate at which they are moving toward, or away from, Earth.
With all this data, “we can make a map of the whole night sky,” said Brown, who described the end result as “stunning.”
“You see the whole Milky Way in motion around its axis.”
Gaia also revealed the orbits of some 14,000 “solar system objects” — mapped as an intricate spiderweb of space rocks orbiting the Sun.
“It represents the most accurate survey ever of asteroids in the Solar System,” said Brown. More will be added in future updates.
Information sent to Earth by Gaia is collated by 450 scientists from 20 countries.
One of them, Antonella Vallenari, likened the data release to “opening a chocolate box.”
“It’s very, very exciting,” she said at the launch event in Germany, webcast live.
The full data will be published in a series of scientific papers in a special issue of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.