Science  29 Sep 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5488, pp. 2253

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  1. Big Bucks for Big Diseases?

    The European Commission (EC) is gearing up to spend as much as $1 billion a year on three diseases closely linked to poverty. The windfall, to help countries suffering from AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, represents Europe's share of the commitment to combat the diseases made by the G8 group of industrialized countries at its summit in Okinawa, Japan, last July. Japan is also working on its post-Okinawa aid plan, said to amount to $3 billion over the next 5 years. The United States is unlikely to spell out its commitment until after the November elections, officials say.

    A high-level roundtable this week in Brussels was expected to discuss how best to spend the additional aid. Meeting participants included EC president Romano Prodi, WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland, and the health ministers of potential recipient nations such as South Africa and Brazil. But no spending decisions are likely before December, says Lieve Fransen, an EC health policy analyst who is coordinating the roundtable. “The EC clearly recognizes that we have to do more, and do it better and faster,” she says.

  2. Fieldwork

    China has begun to draw up a detailed plan for handling genetically modified organisms in the wake of last month's signing of a biosafety protocol to implement a 1992 treaty. The so-called framework, which officials say will take years to implement, will attempt to strengthen the country's biosafety capabilities as well as conform to international standards.

    China's previous regulations for transgenic materials mainly addressed laboratory practices and were promulgated by individual ministries. But the new rules will have “a much grander scope” that encompasses protecting the country's biodiversity, says Bai Chengshou of the State Environmental Protection Agency, which will manage the effort. Bai says the new framework will allow the country to improve its assessment of bioengineering technologies and stimulate biosafety research.

    Chinese scientists have responded favorably to the framework. “We should pay more attention to the possible impact of transgenetic engineering on future generations, not just on its economic returns,” says Wang Changyong, a research fellow at the Nanjing Environmental Scientific Research Institute. “We should take strict precautions against any risks.”

  3. Burning Questions

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) has been given some high-level advice on how to get the biggest bang for the bucks it wants to spend on environmental research. Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences, released by a National Academy of Sciences panel this week, outlines the eight “most important environmental research challenges of the next generation.”

    Most in need of “immediate” funding are studies on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, the consequences of changes in land use and land cover, infectious disease and the environment, and hydrological forecasting of floods and droughts. Also on the list are understanding biogeochemical cycles, climate variability, and how the world uses natural resources and recycles materials.

    The report will fuel a bid by the National Science Board (NSB), NSF's overseer, to boost environmental science funding by $1 billion within 5 years; it says funding for the first four topics falls “well within the NSB's recommended increase.” NSF environmental czar Margaret Leinen says the recommendations “allow us to proceed with confidence.”

  4. Deadly Embrace

    For the third year in a row, the U.S. Senate has endorsed the idea of doubling federal spending on civilian R&D. But opposition from Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), head of the House Science Committee, will likely doom the bill—along with killing his own bid to boost information technology (IT) research.

    The Federal Research Investment Act (S. 2046) passed easily last week. It calls for doubling nondefense R&D spending to more than $70 billion over the next decade. But Sensenbrenner has opposed the bill because it won't force Congress to spend the money (Science, 28 May 1999, p. 1452). It allows lawmakers “to champion science once, then forget about it for the next 10 years,” he complained in a 19 September letter to Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), an advocate.

    Frist tried to sweeten the deal this year by including Sensenbrenner's own IT research bill, already passed by the House. But joining the two bills, Sensenbrenner says, “will only ensure that neither is enacted.”