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Team claims sighting of oldest galaxy

HONOLULU (AP) -- A team of Japanese astronomers using telescopes on Hawaii say they have seen the oldest galaxy, a discovery competing with other "earliest galaxy" claims.

The team with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan calculates its galaxy formed 12.91 billion light-years ago.

Richard Ellis of California Institute of Technology, an expert in cosmology and galaxy formation, said the latest work was more convincing than some other galaxy discoveries. He said the Japanese claim is more "watertight," using methods that everyone can agree on.

In 2010, a French team using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope claimed to have discovered a galaxy from 13.1 billion light-years ago, and last year a California team using Hubble said they saw a galaxy from 13.2 billion light-years ago. Both Hubble teams published findings in the journal Nature.

But the two Hubble teams have yet to confirm their findings with other methods, Ellis said.

Also, a team of Arizona State University astronomers this month claimed to have found a galaxy from 13 billion light-years away. They used a telescope in Chile.

Current theory holds that the universe was born about 13.7 billion years ago.


KKK group applies to Adopt-A-Highway

ATLANTA (AP) -- A Ku Klux Klan group is attempting to join Georgia's Adopt-A-Highway program for litter removal, creating a quandary for state officials.

The International Keystone Knights of the KKK applied last month to adopt a one-mile stretch of Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains. The Georgia Department of Transportation was meeting with lawyers from the state Attorney General's Office on Monday to decide how to proceed.

April Chambers, the KKK group's secretary, said she applied to participate in the program to keep the scenic highway beautiful, not for publicity.

The program features road signs for groups that volunteer to help beautify state highways.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 rejected Missouri's attempt to thwart a similar effort in that state, maintaining membership in the program cannot be denied because of a group's political beliefs.


Freezer malfunction damages brain samples

BELMONT, Mass. (AP) -- A freezer malfunctioned at a Harvard-affiliated hospital that oversees the world's largest collection of autistic brain samples, damaging a third of the specimens and casting doubt on whether they can be used in research.

Dr. Francine Benes, director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, said the loss was "devastating," particularly in light of the increasing demand for brain samples among scientists searching for the cause of autism and potential treatments.

The freezer failed sometime late last month at the center at McLean Hospital in this Boston suburb. At least 54 samples earmarked for autism research were harmed.

But an initial review indicates that the DNA in the samples is intact and can still be used for genetic research, though it's unclear whether the samples could be used for the full range of neuroscience needs.

The hospital launched an investigation to determine why the freezer malfunctioned and why two alarm systems failed to go off as the temperature rose.

Dr. Francine Benes said her biggest fear is that the loss of samples could make it harder in the future to encourage brain donation from autistic children and young adults.