Russian foundation tarred with 'foreign' label

V&A Dudush/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

MOSCOW—Russian authorities on Monday branded the Dynasty Foundation, one of the country’s most important science foundations, a “foreign agent.” Dmitry Zimin, the telecom tycoon who established Dynasty, has vowed to shut it down.

Last year, Dynasty, based here in Moscow, spent about $10 million on 20 projects supporting young researchers (mainly mathematicians and physicists), competitions for school science teachers, science festivals, and public lectures by world-class researchers. Rumors that the Ministry of Justice would label the foundation a foreign entity had been circulating for weeks. Now that it has happened, scientists are devastated. “The main thing that we have lost is hope,” says Valery Rubakov, a physicist at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ (RAS’s) Institute for Nuclear Research in Moscow.

Dynasty was set up in 2002 by Zimin, a co-founder of VimpelCom, one of three nationwide cellular communications networks. According to Zimin, each year since then he has transferred about $10 million of his fortune to Dynasty. The foundation’s 2013 financial report also lists small donations from other sources such as the Royal Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and private donors.

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Begin HIV treatment immediately says major study, ending long debate

A study in 35 countries that involved 4685 HIV-infected people has ended early because results showed that immediate treatment cut the risk of disease and death in half. The data, revealed today at a teleconference held by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), brings to a close a divisive issue. The United States and many other countries already recommend treating everyone diagnosed with an HIV infection, but guidelines in the United Kingdom and elsewhere call for starting treatment only after immune system damage occurs, in part because of worries about long-term toxicities of the drugs.

As NIAID Director Anthony Fauci explained, evidence suggested that early treatment benefited people but no randomized, controlled clinical trial had ever proven it until now. “These findings clearly demonstrate that starting antiretroviral treatment sooner rather than later is of significant health benefit to the HIV-infected individual,” Fauci said. “These results are certain to impact medical treatment guidelines.” He said the new findings also validate the push to use treatment as a prevention tool, as other studies have shown that HIV-infected people on antiretrovirals (ARVs) are far less likely to transmit the virus to others.

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An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

TMT Collaborative

An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope

In an attempt to break the impasse over a mammoth telescope that astronomers plan to build atop the tallest mountain in the Pacific, Hawaii Governor David Ige has called for the elimination of a quarter of the telescopes already there. At a press conference yesterday, Ige, a Democrat, affirmed his support for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a $1.55 billion behemoth that would perch 193 meters below the 4205-meter summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Construction is currently on hold as Native Hawaiian protesters claim the mountain as sacred and have blocked access to the construction site. But Ige also chastised the University of Hawaii for its handling of the mountain and called for removing a quarter of the 13 telescopes already there before the start of TMT operations, planned for 2022. He also called for the return to a state agency of 4000 hectares of land that the university isn't using for astronomy and the formation of a Mauna Kea Cultural Council to oversee the mountain. In the past, protesters have said no compromise over the construction of TMT is possible.

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Physicists will nearly double the number of particle detectors like this one in the vast Telescope Array.

John Matthews, University of Utah

Physicists will nearly double the number of particle detectors like this one in the vast Telescope Array.

Every once in a while, a cosmic ray—a subatomic particle from outer space—strikes the atmosphere with an energy 10 million times higher than a humanmade particle accelerator has ever achieved. Physicists don't know where such mind-bogglingly energetic particles come from, but they could be closing in on an answer thanks to the expansion of one of the world's biggest cosmic ray experiments.

Japan will spend $3.7 million to nearly quadruple the size of the Telescope Array (TA), which currently consists of 507 particle detectors spread across 700 square kilometers of Utah desert. The detectors sense the avalanche of particles, or what physicists call an "extensive air shower," triggered when a ray hits the atmosphere. Physicists will deploy 400 more loosely spaced detectors to stretch TA's area to about 2500 square kilometers—twice the area of New York City—says Yoshiki Tsunesada, a physicist and TA team member at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. From the size and direction of an air shower, physicists can deduce the energy and direction of the original ray. Researchers hope to complete the expansion in 2017. Japan paid two-thirds of the current array's $25 million cost.

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Paolo Macchiarini made headlines for giving patients new tracheae.

Consuelo Bautista

Paolo Macchiarini made headlines for giving patients new tracheae.

The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm today released its English translation of a report critical of surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, famous for transplanting tissue-engineered tracheae into more than a dozen people. The report concludes that Macchiarini committed scientific misconduct in publications describing the results of several of the transplants. Karolinska, where Macchiarini is a visiting professor, commissioned the external inquiry after allegations arose in August 2014.

The investigator, Bengt Gerdin, professor emeritus of surgery at Uppsala University, examined six papers about the patients and one on animal tests of the procedure and found multiple problems that he deemed serious enough to constitute misconduct, including inaccurate descriptions of the condition of patients at the time of publication and stating that ethical permission had been obtained for the work although there is none on record. The report, submitted to the Karolinska vice chancellor on 13 May, concludes that Macchiarini “bears the main responsibility for the publication of false or incomplete information in several papers, and is therefore guilty of scientific misconduct.”

Macchiarini has disputed the allegations, but he told ScienceInsider that he could not comment further until Karolinska Vice Chancellor Anders Hamsten issues his decision on the case. That is expected sometime in June.

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Hiroshi Matsumoto

Dennis Normile

Hiroshi Matsumoto

Seven weeks into his presidency of RIKEN, Hiroshi Matsumoto at a press conference on Friday outlined his strategy for restoring luster to the scandal-tarnished network of national laboratories. His big new idea: introducing a tenure track system that would retain the best young researchers now on temporary contracts at RIKEN.

Matsumoto’s overriding task is to help RIKEN recover from last year’s debacle. A high-profile paper reporting a new way of creating stem cells, dubbed stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP), proved bogus after a series of investigations. The fiasco led to the suicide of a senior scientist and the restructuring of RIKEN’s Center for Developmental Biology.

A specialist in magnetic fields and space plasma, Matsumoto had spent his entire career at Kyoto University and served as its president from 2008 to 2014. Since taking the helm at RIKEN on 1 April, Matsumoto has visited all of RIKEN's 15 major facilities, meeting leaders and young researchers to listen to their concerns. He presented his "Initiative for Scientific Excellence" on 22 May here at the RIKEN headquarters near Tokyo.

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Carlos Jared got into hot water trying to ship this kind of velvet worm out of Brazil.

Carlos Jared

Carlos Jared got into hot water trying to ship this kind of velvet worm out of Brazil.

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL—When Carlos Jared tried to ship a jar of dead velvet worms collected in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest to a colleague in Germany in 2006, he had no plans to derive a drug or other product from the creatures. He just wanted to probe the reproductive system of a rare invertebrate that gives birth to live young. But Brazilian authorities denounced him as a “biopirate.”

The evolutionary biologist at the Instituto Butantan in São Paulo had run afoul of a law aiming to clamp down on what Brazil perceived as rampant pillaging of its biological resources. Jared hadn’t filled out all the paperwork required under law MP 2186, so the worms were confiscated. Worse was yet to come. “They dragged my name through the mud. It was a psychological massacre,” he says. It took him 6 years to get another permit for fieldwork, and he is still fighting in court thousands of dollars in fines.

Jared is not the only scientist to run afoul of draconian regulations, sometimes because of nothing more than a clerical oversight. “Biodiversity was deemed so valuable that nobody was allowed to research it anymore,” says Eduardo Pagani, drug development manager at the Brazilian Biosciences National Laboratory in Campinas. “They locked it in a safe and criminalized anyone who tried to work with it.”

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As part of its call for increased funding for the Department of Energy, the Senate version of COMPETES would boost spending on basic energy research.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

As part of its call for increased funding for the Department of Energy, the Senate version of COMPETES would boost spending on basic energy research.

Three Republican and four Democratic senators introduced a bill on Wednesday that would give the Department of Energy (DOE) the authority to grow its science programs by 4% a year over the next 5 years. Although the bill's sponsors say that sets the stage for doubling DOE’s science budget, including that of the agency’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), at that rate the doubling would take more than 17 years. Still, the bill is more generous than a corresponding bill passed this week by the House of Representatives to authorize a host of research programs at DOE, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and other agencies.

"Governing is about setting priorities, and this legislation will put us on a path to double basic energy research—one of the best ways to keep good paying jobs from going overseas," said Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN) in a statement. The bill was introduced into the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which is chaired by Lisa Murkowski (R–AK), who co-sponsored the bill.

The bill would be part of the Senate version of the renewal of the American COMPETES Act, bipartisan legislation that was passed in 2007 and reauthorized in 2010 and that aimed to bolster U.S. capabilities in the physical sciences. The 2007 law was drafted in response to Rising Above the Gathering Storm, an influential report from the U.S. National Academies that warned the United States would lose its economic edge if it did not invest more in such research.

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NSF

NSF

NSF

A congressional spending panel has proposed a 16% cut in funding next year for the social and geosciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF). But you’ll need a magnifying glass and a calculator to come up with that number.

The reduction is buried in a report that accompanies a $51 billion spending bill for 2016 covering numerous federal agencies that was approved Wednesday by the appropriations committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. (Kudos to Richard Jones of the American Institute of Physics, who did the math and reported it yesterday in his FYI blog.) The legislators disregarded pleas from NSF officials and science advocates not to tie the agency’s hands by designating funding levels for individual research directorates rather than the agency’s overall portfolio. It also intensifies a 2-year attack on those disciplines that until now has been led by the House science committee.

The science panel sets policies for NSF, and its controversial America COMPETES Act, which would reduce authorized spending levels for the two disciplines, passed the same day by the full House. But that panel does not control NSF’s purse. The $51 billion spending bill, on the other hand, does set budgets. It would give NSF a $50 million increase, to $7.4 billion—a 0.7% boost that is far short of the 5.2% requested by President Barack Obama.

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The 21st Century Cures Act will provide new funding for research in areas including biomarkers, precision medicine, infectious diseases, antibiotics, and basic research.

mathrong/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The 21st Century Cures Act will provide new funding for research in areas including biomarkers, precision medicine, infectious diseases, antibiotics, and basic research.

A major congressional effort to spur medical innovation passed another milestone today when a House of Representatives committee signed off on the 21st Century Cures Act.

The bill, developed by representatives Fred Upton (R–MI) and Diana DeGette (D–CO), revamps policies and provides new funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Approved unanimously by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the bill contains a few changes from a version introduced in April.

As before, the measure authorizes annual $1.5 billion raises to NIH’s budget for 3 years and also provides $10 billion over 5 years in mandatory funding for a new NIH Innovation Fund. Annually, at least $500 million of the fund will support the new Accelerating Advancement Program, which would provide matching funds for NIH’s 27 institutes and centers for research in areas including biomarkers, precision medicine, infectious diseases, antibiotics, and basic research. The remainder would go to young scientists (at least 35%); high-risk, high-reward research; and NIH intramural research. This is somewhat different from an April draft bill that would have directed the Innovation Fund to young scientists, precision medicine, and a third, unnamed category.

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Bioinformaticist Andrew Su (center front) has launched a crowdsourcing campaign to find game-changing links in biomedical literature by using volunteer “citizen scientists.”

© John Gastaldo/The San Diego Union-Tribune/ZUMAPRESS.com

Bioinformaticist Andrew Su (center front) has launched a crowdsourcing campaign to find game-changing links in biomedical literature by using volunteer "citizen scientists."

Biomedical research is often slow and incremental, but it can take a leap when someone uncovers a hidden connection. For example, researchers might never have tested a hunch that fish oil eases symptoms of Raynaud syndrome, a circulatory disorder, if an information scientist hadn’t taken the time to painstakingly scour stacks of technical articles on the seemingly unrelated topics.

It’s likely that other game-changing links lurk elsewhere in the biomedical literature. But with new papers getting published every 30 seconds, scientists are hard-pressed to find those needle-in-haystack connections. Today, one group of researchers is launching a crowdsourcing initiative to pave the way, by harnessing the efforts of lay volunteers who will scan papers for key terms to help create a powerful searchable database.

This crowdsourcing curation campaign, dubbed Mark2Cure, is first reaching out to a particularly motivated crowd—the community of people affected by NGLY1 deficiency, a newly discovered genetic disorder. Researchers have diagnosed the disease—which is caused by defects in NGLY1, an enzyme that removes sugar molecules from proteins to ensure proper degradation—in about 35 people worldwide, but they believe some 1500 others may have it. The disorder has a bewildering array of symptoms that include liver problems, poor reflexes, an inability to produce tears, and sometimes seizures.

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Jonathon Colman/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Everything had already been said, repeatedly. And so a controversial bill that would set policy for three major U.S. science agencies passed today after a debate on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that changed nobody’s mind. The vote was 217 to 205.

The America COMPETES Act (H.R. 1806) has been the subject of a 2-year battle between Republican lawmakers in the House and the research community (see previous coverage, below). It would take research at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) in dangerous directions, say Democrats who sarcastically dubbed the bill the America Concedes Act or the America Can’t Compete Act. It authorizes a shift in spending away from the geosciences and climate science, two areas that Republicans feel the Obama administration has indulged. It would tighten the strings on NSF’s grantsmaking process in ways that Republicans say are simply meant to serve the national interest but that most scientists consider too restrictive. It also cuts authorized spending levels at the National Institute of Standards and Technology far below what the White House has requested.

“This bill does absolutely nothing” to preserve U.S. research excellence, said Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), the top Democrat on the House science panel that drafted the bill, her voice almost breaking in anger as she kicked off the 3-hour debate. The chair of that committee, Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), rejected those and other accusations by Democrats. “Real priorities require making real choices,” he asserted, “and H.R. 1806 proves we can set priorities and still invest more in innovation.”

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A booming open-access (OA) publishing company has dismissed virtually the entire leadership of two medical journals amid a heated conflict over editorial independence. Frontiers, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, removed 31 editors of Frontiers in Medicine and Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine on 7 May after the editors complained that company staff were interfering with editorial decisions and violating core principles of medical publishing.

Emotions are running high. The editors say Frontiers' publication practices are designed to maximize the company's profits, not the quality of papers, and that this could harm patients. Frederick Fenter, executive editor at Frontiers, says the company had no choice but to fire the entire group because they were holding up the publication of papers until their demands were met, which he likens to "extortion."

Both journals were launched in 2014 as part of a fast-growing OA publishing company founded and run by husband-and-wife couple Henry and Kamila Markram, both neuroscientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. (Henry Markram is also the brain behind the controversial €1 billion Human Brain Project, which agreed to substantial reforms earlier this year after two critical reports.)

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New White House pollinator plan gives big buzz to science

Orangeaurochs/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A new White House plan to promote the health of bees and other pollinators calls for boosting research into ongoing population declines—and potential solutions. The plan, released yesterday, also recommends numerous measures to address growing concerns about the threat that bees, birds, butterflies, and other pollinators face from multiple factors, including pathogens, pesticides, climate change, and habitat loss. By addressing scientific knowledge gaps, the research should make the plan’s suggested measures much more effective, the report says.

The call for more research is just one part of the much broader pollinator health strategy unveiled 19 May by a multiagency task force convened by President Barack Obama last year. The strategy—widely anticipated but issued 5 months later than the White House had originally planned—also outlines a series of steps and goals for agencies to pursue, such as tackling bee-killing pathogens and mites, reducing pesticide use and reviewing its safety to bees, restoring degraded pollinator habitats, and encouraging the planting of more flowering plants and other pollinator-friendly vegetation.

So far, scientists are giving the plan a thumbs-up. “I think it's phenomenal,” says May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. “To my knowledge, [it is] the first national-scale effort to address pollinator declines.”

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A tweet from LaCour's account.

A tweet from LaCour's account.

A political science graduate student accused of faking data behind a recent Science paper on gay marriage is preparing to offer a defense “at my earliest opportunity,” according to statements posted on his Twitter account. “I’m gathering evidence and relevant information so I can provide a single comprehensive response,” tweeted an account registered to Michael J. LaCour, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles, at about 12:15 p.m. Eastern Time today.

Yesterday, the paper's co-author, political scientist Donald Green of Columbia University, sent a letter to Science asking to retract the December 2014 paper as a result of concerns about the underlying data. LaCour was the only other author of the paper.

The study, based on in-person and Internet surveys of some 9500 registered voters in California conducted by a survey company, found that even relatively short conversations with a gay canvasser could make voters more supportive of gay marriage and equality. But questions about the study arose earlier this month when another group of researchers began a follow-on study, but got very different preliminary results. When they approached the survey company for information about the original methods, “the survey firm claimed they had no familiarity with the [original] project and … denied having the capabilities to perform many aspects of the recruitment procedures described in LaCour and Green,” the researchers report in a statement posted online.

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Drawing of the ITER reactor in action.

ITER ORGANIZATION

Drawing of the ITER reactor in action.

For the second year in a row, Senate budgetmakers have moved to pull the United States out of ITER, the huge and hugely over budget international fusion experiment under construction in Cadarache, France. The cut comes in the Senate version of the so-called energy and water spending bill, which would fund the Department of Energy (DOE) and other agencies for fiscal year 2016, which begins 1 October. But nixing ITER is hardly a done deal: On 1 May, legislators in the House of Representatives passed their own version of the energy and water bill, which includes $150 million for the U.S. contribution to ITER—the amount the White House has requested.

"This year we have recommended eliminating funding for the U.S. contribution [to ITER],” said Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN) chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development at the subcommittee's markup of the bill today. "This saves $150 million in just this year." The subcommittee also moved to cut funding to ITER last year, when the Democrats controlled the Senate and Dianne Feinstein (D–CA) chaired the energy and water subcommittee. But the final budget bill for fiscal year 2015, signed by President Barack Obama on 16 December 2014, contained $150 million for the project.

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A inquiry has concluded that Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who transplanted artificial windpipes, committed research misconduct.

STAFFAN LARSSON/KAROLINSKA INSTITUTE

A inquiry has concluded that Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who transplanted artificial windpipes, committed research misconduct.

An investigation has concluded that surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, famous for transplanting tissue-engineered tracheae into more than a dozen people, committed scientific misconduct. The Karolinska Institute in Sweden, where Macchiarini is a visiting professor, commissioned the external investigation in response to allegations brought by four researchers at the institute and the affiliated Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, where several of the transplants were performed.

The external investigator, Bengt Gerdin, professor emeritus of surgery at Uppsala University, submitted his report (in Swedish) on 13 May. (The newspaper Svenska Dagbladet first reported the findings yesterday.)

The allegations leveled by the Karolinska researchers involved three surgeries performed at Karolinska for people who had a damaged trachea. One patient, described in a paper in The Lancet, survived for 2 years after receiving the artificial trachea, which incorporated human stem cells. Another patient survived for just 2 months. A third is still alive, but has been in intensive care at Karolinska since the surgery in August 2012.

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A march against GM crops on World Food Day 2013 in Berlin.

Sozialfotografie [►] StR/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A march against GM crops on World Food Day 2013 in Berlin.

BERLIN—When it comes to labeling genetically modified (GM) food, the battle lines are usually clear: Those who oppose genetic engineering want it labeled, and those who support it see no need. But today, a group of German scientists and other proponents of GM organisms launched a campaign to require labeling of anything that contains or has been produced with the help of GM organisms.

Their unusual plea is a political gamble; rather than making it more difficult for GM products to reach consumers, they hope the new law will show Germans just how widespread such products already are—whether it’s in food, clothes, drugs, or washing powder—and that there is nothing to be afraid of.

The petition to the German parliament, which will go online tomorrow, asks the German government to prepare a law that requires GM labeling for all food, feed, drugs, textiles, chemicals, and other products that have been produced using genetic engineering. The petition also calls on the government to advocate a similar law at the E.U. level.

The text was written by Horst Rehberger, who leads a group called Forum Grüne Vernunft (Forum Green Reason), and has the backing of several prominent scientists, including Nobel Prize winner Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, as well as some politicians. If it receives more than 50,000 signatures in the next 4 weeks, the German parliament has to consider the proposal.

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The U.S. military says it will start collecting demographic data on those who apply for and win research funding. Here, a researcher at an Army science center.

U.S. Army RDECOM/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The U.S. military says it will start collecting demographic data on those who apply for and win research funding. Here, a researcher at an Army science center.

The Department of Defense (DOD) will start collecting data on the gender of its grant applicants and award recipients to help determine whether women in science and engineering face any discrimination in the grantsmaking process.

Last year, three members of the U.S. House of Representatives asked a congressional watchdog agency to analyze the issue at the six biggest federal research agencies. But the Government Accountability Office found that three of them—DOD, NASA, and the Department of Energy (DOE)—don’t have the information needed to answer that question. Last week, DOD’s head of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, Frank Kendall, wrote to the legislators saying that the department “has found no legal hurdles that would prevent the Department from collecting this data.” Kendall said DOD would work with agencies that already do so, notably the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, “to determine best practices before beginning data collection.”

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Engineered yeast may soon duplicate the biochemical pathways that have long made opium poppies a source of widely used drugs, including heroin.

liz west/Creative Commons

Engineered yeast may soon duplicate the biochemical pathways that have long made opium poppies a source of widely used drugs, including heroin.

The opium poppy may soon meet its match. Researchers in the United States and Canada report today that they are closing in on a long-standing goal of engineering a complex suite of genes into yeast that would allow the microbes to synthesize morphine, codeine, and other medicines that have been harvested from poppies since before written history began. The new work holds out the prospect of being able to cheaply and easily produce widely used medicines with new capabilities and fewer side effects. At the same time, policy specialists worry that the new yeast strains could allow narcotics dealers to convert sugar to morphine or heroin as easily as beer enthusiasts create homebrews today.

“There really is potential for screwing things up,” says Kenneth Oye, a biotech policy expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “If you get the integrated pathway for one-pot synthesis of glucose to morphine, that’s not controllable if it gets out. You better darn well get on top of it before that happens,” says Oye, who offers several ideas for increasing oversight of the new biotechnology in a commentary released online today in Nature.

Morphine, heroin, and other opiates produced from poppies already wreak plenty of havoc. Some 16 million people worldwide use the drugs illegally. In the United States alone, nearly 14,000 people died from overdoses of heroin and other opiate pain relievers between 2010 and 2012, according to data compiled from 28 states by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oye says the concern is that those numbers could skyrocket if dealers and users can brew their own drugs.

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Cattle at a ranch in Pará, Brazil.

AC Moraes/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Cattle at a ranch in Pará, Brazil.

Cattle ranching has been the primary driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, as huge swaths of rainforest are cleared to make way for agriculture. But “zero-deforestation agreements” signed by some of Brazil’s big beef industry players appear to be helping reduce the destruction, a new study concludes.

“We’re showing that these commitments can [produce] meaningful change on the ground,” says land use researcher Holly Gibbs of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, a lead author of the study, published online this week in Conservation Letters.

Cattle ranching in the Brazilian Amazon has seen tremendous growth in the past decade. The herd expanded 200% between 1993 and 2013, researchers estimate, reaching a total of nearly 60 million individuals. During that time, an area of forest the size of Italy was cleared. Nearly half of the clearing, 40%, occurred in the state of Pará, home to nearly one-third of Brazil’s cattle.

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Cary Fowler

Henrik Edelbo/Seeds of Time

Cary Fowler

Tennessee native Cary Fowler was trained as a sociologist, earning a doctorate from Sweden’s Uppsala University in the 1970s. But he’s now better known as a high-profile advocate for protecting the genetic diversity of the world’s crops. In the 1990s, he helped the United Nations produce an influential assessment of the world’s crop diversity and later helped lead a campaign to save an important Russian collection of fruit and berry germ plasm (an effort that earned him election to the Russian Academy of Sciences).

From 2005 to 2012, Fowler served as executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, helping create the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The facility—dubbed a doomsday vault for seeds—is buried deep beneath Norway’s permafrost. It holds more than 500,000 samples of crop germ plasm, providing a backup for the national and international seed banks that donated the material.

Later this month, Seeds of Time, a documentary that chronicles Fowler’s efforts, will open in New York and Los Angeles. Fowler, now an adviser to the trust, recently discussed his work with ScienceInsider. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

TMT Collaborative

An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope

Representative John Culberson (R–TX) says he’s not butting in. But he wants the National Science Foundation (NSF) to pay a significant share of the $1.55 billion cost of a massive telescope to be built in Hawaii.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is the dream of a consortium of universities, foundations, and national observatories in the United States, Canada, China, India, and Japan. It would be one of the world’s largest optical telescopes. The consortium has raised between 75% and 80% of what’s needed and has long hoped NSF would be a major backer. But the agency has yet to commit. In 2013, it gave the TMT consortium a 5-year, $1.25 million grant to study how the agency might participate in the international project, an effort that could lead to a formal proposal to the agency in 2017.

NSF created new rules for vetting proposed large new facilities in the 1990s after scientists complained that the agency’s existing approach was not transparent and didn’t make clear what was expected of them. However, the process, which includes meeting several interim deadlines, can take many years from start to finish.

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Representative John Culberson (R–TX)

Democrats/U.S. House science committee

Representative John Culberson (R–TX)

The congressional noose around research in the social sciences and the geosciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF) got pulled a little tighter today as an influential legislator unveiled a new and controversial budget metric as part of his blueprint for the agency.

“I want to make sure that they are spending about 70% of their money on the core sciences,” says Representative John Culberson (R–TX), chair of the appropriations subcommittee that funds NSF and several other federal science agencies. Culberson spoke to ScienceInsider after his panel marked up a 2016 spending bill that would give NSF only $50 million of the $379 million increase it has requested.

Culberson, who this year succeeded the retiring Representative Frank Wolf (R–VA) as chair of the commerce, justice, and science (CJS) subcommittee, has thrown his weight behind a campaign by some Republicans to earmark more of NSF’s budget for what they have labeled the “pure sciences.” Their definition covers only four of NSF’s six research directorates—biology, computing, engineering, and math and physical sciences. It leaves geoscience and the social and behavioral sciences out in the cold.

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Guarantee drug companies a profit to develop new antibiotics, U.K. report says

mario/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Ever-evolving bacteria have left doctors desperate for new drugs, and a new report commissioned by the government of the United Kingdom lays out a plan for how to get them: Global governments should unite to offer multibillion-dollar incentives for drug developers, and pharmaceutical companies should pool their billions in support of early-stage research. The analysis—the third in a series from a commission established by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and chaired by former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill—is the most specific and prescriptive yet, laying out what it calls “a bold set of interventions” to get new drugs to market.

The problem of antimicrobial resistance has received a global spotlight lately as cases of highly resistant infections mount. The White House rolled out a new antibiotic resistance budget initiative in January, following the creation of an interagency task force last year.

Unfortunately, the development of new drugs has stalled, partially for economic reasons: New therapies are costly and risky to develop, but when they reach the market, they compete with cheap generic drugs that doctors prefer to use for all but the more dire resistant infections. The new report starts with the premise that the world needs 15 new antibiotics per decade, at least four of which should have new mechanisms of action to target the most harmful pathogens, such as Klebsiella pneumoniae and Escherichia coli.

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