Reader’s Scigest – 07/03/2013

Gas giantby

HIV development

A team of researchers in the United States has described what is thought to be the first ‘functional cure’ for HIV in an infected infant. The patient involved in the breakthrough was administered a combination of antiretroviral therapies (ARTs) thirty hours after birth, and has reportedly undergone complete remission from the infection. ART was continued regularly up to eighteen months of age, and was then stopped. The child received a number of blood tests ten months after the discontinuation of the treatment, testing negative for HIV on all occasions. While the significance of this news in the wider fight against HIV can easily be exaggerated, the researchers believe that it may be a key step towards eliminating the infamous retrovirus in children.

New planet

Astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in northern Chile are thought to have spotted the birth of a new planet, 335 light years away from Earth. The reportedly forming planet has been pinpointed in the vicinity of the star HD 100546, and is predicted to eventually take the form of a gas giant up to three times the size of Jupiter. If confirmed, observations taken as the planet forms would provide a unique opportunity for scientists to update past theories of planet formation from first-hand recordings in a field usually limited to computer simulations. The suspected new planet is following the theorised pattern of gas giant growth, collecting gas and dust from the birth of its closest star.

Zombie microbes 

It has emerged this month that life on Earth exists significantly further underground than was ever previously thought. The discovery came as the result of the decade-long, $500 million Deep Carbon Observatory project, intended to study the Earth’s carbon composition.  Data obtained by the project suggest that the previously underestimated microbial biosphere, recently named the ‘Stygian Realm’ after the River Styx in Greek mythology, may reach as far as ten kilometres into the ground. Detected life at this depth consists exclusively of single-celled anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that do not require oxygen), and archaea which utilise sulphur and ammonia for survival. Due to the barrenness of the environment at this depth, the microbes found here have been dubbed ‘zombie microbes’ – a reference to the minimal signs of life which they exhibit.

Photograph: John Verive 

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