Science  05 May 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5467, pp. 785

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  1. English Seoul Mates

    Seoul National University (SNU), South Korea's finest, is hoping to lure talented students from beyond the Korean Peninsula with a new policy that encourages professors to teach as many classes as possible in English. Officials hope to triple the percentage of foreign undergrads, to 6%, over 3 years, and hike the share of foreign graduate students to 30%. Exchange students won't consider attending SNU until at least 20% of its classes are conducted in English, says one administrator. The recent repeal of a law against hiring foreigners has opened the door for English-speaking faculty at SNU and other state institutions.

    Students are “excited and worried” about the change, says Kim Ha Seok, a professor of electrochemistry who has already started lecturing in English. Whereas Kim finds the shift to English has meant more time spent preparing lessons and greater use of visual tools, other scientists say they are able to cover more material and avoid awkward translations of technical terms. Says microbiologist Yim Jeong Bin: “It's a step in the right direction.”

  2. Prion Hunting

    Many Britons are breathing easier now that a preliminary study has cast doubt on predictions of a deadly epidemic. In early April, The Sunday Times of London reported findings showing that variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a brain-wasting disorder that is the human form of mad cow disease, might spread to hundreds of thousands of people. But the British Department of Health said last week that the first spurt of data from a survey of 18,000 tonsils and appendices showed no sign of vCJD's hallmark: an abnormally folded protein known as a prion.

    The early finding—from 3000 tissue samples warehoused since the late 1980s—is “welcome news,” said Liam Donaldson, the government's chief medical officer. But the “results should not be taken as an indication of an ‘all clear,’” he warns. There are still 15,000 samples to go, he noted, and researchers couldn't use the most sensitive techniques on archived tissue, leaving a chance of undetected prions.

    Future studies, however, should help shed light on the prevalence of vCJD, which is already blamed for 55 deaths in the U.K. Results from a study of 2000 freshly removed tonsils, along with final numbers from the bigger study, could be ready by the end of the year.

  3. Genome Club

    The zebrafish may soon join the elite list of organisms honored by having their entire genome sequenced. The Wellcome Trust's Sanger Centre is expected to make the little striped swimmer the target of a new large-scale sequencing project, Philip Ingham, a developmental geneticist at the U.K.'s University of Sheffield, announced last week at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Ingham told a meeting of developmental biologists—who value the species for its transparent embryos—that he is “99% certain” that Wellcome trustees will approve the project.

    As the Sanger Centre winds down its work on the human genome in October, Ingham said, it will have the capacity to start sequencing the fish. He estimated that the center could complete a rough draft of the 1.8-billion-base-pair genome in 2 years. As with human data, the center plans to release its newest fish sequences nightly to a public database. “I am ecstatic,” said geneticist Stephen Johnson of Washington University in St. Louis. “If Sanger does it, we are going to get a fantastic product.”

  4. Russian Roulette

    The U.S. government must step up efforts to prevent former Soviet weapons scientists from selling their services to hostile nations, experts say. Meeting in Washington last week, members of an outside task force reviewing the Department of Energy's (DOE's) beleaguered nonproliferation programs took the department to task for not taking the threat seriously enough. “Future generations are going to look back on this period and wonder why we didn't do more,” said former representative Butler Derrick (D-SC), now a lobbyist.

    The State Department estimates that DOE, State, and Defense Department assistance programs, funded to the tune of about $175 million this year, have helped fewer than 15,000 of Russia's 50,000 nuclear, biological, and chemical weaponeers find civilian work. To improve on that record, the task force plans to give DOE advice on how to persuade Congress—which is skeptical that the conversion programs work—to go for a big boost in the 2002 budget.