TIME Chemistry

Scientists’ Finding May Help Restore Fragrance to Roses

Sweet Smell of Roses
Matt Rourke—AP This file photo shows roses during preparations for the Philadelphia Flower Show at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia

A study of roses that do have a strong scent revealed a previously unknown chemical process in their petals

(NEW YORK) — Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. In fact, many kinds of roses today have little fragrance. But a new discovery might change that.

A study of roses that do have a strong scent revealed a previously unknown chemical process in their petals. It’s key to their alluring odor.

Experts said the finding might let scientists restore a pleasing scent to rose varieties that have lost it because of breeding for traits like color or longevity.

French scientists identified a gene that’s far more active in a heavily scented kind of rose than in a type with little odor. This gene, which produces an enzyme, revealed the odor-producing process.

Results are reported in a study released Thursday by the journal Science.

TIME Crime

Scientist Who Faked HIV Vaccine Research Sentenced to Prison

Dong-Pyou Han AIDS research
Charlie Neibergall—AP In this July 1, 2014 file photo, former Iowa State University researcher Dong-Pyou Han leaves the federal courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa.

He was sentenced to more than 4 ½ years in prison

(DES MOINES, Iowa)—A former Iowa State University scientist who altered blood samples to make it appear he had achieved a breakthrough toward a potential vaccine against HIV was sentenced Wednesday to more than 4 ½ years in prison for making false statements in research reports.

Dong-Pyou Han, 58, also must pay $7.2 million to a federal government agency that funded the research. He entered a plea agreement in February admitting guilt to two counts of making false statements.

Government prosecutors said Han’s misconduct dates to 2008 when he worked at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland under professor Michael Cho, who was leading a team testing an experimental HIV vaccine on rabbits. Cho’s team began receiving NIH funding, and he soon reported the vaccine was causing rabbits to develop antibodies to HIV, which was considered a major breakthrough. Han said he initially accidentally mixed human blood with rabbit blood making the potential vaccine appear to increase an immune defense against HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS. Han continued to spike the results to avoid disappointing Cho, his mentor, after the scientific community became excited that the team could be on the verge of a vaccine.

Iowa State recruited Cho in 2009, and his team — including Han — continue the research with NIH funding. A group of researchers at Harvard University found in January 2013 the promising results had been achieved with rabbit blood spiked with human antibodies.

Han’s attorney Joseph Herrold, a federal public defender, asked for probation instead of prison.

“Here, there is little reason to believe that Dr. Han has not already been deterred from any future criminal conduct. His conduct is aberrational in an otherwise admirable life,” Herrold wrote in a sentencing report filed Monday. “He regrets the hurt he has caused to his friends and colleagues, the damage he has caused to government funded scientific research, and the pain he has caused any members of the public who had high hopes based on his falsehood.”

Herrold said Han has lost the ability to work in his field of choice and is likely to be deported by immigration officials “and possibly never permitted to return,” separating him from his wife and two adult children who are U.S. citizens. Han, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, is a lawful permanent U.S. resident.

Government prosecutors sought prison time to serve as a deterrent to Han and others who might consider research fraud.

“It is important that we stand up not just for punishing the fraud committed against the United States government, but for the research that should be legitimately taking place on this devastating disease,” U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Klinefeldt said in a statement.

Judge James Gritzner sentenced Han to 57 months in prison and three years of supervision upon release. Han must repay the National Institutes of Health $7.2 million.

Cho’s team continues to work on the vaccine at ISU and has subsequently obtained funding.

TIME animals

Polar Bears May Die Off Unless Global Warming Is Reversed, Report Says

Polar Bear
Brian Battaile—AP In this June 15, 2014 file photo, a polar bear dries off after taking a swim in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska.

They rely on ice in the Arctic

(ANCHORAGE, Alaska)—Polar bears are at risk of dying off if humans don’t reverse the trend of global warming, a blunt U.S. government report filed Thursday said.

“The single most important step for polar bear conservation is decisive action to address Arctic warming,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a draft recovery plan, part of the process after the agency listed the species as threatened in 2008.

“Short of action that effectively addresses the primary cause of diminishing sea ice, it is unlikely that polar bears will be recovered.”

Halting Arctic warming will require global action, the report said. Greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, which is reducing the Arctic’s amount of summer sea ice.

Polar bears use sea ice for feeding, mating and giving birth. The Office of Naval Research said the past eight years have had the eight lowest amounts of summer sea ice on record.

The worldwide population of polar bears is estimated to be between 20,000 and 25,000 animals, and they live in five Arctic nations. Alaska is the only U.S. state with the iconic white bears.

Government scientists this week released another report that outlined two scenarios for polar bears through the year 2100: one in which greenhouse gas emissions stabilize and the other in which they continue unabated.

Under either scenario, the polar bear group that Alaska shares with Russia and Norway would be affected first. It could begin seeing the ill effects of global warming as soon as 2025, according to the study by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Interior Department’s research arm.

Other bears that make up population groups in Canada and Greenland would be affected about 25 years later. Polar bears living in the high Canadian Arctic fared the best.

Besides global warming, the draft plan outlines other goals, including better management of subsistence harvests; deadly interactions with humans, which could increase as people move farther north in the Arctic; and protecting dens from humans and industrial activity.

Written comments on the plan will be accepted through Aug. 20.

TIME Science

Mysterious Spots on Pluto Intrigue Scientists

Just-released images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which is approaching Pluto, show the two hemispheres of the planet along with its moon, Charon. The right image shows the ring of spots that have mystified scientists.
NASA Just-released images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which is approaching Pluto, show the two hemispheres of the planet along with its moon, Charon. The right image shows the ring of spots that have mystified scientists.

Scientists are baffled

Newly released images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft show an unusual streak of spots on the dwarf planet Pluto.

Scientists aren’t quite sure what to make of the spots, particularly because they are perfectly spaced apart along the equator and seem nearly identical in width.

“It’s a real puzzle—we don’t know what the spots are, and we can’t wait to find out,” said Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

To get the images, scientists merged black-and-white pictures of Pluto and Charon, its largest moon, from the spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager with color data. The resulting image shows Pluto and Charon in true color.

The spots aren’t the only mystery, however.

“Also puzzling is the longstanding and dramatic difference in the colors and appearance of Pluto compared to its darker and grayer moon Charon,” Stern said.

Scientists are hoping that these questions might be answered as New Horizons approaches Pluto.

TIME Solutions That Matter

Graphene: The Material Of Tomorrow

Meet the wonder material that is one hundred thousandth of the thickness of a human hair, yet is a hundred times stronger than steel. Graphene has been called "the most exciting material of the 21st century," yet we have barely scratched the surface of what it is capable of doing

TIME Science

Explore the Science Behind Fireworks—and the Galaxy

How do fireworks work? The same way the universe does

To you and me, watching fireworks is an age-old pastime best spent with people you love. But to astronomers, seeing those beautiful colors light up the night sky means something entirely different.

The chemistry that enables people to see the array of colors during a fireworks show, is the same chemistry that allows astronomers to see stars and planets hundreds of light years away.

Watch materials scientist Ainissa Ramirez explain how this is possible.

 

TIME space

See the Asteroid That Came Close to Earth

Don't worry—NASA's on it.

Astronauts and scientists kicked off the inaugural celebration of Asteroid Day with a talk on asteroid hunting and a live telescope view of the asteroid that passed within 5 million miles of Earth two weeks ago.

Journalist Will Gater, astronomer Bob Berman, astronaut Richard Garriott, and documentary producer Duncan Copp all took part in the talk—a debate on whether or not the Earth is prepared to defend itself against the potential hazard of a major asteroid. The discussion, hosted by Slooh Community Observatory, also included live footage of the most recent near Earth object: Icarus, an asteroid slightly over a half-a-mile long that passed by June 16.

According to Berman, asteroids are worth the hype. “Planets can’t hit us, while comet debris doesn’t survive to strike our surface. But asteroids — chunks of stone or metal — ­­arrive by the thousands every day, and are responsible for nearly all of the 50,000 catalogued meteorites,” he said in a statement to the press. “The largest asteroids are fascinating to observe, while the hazardous ones need to be watched while defenses are being conceived.”

U.S. agencies are already onto this concern—NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration announced a new deal on June 17 to cooperate in tracking and defending against asteroids.

TIME climate change

U.S., China and Brazil Commit to New Climate Change Goals

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama hold a joint news conference in the East Room at the White House June 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. Rousseff and Obama held meetings and the press conference almost two years after Rousseff accepted but then skipped an invitation to the White House due to revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the U.S. had spied on Rousseff and other Brazilians.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and U.S. President Barack Obama hold a news conference at the White House June 30, 2015.

The countries are positioning themselves as leaders ahead of December's UN climate change conference

The United States, China and Brazil all made new commitments to combat climate change Tuesday, in advance of a landmark United Nations conference on the issue in December.

The U.S. and Brazil pledged to increase production of electricity from renewable sources to represent 20% of electricity production by 2030. That’s three times as much renewable energy as the U.S. currently produces and twice as much as is produced in Brazil, according to the White House. Brazil also announced new measures to curb deforestation.

Brian Deese, senior climate change adviser at the White House, told reporters on a conference call that the joint announcement “substantially elevates and builds” on climate progress and “should provide momentum moving into our shared objective of getting an agreement in Paris later this year.”

In a separate announcement, the Chinese government said it would aim to have carbon emissions peak in 2030. By that date, the country hopes to see a nearly two-thirds reduction in so-called carbon intensity—a measure of the amount of carbon emissions per unit gross domestic product, compared to 2005 levels.

“China’s carbon dioxide emission will peak by around 2030 and China will work hard to achieve the target at an even earlier date,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday in France, according to The Guardian.

The announcement from the U.S. and Brazil came during a meeting between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and U.S. President Barack Obama. The Chinese announcement came following a meeting of Li and French President Francois Hollande.

Tuesday’s commitments are intended to position the China, the U.S., and Brazil as leaders in combatting climate change ahead of December’s climate change conference in Paris. Many environmental activists hope that the gathering will lead to a binding agreement to significantly reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change.

The U.S. said earlier this year that it plans to reduce carbon emission by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2020.

TIME A Year In Space

See the Best Photos from an Astronaut’s Third Month in Space

Astronaut Scott Kelly just passed the three-month mark in his yearlong stay aboard the Space Station. Here is a collection of the best photos he's snapped so far.

TIME is following Kelly’s mission in the new series, A Year In Space. Watch the trailer here.

TIME Environment

How Draining Global Groundwater Supplies Could Harm the Food Supply

wheat stalks grain
Getty Images

Correction appended, July 1, 2015

The lack of rain caused by the California drought has left farmers desperate for water. With nowhere else to look, many have turned to ground water buried deep beneath the Earth’s surface. But this isn’t the first time American farmers have turned to groundwater. Indeed, more than 40% of irrigated agriculture in the U.S. relies on groundwater.

Now, a new study in the journal PNAS shows how reliance on a finite supply of groundwater for agriculture threatens global food security. More than 18% of the U.S. supply of so-called cereal grains like corn, rice and wheat depends on a limited supply of groundwater found deep below the earth in aquifers, researchers found.

“Eventually these groundwater resources will no longer be able to produce food,” said study author Megan Konar, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “If there are cereal shortages, that has direct consequences for people’s ability to consume enough calories.”

Trillions of gallons of fresh groundwater are hidden beneath the Earth’s surface, according to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey. The supply is still finite even if that number sounds immense, Konar says. Unlike lakes and rivers, which can quickly replenish with new rainfall, aquifers collect water over centuries and millennia. Even if groundwater didn’t disappear entirely, continuing to exploit aquifers could ultimately make tapping groundwater for irrigation too costly for farmers.

For the study, researchers evaluated data on virtual groundwater use to determine which areas rely most on overextended groundwater aquifers. Virtual groundwater refers to the transfer of water via products, agricultural and otherwise, rather than direct water use. The study included the Central Valley Aquifer in California, the High Plains Aquifer in the central U.S. and the Mississippi Embayment Aquifer in the area surrounding the Mississippi River.

Within the U.S., the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and New Orleans topped the list of cities most reliant on groundwater aquifers. The implications of the study extend globally. Around 10% of cereal grains in Japan, Taiwan and Panama come from U.S. sources that rely on groundwater aquifers.

Still, policymakers could institute reforms to wean the agricultural sector’s reliance on groundwater and treat the water as reserves for when times get tough, like the current California drought. Crops that require high volumes of water—such as rice and corn—could be grown in areas with more rainfall, for instance, Konar says. The agricultural sector could also grow different crops that rely on less water altogether.

Despite these potential solutions, Konar says policymakers still need to weigh the costs of changing food production patterns. “It’s a tradeoff between future food security and current agricultural production,” she said.

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified Megan Konar. She is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

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