ScienceScope

Science  12 Apr 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5566, pp. 235
  1. Separate But Equal

    U.S. researchers who want to work on new, unapproved human embryonic stem (ES) cell lines need not flee to privately funded labs, federal officials clarified last month. They can stay in their academic labs, as long as they follow existing accounting rules for what can and can't be charged to federal grants.

    Last August, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began reviewing rules that ban mixing federal and private funds after President George W. Bush limited federal funding for ES cell research to 60-odd lines. In anticipation of Bush's decision, some stem cell researchers had moved their studies to special off-campus buildings. But after lengthy analysis, NIH says that's not necessary.

    In a 29 March Web posting, NIH says that researchers can derive or use unapproved cell lines “in your university-supported laboratory” as long as they don't bill the federal government for the work and the university “has in place a method of separating” overhead costs. “Many people were nervous” about how to proceed, says stem cell researcher George Daley of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “This is reasonable and very helpful.”

  2. One More Down

    Another top official at the Smithsonian Institution has resigned. Dennis O'Connor, undersecretary for science and acting director of the National Museum of Natural History, last week said he is moving to the University of Maryland, College Park, because academia offers greater intellectual rigor. He is the sixth director to leave since the controversial tenure of Smithsonian secretary Lawrence Small began less than 3 years ago (Science, 13 July 2001, p. 194).

    O'Connor's surprise departure leaves the museum leaderless for the second time in a year. The lack of stable leadership has become “a major issue,” says Jeremy Sabloff, who heads a commission that is evaluating Smithsonian science. Officials had planned to postpone a search for a permanent head until next year. Now, Sabloff's group plans to map out a hiring strategy next week.

    One likely candidate is already out of the running: Former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief James Baker is moving to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. And sources say recently appointed museum deputy director Ira Rubinoff isn't a likely pick.

    Some museum scientists blame Small for the upheaval. Says one critic: “It is time to end this experiment of running this institution as a business and … return to the Smithsonian's traditional scholarly roots.”

  3. Earthman Cometh

    There is rejoicing at Columbia University's Earth Institute (EI). Last week, after 3 years without a permanent director, the New York City institute snagged renowned Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs (below) to be its chief. Sachs, a specialist on post-Soviet economies and adviser to United Nations (U.N.) chief Kofi Annan, is interested in the economic effects of disease in poor countries (Science, 29 June 2001, p. 2420). He plans to add two centers to the EI complex: a U.N.-based Center on Globalization and Development, to work on poverty-alleviation goals; and what he informally dubs CDCDC—a Center for Disease Control in Developing Countries—at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.

    CREDIT: MARK LENNIHAN/AP

    Sachs starts his new job in June and says he's boning up on its scientific aspects. Geochemist Wallace Broecker of Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory says he's “delighted.” The 47-year-old Sachs, he says, has “the personality and energy” to fulfill the promise of EI, started in 1994 with the aim of combining earth, biological, and social sciences in charting the planet's future.

  4. Job Confusion

    A court ruling threatens to throw a wrench into ongoing attempts to reform Italy's National Research Council (CNR), the nation's main basic research agency. An administrative tribunal this week rejected CNR's pick to head an astrophysics institute, saying that the agency ignored the qualifications of another candidate, who went to court to challenge the process.

    Giovanni Bignami, science chief at the Italian Space Agency, alleged that CNR unfairly rejected his application to become director of the Institute of Astrophysics in Rome. The job was one of 101 directorships that CNR was filling under a plan to overhaul its infrastructure. An administrative tribunal backed Bignami, ruling that a CNR panel had “neglected” to consider his managerial skills. It annulled the appointment of another researcher to the post.

    CNR officials are still grappling with the implications of the decision, with some officials fretting that it could expose the agency to further such challenges. The governing board will assess the potential fallout at a regular meeting next week.

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