Random Samples

Science  14 Feb 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5609, pp. 1009

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  1. Spaniards Go for Stem Cells

    The vast majority of Spaniards attending a new exhibit on human embryonic stem (ES) cell research think the potential benefits outweigh ethical concerns.

    Concerned that the Spanish public is not getting good information on controversial biomedical research, a group of scientists from several institutions that make up the Bioethics Observatory of Barcelona assembled the exhibit, “Embryos and Medicine in the 21st Century.” The exposition, on display through this month at the University of Barcelona, attempts to present the pros and cons of research with human stem cells as well as information on government stem-cell policies around the world.

    Spaniards vote at stem-cell exposition by dropping a ball in one of two glass tubes.


    “Things are changing in Spain,” says stem-cell expert Bernat Soria of Miguel Hernández University in Alicante, citing his recent agreement with the Andalusian government to conduct the country's first human ES cell research. Andalusian officials are taking advantage of a national law that appears to exempt frozen embryos more than 5 years old from prohibitions on research with “viable” embryos (Science, 25 October 2002, p. 723). Some other regional governments are passing similar laws.

    But even though 83% of those attending the exhibition have voted in favor of human ES cell research, the Spanish government remains opposed. And Soria himself lost out last week in an attempt to gain a seat on a commission that advises the government on stem-cell issues.

  2. Flipper the Data Collector

    Scientists from Norway and Scotland have successfully attached satellite-linked sensors to two beluga whales in order to study ice-choked arctic fjords. The whales help scientists collect data on fjord bottom temperatures for information on whether rapid sea-ice thinning in the area around Svalbard, in northern Norway, is a result of long-term climate change or more transient variation.

    Previous devices that needed to be retrieved have yielded some information. But the new sensors beam data straight back to base and naturally de-attach after several months, the scientists report in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters. Researcher Michael Fedak of the University of St. Andrews in Fife, U.K., notes that “in this case, the scientific and conservation interests are working together at every level,” because the data on whale movements will also help scientists understand and protect them.

  3. Investors to Get No More Help From ASCO

    Wall Street analysts who follow the drug industry will have to work harder to get cutting-edge research results that might move the market. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has announced that it will stop publishing abstracts before its annual meeting to prevent analysts from using the incomplete information.

    For the last few years, the stock prices of companies such as Genentech have sunk or risen based on clinical trial results revealed by the abstracts, which used to be sent out 6 weeks prior to the annual meeting. Ironically, says ASCO president Charles Balch, this “ASCO effect” is generated by information from abstracts submitted 6 months in advance and thus is often badly out of date.

  4. Kissing Chemistry


    Science boosters in Germany hope these glistening scarlet lips will lure people to learn more about chemistry—or at least to see it as a potential turn-on. The chemistry of the kiss is being explored as part of the nationwide “Year of Chemistry.”

    The celebration began on New Year's Eve, when couples at the Brandenburg Gate were challenged to time a public kiss to exactly 15 seconds without looking at a watch. The winners, an Australian couple who clocked in at 15.9 seconds, received €1000 ($1080). This month, Berliners were treated to an exhibit on the “chemistry and magic” of the kiss. Visitors walked through a red-lit tunnel as they listened to a rapidly thumping heart backed by techno music and watched a video demonstrating the cascade of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and adrenaline triggered by a (good) kiss.

    Once through the tunnel of love, visitors can try chemistry experiments with help from local scientists. Planners estimate that more than 14,000 people visited in the first half of the 10-day exhibit, which next month will travel to Stuttgart and Leipzig.

  5. Columbia's Final Rhyme

    Israeli geophysicist Joachim “Yoya” Joseph, who had an experiment measuring Saharan dust storms aboard the Columbia, corresponded in poetry with the astronauts throughout their 16 days in space. Here is their last exchange:

    From the crew:

    Yoya Joseph, Our friend on the ground,

    Sends us daily poems as we go round and round.

    His warm, friendly eyes

    Make us realize

    What a wonderful friend we have found.


    From Joseph:

    When shall we All meet again

    In Thunder, Lightning or in Rain?

    When the Sprites are lost and won,

    When the Dust is settled and gone,

    And the Shuttle is still and alone.

  6. Biopolitics

    The letter and the law. A biology professor at Texas Tech in Lubbock—“the buckle of the Bible Belt”—has become the unwilling center of a hubbub over the fact that he won't write letters of recommendation for students who don't believe in evolution.


    Michael Dini tells his students to have “a scientific answer” to the question “How do you think the human species originated?” before asking for his endorsement. That statement, on his Web site, angered Micah Spradling, a sometime Texas Tech student who registered for but reportedly never attended Dini's class. Spradling complained to the U.S. Department of Justice that the statement discriminated against his religious beliefs. Justice last month asked the school for its policy on letters of recommendation.

    Neither of the principals is talking to the press. But both have their advocates. The Liberty Legal Institute of Plano, Texas, has taken up Spradling's cause and is threatening to sue the university for “religious bigotry.” Dini's colleagues have issued a strong statement in his support. Dini is “just amazed” at the situation, says Dale Pat Campbell, counsel to the university, who calls him “a real good guy who's tired of being kicked around.”

    The school has no institutional policy on letters of recommendation, and Spradling never asked Dini for one.

  7. Discoverers


    Big shell. Three geology students at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, got lucky last month. While the rest of the country was celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, they went on a field trip and discovered a 325-million-year-old cephalopod fossil—at close to 2.5 meters the world's longest actinoceratoid nautiloid fossil —covered by only a couple of centimeters of earth near a roadway. “Last semester, I was an accounting major,” said one of the fossil finders, freshman geology major Sarah Kee. “I think I made a good switch.”

  8. Jobs

    BIO-woman. Reflecting concerns about finding novel drugs for a pipeline gone nearly dry, the Washington, D.C.-based Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has created a new department of science and regulatory affairs. And it's poached a biologics expert from its neighbor to head it up.

    Gillian Woollett, a British immunologist, has spent the last 7 years overseeing biotechnology and biologics at the Pharma-ceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Now, she'll be working mainly with small firms that make up most of BIO's 1000 members.

    Regulations governing biologic drugs are still being refined. But Woollett, 42, expects hot areas such as pharmacogenomics to make a splash despite today's current depressed market.

  9. Data Points

    Baby steps to equality. Despite earning 41% of the science and mathematics degrees at European universities, women account for barely 15% of the industrial research workforce, according to a new report from the European Commission. The reasons for the striking differences among countries are not clear, says Ragnhild Sohlberg, vice president of Norsk Hydro in Oslo and vice chair of the commission's expert group. But she fingers one possible factor: Whereas France has publicly funded day care for 41% of children under 3, Germany has government-funded places for only 6% of its toddlers. The report is available at europa.eu.int/comm/research/science-society/women/wir/index_en.html