ScienceScope

Science  01 Sep 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5484, pp. 1445
  1. Animal Outrage

    A prominent biomedical research group wants to derail a possible agreement between the government and an animal rights group that it says would hamper research. The National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR) of Washington, D.C., this week said it will go to court to oppose a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) bid to reach a settlement with groups pushing to have the agency regulate the use of laboratory mice, rats, and birds.

    Mice, rats, and birds—which make up 95% of lab animals—are now exempt from the agency's Animal Welfare Act rules, which set caging and care practices. But in July the Alternatives Research & Development Foundation of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, won a key preliminary ruling in its suit to overturn the exemption (Science, 21 July, p. 377). On 25 August the two parties asked a federal judge for a 30-day time-out to reach a deal to phase in regulation of the animals.

    NABR, however, “is absolutely opposed to these negotiations—it's an unacceptable way to make policy,” says executive vice president Barbara Rich. The group, which represents more than 300 universities and hospitals, is worried that the new rules will burden researchers and that USDA doesn't have the budget to enforce them properly. USDA “is pandering to activists who oppose the use of lab animals,” says Rich. “It's unbelievable.”

  2. Taking the Helm

    After nearly 6 weeks without a director-general, France's $2.2 billion basic research agency will apparently be led by a researcher with a taste for technology. Geneviève Berger, currently the research ministry's director of technology, was expected this week to be named to replace former CNRS chief Catherine Bréchignac, whose mandate expired in mid-July. A squabble between President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin over whether Bréchignac should stay or go was apparently responsible for the delay (Science, 28 July, p. 523).

    Berger, 45, has advanced degrees in physical sciences, human biology, and medicine. She is known for her work in applied medical research, especially new techniques for imaging. Such practical accomplishments made her attractive to the French government, which is pushing to make basic research serve the economy. Understanding science's impact on the bottom line is now “an essential qualification for being CNRS head,” says one researcher.

  3. GMO Scientists Unite!

    Hoping to bring a voice of reason to the debate over transgenic crops, a group of scientists is launching the first society and journal to specifically address their risks.

    The idea grew out of a series of international meetings, held biannually since 1988, that brought together an ad hoc group of scientists to discuss science-based regulatory policy for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). At its July meeting, organizers decided to form a permanent International Society for Biosafety Research. After years of getting hammered by “both the Greens and industry people,” explains Mark Tepfer, who studies virus transfer at INRA, France's national agronomy research institute, “we need a clearer voice for scientists in the field.” He and others hope to exercise “complete neutrality” in studying such hot-button issues as Bt corn's impact on butterflies.

    The group's journal, Environmental Biosafety Research, will be launched early next year by Elsevier. Alan McHughen, a plant geneticist at the University of Saskatchewan, says it will feature research that other journals often turn down— including “negative results” studies showing that a transgenic crop appears no different from its traditionally bred counterpart.

  4. Microbial Month

    Now that it is nearly finished sequencing its share of the human genome, the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute (JGI) has decided to tackle as many as 17 microbes—all in 1 month.

    Microbial genomes typically are less than 10 million bases long, so decoding the bugs should be a snap compared with assembling the 3-billion-base human genome, says JGI's Trevor Hawkins. He predicts the Walnut Creek, California, facility will have no trouble sequencing about 2 million bases a day, enabling his team to take six or eight passes through each microbe's DNA. JGI doesn't plan to “finish” the genomes, however. Instead, it will post the data on its new “Genome Portal” Web site.

    On JGI's sequencing hit list are two plant pathogens and several bacteria that fix nitrogen or sequester carbon. Two others are magnetotactic—which means they sense and move toward sources of magnetism. Stuart Levy, a geneticist at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, hopes his bug, a soil-dwelling Pseudomonas with potential for breaking down pollutants, will be among the first sequenced. That information, he says, “will move the research along much more quickly.”