Science  07 Apr 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5770, pp. 35

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  1. Maryland Goes for Stem Cells

    1. Constance Holden

    Maryland is about to become the fourth state—after New Jersey, California, and Connecticut—to create its own human embryonic stem cell research program after Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich pledged to sign a bill passed last week by state lawmakers.

    The bill, a 5-year authorization that sets up a commission to oversee the work, is the result of some fancy footwork by the Democrat-controlled legislature that avoids any mention of “human embryos” and substitutes the term “material.” But it defines stem cells as cells that “divide indefinitely” and give rise to “many” cell types, thus excluding most adult stem cells. The bill also outlaws reproductive cloning. Although it doesn't forbid research cloning, it authorizes funds only for research on embryos that would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics. A separate spending bill included $15 million for the work next year.

    Curt Civin, a stem cell researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, welcomes the law, saying Maryland's investment might eventually be “comparable” to the $300-million-a-year California program on a per capita basis. Supporters say they expect additional state funding if Ehrlich loses his reelection bid in November, as Republican lawmakers whittled down an initial plan to spend $25 million.

  2. Collateral Damage

    1. Hiromi Yokoyama

    TOKYO—A genetics center is the latest victim of a scandal roiling the Japanese scientific community. Last week, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba announced it will close a 3-year-old gene function research center led by Kazunari Taira, a University of Tokyo chemist under fire over his failure to substantiate findings in a series of papers published in prominent journals (Science, 3 February, p. 595).

    In an action that an institute official says is not a disciplinary measure, the institute has opted not to extend the contracts of Taira and a key associate, transferring the 51 other center staff members to other labs. “The misconduct problem has made it very difficult to administer the research center,” says institute director Masanori Yoshikai. Last week, a University of Tokyo investigative committee said it found no solid evidence of deliberate fraud in the original work but that Hiroaki Kawasaki, a research associate in Taira's lab, fabricated data during attempts to reproduce the experiments. Taira intends to retract four papers; a disciplinary panel will weigh in next week.

  3. Italian Voters Ponder Science

    1. Susan Biggin

    A hot topic in Italy's election on 9 and 10 April is whether research has thrived under Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government. His research minister, Letizia Moratti, has installed a commission for evaluating research, centralized academic recruitment, and secured more private funding for national institutes, aligning them with national goals (Science, 1 April 2005, p. 35). Berlusconi insists the moves will raise competitiveness, but the left-wing opposition and many in the research community say the policies have weakened Italian science.

    At a rally in Rome last week, the left-wing coalition led by Romano Prodi announced that, if elected, it would more than double Italy's rate of research spending from the current 1.1% to 3% of gross domestic product by 2010.

  4. Updates

    • After a slow start, a U.S. advisory panel set up to prevent the results of federally funded biology research from being used by terrorists has put out two draft proposals. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity has aired a report on so-called dual-use experiments and drafted guidelines to help journals screen papers.

    • India has joined the government steering committee of a U.S. project to build a $1 billion advanced coal plant that sequesters carbon dioxide and produces hydrogen (design below). Meanwhile, 22 sites in nine states have said they plan to compete for the plant, called FutureGen. Proposals are due 4 May.

      CREDIT: U.S. DOE
    • Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the second set of arguments in 2 weeks on patents. The cases involve patenting a scientific concept and the power of a patent to halt a competitor (Science, 17 February, p. 946). The biotech community is closely awaiting the decisions, expected by June.

    • Ending a 2-year battle, France's National Assembly this week gave final passage to a research reform bill. Researchers are disappointed that the bill offers no guarantees that science budgets will be indexed for inflation until 2010 (Science, 24 March, p. 1693).