ScienceScope

Science  20 Aug 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5687, pp. 1091
  1. German Panel Reportedly Supports Cloning Research

    BERLIN—Support for human cloning experiments in Germany came from an unexpected corner this week. A slim majority of the German National Ethics Council may favor letting such experiments go forward in spite of the country's strict embryo protection laws, according to press reports.

    The 25-member council, charged with advising Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on bioethics issues, was set to meet on 18 and 19 August in closed session. Before the meeting, members privately told reporters that the group is deeply divided on so-called research cloning—trying to create embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos—but that a small majority seemed to favor allowing the practice.

    That would put the panel at odds with leading German scientists, who have been more cautious. For instance, Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, president of the DFG, the national research funding agency, has said that there is no pressing reason to allow therapeutic cloning in Germany. The chair of the ethics council, Spiros Simitis, has said that the German legislature should revisit the issue in light of Britain's recent decision to allow similar experiments (see p. 1102).

  2. Royal Society Launches Ocean Acidification Study

    LONDON—Call it the acid test. The U.K. Royal Society this week launched an investigation into how rising acidity may affect life in the world's oceans.

    Recent studies conclude that Earth's oceans have absorbed almost half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by fossil fuel burning and cement production over the last 200 years (Science, 16 July, p. 367). The resulting chemical changes could produce a 0.4 drop in the pH of surface waters by the end of the century, scientists predict, possibly affecting corals and plankton that rely on calcium carbonate to form their skeletons. The increasing acidity could also reduce the ocean's future ability to absorb more CO2.

    Dundee University biologist John Raven, who will lead the study, says the oceans could be “doubly besieged” by rising temperatures and changing chemistry. The Royal Society is expected to publish its report early next year.

  3. CIA Pick Puts Science Chair Boehlert on the Hot Seat

    Science or spies? That's a choice facing Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), who heads the House Science Committee and was recently named temporary head of the House Intelligence Committee too.

    Boehlert's double play was prompted by President George W. Bush's 10 August decision to nominate Representative Porter Goss (R-FL) to be the next head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Goss resigned from Congress, and House leaders asked Boehlert, a senior member of the intelligence panel, to take his place until they can pick a permanent successor.

    CREDIT: HOUSE COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE

    Boehlert, however, says he's probably not interested in the intelligence job—in part because taking it would mean giving up his leadership of the science panel. “My choice right now is science,” he told the Ithaca (NY) Journal last week. But that could change, he says, if the intelligence panel wins expanded powers during a pending overhaul of U.S. intelligence. A final decision could come as early as this month.

  4. Arizona Is Early Hot Spot as West Nile Virus Returns

    The 2004 West Nile virus season is just starting to peak, but U.S. health officials are already seeing some trends. In what could be a shift from last year, 55% of all U.S. cases reported so far have been in Arizona—274 cases in all, according to the 13 August issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That already represents a giant jump for the state, which reported only 13 cases last year, less than 1% of the 9862 total U.S. cases reported in 2003.

    Because the disease hits hardest in the late summer and early fall, it's hard to say whether Arizona will retain its dubious distinction as a West Nile hot spot. At this time last year, Colorado was leading the pack and ended up with nearly one-third of the 2003 cases. Overall, 495 U.S. cases have been reported so far this year.