Random Samples

Science  16 Jul 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5682, pp. 337

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  1. Blown Away by Chimps


    Visitors to the new chimp habitat at the Chicago zoo may be in for a surprise: harmless blasts of air that the animals can aim at gawkers by touching a keypad. This month the Lincoln Park Zoo's seven chimps joined a small number of zoo-based primates that are going interactive with guests by moving into a new $26 million ape home complete with mulch floors and a waterfall.

    Several years ago, the Los Angeles Zoo in California rigged its chimp exhibit with a water sprayer that the animals could aim at visitors. But it was discontinued after the primates got bored. “Things don't stay entertaining unless they change,” says Rob Shumaker, director of orangutan research at the Great Ape Trust of Iowa in Des Moines.

    The Lincoln Park researchers say they're going to keep their chimps mentally challenged with a host of interactive devices that include fans hidden behind boulders, a water spray the animals can activate to cool off during a hot day, and a tool to scatter food.

  2. Cool Building Contest

    Old ice station on its way out.


    Architects worldwide have the chance to create a scientific masterpiece capable of withstanding one of the world's harshest environments for 20 years. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge has joined with the Royal Institute of British Architects in London to run a competition for the design of a research station on a 150-meter-thick floating ice shelf in the Weddell Sea.

    The organization's current Halley V research station, built in 1992, is flowing toward the edge of the sea ice at a rate of 400 to 800 meters a year and within the next decade could break off as part of an enormous iceberg.

    The challenge is to design an aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly lab and living compound that can withstand 40-day gales, temperatures of −30°C, torsional stresses on the moving ice, and 1.5 meters of new snow each year, says John Dudney, deputy director of BAS. The new structure must be easy to pack aboard a ship and has to be erected within two 2-month-long summer windows when the annual supply ship can reach the site.

    The deadline for initial expressions of interest is 3 August. BAS hopes to begin operating the new station in 2008.

  3. Locusts on the Move


    Locusts are spreading across northern Africa, where countries face what could be the largest outbreak in the past 15 years, warns the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

    North Africa's last major locust outbreak, in 1987–89, hit 28 countries—way more than enough to qualify the event as a “plague”—and cost more than $300 million to control. This time, FAO and donors have spent $40 million so far and are asking for more.

    The desert locust morphs from a solitary state to a swarming gregarious form when food is plentiful. That happened in the Sahel region last October after unusually heavy rains, which “created fabulous conditions for the desert locust,” says FAO entomologist Keith Cressman. Swarms then moved to northwest Africa for the winter, where—despite insecticide spraying of more than 4 million hectares—they kept breeding and are now swarming southward again (see map). Authorities are especially worried that winds could bring locusts, which eat their weight in food every day, to the war-torn Darfur region of the Sudan. There, Cressman says, control operations would be impossible.

  4. Panel Prepares Stem Cell Guidelines

    The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine have created a blue-ribbon panel to recommend guidelines covering all stages of research using human embryonic stem cells, from embryo-donor recruitment to therapies.

    The 10-member group—which includes two Nobel Prize-winners—is headed by cancer researcher Richard O. Hynes, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hynes says there are no really good models so “we're looking at them all,” including regulations in the United Kingdom and Canada as well as the efforts of the new International Society for Stem Cell Research. He says the government regulations on stem cell research formulated during the Clinton Administration “are good as far as they go” but have been superceded by the fast-moving science. In the absence of any legislation on the subject, he says, “if we do it right, [the new guidelines] might get taken up by people.” The panel hopes to complete its report by early 2005.

  5. Jobs


    Global combat. A U.S. Navy physician and molecular biologist who helped lead the sequencing of the genome of the malaria parasite is taking on a bigger task. Daniel Carucci, 46, will direct the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, a research program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that plans to give out $200 million in grants early next year.

    The initiative is run by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, and its scientific board includes heavyweights such as the current and previous NIH directors. Last year, the board asked the scientific community to help identify 14 major obstacles to global health, such as the need for vaccines that don't have to be kept cold (Science, 17 October 2003, p. 398). The invitation eventually generated over 400 proposals for grants ranging up to $20 million for 5 years.

    Carucci, who retired from the Naval Medical Research Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, before taking up his new appointment last week, says the job is “completely in line with my own thoughts on how to bring in new technologies to address global problems.” That includes keeping a close eye on the progress of each funded project. “We want to be there to help solve problems,” he says.

    The good earth. Environmental and energy policy expert John Holdren has been named director of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Holdren, who currently heads the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Harvard, will take over next summer from George Woodwell, who founded the center in 1985.

    With a 40-member staff and a $6 million budget, the center carries out research and training on the role of soil and vegetation in ecosystem function and global climate change. Holdren, an engineer and physicist, says he'd like to expand the center's activities “to focus on the use of biomass in energy production and the interaction between water and soils and climate.” He also hopes to increase the center's influence in policy debates.

    Holdren will continue as a part-time faculty member at Harvard; Woodwell, 75, will become director emeritus.

  6. Money Matters

    Friends again. Less than a year after joining a labor union, postdoctoral fellows at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington have reaped their first financial reward—a 3% raise for all and a $9200 hike in the minimum salary.

    Last August, the postdocs voted to become members of University Health Professionals, a union of 1900 nonfaculty staffers at the health center (Science, 12 September 2003, p. 1455). The health center agreed to provide the 140 researchers with better vacation and sick leave benefits, a grievance procedure, and higher wages. Next year's minimum salary will go up another $1800, to $36,000. The final contract represented “a happy meeting of minds,” says postdoc Munirathinam Subramani, one of the leaders of the unionizing effort.

    One of those minds, genetics professor Brenton Graveley, agrees that the negotiations went “quite smoothly.” Contrary to the fears of management, Graveley says, the postdocs did not ask for 40-hour timesheets or other measures that might have conflicted with the culture of research. “We were surprised that we both had fairly similar ideas about how things ought to be,” he says.

  7. On Campus


    Fast lane. The promise of getting a Ph.D. in nearly half the normal amount of time drew Amy Caudy to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's (CSHL's) new doctoral program in the fall of 1999. And sure enough, last fall she defended her thesis on the mechanism and applications of RNAi and headed off to do a postdoc at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.

    Earlier this summer Caudy (first row, right) and five of the 14 students in the first two classes officially collected their degrees, 4 years after they began a program that allows students to concentrate on their coursework by requiring minimal research time in the first year. It also encourages frequent meetings of each candidate's thesis committee. “Students don't have to worry about scheduling these meetings, which typically leads to delays. We do it for them,” says graduate dean Lilian Gann. Even the “stragglers” are expected to finish up by the end of this year, she notes, keeping the CSHL program well ahead of the 7-year national median.

    Not having teaching assignments—CSHL doesn't have an undergraduate program—also helps, says Caudy. “Once you start your research,” she says, “you can give it your undivided attention.”