TIME HIV

HIV Prevention Gel Shows Promise

A gel that could be used after sex to protect against HIV is a step closer to reality

Researchers are a step closer to developing a vaginal gel that could protect women against HIV, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine, though scientists admit more testing is necessary.

The difference between this study and others on prevention gels? This gel was applied and tested after sex. A team of U.S. researchers found that the gel protected five out of six monkeys from an animal-human laboratory strain of HIV when applied shortly before or up to three hours after infection, the BBC reported.

Since the drug has the potential to work after HIV exposure, the findings could lead to new ways to fight HIV particularly in cases of rape as the virus continues to spread globally.

TIME Environment

Sweep Our Dirty Rivers Clean

Polluted waters
Illustration by James Dyson for TIME

This concept for a barge that scoops up debris could keep pollution from reaching the oceans

The amount of plastic debris in the oceans has grown a hundredfold in the past 40 years. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade but instead floats in giant, immeasurable patches for birds and sea life to ingest. Take the Eastern Garbage Patch, for instance, a large gyre of marine debris located near the Midway Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Albatrosses in the area give birth to 500,000 chicks every year, and nearly half of them die–many of them after consuming plastic fed to them by their parents, who think it’s food.

The concept I propose, the M.V. Recyclone, would combat this ever growing problem of plastic waste making its way to our oceans by filtering out debris from the rubbish-stricken rivers that feed into them. By focusing on the polluted rivers, the M.V. Recyclone could tackle a concentrated stream of plastic, catching it before it spreads.

Dyson is the founder and chief engineer of Dyson Ltd.

TIME

Watch: How Scientists Plan To Bring Extinct Species Back To Life

Resurrecting long-dead species of animals, or 'de-extinction', will not be a fantasy for much longer. But how is it possible?

Conservationists and scientists have a saying, “extinction is forever.” But soon biologists will be able to clone long-gone animals, in the hopes of redefining that axiom to “DE-extinction is forever.”

TIME talked with Stewart Brand, president of Revive & Restore, about the technology that may soon allow scientists to bring back extinct species using the DNA found in museum fossils.

In the video above, researchers discuss the process of bringing extinct species like the passenger pigeons back to life.

TIME Infrastructure

Harlem Building Collapse Highlights America’s Dangerously Old Gas Infrastructure

Firefighters respond to an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings in East Harlem.
Firefighters respond to an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings in East Harlem. John Minchillo—AP

The deadly explosion started with a leak in a gas pipe, one part of the nation's enormous and aging gas system

A gas leak in New York City morphed into a deadly explosion Wednesday, claiming at least three lives and destroying two buildings while injuring dozens of other residents. How old the pipe was that runs beneath that part of an old neighborhood—and exactly how the leak started—remain unclear. Some academics, however, say it’s clear that much of America’s aging gas infrastructure needs to be replaced, regardless of what happened in Harlem.

American’s use of natural gas goes back to the early 1900s, and some of the pipes funneling gas beneath city streets today go back that long, too. More than 6,000 miles of pipe run through New York’s five boroughs, carrying the natural gas that in turn provides 65% of the heat used by city residents. And the average age of that pipe, according to a report from the Center for an Urban Future, is 56 years old, much of it made of old materials that are more prone to leaks.

“Most of those leaks are small,” says Rob Jackson, a professor at Duke University and Stanford who has been trawling Northeastern cities for natural gas leaks. “But at some point, every leak is 100% natural gas. So potentially, every leak is dangerous.”

In the Roaring Twenties, men laying pipe were likely to be making paths for cast iron or wrought iron—like the faulty 83-year-old pipe that led to an explosion in Allentown, Pa., three years ago that killed five. By the mid-century, those men were laying steel, and that eventually gave way to the more advanced plastic pipe used today. “The system has infrastructure that was in its time state-of-the-art,” says Frank O’Sullivan, a director of research and analysis at MIT. “But frankly, is no longer.” Cast iron pipes are more brittle, producing potential for cracking to occur. Early steel pipes, meanwhile, are more prone to corrosion. About half the pipeline in New York is cast iron or unprotected steel.

“These things weren’t designed to last 100 years,” Jackson says.

Earlier this year, the journal of Environmental Science and Technology released a study on gas leaks in Washington, D.C., led by Jackson. His team drove over every bit of asphalt in the city with tubes sucking in air outside the vehicle. They found nearly 6,000 leaks over 1,500 miles of road, including a dozen potentially explosive pockets gathered in manholes—most of which the city still hadn’t addressed six months after he reported them in February 2013. Pockets of natural gas generally need an enclosed space in which to build before they become explosive, which happens when the methane makes up about 5% of the air mixture. Jackson notes in the report that despite advances, incidents involving natural gas pipelines still lead to an average of 17 deaths and $133 million in property damage each year.

Though most enforcement happens at the state level, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration oversees the pipelines through which gas travels around the U.S. In 2011, following the Allentown explosion, Department officials issued a “call to action,” asking pipeline operators “to accelerate the repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of the highest-risk pipeline infrastructure,” such as aging cast and wrought iron pipe.

But that is a tall order with complicated economics. The enormous network of pipeline stretching across the U.S., O’Sullivan says, is so vast that at any given moment it contains enough gas for the entire U.S. population for three days. To get to American homes, natural gas must first be imported or taken out of the ground. The raw gas is gathered through pipelines, which take the raw material to processing centers where it is homogenized. It then flows through the equivalent of interstates toward so-called “city gates,” the points where the gas enters a local distribution system of smaller pipes—like the one run in New York City by Con Edison, which got a report of a gas leak before the explosion in Harlem.

It might seem like the answer is easy: companies like Con Edison should shell out and replace all the old pipeline. Those companies, though, are beholden to public utility commissions, who can determine how much the companies spend on such things, Jackson says, and public utility commissions often gauge success by providing customers with the smallest bills possible. “If the money were there,” he says, “the companies would do it very quickly,” and that may be where some more creative financing on the federal level could come in.

The notion of a natural gas system without any leaks is laughable to experts. And Jackson emphasizes that his research in cities like Washington, D.C. and Boston, is meant to help officials prioritize high-risk neighborhoods, which might be the older parts of the old towns in the Northeast. Though attempting to stop every leak isn’t helpful, he says, if companies address the real problem areas, it could mean saved lives and less greenhouse emissions in the atmosphere.

New York City politicians are already taking up the call. “With two reported deaths and over a dozen injuries, the human cost of inaction is clear,” City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said on Wednesday. “If the necessary funding for these repairs and improvements is not granted by the federal and state governments, tragic occurrences such as today’s may become more common in our city.”

TIME Water

Scientists Find Evidence of Massive Water Reserve Near Earth’s Center

Earth seen from space
NASA/Getty Images

A rare mineral discovery suggests a reservoir that could hold as much water as all the earth’s oceans combined

Scientists announced Wednesday the discovery of a rare mineral never before found on earth that hints at the existence of an enormous water reservoir trapped deep in the earth’s mantle.

The findings published in the journal Nature suggest there may be more water than is in all the world’s oceans trapped in the “transition zone” between the upper and lower layers of the earth’s mantle, AFP reports.

The evidence stems from the discovery of the mineral Ringwoodite found by amateur gem-hunters in a Brazilian riverbed in 2008. The mineral, which suggests the existence of water, has been found in meteorites before but never on earth, perhaps because scientists have simply been unable to dig deep enough to find it due to the heat and pressure at play that far beneath the planet’s surface.

Implications of the discovery could be profound. “One of the reasons the Earth is such a dynamic planet is the presence of some water in its interior,” said lead researcher Graham Pearson. “Water changes everything about the way a planet works,”

The finding comes after scientists announced last year they’d found huge reserves of freshwater trapped beneath the ocean floor.

[AFP]

TIME Romance

Enough With the Happy Couples Already

Simon Katzer & Getty Images

Madison Avenue loves romantic ads, but loses 103 million singles in the process

Let’s say you’re single. Let’s say you’re not happy about that fact. And let’s say you’re watching TV and you see a dreamy commercial of a happy couple hawking a happy product that seems to make them, you know, happy. Feel like buying? No, you don’t. Feel like throwing your shoe at the screen since it’s maybe the 15th ad like that you’ve seen tonight, and it’s interrupting a rom-com you’re watching that you’re kind of enjoying, but kind of resenting, too?

You’re not alone. Humans have always believed in the romantic ideal. We like our love stories clean and pretty and soft-focus and slo-mo. It’s the reason lovers die beautiful but tragic deaths in movies (Jessica Brown Findlay in Winter’s Tale, say) and on TV (um, Jessica Brown Findlay in Downton Abbey). It’s the reason Jane Austen movies end with the wedding, and not with the later, messier business of trying to get by in an era in which couples rarely bathed, lost their teeth by age 40 and were dead from typhus by 50.

In recent years, we’ve doubled down on our love of love—and that’s a very good thing. We’ve more fully embraced both interracial marriages (thank you, Cheerios) and same-sex ones (thank you, 59 percent of Americans who no longer take to the fainting couch at the sight of a wedding cake with two brides and two grooms). But that everyone-into-the couples-pool ethos has come at a funny time, too, and leaves a great many people out.

New marriages are at a record low—6.8 per 1,000 people—while the population of singles is at a record high: 103 million people over 18, or 44.1% of that group. For advertisers, that presents a problem. In a newly released study, consumer psychologist Lisa Cavanaugh of the University of Southern California administered seven different types of experiments to seven different groups of volunteers. All of the tests involved exposing the subjects to various kinds of so-called “relationship reminders,” such as greeting cards, advertisements and magazine stories. The ads portrayed multiple kinds of relationships—familial, romantic, platonic and more. The subjects were then shown different kinds of products and asked which ones interested them most.

Across the board, volunteers who were single and saw romantic relationship reminders were less inclined to buy luxury products and other high-end indulgences—just the kinds of goods advertisers most like to sell. People who were in relationships were at least marginally more inclined to go for the big-ticket goodies.

That is actually the opposite of what advertising theory says should happen. Romantic ads, Cavanaugh says, are supposed to be aspirational—buy the product and you get this guy or this girl. One would think that should be even more effective with singles; they’re still shopping for a mate, after all, while couples have made their partner purchase already. But singles go cool to the romantic come-on—and for a poignant reason.

“Relationship reminders often cause consumers to feel undeserving,” Cavanaugh said in a statement accompanying the release of the study. “By reminding people of relationships they don’t have, marketers inadvertently make consumers feel… less worthy of treating and rewarding themselves. Singles need to get some love from marketers too.”

This kind of self-denial is actually consistent with the experiences of most people who are—or at least recall being—single: You’ll take the cruise, buy the new furniture, get a bigger, better, more grown-up-feeling apartment when you have someone to share it all with. Until then, you’ll get by.

For both advertisers and consumers, that represents a strange blind spot. Do any self-respecting singles with a little disposable scratch really believe they’re not worthy—all by their solitary, unpaired, dinner-for-one selves—of buying whatever they bloody well want and can afford? Would any sane marketer give the brush-off to a 103 million-strong demographic? Yes and yes—and that ought to change. We may not all wind up single, but we all start out that way. Advertisers who ignore that truth leave money on the table. Singles who make the same mistake sacrifice a whole lot more.

TIME energy

Frack, Rattle and Roll: Did Hydraulic Fracturing Play a Role in Ohio Quakes?

Fracking and Ohio quakes
Fracking wells may be triggering seismic activity MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images

Ohio officials shut down several wells after a pair of earthquakes. How much of a role does hydraulic fracturing play in the startling rise of quakes in the middle of the U.S.?

The mystery over the possible connection between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes deepened on Mar. 10, when the Ohio government ordered a halt to operations at seven oil and gas wells near the Pennsylvania border after two quakes occurred earlier that day. While the quakes in Ohio’s Poland Township were too small to cause damage or injuries—they measured in at 2.6 and 3.0 on the Richter scale—the fact that one of the wells was undergoing fracking at the time of the quakes was enough for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to suspend drilling operations in the area. “The decision was made out of an abundance of caution after analyzing location and magnitude data provided by the U.S. Geological Services” ODNR spokesman Mark Bruce said in an emailed statement.

Other than that, Ohio officials haven’t been saying much about the possible connection of the quakes to fracking operations—and neither has Hilcorp Energy, the Texas-based company operating in the area, which said in a statement that “we are not aware of any evidence to connect our operations to these events.”

It will take more research to know if fracking at those wells directly led to the small quakes, but it’s not impossible. While there is a stronger connection between earthquakes and deep injection wells—where wastewater left over from fracking is disposed of by being piped at high pressures deep underground—there have been a few instances in which the act of fracking itself seems to have made the earth move. (In case you haven’t been paying attention, fracking involves the fracturing of shale rock thousands of feet below the ground, using millions of gallons of water and chemicals, to free up trapped oil and natural gas.) Quakes in British Columbia, England and south-central Oklahoma have been traced back to fracking—and since Ohio officials say there were no disposal wells in the area where the quakes occurred, it’s definitely possible that fracking could have played a role here as well, as retired Columbia University geology professor John Armbruster told the Columbus Dispatch:

It’s an area which (before 2011) had no history of earthquakes. It looks very, very suspicious.

What’s definitely suspicious is the astounding increase in earthquake activity in parts of the central and eastern U.S.—the same areas that have taken part in the fracking boom, as this chart from the USGS shows:

Nearly 450 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 and larger occurred in the region in the four years from 2010-2013, over 100 per year on average, compared to an average rate of 20 earthquakes per year observed from 1970-2000. Last month, Oklahoma was hit by a wave of more than 150 minor earthquakes over the course of a week, including one that had a magnitude of 3.8, and today 10% of the quakes felt in the U.S. occur in the Sooner State. All of this is happening against the backdrop of the fracking revolution. In Ohio, oil production doubled between 2012 and 2013, and natural gas production increased by two and a half times.

The reason fracking itself does not trigger detectable seismic activity all that often is that the forces involved are relatively weak, and the fragile shale rock tends to fracture before it can build up much strain—which is, after all, the point of fracking. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just that it seems to pose less of a risk that deep injection wells, which involve far greater amounts of liquid and which have been known to trigger quakes since the 1960s. Here’s how the USGS put it:

Wastewater injection increases the underground pore pressure, which may, in effect, lubricate nearby faults thereby weakening them. If the pore pressure increases enough, the weakened fault will slip, releasing stored tectonic stress in the form of an earthquake. Even faults that have not moved in millions of years can be made to slip and cause an earthquake if conditions underground are appropriate.

Fracking has boomed across the country, as this excellent map from the Post Carbon Institute shows:

All the wastewater created by those fracked oil and gas wells has to go somewhere—hence the concurrent boom in disposal wells. Ohio has more than 188 such wells, with more being drilled, in part to take wastewater from Pennsylvania fracking after regulators in that state ordered oil and gas companies to stop dumping waste in streams. And while most of the quakes happening in frackland have been small, there have been some bigger ones, including a 5.7 magnitude quake in Nov. 2011 in Prague, Oklahoma that a USGS study this week linked to a disposal well. “The observation that a human-induced earthquake can trigger a cascade of earthquakes, including a larger one, has important implications for reducing the seismic risk from wastewater injection,” the study’s coauthor, USGS seismologist Elizabeth Cochran, said in a statement.

So induced earthquakes are definitely one more reason to worry about the rapid spread of fracking. But like most of the other concerns—potential groundwater contamination, spills and accidents, stress on small town infrastructure—seismic risk should be manageable with the right regulations. The USGS notes that there are some 30,000 wastewater disposal wells around the country, and “very few” seem to have the potential to cause quakes. Geologists know where fault lines are, and if we listen to them, we should be able to ensure that any new wells, whether drilled to get gas and oil or to store wastewater, are well clear of them. But until we do, don’t expect the shaking to stop.

TIME Naming Rights

Martian Smackdown: Groups Feud Over Crater Naming

Mars—unless you want to name it something else
Mars—unless you want to name it something else Science Photo Library - ANDRZEJ WOJCICKI & Getty Images/Brand X

Want to name a crater after yourself? Your dog? Pay up.

The International Astronomical Union is not amused. That’s the gist of an email this august body, better known as the IAU, sent recently to people on the advisory board of an online company called Uwingu, which is selling the right to name craters on Mars. We’ve got the craters, you’ve got the names, is the essence of the company’s pitch. For the right price, Uwingu will put them together.

“Clearly,” says the email from the astronomical union, “the Uwingu campaign is in total violation of IAU rules, which have been around for decades and are internationally approved.” In a related press release, the IAU reiterated that position, arguing that “putting a price tag on naming space objects [goes] against the spirit of free and equal access to space, as well as against internationally recognized standards.”

That’s strong stuff, and the folks at Uwingu—some of whom are IAU members themselves—aren’t especially amused either. For one thing, this isn’t the first time the IAU has come down on them. Almost exactly a year ago, Uwingu went into business with a scheme to name exoplanets—planets orbiting distant stars—via crowdsourcing, for a fee. In response, the IAU issued an equally finger-wagging press release, reminding everyone concerned that it’s the only organization authorized to issue official names for heavenly bodies. As result, says Alan Stern, the planetary scientist and former NASA official who co-founded Uwingu, “our sales plummeted.”

Ordinarily, the prospect that a private company might have to give up some of its profits wouldn’t make space enthusiasts shed a lot of tears. But Uwingu was set up in part to give money to space-related science and educational projects. It’s helped fund the Allen Telescope Array, for example, used in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. It’s also helped bankroll a teacher training program and the group Astronomers Without Borders, a global astronomy community. “When the Uwingu Fund reaches a million dollars,” says Stern, “we plan a general call for proposals from scientists and educators, but we’re not there yet.”

Company officials deny that Uwingu.com is violating IAU rules at all, because its customers aren’t naming actual craters. “What about naming rights on Mars itself?” asks the site’s FAQ’s. “No, you are simply purchasing a place on Uwingu’s new map of Mars.”

In other words, the company is drawing its own Martian map with crater names left blank and selling people the right to fill them in. You could, in theory, do the same thing with a map of parts of the Earth—except that the cartography of Mars is far less thorough and far less well-known than that of our planet, and the Uwingu names thus have a chance of sticking. The company announced last week that its map will be carried to the Red Planet by the private, one-way Mars One spacecraft—if and when that project ever happens. But, said pioneering exoplanet hunter Geoffrey Marcy, of the University of California, Berkeley in an email, “The crater names from Uwingu aren’t official. Isn’t that the end of the story?”

Even the IAU doesn’t dispute Uwingu’s right to proceed with its crater-naming map. “The IAU does not consider itself as having a monopoly on the naming of celestial objects,” it said last year. “[A]nyone can in theory adopt names the way they choose.” It’s more the principle of the thing. “Given the publicity and emotional investment associated with these discoveries,” the statement continued, “worldwide recognition is important and the IAU offers its unique experience for the benefit of a successful public naming process.”

The IAU does have some experience with that process. Pluto’s fifth and sixth moons, Styx and Kerberos, got their names last summer through a public poll sponsored by the SETI Institute and approved by the IAU. But despite its objections to Uwingu’s Martian and exoplanet initiatives, it has come offered with no equally public plan to compete with the company’s.

For all the sniping between the two groups, the IAU is severely limited in the steps it can take. “There are no internal IAU ‘disciplinary’ actions,” said IAU General Secretary Thierry Montmerle in an e-mail, “In particular, there is no procedure for exclusion, and the Executive Committee is certainly not a court.” It’s all very diplomatic—but diplomats have other strategies too. The IAU’s disapproval could once again causes Uwingu’s sales to plunge. That’s an economic sanction if ever there was one.

TIME

British Man’s Face Rebuilt With 3D Printed Parts

The pioneering surgery is thought to be the first time 3D printing was used in every stage of the procedure on a trauma patient

A British man has had pioneering surgery to reconstruct his face using 3D printed parts.

Doctors at Morriston Hospital in Swansea, Wales, operated on Stephen Power, who survived a serious motorbike accident in 2012 with a partially shattered face. The surgical team used scans of Power’s skull to design custom printed models, guides and titanium implants to hold his bones in place.

The procedure, which took place in February, took months of planning and involved eight hours of surgery. It’s thought to be the first time 3D printing has been used at every stage of the procedure on a trauma patient, says the BBC.

“What this does it allows us to be much more precise. Everybody now is starting to think in this way—guesswork is not good enough,” said surgeon Adrian Sugar, noting that 3D printing removed the usual problem of guesswork in reconstructive surgery.

“It is totally life changing,” said Power. “I could see the difference straight away the day I woke up from the surgery.”

[BBC]

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser