ScienceScope

Science  18 Nov 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5751, pp. 1103
  1. Cancer Genome Pilot Flies

    A key advisory panel to the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) has approved a controversial $100 million, 3-year pilot project to discover common gene mutations in human tumors.

    The Human Cancer Genome Project could cost $1.5 billion over 10 years, with funding from NCI and the National Human Genome Research Institute. Some researchers have questioned the value of systematically sequencing tumors (Science, 21 October, p. 439). But this week, NCI's Board of Scientific Advisors endorsed the first two “requests for proposals,” telling NCI to shift some money from sequencing to investigator-initiated grants and to set milestones for the full project.

  2. Report Says Plan B Decision Was "Unusual"

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) followed an “unusual” review process in deciding not to permit over-the-counter sales of Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill, according to a report released this week by the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress. Several senior FDA scientists told investigators from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that top FDA officials declared that the over-the-counter application would be rejected even before the reviews were completed. In a statement, FDA says the GAO report “mischaracterizes facts.”

  3. Troubled Ottawa Appeals To Scientists

    OTTAWA—Canada's ruling party is tempting researchers with a $1.5 billion basket of proposed investments over 5 years that it hopes will prove useful at the polls.

    This week, Liberal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale unveiled a surprise minibudget that serves in effect as a campaign promise for an election likely to be held in January. If the Liberals win, scientists could see a modest boost for the three granting councils, a near doubling of support for university overhead, and more graduate scholarships. The budget also promises new efforts to commercialize university research. But Canadian Association of University Teachers Associate Executive Director David Robinson warns that “they missed the opportunity to deal with the real underlying issue: lack of core operating funding for universities.”

  4. Rover Lost in Space

    A tiny robotic rover intended to inspect the surface of the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa is drifting helplessly in space following a botched deployment. Dubbed Minerva, the rover was supposed to take images of the asteroid from which its parent craft, Hayabusa (shown as a shadow approaching Itokawa), will later collect rock samples. But a malfunction released Minerva 200 meters above the surface rather than the intended 60 meters, leaving it outside Itokawa's gravitational pull.

    CREDIT: ISAS/JAXA

    “It's really a shame,” says Hayabusa project manager Jun'ichiro Kawaguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Still, the agency hopes Hayabusa's descent close to the surface of Itokawa to release Minerva will pay off later this month when it attempts touchdowns to retrieve samples. Hayabusa is looking for clues about the composition of planetary bodies and how they have been transformed by “space weathering.”

  5. Lean Times for Nuclear Physics

    U.S. nuclear physicists won't have enough money to run their two largest particle accelerators full-time. That's the bad news from Congress, which last week approved a 2006 budget for the Department of Energy's nuclear physics program that fell below earlier levels set separately by the House and Senate.

    The Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia, suffers a roughly $6 million shortfall, meaning fewer experiments than usual. The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, gets $17 million less than expected, meaning at most a 6-week run rather than the planned 20 to 29 weeks and possible layoffs of more than 100 employees, says BNL Associate Lab Director Samuel Aronson.

    Physicists can weather one bad year, says Richard Casten of Yale University. But “if the '07 budget is like the '06 budget,” he says, “it will be a disaster.”