Science  20 Sep 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5589, pp. 1975

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  1. High-Priority Trio

    The cow jumped over the moon in a children's rhyme—and now it is jumping near the front of the line of organisms due to have their genomes sequenced. The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) last week announced that the cow, the dog, and a single-celled protozoan have joined 20 other “high priority” sequencing targets—including 15 species of fungi and the honey bee (Science, 5 October 2001, p. 82).

    The three organisms were added to the pool after one of NHGRI's periodic polls of the scientific community. The cow was blessed thanks to its usefulness in understanding human endocrinology and reproductive health. The dog has long been used to study diseases such as cancer and epilepsy. And the ciliate Oxytricha trifallax contains single-gene chromosomes that could help reveal the elements needed for gene regulation.

    Despite the boost, the three species probably won't be sequenced immediately, because NHGRI's three U.S. sequencing centers are already busy. But the push is on to expand the capacity of existing centers and launch new ones.

  2. Astropaleontology?

    An Australian geologist is NASA's choice to take over its Astrobiology Institute. Bruce Runnegar, a 61-year-old professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), will succeed the first director, Nobel laureate and biologist Baruch Blumberg, who said last year he was stepping down from the job.


    The institute is a “virtual organization” based at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California (Science, 29 May 1998, p. 1338). It pulls together NASA field centers, universities, and research organizations to study the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe. Runnegar currently heads UCLA's astrobiology center under contract with NASA.

    Researchers say Runnegar's broad credentials—he has been a Sloan fellow in molecular evolution and has authored dozens of papers on everything from mollusk paleontology to oxygen in Earth's ancient atmosphere—will give a boost to the young, interdisciplinary enterprise. Runnegar says he'll start work at the beginning of next year.

  3. Close Call for Boehlert

    One of the science community's favorite members of Congress has barely survived a primary election. House Science Committee chair Sherwood Boehlert, a moderate Republican from upstate New York, squeaked out a 52% to 48% win over a conservative challenger in a 10 September vote.

    A staunch environmentalist and abortion-rights supporter, Boehlert is often at odds with Republican leaders and has drawn increasingly stiff challenges from his party's conservative wing. Two years ago, a conservative challenger won 43% of the vote in the contest to choose the Republican nominee. This year, changes in the boundaries of Boehlert's district helped David Walrath, a state legislator and medical director of a drug-treatment center, come within 1427 votes of a major upset.

    “It was surprisingly close; I'm still shaking,” says one science-group lobbyist, noting that Boehlert has earned a reputation as an enthusiastic—but tough-minded—advocate for research spending. Boehlert is expected to easily win another 2-year term in the 5 November general election, as he should draw votes from Democrats and independent voters, who can't participate in the Republican primary.

  4. Unwanted Advice?

    The Bush Administration let two scientific advisory groups die in recent weeks, one on genetic testing standards and the other on the use of human subjects in research. Both dealt with hot topics; both advised the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); and both included holdover members from the Clinton White House. But after a story in this week's Washington Post suggested that the panels were killed in response to complaints from industry or conservative groups, HHS spokesperson William Pierce hastened to explain that the committees will be recreated “very soon” with new members and “broadened” mandates.

    That explanation didn't satisfy Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) and other Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In a 17 September letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, the group wrote that it was “deeply disturbed” by these and other changes—such as a shakeup of an environmental health panel (Science, 30 August, p. 1456)—and demanded a total accounting of any changes since January 2001 to “scientific advisory groups, committees or task forces.” HHS's response is due by 4 October.