ScienceScope

Science  23 Feb 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5508, pp. 1463
  1. Going 3D

    A French biotech start-up plans to launch an international consortium aimed at revealing the three-dimensional crystal structures of 100 cell membrane proteins, many of which could be promising drug targets. The 3-year, $9.3 million project, led by Bio-Xtal in Roubaix, France, will include a bevy of drug companies and four academic labs in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

    Several “structural genomics” efforts are already attempting to automate the atomic mapping of proteins, but this is the first to focus on membrane proteins. The targets will be “G protein-coupled receptors,” which help cells sense everything from hormones to energy signals. The receptors are notoriously difficult to study, however, because removing them from the membrane destroys their normal 3D shape. In April, the consortium plans to begin searching for new ways to express, crystallize, and image the proteins. Funding will come from private firms and—if all goes as planned—the European Union.

    Structural biologist Aled Edwards of the University of Toronto says the effort is “an excellent idea”—but is certain to be slow.

  2. Bowing Out

    Biologist Hubert Markl last week said he will not seek a second term as president of Germany's most prestigious basic-science research organization, the Max Planck Society. Markl—a respected administrator who has led the society since 1996 and had been invited by the society's governors to seek a second term—reportedly cited his age (63) in declining to run for another 6-year term. A new president will be selected later this year and will take office in June 2002.

  3. Cottage Industry

    Hoping to build new bridges between academia and industry, the European Union will help some aspiring postdocs work for 2 years in industrial research labs outside their homeland.

    European scientists have excelled at basic research but have done a poor job of reaping profits from innovations, says Sabine Herlitschka of the Austrian Bureau for International Research and Technology Transfer. To bridge the gap, over the next 2 years the Fellows for Industry initiative plans to place a total of 140 postdocs in companies with fewer than 250 employees. Their stipends will be paid by another European fund, and Herlitschka promises the companies will get “access to cutting-edge scientists.”

  4. Young Blood

    The French government has tapped a leading hepatitis C expert, Christian Bréchot, to head its biomedical research agency, INSERM. The decision to appoint a clinician to the post is in line with the government's urge to spur life scientists into producing more new therapies and products.

    Bréchot—who heads the liver unit at the Necker Hospital and a hepatitis research center at the Pasteur Institute, both in Paris—takes the reins of the $450 million INSERM at a time when the agency's star is on the rise. It is believed that Bréchot's predecessor, clinician Claude Griscelli, who at 65 had reached the mandatory retirement age, last year won INSERM a 16% budget increase by beefing up research in government priority areas such as gene therapy. Bréchot, however, is eager to quell fears that he will favor clinical over basic research. “My major concern … is to arrive at a better balance,” he told Science.

    The government is hoping that the relatively young director—Bréchot is 48—can infuse fresh blood into INSERM, in which the average age of researchers has risen from 43 to 47 in the past decade. That won't be easy, says Gérard Orth, director of a papillomavirus unit at the Pasteur Institute. “He will have to be convincing” to persuade the government to create new jobs.

  5. Reaching Out

    Sandwiched between Russia and the rest of Scandinavia, Finland and its scientists often feel isolated from the scientific mainstream. That could soon change. On 1 April, the Academy of Finland will get a new research director whose top priority is to forge stronger ties with the world's scientific community.

    Finland is no science lightweight: It spends a higher percentage of its gross domestic product on R&D—3.1%—than any other country, amounting to $3.5 billion in 1999. But many fields “could clearly benefit” from more international collaboration, says physicist Mikko Paalanen of Helsinki Technical University, who praises the appointment of agricultural scientist Anneli Pauli to a 5-year term as research director. “Internationally coordinated research will add a new dimension” to Finnish science, says Pauli, who also plans to add up to 12 institutes to a “Centers of Excellence” program that now provides extra funds for 26 centers deemed globally competitive.