ScienceScope

Science  05 Jul 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5578, pp. 29
  1. Cloning Indecision

    President George W. Bush's advisory Council on Bioethics is expected to offer its first thoughts on human cloning later this month—but the outcome has been the focus of extensive behind-the-scenes wrangling this week. A majority of the 18-member group, which began meeting early this year (Science, 25 January, p. 601), appears to oppose the complete ban on “research cloning” advocated by Bush and the panel's leader, Leon Kass of the University of Chicago, an informal Science survey suggests. But a majority of the panel appeared headed for a controversial compromise: a recommendation to ban reproductive cloning and a 4-year moratorium on research involving cloned embryos, to allow for further public debate and for the government to enact regulations.

    Some panel members, however, fear that the group's backing of a moratorium might be a ploy to stall the research altogether and does not reflect the sizable minority on the panel that supports research cloning. “A moratorium is a de facto ban,” says one panelist. “If the headline is, ‘Bush Committee Bans Cloning,’ that's wrong,” says another.

    In the last-minute maneuvering, at least two panelists have switched positions since the last public meeting, and the issue is generating tension and uncertainty within the council. As Science went to press, one panel member said: “Things are shifting around even now.”

  2. Indian Ousters

    The government's leading advocate for reforming India's animal-care facilities, Maneka Gandhi, has lost her Cabinet post after a public feud with the health minister, who was also dropped. Ironically, the reshuffling comes on the eve of a new system to accredit animal facilities, a key element in Gandhi's campaign to reform the country's 600 animal houses.

    CREDIT: P. BAGLA

    Indian Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee had privately scolded Gandhi, who chairs a government animal welfare committee, and health chief C. P. Thakur for fighting over who should operate the accreditation system. That job has been assigned to the Department of Science and Technology.

    “Thakur was asked to resign for underperformance, and Gandhi for overperformance,” says S. Chinny Krishna, vice chair of India's Animal Welfare Board, who applauded Gandhi's efforts. Although her firing is a “setback … the momentum has been built.”

  3. Scientific Gold Mine?

    U.S. researchers are getting ready to dig even deeper into the possible uses of an underground science laboratory. The National Science Foundation (NSF) said last week that it will hold a 3-day workshop on subterranean science in September in Washington, D.C. And although the notice doesn't mention it by name, a controversial proposal to convert the shuttered Homestake Gold Mine in South Dakota into the world's deepest lab will be the invisible elephant in the room (Science, 15 February, p. 1213).

    NSF is already mulling a nearly $300 million request from physicists to build the Homestake lab, which they say would be the perfect place to build giant detectors for studying neutrinos. But the project has become ensnarled in political, environmental, and cost concerns, and NSFreviewers have so far given little hint on how they view the bid.

    Earlier this year, the White House asked the National Academy of Sciences to take a global look at proposed facilities for neutrino physics and underground science in general, with an eye toward avoiding duplication. Organizers say the conference, which they expect to be “75% about physics and astrophysics and 25% about other fields,” including geoscience and the environmental sciences, will feed into the academy report. It is expected to shape attitudes toward the Homestake lab.

    The report is due early next year. For meeting details, see www.physics.umd.edu/ness02.

  4. Bailed Out

    After nearly a week in jail, two biology postdocs accused by the FBI of stealing commercial secrets from a Harvard lab (Science, 28 June, p. 2310) were released last week from a San Diego prison on $250,000 bail each.

    Jiang Yu Zhu and his wife, Kayoko Kimbara, are expected to travel to Boston for an initial hearing on 17 July before a federal district court. In the meantime, they face an 8 p.m. curfew. Zhu, now at the University of California, San Diego, and Kimbara, now at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, could face 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if found guilty of conspiring to steal Harvard secrets and shipping Harvard property across state lines. A formal criminal indictment is likely to come later this month.