Science  11 Mar 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5715, pp. 1543

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  1. Battelle Bows Out of Race to Run Los Alamos Lab

    Battelle won't compete for the management contract of Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nonprofit corporation said this week. The withdrawal of the Columbus, Ohio, research giant, which currently manages five Department of Energy (DOE) labs, is good news for the University of California (UC), which has managed the New Mexico facility since its inception 62 years ago. UC is expected to seek another term; other rumored players include Northrop Grumman and General Atomics.

    UC's contract expires on 30 September, and DOE plans to release the official request for contract bids shortly. In the wake of complaints from Capitol Hill over the equity of the bid process, DOE recently changed the proposed contract language to require that the new contractor must create a new corporate entity and separate pension fund. The changes, which would dull UC's strengths, have been criticized by New Mexico legislators who want to preserve UC's generous retirement benefits.

    Nevertheless, says a former Los Alamos manager, “at this stage UC is still the big entity.”

  2. Italian Science Agency Gets Revamp

    ROME—A sweeping overhaul of Italy's main science funding agency—the National Research Council (CNR)—will give the system “a more structured approach” and align scientists' work with national goals, research minister Letizia Moratti told Science this week. The changes, due to take effect at the end of this month, will group all existing research under 85 “strategic programs.” Scientists say they're concerned that the scheme will favor applied research, especially projects endorsed by industry. Moratti insists that fundamental science will be protected, noting that the Berlusconi government has put investigator-driven research on a permanent legal foundation. But some CNR scientists and officials are furious with the new layers of bureaucracy and centralization of power.

    Headed by Fabio Pistella, who took office last autumn, CNR will get increased power in its 11 central departments, which will oversee the 108 individual institutes of the old CNR. Contrasting this approach to the U.S. model, one high-level source commented that it “would be unimaginable” for the government to tell the National Science Foundation “what to do.”

  3. Brazil OKs Stem Cell Work

    The way is clear for Brazilian scientists to work with human embryonic stem (ES) cells. On 3 March, the Brazilian legislature passed a wide-ranging biosecurity bill that legalizes work with the cells, sending it to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for his signature. It allows scientists who receive permission from a national ethics board to work with existing ES cell lines and to derive new ones from frozen embryos left over after fertility treatments. It also outlaws nuclear transfer experiments using human cells.

    Geneticist Mayana Zatz of São Paulo University says she hopes to begin work soon on muscle and nerve studies using ES cells. The bill also allows for the sale of genetically modified seeds.

  4. New Trade Rules on Sturgeon

    The world's most valuable fish—the beluga sturgeon, a target of human predators who sell its eggs for $100 an ounce—may get help from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Officials ruled last week that nations wishing to continue selling beluga caviar to the United States (which consumes 80% of legal exports) must file plans with FWS in 6 months showing how they will stem the species' decline. Those that don't comply will face a trade ban on the fish. Most directly affected are Kazakhstan, Iran, and Russia. Environmentalists decry the new rule, urging an immediate U.S. import ban.

  5. Insider Nominated to EPA

    A nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has succeeded in gaining the unlikely support of both environmentalists and industry groups.

    Last week President George W. Bush chose Stephen Johnson, 53, to replace Michael Leavitt as head of EPA. Johnson, who holds a master's degree in pathology, would be the first administrator with scientific training.

    Those pleased by the decision include the Environmental Working Group and a pesticide trade group called CropLife America, both based in Washington, D.C.

    “He's coming into the job with a stronger grasp of the science than any past administrator,” says Lynn Goldman of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. The main question, she adds, is whether he will have any clout in the White House.