Science  18 Jun 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5678, pp. 1729

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  1. DOE Chooses Separate Lab Competitions

    Rejecting the advice of the National Research Council (NRC), the Department of Energy (DOE) last week announced that it will hold separate competitions for the contracts to manage its Los Alamos and Livermore national laboratories. “It is very important that we have the broadest possible competition,” says Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.

    Last month, the NRC panel urged DOE to conduct a simultaneous competition to ensure that research at the two labs, which are currently managed by the University of California (UC), is well coordinated (Science, 28 May, p. 1227). But Abraham sided with a DOE advisory committee that had earlier urged the opposite approach, saying it doubted that either agency officials or bidders could handle a dual competition. Observers expect the new contract for the Los Alamos lab in New Mexico to be awarded first, perhaps by late 2005. Meanwhile, DOE will extend UC's contract for the Livermore lab in California past its 30 September 2005 expiration date.

  2. White House Panel Calls for Revamped NASA

    A U.S. presidential panel says that NASA needs to remake itself if it hopes to turn President George W. Bush's ambitious vision of space exploration into reality. The President's Commission on the Moon, Mars, and Beyond reported this week that the space agency should draw on military models and the private sector to create a “leaner, more focused” organization. NASA should turn its field centers into more independent and competitive organizations and mimic the fast-moving Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the way it develops technologies, the report says. It also proposes that NASA award a prize of $100 million to $1 billion to the company that can successfully build a lunar base.

    The panel—led by former Air Force secretary and defense industry manager Pete Aldridge—also recommended that the White House set up a council reporting to the president on the space exploration effort. At Science's deadline, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe had not responded to the report, but sources say that he agrees with both the diagnosis and proposed treatment. He is expected to announce shortly a reorganization at NASA Headquarters that will streamline the bulky organization into space exploration, operations, science, and aeronautics divisions (Science, 14 May, p. 941). Two congressional panels were to question Aldridge this week and next.

  3. South Africa Adopts Broad Biodiversity Law

    South Africa has committed itself to protecting its dazzling array of plants and animals in a new law that calls for a national biodiversity strategy. The law creates a legal basis for identifying threatened ecosystems and ensures that assessments are incorporated into land development plans. It also includes key components of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, such as environmental impact reviews for releasing transgenic organisms and the regulation of bioprospecting.

    The National Botanical Institute— renamed the South African National Biodiversity Institute—will extend its scope to entire ecosystems and serve as a clearinghouse for biodiversity information. To do that, lawmakers will need to raise its $11 million budget by 20% over the next 3 years, estimates institute director Brian Huntley. He says the law brings biodiversity “from obscurity … onto the stage.

  4. Costs of Animal Rights Terror

    The U.K. Royal Society has asked universities to tally the costs of terrorism linked to experiments using animals in hopes of raising awareness. In a letter requesting responses by 21 June, the society's Committee on Animals in Research estimates that the costs are “substantial.” The society says the British government is “not taking the issue seriously enough.”

    Rising security costs helped doom a planned primate research center near Cambridge (Science, 30 January, p. 605). Construction of a new animal research facility at the University of Oxford is going ahead despite heightened animal-rights activity in recent weeks, including damage to workers' vehicles.

  5. Aussies to Get Roo Genome

    Australian researchers are finally tackling the genome of one of their famous marsupials. The Australian Research Council Center for Kangaroo Genomics, with help from the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), has scraped together about $8 million to begin sequencing the DNA of the tammar wallaby, a 60-centimeter-high kangaroo.

    A marsupial genome is considered necessary to understand mammalian evolution, but in October 2003, an American opossum beat out the tammar wallaby in the NHGRI sequencing queue. At the same time, NHGRI offered to put up about half the funds to skim the genome if Australia matched the money. It now has, and Australia will start on the wallaby's 3 billion bases.