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Great-tasting choice

Science | Boycott ends after PepsiCo stops funding of tests using human fetal cells

Issue: "Trouble in Egypt," June 2, 2012

The pro-life group Children of God for Life (CGL) called for an end to a year-long boycott of Pepsi-Cola beverages on April 30 after PepsiCo guaranteed it would not fund flavor testing that uses human fetal cells.

In March 2011 the group had announced that PepsiCo, owner of Pepsi-Cola, Gatorade, Quaker, Tropicana, and Frito-Lay brands, had a $30 million contract with Senomyx, a flavor research company in San Diego that uses human cells in robotic taste-testing technology. CGL executive director Debi Vinnedge says Senomyx holds at least 70 patents for technology involving "HEK-293," a human embryonic kidney cell line derived from an aborted unborn child in the 1970s.

PepsiCo hired Senomyx in 2010 to find sweetener compounds for low-calorie beverages. But in an apparent response to pressure from shareholders and from dozens of pro-life groups in multiple nations, PepsiCo recently added a line to its research ethics policy stating it would not fund research "performed by third parties" using human fetal cells.

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Senomyx appears to have agreed to use alternate technology in its work for the beverage maker. In an April 26 letter to CGL's Vinnedge, PepsiCo spokesman Paul Boykas wrote, "Senomyx does not use HEK cells or any other tissues or cell lines derived from human embryos or fetuses for research performed on behalf of PepsiCo." Vinnedge says Nestlé, Kraft Foods, and the Campbell Soup Company had also collaborated with Senomyx, but no longer do so.

Mine in the sky

Associated Press photo/Planetary Resources

A team of optimistic entrepreneurs announced late in April they would attempt to do what space enthusiasts until now have only dreamed of: mine an asteroid. Planetary Resources Inc., a startup in Washington state with financial backing from several billionaires, including Google CEO Larry Page, plans by 2014 to launch up to five small spacecraft to scout out asteroids orbiting near Earth that may be rich in water or valuable metals like platinum and palladium.

Follow-up missions would investigate the feasibility of robotically extracting the metals and shipping them to Earth (where platinum currently sells for $24,000 a pound)-or of splitting asteroid water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen atoms and setting up fuel depots for spacecraft.

The co-founders of the venture, space tourism pioneers Eric Anderson and Peter H. Diamandis, think asteroid-powered fuel stations could lower the cost of space travel and spawn space colonies. "On a 50-year time scale the [mining] of space resources will add literally trillions of dollars to the global GDP," Anderson predicts. But skeptics say the unpredictable costs and technical challenges of asteroid mining may derail their plan. -Daniel James Devine

Born addicted

ALTRENDO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

A growing problem of prescription drug abuse among pregnant women in the United States has sharply increased the number of babies born with drug withdrawal symptoms, researchers say. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the number of newborns experiencing opiate withdrawal-characterized by seizures, dehydration, or difficulty breathing-tripled between 2000 and 2009.

Examples of opiate drugs include heroin and prescription painkillers like morphine and OxyContin. Doctors sometimes use small doses of methadone to treat infants exposed to opiates in utero. Hospitals charge an average of $53,400 to treat such cases, and usually send the bill to Medicaid. -Daniel James Devine

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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