Science  09 Mar 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5510, pp. 1875

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  1. Can-Do Genome

    Canadian genomics research kicked into a higher gear last week as the federal government increased its contribution to a national genomics initiative by $95 million, to $202 million. “Genomics promises tremendous quality-of-life benefits for all Canadians, especially in health, and will be a key economic engine in the 21st century,” said Industry Minister Brian Tobin in a news briefing.

    The contribution will bring Genome Canada closer to its target of $400 million (Science, 10 March 2000, p. 1732). The program has already collected $160 million from the provinces and the private sector, with the rest expected over the coming year. The governing board is reviewing 31 projects that have survived an initial review and hopes to announce the winners after its next meeting on 23 March.

    The additional funds should make more scientists happy, says chief executive officer Martin Godbout. He says it will also help Canada keep up “not just in sequencing, but the next step, which is functional genomics.”

  2. Training Tumult

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is about to propose new guidelines on training graduate students and postdocs that it hopes will defuse growing criticism of current policies. Last August, a National Academy of Sciences panel recommended that NIH fund more young researchers through general training grants, and fewer through research grants to specific investigators, as a way to improve the quality of their education without increasing the competition for jobs (Science, 8 September 2000, p. 1667). Last week, some of the same issues were debated as the academy held a daylong symposium to promote a September report that fingered NIH's current training stipends as contributing to the economic plight of postdocs.

    NIH officials say the new guidelines, the product of a lively 6-month debate on the Bethesda, Maryland, campus, aim to balance the educational needs of students and the research requirements of investigators. But the issue of raising salaries is complex, says Marvin Cassman, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, who was under fire at last week's symposium from both angry postdocs and harried administrators. Any boost in stipends, he noted, would lower the number of students and postdocs NIH could support, unless Congress or administrators substantially increase the agency's training budget.

  3. Stem Cell Limbo

    Those hoping for clear signals about the status of U.S. government funding for human embryonic stem cell research were disappointed last week. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tommy Thompson (below) told reporters and National Institutes of Health (NIH) staff gathered for a 1 March budget briefing that the legal questions surrounding the cells are still “a little murky, because Congress has passed a law” that forbids NIH from funding work that harms or destroys an embryo.


    In 1999, an HHS lawyer reasoned that work could go forward because embryonic stem cells—valued because they can be coaxed to grow into a variety of cell types—are not themselves embryos. But that opinion “has been questioned by other lawyers,” Thompson said, and the department is reviewing the matter. If the Administration decides it is legal to go ahead, the review won't hold up funds, he vowed. The next deadline for researchers to submit proposals for stem cell work is 15 March, but ethics and science reviews mean scientists won't receive awards before June, said NIH acting director Ruth Kirschstein.

    Meanwhile, lobbying on the volatile issue continues. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (Science's publisher) this week sent Thompson a letter urging him to let stem cell funding proceed.

  4. Russelling Up Staff

    The Bush White House has made its first science-related job appointment. It's Richard Russell, a former House Science Committee senior staffer, who this week took up residence as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's (OSTP's) chief of staff.

    Russell spent 6 years on the Science Committee, where he handled an array of issues, and also helped with the Bush Administration's transition efforts at the Department of Commerce and the National Science Foundation. Before going to OSTP, rumors had him in the running for a senior Commerce post overseeing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Russell's duties—and longevity—at OSTP are unclear. Researchers are still anxiously waiting for the White House to name a new science adviser, who also heads the office and could bring in his own team.