New study says cosmic acceleration and dark energy don't exist

An Oxford scientist claims a Nobel-Prize-winning conclusion is wrong.

New study says cosmic acceleration and dark energy don't exist

Type la supernova remnant

NASA
  • Paper by Oxford University physicist Subir Sarkar and his colleagues challenges how conclusions about cosmic acceleration and dark energy were reached.
  • Physicists who proved cosmic acceleration shared a Nobel Prize.
  • Sarkar used statistical analysis to question key data, but his methodology also has detractors.


Is our Universe's expansion speeding up? The 2011 Nobel Prize went to three scientists for proving just that. But what if the evidence they used to come up with this conclusion was wrongly interpreted and the supposed cosmic acceleration is simply an artifact of our movement through a local part of the Universe? In the big picture, there's no speeding up. What's also not there is the mysterious dark energy, thought to be creating that acceleration, says a new paper from a group of physicists who take issue with the supernovae-related evidence that was used to come up with the original Nobel-worthy conclusion.

The Nobel Prize for the cosmic acceleration idea, if you're wondering, was won by Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt, and Adam Riess for "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae". They used evidence from exploded stars called "la supernovae" or "standard candles" to show that the Universe's expansion was getting faster. These kinds of supernovas are so bright that we actually know their absolute brightness. This fact allows scientists to calculate the distance of these explosions from Earth, while studying the red shift in the light they emit points to the Universe's rate of expansion. In 1998, groups led by Perlmutter and Schmidt found light from 50 supernova to be dimmer than it was supposed to be, leading them to conclude that cosmic expansion was actually accelerating (thanks to dark energy – a yet-to-be-directly-observed enigmatic force that supposedly takes up 68% of all mass-energy in the Universe while causing it to expand).

But while the expansion has become accepted as science fact, there have been some who see things differently. Following up on his 2015 paper on this subject, Oxford University physicist Subir Sarkar and his colleagues at the Niels Bohr Institute and the Paris Institute of Astrophysics now published a second study taking issue with the idea of a Universe growing with acceleration.

As explained in Physics World, by statistically analyzing a sample of 740 la supernovae in their 2015 paper, Sarkar's team found "only marginal" support for cosmic acceleration with low statistical significance. The difference in their approach was in how they looked at the procedures used to calculate the absolute brightness of supernovae and how their light is absorbed by dust that gets in the way.

2011 Nobel Laureates in Physics, Saul Perlmutter, Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess

2011 Nobel Laureates in Physics, Perlmutter, Schmidt and Riess, describe how an assumed error turned into the surprise discovery that the universe is expandi...

Critics of that paper abounded, taking issues with their methodology and pointing to other data that showed acceleration. Now, in the second paper, to be published in Astronomy and Astrophysics, the scientists continue to assail the supernovae evidence and the idea of cosmic acceleration by pointing to anomalies in the red-shift data and how calculations with respect to the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) are carried out.

"If you look at supernovae in only a small part of the sky, it would look like you had cosmic acceleration," Sarkar says. "But we are saying that it is just a local effect, that we are non-Copernican observers. It has nothing to do with the overall dynamics of the universe and therefore nothing to do with dark energy."

Riess disagrees with Sarkar's conclusions and data, calling it outdated. His team used data from 1,300 supernovae in their latest study and came up with clear-cut support for the acceleration's existence. Furthermore, he stated, "The evidence for cosmic acceleration and dark energy are much broader than only the supernovae Ia sample."

Who would argue with a Nobel Prize-winner? Subir Sarkar, who believes that "The CMB does not directly measure dark energy," adding "That is a widely propagated myth."

You can check out his new paper for yourself at arXiv.

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It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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