ScienceScope

Science  08 Apr 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5719, pp. 177
  1. Ban Urged on Smallpox Studies

    1. Martin Enserink

    Two advocacy groups have launched a campaign to halt new studies on variola, the virus that causes smallpox. The Sunshine Project in Austin, Texas, and the Third World Network, headquartered in Penang, Malaysia, are urging the World Health Assembly (WHA), the supreme body of the World Health Organization (WHO), to ignore an expert panel and set a firm deadline for the destruction of the two remaining stocks during its annual meeting in Geneva in May.

    In November, WHO's Advisory Committee on Variola Research recommended that work on variola continue and that researchers be allowed to insert a marker gene into the virus—to facilitate drug discovery—and to exchange genes of the variola genome and splice them into other poxviruses to study their function. On a new Web site in six languages (http://www.smallpoxbiosafety.org/), the two groups claim that the work could lead to accidental releases of the agent or to the creation of even more dangerous viruses.

    Although experts have long fought over whether to study or destroy variola (Science, 15 March 2002, p. 2005), it's rare for outsiders to enter the debate, notes smallpox expert Jonathan Tucker of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Washington, D.C. The campaign's success may hinge on its ability to attract press attention before the WHA meeting, he adds.

  2. Los Alamos Bidding Heats Up

    1. Eli Kintisch

    Lockheed Martin announced last week that it would bid for management of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, adding a solid contender to the fight. The news came after the Department of Energy revised the proposed language of the multibillion-dollar contract in February to require the new contractor to create a new corporate entity and separate pension fund. Lockheed, which manages Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, had previously dropped out, citing costs.

    Adding intrigue, last month, current lab manager University of California (UC) announced a possible bid with three New Mexico universities. Although considered the 400-pound gorilla in the contest, UC hasn't made a final decision. The University of Texas is also interested. No final bid date has been set, but UC's existing contract expires 30 September.

  3. Hubble Relief

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Finally, some good news for the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA engineers say that they can run Hubble on two gyroscopes rather than the three now operating. Space agency managers hope that turning off one gyro could extend Hubble's life by 6 months or more without affecting the quality of science returned. That could mean more time to revisit Hubble—either by shuttle or by robot—for an overhaul. Science chief Al Diaz says he will decide soon whether to turn off a gyro; currently, no repair visit is on the books, and the telescope is expected to die in late 2007 or early 2008.

    NASA also says there is good news on the robotic servicing front. Engineers told Science that they have a plan to install two sets of three gyroscopes within an instrument now waiting on Earth to be installed in Hubble. With new gyros and new batteries, they say, Hubble could continue to operate for well over a decade. But incoming Administrator Michael Griffin likely will revisit the servicing issue. Griffin's Senate confirmation hearing is slated for 12 April.

  4. Bay State Passes Stem Cell Bill

    1. Constance Holden

    Massachusetts legislators overwhelmingly passed measures last week that explicitly allow research cloning, or somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). The action promises to “put the state firmly in support of SCNT and other embryonic stem cell research,” says Kevin Casey, director of government relations at Harvard University.

    The state House and Senate have yet to agree on specifics of the final measure, which also would outlaw reproductive cloning. Republican Governor Mitt Romney opposes research cloning, but the bills passed by well over the two-thirds majority needed to override his promised veto. Senate president Robert Travaglini (D) has indicated that another bill is in the works that would earmark as much as $100 million to fund the research.

    Harvard stem cell researcher George Daley is thrilled about what he calls “a real victory for science.” Efforts to inform legislators helped, says Daley, who demonstrated nuclear transfer to a state senator. “I think this made it quite clear to him that SCNT is not about cloning babies,” he says.

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