And then there were three. The last remaining wolves on Isle Royale, photographed this past winter, are a pair and a smaller, hunchbacked wolf (last in line) that may be their pup.

Rolf Peterson

And then there were three. The last remaining wolves on Isle Royale, photographed this past winter, are a pair and a smaller, hunchbacked wolf (last in line) that may be their pup.

Each January, before they fly to snowbound Isle Royale in Lake Superior, ecologists Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich guess how many wolves they’ll spot. This pocket of wilderness in Michigan is home to the world’s longest running predator-prey study, of wolves and moose. This year, Peterson figured that they’d likely find a mere seven wolves, given complications of inbreeding in the dwindling population. But the island held only three wolves, as the researchers from Michigan Technological University (MTU) in Houghton announced today. “The collapse of the wolves was beyond our expectation,” Peterson says.

The three wolves included a pair, probably the last ​known to have reproduced, plus a notably smaller wolf that might be their pup. The other wolves are presumed to have either died or left the island last year, in a reverse of how carnivores originally came to Isle Royale, when a bitter winter completely froze the channel to the mainland.

But even as the famed predator-prey study on Isle Royale appears to be on its last legs, other researchers may have caught the birth of a similar natural experiment: Across the lake in Canada, three mainland wolves crossed the ice to a smaller island with different prey and seem to have settled in, as population ecologist Brent Patterson of Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, will report at a wildlife meeting next week. “It’ll be very fascinating to watch,” Patterson says.

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U.S. House weighs in with its version of chemical regulation reform

Raymond Bryson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The U.S. House of Representatives opened a new front this week in the emerging battle over overhauling the nation’s troubled system for regulating toxic chemicals, as lawmakers held their first discussion of a new proposal to revamp the system. The bipartisan House bill, which wouldn’t change the existing law as drastically as two bills introduced last month in the Senate, got mixed reviews at a 15 April hearing of a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

At issue is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which tasks the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the job of assessing and regulating thousands of industrial chemicals. The House's TSCA reform bill, which has drawn bipartisan support as well as some industry backing but measured criticism from environmental groups, aims to make it easier for the EPA to assess risks and give the agency more power to impose restrictions on unacceptably risky chemicals.

The bill “does not attempt to realize the goal of a fully reformed TSCA with assurances that all chemicals in commerce are safe,” said Representative Frank Pallone (D–NJ), the top Democrat on the energy and commerce panel, at the hearing. “But it will give EPA tools to reduce risk now, in a package that I think has the potential to become law."

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Biomedical researcher Miguel Seabra stepped down last week from the presidency of Portugal's science funding agency, the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), after more than 3 years in office.

Although Seabra invoked “personal reasons” for his decision, scientists note that he resigned amid mounting criticism of the agency's policies. “The climate was very tense,” says Marco Alves, head of numerical modeling at WavEC-Offshore Renewables in Lisbon. “[His resignation] was something that could be expected.”

Crystallographer Maria Arménia Carrondo will take over from Seabra, the Ministry of Education and Science announced in a statement yesterday. According to the newspaper Público, Carrondo previously served as an adviser to FCT's board, which Seabra led until his resignation.

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A rubber tree plantation in Indonesia

Ryan Woo/Center for International Forestry Research (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A rubber tree plantation in Indonesia

Scientists are warning of yet another growing threat to biodiversity in Southeast Asia: rubber plantations. Over the past decade, more than 2 million hectares of forests and farms worldwide have been turned into rubber plantations. The biggest impact has been in Southeast Asia—including the Xishuangbanna region of southwest China—which hosts 84% of the world's 9.9 million hectares planted with rubber trees, according to a new review. The driver is growing demand for rubber products, particularly tires, which consume 70% of annual rubber production. But conservationists hope new efforts to grow rubber more sustainably could curb the ecological impact.

For the moment, however, the expansion of rubber plantations is taking a growing toll on flora and fauna. The researchers surveyed previous studies and found that conversion of forest to rubber monoculture significantly decreases the number of bird, bat, and insect species. The change in landscape is particularly hard on specialized and often threatened birds that feed on the fruit and insects found in forests. The team reports that no studies have documented the impact of forest conversion on ungulates, primates, large predators, or waterbirds, but they conclude that it is unlikely these larger animals are unaffected.

The impact goes beyond the boundaries of the plantations. Pesticide, herbicide, and sediment runoff leads to eutrophication of area streams, affecting aquatic life. The loss of smaller trees and shrubs leads to soil erosion and increased landslide risk. And rubber trees soak up deep soil moisture, making it harder for native vegetation to thrive.

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The RV Sikuliaq at rest in a frozen section of the Bering Sea during recent ice and science trials.

UAMN/Roger Topp

The RV Sikuliaq at rest in a frozen section of the Bering Sea during recent ice and science trials.

Seaman Sikuliaq reporting for duty, Captain. The low rumbling of the engine of the RV Sikuliaq was music to ocean scientists’ ears last week during a 23-day cruise to test how the newest addition to the U.S. oceanographic fleet handled icy seas. Starting from Dutch Harbor on the Aleutian island of Amaknak in Alaska, the ship ventured north into so-called ten-tenths sea ice—the name shiphands give to a sea ice coating that stretches to the horizon.

The 80-meter-long Sikuliaq is not an icebreaker, but its hardened hull is rated to move through sea ice as thick as 0.8 m. And it “crunched” smoothly through ice it encountered during various trial procedures, reports chief scientist Carin Ashjian, a biological oceanographer from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts. (The ship moved easily through 0.5 m-thick solid ice, but was stopped by stacked "rafting" ice that was 1.5 m thick. For images of the ship in action, see 1:53 in the video below.)

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Minke whale

Len2040/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Minke whale

In an unprecedented move, an expert panel that advises the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC’s) Scientific Committee has rejected Japan’s latest plan for resuming the killing of minke whales in the Antarctic. Japan, however, says it will continue with its whaling plans.

The panel’s nonbinding finding, released this week, “is a stunner,” says Phil Clapham, a cetacean biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, Washington. “Never before has a body associated with the Scientific Committee told Japan that they have failed to demonstrate a need for killing whales.”

Japan has long argued that its whaling activities are necessary for scientific research. It killed some 10,000 minke whales in the Antarctic between 1987 and 2014, for example, citing a special IWC clause that permits “scientific whaling.” That program took a legal blow in 2014, however, when Australia won a ruling from the International Court of Justice that Japan’s harpooning project was not for “purposes of scientific research.” As a result, Japan ended its existing Antarctic whaling program and this year collected only nonlethal samples from minke whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. (Japan runs a parallel program in the North Pacific, where it also hunts minke whales for research. That program was not part of the IWC ruling, although many scientists argue that it has the same problems—that is, it is less about research and more about killing whales.)

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Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX)

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX)

The science committee in the U.S. House of Representatives took a major step today in its 2-year effort to reshape federal research policy, introducing a long-awaited and controversial bill that covers the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), research at the Department of Energy (DOE), and federal science education policy.

The 189-page legislation, called a reauthorization, includes suggested spending levels, as well as changes to a host of current policies and practices. It would replace a law covering those agencies that expired in 2013. The science committee had initially broken up that law, first passed in 2007 and revised in 2010, into several pieces. But today’s bill folds them all into one and retains the original name—the America COMPETES Act.

Authored by the panel’s chair, Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), the text was not shared ahead of time with the panel’s minority members and has no Democratic sponsors. Likewise, the scientific community will need time to digest its wealth of details—some of which are certain to infuriate, whereas others are likely to please. But there won’t be much time for cogitation: The committee plans to convene next Wednesday to mark up the legislation. 

Based on an initial review, here are some provisions that the research community is likely to find interesting. Stay tuned for more analysis and reaction.

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Rapid test for Ebola now available

Val Altounian/Science

The second ever real-life test of an Ebola vaccine began today in Sierra Leone. It is unlikely, however, to achieve its main goal: proving that the vaccine, a livestock pathogen modified with an Ebola surface protein, protects humans against the deadly disease. That’s because there simply may not be enough patients.

Since peaking at the end of November, the number of newly reported cases in Sierra Leone has dropped steadily, from 95 4 weeks ago to just 21 last week. That makes it very unlikely, that the trial—led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation—can get a statistically significant result, says Stephan Becker, a virologist at the University of Marburg, Germany.

Together with the College of Medicine and Allied Health Science at the University of Sierra Leone, CDC and the ministry aim to vaccinate 6000 nurses, doctors, and other frontline workers battling the Ebola outbreak over the coming months. The vaccine—developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory and now backed by pharmaceutical giant Merck—was made by stitching a gene coding for an Ebola surface protein into the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), a relative of rabies that infects cattle, horses, and pigs.

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Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX)

Adam Fagen/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX)

Do women researchers have a fair shot at winning grants from NASA and the U.S. departments of energy (DOE) and defense (DOD)? It’s impossible to answer that question, says a new report from a congressional watchdog agency, because those agencies don’t collect information on the demographic characteristics of the people who apply for funding.

The top Democrats on three committees in the U.S. House of Representatives—all women—are concerned that “gender bias is inhibiting women and girls” from pursuing careers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. So last year they asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to ask the six leading federal research agencies for data on their applicant pools. The two agencies that fund the largest amount of basic research—the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF)—keep careful records as part of an ongoing effort to monitor whether agency officials and grant reviewers are discriminating against women and minority scientists. But the three agencies with the next biggest portfolios—DOD, DOE, and NASA—“do not routinely collect demographic information about researchers who submit grant proposals and receive awards,” GAO reports in a 17 March letter to representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), Rosa DeLauro (D–CT), and Louise Slaughter (D–NY).

GAO didn’t know what it was going to find, says the report’s author, Melissa Emrey-Arras. But Johnson had an inkling: In January she reintroduced legislation that would require all federal research agencies to collect demographic information from applicants and give it to NSF for inclusion in its biennial compendium, Science and Engineering Indicators. The bill, the STEM Opportunities Act (H.R. 467), proposes several steps aimed at leveling the STEM playing field for women.

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The World Health Organization's building in Geneva, Switzerland.

Yann (talk)/Wikimedia Commons

The World Health Organization's building in Geneva, Switzerland.

The movement to ensure that clinical trial results don't end up in drawers has found an important global ally. Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a call to make results from every clinical study publicly available within a year. Not doing so can harm patients and research subjects, waste time and money, and hold back medical science, WHO says.

“Failure to publicly disclose trial results engenders misinformation, leading to skewed priorities for both R&D and public health interventions,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant-director at WHO, in a press statement today. “It creates indirect costs for public and private entities, including patients themselves, who pay for suboptimal or harmful treatments.”

Clinical trials go unpublished for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a study's sponsor prefers not to call attention to unwelcome results; sometimes researchers have trouble getting a journal to print their findings—for instance if they show a treatment had no effect; and sometimes scientists never get around to writing a manuscript. But withholding results leads to "publication bias," which causes treatments to seem more or less effective than they really are, and it can put volunteers in future trials at risk unnecessarily.

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Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who transplanted artificial windpipes, has been found not guilty of scientific misconduct.

Staffan Larsson/Karolinska Institute

Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who transplanted artificial windpipes, has been found not guilty of scientific misconduct.

A thoracic surgeon who attracted widespread attention for transplanting artificial tracheae into patients—and then faced scientific misconduct charges—has been found not guilty in the first of two investigations into his work. The decision, announced today, was made on 7 April by the Karolinska Institute’s vice-chancellor, Anders Hamsten, on the basis of an internal investigation by the institute’s ethics council. The council concluded that the issues raised are of a “philosophy-of-science kind rather than of a research-ethical kind.”

“We all felt terrible [about the investigation] because it affected our credibility, the credibility of my team,” says the accused, Paolo Macchiarini, a visiting professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. “We are now happy that everything has been cleared.” Pierre Delaere, a head and neck surgeon at UZ Leuven in Belgium who brought the case against Macchiarini, says he is "stunned about such outright injustice.”

Macchiarini produced artificial windpipes by taking a polymer scaffold and “seeding” it with stem cells from the recipient, which he claimed colonized the scaffold and eventually grew into a living organ. Delaere argues that Macchiarini's claims of success were exaggerated and that he misrepresented his results in several papers in The Lancet. Delaere first e-mailed Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, then-president of the Karolinska Institute, about his concerns in 2011; he made a formal complaint to the institute in June 2014, which led to the current investigation. In its report, the council rejected all the issues Delaere had raised.

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Rhesus monkeys at Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center.

Tom Landers/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Rhesus monkeys at Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched an investigation into Harvard University’s New England Primate Research Center after several suspicious deaths at the Southborough, Massachusetts, facility. The inquiry coincides with a series of articles published by The Boston Globe, which has uncovered a number of potential animal welfare violations at the center, including a dozen dehydrated squirrel monkeys found dead in their cages or euthanized because of poor health between 1999 and 2011. In several cases it appears that the animals were not given water or were unable to drink due to malfunctioning water lines. In one incident, a monkey’s tooth caught in her jacket, preventing her from drinking. Some of these animals were the subject of a 2014 Veterinary Pathology paper on the impact of dehydration on lab animals. The journal says it is now investigating this study. The primate center is set to close at the end of next month, though—according to the Globe—the university blames finances, not animal care problems.

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A LEGO figurine of astrophysicist Lisa Randall, by artist Maia Weinstock, aimed at highlighting the role of women in science.

Maia Weinstock/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A LEGO figurine of astrophysicist Lisa Randall, by artist Maia Weinstock, aimed at highlighting the role of women in science.

A woman applying for a tenure-track faculty position in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at a U.S. university is twice as likely to be hired as an equally qualified man, if both candidates are highly qualified, according to a new study.

The results run counter to widely held perceptions and suggest that this is a good time for women to be pursuing academic careers. Some observers, however, say that the study—which involved actual faculty members rating hypothetical candidates—may not be relevant to real-world hiring. And they worry the results may leave the incorrect impression that universities have achieved gender parity in STEM fields.

Still, the “important” results will spark “a lot of discussion,” predicts psychologist Virginia Valian of Hunter College in New York City. “It will definitely make people think more thoroughly and more subtly” about the issue.

In previous research, the authors, psychologists Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci of Cornell University, found that men and women generally fare equally well once they are hired into tenure-track positions (although some critics have challenged those findings). For this study, the researchers focused on the hiring phase. It “is a key juncture in understanding the problem of women’s underrepresentation” on STEM faculties, they wrote in an e-mail.

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Research advocates watch, warily, as Congress tries to finish its budget outline

Wally Gobetz/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Congress returns to work today after a 2-week recess, and a top priority for House of Representatives and Senate Republican leaders is reconciling their versions of a largely symbolic but politically sensitive budget plan.

Many research advocates are watching the machinations closely.

In general, science boosters loathe the spending blueprints approved last month by the House and Senate. That’s because they would, if implemented, squeeze federal funding for civilian research over the long term. But they are also hoping any final plan—if lawmakers can agree on one—will retain some language they like, including provisions that promote a funding boost for biomedical research and call on officials to respond to the threat of climate change.

The budget plan—technically known as a budget resolution—is intended to be Congress’s overall spending blueprint for the coming decade, starting with the 2016 fiscal year that begins 1 October. The two bodies are supposed to agree on a final version by 15 April. But the resolution is nonbinding, and there is no penalty for failing to meet the deadline. Indeed, Congress has essentially skipped writing a budget resolution in recent years, as partisan gridlock took hold.

After Republicans took over leadership of both the House and Senate in the 2014 elections, however, they made returning to “regular order” a priority—and that meant trying to produce a budget for the first time since 2010. Besides setting target spending levels for the relatively more powerful appropriations committees, the resolution serves as a parade banner that lawmakers can use to highlight their spending and policy priorities for the public and to draw contrasts with political opponents.

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Julian Huppert gives the Liberal Democrats' view on science. Huppert, who represents Cambridge, is one of only a few members of Parliament with a background in science.

British Science Association

Julian Huppert gives the Liberal Democrats' view on science. Huppert, who represents Cambridge, is one of only a few members of Parliament with a background in science.

On 7 May, the United Kingdom will have a general election, the first in 5 years. Science has not come up much in the campaigning. Hoping to change that, the British Science Association interviewed representatives from six major parties about their views on research issues and has posted the videos online—but they ended up with few concrete differences to highlight.

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Universities fear proposed patent legislation would impair innovation.

Daniel Foster/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Universities fear proposed patent legislation would impair innovation.

New sparks are flying in a timeworn debate over how to crack down on bogus patent lawsuits. Efforts to deter so-called patent trolls—firms that base their business on amassing patents and then suing other firms for infringement—have often put universities at odds with the technology industry. This week, a group of electronics companies sent a letter to more than 120 universities asking them to rethink their opposition to recently proposed legislation aimed at disarming patent trolls—a move that may polarize the issue further.

At the center of the debate is the Innovation Act, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in February as a way to make it harder and more financially risky for a company to file a groundless patent infringement lawsuit. Supporters of the bill say it would protect small- and medium-sized companies that often agree to costly settlements when they can’t afford to fight infringement charges in court.

But universities—which since 1980 have been able to license and profit from patents on the inventions of their researchers—fear that measures to deter patent trolls from suing might also make it too difficult to enforce their own patent rights. Compared with high-tech companies, universities are more often on the giving end than the receiving end of the legal threats, says Arti Rai, a patent law expert at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The tension has existed for nearly a decade and flared when a bill similar to the Innovation Act stalled in the Senate last year. “It’s a real standoff,” Rai says. “As far as I can tell, there isn’t necessarily a whole lot of room for compromise.”

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Survey asks: How much personal cash do you spend on your science?

epSos .de/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Although academic research is predominantly funded by grants, scientists—like teachers and people in many other professions—sometimes dip into their own wallets to cover job-related expenses, such as conference travel or open-access publishing fees. Just how much personal finance pours into professional science isn’t clear, but two scientists are now trying to tally some numbers.

The #SciSpends survey came about after marine sociologist Edward Hind, an independent researcher in Manchester, U.K., realized that he had spent more than $1000 of his own money—5% of his income—on work-related expenses over a year. Frustrated by a feeling that he had to spend his own money to advance his career, this past February Hind took to Twitter, using the hashtag #SciSpends to ask other scientists to share how much they’d spent. As the conversation grew, Hind realized that he was a lightweight when it came to personal spending, as some researchers reported shelling out thousands of dollars to keep their work going. And he wondered: Were many other scientists also reaching into their pockets? Was success in science becoming dependent on being affluent enough to pay your own way?

Ultimately, Hind teamed up with marine ecologist Brett Favaro of the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada to conduct the more rigorous #SciSpends survey, which they formally launched 30 March. The two researchers discussed the project—and what they hope to get out of it—in e-mail interviews with ScienceInsider. The exchanges have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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A storage pond for wastewater from fracking operations in Pennsylvania.

Max Phillips (Jeremy Buckingham MLC)/Flickr

A storage pond for wastewater from fracking operations in Pennsylvania.

Commonly used testing methods may underestimate the total radioactivity of wastewater produced by gas wells that use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to tap the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation in the northeastern United States, concludes a new study. The findings suggest government agencies should consider retooling some testing recommendations and take a fresh look at possible worker exposure to potentially harmful waste, the authors say. But some outside researchers are skeptical that the laboratory study reflects real-world conditions.

Fracking, which involves injecting water mixed with chemicals and sand deep underground in order to fracture rock and release oil and gas, generates large amounts of wastewater. Some of the waste is simply injected water that flows back to the surface. But in the Marcellus and other formations, a major waste component is salty, mineral rich water found naturally underground. Researchers have long known that this natural brine can carry radioactive components, including radon gas, radium, and other isotopes of uranium and thorium. And the waste’s radioactivity has gotten increased attention as a fracking boom in the Marcellus has resulted in the recovery of millions of liters of wastewater, which is typically stored, treated, or recycled for use in other fracking wells. In some cases, improper handling has resulted in the release of radioactive fracking waste that has contaminated streams and rivers.

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Artist’s conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope, now under construction in Hawaii.

Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation via Wikimedia Commons

Artist’s conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope, now under construction in Hawaii.

The governor of Hawaii yesterday brokered a 1-week pause in the construction of the world’s largest telescope atop the Mauna Kea volcano in the wake of protests by Native Hawaiian activists, who say the project is desecrating sacred land.

“There will be no construction activities this week,” Governor David Ige (D) said Tuesday at a news conference announcing the pause in work on the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). “This will give us some time to engage in further conversations with the various stakeholders that have an interest in Mauna Kea and its sacredness and its importance in scientific research and discovery going forward.”

Ige’s announcement came after police last week arrested 31 protesters who had blocked a road to the TMT construction site near the summit of the 4200-meter-high volcano. The arrests sparked outrage among Native Hawaiian activists, with groups holding rallies across the state. Ige has said the pause is needed to give the various parties time for discussion.

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A once-secret nuclear facility deep under a mountain near Iran’s holy city of Qom is slated to become one of the world’s most unusual international research centers. A plutonium-producing reactor will be reengineered and downsized. And enough enriched uranium to make several atomic bombs will be removed or diluted. These and other technical elements of the action plan on Iran’s nuclear program announced yesterday seek a delicate balance: preventing Iran from building an atomic arsenal while allowing it to retain significant nuclear R&D.

A final agreement, in which Iran will dismantle parts of its nuclear program and accept international inspections in return for the lifting of international sanctions, isn’t due until the end of June. But the technical fixes announced yesterday have raised hopes that negotiators will be able to reach a final agreement. “It’s great that they persevered, with all the opposition,” says Frank von Hippel, a physicist and arms control expert at Princeton University.

The goal of the United States and its negotiating partners is to slow Iran’s “breakout time”—the timescale of a crash effort to porduce enough weapons-grade fissle material for one bomb—from an estimated 2 to 3 months to at least a year. One major bone of contention has been the Arak heavy water reactor. Iranian officials say the chief aim of the 40-megawatt fission reactor, under construction in the central province of Markazi, is to make radioisotopes for medicine. But simply running the reactor on its natural uranium fuel would yield about 10 kilograms of plutonium a year, enough for one or two atomic bombs. To greatly reduce the amount of plutonium generated in Arak’s spent fuel, von Hippel and others had proposed changing the fuel to low-enriched uranium (LEU), which would greatly curtail plutonium production.

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Vets vaccinate a young goat in Congo against ovine rinderpest.

© FAO/Xavier Farhay

Vets vaccinate a young goat in Congo against ovine rinderpest.

Animal health specialists meeting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, yesterday agreed to try to rid the world of peste des petits ruminants (PPR), a viral disease devastating goat and sheep flocks throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Control efforts have fallen short. The time has come for a "bolder next step," said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, at the meeting FAO organized with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to kick off a global eradication program.

Also called ovine rinderpest, PPR kills up to 90% of the animals it infects within days. The virus has spread rapidly over the past 15 years and is now present in 70 countries, putting 80% of the world's more than 2 billion goat and sheep at risk. FAO estimates that the disease causes more than $2 billion in losses annually and is an economic disaster for the small herders and poor rural households that depend on the animals for milk, meat, wool, and leather both for their own use and for trade.

The eradication plan envisions a staged approach. The assessment phase requires determining the numbers and locations of flocks most at risk and building veterinary capabilities. Then control efforts relying on voluntary vaccination will hopefully lead to an endgame in which authorities might enforce vaccination. The final step would be for countries to verify that there have been no PPR cases within their borders for at least 24 months. FAO and OIE believe they will need $4 billion to $7 billion over the next 15 years to accomplish their goal.

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The most important malaria vector, Anopheles gambiae.

AFPMB/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The most important malaria vector, Anopheles gambiae.

Most open-access (OA) journals make money by making authors pay an article processing charge to publish a paper. A small online malaria journal based in the Netherlands wants to turn that situation on its head. It is promising to pay authors €150 for every article it publishes from now on. The idea behind the move—possible thanks to a Dutch funding agency—is not only to lure authors to the journal, but also to drive home the message that academic publishing is way too expensive, says the journal's editor, Bart Knols.

The upstart journal—which has so far published only 57 papers—is part of MalariaWorld, a website and networking tool that has some 8500 registered users in 140 countries. Two experts review papers submitted to the journal, Knols says; if they disagree, the journal’s editors decide whether to publish. The plan is to reward every published paper; if there are multiple authors they will need to split the €150.

Whereas traditional journals make money by charging for subscriptions, OA journals make their papers available for free; to generate revenue, most ask their authors to pay “author fees” or “article processing fees” instead. Even in the OA world, “at the end of the day it is all about money," Knols complained in a recent piece. He singled out Malaria Journal, an OA journal published by London-based BioMed Central that charges €1720 per published paper.

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Nanocubes, which researchers have explored as a possible way to store hydrogen for energy.

BASF/Flickr

Nanocubes, which researchers have explored as a possible way to store hydrogen for energy.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is ratcheting up its scrutiny of nanoscale chemicals amid concerns that they could pose unique environmental and health risks. Late last month, the agency proposed requiring companies to submit data on industrial nanomaterials that they already make and sell. Observers say EPA’s move could be a prelude to tighter federal regulation of nanomaterials, which have begun to show up in consumer products.

For years, EPA has grappled with whether and how to use the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the nation’s leading chemical regulation law, to handle nanomaterials. TSCA is silent on nanoproducts, generally defined as materials composed of structures between 1 and 100 billionths of a meter. But many environmental groups worry that they potentially carry unknown risks by virtue of their size. Other observers, however, have argued that size alone shouldn’t trigger new regulation and that existing rules are adequate to deal with the new products.

EPA’s 25 March proposal actually walks back an earlier version—now scrapped—that would have let the agency more easily clamp down on any new uses of nanomaterials. Still, the weaker version being proposed now represents the first time EPA would use its powers under TSCA to request information specifically on nanomaterials. (The proposal comes as Congress is debating revamping TSCA, which has drawn extensive criticism.)

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Sculpture depicting ribosomes at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Catrijn vanden Westhende/Flickr

Sculpture depicting ribosomes at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

The famed Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) on Long Island, New York, a bastion of basic biomedical research, is making a major foray into more applied drug development. Today the lab and North Shore-LIJ Health System, a local hospital system, announced a new alliance and a more than $120 million investment aimed at moving basic cancer discoveries into the clinic.

The alliance does not mean that CSHL is moving away from basic research, says Bruce Stillman, CSHL CEO and President. “Our discovery science has placed us as one of the leading research institutions in the world,” and “I want to keep it at that level,” he says. But the lab also wants to turn those discoveries into drugs. It found an “ideal marriage” with North Shore-LIJ, which has 16,000 new cancer patients each year in the New York City area and wanted to expand its academic clinical research, he says. “This will provide a substantial amount of funding to do the translational cancer research that we have been doing on a shoestring budget,” Stillman says.

The not-for profit CSHL, which turns 125 this year, has a $145 million budget and 600 researchers and technical staff who study cancer, neuroscience, plant biology, and quantitative biology. The lab has long had a National Cancer Institute–designated Cancer Center where work using genomics, RNAi screens, and mouse models has yielded important cancer drug targets. But until now the lab has relied largely on pharmaceutical companies to develop those findings into treatments. “This will take it to a different level” with the alliance’s researchers validating targets, developing protocols, and conducting early stage clinical trials, Stillman says.

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Mark Zoback in 2010

National Academy of Sciences/Flickr

Mark Zoback in 2010

New federal rules aimed at making a controversial oil and gas drilling technique safer and more transparent reflect numerous suggestions from technical experts, says a geoscientist involved in the process.

Late last month, the U.S. Department of the Interior released new regulations governing the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques, better known as fracking, by oil and gas companies drilling on federal and tribal lands. The rules—updated for the first time in 30 years—apply to 283 million hectares of public land and 23 million hectares of American Indian land. About 90% of new or planned wells on federal land use fracking, officials estimate. Overall, wells on federal and tribal lands produce less than 25% of the country’s oil and gas.

The rules go beyond many, but not all, state regulations by requiring drillers to provide regulators with details about a well’s geological setting and to disclose the substances they inject into the well in order to fracture deep layers of rock (although companies can still request that trade secrets remain private). In a bid to protect ground water and surface waters, the rules also ask companies to explain how they will drill, case and seal the wells properly to prevent leaks (a process known as cementing), and handle wastewater that is pumped back to the surface.

Those ideas were among the many recommendations made in 2011 by a high-level advisory panel created by then–Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to examine whether the United States could develop its natural gas resources while protecting public health and the environment. One member of the panel was Mark Zoback, a professor of geophysics at Stanford University in California. Zoback recently spoke with ScienceInsider about the background and implications of the new rules. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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