Science  07 Nov 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5647, pp. 965

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  1. Revised View on Embryos

    BERLIN—Germany's debate over embryo research is reigniting: Justice minister Brigitte Zypries announced in a speech last week that the first clause in the German constitution, which protects human dignity, does not apply to human embryos in vitro. Her view conflicts with Germany's current embryo protection law, which regulates in vitro fertilization (IVF) and outlaws research on embryos, based on the assumption that embryos have human dignity from the moment sperm and egg nuclei are fused.

    Zypries's announcement, apparently supported by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, does not change existing laws but may lead to proposals for more permissive regulations on preimplantation genetic diagnosis for IVF patients and on embryo research. Church leaders and some politicians criticized the declaration, but many scientists welcomed it. Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, head of the German science funding agency, the DFG, said the current stem cell law, which allows German scientists to import existing human embryonic stem cell lines but outlaws creating new ones, was not designed “to last for eternity.”

  2. Climate Bill Defeated

    A Senate bill to combat global warming was defeated last week, but its supporters are claiming a victory of sorts. “Maybe I'm just an optimist, but I was heartened” by the 55-43 vote, says Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Arlington, Virginia. She and others were impressed by the number of legislators voting to restrict carbon dioxide and other emissions in the face of the Bush Administration's opposition to mandatory emission controls. The bill's sponsors, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), have vowed to keep trying.

  3. USGS Gets Budget Boost

    “Elated” isn't a word often heard from budget officials at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). But in 2004 the survey will get a bigger-than-expected increase for R&D.

    The 2.3% rise, adding $13 million to the $569 million budget, stems from earmarked projects that legislators added to the survey's core programs. For the third year in a row, Congress also restored cuts proposed by President George W. Bush, such as decreases for water-quality monitoring. Lobbyists are encouraged that Congress gave the survey a larger-than-usual slice of the $20 billion spending bill for the Interior Department. “It's a positive sign,” says David Applegate of the American Geological Institute in Alexandria, Virginia.

  4. CGIAR Goes With the Grain

    NAIROBI—The promise of genomics is pushing two crown jewels of crop research into an embrace. Last week the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) disclosed plans for a World Cereal Center that would consolidate efforts at the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the Philippines' International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

    Everything from “a formal alliance to a full merger” is on the table, the two organizations explained in a joint statement following CGIAR's annual meeting here. “Recent discoveries have revealed that the genomes of the three major cereals are remarkably similar,” notes CIMMYT's director-general, Masa Iwanaga, adding that the two centers are already collaborating on improving yields of rice and wheat in the Indo-Ganges plain.

    Although the CIMMYT-IRRI collaboration may eventually result in cost savings, Iwanaga says, its primary purpose is “science-driven.”

  5. Burning Issue for Congress

    A solar mass ejection and some unhappy lawmakers may help reverse a proposal to kill a federal program that monitors space weather.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) Space Environment Center keeps an eye on the sun's tantrums, which can disrupt communications and power grids. But in September, a Senate spending panel voted to eliminate the Boulder, Colorado, office and its $5.2 million budget for 2004, saying that it wasn't part of NOAA's mission and that other, larger agencies could pick up the tab if they felt the program was essential.

    The decision didn't sit well with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees NOAA's programs, who has called on the White House to fight the cut. And last week the center's director and other witnesses defended the program during a fortuitously timed House hearing on federal efforts to forecast space weather.

    The $38 billion budget bill remains in limbo over other issues. But last week's solar storm reminded politicians not to take the sun's moods for granted.