Science  12 Mar 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5664, pp. 1593

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  1. NIH Report Fuels Push to Alter U.S. Stem Cell Policy

    Pressure is building on the White House to alter its policy on stem cell research. Three years ago, President George W. Bush announced that federal funding would be available only to researchers using 78 already-existing or potential stem cell lines. But last week, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirmed that few of the lines are ready for research, reporting that just 15 have become available to U.S. scientists since August 2001. Meanwhile, Harvard's Douglas Melton, a Howard Hughes investigator, announced that he has created 17 new lines that federally funded researchers won't be able to touch.

    Such developments have already prompted about 70 members of the House of Representatives—including some conservative Republicans—to sign a draft letter urging Bush to “relax” stem cell research restrictions, warning that “this promising field of research is moving overseas.” Insiders say there's no chance the president will consider any changes before the November election. But “I do think we're making a case for change after the election,” says Anthony Mazzaschi of the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C. Adds Larry Soler of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation: “This is probably the most interest I've seen on embryonic stem cells since pre-September 11.”

  2. Senate Panel Would Delay NASA Exploration Plan

    The moon and Mars can wait. That's the message an influential Senate committee gave the White House last week. President George W. Bush last month called for boosting NASA's budget 5.6% to $16.2 billion following his vow to send humans to build a lunar base and then to explore Mars. But the Senate Budget Committee has proposed delaying the start of the president's plan until 2006 and giving other areas a more modest 1.4% boost.

    Meanwhile, in the House, the Science Committee says it needs more information before it can decide whether to support the president's plan. Few Democrats in Congress are enthusiastic about backing Bush's controversial proposal during a tense election year, and many conservative Republicans are worried about increasing the federal deficit. The combination may force NASA to postpone its plans until next year.

  3. Acting on Threat, French Researchers Resign

    PARIS—More than 2000 French lab directors and research team leaders this week followed through on their threat to quit their administrative posts. Although their resignations are not likely to be accepted, the move puts pressure on the French government to resolve a long-running funding dispute.

    Since January, more than 60,000 French researchers have called on the government to restore lost funding and jobs (Science, 5 March, p. 1446). The government's response has been inadequate, says protest spokesperson Alain Trautmann, a cell biologist at the Cochin Institute in Paris. And if the government can't do better, he says researchers will consider further actionon 19 March, including shutting down some labs.

    Meanwhile, the protesters have agreed to join a national committee on research that will be led by Academy of Sciences president Étienne-Émile Baulieu and vice president Edouard Brézin. Research agency heads have 2 months to consider the resignations, which they are expected to refuse.

  4. NASA Puts Squeeze on Asteroid Mission

    NASA has given the go-ahead to start building an asteroid probe. But there's a catch: The Dawn mission to two great asteroids will have to be trimmed.

    Dawn, a part of NASA's Discovery program of low-cost planetary missions, is scheduled to be launched in June 2006 and reach the asteroids Vesta and Ceres within the next decade. But problems with other Discovery missions—such as the loss of the comet-hunting CONTOUR—have prompted NASA to ask Dawn backers to increase the odds that their craft will reach the targets intact and on budget, says project leader Christopher Russell of the University of California, Los Angeles.

    To economize, Russell and his team will shorten from 22 to 12 months the time Dawn will orbit the asteroids. They will also simplify the spacecraft by eliminating a magnetometer that they had hoped might turn up traces of a water ocean on Ceres.