Science  17 Oct 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5644, pp. 371

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  1. Gates Gives $25 Million for Research on Nutritious Crops

    The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given $25 million to help scientists use traditional plant-breeding methods to create more nutritious crops for the developing world.

    HarvestPlus, a 10-year research project of a consortium led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, D.C., wants to develop rice, wheat, cassava, beans, maize, and other crops enriched in micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron, and zinc. It hopes to avoid the unhappy history of golden rice, an yellow-colored genetically modified crop now in field trials that has faced criticism over everything from patent rights to whether it contains enough vitamin A. “It's not just about science,” says Francisco Reifschneider, director of the 16-center Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), IFPRI's parent.

    The project, set to begin in January, marks a departure for CGIAR, which has traditionally focused on productivity gains. The Gates grant brings it halfway to a goal of raising $50 million for the first 4 years.

  2. More SNPs in the Pool

    Affymetrix, the Santa Clara, California, gene array company, has greatly expanded the public database of well-characterized gene variants. The donation could also contribute to the company's bottom line.

    The release covers some 120,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) tested for in 54 volunteers. Although there are nearly 6 million SNPs in public databases, many may be rare and therefore not useful in genetic studies. About half the SNPs that Affymetrix released were already in the public domain but hadn't been studied in large numbers of people.

    Researchers hope the newly released SNPs will further efforts to link genetic variation with common diseases. The new SNP information is available on Affymetrix's Web site and on the University of California, Santa Cruz, genome browser. The release isn't all altruism, however. Affymetrix is designing a chip for sale that will test for 100,000 SNPs at once, says Keith Jones, vice president for molecular genetics.

  3. Budget Protests in Italy

    PADUA, ITALY—Italian university leaders have frozen faculty salaries for a fourth straight year in an ever-worsening fiscal crisis that threatens higher education and research.

    The 80-member college of university rectors, which met last week in Rome, says that the government's refusal to boost budgets has been exacerbated by a proposal to create an Italian Institute of Technology that would drink from the same funding pool. A hiring freeze also has some 1300 researchers waiting to fill posts. And the rectors are unhappy with aspects of a new plan to evaluate the universities themselves. “An assessment system implies adequate investment,” says Piero Tosi of the University of Siena. “A positive evaluation must have a corresponding incentive, otherwise the process becomes sterile.”

  4. Senate Bars Gene Bias

    Efforts to protect the public against genetic discrimination took a big step forward this week when the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a proposal prohibiting such practices by employers and health insurers.

    Thirty-eight states have already passed some form of genetic antidiscrimination legislation, says Kathy Hudson, director of the Johns Hopkins University Genetics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. But strong federal legislation is needed “to be able to reap the rewards” of genetic research, says Mary Davidson, executive director of the Genetic Alliance, also in Washington, D.C. The struggle, however, continues: A related bill in the House of Representatives has languished in committee since May.

  5. Tracking Hidden DNA Gems

    The National Institutes of Health has awarded $12.6 million to help researchers sift through 30 million bases of the DNA sequenced as part of the Human Genome Project. The funding is part of a 3-year, $36 million effort called ENCODE (the ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements) that is looking for key regulatory and other functional components as well as new genes.

    The new program provides for both cooperative agreements to map and study these poorly understood regions of the genome and grants for technology development, such as altering microarrays and other devices to study genes that make multiple proteins. “Our hope is that at the end [of the 3 years] we will have a path toward doing the whole genome,” says Elise Feingold of the National Human Genome Research Institute, which manages ENCODE.