Top stories: A fragile existence, a new suspect for multiple sclerosis, and a humongous fungus | Science

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Top stories: A fragile existence, a new suspect for multiple sclerosis, and a humongous fungus | Science

(left to right): JUAN CRISTÓBAL COBO; MEHAU KULYK/SCIENCE SOURCE; ZOONAR GMBH/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Why is a remote Colombian town a hot spot of an inherited intellectual disability?

The small town of Ricaurte, Colombia, is home to the world’s largest known cluster of people with fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition that causes intellectual disability, physical abnormalities, and often autism in one in as many as 2000 men and 4000 women worldwide. Ricaurte has now become a focal point for fragile X studies, which could help develop drugs for autism and explain why individuals who carry “premutations” of the gene usually escape cognitive problems, but sometimes develop physical symptoms.

An elusive molecule that sparks multiple sclerosis may have been found

In multiple sclerosis, immune cells, which normally go after foreign intruders in the body, instead attack the protective coating on the nerves. Now, researchers may have pinpointed a long-sought molecule called a self-antigen that provokes these attacks, pointing a way toward potential new treatments.

‘Humongous fungus’ is almost as big as the Mall of America

In the late 1980s, researchers discovered the biggest organism on record, a “humongous fungus” called Armillaria gallica on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that covered 37 hectares, about the same size as the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. Now, the same team of scientists has found that this underground network of Armillaria, which gives rise to honey mushrooms, is about four times as big—and twice as old—as they originally thought.

Was cancer scientist fired for challenging lab chief over authorship?

Veteran cancer scientist Xiaoqi Xie was terminated last month from a research job in the lab of Eileen White, deputy director and chief scientific officer at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick. Xie says her firing was in retaliation for challenging a powerful principal investigator on the authorship of a paper apparently accepted for publication in Nature. She is now deciding whether to appeal her dismissal in arbitration through her union or to sue Rutgers.

Italy’s Mount Etna could be collapsing into the sea

For decades, scientists have known that the southeastern slopes of Mount Etna, an active volcano on the eastern shore of Sicily in Italy, are shifting toward the sea about 2 or 3 centimeters each year. In an 8-day period in May 2017, however, Mount Etna’s southeastern flank was recorded moving 4 centimeters to the east, suggesting the slope of the volcano is collapsing under its own weight. The researchers aren’t sure when the slow movement will translate into a full-fledge landslide, but the new measurements have them worried.

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