Random Samples

Science  18 Apr 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5618, pp. 421

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  1. Another Endangered Species Cloned

    Cloners appear to have produced the first healthy copy of an endangered animal. Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Worcester, Massachusetts, last week said they've got a peppy and “totally normal” banteng—a wild bovine from Java whose total population has dwindled to about 8000. He was born to a surrogate mother cow on 1 April.

    Baby banteng an eager feeder.


    Two years ago, company scientists generated a clone of a gaur, an endangered wild Asian ox, but it died of dysentery 2 days after birth. In the recent effort, scientists took frozen tissue held at the San Diego Zoo from a banteng that died in 1980. They inserted skin cell nuclei into cow eggs and implanted the resulting blastocysts in 30 cows. There were 16 pregnancies of which two came to term. The second banteng, born on 3 April, was twice the normal birthweight and was euthanized 5 days later.

    Robert Lanza, ACT's vice president of medical and scientific development, insists banteng #1 gives every sign of being more than OK. “This animal is so healthy we gave him two entire pens.” Within minutes of being born, he adds, “he let out this big bellow and everyone cheered.” Plans are to introduce the clone and its genetic diversity into the zoo's small banteng population.

    Not everyone is as optimistic as Lanza about the clone. “I strongly disagree that these clones are ‘normal’ just because they survive the postnatal period and appear normal,” says Rudolf Jaenisch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He notes that both cloned mice and cows that appeared normal in youth have developed many kinds of problems later on and died prematurely.

  2. High-Tech Mousekeeping

    Robot doesn't shirk dirty cage work.

    When scientists tour the 2-year-old Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, one of the first things they ask to see is the basement rodent quarters, where a pair of state-of-the-art robot mouse maids is creating a buzz.

    One picks soiled cages off a conveyor belt and dumps used bedding into the garbage before sending the plastic pens through a tunnel washer. The other fills the clean cages with bedding and places them on a rack. Together, the duo handles a remarkable 350 cages per hour—eliminating the unsavory task of cage cleaning and shrinking labor needs from six to two technicians. “When we told [institute founder James Stowers] what an awful job it was cleaning cages, he told us to go ahead and spend the money on the robots,” says Kris Kramer, the director of facilities. Stowers expects to recoup its $860,000 investment in 6 years. “Much of the savings will come from reduced repetitive motion injuries and fewer health problems caused by allergen exposure,” says Wendy Walker, director of the animal facility.

    Stowers was the first U.S. facility to be outfitted with the Swedish-made robots. But they and other mechanized assistants appear to be poised to sweep the mouse research scene. Emory University, Schering-Plough, and Merck have bought some, and they will soon be making technicians redundant at the University of Colorado and Johns Hopkins University.

  3. TV and the Unfit

    CREDIT: JAMA 289, 1785 (2003)

    Forget violence and mindlessness. It looks as though the main danger posed by TV-watching is obesity. In a study published in the 9 April issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Harvard University researchers led by Frank Hu report on the relationship among sedentary behaviors, diabetes, and obesity in 50,000 women studied over a 6-year period in the long-running Nurses' Health Study.

    When researchers controlled for effects of exercise, smoking, age, and diet, they found that each 2-hour increase in daily TV-watching was associated with a 23% increase in obesity and a 7% increase in diabetes risk. Women spend an average of 34 hours a week ogling the tube, according to a 1997 survey.

  4. Too Repetitive?

    “Mandelbrot, who invented fractals, was always very disappointed that everybody doesn't consider it great art. I don't know why fractals isn't great art—it has a lot in common with great art—but the problem is, when you look at it, it just doesn't look that great.”

    —Minimalist artist Frank Stella

    at 3 April meeting on art, science, and creativity at Rockefeller University

  5. Saving Oceans Through Cinema

    Olson and a cartoon of a dying ocean.


    Nine years ago, Randy Olson gave up marine biology for a career in filmmaking. Now, the former University of New Hampshire scientist is applying his Hollywood experience to the cause of marine conservation.

    Olson, 47, is the creator of Shifting Baselines, a multimedia campaign to save Earth's oceans that takes its name from the idea that conservationists have lowered their goals over time. Its Web site, shiftingbaselines.org, features an interactive slide show with tongue-in-cheek commentary, short films, and an animation of bacteria and jellyfish taking over a dying ocean. The content explains how marine ecosystems have been in decline for several hundred years due to overfishing, pollution, and other human impacts.

    Although moviemaking seems like a far cry from his days studying starfish larval ecology, Olson says that using film is not all that different from using data to tell a tale. Plus, filmmaking offers him more room for humor than science ever did. One of his short films, for example, Barnacles Tell No Lies, stars a jazz singer celebrating the crustacean's extraordinarily long penis, which it uses to reach over and fertilize neighboring females. “Humor is subjective and irrational, which makes it a wonderful contrast with science,” says Olson. And his source of energy? “I reset the clock on my life by 15 years by going to film school with a bunch of 20-somethings,” he jokes.

  6. Honored


    Immortal. Dolly is dead, but her legend lives on. The world's most celebrated sheep, cloned 6 years ago from an adult cell and euthanized this February, went on display last week as an exhibit at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland. The embalming involved mounting Dolly's skin on a fiberglass mold of her body and fitting her with glass eyes and resin hooves.

  7. Jobs

    FASEB head. Hematologist Frederick R. Rickles has been named executive director of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) in Rockville, Maryland. The 60-year-old Rickles, who takes over in July from the retiring Sidney Golub, hopes the 91-member organization can build alliances with clinical scientists to “accelerate the process of taking biological discoveries from the bench to the bedside.”

    Rickles plans to retain his current job as associate vice president for health research at George Washington University.

  8. In the courts

    Dangerous cargo. Infectious-disease researcher Thomas Butler was indicted by a federal grand jury last week on 15 counts, including illegally transporting plague bacteria into the United States from Tanzania. He also faces charges of lying to federal agents about 30 plague vials that disappeared from his lab at Texas Tech University in Lubbock in January (Science, 24 January, p. 489) and tax fraud. Butler, 61, initially told university officials that the vials were missing before confessing that he had destroyed them.

  9. Milestones


    Died. Computer scientist Anita Borg, who campaigned relentlessly to promote greater involvement of women in technology, died of brain cancer earlier this month at the age of 54. “She believed that increasing the participation of women in computer science and engineering would lead to the development of more socially relevant technologies,” says Telle Whitney, president of the Institute for Women and Technology (IWT) in Palo Alto, California, which Borg founded in 1997. Borg was head of ITW until June 2002.

  10. The Student Body

    Shadowy practices. What would you do for 10 bucks? Australian university students say that paying “untanned persons” that hourly wage to test sunscreen lotions violates national guidelines that prohibit inducements to attract human research subjects. They've persuaded the University of Sydney to ban from campus the commercial testing lab's ad campaign to “study, read, relax, and get paid.”

    “Offering carrots to turn students into guinea pigs is not acceptable,” says Jo Haylen, president of the university's Students Representative Council. But Gavin Greenoak, who runs the university's skin cancer research center as well as directs the campus-based Australian Photobiology Testing Facility, says that the student leadership is misguided. “Rather than exploit students' poverty, we alleviate it,” says Greenoak, who nevertheless has modified the ad to ask potential participants if the offer of payment makes them feel exploited.