Science  12 Nov 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5699, pp. 1113

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  1. Standards Set for Anthrax Detection Kits

    Only one portable anthrax-detection kit of the five now on the market meets new standards established to help police and other first responders identify the deadly bacterium, an expert group says.

    AOAC International (formerly the Association of Official Analytical Chemists) gave the word to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which paid for the analysis after DHS officials questioned the reliability of hand-held kits. AOAC's new standards require a kit to detect the presence of anthrax in a sample that contains at least 1 million anthrax spores and to distinguish accurately between anthrax and related organisms. According to AOAC, only the RAMP Anthrax Test, manufactured by Canada's Response Biomedical Corp., meets these criteria.

    “This is going to have a major impact on the first-responder market” by improving reliability, predicts Calvin Chue, a pathogen-detection expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies. Adds Stephen Morse, director of Columbia University's Center for Public Health Preparedness, “This is one nice step in the right direction.”

  2. Wisconsin Academics Decry Move to Water Down Darwin

    Wisconsin academics are rallying to reverse a decision last month by a local school board that would require students to “study various scientific models/theories of origins” rather than stick with Darwinian theory only.

    The Grantsburg school board's action spurred Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, to organize a flurry of letter writing by hundreds of scientists and theologians from universities around the state as well as high school science teachers. “We want to send as a strong a message as we can,” says Zimmerman. Although Wisconsin state standards mandate the teaching of evolution, the board contends that the district has a right to make the standards more “inclusive.”

    Last month, the Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania approved the teaching of “intelligent design” (Science, 5 November, p. 971). And a trial over an evolution “disclaimer” in textbooks is under way in Georgia. Says Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California: “After last Tuesday there are a lot of happy creationists around the country.”

  3. High Demand Leads to Shortage of Malaria Drug

    The World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned last week that supplies of a potent antimalaria drug may fall up to 4.5 million doses short of their demand forecasts. Officials at Novartis, the Swiss-based company that manufactures the drug, blamed the shortfall on agricultural suppliers failing to keep up with growing demand in developing countries.

    Artemether-lumefantrine (brand name Coartem) is a form of artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) favored by WHO because of the increasing number of strains of malaria that are resistant to traditional drugs (such as chloroquine). Since 2001, Novartis has provided Coartem to developing countries at cost.

    A key ingredient of the drug comes from the Chinese wormwood plant (Artemisia annua). Suppliers of the ingredient have struggled to ramp up production to meet the growing interest in ACT, says Andrew Bosman, a medical officer at WHO. The plant takes 6 months to cultivate, and the drug requires 3 to 5 months to process, resulting in a mismatch between orders and supplies, he says. To help combat the shortage, WHO will step up its malaria-prevention efforts and plans to develop a prioritization system for drug distribution.

  4. IBM Study Challenges Cancer Claims

    An IBM-funded study has found that the company's workers face no greater risk than the general population of developing cancer. The results, which have not yet been peer reviewed, contradict an earlier study paid for by attorneys of former IBM workers suing the company for causing their cancers (Science, 14 May, p. 937).

    Researchers at Harvard University's School of Public Health and the University of Alabama examined health records of 126,000 workers and compared overall cancer death risks between IBM workers and the general population. The workers had a 16% lower risk of cancer and a 35% lower risk of dying than the general population, according to a memo released last week.

    Joseph LaDou, director of the University of California, San Francisco's International Center for Occupational Medicine, who gave unpaid advice to lawyers for former IBM workers suing the company, believes IBM biased the study and says the results could reflect the fact that manufacturing workers tend to be healthier than the population at large. IBM representatives did not return repeated calls seeking comment.