ScienceScope

Science  01 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5398, pp. 15
  1. A Time for Forward Thinking

    “I never think of the future—it comes soon enough,” Albert Einstein once declared. But for those who don't share the great physicist's ambivalence about where time's arrow is taking us, we preview what may be some of 1999's science headlines:

    Disposable Income? Expect to hear less grumbling among postdocs. Thanks in part to a $2 billion budget boost, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will increase stipends for its postdoctoral fellows by up to 25% this year. A newly minted Ph.D. can expect an annual salary of $26,256, up from about $21,000 last year. Veterans with 7 or more years in the trenches will get $41,268.

    You'll Know It When You See It. A 2-year struggle to define scientific misconduct should end when a U.S. government panel releases guidelines this spring.

    Gene Machine. DNA sequencing virtuoso J. Craig Venter should know by autumn if his scheme for speed-reading the human genome will fly—or fizzle (Science, 15 May 1998, p. 994). Venter's corporate partner, Perkin-Elmer Corp. expects to begin delivering the project's key technology—several hundred speedy sequencers—to his Maryland headquarters in late spring. Test runs on fruit fly DNA should tell Venter if he's off to a soaring start—or grounded by technical snags.

    Lucky 22. Meanwhile, other genome sequencers hope to have the first human chromosome—number 22—finished sometime before June. Keep up with the project's progress at www.sanger.ac.uk/HGP/Chr22

    Take Me to Your Leader.1999 will be a soul-searching time for several pillars of the U.S. scientific establishment. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is looking to name a new leader to guide the nation's largest private biomedical grants program. Also in play are the top slots at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Science magazine. Listen for whispers about Harold Varmus possibly giving up his director's chair at NIH.

    Downsized. Will Japan's Science and Technology Agency lose its Cabinet seat on 1 April, when the government plans to demote two VIPs from the 20-member body? The agency is vulnerable to an April Fool's Day massacre because it is supposed to merge in 2001 with the larger Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture, which will likely retain its Cabinet status.

    Immune to Criticism? A White House advisory panel slammed President Bill Clinton a few weeks ago for not aggressively following up on the goal he announced in May 1997 to develop an AIDS vaccine within 10 years. But Clinton assured the panel that NIH is about to address one criticism by finally naming a director for a new NIH vaccine institute. Insiders say the leading contender is University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, molecular biologist Gary Nabel, who won't comment. His selection could rub some researchers the wrong way: Though he is a respected authority on HIV gene therapy, Nabel has published little, if any, AIDS vaccine research.

    Burial Rights? Will Kennewick Man, the 9000-year-old skeleton found on the banks of Washington's Columbia River in 1996, go under the microscope—or back underground? A federal judge may answer that question this year. Scientists want to analyze the bones to learn more about early Americans, but a Native American tribe wants the remains reinterred.

    Tale From the Crypt. In March, code breakers at a Rome conference will help the National Institute of Standards and Technology pick five finalists for a new Advanced Encryption Algorithm—the mathematical tool used to keep electronic financial transactions secure. Cryptologists recently broke the current code, which has lasted more than a decade. The eventual winner, to be chosen next year, should instantly become the world's most popular security algorithm.

    Techno-Tension Tamer. Technology-transfer folks are keeping an eye out for long-awaited guidelines and standard contracts for governing the exchange of new technologies, due out in draft form next month from NIH. Rising tensions over how to share and protect potential money-making inventions prompted a committee to urge NIH to come up with the new rules. Their report can be found at www.nih.gov/news/researchtools/index.htm

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