Random Samples

Science  29 Apr 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5722, pp. 628
  1. Monkeys Strike Gold

    CREDIT: WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY

    Last year, Robert Wallace, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), discovered a new species of tiny monkey in the Bolivian jungle. Now he's raised money to sustain the creature's habitat, Madidi National Park, by auctioning off the rights to name it. Earlier this month, WCS announced the results of the online auction: An Internet casino called GoldenPalace.com won with a bid of $650,000. The monkey will henceforth be known as Callicebus aureipalatii (Latin for golden palace). Little is known about the diminutive fructivores except that-as depicted here-they like to hang onto each other and holler in the morning.

  2. New Cambridge Center Emerges

    “Emergence”—the idea that things are more than the sum of their parts—is “one of the most compelling new concepts in science,” according to the John Templeton Foundation in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. It's used to explain everything from the coalescence of dust into stars to the rise of intelligent organisms.

    So the foundation is supporting a new group at Cambridge University, the Cambridge Templeton Consortium, which starting this summer plans to hand out $3 million in grants for research on the emergence of complex systems in three areas: biochemistry, evolution, and cognition.

    Inspired by the idea that the universe would have been a nonstarter if fundamental physical constants were slightly different, the consortium wants to look for similar fine-tuning in biology. “I am convinced that there are deep structures in biology, and evolution navigates over them,” says paleontologist Simon Conway Morris, the consortium's director. If such structures exist, he holds, humans might still emerge if evolution had to start over again on Earth, and life on other planets could be much like ours.

    Molecular biologist Steven Benner of the University of Florida, Gainesville, applauds the initiative. “There is a strong need in the biomolecular sciences” to address questions such as “Why is life the way that it is?” he says. Others are skeptical. “I don't think that a scientific-theological-philosophical mélange is going to make a significant contribution” to scientific knowledge, says paleobiologist Doug Erwin of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It's worth a shot, though, argues Conway Morris: “This is very much an experiment.”

  3. Sex and Science (cont.)

    The debate goes on. A panel of scientists convened by the New York Academy of Sciences met in New York on 14 April to kick around some of the dust raised by Harvard President Lawrence Summers last January when he suggested that biological sex differences might have something to do with why there are fewer women than men in science.

    “Way out on the end of the bell curve is where this controversy lies,” said Richard Haier, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, pointing out that males dominate at the extreme reaches of math achievement, vastly outnumbering females among those who score above 700 on the math SAT. Joshua Aronson, a psychologist at New York University, countered that stereotypes dramatically affect test performance. Studies have shown that women do better on math tests in an all-women test group, he said: “Even one man in the room made the women's scores drop.”

    Diane Halpern, a psychologist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, observed that differences aren't necessarily deficiencies. “Maybe we should be asking what is holding men back? They get only 32% of the Ph.D.s in psychology.” Sociologist Linda Gottfredson of the University of Delaware, Newark, cited research showing women prefer fields that deal with people rather than things. “Why do we want equal proportions of men and women in each profession?” she asked. Nancy Hopkins, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist who helped raise the dust in the first place, remained unmoved, saying the numbers would be different “if the door were truly open.”

  4. Champion Racer Cloned

    CREDIT: CRYOZOOTECH

    This month, a French-Italian collaboration announced the successful birth of a foal cloned from a gelding. Now 2 months old, the foal was produced by the French genetic engineering company Cryozootech and the Italian reproductive technology lab LTR-CIZ.

    The lab's team, headed by Cesare Galli, has improved on techniques it used 2 years ago to produce the first horse clone, a mare. From 200 nuclear transfers using skin cells from Pieraz, a retired thoroughbred Arabian endurance champion, the researchers got 34 embryos and three pregnancies, one of them successful.

    Galli has predicted that cloning will revolutionize the horse-racing industry. But at present, the thoroughbred racing community doesn't even permit artificial insemination, much less cloning. Paul Struthers of Britain's Jockey Club says racers have a very restricted gene pool and “there would be very serious implications for the long-term welfare of the thoroughbred were the gene pool to be reduced further” by breeders all going after the progeny of superachievers. But cloning could have a future with horses intended for show jumping, dressage, or endurance racing—events with fewer breeding restrictions. Over 90% of dressage stallions are gelded to make them more manageable, says Nicolas Robin of Cryozootech: “So imagine how many gene lines are lost.” But no longer. The company is preserving cells from some 30 prize stallions and plans to market semen from their clones.

  5. Awards

    Tech wonders.

    Elwood “Woody” Norris says there's a trick to being a good inventor: Find something commonplace in one area of science and extend it to another sector. Last week that trick paid off big, with Norris winning the $500,000 Lemelson-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) prize from the Lemelson Foundation.

    CREDITS: PHOTO BY ALAN ORLING, COURTESY OF IBM; MIT

    Norris (left), 67, of San Diego, California, was honored for his numerous inventions, including a system that focuses sound waves akin to the way a common flashlight focuses light. The invention, called HyperSonic Sound, is being used to target advertising to individual customers in a crowd without disturbing their neighbors.

    Norris has also worked on making helicopters cheaper and easier to operate. His one-person helicopter, dubbed the AirScooter, is expected to start selling commercially this fall for $50,000 each.

    Last week the foundation also gave its $100,000 lifetime achievement award to IBM fellow Robert Dennard (right), inventor of dynamic random access memory, the “working memory” for most computers. That invention—along with the integrated circuit, the metal oxide field effect transistor, and magnetic hard disk—is one of the critical components of modern computing, says MIT electrical engineer Dimitri Antoniadis.

  6. In The News

    Reaching out. One silver lining in the HIV/AIDS pandemic, says public health guru Fitzhugh Mullan, may be an increased U.S. awareness of its responsibility to address global health issues. Last week, a panel from the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (IOM) that he chairs proposed a way to institutionalize that commitment through a U.S.-funded program to help 15 impoverished countries cope with the disease.

    “I've waited 25 years for an opportunity like this,” says Mullan, 62, a former assistant U.S. surgeon general now multitasking as a policy analyst, author, and professor of pediatrics and public health at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The IOM report, Healers Abroad, calls for a U.S. Global Health Service staffed by a 150-member corps of experienced medical professionals and supplemented with as many as 2000 fellows—recent graduates working off student loans as well as those interrupting their careers—who would be deployed throughout the countries targeted by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Mullan calls the $140-million-a-year price tag a “drop in the bucket” for the multibillion dollar PEPFAR and says he'd “be very disappointed” if the U.S. State Department, which requested the report, doesn't adopt most of the panel's recommendations within a year.

  7. Pioneers

    Not alone.

    As one of only two women to lead a university in the Arab world, epidemiological psychiatrist Rafia Ghubash belongs to an exclusive club. But the 49-year-old president of the Arabian Gulf University (AGU) in Bahrain is working hard to lose that status.

    CREDIT: ARABIAN GULF UNIVERSITY

    This month Ghubash launches a network to help more women scientists attain leadership positions and to attract more women into science. The initial goal will be “to simply make them aware of how many they are and provide role models,” says Ghubash. That awareness, she hopes, will counter pressure on women with undergraduate science degrees to become “teachers, nurses, or to drop out entirely to raise families.”

    Only a few hundred women from the 22 Arab countries have signed up for the network so far, but Ghubash expects “at least a million” after its official launch at a meeting of women scientists at AGU on 15 May. A Web site based at AGU will hold forums on issues such as gender bias and feature a scientific newsletter. In a few months, women will be able to post their CVs online and hunt for scholarships and jobs.

  8. Snafus

    Junk science.

    Fed up with spam from a computer science conference soliciting papers, Jeremy Stribling (center) and two other graduate students, Dan Aguayo (left) and Max Krohn (right), at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hit pay dirt by successfully submitting computer-generated gibberish. The technique uses context-free grammar, which rearranges sentences in a way that is grammatically correct but makes no sense.

    CREDIT: FRANK DABEK

    “We suspected that their standards were low,” Stribling says of the World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, which accepted their paper, “Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy.” Following media coverage of the prank, the organizers of the conference, to be held this summer in Orlando, Florida, rejected the paper and refunded the authors' registration fee. General chair Nagib Callaos said on the group's Web site that “the acceptance of a small percentage of nonreviewed papers does not significantly decrease the quality level of a conference.”

    Stribling's group plans to continue their research at the conference. “We plan to give a randomly generated talk,” he says. “Even we won't know the slides when we get there.”

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