Science  16 Apr 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5669, pp. 371

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  1. Sudden Oak Quarantine

    In a bid to stop the spread of the pathogen that causes sudden oak death, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week slapped an emergency quarantine on all plant nurseries in California. But some states say the move isn't strict enough.

    The quarantine order followed the discovery of the funguslike pathogen in a large southern California nursery that had shipped thousands of plants to destinations around the United States (Science, 26 March, p. 1959). An urgent, nationwide testing effort has since found the pathogen in seven other states.


    Twelve California counties were already under quarantine. Now, all state nurseries must certify plants from 59 host species (including azaleas, above) as pathogen-free before export. USDA is still working out inspection details. The fastest test, done by PCR, is prone to false positives. A time-consuming culture test, which USDA considers definitive, is more subject to false negatives.

    Some states, however, are unhappy that the USDA action overrules total bans on California imports that they have already imposed. USDA's quarantine isn't “sufficiently tough,” says spokesperson Terence McElroy of the Florida Department of Agriculture, which has asked USDA to uphold its broader ban. USDA spokesperson Claude Knighten, however, says the agency won't “regulate everything. … We're basing our decision on science.”

  2. Hutchinson's Mixed Win

    The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle last week mostly won a legal battle over a failed 1980s clinical trial. The Hutch, as it is known, was peppered by lawsuits after The Seattle Times ran articles in 2001 alleging that its doctors misled patient volunteers about the risks of a bone marrow transfer experiment and failed to disclose that researchers owned shares in a support company (Science, 6 April 2001, p. 25). Eighty-three of 85 cancer patients in the experiment died of various causes.

    A superior court in Seattle allowed claims from five families but dismissed fraud and conflict-of-interest allegations. Last week the jury rejected four of the five remaining claims. However, it awarded the family of David Yingling $1 million, concluding that the Hutch had contributed to his death in 1983. An attorney for the Hutch has suggested that it may soon settle 10 other threatened lawsuits.

  3. Gift Lifts Plan to Bar-Code Life

    Let the bar-coding begin. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has given a $669,000 grant to a consortium of herbaria, museums, and research institutes to jump-start the Barcode Life Initiative, which aims to create an online catalog of the world's flora and fauna.

    Each “bar code” will be a short DNA sequence taken from a mitochondrial gene. The sequences define individual species and will help researchers classify known organisms and detect new ones (Science, 13 June 2003, p. 1692). Initially, bar coders will focus on specimens in museum and herbaria collections, taking advantage of new techniques for using old DNA, says Scott Miller of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, which will host the initiative. Eventually, handheld bar-coding devices should enable researchers to catalog field specimens as well.

    The 30-month grant, made late last month, will enable bar coders to set up shop and recruit non-U.S. scientists. Initiative backer James Hanken, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, says attracting “major international involvement is a high priority.”

  4. Writing the Biosecurity Bible

    Government officials this week got an earful of advice from researchers on how to revise and expand the bible of biosafety. Their message: New security guidelines aimed at keeping potential bioweapons out of the wrong hands need to be flexible.

    About 100 academic and government scientists showed up at the 12 April workshop hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to discuss what should be included in a new edition of Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories—the influential safety guide known as the BMBL. In particular, an expert panel wanted to know what scientists wanted to see in a new chapter on “biosecurity,” which could help researchers comply with a host of new U.S. bioterror regulations.

    Suggestions ranged from a model study of the threats facing a typical laboratory to a detailed assessment of the risks posed by specific organisms. Edward Hammond of the Sunshine Project, a Texas-based bioweapons control group, said that the BMBL should urge scientists working with select agents to share information with the public. And Ellyn Segal, biosafety manager at Stanford University, echoed many speakers when she said the guide should balance “concerns of biosecurity [against] the impact on research.”

    The government hopes to publish a new BMBL by mid-2005. Researchers can send their suggestions to levinson{at}