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6 March 2014 1:04 pm ,
Vol. 343 ,
Magdalena Koziol, a former postdoc at Yale University, was the victim of scientific sabotage. Now, she is suing the...
Antiretroviral drugs can protect people from becoming infected by HIV. But so-called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP...
Two studies show that eating a diet low in protein and high in carbohydrates is linked to a longer, healthier life, and...
Considered an icon of conservation science, researchers at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) headquarters in Washington, D.C.,...
The new atlas, which shows the distribution of important trace metals and other substances, is the first product of...
Early in April, the first of a fleet of environmental monitoring satellites will lift off from Europe's spaceport in...
Since 2000, U.S. government health research agencies have spent almost $1 billion on an effort to churn out thousands...
- 6 March 2014 1:04 pm , Vol. 343 , #6175
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- Monday, April 8, 2013 - 1:53pm
Several thousand researchers, physicians, and patient advocates rallied this morning in a downtown Washington, D.C., park, urging Congress and the White House to sustain federal funding for biomedical research. Scroll through to see what the event looked like. More details soon on ScienceInsider.David Malakoff David Malakoff David Malakoff David Malakoff David Malakoff David Malakoff David Malakoff David Malakoff David Malakoff David Malakoff Continue Reading
- Friday, April 5, 2013 - 12:55pm
The environment committee of the United Kingdom's House of Commons is calling for a ban of three common pesticides in order to protect honey bees and other pollinators. "We believe that the weight of scientific evidence now warrants precautionary action," the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Joan Walley, said in a statement.
The number of honey bees and many wild pollinators have declined in the United Kingdom from a variety of causes, including habitat loss and disease. There is debate about the role of pesticides in the loss of honey bee colonies, but evidence is growing that they do harm bumblebees. In September, the Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee began an inquiry into how the United Kingdom should be regulating pesticides.
Meanwhile, the European Food Safety Authority issued a report in January that three pesticides are an "acute risk" to honey bees and should not be used on corn and other crops from which bees collect pollen. Later in the month, the European Commission, which had requested the study, proposed a 2-year ban of three common neonicotinoids for four crops. Member nations then voted down the ban, and the United Kingdom abstained.Continue Reading
- Thursday, April 4, 2013 - 11:30am
On 26 March, a 73-year-old man from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, died at the Klinikum Schwabing, a hospital in Munich. He was the 11th known fatality related to infection with the novel coronavirus (nCoV), a pathogen that was first reported in September 2012 and is attracting substantial interest from researchers. Overall, officials have reported 17 cases of nCoV infection.
Clemens Wendtner, a professor of medicine and assistant medical director at the University of Cologne, is a physician at the Munich hospital. ScienceInsider asked Wendtner how the case was handled and why he thinks the patient may have been infected by one of his racing camels. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Why did the patient seek treatment in Germany and why did he come to the Klinikum Schwabing?
C.W.: We are one of seven reference centers for infectious diseases in Germany; the Klinikum Schwabing has a unit for highly contagious patients, and one of the first SARS patients was treated here in 2003. This particular patient was treated in Munich for multiple myeloma, which had been diagnosed in 2009. He flew into Germany on a frequent basis to get chemotherapy and even stem cell transplantation at a private center.
While in Abu Dhabi, his condition deteriorated, and his treating hematologist here in Munich asked to fly him in to get a closer look; the family also wanted him to be transferred. At this point we only knew he had some pulmonary problems, but we were not aware of any coronavirus testing; this was not done in the United Arab Emirates.
Q: When did you suspect he might have the virus?
C.W.: When we examined his condition and saw his medication list; he had even started on [the influenza drug]Continue Reading
- Wednesday, April 3, 2013 - 5:00pm
For neuroscientist Rafael Yuste, sitting in an ornate White House chamber yesterday listening to President Barack Obama heap praise—and some $100 million—on a brain-mapping initiative that he helped hatch was a "luminous" experience. "It felt like history," says the researcher, who works at Columbia University.
"There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked," Obama told the East Room crowd packed with leaders of American neuroscience during a 12-minute paean to brain research (likely the most expansive yet delivered by an American president). By "giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action," he said, the new initiative will help scientists find a cure for complex brain processes such as traumatic brain injury and Parkinson's, and create jobs that "we haven't even dreamt up yet."
For all the lofty rhetoric, however, the White House didn't provide many details about how the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative will accomplish its mission. And the lack of detail is worrying not only BRAIN skeptics—who argue that it targets the wrong goal and could detract from other research efforts—but also even some staunch advocates such as Yuste. The way that the White House has packaged and plans to fund and coordinate the initiative, they say, is creating some unease.
"As the proposal stands, it's still awfully vague, so it's hard not to have some reservations," says biophysicist Jeremy Berg of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, who is a former director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Several years ago, Yuste and other scientists originally pitched BRAIN to U.S. government officials as the Brain Activity Map, a 10-year, $3 billion effort to develop tools in nanotechnology, optogenetics, and synthetic biology thatContinue Reading
- Wednesday, April 3, 2013 - 2:40pm
James Hansen, perhaps the world's most prominent and outspoken climate scientist, had told reporters in recent years that his retirement was coming. Yesterday, The New York Times reported that the 72-year-old researcher has made it official and will leave his job at a NASA research institute after 46 years to pursue climate activism and litigation full-time.
The move marks a new turn in a storied and tumultuous career that has transformed Hansen, as environmental scientist Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado, Boulder, puts it:
[F]rom staid government bureaucrat -- clean shaven in a blue suit to a stylish icon, complete with signature hat and Amish beard -- to passionate advocate who no longer wants to work for government but seeks to change it.
Working from a quixotic NASA research facility adjacent to Columbia University whose quiet hallways felt more like an academic outpost than a government lab, Hansen's voluminous research career spanned everything from work on Venus, his first atmospheric science quarry, to creating one of the first climate models for Earth. Later, he delved deeply into applied energy research and the impacts of climate change. In 1988, he rose to public notice with testimony before Congress that warned of the implications of rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And equal to his scientific legacy may be his decision, made roughly a decade ago, to begin to speak out forcefully for "the survival of humanity itself" in the face of "government inaction and greenwashing," as he put in his 2009 book Storms of My Grandchildren.
The news of Hansen's retirement set Twitter and the Web world buzzing with reaction that highlighted the impact that the researcher has had within and far beyond theContinue Reading
- Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - 6:10pm
A simmering dispute over Canadian government rules on how federal researchers communicate with the public and the press has taken an unexpected turn. Earlier this week, the country's information commissioner, Suzanne Legault, confirmed that she has opened an investigation into whether scientists in seven government departments are being muzzled by senior politicians.
Canadian reporters and government scientists have bristled at communications rules imposed by the Conservative government after Stephen Harper was sworn in as prime minister in February 2006. In particular, they've been unhappy with a policy that requires all federal civil servants and scientists to get permission for press interviews from their minister or the Privy Council Office (Harper's central shop) and that all questions be submitted in advance. Often, interviews with scientists are conducted with a media relations officer in the room or on the phone; if a reporter asks a question that isn't among those submitted in advance, the officer leaps in and precludes the scientist from answering the question. In a recent dictum, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans also required that all department scientists get approval, including sign off on copyright waivers, from senior officials before publishing papers.
In February, such practices prompted two groups—the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria and Democracy Watch, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that advocates for democratic reform and government accountability—to write to Legault, who holds a position created in 1983 to oversee Canada's Access to Information Act. The groups asked Legault to examine whether the government was systematically obstructing "the right of the media—and through them, the Canadian public—to timely access to government scientists." Such obstruction constitutes a "subtle means of intimidation," the environmental law center argued in a 128-page report called Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy? thatContinue Reading
- Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - 5:15pm
U.S. officials in Milwaukee have arrested a cancer researcher from China, Huajun Zhao, 42, on charges of "economic espionage" after a colleague at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCOW) reported that vials of a research compound were missing. According to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI, a security video recorded Zhao as the last person to enter an office where vials of a substance called C-25, a potential anticancer agent, were seen. The FBI statement, dated 29 March, reports that Zhao "may have used his employment and position at MCOW to illegally acquire patented research material and taken steps to provide that material to Zhejiang University, a university in China." MCOW officials, according to the FBI, accuse Zhao of copying research results without permission from files belonging to cancer researcher Marshall Anderson and another MCOW scientist and deleting shared data from a MCOW computer.
The FBI's criminal complaint reports that Zhao failed to respond to many questions, saying that he did not understand English well, but "denied any involvement in the theft of the C-25 and denied" deleting material from the MCOW computer. Under a recently revised federal law, a person convicted of economic espionage can be fined up to $5 million and sentenced to as many as 15 years in prison.
Zhao was in a court hearing today to determine whether he should be held for trial and could not be reached for comment. His attorney, public defender Juval Scott, was also unavailable. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which reported Zhao's arrest yesterday, quoted Scott as saying this is "a complex case involving a talented professional accused of a serious crime, we look forward to rolling up our sleeves on Dr. Zhao's behalf."
An MCOW spokesperson declined to commentContinue Reading
- Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - 5:00pm
Rumors of Scripps begone—geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who stepped down as head of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in February, is returning to Washington, D.C., as the new editor-in-chief of Science. McNutt will take over the editorship on 1 June from Bruce Alberts, who announced his retirement last year.
McNutt is no stranger to Science: She served on Science's Senior Editorial Board, which helps set journal policy, from 2000 to 2009, an experience that she says will be helpful in her new job on several fronts. "It gave me a chance to know many of the editors and staff at Science, and to understand at a high level a lot of the decisions that the editor-in-chief is responsible for," including the balance of content between news and research or between different disciplines. "We anguished at many meetings over the readability of articles, over things like how much should be in the supplemental material, over trying to promote papers from developing countries. I'm sure a lot of those decisions and issues have not gone away."
McNutt also notes the many new pressures facing science publishing—such as authors bypassing journals entirely and posting their work directly on the Internet, sometimes as a way to more directly engage the public and provide more immediate connections to readers and promotion of their findings. "While that's certainly their prerogative, I believe there is a huge value-added that journals still provide," she says. "I can say this as an author—[there's] the value-added that peer reviewers have offered me, by helping to focus papers, finding places where I could have said things better, or had made errors." And, with scientists being busier than ever, she says, journals provide a vital service by sifting through thousands of scientific papers to find theContinue Reading
- Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - 11:35am
SHANGHAI, CHINA—With thousands of dead pigs found floating in local rivers and a government with a history of covering up outbreaks, rumors are swirling in China over the deaths of two people here from avian influenza that the government announced on Sunday. But scientists say that it's still too early to draw substantive conclusions about the virulence or source of the virus, H7N9, found in the patients; nor is it clear that there is a link to the more than 16,000 pig carcasses found in the Huangpu River and its tributaries in March.
H7N9 killed two men, ages 87 and 27, and infected a woman in nearby Anhui province in late February and early March, health officials said Sunday; according to an AFP report today, the health bureau in the eastern province of Jiangsu has reported four new cases, which would bring the total to seven.
The virus, which had never been found in humans before, appears to be "more pathogenic than other known H7 viruses to humans," says Chen Hualan, a virologist and director of China's National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory in Harbin. The three infected people reported about on Sunday suffered from severe pneumonia, she says, while "other H7 viruses mainly cause conjunctivitis in humans." But researchers have not yet tested how virulent the patients' viruses are in animal models, she adds. The other big unknowns are whether the strain is circulating in pigs, which could make it a significant threat to humans, and whether people can transmit it to each other.
The China Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) in Beijing confirmed the cases on 29 March, after ruling out avian influenza strains H3N2, H1N1, H5N1, and the novel coronavirus that has begun to spread recently,Continue Reading
- Monday, April 1, 2013 - 2:35pm
It looks fairly certain that Europe's next Earth-observing science mission to win approval for construction will be Biomass, a spacecraft that will be able to measure the carbon content of the world's forests with unprecedented range and accuracy. Biomass was one of three candidate missions that the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Earth Science Advisory Committee studied during a workshop in Graz, Austria, last month. Volker Liebig, head of ESA's earth observation program, tells ScienceInsider that following the meeting, the committee picked the €420 million Biomass to go forward.
The final decision rests with ESA's Earth Observation Programme Board, made up of representatives from ESA's 20 member states, which will meet in early May. It's customary for ESA program boards to accept the recommendations of their advisers. "I've never seen a closer decision" than the one in Graz, Liebig says. "They were all very good." Shaun Quegan, chair of the Biomass mission advisory group, says it was "a very high stress meeting. We had 3 days of questioning. It's taken me 2 weeks to recover." The other two shortlisted missions—which had been whittled down from an original list of over 20 possibilities—were CoReH2O, which sought to model the water balance in glaciers and snow-covered areas, and PREMIER, which aimed to study chemical processes in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere and the radiative effects of clouds. Both can reapply for future opportunities.
Biomass is a radar mission which will bounce radio waves off the forest canopy to learn about the amount of material present and the height of the forest. It will use 70-centimeter radio waves, the longest you can use from space without getting tangled in the ionosphere. Until recently, such radio waves, known as P-band, were reserved for other uses and so were outContinue Reading
- Friday, March 29, 2013 - 1:10pm
Any doubts that Canada is an "outlier" on climate change were dispelled this week, say critics, after the Conservative government announced it is withdrawing from a U.N. convention to combat desertification signed by 194 other nations.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May decried the move as another sign of the Conservative's indifference to environmental protection. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is "making us a rogue nation. The North Korea of environmental law," she tweeted.
Harper says his government is simply being fiscally prudent. Only 18% of the roughly CAD$350,000 per year that Canada contributed to the U.N. initiative is "actually spent on programming," he told Parliament this week during question period. "The rest goes to various bureaucratic measures. … It's not an effective way to spend taxpayers' money."
The decision to withdraw was made last week—ironically Canada Water Week—at the recommendation of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. Yesterday, Baird told a Parliament Hill scrum, "We're just not interested in continuing to support bureaucracies and talkfests."
The formal notice that it was pulling out of the international treaty, officially the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa, was delivered to the United Nations on Monday. Canada has previously shied away from the Kyoto Protocol, and this decision is another example of U.N. bashing by the Conservative government since its unsuccessful campaign in 2010 to gain a seat on the U.N. Security Council. Withdrawal from the desertification convention suggests that Harper is still in a fit of pique.
Noting that Canada was one of the first countries to sign onto the 1994 treaty, New Democratic and foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said its decision to withdraw shows "that they either did not understandContinue Reading
- Thursday, March 28, 2013 - 5:30pm
It's a tradition for some Republicans in Congress to take aim at research grants that they think are irrelevant and not worthy of taxpayer funding. Now, the chair of the House of Representatives spending panel that funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is claiming that some federally funded biomedical research violates government restrictions on lobbying state lawmakers or Congress.
The issue surfaced earlier this month at a hearing of the panel. Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) grilled NIH Director Francis Collins about two grants to tobacco control researcher Stanton Glantz of the University of California, San Francisco, in which some of the money was used to trace the Tea Party's origins to groups funded by the tobacco industry. The study reflected "a partisan political agenda," claimed Harris, who calls himself "a Tea Party guy." (Collins responded that he was "quite troubled" by the study.)
As a new member of the panel, Harris doesn't have much clout. But it turns out that its chair, Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA), has the same concerns.
At the same 5 March hearing, Kingston gave Collins this letter expressing concerns about several grants. In addition to Glantz's, Kingston objected to a 1-year, $50,000 award to criminology professor Catherine Gallagher of George Mason University to produce a monograph reviewing research on the health problems of young prison inmates. The letter quotes from Gallagher's abstract, saying the project "is intended to engage the medical, public health, criminal justice, policy, legal and advocacy communities by uniting diverse disciplines around a common issue."
Such studies aren't directly related to NIH's mission, Kingston's letter claims. "As elected officials, we cannot explain to our constituents why their tax dollars are used by NIH to fund advocacy groups [or] address political questions," it says. Kingston asked NIH to review withinContinue Reading
- Thursday, March 28, 2013 - 5:00pm
One year ago, Hollywood director and deep-sea enthusiast James Cameron rode the Deepsea Challenger, a specialized, one-person, deep-sea submarine, down 10.9 kilometers into the Mariana Trench, the ocean's deepest point. He became the first person to reach the bottom of Mariana alone, and the first to do it at all in 52 years. (The U.S. Navy's Trieste carried two crew members to the bottom in 1960.) Cameron designed and built the Deepsea Challenger with a team of scientists and engineers over 7 years. Earlier this week, he gave custody of the sub to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, which already manages another famous deep-diving submarine, Alvin. David Gallo, director of special projects at WHOI, chatted with ScienceInsider about WHOI's plans for Challenger. This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: When was WHOI first approached to take the sub?
D.G.: I think it's always been in the back of Jim's mind, even when he was building the submarine, that he wanted the legacy and the technology to keep moving forward; he didn't want it to end up in a warehouse someplace. It's been in the works for about a year, and then more seriously through the last summer, and then in the past several months there have been very serious discussions of how this might happen.
Q: How is the sub going to get to you guys at Woods Hole?
D.G.: It's going to make the long truck ride from California to Cape Cod at the beginning of next month. I'm hoping that we get to make several stops at various cities. It's a fantastic device, and I'm hoping it will be an inspiration toContinue Reading
- Thursday, March 28, 2013 - 4:45pm
Last Friday, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a short report outlining various steps on climate change that President Barack Obama could take during his second term. Facing political gridlock on Capitol Hill and abroad, the PCAST scientists opted to highlight steps that PCAST member Daniel Schrag, a geochemist and energy expert at Harvard University, said the president "could push for and achieve." But some scientists say that Obama's advisers should have pressed him to be more bold (see related coverage in the 22 March issue of Science).
One of the major thrusts of the report, which was discussed at PCAST's 15 March meeting in Washington, D.C., was to emphasize "climate preparedness"—a relabeling of the idea that the government should be doing more to prepare the nation to adapt to changes expected to be caused by global warming, such as rising seas, droughts, and floods. In particular, it suggested that Obama should push for new national preparedness and infrastructure renewal plans, create a national commission on climate preparedness, and support improvements to weather and climate forecasting.
The report didn't ignore the need the need to curb, or mitigate, emissions of greenhouse gases. It included options for the president to extend Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that govern carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants to existing plants, create a North American climate pact with Canada and Mexico, support carbon capture and storage (CCS), expand natural gas drilling, and expand tax credits to other renewables beyond wind.
Although PCAST called for "very substantial mitigation," its report declined to recommend the idea of putting a price on carbon pollution, a centerpiece of climate legislation that Congress rejected earlier in Obama's term-or the administration's pending decisionContinue Reading
- Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 5:55pm
The U.K. government today published an industrial strategy to help its businesses make the most of expected growth in nuclear energy as the United Kingdom and other countries begin to build more nuclear plants to reduce carbon emissions. The strategy acknowledges that a burgeoning nuclear industry will need government support for research and development, and so it commissioned a review, also published today, on the current state of British nuclear R&D and a road map outlining what needs to be done in the future.
To kick things off, the government is spending £15 million on a new National Nuclear Users' Facility where university and industry researchers can study materials crucial to power generation and reprocessing. "This roadmap is a vital part of ensuring the UK can deliver its nuclear new build programme," said Steven Cowley, CEO of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority, in a statement. The new user facility is "[e]specially exciting," he added. "[W]ith the recent advances in computational material design and microtesting, [it] will enable us and our partners to develop materials for safer, cheaper and more sustainable nuclear systems."
The review of nuclear R&D was sparked by a November 2011 report from the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee into U.K. nuclear R&D capabilities. The report concluded that there was "a lack of co-ordination of nuclear R&D activities and a perception amongst international partners that the UK is no longer a serious player in the field."
In response, the government set up in March 2012 the Ad Hoc Nuclear Research and Development Advisory Board, chaired by government chief science adviser John Beddington. The United Kingdom hasn't built a new nuclear power plant since the 1980s and that is reflected in the makeup of the country'sContinue Reading
- Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 11:25am
On 11 March, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) issued a press release proudly announcing that a research team there had deciphered much of the genetic sequence of one of the most widely used cell lines in cancer studies and had made the information available publicly. But EMBL has now withdrawn that data and apologized for a perceived ethical lapse as it seeks to allay concerns that it violated the privacy of the woman who was the original source of the cells or that of her descendants.
"We have taken the data offline until the question has been resolved of whether the family consents to the public availability of genomic information on the cell line," writes an EMBL spokesperson in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. "This case raises new questions, since there is no precedence for consent for cell line research, and there is no precedent for requirement of consent by relatives in genome sequencing."
The cell line in question is known as HeLa, after an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks. As famously chronicled in science writer Rebecca Skloot's best-selling book, the cell line was established, without Lacks's consent, from a cervical tumor that she was diagnosed with in 1951. (She died from cancer late that year.) Researchers have conducted so many studies with HeLa cells that they've become somewhat of a problem; scientists will periodically suffer the embarrassment of finding that HeLa cells contaminate their other cell lines.
Given the widespread use of the HeLa cell line, Lars Steinmetz and his colleagues at EMBL decided that conducting an extensive analysis of its genome could illustrate the changes caused by cancer—and also help researchers compare versions of the cell line that have evolved over decades of growth in labs around the world. TheContinue Reading
- Monday, March 25, 2013 - 5:35pm
U.S. research agencies finally know what they have to spend for the rest of the 2013 fiscal year after Congress completed work on 20 March on a bill to fund the government through 30 September.
The heavy lifting was completed by the Senate, and, on 21 March, the House of Representatives accepted the Senate's version. The so-called continuing resolution modifies some of the more onerous aspects of the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester that went into effect earlier this month. But the spending bill retains the overall $85 billion reduction in a trillion-dollar budget that covers discretionary spending (which covers most science agencies).
The Senate bill provides a detailed spending road map for the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology that includes congressional preferences. But other research agencies, notably the National Institutes of Health, have received very little guidance beyond an overall amount they can spend.
Details on specific agencies and issues below:
Homeland Security Science Rebounds Smithsonian Takes Budget in Stride NSF Gets a Boost but Political Science Takes a Hit NIH Gets Little Relief NASA's Planetary Programs Get a Lifeline
NOAA Endures Stormy Politics, Emerges Mostly Intact
David Malakoff, 5:35 p.m. on 25 March
Dickering over the National Oceanoic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) 2013 budget caused plenty of sturm and drang over the past year. But the final outcome has agency advocates feeling somewhat serene. "NOAA did wellContinue Reading
- Monday, March 25, 2013 - 3:15pm
After 2 years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will soon have a permanent director for its basic research institute. Jon Lorsch, a biochemist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, will join the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) on 1 August.
Lorsch, 44, is a longtime NIGMS grantee who uses yeast to study how molecular machines inside cells initiate the translation of RNA into a protein. He will come to the $2.4 billion NIGMS, the fourth largest NIH institute, at a time when NIH is coping with a decade of flat budgets and a 5% budget cut this year from sequestration. Lorsch says his priorities will be to make the case for basic research—"the wellspring that feeds advances in medicine and technology," he says—and to "make sure taxpayer investment is used efficiently."
He also expects to help NIH carry out plans to improve graduate education and attract minorities to research, both areas he has worked on at Hopkins. Diversity in "scientific subjects, settings, and researchers," will be a theme, he says: "If we can ensure that we have the most effective ways to distribute funding, it will be for the good of the nation and scientists." A NIGMS policy that requires proposals from researchers who have $750,000 in funding to undergo additional review is "a step in the right direction," he says.
Lorsch will bring along a small lab and continue a collaboration with intramural researchers at NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Lorsch comes from the same Hopkins department once chaired by the previous NIGMS director, Jeremy Berg, who left in July 2011. A few months later Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) cell biologist Chris Kaiser was named NIGMS director, butContinue Reading
- Friday, March 22, 2013 - 6:17pm
With plans for a new floating dock at McMurdo Sound and robotic transportation to the South Pole, there's a kind of change in climate coming to the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). Last July, a panel organized by NSF, and led by retired chair and CEO of Lockheed Martin Norman Augustine, issued a detailed report with recommendations for how to upgrade and improve the efficiency of its logistical capabilities.
This week, NSF issued a summary response to that report. In a letter dated 14 March accompanying the document, then-NSF Director Subra Suresh noted some progress already made toward implementing these recommendations, and that the agency is "in the process of developing a longer-range implementation strategy to respond accordingly." NSF, for example, has begun planning to upgrade the facilities and safety regimes (such as the fire-suppression systems) at USAP's primary station, McMurdo, and at Palmer Station. USAP's third outpost on the continent, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, was overhauled in 2008.
NSF has already taken action on some of the more straightforward concerns expressed by Augustine's panel, such as constructing an improved pier and a floating dock at Palmer Station to allow research and supply ships to avoid an underwater rock ledge and improved health conditions in the stations. Perhaps one of the more subtle, yet significant, changes now in effect are the strengthened requirements for scientific proposals, the next round of which are due this April. The report had recommended that NSF lean on Antarctic scientists to keep a sharper eye on the costs of instrumentation deployment and operation support by considering those costs in the review and selection of science projects. NSF took note and has included "pretty pointed" language about that, says Kelly Falkner, director of NSF's Office ofContinue Reading
- Friday, March 22, 2013 - 5:45pm
Months of consultation with the French scientific community culminated on Wednesday when the science minister presented a draft bill for a new higher education and research law that France's Parliament will soon consider. The crafting of the new law began with high hopes among scientists, including that it would reduce competition between researchers, institutions, and regions and simplify an overly complex national education and research system. But many now feel that the draft bill sidestepped some key issues, such as funding and job stability. As part of a call from French trade unions and various research associations, students and nonpermanent scientific staff members held a protest in Paris yesterday to call for the public research money now allocated to companies under the form of tax incentives to be injected into the academic system and new permanent positions to be created. "The draft bill … doesn't respond to any of [our] expectations," Laure Villate, a Ph.D. population genomicist on a short-term contract at the National Institute for Agricultural Research in Bordeaux, tells ScienceInsider.
The draft bill that the French Minister for Higher Education and Research Geneviève Fioraso presented to the Council of Ministers on Wednesday consists of 20 measures that altogether aim to increase student access to university and graduate employment and give research a new impetus in order to boost the nation's economic recovery and competitiveness. Seeking to address the complexity and opacity of France's higher education and research landscape, for example, the draft bill proposes that the nation's universities and other higher education institutions and research laboratories over time gather into 30 or so regional groupings. Some already-existing collaborative clusters will thus disappear to become the so-called "communities of universities and institutions," which are meant to be more inclusive and cooperative, democratic inContinue Reading
- Friday, March 22, 2013 - 12:05pm
Spring typically brings new hopes and higher expectations. Instead, Canadian scientists are feeling a decided chill in the air after federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty yesterday unveiled the government's fiscal blueprint for 2013 to 2014.
The new budget promises stiffer competition for a smaller pool of research grants. What little new money is made available will again be funneled into targeted "industry-academic" partnerships.
The additional $36 million for such industry-driven research will be administered by the country's three granting councils: the $1 billion Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the $1 billion Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the $700 million Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The amount exactly offsets the reductions announced last year as part of a government-wide budget-cutting exercise.
Treasury Board officials say the effect on the scientific community will be "a wash." But Canadian Association of University Teachers Executive Director James Turk says that the budget will be a "grave disappointment" to scientists.
"Program after program [within the councils] is becoming company specific," he says. "This is all money that's being squeezed out of what should be going for discovery research. Previous budgets had signaled a shift of priorities from basic research to various collaborations with industry. This budget confirms that."
The new budget repeats a pattern of extending support for the Canada Foundation for Innovation without committing to a new tranche of funding. Specifically, the foundation will be allowed to hold a new competition with $220 million in accumulated "unallocated interest income" that accrued during previous competitions for university research infrastructure over the past decade. The government will also provide about $160 million over 3 years, commencing in fiscal year 2014 to 2015, to support a planned Genome Canada competition focused on appliedContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 2:15pm
TORONTO, CANADA—German scientists have pulled out of an international research project with Canada that was attempting to find ways to minimize the environmental damage caused by exploiting Alberta's oil sands. The move comes after political pressure forced Germany's largest scientific organization, the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, to rethink its connections with an industry that many consider to be environmentally destructive.
The scientists who are part of the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative (HAI) will no longer be involved in developing technologies that improve Alberta's crude oil or treat the toxic effluent from the oil sands projects. Instead, the scientists will focus their efforts on the initiative's remaining research avenues, such as carbon capture and storage and mine site reclamation.
It is a change in focus, Stefan Scherer, the managing director for the HAI, tells ScienceInsider. HAI, founded in 2011, is a partnership between the Helmholtz Association and the University of Alberta "designed to find solutions to the pressing environmental issues facing energy projects such as Alberta's oil sands in Canada and coal production in Germany," according to the project's Web site. "I don't anticipate laying off scientists," nor will money be withdrawn from the project; the initiative is not collapsing, Scherer adds. That sentiment was echoed by a spokesperson for Alberta's Environment Minister Diana McQueen, whose department donated CAD $25 million to the project 2 years ago.
Of the four Helmholtz institutes involved in the partnership, only one, the Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig, has suspended its work in Canada. The institute's supervisory board voted in December to impose a moratorium on UFZ's involvement in the project. This decision is a "small hiccup", explained Lorne Babiuk, the vice president of research at the University of Alberta and co-chair inContinue Reading
- Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 12:20pm
Joanne Goodell has no intention of giving up. But the math educator at Cleveland State University (CSU) in Ohio knows firsthand about the obstacles to replicating an acclaimed national model for training math and science teachers. And what she's experienced as a member of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) could serve as a cautionary tale for any university with similar ambitions.
On Monday, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute gave NMSI $22.5 million to join 34 other universities in expanding a teacher training program begun in 1997 at the University of Texas. The Texas-based NMSI is using the money for a competition to fund 10 research-intensive universities that want to replicate the program, called UTeach.
The UTeach program trains students who graduate with both a science degree and a teaching certificate. That approach is meant to give them deep content knowledge as well as pedagogical skills. Two key elements of the program are close classroom supervision by a master teacher and a hardcore undergraduate research experience. And once students graduate, one important goal is to place them in schools, often in low-income neighborhoods, that have a hard time attracting and retaining teachers with a strong background in science and math. UTeach officials say that more than 90% of their graduates go directly into teaching and that 80% are still in the profession after 5 years.
NMSI was created because replication is the Achilles' heel of most efforts to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, says Tom Luce, chair of NMSI. "We have pilot disease in the United States," he told the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology last week in a presentation on NMSI. "There are 209 federal programs to improve K-12 STEM education, andContinue Reading
- Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 9:01am
Fourteen genetics experts, with the backing of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG), are proposing a radical shift in how and what patients learn about what's in their DNA. They argue that anyone whose genome is sequenced for any medical reason should automatically learn whether 57 of their genes put them at risk of certain cancers, potentially fatal heart conditions, and other serious health problems. The information would be provided whether patients want it—and often when they're seeking care from a doctor for something else entirely—because, the experts say, knowing the makeup of this DNA could save an individual's life. The recommendations apply to sequencing children's DNA as well, even if there's no preventive care available until adulthood. The college's guidelines on a range of issues are usually written by influential geneticists and physicians and carry significant weight, although they are not binding. Today's report includes the first recommendations ever given to labs and doctors about how to handle unexpected findings when the genome or its protein-coding "exome" is sequenced.
The ACMG recommendations, released this morning, come as DNA sequencing is about to take off in doctor's offices and hospitals. Sequencing an entire genome soon won't cost much more than sequencing a single gene, says Robert Green, a neurologist and medical geneticist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who co-chaired the ACMG working group. That means that if a child has an undiagnosed heart disorder that may merit sequencing of a gene, the parents could, for practical and cost reasons, agree to have their son or daughter's full genome sequenced. "You can't undo the sequence" once you've got it, Green says. "To somehow mask or ignore it doesn't seem right either."
Under the new recommendations, the parents wouldContinue Reading
- Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 5:15pm
More change is in store atop the Department of Energy (DOE). On 15 March, William Brinkman, head of DOE's Office of Science, announced that he will resign his post on 12 April. Brinkman says he decided to leave DOE for personal reasons. "My wife and I have plans on what we'd like to do that we've put off for 4 years," Brinkman says. Most immediately, Brinkman says he plans to spend part of the summer working with his wife to restore their summer home in Loveladies, New Jersey, which was damaged in Superstorm Sandy. The Obama administration has yet to announce Brinkman's successor, who must be confirmed by the Senate.
Brinkman joined DOE in June 2009. Prior to taking command of the Office of Science, Brinkman was a senior research physicist at Princeton University. Before that, Brinkman worked at Bell Laboratories where he served as the head of the physics research division, and later as vice president of research.
In a 15 March e-mail to DOE staff members (see below), Brinkman detailed a number the Office of Science's achievements in recent years, including the establishment of DOE's 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers, which were selected in 2009 to push the research boundaries on clean energy topics, such as solar power, electricity storage, carbon sequestration, and nuclear power.
At the same time, Brinkman made it clear that Washington's budget battles are beginning to take their toll on the nation's R&D. "As I leave office, my biggest concern remains the erosion of science funding in the United States when most of the industrialized countries of the world are increasing funding," he wrote. In a testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies on 5 March, BrinkmanContinue Reading