ScienceScope

Science  07 Jun 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5574, pp. 1781
  1. Coming Together on Cloning

    The world needs an international convention outlawing reproductive cloning, say scientists and policy-makers who met this week in Berlin to discuss global bioethics.

    The meeting, organized by the French and German governments, attracted 70 participants from about 15 nations. Over 2 days, they sought consensus on a range of issues, including cloning, the commercial use of biotechnology, and developing world access to new technologies.

    In a final communiqué issued 4 June, the group offered a laundry list of sometimes vague ideas, including a call for expanded bioethics education and training. But when it came to duplicating humans, participants were precise: They urged governments to forge a global agreement that would ban reproductive cloning and bar international trade in embryos. The more complex issue of therapeutic cloning should be discussed separately, they said.

    German and French organizers say they will now take the ideas to the United Nations, which is expected to discuss the issues in September.

  2. Full Speed Ahead

    A last-minute bid to strengthen ethical restrictions on embryo research failed to derail approval of the European Union's (E.U.'s) main research program. The E.U. council of ministers this week approved the 6th Framework research program without debate, giving little hint of a behind-the-scenes scramble to exclude certain types of embryo research from the $17 billion, 4-year plan.

    CREDIT: GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT/AP

    In late May, member countries Ireland, Germany, Austria, and Italy threatened to block the Framework if it lacked prohibitions on reproductive cloning, germ line modifications, and creation of embryos for research—restrictions that were spelled out last year in a European Commission declaration. After failing to win majority backing for the idea, however, the countries instead issued a joint statement expressing concern about the lack of ethical guidelines. They also vowed to revisit the issue in coming months, as E.U. officials draft rules for specific programs.

  3. Prying Open the Board

    Federal legislators are urging the governing board of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct more of its business in public—or else. The U.S. House of Representatives this week was expected to pass an NSF authorization bill that calls on the agency's in-house watchdog, the inspector general (IG), to ensure that the board is complying with all relevant federal statutes pertaining to open meetings.

    The House vote follows a Senate hearing last month at which Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) told atmospheric scientist Warren Washington, newly installed as chair of the National Science Board, “to avoid the heartburn and take care of the matter before it becomes a problem.” Washington replied that he was “philosophically” in favor of “doing as much business as possible in the open” but that he needed to check with NSF officials before giving a fuller answer. IG Tina Boesz says that her office has started to look into the matter in anticipation of a formal request from Congress.

  4. Let the Race Begin

    This week, at a meeting in France, the partners in the $4 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) were to formally submit their candidate sites to host the mammoth fusion experiment. Japan, the favorite, last week announced its choice of Rokkasho, a village in Aomori Prefecture about 540 kilometers north of Tokyo that is already home to a controversial nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. The European Union was expected to offer two candidates: Vandellos, near Barcelona, the site of a shuttered nuclear plant; and Cadarache, near Aix-en-Provence, next to France's main nuclear power research facility. A private Canadian group is pushing a site in Clarington, near Toronto.

    The winner, to be chosen by the end of the year, is supposed to be the best site within the country willing to pick up the largest share of the tab. Each potential host has a huge financial stake in the decision. The Aomori provincial government, for example, expects to reap some $10 billion in economic benefits over the expected 30-year lifetime of the project.