|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
Nature / 17 January 2011
Race against time for raiders of the lost lake
2 января 2011 года, с отметки 3650 метров, возобновились работы в скважине над озером Восток в Антарктиде. До вод реликтового озера остается, по разным оценкам, от 20 до 100 метров.
Существование огромного озера под ледовым панцирем в центральной части Антарктиды теоретически предсказал советский учёный Игорь Зотиков в 1961г., но экспериментально наличие озера было подтверждено в 1996 году.
Arguably the most exciting - and certainly the most controversial - scientific endeavour in Antarctica's history is close to a breakthrough.
A Russian drilling team is just metres away from reaching the water surface of Lake Vostok, the largest and deepest of the freshwater lakes hidden beneath Antarctica's massive ice sheet.
The ambitious project, launched more than 20 years ago, has been repeatedly delayed by technical glitches and funding problems (see Nature 464, 472-473; 2010). But Russian researchers, who on 2 January resumed drilling at a depth of 3,650 metres, believe that just 20-40 metres or so of accretion ice - frozen lake water - now separate them from the lake's liquid surface.
"We can make it this time," Valery Lukin, director of the Russian Antarctic programme, told Nature. But time is short. Although the drill can advance by about 3 metres each day, the team must call a halt by 6 February, when the last aircraft of the summer research season is due to leave the Vostok research station, about 1,300 kilometres from the South Pole (see "Drill for victory"). If they haven't reached the lake by then, they will have to wait until December to continue, Lukin says.
The chance of sampling one of the last uncharted environments on Earth has excited researchers ever since the lake's existence was first mooted in the 1970s. Many are thrilled by the possibility of discovering evidence of unique life forms in the lake, which is thought to have formed as much as 35 million years ago. But others worry that the drilling effort could contaminate an untouched environment. The lake may hold traces of ancient microorganisms that could reveal how life on Earth has adapted to extreme conditions.
At the Vostok station, tension is rising with every passing day. The team hopes that a sensor attached to the drill head will signal contact with liquid water in the next few weeks. At that point, the drill will be stopped and extracted from the bore hole, thereby lowering the pressure beneath it and drawing water into the hole. This should prevent any of the silicone drilling lubricant from entering the lake, explains Lukin. The rising water will rapidly freeze in the borehole, where drillers can extract it without penetrating the pristine lake. "If everything goes according to plan, we will re-core the hole in December and retrieve the frozen sample without polluting the lake water," he says.
The plan cleared a key hurdle last November, when scientists with Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in St Petersburg submitted a final environmental evaluation of the project, approved by the Russian government, to the Antarctic Treaty's environmental protection committee. The document addresses queries or objections previously raised by parties to the treaty, allowing sampling operations to begin 60 days after the final evaluation was circulated to them. Scientists contacted by Nature acknowledge Russia's right to proceed as planned, but remain unconvinced that the sampling technology is as clean as is claimed. "From our experience there is no such thing as clean drilling," says Jean Robert Petit, a glaciologist at the Laboratory of Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics (LGGE) near Grenoble in France.
Lake Vostok has been totally isolated for almost 15 million years, and researchers suspect that it is virtually devoid of nutrients and organic carbon. Its chemistry, together with the cold, darkness and high water pressure, could mean that conditions there resemble those in the suspected ice-covered ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa. Many think that Lake Vostok's water is unlikely to support life today, but that the sediment or bedrock beneath might host microorganisms. That would feed hopes that something similar could be found on Europa.
Sediments found in accretion ice extracted in previous years by a team from the LGGE contained the thermophilic bacterium Hydrogenophilus thermoluteolus (S.A.Bulat et al. Adv. Space Res.; 2010), although this does not prove that there is life in the lake itself.
If the Russians reach their goal, lake water samples will be analysed for genetic material at the AARI, where a state-of-the-art DNA sampling laboratory opened last November, says Lukin. The credibility of any findings will require meticulously documented decontamination procedures, says Martin Siegert, an Antarctic researcher at the University of Edinburgh, UK. "Scientists will rightly ask how contamination has been avoided, for example during the ice core's long journey up the borehole," he says. Lukin says that any traces of life found will be sent to foreign labs for independent verification. "We are prepared to do this properly."
Meanwhile, Russian scientists and engineers are laying plans to venture into the lake itself. In the Antarctic summer of 2012-13, they plan to send a swimming robot into the lake to collect water samples and sediments from the bottom. An environmental assessment of the plan will be submitted at the Antarctic Treaty's consultative meeting in May 2012. "We'd like to pursue this by all means," says Lukin. "For us, this is as new and exciting as flying to Mars."
© 2011 Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.
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Voice of Russia / Jan 18, 2011
"Give us this day our daily bread - and more" - scientists say
Ученые Алтайского государственного технического университета изобрели новейшую технологию помола, позволяющую максимально сохранять оболочку зерна, а значит - большую часть витаминов и микроэлементов.
Scientists at the Altai State Technical University have developed technology to preserve vitamins and microelements at a maximum possible level when milling wheat and other grains. The university has built a flour mill and the people in Siberia will get an opportunity to taste new bread baked using the innovation.
According to archeologists, people baked bread more then 15 thousand years ago. Every nation has its own traditions of baking bread. In Russia, people have given preference to rye or black bread and wheat bread from ancient times. In the past years, the assortment of baking products and the technology of making them have widened. It's well known that the most valuable vitamins and minerals are concentrated on the seed skin. However, very few people know how to preserve them in the process of milling. The task before scientists is to preserve vitamins and minerals as much as possible.
"The mill developed by us preserves the seed coat to a large extent, and consequently, the flour contains biologically active matter," says the Pro-Rector of the university handling innovations Andrei Maksimenko.
"One would think that there is nothing to invent in this area. However, last year, the food faculty of the university obtained a patent of the Russian Federation on new technology of milling grains. We use grain coming directly from the fields rather than dried grains.
Experiments have proved that the nourishing elements of a seed are on its skin rather than in the seed itself. Our new technology makes it possible to preserve them. Eventually, we get ordinary bread with extraordinary properties," Andrei Maksimenko says.
"Wheat grain contains vitamins A, E, F, and of the group B and minerals of copper, selenium, silicon, magnesium, cobalt, zinc, manganese, calcium, chlorine, sodium and iodine. During milling, flour loses all these nourishing elements. And it contains mainly starch, which makes people fat and leads to diabetics. The innovation by scientists in Altai makes it possible to divide a grain into its components and then mix them to a balanced proportion," says Andrei Maksimenko.
"We tested these mixtures and we signed contracts to bake bread using them. People will get new bread in the coming summer. We will sell this bread in Siberia but we plan to distribute it to other Russian regions," Andrei Maksimenko said.
The scientists at the university plan to bake various kinds of bread of different tastes using wheat from Altai. They suggest adding buckwheat flour, pumpkin and other nourishing natural ingredients. Bakers describe these mixtures as composites.
© 2005-2011 Voice of Russia.
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The Guardian / Friday 14 January 2011
Russians told to mind their language - especially when it comes to English
After "Squirrel Institute" slip-up, the government says 20% of Russian officials must speak a foreign language by 2020
После истории с Институтом белки и пары других подобных эпизодов правительство РФ пришло к выводу, что к 2020 году не менее 20% российских чиновников должны свободно владеть иностранным языком. Знание языков также станет обязательным требованием при приеме на работу новых госслужащих.
It was a moment of acute humiliation for the Russian Academy of Sciences.
When the learned body produced an English language version of its website last year, the results caused a stir. The Institut Belka (Institute of Protein Research) was translated as the Squirrel Institute (Institut Belki), while Yury Osipov, the mathematician who heads the academy, was introduced to foreign colleagues as the President of Wounds.
Now the Russian government is moving to address such linguistic shortcomings by multiplying the number of polyglot officials. A strategy document unveiled this week says that by 2020, at least 20% of workers in state service must be fluent in a foreign tongue. More importantly, from next year all newly recruited bureaucrats should already be competent in English.
It's the latest sign of a subtle trend: although Russia has a difficult relationship with the English-speaking world, when it comes to speaking English it is a different matter. English vocabulary has already made deep forays into Russian. In Moscow, for example, tineydzhery (teenagers) might go to a mall to shopitsya, depending on the dress-kod of the klub they're heading for. Many of the words in use spring from recently acquired financial and business terms that were unknown in Soviet times, such as steyk-kholdery (stakeholders), autsorsing (outsourcing), riteyl (retail) and franchayz (franchise).
The computer-friendly younger generation, meanwhile, knows all about apgrady (upgrades), fayrvoly (firewalls) and kiberskvoting (cybersquatting).
Yury Alekseyev, a professional linguist and the president of a "terminological committee" which issues recommendations for usage of foreign-origin words said he welcomed the effort to increase multilingual bureaucrats. "I'd also like to see a more qualified defence of the Russian language from the influence of English," he added. Russians collectively winced when their sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, gave a brave but heavily accented speech in English at Russia's World Cup bid in Zurich last month. Nearly a million viewers have shared his pain by watching the clip, called "Let mi spik from may khart, in Inglish", on YouTube.
Alekseyev's committee sends reports to universities, businesses and media outlets urging them to weed out the more vulgar anglicisms. "We are trying to give people the choice to use a Russian word, with Russian roots," he said. "Many Anglicisms have unpleasant or misleading associations. Take the word gadzhet [gadget]. The word gad in Russian means a reptile, or something foul, dirty. So it's much better to just use the Russian word pribor, or shtuchka."
Similarly, say conservatives, the ubiquitous word boss can be expressed perfectly adequately with its Russian equivalent, nachalnik, and resepshn (reception) with priomnaya.
A backlash against anglicisation gathered pace last year when the federal anti-monopoly service stepped up efforts to stamp out foreign words in advertising. By law, trademarks can be displayed in languages other than Russian, but any advertising material without a translation is deemed illegal - unless a transliteration can be found in a dictionary.
"If we're talking about words with English origins that are already widely used in stock market slang like broker, fyuchers and auktsion than those are fine, otherwise we would end up returning to the language of the Russian Empire," said Andrei Kashevarov, deputy head of the anti-monopoly service.
Beyond that, even using a couple of foreign words can get a business in trouble. In November the service brought cases against Yaposhka City, the owner of a Japanese sushi chain which displaying a billboard saying Happy New Menu. A sportswear store was brought to book for using the phrase "new collection" while a café was censured for using the word "Halloween".
The absorption of foreign words may be inevitable, admits Alekseyev. "We can make recommendations as much we like, but in the end the language chooses its own path," he said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011.
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The New York Times / January 26, 2011
Russia Approves Arms Treaty
26 января Совет Федерации РФ окончательно одобрил СНВ-3 - договор о сокращении стратегических наступательных вооружений, подписанный президентами России и США в апреле прошлого года в Праге.
При этом Россия приложила к договору заявление о том, что соглашение, по сути, не подразумевает согласия на американскую программу ПРО.
MOSCOW - The upper chamber of the Russian Parliament gave final approval to the New Start nuclear arms control treaty on Wednesday, a key foreign policy goal of the Obama administration.
"The arms race is a thing of the past," the chairman of the international affairs committee in the Russian senate, Mikhail Margelov, told Radio Russia on Monday. "The disarmament race is taking its place."
The treaty, the first major revamping of nuclear disarmament deals since the late cold war era, sets new limits for strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems, the doomsday weapons of a nuclear exchange. The pact requires the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals to levels slightly lower than today's - down to 1,550 warheads each, from between 1,700 and 2,200 now - within seven years of ratification, and to immediately renew mutual inspections.
Initially seen as a jumping off point for more ambitious reductions in nuclear weapons held by both countries, the treaty proved far harder to ratify in the United States than expected. It was approved late last month, after a bruising Senate fight. The Russian process - in a Parliament dominated by pro-Kremlin parties - went more smoothly, and usually hard-line figures here were making celebratory comments earlier this week.
Duma members had voted 350 to 56 for the treaty on Tuesday, far surpassing the 226 votes needed for ratification. Only the Communist and Liberal Democratic parties voted against the treaty.
But, mirroring the process that occurred earlier in the United States Senate, the Russians intend to append a nonbinding statement of interpretation that will formalize what amounts to an agreement to disagree on the American missile defense program, which Russia opposes.
The treaty's preamble notes a connection between offensive and defense strategic weapons that the United States has interpreted to mean that the treaty does not impose limits on missile-defense systems. The Russians are expected to say, in commentary to be released after ratification, that it does. "They are welcome to interpret any language of the treaty as they want, but that interpretation is not legally binding on the United States," Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a telephone interview.
© 2011. The New York Times Company.
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Independent / Saturday, 22 January 2011
Out of the spaceship - and into a sandpit
12 февраля многонациональный экипаж российской миссии "Марс-500" покинет "космический корабль" и выйдет в модуль с песком, призванный изображать поверхность Марса, для выполнения ряда экспериментов.
"Космический корабль" представляет собой цилиндрический металлический контейнер на территории научного института на севере Москвы. На протяжении последних двухсот с лишним дней шестеро членов экипажа были заперты внутри для воспроизведения условий, которые предстоят при полете на Марс.
More than 40 years after Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the surface of the moon, the multinational crew of Russia's Mars 500 experiment will finally leave their spaceship in the coming weeks, and venture out - into an adjacent sandpit.
The "spaceship" for the simulated journey to Mars is in fact a cylindrical metal pod located in a scientific institute in north Moscow. For the last 233 days the six crew members have been locked inside to simulate the conditions of a trip to Mars. After their gruelling eight-month "journey", the crew will begin their orbit of the Red Planet on 1 February, and will touch down on 12 February.
They will step out into the sandpit, meant to simulate the surface of Mars, and perform a number of experiments, before re-entering the capsule for the long journey back to Earth.
"They are still motivated, but there is a certain fatigue, which is natural," said Boris Morukov, the mission director and a former cosmonaut. Talking to reporters in Moscow yesterday, he admitted that as the landing came and went and the crew prepared for another long stint inside the module, monotony would become difficult to bear. "The fatigue and the thought that the mission is over can be fraught with negative consequences."
The crew have no access to telephones, televisions or any other conveniences, and they are only able to make contact with the control room through emails, which are subject to an increasing time delay the "further away" they get from Earth.
Six men live on board the stationary spaceship - three from Russia, one each from France and China, and one Italian-Columbian. In a recent online blog, the French participant, Romain Charles, explained how the crew celebrated Christmas: "For a good Christmas ambience we needed a fireplace. This kind of device is quite difficult to find in a spaceship," wrote the almost-astronaut.
"However, Diego had the solution to our problem. He found a picture of a fireplace and printed a big poster of it." The crew also made a Christmas tree out of cardboard.
Nearly 6,000 people applied to take part in the project, and 20 per cent of them were women. The applicants were whittled down to a shortlist of 15, before the final six - all of whom were men - were chosen.
"There was no policy not to take women, and there were female candidates," said Mr Morukov yesterday. "But there is a certain psychological barrier for women - it's difficult for them to leave the environment that they are used to," he claimed.
Initially, the organisers had said that a single-sex crew had been chosen to reduce sexual tension. An earlier, mixed-sex experiment at the same institute a decade ago descended into chaos when a female Canadian crew member claimed she had been sexually assaulted by the Russian male captain, while two other crew members had a fist fight.
A real journey to Mars is still some time away. Russian scientists say it won't happen for 15 to 20 years, while Nasa scientists have said that such a mission would not be possible for several decades. In an October edition of the US-based Journal of Cosmology, scientists suggested sending a crew on a one-way mission to Mars, meaning that the first astronauts to travel there would be settlers as well as explorers.
The return leg is by far the most difficult technological aspect of any potential trip, as it would double the need for food and supplies, and require the ability to launch from Mars.
The editors of the journal said that although they had not solicited any applications, they were inundated with letters and emails from more than 500 people who wanted to be among the first Mars pioneers.
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Maxisciences / le 29 janvier 2011
L'anneau de feu du Pacifique exploré par des chercheurs russes
15 февраля группа исследователей Русского географического общества отправится в трехгодичную экспедицию с целью изучения 370 действующих вулканов в так называемом "огненном кольце" Тихого океана - основной зоне распространения вулканов на планете. Экспедиция пройдет около 70 тысяч километров по территории 19 стран мира.
Le 15 février, une équipe de chercheurs de la Société géographique russe (SGR) se lancera dans une expédition lors de laquelle ils étudieront les 370 volcans en activité de l'anneau de feu du Pacifique.
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Au cours de cette expédition, censée durer 900 jours, les chercheurs parcourront plus de 70.000 kilomètres le long de cette ceinture de volcans, précise la SGR dans un communiqué rapporté par l'agence RIA Novosti. Russie, Etats-Unis, Canada, Mexique, Guatemala, Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa-Rica, Panama, Colombie, Equateur, Pérou, Chili, Argentine, Nouvelle Zélande, Australie, Indonésie, Philippines et Japon : ils traverseront 19 pays, atteignant lors de la troisième étape de leur voyage, le pôle Sud géographique.
Comme le souligne la SGR, cette expédition vise deux objectifs : le premier est simplement sportif puisqu'il s'agit pour l'équipe de réaliser le premier voyage ininterrompu de l'histoire autour de l'anneau de feu. Le second objectif est bien sûr scientifique, et consiste "à étudier les plus hauts volcans de la planète et leur activité éruptive, et à effectuer des observations météorologiques en vue de déterminer leur évolution au cours des 100 dernières années d'observations pratiquées par les grands vulcanologues du XIXe et du XXe siècles", explique le communiqué.
The New York Times / January 25, 2011
Nonfiction: Nabokov Theory on Butterfly Evolution Is Vindicated
Биологи при помощи анализа ДНК подтвердили правильность гипотезы о происхождении бабочек, предложенной писателем Владимиром Набоковым (который также был одним из самых известных энтомологов своего времени).
Набоков разработал новую классификацию представителей рода Polyommatus, отличающуюся от общепринятой. Кроме того, писатель пришел к выводу, что вид Polyommatus blues (бабочка-голубянка) попал на американский континент из Азии, пройдя пять волн миграции.
Статья опубликована в журнале Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.
Vladimir Nabokov may be known to most people as the author of classic novels like "Lolita" and "Pale Fire." But even as he was writing those books, Nabokov had a parallel existence as a self-taught expert on butterflies.
He was the curator of lepidoptera at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, and collected the insects across the United States. He published detailed descriptions of hundreds of species. And in a speculative moment in 1945, he came up with a sweeping hypothesis for the evolution of the butterflies he studied, a group known as the Polyommatus blues. He envisioned them coming to the New World from Asia over millions of years in a series of waves.
Few professional lepidopterists took these ideas seriously during Nabokov's lifetime. But in the years since his death in 1977, his scientific reputation has grown. And over the past 10 years, a team of scientists has been applying gene-sequencing technology to his hypothesis about how Polyommatus blues evolved. On Tuesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, they reported that Nabokov was absolutely right.
"It's really quite a marvel," said Naomi Pierce of Harvard, a co-author of the paper.
Nabokov inherited his passion for butterflies from his parents. When his father was imprisoned by the Russian authorities for his political activities, the 8-year-old Vladimir brought a butterfly to his cell as a gift. As a teenager, Nabokov went on butterfly-hunting expeditions and carefully described the specimens he caught, imitating the scientific journals he read in his spare time. Had it not been for the Russian Revolution, which forced his family into exile in 1919, Nabokov said that he might have become a full-time lepidopterist.
In his European exile, Nabokov visited butterfly collections in museums. He used the proceeds of his second novel, "King, Queen, Knave," to finance an expedition to the Pyrenees, where he and his wife, Vera, netted over a hundred species. The rise of the Nazis drove Nabokov into exile once more in 1940, this time to the United States. It was there that Nabokov found his greatest fame as a novelist. It was also there that he delved deepest into the science of butterflies.
Nabokov spent much of the 1940s dissecting a confusing group of species called Polyommatus blues. He developed forward-thinking ways to classify the butterflies based on differences in their genitalia. He argued that what were thought to be closely related species were actually only distantly related.
At the end of a 1945 paper on the group, he mused on how they had evolved. He speculated that they originated in Asia, moved over the Bering Strait, and moved south all the way to Chile.
Allowing himself a few literary flourishes, Nabokov invited his readers to imagine "a modern taxonomist straddling a Wellsian time machine." Going back millions of years, he would end up at a time when only Asian forms of the butterflies existed. Then, moving forward again, the taxonomist would see five waves of butterflies arriving in the New World.
Nabokov conceded that the thought of butterflies making a trip from Siberia to Alaska and then all the way down into South America might sound far-fetched. But it made more sense to him than an unknown land bridge spanning the Pacific. "I find it easier to give a friendly little push to some of the forms and hang my distributional horseshoes on the nail of Nome rather than postulate transoceanic land-bridges in other parts of the world," he wrote.
When "Lolita" made Nabokov a star in 1958, journalists were delighted to discover his hidden life as a butterfly expert. A famous photograph of Nabokov that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post when he was 66 is from a butterfly's perspective. The looming Russian author swings a net with rapt concentration. But despite the fact that he was the best-known butterfly expert of his day and a Harvard museum curator, other lepidopterists considered Nabokov a dutiful but undistinguished researcher. He could describe details well, they granted, but did not produce scientifically important ideas.
Only in the 1990s did a team of scientists systematically review his work and recognize the strength of his classifications. Dr. Pierce, who became a Harvard biology professor and curator of lepidoptera in 1990, began looking closely at Nabokov's work while preparing an exhibit to celebrate his 100th birthday in 1999. She was captivated by his idea of butterflies coming from Asia. "It was an amazing, bold hypothesis," she said. "And I thought, 'Oh, my God, we could test this.' "
To do so, she would need to reconstruct the evolutionary tree of blues, and estimate when the branches split. It would have been impossible for Nabokov to do such a study on the anatomy of butterflies alone. Dr. Pierce would need their DNA, which could provide more detail about their evolutionary history.
Working with American and European lepidopterists, Dr. Pierce organized four separate expeditions into the Andes in search of blues. Back at her lab at Harvard, she and her colleagues sequenced the genes of the butterflies and used a computer to calculate the most likely relationships between them. They also compared the number of mutations each species had acquired to determine how long ago they had diverged from one another.
There were several plausible hypotheses for how the butterflies might have evolved. They might have evolved in the Amazon, with the rising Andes fragmenting their populations. If that were true, the species would be closely related to one another.
But that is not what Dr. Pierce found. Instead, she and her colleagues found that the New World species shared a common ancestor that lived about 10 million years ago. But many New World species were more closely related to Old World butterflies than to their neighbors. Dr. Pierce and her colleagues concluded that five waves of butterflies came from Asia to the New World - just as Nabokov had speculated.
"By God, he got every one right," Dr. Pierce said. "I couldn't get over it - I was blown away."
Dr. Pierce and her colleagues also investigated Nabokov's idea that the butterflies had come over the Bering Strait. The land surrounding the strait was relatively warm 10 million years ago, and has been chilling steadily ever since. Dr. Pierce and her colleagues found that the first lineage of Polyommatus blues that made the journey could survive a temperature range that matched the Bering climate of 10 million years ago.
The lineages that came later are more cold-hardy, each with a temperature range matching the falling temperatures.
Nabokov's taxonomic horseshoes turn out to belong in Nome after all.
"What a great paper," said James Mallet, an expert on butterfly evolution at University College London. "It's a fitting tribute to the great man to see that the most modern methods that technology can deliver now largely support his systematic arrangement."
Dr. Pierce says she believes Nabokov would have been greatly pleased to be so vindicated, and points to one of his most famous poems, "On Discovering a Butterfly." The 1943 poem begins:
I found it and I named it, being versed
in taxonomic Latin; thus became
godfather to an insect and its first
describer - and I want no other fame.
"He felt that his scientific work was standing for all time, and that he was just a player in a much bigger enterprise," said Dr. Pierce. "He was not known as a scientist, but this certainly indicates to me that he knew what it's all about."
©2011. The New York Times Company.
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