Giant iceberg breaks off Antarctica

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of the rift in the Larsen C seen in an image from the Digital Mapping System over the Antarctica Peninsula, Antarctica, on November 10, 2016. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY

By Nina Chestney

LONDON (Reuters) – One of the biggest icebergs on record has broken away from Antarctica, scientists said on Wednesday, creating an extra hazard for ships around the continent as it breaks up.

The one trillion tonne iceberg, measuring 5,800 square km, calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica sometime between July 10 and 12, said scientists at the University of Swansea and the British Antarctic Survey.

The iceberg has been close to breaking off for a few months. Throughout the Antarctic winter, scientists monitored the progress of the rift in the ice shelf using the European Space Agency satellites.

“The iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict,” said Adrian Luckman, professor at Swansea University and lead investigator of Project MIDAS, which has been monitoring the ice shelf for years.

“It may remain in one piece but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters,” he added.

The ice will add to risks for ships now it has broken off. The peninsula is outside major trade routes but the main destination for cruise ships visiting from South America.

In 2009, more than 150 passengers and crew were evacuated after the MTV Explorer sank after striking an iceberg off the Antarctic peninsula.

The iceberg, which is likely to be named A68, was already floating before it broke away so there is no immediate impact on sea levels, but the calving has left the Larsen C ice shelf reduced in area by more than 12 percent.

The Larsen A and B ice shelves, which were situated further north on the Antarctic Peninsula, collapsed in 1995 and 2002, respectively.

“This resulted in the dramatic acceleration of the glaciers behind them, with larger volumes of ice entering the ocean and contributing to sea-level rise,” said David Vaughan, glaciologist and director of science at British Antarctic Survey.

“If Larsen C now starts to retreat significantly and eventually collapses, then we will see another contribution to sea level rise,” he added.

Big icebergs break off Antarctica naturally, meaning scientists are not linking the rift to manmade climate change. The ice, however, is a part of the Antarctic peninsula that has warmed fast in recent decades.

“In the ensuing months and years, the ice shelf could either gradually regrow, or may suffer further calving events which may eventually lead to collapse – opinions in the scientific community are divided,” Luckman said.

“Our models say it will be less stable, but any future collapse remains years or decades away.”

(Editing by Toby Chopra)

U.S. muni market slowly starts paying heed to cyber risks

FILE PHOTO: An advertisement about the Microsoft Cybercrime Center plays behind a window reflecting a nearby building at the Microsoft office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S. May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Hilary Russ

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A rise in cyber attacks on U.S. public sector targets so far has had little impact in the $3.8 trillion municipal debt market, with no issuer as yet hit by a downgrade or higher borrowing costs because of a cyber security threat.

That is beginning to change.

S&P Global has begun to quiz states, cities and towns about their cyber defenses, and some credit analysts are starting to factor cyber security when they look at bonds. Moody’s Investors Service is also trying to figure out how to best evaluate cyber risk.

The shift follows a particularly steep rise in ransomware attacks, when criminals hold an entity’s computer system hostage until a small ransom is paid.

The number of global ransomware detections rose 36 percent in 2016 from the year before, to 463,841, with the United States most heavily affected, according to cyber security firm Symantec Corp.

Such attacks, which have also hit companies and federal entities, have spared no kind of municipal issuer large or small, from police departments to school districts and transit agencies. Ransomware attacks on state and local governments and their agencies have risen in proportion with the overall increase, according to cyber insurance provider Beazley Group.

“State and local governments are a huge target, quite frankly an easy target for bad guys,” said Bob Anderson, managing director for information security at Navigant management consulting firm in Washington and a former global cyber investigator at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Last month’s “WannaCry” ransomware attack, which hobbled global businesses and Britain’s National Health Service, may also be prompting renewed focus on cyber security, though it had minimal impact in the United States.

Considering a potential cyber attack as a similar risk to a natural disaster, S&P has already been reviewing cyber security defenses of utilities, hospitals and colleges because they were early public sector targets for hackers.

Now it is also beginning to ask cities and states about the costs and level of security measures and the financial impact of successful attacks, said Geoffrey Buswick, who manages S&P’s public sector ratings.

HEAD IN THE SAND

The answers feed into broader categories that affect an issuer’s ratings, particularly governance, liquidity and operations.

Many breaches are handled quickly and financial damage is limited, but not every attack will necessarily end that way, Buswick said. “We’re trying to get sense of who has their head in the sand and who doesn’t.”

Fitch Ratings said it does not consider cyber security in its ratings, and many investors still are not concerned enough to ask for details.

In part, that is because it can be difficult to assess the operational and financial fallout of such attacks. Some high profile breaches so far have also done limited damage to issuers’ finances.

Case in point is the state of South Carolina, which in August 2012 suffered possibly the worst cyber attack yet of any city or state.

When hackers stole the personal data of more than 3.5 million taxpayers, the state had to investigate, provide credit monitoring and consumer fraud protection, and implement a slew of post-breach upgrades, according to State Senator Thomas Alexander.

The total cost is around $76 million and counting, he said. That is enough to pay for several school programs combined. But against South Carolina’s annual general fund budget of roughly $8 billion, the costs made no dent in its standing as a borrower.

Many issuers do not disclose any information to potential investors in bond documents about cyber risks or defenses. But a few, particularly hospitals and utilities, have started doing so.

In a February prospectus, the Maryland Health and Higher Educational Facilities Authority, the state’s largest public debt issuer, included nearly a full page devoted to the growing risk of cyber attacks.

“Because we’re such a large issuer, and because healthcare is often treated much more like a corporate credit, the legal counsels to the transaction weigh in on the bondholder risk section,” said Annette Anselmi, the authority’s Executive Director, noting that such disclosures also evolve depending on what kinds of questions the market is asking.

Hospitals are also ahead on cyber security disclosure because they rely on huge amounts of data, said Court Street Group analyst Joseph Krist.

Eventually, he expects others to follow suit.

“We went through this with getting munis to … disclose more pension information. Those were frankly long and painful processes. It just has to get to a critical mass.”

(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Additional reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto; Editing by Daniel Bases and Tomasz Janowski)

Scientists develop fluid-filled artificial womb to help premature babies

An artists impression shows a lamb inside a fluid-filled womb-like bag known as an extra-uterine support device developed by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.MANDATORY CREDIT Children's Hospital of Philadelphia handout via REUTERS

By Kate Kelland

LONDON, (Reuters) – Scientists in the United States have developed a fluid-filled womb-like bag known as an extra-uterine support device that could transform care for extremely premature babies, significantly improving chances of survival.

In pre-clinical studies with lambs, the researchers were able to mimic the womb environment and the functions of the placenta, giving premature offspring a crucial opportunity to develop their lungs and other organs.

Around 30,000 babies in the United States alone are born critically early – at between 23 and 26 weeks of gestation, the researchers told reporters in a telephone briefing.

At that age, a human baby weighs little more than 500 grams, its lungs are not able to cope with air and its chances of survival are low. Death rates are up to 70 percent and those who do survive face life-long disability.

“These infants have an urgent need for a bridge between the mother’s womb and the outside world,” said Alan Flake, a specialist surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who led the development of the new device.

His team’s aim, he said, was to develop an extra-uterine system where extremely premature babies can be suspended in fluid-filled chambers for a vital few weeks to bring them over the 28-week threshold, when their life chances are dramatically improved.

It could take up to another 10 years, but by then he hopes to have a licensed device in which babies born very prematurely are given the chance to develop in fluid-filled chambers, rather than lying in incubators being artificially ventilated.

“This system is potentially far superior to what hospitals can currently do for a 23-week-old baby born at the cusp of viability,” Flake said. “This could establish a new standard of care for this subset of extremely premature infants.”

The team spent three years evolving their system through a series of four prototypes – beginning with a glass incubator tank and progressing to the current fluid-filled bag.

Six preterm lambs tested in the most recent prototype were physiologically equivalent to a 23- or 24-week-gestation human baby and were able to grow in a temperature-controlled, near-sterile environment, Flake said.

The scientists made amniotic fluid in their lab and set up the system so that this flowed into and out of the bag.

Lung development in fetal lambs is very similar in humans, said fetal physiologist Marcus Davey, who worked on team.

“Fetal lungs are designed to function in fluid. We simulate that environment … allowing the lungs and other organs to develop while supplying nutrients and growth factors,” he said.

Flake said the success of the system, details of which were published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, was due to its mimicking life in the uterus as closely as possible.

It has no external pump to drive circulation, because even gentle artificial pressure can fatally overload an underdeveloped heart, and there is no ventilator, because the immature lungs are not yet ready to breathe air.

Instead, the baby’s heart pumps blood via the umbilical cord into a low-resistance oxygenator that acts as a substitute for the placenta in exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Flake’s team plans to refine the system further and then downsize it for human infants, who are around a third of the size of the lambs used in the study.

(Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Waymo testing self-driving car ride service in Arizona

Waymo unveils a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 8, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Waymo autonomous vehicle group will begin testing a self-driving car program for hundreds of families in Phoenix, Arizona and is buying 500 Chrysler minivans to do so, the companies said on Tuesday.

Waymo, which along with Google is owned by Alphabet Inc<GOOGL.O>, recently has been quietly testing the service for a handful of families, learning what potential customers would want from a ride service, the company said in a blog post.

It urged people to apply to take part in an expanded test, which is the first public trial of Waymo’s self-driving cars. The vehicles include human operators from Waymo behind the wheel, in case intervention is required and to take feedback.

Silicon Valley is racing to master self-driving technology, betting that it will transform the auto industry and be a gold mine for leading companies. Waymo has one of the best technology track records, and it has an alliance with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles <FCHA.MI>.

Many companies expect that customers will use autonomous vehicles as a service, rather than owning them outright. Ride service Uber in particular expects to use autonomous cars.

The new Waymo test in Arizona is meant to help the company understand what people want out of self-driving cars and see how they use and integrate the service. Testers will get access every day at any time.

Waymo already has with 100 Chrysler Pacifica minivans and is acquiring five times more, partly to be able to support the service.

(Reporting by Peter Henderson; Editing by Mary Milliken)

UK and Swedish watchdogs warn of international cyber attack

A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin May 21, 2013. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – A large-scale cyber attack from a group targeting organizations in Japan, the United States, Sweden and many other European countries through IT services providers has been uncovered, the Swedish computer security watchdog said on Wednesday.

The cyber attack, uncovered through a collaboration by Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, PwC and cyber security firm BAE Systems, targeted managed service providers to gain access to their customers’ internal networks since at least May 2016 and potentially as early as 2014.

The exact scale of the attack, named Cloud Hopper from an organization called APT10, is not known but is believed to involve huge amounts of data, Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency said in a statement. The agency did not say whether the cyber attacks were still happening.

“The high level of digitalization in Sweden, along with the amount of services outsourced to managed service providers, means that there is great risk that several Swedish organizations are affected by the attacks,” the watchdog said.

The agency said those behind the attacks had used significant resources to identify their targets and sent sophisticated phishing e-mails to infect computers.

It also said Swedish IP addresses had been used to coordinate the incursions and retrieve stolen data and that APT10 specifically targeted IT, communications, healthcare, energy and research sectors.

(Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Niklas Pollard and Stephen Powell)

U.S. Zika vaccine begins second phase of testing

FILE PHOTO: A pair of Aedes albopictus mosquitoes are seen during a mating ritual while the female feeds on a blood meal in a 2003 image from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). REUTERS/Centers for Disease Control/James Gathany/Handout via Reuters

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Researchers have begun the second phase of testing of a Zika vaccine developed by U.S. government scientists in a trial that could yield preliminary results as early as the end of 2017.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said on Friday the $100 million trial has already been funded and will proceed, irrespective of the $7 billion in cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget proposed by the Trump Administration over the next 18 months.

In a conference call with reporters, Fauci would not comment on the proposed cuts because it is not clear yet what the actual budget will be. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers oppose cuts to the NIH, which funds 21 institutes, including NIAID.

NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins is scheduled to speak with President Donald Trump later on Friday. “I will certainly be talking to Francis Collins when he returns from the White House,” Fauci said.

Zika typically causes mild symptoms, but when the virus infects a pregnant women, she can pass it to her fetus, causing a variety of birth defects including microcephaly, in which the baby’s head is abnormally small.

Fauci said the current Zika vaccine candidate had cleared preliminary safety hurdles, and would now enter testing for efficacy, which would occur in two phases.

The first phase will continue testing for safety and evaluate the vaccine’s ability to stimulate the immune system to develop antibodies to fight Zika. It will also test different doses to see which works best.

The second phase, set to begin in June, will attempt to determine if the vaccine can actually prevent Zika infection.

Several companies are developing Zika vaccines, including Sanofi SA, GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

In the NIAID study, researchers aim to enroll at least 2,490 healthy volunteers in areas with confirmed or potential active transmission of Zika by mosquitoes. These include parts of the continental United States, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico. They will receive either the vaccine, or a placebo, and be followed for two years.

If enough people are exposed to the virus, Fauci said they could get an effectiveness signal as early as the end of this year. The trial is expected to be completed by 2019.

Fauci said the government is already in discussions with pharmaceutical companies that would share the costs of the final stage of testing and handle manufacturing.

Zika is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes, but it can also be transmitted sexually. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5,182 people in the continental United States have been infected by Zika either locally or through travel to places where the virus is spreading. Another 38,303 cases have been reported in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; editing by Diane Craft)

U.S. experts soften on DNA editing of human eggs, sperm, embryos

DNA Double Helix

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Powerful gene editing tools may one day be used on human embryos, eggs and sperm to remove genes that cause inherited diseases, according to a report by U.S. scientists and ethicists released on Tuesday.

The report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Academy of Medicine said scientific advances make gene editing in human reproductive cells “a realistic possibility that deserves serious consideration.”

The statement signals a softening in approach over the use of the technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 that has opened up new frontiers in genetic medicine because of its ability to modify genes quickly and efficiently.

In December 2015, scientists and ethicists at an international meeting held at the NAS in Washington said it would be “irresponsible” to use gene editing technology in human embryos for therapeutic purposes, such as to correct genetic diseases, until safety and efficacy issues are resolved.

Though the technology is still not ready, the latest NAS report says clinical trials for genome editing of the human germline could be permitted, “but only for serious conditions under stringent oversight.”

Such editing is not legal in the United States, and other countries have signed a convention prohibiting the practice on concerns it could be used to create so-called designer babies.

CRISPR-Cas9 works as a type of molecular scissors that can selectively trim away unwanted parts of the genome, and replace it with new stretches of DNA.

Genome editing is already being planned for use in clinical trials of people to correct diseases caused by a single gene mutation, such as sickle cell disease. But these therapies affect only the patient.

The concern is over use of the technology in human reproductive cells or early embryos because the changes would be passed along to offspring.

Research using the powerful technique is plowing ahead even as researchers from the University of California and the Broad Institute battle for control over the CRISPR patent.

Although gene editing of human reproductive cells to correct inherited diseases “must be approached with caution, caution does not mean prohibition,” the committee said in a statement.

Sarah Norcross of the Progress Educational Trust, which advocates for people affected by genetic conditions, called the recommendations “sensible and prudent.”

But Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society said they were “unsettling and disappointing,” arguing that they “constitute a green light for proceeding with efforts to modify the human germline” – changes that can be passed to future generations.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Andrew Hay)

Meteor lights up the night sky over Illinois and Wisconsin

National Weather Service tweet about meteor

(Reuters) – (This February 6th story has been refiled to correct location of Lisle to west of Chicago in paragraph three.)

A meteor plummeted in a fireball over Lake Michigan early on Monday, lighting up the night sky in bright blue just before scattering over the lake in many pieces, according to a police video and an expert’s description.

Lisle, Illinois, police officer Jim Dexter recorded the meteor’s descent on the dash camera of his patrol car at 1:25 a.m.

Aside from Lisle, which is less than 30 miles (48 km) west of Chicago, and other parts of Illinois; witnesses reported seeing the meteor from Wisconsin, Michigan and as far away as New York state and the Canadian province of Ontario, according to a description on the website of the American Meteor Society.

The meteor’s fiery descent is likely to rank as one of the most spectacular events of its kind anywhere in the world this year, Mike Hankey, operations manager for the society, said by telephone.

The meteor broke apart into pieces of rock and metallic dust that descended in a cloud onto Lake Michigan, Hankey said. No one is reported to have been injured by debris, he said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Trump expected to sign cyber security executive order Tuesday: source

President Donald Trump signing executive orders

By Dustin Volz and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order on cyber security on Tuesday, two sources familiar with the situation said, marking the first action to address what he has called a top priority of his administration.

The order is expected to commission several different reviews of the government’s offensive and defensive cyber capabilities, according to one of the sources and a third briefed on a draft of the order that circulated last week.

The move follows a presidential campaign that was dominated by running storylines related to cyber security, including the hacking and subsequent leaking of Democratic emails as part of what U.S. intelligence agencies determined was a wide-ranging influence operation intended to help Trump win the White House and denigrate his challenger, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

For months Trump refused to accept the conclusions of the agencies that Russia was responsible, before stating at a press conference on January 11 that, “as far as hacking I think it was Russia.”

In his answer, Trump, then the president-elect, pivoted to say that “we also get hacked by other countries, and other people” while vowing to launch a government-wide review of vulnerabilities to cyber attacks.

The order is expected to also initiate a audit of several federal agencies’ cyber capabilities, seek input on how to improve protections for critical infrastructure, and review government efforts to attract and train a technically sophisticated workforce, according to two of the sources briefed on the draft, which was first published by the Washington Post.

The draft order would also seek ways to give the private sector incentives to adopt strong security measures.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Dustin Volz; Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool)

Airbus CEO sees ‘flying car’ prototype ready by end of year

Chief executive discusses flying cars

MUNICH (Reuters) – Airbus Group plans to test a prototype for a self-piloted flying car as a way of avoiding gridlock on city roads by the end of the year, the aerospace group’s chief executive said on Monday.

Airbus last year formed a division called Urban Air Mobility that is exploring concepts such as a vehicle to transport individuals or a helicopter-style vehicle that can carry multiple riders. The aim would be for people to book the vehicle using an app, similar to car-sharing schemes.

“One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground, now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground,” Airbus CEO Tom Enders told the DLD digital tech conference in Munich, adding he hoped the Airbus could fly a demonstration vehicle for single-person transport by the end of the year.

“We are in an experimentation phase, we take this development very seriously,” he said, adding that Airbus recognized such technologies would have to be clean to avoid further polluting congested cities.

He said using the skies could also reduce costs for city infrastructure planners. “With flying, you don’t need to pour billions into concrete bridges and roads,” he said.

Enders said Airbus, as the world’s largest maker of commercial helicopters, wanted to invest to make the most of new technologies such as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence, to usher in what amounts to an era of flying cars.

“If we ignore these developments, we will be pushed out of important segments of the business,” he said.

A spokesman for Airbus declined to say how much the company was investing in urban mobility.

(Reporting by Eric Auchard; Writing by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)