Science  25 Aug 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5483, pp. 1269

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  1. DNA Across the DMZ

    The tears were real last week when members of 200 families torn asunder 50 years ago by the division of the Korean Peninsula were reunited briefly in Seoul and in Pyongyang. But many of the estimated 10,000 South Koreans with offspring in both countries may not live to see their long-lost North Korean children. A new initiative, however, could keep genealogies intact—and perhaps resolve inheritance disputes between North-South siblings.

    On 1 September I.D. Gene, a Seoul-based paternity testing firm, plans to start taking saliva samples from any of the 10,000 South Korean parents who are willing. The sampling is free, but I.D. Gene will charge its usual fee (about $400) for typing the 10 nanograms or so of nuclear DNA in each sample. Efforts to get the government involved with the project have so far failed, says I.D. Gene CEO Yeon-Bo Chung, a Harvard-trained biologist. So a group of private benefactors, including the drug firm Korean Green Cross Inc., is bankrolling the estimated $80,000 sampling and storage costs.

    Typing DNA from siblings alone may not cement a family connection, as siblings often have fewer DNA sequences in common with each other than with each of their parents. That's why preserving the older generation's DNA is crucial, says Chung. “Unless somebody collects the samples right now, they will not be available when they are desperately needed in the future.”

  2. Doubling Double Hit

    The campaign to double the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has won a pair of high-profile endorsements. Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore last week promised to “double the federal investment in medical research” in his nomination acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Not to be outdone, Republican rival George W. Bush's campaign said their candidate also backs the doubling push, begun 4 years ago by biomedical research advocates.

    Both Bush and Gore, however, have yet to endorse the more ambitious agenda of Gore's running mate, Senator Joe Leiberman (D-CT). Leiberman is a major backer of bipartisan legislation that recommends doubling the government's entire $35 billion nondefense, nonbiomedical research portfolio by 2010. Many lobbyists say that NIH's rapid growth in the past 2 years has skewed the federal portfolio and that other agencies need to catch up.

  3. Protein Rush

    The race to understand the proteins assembled by human genes is powering up. Within a few weeks, Celera Genomics of Rockville, Maryland, expects to get a prototype of a sophisticated mass spectrometer which it claims will increase by a factor of 10—and, ultimately, by as much as 100—the number of proteins researchers can analyze at one time.

    Currently, scientists can sequence about 300 proteins per hour on a good day. But Celera chief J. Craig Venter “soon” foresees decoding 30,000 an hour, and eventually up to a million a day. Identifying proteins is considered a key to designing new drugs.

    Celera has ordered 20 of the new devices, which are being built by Applied Biosystems of Foster City, California, a sister company of Celera, Venter told pharmaceutical and biotech executives last week at a meeting in Boston. He also laid out a typically ambitious plan for his company in the burgeoning field of proteomics, but he admitted that Celera is unlikely to hold the kind of sway that it did in the gene-sequencing world. Indeed, the competition promises to be fierce, as other companies are pouring money into other technologies and research strategies (Science, 24 March, p. 2136).

    Given the complexities of unraveling protein structure and function, Venter says, there is room for everyone. The field, he says, has “an open-ended horizon.”

  4. Delayed

    NASA's massive Space Infrared Telescope Facility—the last of the space agency's planned great observatories which began with Hubble—was scheduled for a December 2001 launch. But agency officials quietly told researchers last week that the $53 million mission, which will chart cooler objects such as dust clouds and asteroids, faces delays. One NASA manager says that a programming problem with the control system for the satellite's camera will force a 4- to 6-month launch delay. Fixing the glitch in the system, which is the responsibility of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will cost about $2 million. Keeping the 1-ton spacecraft on the ground longer, however, will add $30 million to $50 million to the program's cost, NASA officials say.