Science  17 Mar 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5767, pp. 1535
  1. Turtles Imperiled, Biologists Say

    Despite a letter of protest signed by more than 100 scientists, a regional fisheries council has moved to open a protected area of the U.S. Pacific coast to drift gillnet fishing, a practice that kills many marine species. Since 2001, this type of fishing has been seasonally banned along most of the Oregon and California coast to protect critically endangered leatherback turtles. But the Pacific Fishery Management Council says that regulations on fishing vessels, including closing all fishing if two turtles are caught during the leatherback annual migration, are sufficient to protect the species while increasing commercial access to fishing grounds during their most productive season.

    Conservation scientists fear that the turtles will be pushed even closer to the brink of extinction. “There is not a lot of leeway with this species,” says David Ehrenfeld, a biologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, who signed the protest letter. In April, the council also will consider whether to allow longline fishing, which often catches turtles and other marine species as well. Both decisions must be approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is expected to make a decision on the proposal by the end of July.

  2. UK Biobank Taking Deposits

    This week, U.K. officials launched what may be the largest-ever population study. The goal of the project, dubbed UK Biobank, is to track 500,000 adult volunteers for up to 30 years seeking to link their genes, lifestyle, and common diseases.

    Proposed in 1999, the $106 million effort has been criticized for its size and for the possibility of turning up spurious associations between genes and disease. Principal investigator Rory Collins of the University of Oxford says these are “misconceptions” and that the study's large size will make false associations unlikely. But organizers now emphasize that UK Biobank is a broad medical study and that biological markers such as blood protein levels may yield as much information as genes.

    Manchester citizens aged 40 to 69 are receiving invitations to join in a 3000-subject pilot project; national enrollment begins later this year and will continue for 5 years. The study is funded by government agencies and the Wellcome Trust charity.

  3. Stem Cells by the Sea

    Four institutions in southern California are joining forces to pool resources and position themselves better to get grants from the new California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The four neighbors on Torrey Pines Mesa—the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and the Scripps Research Institute—plan to form an entity called the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. The consortium envisions a central facility on the UCSD campus. As part of the agreement, the four institutions will seek grants from CIRM only as part of the consortium.

    Meanwhile, CIRM is waiting for the resolution of litigation charging that it lacks adequate government oversight. A judge's decision is expected by the end of the month, but appeals are likely to delay bond sales for the $3 billion initiative by another year.

  4. Argonne Slapped for Safety Flaws

    Argonne National Laboratory Director Robert Rosner is hoping that a sharp letter by the Department of Energy (DOE) criticizing the Illinois lab's safety practices won't hurt an upcoming bid by the University of Chicago to retain management of the 2900-employee lab.

    Rosner, who joined the lab last year, is part of a new management team; bids to run the 60-year-old lab are expected next month. But last week, in a preliminary notice of violation, DOE announced that inspections last year turned up lapses in radiation dose monitoring, safety training, air sampling, and other practices—and that the lab would be fined $550,000.

    Due to a legal loophole, the University of Chicago won't have to pay the fines. But the offenses “certainly won't help” the university's bid to retain the management contract, says Al Teich, head of science policy at AAAS (which publishes Science). No injuries were sustained nor research projects damaged as a result of the safety violations.

    “We are committed to making safety as outstanding as the science at Argonne,” says a university spokesperson. In January, Rosner stopped experiments on radioactive materials at the Alpha-Gamma Hot Cell Facility, a shielded lab for work on radiation emergencies, one of several “corrective actions” that DOE said the lab has already taken.

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