/ 14 February 2008

Scientists gather for debate on 21st-century challenges

Burning public health issues, cloned animals and the dangers of climate change will top the agenda at a conference drawing about 10 000 eminent scientists from around the world.

The annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) opens on Thursday in Boston and will gather participants from 56 countries to discuss the latest scientific breakthroughs and challenges.

”The global perspective of our meeting focuses attention on the power of science and technology as well as education to assist less developed segments of world society,” said David Baltimore, a Nobel prize-winning scientist, and president of the AAAS.

He added the conference, which lasts until Monday, would also improve ”cooperation among developed countries, spurring knowledge-driven transformation across scientific disciplines”.

Billed as the largest interdisciplinary scientific gathering of the year, one of the main events organised by the AAAS will be a round-table discussion on the state of public health.

It will focus particularly on Aids and tuberculosis, the deadliest diseases on the planet, with developing countries at particular risk.

Other sessions will turn the spotlight on malaria in Africa, as well as the latest research into Hepatitis C and cancer. Several papers will also be presented on growing concerns over childhood obesity.

Among the 150 symposiums and presentations will be featured debates on food products from cloned animals, the dangers of climate change, the state of the world’s oceans, space, including Mars exploration, and how to manage natural resources.

Conference organisers say they will be unveiling the first world atlas showing the impact of humans on the seas, which are becoming increasingly polluted.

Studies on the disappearance of the world’s shark species and the threats posed to the global reef systems are likely to trigger alarm.

”World security and stability” will be the theme of several studies on the modern challenges facing the planet, including transporting nuclear materials, and modern warfare.

Other studies to be unveiled at the five-day conference include research into the links between air pollution and the hardening of arteries.

Looking beyond Earth and its 21st problems, astronauts are expanding the frontiers of research and there will be discussions on current space studies and plans to explore Mars in the future. — AFP