Science - 06.12.2019

(singke) #1
SCIENCE 6 DECEMBER 2019 • VOL 366 ISSUE 6470 1177


ently shared that sense of urgency. “Govern-
ments are really putting words into action,”
says Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s director of
Earth observation in Frascati, Italy. But
their motivations may not be entirely self-
less, because the contracts for Copernicus
are spread among member states in line
with their contributions. “It’s a unique op-
portunity to position your national industry
for decades to come,” Aschbacher says.
NASA pioneered efforts to track CO 2
from space with its Orbiting Carbon
Observatory-2 (OCO-2), launched in 2014.
But OCO-2 samples a narrow swath, return-
ing to each point on Earth at intervals of
weeks, and was only designed to last 2 years.
China’s current CO 2 -tracking satellite TanSat,
which closely follows OCO-2’s design, has
struggled with its calibration. And OCO-3,
launched this year and attached to the space
station, is another short-lived research mis-
sion; the United States has no plans to follow
up with an operational carbon-monitoring
system. “It’s a little frustrating watching
from the U.S.,” O’Dell says. “We’ve lost the
leadership role in this.”
ESA’s CO 2 mission would operate for
20 years, with as many as three identi-
cal satellites scanning the entire globe
with swaths 300 kilometers wide. The
mission would scan each point on Earth
every few days, capturing the changing
plumes of individual power plants. “We’re
moving from 1D to 2D,” says Michael
Buchwitz, an adviser to the project at the
University of Bremen in Germany. In a step
up from the original CarbonSat proposal, the
CO 2 Sentinels will also help identify emitters
by detecting nitrogen oxides from fossil fuel
combustion, and will have sensors for clouds
and aerosols to improve accuracy.
The European Union’s next 7-year bud-
get, now being negotiated, could determine
whether the mission reaches its full poten-
tial. ESA is only responsible for the first Sen-
tinel of each type, with the EU paying for the
backups. And as the user of the data, the EU
will also finance a network of ground sen-
sors to calibrate the satellite carbon mea-
surements as well as data-processing and
modeling efforts. “The satellites are a core
component,” Buchwitz says. But there is
also “much, much more.”
If Europe sustains its carbon-monitoring
efforts, they will be a boon to scientists as
well as policymakers, O’Dell says. The high-
resolution Sentinel readings will help sci-
entists tune their models of how CO 2 flows
around the atmosphere. And the missions
could also attract more scientists to what
remains a small field, he adds. “It will bring
more brain power.” j

With additional reporting by Paul Voosen.

Beset by neural tube defects,

Ethiopia may fortify salt

Government wants evidence of effectiveness before

adding folic acid to ubiquitous dietary staple



ony Magana, chief of neurosurgery at
Mekelle University School of Medi-
cine in Ethiopia’s Tigray province, is
constantly reminded of his country’s
high prevalence of neural tube defects
(NTDs). His team operates on more than
400 babies annually to repair these severe, of-
ten lethal birth malformations, in which ba-
bies can be born without brains or with their
spinal cords protruding from their backs.
“Probably every other day we see a child that
is so bad we can’t help them,” Magana says.
Last month, a team of nutrition experts
converged in Addis Ababa to lay ground-
work for an unproven but possibly highly
effective intervention: fortifying Ethiopia’s
salt supply with folic acid, a synthetic form
of the B vitamin folate. In the first 4 weeks
of pregnancy, folate is essential to proper
closure of the neural tube, which gives rise
to the brain and spinal cord, and since the
mid-1990s, more than 80 countries have
mandated flour fortification with folic acid.
Ethiopia, where fewer than one-third of
people eat flour, is not among them.
Last year, studies that surveyed births at
11 hospitals there shook the global health
community. The studies—one co-authored
by Magana—found that among every
10,000 births, between 126 and 131 babies
had NTDs. That’s seven times their global
prevalence and 26 times that of some high-

income, flour-fortifying countries. Accord-
ing to Ethiopian government data, 84% of
Ethiopian women of reproductive age have
folate levels in their red blood cells low
enough to put them at risk of having a child
with an NTD.
“These numbers from Ethiopia are some
of the worst anywhere and ever,” says
Marinus Koning, a retired surgeon who is
founder of the ReachAnother Foundation, a
charity based in Bend, Oregon, that has sup-
ported the training of dozens of Ethiopian
neurosurgeons. “Something needs to be done
about it.”
At the invitation of the Ethiopian Minis-
try of Health, Koning and scientists from the
United States, Canada, and the Netherlands
began to work with experts at the Ethiopian
Public Health Institute (EPHI) in Addis
Ababa to develop a plan to address NTDs.
The result was an issue brief released by
EPHI in May that recommended the gov-
ernment consider salt fortification.
The prospect is winning praise from af-
fected families. “We need prevention more
than any intervention,” says Beza Haile,
founder of the Addis Ababa–based advocacy
group HOPE-Spina Bifida and Hydrocepha-
lus. Haile’s 4-year-old son, Hezkiel, who has
an NTD, can’t talk, walk, sit, or eat, except
foods that are the consistency of soft porridge.
A method of fortifying salt—spraying it
with buffered folic acid solution—had al-
ready been developed by chemical engineer

By Meredith Wadman


Babies recover from surgery for spina bifida, a malformation of the spine and spinal cord, in Hawassa, Ethiopia.

Published by AAAS

on December 12, 2019^

Downloaded from
Free download pdf