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Caltech Astronomers Discover Massive Object in Solar System


Two California Institute of Technology astronomers, using an aging telescope to scan the fringes of the solar system, have found a massive object half the size of Pluto -- a distant, icy sphere they have dubbed Quaoar.

The scientists say the dark, reddish object is the largest body discovered in the solar system since Pluto was spotted in 1930. Although precise measurements are impossible to make from Earth, Quaoar (pronounced KWA-wahr) is estimated to be about 780 miles across, the size of Pluto’s moon, Charon. It dances near the edge of the solar system 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, 4 billion miles from Earth.

Quaoar joins a handful of other strange, large objects recently found in Pluto’s neighborhood, the Kuiper Belt, a swath of icy cosmic residue that extends from Neptune to the solar system’s outer limits.

Key Breast Cancer Gene Identified


Discovery of a gene that could be important in many breast cancer cases was announced Monday by a research team at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y., and the University of Washington.

Called DBC2, for “deleted in breast cancer,” the gene is considered a candidate for causing, or helping cause, the so-called “sporadic” cases of breast cancer. These are the non-inherited form that account for about 90 percent of breast cancer cases.

According to a report to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the newly identified gene seems to be a “tumor suppressor” gene that applies biological brakes to keep cells from growing out of control.

If it’s damaged, the brakes are released, and cancer gets going. The lead author on the study was Masaaki Hamaguchi, at Cold Spring Harbor Lab.

Wigler, in an interview, explained that “most of my work is directed toward finding out who the culprits are. And we think this (DBC2) is one of them. It seems to be mutated in a significant number of cases” of breast cancer, “and there aren’t a whole lot of genes we know like that.”

As Wigler’s team uses RDA, short for Representational Difference Analysis, geneticist Mary-Claire King, a co-author on the paper, explained, “he’s evaluating [the genes] site by site all along the chromosomes, looking for places in the tumor material where both copies” of a gene are damaged. When they find a “hot spot,” where there’s either too much or too little DNA, it’s worth a second look.

Wigler’s goal, then “is to find extremely good clues, and then we’ll confirm them if they are real,” King said.