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  • By: 
    Adrian Cho
    Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 2:00pm
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    Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives made manifest yesterday how much they dislike President Barack Obama's clean-energy agenda as a House spending panel voted for massive cuts in clean-energy research.

    The Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies, a part of the House Appropriations Committee, passed its markup of the proposed budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins on 1 October. In its version of the budget, the subcommittee would slash spending on the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) from the current level of $252 million to just $50 million, an 80% cut. Kick-started in, ARPA-E aims to quickly develop the most promising results from basic research to a point at which private industry can take them over. The Obama administration had requested a boost for ARPA-E to $379 million. The subcommittee would also chop back funding for DOE's work on renewable energy by 50% to $983 million, according to a subcommittee press release.

    Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), chair of the subcommittee, says that such cuts are necessitated by efforts to cut overall federal spending. Leaders of the Republican controlled House put a $30.4 billion spending cap on the energy and water spending bill, which funds DOE and the Army Corps of Engineers. That number is $2.9 billion below this year's spending level and more than $4 billion below the Obama administration's requested level. "The cuts we were forced to make to the applied energy research and development sector will shift work of this type to the private sector," Frelinghuysen said during a hearing on the bill. Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), the ranking member of the subcommittee, noted that "the bill would effectively end" ARPA-E.

    Although ARPA-E has won bipartisan backing—including plaudits fromContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Dennis Normile
    Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 1:40pm
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    H. Nakauchi

    Hiromitsu Nakauchi

    TOKYO— A scientist pioneering research toward generating human organs in pigs has cleared one hurdle in gaining approval to continue his research in Japan. But he is still concerned that finalizing new research guidelines will take too long, so he is considering conducting the key experiments in the United States.

    Stem cell biologist Hiromitsu Nakauchi of the University of Tokyo has been pursuing the idea of implanting human pluripotent stem cells, which can differentiate into any of the cells in the human body, into pig embryos engineered to be incapable of developing their own pancreases. If the technique works, the stem cells will develop into human pancreases in the pig fetus. After a piglet's birth, the pancreas would be harvested and islet cells isolated for transplantation into human type 1 diabetes patients.

    In a 2010 Cell paper, Nakauchi's team described growing rat pancreases, using rat stem cells, in apancreatic mouse embryos. And in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) this past February, the team reported generating pancreases for one species of pig in apancreatic embryos of a different pig species. Nakauchi is focusing on pigs because their organs are similar in size to those of humans.

    The next step would be using either human embryonic stem cells or human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are derived from a patient's own skin cells, in the engineered pig embryos. Using patient-specific iPS cells would theoretically avoid the problem of tissue rejection because the generated pancreas would genetically match the recipient. Nakauchi says that to the best of his knowledge, he is the first to try this approach to generating human organs. If it works, it could be applied to the heart and other body parts.

    CurrentContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Richard A. Kerr
    Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 6:20pm
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    NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Catch it if you can. NASA is asking for help spotting asteroids (shown being created in an artist's conception of a catastrophic collision), and perhaps catching one with a spacecraft.

    WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today at their headquarters here, NASA officials launched a two-pronged campaign that is mostly a call for help but is also an attempt to raise the profile of NASA's ambitious plan to snag a passing asteroid that astronauts could inspect close to home.

    One component is a Grand Challenge—an element of President Barack Obama's Strategy for American Innovation—to "find all [asteroid] threats to human populations and know what to do about them," according to Jason Kessler of NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist. Because any asteroid headed toward Earth bigger than 40 meters or so in size could wipe out a city, the challenge is a tall order, said Harold Reitsema at the headquarters meeting. He is lead designer of the privately funded B612 effort to search for asteroids using a satellite. "I would like to emphasize how grand your Grand Challenge is," he said, pointing out that astronomers are finding only 1000 asteroids a year when they need to be finding 100,000 a year to develop a robust defense system.

    Kessler acknowledged the problem but contended that "we do have the ability to prove that we are smarter than the dinosaurs," which were wiped out by a 10-kilometer asteroid. The president's fiscal year 2014 budget request includes $20 million to beef up NASA's existing search for "near-Earth objects," but the Grand Challenge would go further, Kessler said. There would be monetary prizes to encourage search innovations, crowdsourcing to speed up the identification of new objects, citizen science programs to draw in more amateur astronomers to the search, and a request for new ideas for how to improve and accelerate what NASA is already doing. The agency's effort to tap outside wisdom appeared to start paying off during the teleconference itself, which included questionsContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Robert F. Service
    Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 6:00pm
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    Jack Dongarra

    Back on top. China's Tianhe-2 supercomputer at the National University of Defense Technology.

    China has regained the top spot on a list of the world's most powerful supercomputers. The latest version of a semiannual ranking posted yesterday shows that Tianhe-2, built by China's National University of Defense Technology, was clocked at 33.86 petaflops (a petaflop is a thousand trillion floating point operations per second). That's nearly twice as powerful as the 17.59 Pflops performance of Titan, a supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which led the previous Top 500 list put out by a team of supercomputer researchers in the United States and Germany.

    Tianhe-2 marks the second time a Chinese machine has been a world-beater. Tianhe-1 grabbed the top spot in November 2010 before relinquishing it 6 months later to Japan's K computer. China's second ascent demonstrates the country's sustained commitment to funding high performance computing, says Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who closely follows international supercomputing trends. "It shows no signs of changing, only increasing," Dongarra says about China's investment in supercomputing.

    The United States remains the overall supercomputing leader, with 252 of the top 500 systems. But China is in second place, with 66 machines. Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany fill out the top six, with 30, 29, 23, and 19 systems, respectively.

    Dongarra and others are concerned that the U.S. lead may be slipping, however. The Tianhe-2 machine was built using more than 3 million Intel computing "cores," essentially the brains of the machine. But Dongarra, who toured the site of the machine last month, says that most of the rest of the components were designed and built in China. "The interconnect, operating system, front-end processors, and software are mainly Chinese," Dongarra says.

    The country is also hard atContinue Reading

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    Jocelyn Kaiser
    Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 5:35pm
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    U.S. National Institutes of Health

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today unveiled the winners of an unusual competition in which academic researchers teamed up with pharmaceutical companies to propose new uses for abandoned drugs. The nine projects, funded at a total of $12.7 million a year, show that NIH's 19-month-old National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) is achieving its goal of finding new ways to speed drug development, NCATS officials said.

    The program, called Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules, aims to help companies work with academic researchers to repurpose drugs that passed safety testing but didn't help patients with the intended disease or were dropped for business reasons. A year ago, eight companies agreed to contribute 58 compounds and share data about them. NCATS invited researchers to submit ideas for developing the drugs, and the agency received about 160 preapplications. NCATS then linked up the investigators and companies to hone the strongest proposals and flesh out template legal agreements. The NIH then reviewed full applications, nine of which made the final cut.

    The projects will study seven of the 58 compounds. The research will include animal studies and some early clinical trials for eight diseases, including Duchenne muscular dystrophy, alcohol and nicotine addiction, and common disorders like Alzheimer's. "We can say with great confidence that the crowdsourcing of potential diseases these molecules might treat … did exactly what we hoped," said NCATS Director Christopher Austin during a teleconference today. NCATS has identified only some of the compounds in its announcement in order to protect the companies' intellectual property.

    Don Frail, a vice president at AstraZeneca, which will contribute two compounds for three of the projects, says that the effort has already disproved skeptics who doubted that academic researchers could generateContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Dennis Normile
    Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 1:00am
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    Asahi Glass Foundation

    Honored. Blue Planet Prize laureates Daniel Sperling (left) and Taroh Matsuno.

    TOKYO—The Blue Planet Prize strives to highlight both basic and applied research addressing global environmental problems, and this year's laureates represent both ends of that spectrum. Climatologist Taroh Matsuno, of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, is winning for leading the development of the Earth Simulator, a supercomputer designed to run climate and environmental models, and then using it to clarify aspects of the El Niño phenomenon and processes affected by climate change.

    Engineer Daniel Sperling, of the University of California, Davis, joins the roster of Blue Planet laureates for research on the impact of transportation on the environment and pioneering studies leading toward more efficient and environmentally friendly transportation systems.

    The prize announcement, made by the Asahi Glass Foundation here today, also cites both men for their efforts to influence policy. Matsuno has served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and in various efforts of the World Meteorological Organization. Sperling has had a hand in shaping California's air pollution and climate change policies.

    Each winner will be $527,000 richer after the October award ceremony.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Christina Larson
    Monday, June 17, 2013 - 11:35am
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    BEIJING—Every year, the National Science Library here, affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), coordinates the translation, rights, and publication of thousands of papers and books from other languages into Chinese. Usually this activity doesn't cause a stir. Last week was the exception, when CAS released a Chinese-language edition of Climate Change Reconsidered, published by the Heartland Institute, which is a libertarian think tank in Chicago, Illinois, that disseminates research arguing that human activity is not driving climate change.

    Jim Lakely, Heartland's director of communications, told the conservative online news site Breitbart News: "Translating and publishing nearly 1,300 pages of peer-reviewed scientific literature from English to Chinese is no small task, and indicative of how important CAS considers Climate Change Reconsidered to the global climate change debate." (The Brietbart.com article featured a picture of a wincing Al Gore.)

    CAS sees things differently. Heartland's characterization of the academy's decision to translate Climate Change Reconsidered was "strongly misleading … implying that the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) supports their views." A CAS official points out that the decision to translate Climate Change Reconsidered was made by the National Science Library. In his preface to the translated edition, Zhang Zhiqiang, the library's deputy director, stated that the project was undertaken "to help Chinese researchers understand different points, opinions and positions in debates on climate change."

    Heartland's spin has forced CAS to be more assertive. Before a release ceremony for the translation at the science library on 15 June, the CAS official says, the academy's headquarters told Zhang to make explicit in his remarks at the ceremony that CAS does not endorse Climate Change Reconsidered's findings. Heartland has since issued a statement acknowledging that the translation does not amount to anContinue Reading

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  • Friday, June 14, 2013 - 6:00pm
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    Brookhaven National Laboratory

    Rain delay. The Muon g-2 storage ring is staying at Brookhaven an extra week due to inclement weather.

    As we report in this week's issue of Science, a physics experiment known as Muon g-2 is getting a new start by moving from Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois. Physicists and engineers had planned to begin moving the experiment's delicate storage ring by truck and barge this weekend, but the move has been delayed by 1 week due to inclement weather in New York.

    The Brookhaven area experienced heavy rain and strong winds yesterday and this morning, forcing the scientists and their collaborators at Emmert International, a heavy haul transportation company, to halt their work for 2 days. The weather "wouldn't allow them to do the work they needed to do to get [the ring] ready to go," forcing them to push back the departure date from Sunday, 16 June, to Saturday, 22 June, Peter Genzer, a Brookhaven spokesperson, tells ScienceInsider.

    Now, the 15-meter storage ring will make its way across the Brookhaven campus next Saturday, travel by truck down the William Floyd Parkway overnight on Sunday, and arrive at the Smith Point Marina on Long Island's southern shore in the wee hours of Monday, 24 June 24. From there, it will be loaded onto a waiting barge and undertake a 5000-kilometer journey down the Eastern Seaboard, around Florida, across the Gulf of Mexico, and up the Mississippi River to Illinois. It will arrive at Fermilab 4 to 6 weeks after it leaves New York.

    This isn't the first time that the weather has interfered with Muon g-2's best laid plans. The ring was originally supposed to set sail from Long Island's northern shore, but the port the team planned to use was damaged by Hurricane Sandy last fall. WithContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    John Bohannon
    Friday, June 14, 2013 - 5:45pm
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    Wikimedia

    Young and the restless. Social science surveys suggest recent protests in Turkey, such as this one earlier this month in Istanbul's Gezi Park, are being driven by relatively young and apolitical citizens.

    Turkish academics are hoping for a peaceful resolution to the protest movement that has gripped their country. After weeks of disrupted final exams and televised threats leveled at two universities, the first official meeting on 14 June between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and protest leaders may spell an end to the violent clashes.

    The drama began on 28 May, when environmental activists staged a sit-in at Gezi Park, one of the last expanses of trees in Istanbul. Their stated goal was to block the planned demolition of the park to make room for a new shopping mall. As the days passed, the protest took on a festival-like atmosphere, with university students playing music and grilling meat. But after police cleared the park with batons and tear gas on 31 May, Turkey convulsed in violent protests in many cities. The violence has caused five confirmed deaths and thousands of injuries.

    Some Turkish academics have used the conflict as a natural laboratory. A team from Istanbul Bilgi University surveyed 3000 protestors in person, sharing their findings immediately on the Internet. Contrary to government claims that the protests have been fomented by political opponents or even foreign governments to destabilize Turkey, only 7% of protestors identified themselves with any political organization. Instead, they found a young population—60% under 30—that named government corruption and political repression as their main grievances. Another survey, led by a private social science institute in Istanbul, used the protests as a lens for examining the demography of dissent in the country. Not surprisingly, dissatisfaction with the conservative government was correlated with youth, level of education, and political liberalism.

    The protests were gathering steam just as Turkish universities began administering final exams. "The public transportation was being cut, and thereContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Elisabeth Pain
    Friday, June 14, 2013 - 3:35pm
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    Juan A. Jiménez

    Spanish researchers arrived at a closed gate at the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness in Madrid this afternoon, where they had wanted to deliver a clear message to their government: Save Spanish science. Their march was one of 19 protests in cities across Spain against recent cuts in research budgets and delays in allocating government money. Protesters carried a 10-point wish list, signed by 45,000 supporters, that includes increasing national spending for research to 2% of the gross domestic product by 2016, improving opportunities for young researchers, and creating an independent funding agency.

    The demonstrators wanted to deliver their petition at the ministry, which is responsible for science; when reporters weren't allowed to accompany them inside, they taped it to the gate instead.

    *Correction, 2:10 p.m., 18 June: The protesters' wish list includes increasing national spending, not just public spending, for research. This has been corrected.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Jennifer Couzin-Frankel
    Thursday, June 13, 2013 - 6:30pm
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    Photo Courtesy of Peter Doshi

    Peter Doshi

    Publish your data, or else we will—that's the stark warning to drug companies in a new proposal released today. Peter Doshi (shown right), a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and his colleagues are fed up that only about half of all clinical trials are published. They want to change that, by convincing researchers and journals to print data that have been publicly released through other means, such as litigation and Freedom of Information Act requests, but, practically speaking, are sitting dormant in the filing cabinets or computers of individual scientists.

    The unusual proposal is called RIAT, for Restoring Invisible and Abandoned Trials. It was published today in BMJ and also endorsed by PLOS Medicine. Doshi, who studies comparative effectiveness research, came up with the idea when his colleague, Swaroop Vedula, was analyzing reporting biases involving the drug gabapentin. Gabapentin's maker Pfizer had been sued for the way in which they marketed the drug for unapproved indications. During litigation, Pfizer had released thousands of pages involving gabapentin trials, and Vedula was poring through them. (One of the authors of the RIAT paper, Kay Dickersin, served as an expert witness against Pfizer in gabapentin litigation.) Pfizer had published only 12 of its 20 trials in gabapentin. But Doshi's center at Hopkins had the clinical study reports detailing the results of the other eight.

    At the time, "it just hits me," Doshi says. "Why are we still referring to these as unpublished trials? Why aren't we publishing them ourselves?"

    And so RIAT was born. Doshi can't say how much other unpublished drug data has been disseminated outside the pharmaceutical companies, but he knows it's substantial. An effort by the European Medicines Agency to share clinical trials data upon request has ledContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Richard Stone
    Thursday, June 13, 2013 - 6:10pm
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    Is nuclear medicine a cover for countries intent on acquiring nuclear weapons? For years, that question has clouded efforts to expand production of medical radioisotopes, many of which are made in nuclear reactors that run on highly enriched uranium (HEU)—the fissile material in a bomb—or use HEU as targets for generating radioisotopes. A report released today by AAAS, the publisher of ScienceInsider, highlights a growing range of alternative methods of radioisotope production that would make it harder for would-be proliferators to lay hands on fissile material.

    The safer methods could help defuse tensions surrounding nations with nuclear ambitions, analysts say. Iran, for instance, has been engaged in a decadelong standoff with the United States and its allies over its nuclear program and has cited the need to produce medical isotopes and power as key justifications for its efforts. One confidence-building measure might be for Iran to explore medical isotope production that avoids using or producing fissile material. In this respect, if U.S. State Department negotiators "can sell the idea of Iran participating in advanced nuclear technologies [that steer clear of fissile material], then maybe you've got something," says Mark Jansson, special projects director at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C. In laying out the alternatives, the report's authors, he says, "have done a fantastic job."

    Radioisotopes are widely used in medical imaging and for irradiating certain kinds of tumors. They were long seen as a dividend of nuclear technology and were an important reason that the world's nuclear powers in the 1950s and 1960s promoted the construction of research reactors around the world. Medical isotopes can also be produced in cyclotrons or spallation neutron sources, for example, but dedicated facilities were prohibitively expensive—until the wide embrace of a technology called positron emission (PE)Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Tania Rabesandratana
    Thursday, June 13, 2013 - 5:10pm
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    BRUSSELS—Members of the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), which provides grants for transcontinental life sciences research, have agreed to continue funding the program from 2014 to 2016. Under the agreement, reached at an intergovernmental meeting here on Tuesday, most program funders will increase their annual contribution by 2% to 4% to offset budget cuts by Japan, the country that has been HFSP's largest sponsor since its inception in 1989.

    HFSP, the only program of its kind worldwide, provides research grants for intercontinental teams, postdoctoral fellowships, and career development awards to stimulate high-risk research on complex biological systems, with an emphasis on quantitative methods. Scientists from all over the world are eligible for HFSP grants if the main applicant is from one of the member countries.

    When the program was set up 24 years ago, Japan provided 100% of its funding, says Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, the secretary-general of the HFSP organization in Strasbourg, France. Today, the program has 14 members, and although Japan still provides the biggest chunk of the budget, it has decided to cut back. Out of about HFSP's $57 million budget for 2014, Japan's contribution will amount to $22.2 million—down from the $29.5 million that it had initially agreed to spend in 2013. That's still well above the 2014 contribution by the United States ($10.13 million) and the European Union (€4.76 million).

    Other countries have now agreed to make up for Japan's reduction. "The time has come for greater burden-sharing," the program's members wrote in a joint statement, in which they acknowledge Japan's role "as the initiator of HFSP, its largest contributor and the cornerstone of its hitherto success and sustainability." The decision is a "tremendous achievement," Winnacker says, coming at a time when member countries are tightening their belts themselves.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Eliot Marshall
    Michael Price
    Thursday, June 13, 2013 - 5:00pm
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    Wikipedia

    Big decision. In an opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that human genes cannot be patented.

    The U.S Supreme Court ruled today that "naturally occurring" human genes cannot be patented because they are a "product of nature," meaning that they cannot be claimed as a human invention. But it also permitted patents based on laboratory reconstructions of human DNA, known as complementary DNAs, or cDNAs.

    "Myriad did not create anything," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for a unanimous court. "To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention." And "groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy" the requirements for winning a patent. Overall, the ruling is a victory for two New York City advocacy groups that have waged a long campaign to get the patents knocked down: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the smaller Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), which initiated the effort. It was a defeat for the diagnostics firm Myriad Genetics, of Salt Lake City. Five of its many patent claims on the human genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 have been gutted, although other claims remain intact.

    In legal briefs, ACLU and PUBPAT and argued that Myriad was using its patents to sue clinics and wrongly prevent them from doing independent diagnostic tests. Backed by many geneticists and medical groups, the advocates sought to have Myriad's patents invalidated so that any lab could test without fear of a lawsuit for BRCA genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Daniel Ravicher, PUBPAT's executive director, celebrated today with a triumphal statement, saying: "The Court rightfully found that patents cannot be awarded for something so fundamental to nature as DNA. … Bottom line, diagnostic genetic testing is now free from any patent threat, forever, and the poor can now have theirContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Dennis Normile
    Thursday, June 13, 2013 - 11:25am
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    TOKYO—Japan's government may create its own version of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to foster medical innovation and bridge the gap between the laboratory and the clinic.

    The proposal is included in a draft Growth Strategy approved yesterday by the administration's Industrial Competitiveness Council. The plan notes that a "Japanese NIH" could better meld governmental, academic, and private sector efforts "in order to strongly support the commercialization of innovative medical technologies." The new agency would be expected to "formulate a comprehensive strategy and prioritize goals and research targets for medical R&D." In other health-related recommendations, the plan calls for legal and regulatory action to speed up approval of new drugs and medical devices.

    The quest for innovative technology that can boost the economy goes beyond health care. The council mentions another U.S. institution, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, as an example of a "strategic innovation creation program" worth emulating. The plan calls for giving the existing Council for Science and Technology Policy a stronger hand so that it can better coordinate research efforts across ministries. It also mentions a host of measures—including changes to patent laws and tax incentives—intended to help turn research at national labs and universities into economic gains and to support private R&D.

    The plans for technological innovation are small but important pieces of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Growth Strategy, which also includes recommendations to streamline the agricultural sector, promote the participation of women in the labor force, and enhance the competitiveness of Japan's manufacturers. It is due to be endorsed by the Cabinet tomorrow.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Randy Barrett
    Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - 12:20pm
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    Marine Biological Laboratory

    Firmer footing. A partnership with the University of Chicago aims to improve the finances of the Marine Biological Laboratory (above).

    The University of Chicago (UC) and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) today announced an affiliation that will backstop the lab's ailing balance sheet. The agreement makes the university ultimately responsible for the budget of MBL, the oldest private marine laboratory in the United States.

    Under the agreement, the Woods Hole, Massachusetts-based lab will remain an independent nonprofit and the University of Chicago will become the sole member of its corporation on 1 July. All MBL staff members will remain employees of the laboratory.

    The move comes after several years of falling revenues at MBL. According to tax documents, the private lab saw an 18% drop in income between 2008 and 2011. In 2011, the organization posted revenues of $47.5 million—and a shortfall of $798,000. The lab's current budget is $41 million.

    "We have historically struggled with operating cash shortfalls," Joan Ruderman, MBL's president and director, tells ScienceInsider.

    Although the lab has done well in winning federal grant money over the last few years, the organization does not receive tuition funding and its alumni scientists haven't been big contributors. Meanwhile, the expenses of running the 300-employee lab have continued to rise.

    "It's not a sustainable business model anymore," Ruderman says.

    The new arrangement brings the two storied institutions closer and will create new research opportunities, says UC paleontologist Neil Shubin, who will become senior adviser to the university's president and help oversee the academic coordination of the two organizations.

    And MBL has something that the midwestern school doesn't—access to the ocean. "We are a freshwater university, not a saltwater one," Shubin says.

    New collaborative programs are planned, including a competitive grant to honor MBL's 125th anniversary, which occurs this year. Scientists at bothContinue Reading

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    Elizabeth Pennisi
    Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - 11:16am
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    U.S. Department of Energy/Office of Biological and Environmental Research

    Letter-perfect investment? New report calculates that the U.S. government's investment in decoding genomes has provided a 65 to 1 payoff.

    Despite a slow economy, business in genomics has boomed and has directly and indirectly boosted the U.S. economy by $965 billion since 1988, according to a new study. In 2012 alone, genomics-related research and development, along with relevant industry activities, contributed $31 billion to the U.S. gross national product and helped support 152,000 jobs, the biomedical funding advocacy group United for Medical Research announced today in Washington, D.C.

    The Impact of Genomics on the U.S. Economy is an update to an industry-conceived report from 2011 by Battelle Technology Partnership Practice. At the time, Battelle calculated that the $3.8 billion U.S. federal investment in the Human Genome Project produced a return of $141 in economic output per dollar invested, a figure that President Barack Obama rounded off in his State of the Union address in February. Today's update factors in an additional $8.5 billion in relevant federal support and, based on the total U.S. investment, concludes a 65 to 1 return on the government's spending (adjusted to 2012 dollars).

    Advocates for federal funding of biomedical research hope such rosy numbers will help persuade Congress to sustain support for the field.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Jon Cohen
    Tuesday, June 11, 2013 - 7:00pm
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    Wikimedia

    Proposed protection. U.S. Fish and Wildlife would like to list captive chimpanzees, including those used in research, as "endangered."

    In keeping with an increasing drive to end most biomedical research with chimpanzees, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today announced a proposal to upgrade the status of captive chimpanzee from "threatened" to "endangered." FWS has classified wild chimpanzees as endangered since 1990, but has given captive chimps less protection.

    The proposed rule, which the public can comment on for the next 60 days, would create a new permitting process for scientific research with captive chimpanzees. In the future, if FWS finalizes the rule, scientists would receive permits only if their work aimed to "enhance the propagation or survival" of the species. FWS would also require permits for sale across state lines of chimpanzee cell lines, tissue, or blood.

    How the rule change will impact National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported chimpanzee research remains a bit murky. "NIH anticipates that critical NIH-funded research using chimpanzees will be able to continue under permits that may be required as part of the final rule," states an answer to a "Frequently Asked Question" on the FWS website. But given that most NIH-funded chimp research does not have conservation aims per se, it is not clear how will it meet the new permitting requirements if they're instituted.

    Roddy Gabel, who oversees import/export permitting for FWS, explains that research projects that do not directly benefit wild chimpanzee could still receive permits via "enhancement," which is akin to a carbon-offset program. An institution, for example, might agree to make a financial contribution to a wild chimpanzee conservation effort in exchange for a permit to a conduct a specific study. "We're already talking to NIH and we'll be talking more intensively about what's possible to meet the enhancement requirement," Gabel says. "At this point we haven't closed the door onContinue Reading

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    Katia Moskvitch
    Tuesday, June 11, 2013 - 11:50am
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    International Energy Agency/Redrawing The Energy-Climate Map

    Mixed bag. Carbon dioxide emissions were down in the United States and Europe in 2012, but up worldwide.

    LONDON—Governments shouldn't wait for a proposed international climate deal to take hold in 2020—they can take four steps right away to curb carbon emissions, argues a new report from a global energy think tank. By implementing the quartet of policies by 2015, nations could buy "precious time while international climate negotiations continue," says economist Fatih Birol, the lead author of a report released here yesterday by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

    At a U.N. meeting now under way in Bonn, envoys are discussing a climate change agreement that they hope to strike by 2015 and put into action in 2020. But average global temperatures will increase dramatically if nations just sit and wait until then, concludes the report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map. "[T]he path we are currently on is … likely to result in a temperature increase of between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C" by the end of the century, said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in a statement. That's well above the 2° rise that many governments consider acceptable.

    To hold any increase within that 2° range, IEA identifies four short-term remedies that should be implemented by 2015:

    aggressive energy efficiency measures in buildings, industry, and transport; limiting the use of coal-fired power stations; curbing the release of methane into the atmosphere; and reducing subsidies for fossil fuel consumption.

    Together, these measures could reduce emissions from energy use by about 3.1 gigatons of carbon-dioxide equivalent by 2020, the authors argue. And taking action sooner than later could save money: Investing in a low carbon economy now would cost about $1.5 trillion, the report finds, but putting off similar investments until 2020 could cost as much as $5 trillion.

    Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Marta Paterlini
    Monday, June 10, 2013 - 1:10pm
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    Italia Unita per la corretta informazione scientifica

    Uphill battle. Scientists held a flash mob on the Spanish Steps in Rome.

    Tourists visiting the famous Spanish Steps in Rome on Saturday were treated to an unusual spectacle: Some 30 researchers suddenly showed up, unfolded banners and placards in different languages, and stood motionless on the steps for several minutes. Their flash mob was part of an unprecedented series of events across Italy to protest what organizers say is an antiscientific attitude in Italy and widespread "misinformation" about science in the media.

    Saturday's event, called Italy United for Correct Scientific Information, was organized by young researchers in response to an attack against an animal facility at the University of Milan in April, in which animal rights activists released mice and rabbits and ruined experiments. Some 300 researchers had already demonstrated on 1 June in Italy to defend animal experimentation; the new protests, which included flash mobs and conferences in 15 cities, were aimed more broadly. "We want to show that we do not live in an ivory tower," says organizer Dario Padovan, a biologist at the University of Trieste. "We are not afraid to defend our research and understand the need of communicating it correctly."

    Press coverage of April's attack showed again that in Italy, important scientific topics "are often addressed and reported by the media in a superficial, or even wrong, way" says Federico Baglioni, one of the organizers of Saturday's events. Previous examples were the conviction of Italian researchers for their failure to warn about the risk of a deadly earthquake in L'Aquila and the recent debate about the Stamina Foundation, which offers stem cell therapies that many scientists say aren't scientifically proven. In such debates, Italian media tend to focus on the emotional side of the story and fail to delve into the scientific facts, Baglioni says.

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    Jocelyn Kaiser
    Friday, June 7, 2013 - 4:55pm
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    Broad Institute

    David Altshuler

    It's a comment made over and over by geneticists: To fully understand the role of human genetic variation and its role in disease, researchers need to pool DNA and clinical data from millions of people. Earlier this week, more than 70 research, health care, and patient advocacy organizations, including big players such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the United Kingdom's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, announced a plan to do just that (see news stories). Their proposed "global alliance," as they call it for now in a white paper, aims to develop standards—analogous to protocols for building Internet web pages—that will enable researchers around the world in fields from cancer to rare diseases to securely share and study patients' genome sequences and clinical information.

    ScienceInsider spoke with geneticist David Altshuler of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who has led planning for the alliance, about its aims in this edited transcript:

    Q: Why is this global alliance needed?

    D.A.: A few years ago, there were a handful of genomes and today tens of thousands have been sequenced, or the exomes at least. In the coming years, millions will be sequenced. And we lack the ability, and will lack the ability for a long time, to look at a change in DNA that's observed in someone, a T here instead of an A, and predict what that would mean either biologically or clinically. We have to be in a position to compare genomes and clinical data if we want to learn and if we want to help people, like give them accurate predictions or learn the biology of a disease. The scale of the problem is that it's going to take millions of genomes. Even in aContinue Reading

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    Jeffrey Mervis
    Friday, June 7, 2013 - 4:35pm
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    Ordered by Congress to curb its funding for political science research, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has decided to hew as closely as possible to business as usual.

    In March, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) won passage of an amendment to a government-wide spending bill for 2013 that ordered NSF to fund only those research projects in political science that promote national security or economic development. Many scientists feared that NSF, in response, would decide to scrap its entire $10 million political science portfolio because of the difficulty of separating out proposals that fit Coburn's narrow language.

    Instead, today NSF announced that it would simply add Coburn's two criteria to the two long-standing metrics, intellectual merit and broader impacts, that NSF has used to judge the quality of any grant. Reviewers would start with the traditional criteria and "provide input on whether proposals meet one or both of the additional criteria" allowed as exceptions under the spending bill.

    As in the past, the announcement explains, those comments will be used by program officers to decide which research proposals to fund. The current round of proposals up for review were submitted on 15 January, 2 months before the Coburn language was adopted, so none of the proposals specifically take into account the questions that it raises.

    NSF may create additional review panels to address the new criteria, explains Myron Gutmann, head of the social, behavioral, and economic sciences directorate that includes political science. "It might be sequential," Gutmann says. "One panel may consider the traditional criteria, while another addresses the Coburn criteria. Our goal is to do merit review as well as possible. We want to take the time to do it right."

    The new policy reflects the fact thatContinue Reading

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    Tania Rabesandratana
    Friday, June 7, 2013 - 3:55pm
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    Framework Program 7/European Union

    BRUSSELS—Scientists seeking grants from the European Union's main research funding program—known as Framework Programme 7 (FP7)—face unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, says the European Union's budget watchdog. In a report presented here today, the European Court of Auditors writes that FP7 procedures remain complex and sometimes inconsistent, despite recent improvements.

    The findings could aid a controversial effort by the European Commission to revamp funding procedures for the next 7-year E.U. funding program, known as Horizon 2020 and scheduled to start next year. FP7 began in 2007 and ends this year.

    One of the report's main criticisms is that FP7 rules are often incompatible with widespread research accounting and management practices. For example, 59% of FP7 funding recipients surveyed by the court said that they had to change the systems that they used to track how researchers spent their time to match the European Commission's rules for personnel reimbursement, creating administrative headaches. Funding recipients also reported facing inconsistent interpretations of FP7 rules, in part because practices varied among different parts of the commission and even from one staff member to another.

    The court also found that researchers at low risk of mismanaging money "are subject to too many controls," adding that the commission should focus its financial checks on the institutions most prone to accounting errors. One improvement, the report noted, could be to adopt a practice used in Switzerland and elsewhere, which assigns risk ratings to funding recipients based on their record in previous financial checks.

    The report is a "reasonable assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of FP7," a European Commission spokesman said in a statement. The commission will address its recommendations, he added, including those suggesting ways to improve information technology systems and allocate administrative staff members. The European CommissionContinue Reading

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    Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
    Thursday, June 6, 2013 - 5:25pm
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    Wikimedia/NASA

    New role. NASA is exploring using a reconfigured spy telescope to search for extrasolar planets, such as the one pictured in this artist's conception.

    NASA has decided that the best use of two space telescopes gifted to it by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)—an intelligence gathering agency—would be to utilize them in a mission to study dark energy and extrasolar planets. Provided the agency can find the money to fund that mission: the proposed Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

    NASA began mulling what to do with the two 2.4-meter telescopes nearly 2 years ago, after NRO handed the instruments over to the space agency. An initial study by a group of astrophysicists determined that one of the telescopes could be used as a centerpiece of the $1.6 billion WFIRST project, which received top billing among space projects recommended for funding in the most recent U.S. astronomy decadal survey.

    Earlier this year, however, NASA hosted a meeting where astronomers and planetary scientists were invited to present other ideas for using the telescopes. There was no dearth of concepts. One idea was to put one of the telescopes in orbit around Mars. Another was to dedicate the instrument to gamma ray astronomy.

    After studying all these options, NASA has decided that the only one it wishes to pursue at this time is using the telescope for WFIRST, Paul Hertz, the head of NASA's astrophysics division, announced on Tuesday at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Indianapolis. However, whether WFIRST will happen at all or not remains an open question, he said—and it won't get decided until at least 2016.Continue Reading

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    Gretchen Vogel
    Kai Kupferschmidt
    Thursday, June 6, 2013 - 1:30pm
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    © MPG/Axel Griesch

    Martin Stratmann

    The Max Planck Society, one of Germany's main research organizations, has elected a chemist as its new president. Martin Stratmann, 59, who studies interface chemistry, surface engineering, and corrosion, is one of the directors at the Max Planck Institute for Iron Research in Düsseldorf. He has been a vice president of the society since 2008. Elected to a 6-year term today at the society's annual meeting in Potsdam, he will replace current president, developmental biologist Peter Gruss, next June. Gruss, 63, has been Max Planck president since 2002.

    The society, which had a budget last year of €1.5 billion, comprises 80 institutes and research facilities and employs more than 5000 scientists. As vice president, Stratmann has been closely involved in the society's increasing international presence. The society has long had institutes in Florence, Italy, and Nijmegen, the Netherlands, but it has recently added institutes in Florida and in Luxembourg. It has also established Max Planck Centers and Partner Institutes in a dozen countries. Stratmann has also served as managing director of the Minerva Foundation, an arm of the Max Planck Society that sponsors German-Israeli academic cooperation.

    The Institute for Iron Research is organized differently from most of the society's institutes. Officially a company, it is financed in equal parts by the Max Planck Society and a steel industry association called the German Steel Institute. Stratmann has spent most of his career at the institute, earning his Ph.D. there in 1982. Following a fellowship year at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, he returned to the institute and became a research group leader in 1987. In 1994, he moved to Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, but returned to the Iron Research Institute in 2000 when he was named director.Continue Reading

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