Science  05 Dec 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5651, pp. 1639

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  1. Congress Moves to Write Human Patent Ban Into Law

    Congress has moved to cement into law U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) rules that bar the agency from issuing patents on “human organisms.” But researchers are relieved that lawmakers have made it clear that the ban won't apply to stem cells derived from human embryos.

    The provision, sponsored by Representative Dave Weldon (R-FL), is part of a massive spending bill now before Congress (see p. 1636). Stem cell scientists and companies feared it might complicate efforts to transform basic stem cell findings into practical therapies, and after discussions last month (Science, 21 November, p. 1311302) the House and Senate agreed to include clarifying language in a statement that accompanies the bill. In addition, PTO Director James Rogan told Congress in a 20 November letter of support that the law is “fully consistent” with current policy.

    Slipping patent policy into a spending bill “sets a dangerous precedent,” says Biotechnology Industry Organization policy chief Michael Werner. But his group is satisfied with the arrangement.

  2. Two Societies Join Editing Ban

    Two more U.S. scientific societies have decided to reject papers from Iran and three other countries to avoid running afoul of a U.S. trade embargo.

    The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control requires journals to have a license to edit submissions from Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Cuba because of trade sanctions against those countries. The government has never issued such a license, but in October the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers applied for one to avoid a potential fine for breaking the embargo (Science, 10 October, p. 210).

    Now the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the American Society for Microbiology have asked the editors of their several dozen journals to abide by the embargo. The microbiologists plan to apply for a license, but ACS hopes to persuade the government to drop the requirement. “No one wants to impede scientific communication, but the ACS cannot knowingly flout the law and thereby put the organization's finances at great risk,” says Robert Bovenschulte, ACS's publications chief.

  3. Canada Goes Underground

    Canadian science is going deep. The Canada Foundation for Innovation this week announced a $29 million award to create an international underground laboratory in an Ontario nickel mine.

    The Sudbury mine is already famous for housing a neutrino observatory, which detects nearly massless particles that stream from the sun and from cosmic ray collisions. The grant will allow researchers to excavate room for some yet-to-be-selected new experiments, such as instruments to detect dark matter.

    The expansion is “a great idea, but it's limited in scope,” says John Wilkerson of the University of Washington, Seattle, who is pushing for a more ambitious underground laboratory in the United States.

  4. USC Lands Defense Center

    The University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles has won a fierce competition to host the first academic research center to be funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The 3-year, $12 million grant announced last week will enable a USC-led alliance to develop computer models and other tools for forecasting the economic risks posed by terrorist threats. Other partners include New York University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

    DHS officials say that they hope eventually to establish 10 centers, if Congress appropriates enough money. Some of the more than 70 universities that got shut out this time are already gearing up to compete for the next center, which DHS says will focus on agroterrorism.

  5. Livermore Settles Bias Suit

    More than 3000 women who worked at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California from 1997 until now will soon be getting checks in the mail. The lab recently settled a divisive class action suit—Jennings v. the University of California (UC) Regents—which combined five cases alleging discrimination against female employees. The $18 million settlement will give nearly $10 million to the women, with the remainder going to their attorneys.

    “This is absolutely not an admission of guilt,” says lab spokesperson Susan Houghton, who notes that the lab's attorney fees—$12 million and counting—drove the decision to settle. But she says that in the past year, lab officials have begun to revamp pay and evaluation policies. The action is the latest in a series of settlements that UC managers hope will quiet controversy surrounding lab management practices.