ScienceScope

Science  27 Jun 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5628, pp. 2015
  1. IOM's How-to for Big Biology

    The U.S. government needs a more systematic way of dealing with bioscience megaprojects, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine. The report outlines seven recommendations for scientists who are tackling big projects such as untangling how genes and proteins interact to make cells work.

    For starters, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) needs “a more open and systematic method” for soliciting and vetting proposals, the report says. “People found it difficult to find a place to send them,” says panel chair Joseph Simone, former head of a cancer center and now a consultant in Dunwoody, Georgia. NIH also needs “clear but flexible” entry and exit plans and should “avoid the accumulation of additional institutes.” For instance, the panel noted that the Human Genome Institute has struggled to redefine its mission since completing its namesake task.

    The report also recommends developing incentives and rewards for scientists willing to spend their careers guiding large projects, which can now be “academically deadly,” says Simone. The report may help guide NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, who plans to promote multi-investigator science.

  2. U.K. Targets Gene Research

    Britain wants to pour more than $80 million into genetic research over the next 3 years. The government this week released a white paper that outlines plans to boost funding for everything from genetic testing and counseling to gene therapy and studies of gene-drug interactions.

    The Health Department will fund one pilot program that will attempt to identify and treat as many as 1000 people with a genetic disorder known as familial hypercholesterolaemia, which raises the risk of early heart attacks. The government also wants to protect people from misuse of genetic information, and it plans to propose a law that would make it illegal to test someone's DNA without his or her consent. The government reiterated its support for an existing moratorium on employers or insurers using genetic information until at least 2006.

    That's not enough for David King of the watchdog group Human Genetics Alert in London. He says “there should be clear legislation banning use of genetic testing by insurers and employers.”

  3. NIAID Wins Budget Struggle

    Much to the relief of researchers, the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) won't force the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to spend $233 million on procuring a new anthrax vaccine. The expense, which took NIAID by surprise in February, would have forced the institute to shave 6 months off of every new grant and restructure payments of existing contracts (Science, 9 May, p. 877).

    NIAID—with help from its parent, the Department of Health and Human Services, along with key members of Congress and advocacy groups—convinced OMB that the Department of Homeland Security should make vaccine purchases. NIAID, meanwhile, will keep the funds and plow them into vaccine R&D this year and next. The accounting wizardry will reduce pressure on other grants, at least for the moment. Says one insider: “We found a win-win for everybody.”

  4. French Researchers Fear Shrinking Public Workforce

    PARIS—In an unusual bout of activism, young French researchers have joined protests against government moves that they say would shrink the nation's public sector science workforce. More than 12,000 researchers—including up to 7000 doctoral students and postdocs—this week petitioned the research ministry to take steps to bolster job security.

    The petition was prompted by concerns that an upcoming government reform plan will allow annual attrition to outpace new hiring. Leaders of SNCS, France's main union for researchers, estimate that the nation's corps of 13,000 scientists could lose 1000 slots by 2010 under the preliminary plan. As Science went to press, the research ministry hadn't responded to the petition.

  5. Finally, Nozomi Heads for Mars

    TOKYO—Something has finally gone right for Japan's troubled Mars probe, Nozomi. Last week the 5-year-old wanderer slingshotted around Earth toward a long-delayed rendezvous with the Red Planet.

    A botched swing-by in 1998 forced mission planners to send the $840 million spacecraft around the sun, where last year a solar flare knocked out a heater needed to warm the fuel it needs to enter a Mars orbit. Scientists are hoping to fix that problem in advance of Nozomi's arrival