ScienceScope

Science  24 Jan 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5606, pp. 489
  1. Human Cloning Claim Prompts Government to Back Total Ban

    BERLIN—In a shift, the German government now says it will push for an international ban on all human cloning.

    Embryo research is illegal in Germany, and last year the government joined France in lobbying for a United Nations (U.N.) ban on reproductive cloning. But the proposed global ban didn't cover so-called research cloning, which is aimed at deriving stem cells (below) from cloned embryos. It was blocked last November by the United States, which wants a total ban (Science, 15 November 2002, p. 1316).

    CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MADISON

    Germany adopted the same stance earlier this month after Clonaid, a company linked to a religious sect, claimed it had created a cloned baby. The claim has not been confirmed, but it sparked harsh criticism of the government's position from opposition politicians and segments of the German press.

    Previously, foreign ministry officials had argued that it would be easier to win a ban on reproductive cloning alone. Now, they will try to persuade France to back a total ban, and they may support a U.S. proposal. The U.N. is scheduled to revisit the issue next fall.

  2. Budget Picture Brightens For Science Agencies

    BERLIN—German science agencies got some good and bad budget news last week. The good news: The commission of state and federal governments that sets research budgets agreed that the DFG, Germany's research agency, should get a 2.5% increase over last year, officials announced 17 January. That is less than the 3.5% raise promised last summer, but it's nearly $30 million more than the DFG would have received under a budget freeze that the federal government threatened in November.

    The bad news: Disagreements over smaller increases for the Max Planck Society and other agencies mean that all 2003 budgets are on hold at least until March.

  3. Opponents Mull Challenge to Latest European Cancer Patent

    The European Patent Office (EPO) has granted Utah-based Myriad Genetics its first European patent on the BRCA2 breast cancer gene. But the environmental group Greenpeace and other opponents say they will likely challenge the patent, which was awarded 8 January.

    Myriad's critics—including researchers in 12 European nations—are already challenging two other Myriad patents on the BRCA1 breast cancer gene. They charge that the patents would give the company a monopoly on tests for a predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer.

    Any new challenge would probably be combined with the current cases, says an EPO spokesperson. Hearings aren't likely before 2004.

  4. Farmers Planted More Biotech Crops in 2002

    Controversy didn't keep farmers from planting a record number of genetically modified (GM) crops last year, according to a new survey. GM plantings in 2002 rose 12%, to 59 million hectares, estimates the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a nonprofit group based in Manila, the Philippines.

    CREDIT: SCOTT BRUNNER/BEDFORD TIMES/AP

    More than one-fifth of the world's soybean, corn, cotton, and canola fields are now sown with GM seed, concludes the annual survey, which was released 15 January. Users include nearly 6 million farmers in 16 countries, up from 5 million farmers in 13 nations in 2001. The United States, Argentina, Canada, and China topped the list of growers, with India, Colombia, and Honduras appearing for the first time.

    Critics say GM crops threaten human health and the environment, and some nations have barred their use on farms or in food (Science, 8 November 2002, p. 1153). Despite such opposition, crop scientist and ISAAA head Clive James claims that “biotechnology continues to be the most rapidly adopted technology in agricultural history.”