News this Week

Science  10 Feb 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5762, pp. 754
  1. SCIENTIFIC MISCONDUCT

    Investigations Document Still More Problems for Stem Cell Researchers

    1. Sei Chong*
    1. Sei Chong is a freelance writer in Seoul.
    2. With reporting by Jennifer Couzin, Constance Holden, and Gretchen Vogel.

    SEOUL—The accusations surrounding Woo Suk Hwang's discredited stem cell research have gone from bad to worse. Last week, a report from the South Korean National Bio-ethics Committee said that Hwang and his team seriously violated basic ethical rules in their collection of human oocytes and that some of the 119 donors became severely ill as a result of the procedure. The government's auditor also said on Monday that it so far could not account for $2.6 million in research funds that Hwang had received. And there could be more to come: At least five investigations are continuing in South Korea and the United States.

    Warm reception.

    Jong Hyuk Park, a member of Hwang's team, is mobbed by reporters when he returned to Seoul last week from the United States to talk to prosecutors.

    CREDIT: YONHAP NEWS AGENCY

    The initial results of the audit have been referred to South Korean prosecutors, who are investigating potentially criminal aspects of the saga. Meanwhile, investigations are under way at Science, which published both of Hwang's now-discredited papers claiming to have derived embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos, and at two U.S. universities where Hwang co-authors work.

    On 6 February, the South Korean government's auditor said in a report that Hwang could not account for how he spent a significant sum of his research money, which included $31.8 million (30.9 billion won) in public funds and $6.2 million (6 billion won) from private sources. The Bureau of Audit and Inspection said Hwang could not prove how he used $1.07 million from the state and $1.6 million in private funds. Hwang also deposited public and private funds into his personal account and withdrew money for purposes “outside of research,” the report says, although auditors do not know exactly how the funds were spent.

    Some apparently went to lab members involved in the scandal. Shortly after questions were raised last fall about how Hwang obtained oocytes, news media reported that two of his co-authors who were working at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jong Hyuk Park and Sun Jong Kim, together received a total of $50,000 from Hwang's associates. (Seoul National University officials said in December that Kim turned over $30,000 that he had been given.) The auditors say this money came from the funds Hwang received from private sources.

    In a separate investigation, the National Bioethics Committee said in an interim report released 2 February that Hwang's team received at least 2221 oocytes from 119 women between November 2002 and December 2005, 160 more than Seoul National University reported last month. (In their papers, Hwang and his colleagues reported using only 427 oocytes.) Citing “serious ethical violations,” the panel also found that Hwang's team failed to fully explain the potential risks associated with oocyte donation and that the Institutional Review Boards at Hanyang University's medical center and Seoul National University provided insufficient oversight.

    The panel says that a significant number of women who donated through MizMedi Hospital developed ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a side effect of the drugs given to oocyte donors. Fifteen out of the 79 MizMedi donors were treated for the syndrome, which can cause nausea in mild cases and liver and kidney damage in severe cases. The committee said two donors were hospitalized. The report also said that some women who suffered from health effects went on to donate again despite the risks.

    Among the 119 donors, 66 received compensation. The committee said it is still looking into whether any of the payments occurred after 1 January 2005, when a law went into effect prohibiting such payments.

    That is one of the questions the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office is trying to answer as a special team questions key figures associated with Hwang's fabricated re-search. As prosecutors try to pinpoint who did what in the labs, they are also looking into whether Hwang misused public funds and whether someone at MizMedi Hospital, which collected oocytes for his research, switched his cloned embryonic stem cells with fertilized ones, as Hwang contends. The prosecutors continue to interview lab members, and they raided Hwang's home for a second time last week. They have also asked University of Pittsburgh professor and co-author Gerald Schatten to travel to South Korea for questioning. University spokesperson Jane Duffield said Schatten would seek legal advice on how to respond. She said the university's own investigation was likely to finish in mid-February.

    Sung Il Roh, director of MizMedi Hospital, told Science that he expects to talk to the prosecutors by next week. Jong Hyuk Park and Sun Jong Kim have already been questioned, and prosecutors are expected to call co-author and former MizMedi researcher Hyun Soo Yoon, now a professor at Hanyang University.

    The revelations about oocyte donations have triggered the retraction of yet another paper associated with Hwang's work (Science, 20 January, p. 321). On 31 January, the American Journal of Bioethics announced that it is retracting a paper about ethics and egg donation that appears in its January-February issue. The article, by ethics and legal expert Koo Won Jung of Hanyang University and bioethicist Insoo Hyun of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, is based in part on visits to Hwang's lab last summer. Hyun says the article, which first appeared online in November, is being withdrawn because it contains descriptions of lab practices that it is now clear were not followed.

    Jose Cibelli, who was a co-author on Hwang's 2004 paper, has also requested that Michigan State University investigate his role in the work.

    Science will be conducting an internal review this month, and an external review led by outside scientists will take place in March and report its findings in April. John Brauman, a chemist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and chair of Science's senior editorial board, will head the external panel, which will examine both how the Hwang papers were handled and Science's policies in general. “They will be given whatever they want,” says Monica Bradford, Science's executive editor.

  2. WOMEN'S HEALTH

    Study Yields Murky Signals on Low-Fat Diets and Disease

    1. Jennifer Couzin

    An 8-year study of nearly 49,000 postmenopausal women that explored links between a low-fat diet and health is leaving confusion in its wake. The study, run by the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), found that individuals asked to adhere to a low-fat diet had roughly the same risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and cardiovascular disease as those whose diet didn't change. But methodological problems have left researchers stymied about what the message of the three-pronged study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, should be. “We have a very sobering situation,” says Harvard University epidemiologist Walter Willett. While praising the dedication of WHI investigators, he notes that “this was the biggest and most expensive [diet] study ever done,” and it arrived at “a very crude result.”

    SOURCE: ROSS PRENTICE, JAMA 295, 632 (2006); (IMAGE) PHOTOS.COM

    The study is the second of three from the WHI (Science, 10 June 2005, p. 1570). The first, whose results were reported in 2002 and 2004, was controversial. It found that hormone replacement therapy could raise the risk of breast cancer and heart disease, prompting a stampede away from the drugs. The third, examining the effects of calcium and vitamin D on bone health, will be published next week.

    The diet study randomized more than 19,000 women to a diet low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables, and grains. A comparison group included 29,000 others. It was hoped that the first group could slash its fat intake to 20% of calories, while the second would hover around 40%. Study leaders predicted that even if the difference in fat intake was just 11% at the study's end, they would see 14% fewer cases of breast cancer among the dieters. The study also examined whether the low-fat diet could avert colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease.

    But, as is common in nutrition studies, participants had difficulty sticking to the diet. After 6 years, dieters were consuming 30% of their calories from fat, com-pared with 38% in the control group. There was no difference in colorectal cancer or cardiovascular disease rates. Dieters did suffer 9% fewer cases of breast cancer, but that result failed, just barely, to reach statistical significance, meaning it could have occurred by chance. Still, “I don't think it can be dismissed,” says Lynn Rosenberg of Boston University School of Public Health.

    The study's diet was designed with breast cancer in mind, says Ross Prentice, a biostatistician at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, and a leader of the WHI trial. Although cardiovascular disease can be prevented by replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated ones, “for breast cancer, it remains unclear whether targeting certain types of fat would be a more effective approach,” says JoAnn Manson, a WHI principal investigator and chief of preventive medicine at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

    In addition to dietary adherence, the study may have been limited by its length, says Willett. Although impressive by most standards, 8 years is relatively brief where diet's effects on slow-growing cancers are concerned. The results could also have been influenced by the fact that participants started the diet late in life: Researchers don't yet know whether diets begun earlier are more powerful than those begun at older ages.

    Norman Boyd, a cancer epidemiologist at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada, notes that diet data were collected through food-frequency questionnaires; they were given to participants at the study's launch, after the first year, and every 3 years thereafter. Such questionnaires rely heavily on memory and are “not a very good way of addressing diet,” says Boyd. He's finishing a breast cancer prevention study of 4700 women that also tests a low-fat diet followed for at least 8 years. His participants are at risk of the disease and also younger—their average age is 42. Results of Boyd's trial are expected later this year.

    Despite the WHI study's mixed results, critics and supporters alike agree that when it comes to disease, diet matters. Although its dieters can now hop off the low-fat bandwagon, WHI investigators will follow them for another 5 years, searching for additional clues about fat's role in health.

  3. MOLECULAR BIOLOGY

    Protein Tail Modification Opens Way for Gene Activity

    1. Jean Marx

    Turning on a gene is a lot more complicated than simply flipping a switch. Oftentimes, the gene is effectively trapped in chromatin, the complex of DNA and histone proteins that makes up a cell's chromosomes, and thus hidden from the transcription factors needed to activate its expression. New results have now identified a critical histone modification that opens up chromatin so that gene expression can take place.

    When not condensed, chromatin looks much like a string of beads with DNA as string and the beads, known as nucleosomes, consisting of DNA wound around a core of his-tones. In its condensed state, chromatin folds so that the nucleosomes are stacked on one another, a structure that can keep enclosed genes from being expressed.

    On page 844, a team led by Craig Peterson of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester reports that addition of a single acetyl group to a specific lysine located in the tail of so-called histone 4 (H4) can prevent this folding, presumably by blocking the necessary nucleosome-to-nucleosome interactions. Chromatin researcher Michael Grunstein of the David Geffen Medical School at the University of California, Los Angeles, describes the finding as “central to understanding gene activation. The acetylation renders the entire chromatin open for gene activity.”

    Making contact.

    The tail of histone 4 (arrow) can link one nucleosome to another, but not when blocked by acetylation of a specific amino acid on the tail.

    CREDIT: ADAPTED FROM C. A. DAVEY ET AL., JOURNAL OF MOLECULAR BIOLOGY 202, 1097 (2002)

    Acetylation of the histone 4 tail region had previously been implicated in chromatin compaction, but the details remained murky. In 1997, for example, Timothy Richmond's team at Eidgenössicsche Technische Hochschule (ETH) Institute for Molecular Biology and Biophysics in Zurich, Switzerland, determined the x-ray crystallographic structure of the nucleosome. “You can see this region of the [H4] tail interact with adjacent nucleosomes,” Richmond says. That suggested it helps tie chromatin into its folded form, a supposition buttressed 3 years ago when the ETH group showed that compaction can't occur if the tail segment is deleted.

    Histone acetylation is one part of the so-called histone code: various modifications of these proteins that have been shown to influence gene activity. The acetyl groups attach to different amino acids within the H4 tail, however, and researchers have been unable to pin down what the various additions do, mainly because they have been unable to produce nucleosomes bearing only one particular histone modification.

    To try to solve this problem, Michael Shogren-Knaak, a postdoc in the Peterson lab, about 3 years ago developed a technique that produces nucleosomes with specific modifications. This involves first chemically synthesizing the 22 amino acid H4 tail peptide with the desired modification. In the current work, Shogren-Knaak and his colleagues chose to add an acetyl group to the tail's 16th amino acid, a lysine, because it's among the amino acids commonly found acetylated in living cells. The researchers then attached the modified tail to the remaining segment of the H4 protein, which they generated with recombinant DNA technology. Mixing this modified histone with recombinant versions of the other three histones found in nucleosomes and then with DNA generated stretches of chromatin containing 12 nucleosomes, all with the exact same H4 modification.

    Adding magnesium salts to nucleosomes normally causes them to compact, but chromatin containing H4 tails with the acetylated lysine failed to fold when treated with the salts. Those modified nucleosomes “were stuck as ‘beads on a string,’” says Peterson. This is “the first time,” notes Richmond, that someone has shown that a specific histone modification dramatically changes the state of chromatin.

    Although the complex histone code governing gene activity continues to mystify, scientists seem to have cracked at least one of its secrets.

  4. TECTONICS

    An Early Date for Raising the Roof of the World

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    Knowing when something first appeared on Earth can tell much about how and why it appeared. So researchers were keen this week to hear evidence that the Tibetan Plateau already towered over the rest of the planet 35 million years ago. That's tens of millions of years earlier than previous data suggested and not long after India first smashed into that part of the world.

    Early Tibet, early to rise.

    Isotopes in rocks exposed on the central Tibetan Plateau suggest it rose early and high.

    CREDIT: ANDREW CYR, COURTESY OF BRIAN CURRIE

    The proposed timing suggests to plate-tectonics specialists that India, by shoving itself into Asia, raised the plateau to its extraordinary 5000-meter altitude—higher on average than the highest peak in Europe or the contiguous United States. It also suggests that the Tibetan Plateau was sticking up into the atmosphere far earlier than thought, redirecting global winds, stoking the monsoon, and perhaps weakening the greenhouse.

    Signs of kilometer-scale plateau growth come in atom-by-atom measurements reported this week in Nature by David Rowley of the University of Chicago and Brian Currie of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, both working in the young field of paleo-altimetry. Rowley, a tectonicist and field geologist, and Currie, a geochemist, measured the oxygen isotopic composition of carbonate minerals from the Lunpola Basin, near the center of the plateau, that were deposited on lake bottoms or formed in soils.

    The more abundant the light oxygen isotope relative to the heavy isotope, the higher the elevation of the spot where the carbonate formed. That's because as water vapor-laden air climbs to higher and higher altitudes, water molecules carrying heavy oxygen preferentially fall out as precipitation, leaving the remaining water vapor isotopically lighter. Once the water falls as precipitation on the plateau, it passes that isotopic signature of elevation gain on to carbonates as they form. Last year in the journal Geology, the researchers reported that applying the technique to 15-million-year-old carbonates from a basin south of Lunpola matched earlier elevation estimates that researchers had made by analyzing the shapes of fossil leaves.

    This time, Rowley and Currie found that 35 million years ago and about 20 million years ago, the ancient Lunpola Basin stood about 4 kilometers above sea level—almost as high as it does today. A high central plateau 35 million years ago would mean that the northward-moving Indian continent plowed into the Asian continent like a bulldozer, thickening the Asian crust. Because continental crust is more buoyant than underlying mantle rock, that would have floated the plateau higher. The plateau would also have been buoyed up in a rival scenario: The denser mantle rock that makes up the lower part of a tectonic plate formed a blob, detached itself from Asia, and fell away into the deep mantle—but not until perhaps 10 million years ago.

    “They've got an interesting story,” says Carmala Garzione of the University of Rochester in New York, who also uses carbonate isotopes for paleo-altimetry. “The technique is robust,” Garzione says, although Rowley and Currie's calibration method differs from hers. “The theory's fine,” agrees tectonicist Peter Molnar of the University of Colorado, Boulder, “but is it applicable” to 35 million years ago? Water might have taken a different route to the plateau then, he says, shedding heavy isotopes more or less efficiently than in the present day and throwing off their paleo-elevation calculation.

    “Paleo-altimetry is incredibly cool,” concludes tectonicist Leigh Royden of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, “but it's still in its infancy. We don't have enough data to say one way or the other, [but] we're going to know in 10 years.”

  5. ASTROPHYSICS

    Dwarf Galaxies May Help Define Dark Matter

    1. Daniel Clery

    CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—Researchers here say they have found the first physical properties of dark matter, the invisible stuff that makes up most of the substance of the universe. In research that is yet to be written up—let alone published—a team led by Gerry Gilmore of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University saw a common feature in dwarf galaxies that are satellites of our own Milky Way galaxy: They all had a core of dark matter of a uniform size and temperature—somewhat warmer than the most popular theories of dark matter predict. Gilmore suggests this could be “an intrinsic property of dark matter.” The claim alone “will generate a lot of excitement,” says cosmologist Robert Nichol of the University of Portsmouth, U.K.

    Second fiddle.

    The new results show that our Milky Way is actually more massive than near-neighbor Andromeda (pictured).

    CREDIT: NASA/JPL

    The new results came out almost by accident. On 3 February, Gilmore appeared with others at a press conference in London to publicize the work of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). Gilmore described his results, which used some of the world's largest telescopes including ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile, to argue that even better telescopes would be needed to take the research further. But the assembled journalists found Gilmore's research far more interesting; several national dailies carried news of the results on Monday morning. Gilmore says a paper is “partially written up.”

    For the past 3 years, Gilmore and his team have been using giant scopes to map the positions and velocities of thousands of stars in 10 minigalaxies around the Milky Way, working out a three-dimensional mass distribution for each. Astronomers have known for decades that the mass of visible stars doesn't provide enough gravity to hold galaxies together. They concluded that large amounts of dark matter must make up the balance. But they've been stumped in their efforts to locate or describe it. Now the Cambridge team says it has found a uniform volume of dark matter in each galaxy, about 1000 light-years across and with a density equivalent to four hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter.

    The most popular theory suggests that dark matter is made up of massive exotic particles that do not interact with normal matter except through gravity. It also holds that the particles would have low velocities and low temperatures. This model fits the structure of most galaxies and large-scale structures in the universe. But elsewhere it falls down, predicting many more small galaxies than we actually see and a high-density “cusp” of dark matter surrounded by fast-moving stars at the center of small galaxies—also not seen.

    The new results suggest that the dark matter at the center of small galaxies is more spread out and warmer than prevailing theories predict. The particles appear to have a velocity of 9 kilometers per second. Gilmore suggests that they interact with one another to spread out evenly. “There must be some form of repulsion,” he says, adding “this is the first clue of a property of dark matter.”

    Other researchers are, understandably, viewing the results with caution, not having seen details of the observations or Gilmore's interpretation. “If correct, it is a good argument for warm dark matter. It would rule out many of the most popular ideas,” says David Weinberg of Ohio State University, Columbus. But he is skeptical about chargelike repulsion among the dark matter particles in small galaxies because such approaches have “some pretty severe problems” when applied to other galaxy types. Mario Mateo of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who also studies dwarf galaxies, says the results “sound interesting,” although he is surprised by the density of dark matter Gilmore found. He says it's “pretty amazing” that although scientists can't see it or measure it, “we can start talking about constraining the nature of dark matter.”

    The Cambridge study also produced a mass for the Milky Way, revealing that it is not lighter than Andromeda but is top dog in our local group.

  6. NEUROSCIENCE

    Bullied Mice Implicate Brain's Reward Pathway in Mood Disorders

    1. Constance Holden

    Chronic bullying and intimidation can make a person—or a mouse—fearful and withdrawn. Now scientists have shown in bullied mice that the brain's reward circuits—the areas usually associated with addiction—play a big role in these reactions. Furthermore, they find that such negative responses are enabled by brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a chemical that elsewhere in the brain is associated with antidepressant actions.

    Cowed mouse.

    After being bullied by a bigger mouse, mice experience brain changes that increase their fear of unfamiliar mice.

    CREDIT: O. BERTON ET AL., SCIENCE

    On page 864, a team led by neuroscientist Olivier Berton at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas reports the results of experiments in which they exposed individual mice to a different, big bully mouse every day for 10 days, creating strongly aversive behaviors in the victims. Unlike typical mice, the cowed mice act frightened even when caged with an unfamiliar, nonbully mouse. The changes were long-lasting: The “defeated” mice maintained their phobic reactions even 4 weeks after exposure to the aggressors.

    Subsequent experiments showed that the bullied, fearful mice had an altered mesolimbic dopamine system, the brain pathway best known for reinforcing addictive behavior through the release of dopamine. “This social-defeat process induced [production of] BDNF in the reward circuit,” says the senior author, psychiatrist Eric Nestler.

    BDNF stimulates nerve cell growth, and it is hypothesized that some antidepressants work by boosting BDNF production, leading to the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus. But Nestler's team found that in the areas comprising the reward circuit, the bullying-induced BDNF facilitates long-term neuronal changes that cause the development of social aversion, a common symptom of depression. When they injected mice with a virus that knocks out BDNF production solely in this circuit, the mice were no longer intimidated by the bullies.

    Although the reward neural circuit is of intense interest to addiction researchers, Nestler's group concludes that it also plays a part in depression, social phobias, and even posttraumatic stress disorder. “This paper for the first time establishes an important role for BDNF in a brain circuit that clearly is involved in a host of devastating neuropsychiatric disorders” besides addiction, says psychiatrist Robert Malenka of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

    Malenka notes that the brain's reward system has been slighted in research on emotional disorders even though “it's kind of intuitive” that those pathways would also be involved in depression, because inability to experience any rewarding feelings is a hallmark of depression. This work, he says, “puts BDNF in the dopamine system front and center” in disorders involving emotional withdrawal.

    In the hippocampus, BDNF is associated with learning and memory. With the new study, says Nestler, the chemical is now “implicated in a different nerve circuit, playing a role in a different type of learning: [long-term] social learning.” Harvard psychiatrist Steven Hyman, a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, points out that this is another instance of brain chemicals' functions being dependent on their location. And by highlighting the importance of BDNF and the mesolimbic dopamine system, he says, the new study is “one more salient reminder that reward systems, too long neglected, are likely to play a critical role in mood regulation.”

    Hyman agrees with Nestler that the mouse study suggests that the brain's reward circuitry is a new target for drugs treating human mood disorders. The results also indicate that the stress from chronic anxiety may be treatable by antidepressants, says Nestler. He notes that although tranquilizers normally help alleviate acute anxiety, benzodiazepine had no effect on the bullied mice, whereas fluoxetine (Prozac) had the same effect as deleting BDNF.

  7. ECOLOGY

    Salvage Logging Research Continues to Generate Sparks

    1. Erik Stokstad

    A premier forestry department is still smoldering over a controversial paper about salvage logging. The research garnered national headlines in early January when Science published a paper online by researchers, including some from Oregon State University (OSU), who concluded that logging after wildfires hinders the regeneration of forests and increases the risk of further fires. The paper made headlines again a few days later when another group of OSU faculty members asked that print publication be delayed until their criticisms were addressed.

    Scorched Earth.

    Controversy remains over a paper that measured harm done by postfire logging.

    CREDIT: JEFF BARNARD/ AP PHOTO

    That request led to cries of attempted censorship. The group of critics, in turn, charged that the paper was politically motivated. Now, a government agency that helped fund the study has put a hold on the grant, pending an investigation. “I expected a dustup, but nothing of this scale,” says Jerry Franklin of the University of Washington, Seattle, who says he reviewed the paper.

    Salvage logging is a long-standing forestry practice. If a wildfire kills trees but doesn't completely burn them, logging companies will harvest those logs and plant tree seedlings. Proponents of the practice say it can accelerate forest regrowth and make forests safer for firefighters.

    Environmentalists have long criticized the practice, however, charging that logging machinery tears up the soil and that hauling out the dead wood removes valuable habitat for wildlife. But not much research has been published in peer-reviewed journals on the effects of postfire salvage logging. The topic is hot now because two bills pending in Congress would make it easier for companies to do salvage logging in national forests.

    Enter the Science paper. The research comes from an ongoing study of the 2002 Biscuit Fire, which ravaged 200,000 hectares in southern Oregon. Comparing plots before and after salvage logging finished last year, a team led by plant physiologist Bev Law of OSU Corvallis and Boone Kauffman of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) found 71% fewer naturally sprouted seedlings in the logged plots. Much of the work was done by first author Dan Donato, a second-year graduate student. Downed branches and twigs left over from the logging increased the amount of flammable material on the forest floor by severalfold, compared to the burned but unlogged plots. The team concluded that salvage logging hinders forest recovery and actually exacerbates fire risk—a finding that contradicts assertions made on behalf of the practice.

    What really stirred up controversy, however, was a letter sent to the Science editors on 17 January by John Sessions, a forest modeler at OSU. He and eight co-authors from the university and USFS pointed out what they considered to be serious shortcomings in the paper. They say the conclusions are preliminary and that the paper didn't put the findings into context—neglecting to describe soil moisture at the site, for example, and not spelling out that fire risk is more complex than just the amount of dead wood left behind: “We believe that the peer review process failed.” The letter was reported by The Oregonian, the state's largest newspaper.

    Their request to delay publication of the print version of the paper until these concerns were corrected, or to print them alongside the paper, struck some as meddling with peer review. “I was stunned,” says OSU's Barbara Bond. The paper appeared in print on schedule (Science, 20 January, p. 352). “We have confidence in our peer-review decision,” says Science Editor-in-Chief Don Kennedy. “I think it's fairly clear [the letter] was an effort to suppress a paper.”

    The critics deny that and charge in turn that the authors of the Science paper are attempting to sway the debate on the bills in Congress. Sessions points out that the online version of the paper referred to the House and Senate bills, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is now investigating whether this crossed the line of using government funds for lobbying.

    Two other facts make critics suspect politicking. One of the administrators of the grant, former BLM ecologist Tom Sensenig, now with USFS, was not informed of the paper. “It was quite a surprise to have a cooperative agreement turn into a publication that was essentially kept secret,” says Sensenig, who says he disagrees with the conclusions. In addition, the paper did not get the normal review from USFS or BLM, which Sessions and Sensenig say would have removed what they perceive as political overtones. Ann Bartuska, USFS's chief of research, agrees, but she doesn't see any major problems with the paper: “It's a good piece of work that's adding to the discussion.”

    Donato denies any political agenda and says the authors referred to the bills to highlight the timeliness of the research. There was no intention to avoid reviews, Donato says, but he declines to elaborate on that or why Sensenig wasn't included. “It was a misunderstanding,” he says. Donato says he and his co-authors will respond to technical criticisms in the peer-reviewed literature. (Sessions and his colleagues plan to submit a technical comment to Science.)

    Meanwhile, the dean of OSU's college of forestry, Hal Salwasser, has tried to calm the waters. A first attempt backfired when some students and faculty members interpreted a memo as criticizing Donato and his co-authors. On 26 January, Dean Salwasser wrote another department-wide e-mail in which he praised the authors for having a paper accepted at Science and reiterated a commitment to academic freedom. “I profoundly regret the negative debate that recent events have generated,” he wrote. He has set up a committee on academic freedom within the college.

    Sessions isn't backing off. He says he will press the board of AAAS (Science's publisher) to investigate what he sees as shortcomings in peer review. Donato is hoping to be able to concentrate on his research sometime soon. “This has dominated my waking hours,” he says. “It's been really crazy.”

  8. SCIENCE POLICY

    A Budget With Big Winners and Losers

    1. Eli Kintisch,
    2. Jeffrey Mervis*
    1. With reporting by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, Adrian Cho, Jocelyn Kaiser, Andrew Lawler, Elizabeth Pennisi, and Robert F. Service.

    A promised 10-year doubling for NSF, NIST, and energy research would be offset by no growth for NIH and NASA in President George W. Bush's spending request for 2007

    President George W. Bush's budget for next year answers a fervent wish by the scientific community for a boost to the physical sciences, more attention to science and math education in the public schools, and a focus on applied energy research. But in trying to balance the costs of two wars and additional tax cuts with a desire to trim spending, the president's budget would also flat-line the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and freeze NASA's spending on earth and space sciences for the next 5 years. That exercise, unveiled this week, could trigger a donnybrook among the various disciplines for their share of the pie as the 2007 budget wends its way through Congress.

    Predictably, the community is divided on the merits of the president's latest budget request. “It's a historic moment,” says Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society. Not quite, says former NIH director Harold Varmus, head of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Although he's “pleased by” the boost to the physical sciences, “I'm fairly disturbed by what's happening to NIH.” The 1989 Nobel laureate says he fears that “NIH is going to be worse off than it was at the beginning of the Bush Administration.”

    In a lean budget year, says presidential science adviser John Marburger, scientists should be grateful for any increases. The 14% rise at the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science and the 7.9% boost for the National Science Foundation (NSF), he says, represent “high-priority areas … that are most likely to generate the sort of results that will create technologies to improve U.S. competitiveness.” The increases are part of what the White House is calling the American Competitiveness Initiative, a bundle of proposals that includes the promise of a 10-year budget doubling for NSF, DOE's Office of Science, and core research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

    CREDIT: CHRIS MADDALONI

    It also represents a vote of confidence in those agencies to deliver the goods. In contrast, Marburger says, NIH's no-growth $28.6 billion budget reflects “an agency in transition” that is struggling to digest a recent 5-year doubling of its budget. And NASA, which would receive a 1.5% increase for science in 2007 and less down the road, “is grappling with a lot of issues.”

    From the top

    The competitiveness initiative is the product of a bevy of recent reports from both internal and outside advisory groups, and a lobbying effort by science and business groups that gathered momentum last fall (Science, 21 October 2005, p. 423). “Everything came together, and the president realized that there were opportunities,” says Marburger.

    Researchers, especially those in the physical sciences, hope to reap the rewards. In nuclear physics, for example, a proposed $87 million boost would allow DOE to keep open both of its large nuclear physics labs instead of having to choose between Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Upton, New York, and Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab) in Newport News, Virginia. “Pinch me,” says Samuel Aronson, BNL's associate director for high-energy and nuclear physics. BNL also would receive $45 million from the DOE basic energy sciences program to upgrade its synchrotron light source. The proposed increase may also allow JLab officials to stave off planned involuntary layoffs caused by a tight budget this year. Within an 8% increase for high-energy physics is $10 million to design a new neutrino experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois.

    NSF-funded researchers are also likely to cash in if Congress goes along with the competitiveness initiative. The foundation's proposed boost includes an estimated 500 new research grants across all disciplines and a $5000 increase in the average annual grant size, to $148,000. NSF received a green light to start two projects at the top of its wish list, the Alaska Region Research Vessel and the Ocean Observatories Initiative. Its polar research programs would get a $48 million jump, to $370 million, including several new projects for scientists participating in the International Polar Year program. And NSF has requested a $50 million down payment on a peta-scale computing network that can handle the increasingly large databases that scientists collect and analyze.

    The Department of Homeland Security would like $18 million for research on nuclear detection and forensics. “We want to step up basic research efforts to extend the range and accuracy of nuclear detection,” says Vayl Oxford, head of the department's new Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. One goal is a detection system capable of sniffing out radiological materials on cargo ships at sea. NSF is hoping for $20 million for a new competitive research program to develop better sensors to detect improvised explosive devices, a deadly weapon of choice in Iraq.

    DOE's work in advanced computing would get a 37% ($84 million) increase, which managers say will allow them to install a raft of much-needed new processors. These would help alleviate the crunch at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Director Horst Simon says he is “really satisfied,” because his facility is currently “oversubscribed by a factor of 3 or 4.”

    Work in basic energy and materials science at DOE received special attention in the budget, including the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee expected to open in June and the Linac Coherent Light Source at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California. The money will help “projects that couldn't be fully funded in '06,” says physicist Gabrielle Long of Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. More than $300 million in new spending on applied energy research—part of the president's pledge to curb U.S. “addiction” to oil—would target photovoltaics, advanced nuclear fuel processing, the conversion of cellulose to ethanol, and wind power. The Administration has resisted new funding for many of these same programs in previous budgets.

    Areas with a similarly promising economic upside held sway at NIST. Its Center for Neutron Research is slated to receive $12 million for new instrumentation and $10 million to beef up its programs. “The mood is ecstatic,” says Patrick Gallagher, who heads neutron science research at NIST in Gaithersburg, Maryland. About half of the $20 million increase for nanotechnology would fund a center on transitioning technologies from initial discovery to production. Hydrogen economy research is also slated for a $10 million increase. “We've had very flat budgets for a long time,” says Eric Steel, who oversees the program office at NIST in Gaithersburg.

    The Administration says NIST's core research programs would jump by 24% under the request, although the total—$535 million—is actually less than current funding levels. The reason, says Marburger, is that the budget doesn't include funds to continue projects the agency did not request but Congress bankrolled to the tune of some $135 million in 2006. Many of these so-called congressional earmarks have little to do with NIST's mission, he adds.

    SOURCE: WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET AND INDIVIDUAL AGENCIES

    The White House initiative also targets math and science education, under the leadership of the Department of Education. The budget includes $326 million—51% more—than last year for the department's activities in this area, including programs to strengthen research-based math instruction at elementary schools and to help math-deficient middle school students take and pass algebra. The president is asking Congress to add $90 million to a $32 million program to increase the number of students passing Advanced Placement tests in math and science by preparing more teachers and rewarding students. The Administration also hopes that local schools will recruit 30,000 working scientists and engineers as part-time teachers and is offering school districts $25 million to implement such programs.

    With science education a renewed White House priority, NSF's $800 million education directorate would receive a 2.5% increase. The biggest winners are three undergraduate and graduate programs intended to increase the number of minorities going into science and engineering. They would get a 24% boost, to $85 million. “We've seen a linear curve with a low slope for a long time,” says NSF Director Arden Bement. “And we've been patient. But now we want to be impatient.”

    Lagging behind

    The proposed $20 million increase in the NSF education directorate would reverse double-digit declines proposed by the Bush Administration in its previous two budgets, which Congress partially reversed. But the $816 million requested is still $27 million less than the directorate received in 2005. The biggest loser is NSF's shrinking Math and Science Partnerships program linking university professors with local school districts. First proposed in 2002 as a $200 million initiative, the program would limp along at $46 million for existing projects, down $17 million from this year, with no new competitions.

    The consequences of setting priorities is a common theme among agencies that took a hit in the president's 2007 budget. “We're not in a position to do as much as many of us would like,” says Michael Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees NIH. Asked why biomedicine was not included among the science agencies funded under the competitiveness initiative, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni replied: “I don't think biomedicine is necessarily less urgent, … but you have to make choices that are not necessarily going to make everybody happy.”

    Oil alternatives.

    In his State of the Union speech, President George W. Bush set out a goal to find alternatives for 75% of the oil that the United States expects to be importing from the Middle East by 2025. According to the Energy Information Administration, the total then will be 5.99 million barrels of oil per day from the Persian Gulf, up from 3.7 million barrels in 2005. So the country must replace 4.49 million barrels a day, or 1.64 billion barrels a year. Here's what it would take for each power source (above) to generate an equivalent amount of electricity. (Considerably more would be needed to convert the electricity into a transportation fuel.)

    CREDIT: K. BUCKHEIT/SCIENCE; SOURCE: ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION

    Indeed, there is little in NIH's 2007 budget to cheer biomedical researchers. Biodefense would garner a significant increase—some $110 million for a new biodefense fund to help universities and companies commercialize countermeasures. And Zerhouni's road map initiative to fund programs that cut across NIH would receive a $113 million boost, to $443 million. NIH would also spend $49 million more to expand an initiative on genes, environment, and health, and $15 million for a new bridge award for young investigators. Most of NIH's 27 institutes and centers would get a slight cut under the president's plan. As a result, success rates on grants—an investigator's odds of winning funding for a grant proposal—would remain at 19% in 2007, down from 22% in 2005.

    The bad news for scientists extends beyond NIH. The science and technology account at the Environmental Protection Agency would go down by 6.7%. For ocean science, Bush's budget won't go very far in achieving the goals of the congressionally mandated U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose current $4 billion budget would drop by $279 million, will be hard-pressed to achieve the goals laid down last year by the commission. And funding for the Oceanic and Atmospheric Research program—which includes the state based research and education Sea Grant network—has been sinking steadily, from $404 million in 2005 to a proposed $338 million in 2007. The commission “proposed a lot of great new programs,” says Beth Lowell of Oceana, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. “With the current budget cuts, I am unsure [any of] that will happen.”

    The prospects for NASA-funded scientists are among the bleakest in the federal government. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin did not sound happy as he described a 1% increase for his agency, although he insisted the real figure is 3.2% if a $350 million supplement for Hurricane Katrina recovery in 2006 is not included. But even that rise is a far cry from the 8.8% increase he sought to deal with rising space shuttle and space science costs while he tries to get an expensive human exploration effort off the ground (Science, 6 January, p. 28). Faced with a flat budget for the next 5 years, he said, “we took a couple of billion [dollars] out of science” as well as money from exploration.

    Those couple of billion dollars in cuts would be spread out over the next 5 years. So although NASA's science program would increase slightly in 2007, the impact on specific missions will be dramatic immediately. The agency is putting a host of science missions on hold, including a space interferometry telescope, a probe designed to search for Earth-like planets, and a spacecraft to measure global precipitation, says NASA science chief Mary Cleave. Spending on Mars robotic missions through 2011 would be reduced by nearly half of what was envisioned just last year; plans for a Mars sample return and a telecommunications orbiter will be abandoned.

    Projects running over budget are in particular danger. The new request, for example, provides no funding for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which is nearly ready to fly but has encountered cost and technical problems. In addition, work on the asteroid mission called Dawn is on hold pending review.

    By contrast, NASA spending on exploration systems would jump from $3 billion to $4 billion in 2007. The small piece of that budget devoted to human research, however, would shrink by 56% to $275 million, given NASA's decision to minimize scientific work on the international space station. Griff in insists that science at NASA has increased significantly during the past decade, but “we cannot afford such growth” in coming years.

    The raid on science is already meeting strong resistance. Hours before Griffin met with reporters, House Science Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said he was “greatly concerned” with the “sharply reduced growth” in space and earth sciences in the NASA request. And Wesley Huntress, a former NASA science chief and president of the Pasadena, California-based Planetary Society, criticized the request for “using money intended for science programs to fund continued operation of the shuttle, … a program scheduled for termination.”

    In the end, those who have done well are singing the White House's praises, while those who didn't are questioning its judgment. “This has been a remarkable year for advocacy,” Bement said to an audience of science lobbyists who applauded his festive presentation. “There has been a lot of rhetoric about doubling, and now the president is behind it.”

    For the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Washington, D.C., however, the NIH budget is a reason for “disappointment and outrage.” Says Patrick White of the 62-member Association of American Universities, “What they have done for physical science is incredible. What's unfortunate is that they're allowing NIH to wither on the vine.” A coalition of advocacy groups will be pushing Congress to give NIH a 5% increase.

  9. ANIL KAKODKAR INTERVIEW

    Breaking Up (a Nuclear Program) Is Hard to Do

    1. Pallava Bagla

    India nuclear chief Anil Kakodkar has no apologies for staking out a tough line on implementation of a landmark India-U.S. nuclear pact—even if that sinks the deal

    NEW DELHI—Anil Kakodkar is a legendary figure in India's rise to nuclear statehood. Now pressure is building on the self-described technocrat to prove his diplomatic mettle as well. A historic nuclear agreement between India and the United States is riding on India's plan to segregate its nuclear establishment into civilian and military components (Science, 20 January, p. 318). As chair of India's Atomic Energy Commission in Mumbai and secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, an agency with 65,000 staff and a $1.2 billion budget, Kakodkar has been asked to draw the civil-military line.

    Mild-mannered but hard-nosed.

    The fate of a landmark India-U.S. nuclear agreement appears to rest on Anil Kakodkar's judgment of how much of India's nuclear establishment can be placed under the watchful eyes of international inspectors.

    CREDIT: P. BAGLA/SCIENCE

    The stakes are high. The India-U.S. agreement, signed on 18 July 2005, would end a 30-year embargo on nuclear trade with India stemming from its refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. As part of the deal, India has committed to designating which of its nuclear facilities are civilian and can be placed under international monitoring. Those labeled military would be neither under safeguards nor eligible to receive imported nuclear technologies or fuel. Before the agreement can go ahead, the U.S. Congress must amend laws; congressional action will hinge on acceptance of India's separation plan.

    In negotiations since December, India has taken a hard line, tagging all nuclear R&D facilities, including its fast-breeder reactors, as military. In a sign of how fraught the talks have become, Kakodkar acknowledges that India and the United States may fail to reach an accord: “India's nuclear program will go on with or without the cooperation,” he says.

    How much India compromises will depend on Kakodkar, a mild-mannered but tough negotiator who assiduously avoids the spotlight. Kakodkar, 63, trained as a mechanical engineer before joining India's premier nuclear weapons lab, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), in Mumbai in 1963. He says he leads a spartan life, having spent 18 hours a day over the past 4 decades “living atomic energy.” He takes pride in having overseen the design of reactors, including the 100-megawatt Dhruva research reactor, which produces plutonium for the country's arsenal, and future reactors unique to India that will run on thorium.

    Kakodkar spoke last week with Science about everything from the separation plan to India's refusal to contribute real-time seismic data to an evolving Indian Ocean tsunami warning system (Science, 9 December 2005, p. 1604). The following transcript was edited for clarity.

    Q: What is happening with the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal?

    Is the separation plan the sticking point? The determination of what is in the civilian domain … is an Indian determination, and we think that we have done a very objective job. That is what is under debate right now.

    Q: You are not averse to the idea of separation?

    No, not at all. But at the same time we cannot allow our strategic interest to be determined by others. We have never had any problem in getting reactors or fuel from outside and putting them under safeguard. We have done that in the past, so we can do that again. We will put some of the indigenously built reactors also under safeguard. But then I have to maintain some proportion outside safeguards, and that proportion has to be based on a good strategic calculation. Now, if somebody says, ‘No no, you should put this also under safeguard,’ then there is a problem. This is what is under discussion.

    Q: If you need plutonium from a military reactor to fuel the fast-breeder reactors, does this linkage mean that the breeders cannot be monitored?

    That is absolutely the point.

    Q: So categorically the breeders will not go under safeguards?

    No way, because it hurts our strategic interest.

    Q: The strategic interest of security or strategic interest of energy security?

    Both. It hurts both because it is linked through the fuel cycle. Putting the Fast Breeder Program on the civilian list would amount to getting shackled, and India certainly cannot compromise one security for the other.

    Q: Is your strategic need for plutonium not met by CIRUS [a research reactor that India acquired from Canada in 1956] and Dhruva? Do you need additional capacity from civilian reactors?

    Yes, very clearly. Not from civilian reactors, but from power reactors.

    Q: But then where is a compromise likely, with the United States insisting that you put the breeders and part of your power reactors under safeguards?

    We have to discuss that logic. In fact, it goes beyond the July 18 statement. It amounts to changing the goalposts.

    Q: What amounts to changing the goalposts?Asking for the breeders under safeguards?

    Asking for a specific thing to be put under safeguards. That amounts to changing the goalposts.

    Q: If the political leadership demands it, would you be willing to accept changing the goalposts? Where is the question of my willingness?

    I am a technocrat, and I will point out all the ramifications. It is as simple as that.

    Q: So what will happen to CIRUS? Why isn't it on the civilian list?

    With CIRUS we have gone through a whole refurbishing, everything has been changed.

    Q: Anything original left, other than its name?

    Well, I think there is some concrete somewhere. But, jokes apart, it has undergone substantive refurbishing. The second point is that CIRUS is located in BARC, which is a strategic facility. We maintain that CIRUS has always been in use for peaceful purposes. At the same time, you cannot put CIRUS under safeguards simply because it is inside BARC.

    Q: If the nuclear pact is realized, do you foresee joint reactor development with the U.S.?

    Let us not speculate too much; it would be daydreaming. India will build its own innovative reactors—that much I can tell you.

    Q: What is your view on sharing seismic data?

    The waveforms of earthquakes contain a lot of information, and some locations could be sensitive. What is, after all, seismic monitoring? You get information on a disturbance in the earth, measured at some location. This measurement contains both information related to the source of the disturbance and information related to the path through which this disturbance travels up to the measuring point. You have to have policies that if the earthquake is more than some magnitude, data are released. Many countries do this. So we should have our own policy. That does not mean that we are against stopping everything, but it cannot be a free-for-all.

    Q: You are willing to consider a change in the policy?

    There is no policy. The point is, let there be some policy, and things should be done according to that policy.

  10. FISH BIOLOGY

    Fishing for Common Ground

    1. Elizabeth Pennisi

    Biomedical and basic researchers who study fish face challenges in combining forces to understand development and evolution

    When a traditional fish biologist meets a zebrafish researcher, things don't always go swimmingly. The former cares about how fish behave in their watery world and how evolution has shaped piscine diversity. The geneticists and developmental biologists who study zebrafish generally have a biomedical bent. “We tend to think of it as a wet mouse with a transparent embryo,” says John Postlethwait, a zebrafish expert at the University of Oregon, Eugene. “We tend to have very little appreciation for our organisms as fish.”

    Fish sense.

    Gars (left) can help zebrafish researchers understand the evolution of development.

    CREDIT: SUSAN MIDDLETON/CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

    But as a recent meeting in Orlando* made clear, the two camps are increasingly finding common water. For more than a decade, the zebrafish has been one of several crucial model organisms for developmental biology (Science, 30 August 2002, p. 1484). Its genome is already sequenced, and there are many molecular techniques to help researchers glean this species' biological secrets, and in turn, better understand all vertebrates, including humans. Those tools are now proving seductive to biologists trying to understand the genetic basis of all fish evolution. At the same time, the zebrafish community is beginning to realize that examining different fish species can help them understand the functions of the genes they find.

    Take Mark Cooper, a developmental biologist at the University of Washington, Seattle. “I need an ancient fish,” he announced at a roundtable session in Orlando set up to build bridges between the two fish factions. Cooper has studied how the first embryonic cells begin to establish a body axis in the zebrafish, and he is retracing the history of this key developmental step, called gastrulation, by looking at the process in other fish. “How about a gar?” Richard Mayden, a systematist at Saint Louis University in Missouri, piped up. “I've got a contact.”

    Cooper was ecstatic. He's been working through branches of the fish family tree looking at similarities and differences in gastrulation but has not been able to reach the lower, oldest limbs. Gar, long, narrow fish with sharp teeth whose fossil history traces back to the Permian, are a perfect complement to other species he's been examining. The ability to look at a developmental process in multiple species “opens up a huge window into the past,” says Cooper.

    Smoothing rough waters

    Traditional fish biologists pride themselves on a great respect for their organisms, focusing on a fish's natural history and its phylogenetics. Yet they sometimes have a fear and loathing of molecular endeavors, says Jacqueline Webb, a fish biologist at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Comparative biologists also concentrate on adult morphologies and behaviors, and their raw material is physical specimens, often from collections in natural history museums. Biologists working on zebrafish, on the other hand, tend to focus on early development and prefer to compile their data as digital images. Given such differences, until recently, “neither community has felt there is much to discuss,” says Paula Mabee, an evolutionary developmental biologist at the University of South Dakota, Vermillion.

    Efforts such as the Cypriniform Tree of Life Project, which Mabee helps coordinate, are beginning to stimulate more dialogue. This National Science Foundation-funded venture should sort out the evolutionary history of cypriniforms, the diverse group of fishes that includes the zebrafish. Together with colleagues from China, Japan, and other countries, Mayden and Mabee are gathering morphological data and DNA from museum specimens and collecting species from far-flung places to determine the genetic relationships between 1000 of the 3200 known cypriniforms. “We are not just building a tree. We are working with the zebrafish people to learn from them and for them to pick up things from us,” notes project director Mayden.

    In another effort at détente, Mabee and her colleagues are trying to build a common vocabulary among fish biologists in order to make interactions easier. Working with curators of the online Zebrafish Information Network (ZFIN), they are coming up with an “ontology,” a standardized list of terms for describing traits, that will make possible oneclick shopping at both the Cypriniform Tree of Life database and ZFIN. “By overlapping these two sets of data, we can get candidate genes for evolutionary phenotypes,” says Mabee. Her colleagues are excited at the prospect. “The sharing of database and informatics is a delightful example of the cooperation between the two fields that should be hugely helpful,” says Charles Kimmel, a zebrafish biologist at the University of Oregon, Eugene.

    One person who may soon benefit from all this new cooperation is Thomas Schilling, a veteran zebrafish developmental biologist at the University of California, Irvine. Schilling wants to broaden his research on skull and facial developmental to understand its evolution in fish, so he needs to identify the right species for such comparative work and find ones he can raise in the lab. “Yet, I'm not really aware of what other [fish] are easy to work with,” he complains.

    The systematists participating in the Cypriniform Tree of Life Project are coming to his rescue. This project boasts of 30 cypriniform species in labs across the world, with more breeding programs in the works, some by high school students. The researchers also know aquarium dealers, hobbyists, and fish importers who may be ready sources of fish. “Just give me your wish list, and I will come up with the material,” Mayden says.

    Toothless.

    Comparative studies of the Mexican tetra (left) and the zebrafish (right) are revealing how fish gained and lost teeth through time.

    CREDIT: DAVID W. STOCK

    Traditional fish biologists are in turn getting help from the zebrafish community. Amy McCune, an evolutionary biologist at Cornell University, is combing the zebrafish databases for mutants with missing or dysfunctional swim bladders. These organs are critical to most fish, but a few species in more than a dozen fish families have done away with the swim bladder, and McCune wants to know how. Once she identifies genes that control the development of the zebrafish bladder, she can turn to the bladderless species and examine what happened to those genes in each species.

    In contrast, David Stock, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is looking into something most fish have but zebrafish don't: mouth teeth. His work in zebrafish implicated two genes, Dlx and a Dlx regulator, fibroblast growth factor (FGF), in depriving the zebrafish of mouth teeth. When he inhibited FGF in the Mexican tetra, a close, toothed relative, its teeth also failed to form, Stock reported at the meeting. The finding suggests a possible mechanism by which teeth were repeatedly lost and gained over time in fish, he says.

    Stripe potential.

    Differences in how two groups of pigment precursor cells interact lead to stripes in the zebrafish (top) but no stripes in the closely related pearl danio (bottom).

    CREDIT: DAVID M PARICHY

    David Parichy, an integrative biologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, straddles both worlds in his work on the diversity of color patterns in fish. Cypriniforms can have any number of stripes or bars, and Parichy is curious why and how this variety evolved. Using zebrafish, he and his colleagues have found that two groups of pigment precursor cells work together to form that animal's stripes—one group forms early in development and the other group develops later.

    A close zebrafish relative, the pearl danio, has no stripes, however. In Orlando, Parichy reported that when his team eliminates the earlier-forming precursor cells in pearl danio, the fish develops stripes. They are not quite as dark as in the zebrafish, but they are clearly visible. “The work is probably the best example of a zebrafish-focused study which explains the diversity in a related species at the developmental genetic level,” says Stock.

    Work like Stock's, McCune's, and Parichy's may not be mainstream yet, but it's no longer off in an isolated eddy. “What you are seeing are both sides adapting the approaches of the other,” says Cooper.

    • *The annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology was held in Orlando, Florida, 4 to 8 January.

  11. EVOLUTION

    Darwin's Place on Campus Is Secure--But Not Supreme

    1. Constance Holden

    Professors at many U.S. universities say their students are learning about evolution without abandoning their belief in some form of creationism

    During a visit to Stanford University in 1994, Cornell University biologist Will Provine bet geneticist Marcus Feldman that there were “a bunch of creationists” among undergraduates at the prestigious California school. He says Feldman scoffed. But when Provine asked Feldman's biology students “how many of you believe humans came to be in the last 10,000 years?” a sizable number raised their hands.

    Feting the founder.

    Celebrating Darwin Week in South Carolina means posters at the College of Charleston and a change of costume for biologist Jerry Waldvogel of Clemson College.

    CREDITS: COURTESY OF JERRY WALDVOGEL; (INSET) COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON

    Provine says there's no evidence that much has changed since then. The debate over evolution has heated up in recent years, with creationists and proponents of intelligent design (ID) clamoring for a place in the curricula of public schools around the country (see sidebar). Ironically, this is occurring in the face of an expanding application of evolutionary theory throughout the sciences. Yet polls indicate that the proportion of Americans whose beliefs lie somewhere in the creationism spectrum has held steady for decades.

    Interviews with two dozen professors suggest that the same firmness of conviction can be found on many U.S. campuses. “Students may become more accepting of evolution, but they don't throw out creationism,” says biology professor Randy Moore of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

    Hard-core beliefs

    For decades, polls have indicated that close to half of the U.S. adult population is skeptical of the basic tenets of Darwinian evolution. Although more educated people are more likely to endorse evolution, a college degree is no guarantee that the graduate agrees with Darwin.

    Provine himself has been surveying his Cornell students since 1986, when he started teaching an evolution course for nonbiology majors. He says that for many years, about 70% of students held views somewhere along the creationist spectrum, from biblical literalism about the sudden appearance of Adam and Eve to the belief that human existence could not have come about without divine intervention. The percentage holding those views declined after agriculture and business students were no longer required to take the course, he says, but not enough to make them stand out from the general population. “Human evolution is a flash point; that's where the rubber meets the road,” says biologist James Colbert of Iowa State University, Ames. “It's very common to see students who simply can't believe humans evolved from apes.”

    For the past 3 years, Colbert has surveyed students in his introductory biology class, asking them if they believe God created humans within the past 10,000 years. Last fall, 32% of the 150-member class said they did. Colbert says he finds this percentage particularly unsettling “when one considers that these students are academically among the upper half of high school graduates, and they are students choosing to major in a life science”—often to become doctors or veterinarians.

    For the past 5 years, Moore has done the same surveys in his giant introductory biology class at Minnesota. He says only a little more than half of his students say they were taught anything about evolution in high school; of those, about half say creationism was discussed. That jibes with figures from teacher surveys in both 1994 and 2004, in which onequarter report that they talk about creationism in their biology classes.

    Moore says students don't necessarily know how to define ID, which asserts that there must be a “designer” because life forms are too complex to have arisen solely from the process of random mutation and natural selection. But when Moore presents them with a range of beliefs, 15% to 20% side with the ID movement. And “virtually none” has changed his or her mind by the end of the semester, he notes. Colbert agrees that although postcourse surveys show students have learned a good deal about evolution, they tend to stick to their views on God's role in creating humans.

    Plant biologist Massimo Pigliucci of Stony Brook University in New York says he encountered “all sorts of interesting reactions” when he taught at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. They included notes posted on an Internet discussion board warning students that they would go to hell if they listened to what he was saying about evolution.

    But teachers say they rarely have in-class clashes with such students. Rather, says biologist Robert Dillon of the College of Charleston in South Carolina, students will come by “several times a semester” to express their concern that “if there was no Adam, that means Christ died in vain for our sins. We'll have a theological discussion,” he says.

    The discussions aren't limited to biology courses. Geologist Robert C. Thomas of the University of Montana-Western in Dillon says he is encountering a growing number of students “who do not understand or believe in the most basic concepts of geologic time and evolution,” and that they have become “far more vocal and in some cases disruptive” in class. “I think the earth sciences are on the front lines of this battle,” says geologist Joseph Meert of the University of Florida, Gainesville. “If you have an old earth, evolution has a chance to happen.”

    Last fall, the Geological Sciences of America (GSA) meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, featured a panel on young-Earth creationists. GSA sees the movement as “a serious attack on legitimate science, not just evolution,” says geologist Edward Crisp of West Virginia University, Parkersburg. He says that although most students will accept the validity of the scientific method, more than half fall away “when you throw man into the mix and ask about a common ancestry with great apes.”

    Crisp surveyed students in several introductory biology classes this winter and found that 25% of 206 students believed in a young Earth. The postcourse surveys of 115 students showed that 17% retained that belief. Asked after the course if they accepted biologic evolution as a “fact,” one-third expressed doubts. That's not a big drop from the 42% in the precourse survey who had doubts. In answer to a separate question, about half said creationism should get equal time with evolution in public schools.

    Virtual petri dish.

    Avida-ED allows students to track mutations, proliferation, metabolic rates, and other bacterial characteristics on their computers.

    CREDIT: R. T. PENNOCK/MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY

    Why the resistance to change? “Sometimes students want to take science courses so they can get better in their arguments with scientists,” explains Crisp. He adds that although most of his students won't become scientists, they may still be in a position to influence the young. “Over 50% of my students are majoring in elementary education,” he notes.

    Teaching in the city that hosted the infamous 1925 Scopes Trial, invertebrate paleontologist Kurt Wise of Bryan College, a Christian school in Dayton, Tennessee, says other scientists have an exaggerated fear of fundamentalists like himself. (Wise claims to be the first “young age” creationist with a doctorate in paleontology, earned in 1989 from Harvard University.) After all, he notes, “if you're working for an oil company, it doesn't matter if you think the oil is only 500 years old.”

    But Wise's is distinctly a minority view. Most geologists agree with Meert when he says that “it's time to stop pussyfooting around. … Young-Earth creationism and the ID movement are challenging the foundations of not just biology but also geology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and anthropology.”

    Darwin days

    Public controversies over Darwinism have inspired college presidents to defend science and professors to sign petitions. They've also inspired courses to explore the evolution debate. University of Kansas religion professor Paul Mirecki made national headlines when he announced a course that would label ID as “religious mythology.” Mirecki was subsequently beaten up by thugs and excoriated when some fundamentalist-bashing—and Catholic-bashing—e-mails he had written became public. He also stepped down as department chair, although university officials say they still hope to offer such a course.

    But for all the media coverage of the controversy, few academics are proposing new approaches to teaching evolution in biology or geology class. “There are fewer people than I would have thought trying to reach out” to skeptical students, says physicist Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, who has been active in the public debate over teaching creationism and ID in public schools. Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller, who has been publicly confronting creationists for years, says he's not aware of any attempts to recast courses in light of the current controversy. But he says evolutionary concepts are dispersing in other ways, in emerging fields such as rational drug design, comparative genomics, and computational biology.

    Technology is also providing new teaching opportunities. At Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, scientists are developing a computer program to bring students face to face with evolution. With a grant from the National Science Foundation, a group is adapting a research platform called Avida to enable undergraduates to watch digital organisms called Avideans develop complex functions through replication, mutation, and natural selection.

    “The thing we've seen anecdotally is it lets students see that evolution works as advertised,” says MSU philosophy professor Robert Pennock. It's “a good way to teach students about the nature of science,” says plant biologist Diane Ebert-May, who notes that Avida-ED (as it's called) is also “your best counterattack to ID, which is not science.”

    Indeed, a much larger reality than the creationism debate is the spread of evolutionary thinking throughout the sciences, including social and behavioral science. Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson of Binghamton University in New York is one scientist who has seized on this phenomenon to generate a program that introduces evolutionary theory to every corner of the university. In 2003, Wilson created a course for nonbiology majors on “evolution and human behavior.” His approach was to face moral and political objections to the theory head-on and have students apply evolutionary theory to a wide variety of behaviors, from drug abuse to yawning.

    Resistant to change.

    Pre- and postcourse surveys of biology students at West Virginia University, Parkersburg, indicate that human origins are a sticking point for those who embrace the Bible.

    SOURCE: EDWARD L. CRISP/WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY, PARKERSBURG

    The course, now called “Evolution for Everyone,” has spawned a campuswide Evolutionary Studies Program (bingweb.binghamton.edu/∼evos) allowing core faculty members to offer courses in virtually any discipline taught from an evolutionary perspective. Outside lecturers are also regularly invited to give public symposia on subjects such as Darwinian medicine or “the deep structure of the arts.” Wilson says his surveys show that students are absorbing the basic message regardless of their political or religious orientation. Once students see evolution not as a dogma but rather as “a powerful way to understand the world,” he says, they've “basically been immunized to intelligent design.”

    Another approach is being developed at the University of Georgia, where evolutionary geneticist Wyatt Anderson, ecologist Patty Gowaty, and others have established a Center for the Study of Evolution. The center will feature speakers from a variety of disciplines, a certificate program, and outreach to public schools. “It's not as evangelical” as Wilson's program, says Gowaty. “We just want the quality of discussion to be better.” Anderson hopes the center will also “be a voice for the science of biological evolution” at the state level.

    Evolution is also being spread around at the University of Alabama, where faculty members have organized a lecture series called ALLELE, for Alabama Lectures on Life's Evolution. Psychologist David Boles says he got the idea from polls showing that 45% of Americans—and 56% of Alabamans—believe God created humans within the past 10,000 years. Representatives from the education and philosophy departments, as well as various branches of science, design events suited to their fields, and members of the public, especially schoolteachers, are welcome. Geologist Fred Andrus says “we've been very pleasantly surprised at the turnout.”

    Another means of spreading the word are Darwin celebrations on campus that coincide with the biologist's 12 February birthday. The College of Charleston started a “Darwin Week” 6 years ago to combat attempted antievolution “mischief” in the state legislature, says Dillon. The University of Alabama is having its first “Darwin Day” this year, and Provine says Cornell is considering starting one. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has celebrated the great man's birthday since 1997, when Pigliucci sought to rebut an “equal time” bill being considered in the state legislature.

    “The first time we offered Darwin Day, a local TV station made fun of the whole thing by taking shots of chimps at the zoo,” recalls Pigliucci. Ecology grad student Marc Cadotte says the media have moved on but that quite a few local high school teachers are attending the Darwin Day teachers' workshop: “It's an encouraging sign that our activities are making a difference.”

  12. EVOLUTION

    Is ID on the Way Out?

    1. Elizabeth Culotta

    Last month, a teacher in a rural southern California high school began a monthlong course on the “Philosophy of Design,” exploring issues such as “why is intelligent design [ID] gaining momentum?” In response, 11 parents, with help from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, sued the El Tejon Unified School District on 10 January. Fresh from a decisive December win over proponents of ID in Dover, Pennsylvania, evolution's defenders geared up for another court battle.

    Poor design?

    El Tejon class drew protests before it was canceled.

    CREDIT: NIKLAS LARSSON/AP PHOTO

    But they didn't get one. Facing projected legal costs of $100,000, the school board agreed to a settlement, ending the course early and promising not to teach any course that “promotes or endorses creationism, creation science, or intelligent design.”

    For some observers, the board's swift capitulation was further proof that the ID movement has crested. Although the specifics of the cases were different, “the very decisive win in Dover meant [the California board] knew they had no chance of winning this,” says philosopher of science Robert Pennock of Michigan State University, East Lansing, an expert witness in Dover. “ID is on its way out,” agrees evolutionary biologist Joel Cracraft of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who has been active in defending evolution. “[Creationists] will be avoiding that term.”

    Indeed, the leaders of the ID movement prefer a more subtle approach to undermine the teaching of evolution: Urge schools to teach the “controversy” over evolution. “We oppose mandating the teaching of ID,” says John West of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington, the leading promoter of ID. “We opposed that [El Tejon] class,” which was laden with young-Earth creationism as well as ID; the institute also opposed the Dover policy. Their latest video for school districts, entitled “How to Teach the Controversy Legally,” does not mention ID.

    Such language is echoed in the draft Kansas Science Standards (Science, 4 November 2005, p. 754), which call on teachers to teach the evidence “for and against” evolution, as well as in the warning labels put on textbooks in Cobb County, Georgia (Science, 21 January 2005, p. 334). Much of this year's crop of antievolution legislation follows suit. A Michigan bill, for example, proposes that students “critically evaluate scientific theories including, but not limited to, the theories of global warming and evolution.”

    Given these shifting tactics, the battle over teaching evolution “isn't over,” says Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science. “These people are well-financed and ideologues in the true sense, and they are not giving this up.”

Log in to view full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution