ScienceScope

Science  08 Jun 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5523, pp. 1813
  1. Begging for Bioinformatics

    Two bioinformatics companies are hoping the Canadian government will join their bid to create a massive new public database on protein interactions. Computer giant IBM and MDS Proteomics, a Canadian company, last week announced that they will provide $3 million each for the Biomolecular Interaction Network Database (BIND).

    Blueprint Worldwide Inc., a nonprofit corporation organized to oversee BIND, hopes to persuade governments and other companies to put up $50 million for what it sees as a global repository on protein, RNA, and DNA interactions. If successful, BIND will help promote bioinformatics in Canada and encourage researchers to standardize their data, says Tony Pawson, a researcher at the Samuel Lunenfeld Institute in Toronto, who co-founded Blueprint.

  2. Mega-Ecosurvey

    What's billed as the largest study ever of the health of the world's ecosystems is now officially under way. The United Nations this week launched the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a 4-year, $21 million effort sponsored mainly by the UN, World Bank, and foundations. The funds will allow an estimated 1500 scientists around the world to assess how well lands and waters are standing up to human impacts (Science, 8 September 2000, p. 1677).

  3. R.I.P.

    The Sciences, the highbrow, art-laden magazine for laypeople produced by the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), has been given the ax after 40 years of publication. The NYAS board of governors voted to close down the award-winning magazine at a 31 May meeting, and the next day its six staffers were laid off.

    The bimonthly magazine, with a circulation of 46,000, carries almost no advertising and has always been a drain on the academy's budget. But with membership stagnant and the NYAS changing course, executive officer Rodney Nichols said in a statement that the academy's mission “cannot include being publisher of a general science magazine.” Spokesperson Fred Moreno says that the academy has been reshuffling its priorities and wants to devote more resources to issues such as science education and the role of technology.

    “I'm sure it's a good thing that the NYAS is worrying about technology and society, but it seems a real shame to end something as unique and superb as The Sciences,” says Stanford University biologist Robert Sapolsky, a contributing editor.

  4. Cuts Coming?

    Japan's attempts to rein in a budget deficit could crimp spending on science. Last week an advisory council to new Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi recommended a “large-scale reduction” in funding for public corporations, which include several major science agencies.

    CREDIT: NASA

    The main targets of the cuts are the bodies that run Japan's toll roads and airports. But the budget ax may also fall on RIKEN, the country's largest collection of research labs; the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, which leads the nation's efforts on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project; and the National Space Development Agency (NASDA), which leads Japan's contribution to the international space station and other space activities (such as satellite launch, above). The overall goal is a 20% cut in the $44 billion allotted to public corporations, according to media reports. A NASDA official says that the space agency will “probably be affected, but we just don't know how.”

  5. German Reforms Advance

    Germany's federal cabinet has approved research minister Edelgard Bulmahn's controversial plan to create “junior professorships” and pay professors based on merit rather than seniority. But more than 3700 professors are fighting the reform plan, which also faces opposition in the German parliament.

    The 30 May cabinet approval paves the way for likely approval by Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, this fall. But opponents in the Bundesrat, the upper house composed of the governors of Germany's 16 states, say the plan could impose hefty costs on the states, which bear primary responsibility for universities. Although Bulmahn's plan would provide $170 million between 2002 and 2005 to subsidize new “junior professor” slots, critics contend that it will force cash-strapped states to reduce student enrollments to free up funds for salaries.

    Bulmahn isn't backing down. She says the reforms—which also would phase out the nation's archaic Habilitation post-Ph.D. requirement for professorships—are an important step toward “significantly modernizing the higher education landscape.”

  6. Stretching Out

    India may become the latest outpost for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT's) high-tech Media Lab. The Indian Cabinet last week approved $16 million for the Media Lab Asia project, which hopes to join MIT and India's information technology ministry in what could eventually become a 10-year, $1.25 billion technology development push. A new multidisciplinary research center, to be opened later this year in a new facility outside Mumbai, will be a pilot project modeled after the original Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and one established last year in Dublin, Ireland.

    The Media Lab, founded in 1985, has worked on everything from virtual reality gear to nimble robots. Indian officials hope such creativity will help public-private research teams invent technologies that will be relevant to everyday life in rural areas.

  7. ReFlux

    Can the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF) survive another near-death experience? In 1996 and again this year, Department of Energy (DOE) officials decreed that the research reactor, which has sat idle on Washington state's Hanford nuclear reservation since 1992, be dismantled (Science, 1 December 2000, p. 1666). But last month Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham gave the reactor a reprieve, pending a review of its potential uses by physicist Mike Holland of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York.

    CREDIT: DOE

    A lengthy review completed just last year concluded that producing medical isotopes for cancer treatment and plutonium for space batteries wasn't worth the $314 million needed to restart the reactor and $58 million annually to operate it. But FFTF supporters convinced Abraham that the study overlooked income-generating possibilities.

    Holland's report is due in July, but critics already are furious. “This is essentially a huge illegal waste of money,” says Gerald Pollet, director of the Seattle-based environmental group Heart of America. He charges that the turnabout violates DOE contracts and diverts funds from Hanford cleanup projects. If Holland recommends restart, Pollet predicts that DOE will face a gauntlet of lawsuits from environmentalists and Oregon and Washington state officials, who oppose reopening the facility.

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