News this Week

Science  02 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5778, pp. 1288
  1. ACADEMIC CONDUCT

    University Bids to Salvage Reputation After Flap Over Logging Paper

    1. Erik Stokstad

    Five tumultuous months after controversy erupted over industry influence and academic freedom, a leading U.S. academic forestry program is struggling to restore harmony and reestablish its credibility. A faculty report issued last week describes deep divisions within the College of Forestry at Oregon State University (OSU), Corvallis, in the aftermath of a paper by graduate student Dan Donato and colleagues on the ecological effects of salvage logging: the practice of removing timber after a major fire. The college's dean, Hal Salwasser, has agreed to adopt some reforms, but fallout over the paper continues and Salwasser himself may face a no-confidence vote later this month.

    Salvage logging is seen by the forest industry as a good way to encourage regrowth and reduce fire risk. But a paper, published online by this journal on 5 January, found that the heavy equipment used to remove dead trees in one southern Oregon forest had killed seedlings and left woody debris that increased fire hazard. The paper attracted national attention when other OSU researchers claimed the work was deeply flawed and asked Science to delay its print publication. That request was widely perceived as an attempt at censorship (Science, 10 February, p. 761).

    Observers say the conflagration has exposed a deep divide between departments with different perspectives on forest management. Last week's report by a faculty committee on academic freedom criticized Salwasser for “significant failures of leadership” that it says worsened those divisions. The committee suggests several ways to improve governance and collegiality, including a faculty code of ethics. But observers see those as first steps on a long road to recovery. “It's a really tough situation,” says forest ecologist Jerry Franklin of the University of Washington, Seattle.

    Historically, colleges of forestry have been dominated by departments that favor active management to increase harvests and spur regeneration after fires, including salvage logging. That includes OSU's, which derives 12% of its budget from taxes on the logging industry in a state with highly productive forests. During the 1980s and 1990s, however, OSU and other colleges also increased their emphasis on biodiversity conservation.

    But that tension isn't confined to academic circles. Responding to the Science paper, the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Resources held a field hearing in Medford, Oregon, on 24 February on a bill to facilitate salvage logging. Two of the bill's sponsors grilled Donato on his research, subjecting him to what the OSU committee's report labels “intense, sometimes hostile, questioning.” Meanwhile, memos critical of the Donato article—” some quite personal in their attacks,” according to the report—were anonymously posted around the College of Forestry building.

    The dispute intensified in April, after a state senator subpoenaed e-mails from Salwasser's office. Those e-mails depicted the dean collaborating closely with industry to minimize the political fallout of the Donato paper. “It showed all of them working together to squash this Science article,” says Denise Lach, an OSU sociologist on the academic freedom committee.

    Salwasser says his goal was to protect students from the attacks. In other e-mails, however, Salwasser expressed contempt for environmental activists, calling them “goons” and comparing their protests to Mafia extortion. Salwasser says he now regrets those e-mails, which he calls “stupid, unthinking, unkind.”

    The committee agrees. It concludes that Salwasser's actions have “fostered the divisions within the college” and that the college's leadership council is too narrowly focused on industry interests. To improve the situation, the committee recommends a more diversified governing body, more transparent decision-making, a faculty code of conduct, and a possible reorganization of the college.

    Although these suggestions have been greeted favorably, few expect them to resolve the underlying tension within the college. Beverly Law, Donato's adviser, says she worries that a code of conduct doesn't address the problem of bullying by some faculty members. Forest modeler John Sessions, one of the faculty members who lobbied Science to delay publication, says he wants access to both the field site and the data that were collected to understand the context of the study and its conclusions. But Law says that's out of the question. “It's my student's thesis, and [Sessions] is infringing on his ability to produce papers,” she says, adding that plot locations are often not disclosed until a study is completed. “There has been a history of sabotaged research plots in this region.” Replies Sessions, “The only thing that will satisfy me is full disclosure.”

    That lack of collegiality lies at the heart of the problem, according to the faculty committee. “In many ways, what we're trying to deal with is an interpersonal problem,” says Lach. She and others hope that more conversations can help. But as Law notes wistfully, “I still think we have a long ways to go.” A no-confidence vote is scheduled for 5 June, although the academic freedom committee has yet to decide who gets to vote.

  2. BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH

    Bristol-Myers Ends No-Strings Grants

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    Scientists are mourning the cancellation of a long-running research grants program funded by a major drug company. The Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) Freedom to Discover program, begun in 1977, only supports about 50 biomedical scientists at a time. But the grants, about $6 million a year recently, come with no strings attached. That feature, which allows for high-risk research, is particularly welcome at a time when U.S. funding for biomedical research is tightening. Some scientists are troubled that the company is pulling the plug in part because of the growing global debate over the ethics of corporate payments to academic physicians. “I think they've gone overboard and are tanking a wonderful program,” says grantee Carl June, a cancer researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.

    BMS says that Freedom to Discover is the largest corporate-funded, unrestricted research grants program in the world. Scientists can't just bid for the grants, however. Instead, BMS scientists identify potential recipients doing work of interest to the company in six biomedical fields and invite them to compete. The winners, chosen largely based on their track records, receive $100,000 a year for 5 years. The grantees also meet annually to choose a distinguished scientist to receive a $50,000 lifetime achievement award considered to be among the most prestigious in their fields.

    The resulting flexibility to follow one's hunches is extremely rare, says Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist Michela Gallagher. She says her search for neurobiological markers that explain why some rats remain mentally sharp into old age might be seen as a “fishing expedition” by a U.S. National Institutes of Health study section. Others have used the company's money to support postdocs until they get their first grant or to collect chimp fecal samples in Africa for an HIV study. BMS makes no claim to any of the findings. “There's lots of payola within the pharmaceutical industry, but this is one of the few programs that is really squeaky clean,” says immunologist W. Allan Walker of Harvard Medical School in Boston, who is also a recipient.

    Fishing license.

    Michela Gallagher says a BMS grant lets her explore promising ideas.

    CREDIT: JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

    Earlier this year, the company began telling grantees, many of whom are not physicians, that it was changing some rules to avoid the perception of any conflict of interest. Spouses could no longer attend the awards selection meeting for free, for example, and grantees were asked to sign an agreement saying they were consultants to BMS.

    BMS spokesperson Rebecca Taylor says the program was killed in order to expand efforts such as a $150 million, multi-year program that funds pediatric AIDS clinics in Africa. But “an increase in compliance regulations affecting the global pharmaceutical industry” is a contributing factor, she adds. Some recipients say they were told that BMS lawyers felt the company could run afoul of new, restrictive regulations in Europe on corporate gifts to physicians.

  3. ACADEMIC POLITICS

    Over Protests, U.K. Union Endorses Boycott of Israeli Academics

    1. Eliot Marshall

    Rejecting the advice of its own executive officer, Britain's largest university union endorsed a motion this week calling on its members “to consider the appropriateness of a boycott” of individuals and institutions “that do not publicly dissociate themselves” from Israel's policies toward Palestinians. Scientific leaders around the world strongly condemned the union's action.

    The resolution, which denounces Israel's “apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall,” may not carry much formal weight: The 67,000-strong National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), which approved it at its annual meeting on 29 May, was scheduled to go out of business on 1 June after merging into a new organization, the University and College Lecturers' Union. The boycott resolution will only be “advisory” to the new organization, according to a spokesperson. But critics are concerned that it may encourage a “gray boycott.” Warns Jonathan Rynhold of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, which was targeted by an earlier boycott attempt, academics could be judged not on merit but “according to their nationality and political opinions.”

    Even before it passed, the proposal drew heavy criticism from within the union and outside. NATFHE General Secretary Paul Mackney, although a supporter of the Palestinian cause, urged members not to endorse the boycott because it had not been vetted within the union, a NATFHE spokesperson says. Several thousand U.S. and Israeli academics made public their objections in May, as did several Nobel Prize winners, including physicist Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas, Austin. The board of AAAS (publisher of Science) last week called the NATFHE proposal “antithetical to the role of free scientific inquiry” and asked that it be withdrawn.

    After the vote, astronomer Martin Rees, president of the U.K.'s Royal Society, issued a statement deploring the action, saying that “NATFHE members … should remember that boycotts of scientists at Israeli universities grossly violate the principles set out by the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies.” Those guidelines rule out attempts to block the free expression of ideas and opinions. Scientific leaders drafted the policy 4 years ago in response to an earlier boycott petition—a move that failed. Last year, the U.K. Association of University Teachers, a smaller union, endorsed a boycott but rescinded it when faced with legal objections.

  4. HIGHER EDUCATION

    India Opens Universities to More Underprivileged Students

    1. Pallava Bagla
    Quota quarrels.

    A plan to boost university enrollment of underprivileged students has sparked weeks of protests.

    CREDIT: P. BAGLA/SCIENCE

    NEW DELHI—Defying countrywide protests, India's government last week approved a radical expansion of affirmative action programs for helping millions of disadvantaged citizens attend university. The changes will spur a “massive expansion” of India's higher education system, promises Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

    Experts concur that India's higher education system, with 9.2 million students, includes far too few of the socially disadvantaged. “Many Indian geniuses are still hidden in the dust, and if we can't find them, as a country we won't go really far in our development,” says astronomer Yash Pal, former chair of the University Grants Commission in New Delhi.

    But that's where the consensus ends. “We can either move forward and create centers of academic excellence, or go along with the demands of identity politics based on caste and community, but we cannot do both,” says Andre Béteille, a sociologist at the University of Delhi, who earlier this week resigned in protest from a panel advising Singh on how to transform India into a knowledge economy. Even Singh's chief science adviser, C.N.R. Rao, claims he was not consulted before the government announced the reforms. It's a “stupendous task,” Rao says, that is “being presented in a highly oversimplified fashion.”

    Despite its emergence as a regional power, India is still divided along caste lines, with several groups by tradition performing menial jobs and manual labor. To erode this social stratification, India has long set promotion quotas for “scheduled” castes and tribes, including the untouchables, which guarantee them 22.5% of places in higher education and jobs in the public sector. The new amendment to the Indian constitution, approved unanimously by Parliament, will reserve another 27% of placements for the Dalits, or “other backward castes.”

    The prospect of nearly half of all current university places being set aside for disadvantaged castes has sparked furious protests among young people of privileged castes, who argue that merit will be overlooked to make amends for historical social injustices. Over the past 3 weeks, medical and engineering students have staged strikes across the country, crippling the public health system and sparking several brutal clashes with police. As Science went to press, student leaders were weighing whether to continue the protests.

    To take the sting out of the quota increase, the government has promised to dramatically expand enrollment at public higher education institutions. Among those included under the new policy, to take effect next year, are the seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), which together enrolled 5444 students in 2006; the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and its 2000 students; and 18 federally funded universities with an annual enrollment of about 180,000 students. The University of Delhi alone would need to increase from 40,000 students in 2006 to 60,000 next year. To further boost capacity, two new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, at a cost of $250 million, are expected to open in Pune and Kolkata by year's end.

    The government plans to support the expansion by injecting $2 billion this year into the higher education system—almost double the annual expenditure. Some worry whether the money will be well spent. Rao, a former IISc director, says the technology institutes are a case in point. A rapid doubling of enrollment will be “very difficult,” he says. “Where will you get the trained faculty to teach these additional students?” Even today, a quarter of IIT faculty slots are vacant. Staffing decisions, Rao says, require “very careful selection, which can't be done overnight.” There's still time to devise a workable strategy, he says—if cooler heads prevail.

  5. ARCHAEOLOGY

    Ancient Figs Push Back Origin of Plant Cultivation

    1. Ann Gibbons

    Scientists seeking to date the origins of agriculture have been following the trail of wheat, barley, and other grains at archaeological sites in the Near East for decades. They recently concluded that cultivation of annual cereal crops started about 10,500 years ago (Science, 31 March, p. 1886). But a new study suggests that fruit rather than grains may yield the earliest evidence of purposeful planting.

    On page 1372, a team of Israeli researchers reports the discovery of domesticated figs stored in an ancient house in the Lower Jordan Valley. They painstakingly show that the carbonized figs were a cultivated variety that differed from wild figs. Based on radiocarbon dating of the village, this cultivation occurred about 11,400 years ago, Mordechai E. Kislev, an archaeobotanist at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, and his colleagues conclude. That pushes back the age of the first known cultivated plant by about 1000 years and also indicates that humans must have been experimenting with agriculture on a small scale hundreds of years before that. “This is the oldest evidence for deliberate planting of a food-producing plant, as opposed to just gathering food in the wild,” says archaeologist Peter Bellwood of the Australian National University in Canberra.

    Fruitful find.

    Mordechai Kislev studies figs for clues about the origins of agriculture. This ancient fig (inset), wrapped in gold for imaging, was cultivated 11,400 years ago.

    CREDITS: ANAT HARTMANN; (INSET) JONATHAN REIF

    This evidence sat ignored for several decades. Nine dried figs and hundreds of fig drupelets—the pulpy sections of a fruit—were collected in the 1970s and 1980s during an excavation of a pristine house in the Neolithic village of Gilgal in the Lower Jordan Valley, about 12 kilometers north of Jericho. After the Israeli archaeologist who led the excavation died, the figs were forgotten until the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, invited Harvard University archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef and others to study the finds from the excavation. The figs were sent to Kislev, who eventually analyzed them with a graduate student, Anat Hartmann. They realized that the figs were a sterile but soft and edible variety that required human selection and planting to grow.

    Kislev says humans must have been cultivating figs for hundreds of years, because it would have taken centuries for the wild fruit to have evolved the genetic and morphological changes that resulted in the variety of figs found at Gilgal. This gradual domestication of figs is similar to the speed with which wild cereals were domesticated; cereals crops, first cultivated in southern Turkey and northern Syria 11,500 years ago, are thought to have taken about 1000 years to domesticate from wild grains in the area. Kislev is now asking archaeologists to search for figs in even older excavations to pinpoint when the cultivation of the fruit began.

    The purposeful planting of figs shows that settlers in the Jordan Valley were auditioning a variety of foods to see what they could grow, says archaeologist Bruce Smith of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The development of early agriculture, he notes, was a slow process that took place on a small scale in different areas, through trial and error with different plants. It would take another 2000 years before humans were such adept farmers that half of their calories came from crops. The discovery of dried cultivated figs, however, makes it clear that 11,000 years ago, more than meat, cereals, and wild nuts and berries were on the menu. “Humans cannot live on steak alone,” says Bar-Yosef. “They wanted condiments and all kinds of things that tasted good.”

  6. TEACHING EVOLUTION

    Court Revives Georgia Sticker Case

    1. Constance Holden

    The fight over antievolution stickers in U.S. public school biology textbooks took a new twist last week when a federal appeals court told a lower court to try again.

    In its 25 May ruling, a three-judge panel in Atlanta, Georgia, vacated a January 2005 District Court ruling ordering the Cobb County school board to remove a sticker from 35,000 textbooks warning students that evolution is “a theory, not a fact.” The District Court called the policy unconstitutional because it mingled government with religion (Science, 21 January 2005, p. 334). But Judge Ed Carnes of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the record lacked proof that the board acted with religious intent and actually reflected “rampant confusion” over the evidence. Carnes said the court must either “flesh out” the record or, preferably, conduct “a completely new trial.”

    Both sides seem pleased with the decision. It's “a victory as it throws out the problematic ruling [made by] the trial court,” says Casey Luskin, a lawyer at The Discovery Institute, creationism's main think tank in Seattle, Washington. Evolution defender Sarah Pallas, a biologist at Georgia State University in Atlanta, says, “We think this is a good thing” because the appellate judges are not known to be sympathetic to evolution and “could have reversed instead of remanding.” Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, says the case will be bolstered by a recent Dover, Pennsylvania, decision (Science, 6 January, p. 34) that shot down intelligent design and the strategy of labeling evolution “theory, not fact.”

    Carnes wrote that the do-over is necessary because “key” documents were missing that would show the board's sticker policy was driven by religious rather than educational concerns. The main one is a 2300-signature petition calling for a textbook disclaimer that a parent, Marjorie Rogers, submitted to the board prior to its March 2002 decision.

    Board vice president Curtis Johnson says, “We are awaiting instructions from [District Court] Judge Cooper” before deciding whether to defend the stickers, which were removed last year.

  7. PALEOANTHROPOLOGY

    Tools Link Indonesian 'Hobbits' to Earlier Homo Ancestor

    1. Elizabeth Culotta

    The battle of the hobbits is heating up. Two weeks ago, skeptics argued that fossils found on the island of Flores in Indonesia were simply diseased modern humans (www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/312/5776/999b) rather than a dwarf species evolved from an early Homo ancestor, as its discoverers had claimed. Now the discovery team fires back. In this week's issue of Nature, they argue that stone tools associated with Homo floresiensis resemble newly discovered tools from a much more ancient nearby site, suggesting cultural continuity over hundreds of thousands of years.

    The tool data “establish an independent source of evidence linking late Pleistocene Homo floresiensis with an early Pleistocene progenitor,” says Russell Ciochon of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. But some caution that the tools are so simple that inferences of cultural continuity may not be warranted, and a few skeptics question the dates.

    The ancient tools come from Mata Menge, 50 kilometers from the Liang Bua cave on Flores where H. floresiensis bones and tools were found by an Indonesian-Australian team including Michael Morwood of the University of New England (UNE) in Armidale, Australia. Researchers had previously uncovered stone tools at Mata Menge and dated the artifact-bearing layers to between 800,000 and 880,000 years ago using fission-track dating on volcanic tuffs.

    In 2004 and 2005, Fachroel Aziz of the Geological Research and Development Centre in Bandung re-excavated Mata Menge and invited Australian colleagues including Morwood and first author Adam Brumm of Australian National University in Canberra. They found a bonanza of artifacts: 507 small, well-shaped pieces made from volcanic cobbles, with a few chert pieces.

    The team then compared the Mata Menge tools to the much younger artifacts from the Liang Bua cave, dated from 95,000 to 12,000 years ago—and found a match in both the types of artifacts and the methods used to create them. At both sites, hominids produced elongated flakes by rotating cores and striking downward; they also created “perforators,” pointed tools with retouched edges. “All of the techniques at Mata Menge are also at Liang Bua,” says co-author Mark Moore of UNE. “These are quite common approaches to reducing stone.”

    They are also simple approaches. That's in contrast to the team's original publication, which described a few Liang Bua tools as much more sophisticated. That led some researchers to claim that the tools must have been made by modern humans, not a hominid with a brain the size of a grapefruit. But Moore now says that although some elongated flakes resemble “blades” used by modern humans, that may simply be coincidence. Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., agrees: “Yes, [the Liang Bua hominids] are making what people have called ‘blades,’ but that doesn't imply that you have to have a certain number of neurons,” he says. Morwood is more emphatic: “Some of our critics have claimed that these Liang Bua artifacts are so sophisticated that they must have been made by modern humans. The [new] evidence shows that the basis of that argument is just plain wrong.”

    Toolmaking tradition?

    Tools from an ancient site on Flores (top row), including a “perforator” (left column), resemble those found near hobbit bones (bottom).

    CREDIT: MARK MOORE/UNIVERSITY OF NEW ENGLAND, ARMIDALE

    Morwood adds that the team now considers the hobbits' most likely ancestor to be a small early Homo species, smaller than the classic H. erectus found in nearby Java but perhaps similar to fossils found in Africa and Dmanisi, Georgia.

    However, Kathy Schick and Nicholas Toth, knapping experts at Indiana University, Bloomington, caution that the technology is so simple that different kinds of hominids might converge upon it. And James Phillips of the University of Illinois, Chicago, a co-author of the critique published in Science, thinks that the tools may be out of sequence.

    Morwood points out that many hominid species were first greeted with skepticism. The type specimen of H. erectus—uncovered in 1891 on Java—was described at the time as a “microcephalic idiot, of an unusually elongated type,” in a review in Nature.

  8. RESEARCH FACILITIES

    Spain Aims to Lure Systems Biologists to a Place in the Sun

    1. Xavier Bosch*,
    2. Gretchen Vogel
    1. Xavier Bosch is a science writer based in Barcelona.

    BARCELONA—In a stylish marriage, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) is teaming up with the Spanish government to create a new center for the development of mathematical models of living systems. The venture, funded by Spain, will be based at a beachfront research park that opened here last month. The partnership creates a new southern outpost of the Heidelberg-based EMBL, in partnership with Barcelona's new Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG).

    Spain has agreed to invest $16.5 million over the next 9 years to support six research groups in systems biology as part of a broader push to boost Barcelona's scientific profile. The systems biologists will join hundreds of other researchers in the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (BBRP), which will house up to 80 research groups studying topics as diverse as embryonic stem cells, genetic sequencing, and the effects of environmental pollutants.

    “With BBRP, we want Barcelona to become a big capital of knowledge in southern Europe,” says pharmacologist Jordi Camí, the park's general director and former head of Barcelona's Municipal Institute of Medical Research (IMIM). In addition to the EMBL offshoot, the park will house IMIM and its respected department of environmental epidemiology, a 400-bed hospital, the Pompeu Fabra University Experimental and Health Sciences Department, a Center of Regenerative Medicine, and the CRG, which will support research on genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics, as well as systems biology. A new Institute of High Technology will provide access to sophisticated imaging with a cyclotron and two positron emission scanners.

    At the helm of the EMBL/CRG unit will be Luis Serrano, currently coordinator of the EMBL Structural and Computational Biology Unit in Heidelberg. The EMBL/CRG groups will work with a variety of systems, including RNA interference, biochemical networks, and mouse development. Serrano says all groups will be working to develop “a quantitative understanding of biological systems that allows you to make testable predictions.” Two principal investigators have been appointed, and the mixed EMBL/CRG search committee has plans to hire three more.

    Hot area.

    Barcelona launched a new biomedical park in May.

    CREDIT: BARCELONA BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH PARK

    Like their counterparts at EMBL, the researchers will receive 5-year contracts, renewable for an additional 4 years. Serrano says he hopes the system will encourage “a spirit of rotation and the removal of the ‘position for life’ philosophy” that is prevalent in Spanish science. Organizers also hope the EMBL brand name will help the unit attract international talent.

    Ben Lehner, an RNA interference scientist at Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, U.K., has been hired to lead one of the research groups at the Systems Biology unit. He says he's impressed by “how serious the Catalan government is about turning Barcelona into an international hub for biomedical research.” He thinks it may be a “golden” time for recruiting talent back to Europe in light of “the current crisis in science funding that we are seeing in the United States.”

  9. U.S. IMMIGRATION REFORM

    Senate Bill Would Boost High-Tech Workforce

    1. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

    Business leaders and U.S. academic institutions are applauding some of the provisions in the immigration reform bill approved last week by the Senate. And although the overall measure is at odds with a version passed last fall by the House of Representatives, which focuses more on reducing rather than regulating immigration, scientists don't expect those provisions to be bargaining chips as the two bodies try to reach a compromise.

    The Senate bill retains several provisions from last month's abortive agreement (Science, 14 April, p. 177), including hiring more high-tech foreign workers and granting permanent residency to foreign students graduating with advanced degrees in science and engineering from U.S. universities. It also would modify a program that annually awards 50,000 visas by lottery to applicants from low-immigration countries—poor nations such as Bangladesh and Angola as well as wealthier ones such as Australia and Germany. Current rules allow applications from anyone who has finished high school and worked for 2 years. The amendment would reserve two-thirds of these visas for applicants with advanced science and engineering degrees. “Rather than have a lottery system which says to the unemployed cab driver in Kiev, ‘You should have a chance to come to America,’ we are going to have a lottery system that says to the physicist in Kiev, ‘You have a shot at coming to America,'” explained Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) as he offered the amendment.

    Sandra Boyd of the National Association of Manufacturers welcomes the change, although she says the immediate benefits may be slight. “The countries that qualify for the diversity visa program are not the ones where U.S. companies go looking for talent in the first place,” she explains. The amendment even makes sense to Jack Martin of the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which opposes opening U.S. borders. “Having a higher degree requirement for the lottery would certainly be in keeping with the needs of the economy,” he says.

    Higher education lobbyists are heartened by the Senate's support of a proposal to grant automatic permanent residency, or “green cards,” to foreign students graduating from U.S. institutions with master's degrees and Ph.D.s in science and engineering fields. The legislators also raised the H-1B visa cap from the existing 65,000 to 115,000 a year, with an automatic 20% boost each year if the ceiling is reached, and increased the annual employment-based green card ceiling from 140,000 to 290,000.

    None of these measures is expected to figure prominently in upcoming discussions between the House and Senate, however, although the House version of the bill would eliminate the diversity program. “The principal issues of contention will be the amnesty and guest worker provisions,” says Martin. President George W. Bush has supported immigration reform but must walk a fine line to avoid alienating conservatives who prefer the House version.

  10. CLIMATE RESEARCH

    Stormy Skies for Polar Satellite Program

    1. Eli Kintisch

    Budget, technical, and administrative problems continue to plague a fleet of U.S. polar satellites being built for the military, weather forecasters, and climate researchers

    Eagle eye.

    Planners say NPOESS will allow more accurate weather forecasts.

    IMAGE CREDIT: NEXSAT/NRL/NPOESS (NOAA/NASA)

    With more uses than a Swiss Army knife, the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) was supposed to be the world's most sophisticated series of weather satellites. But somewhere in its 12-year history, the multibilliondollar NPOESS has also become one of the country's most troubled technology projects. Next week, the Pentagon will issue binding plans on how to fix a project now behind schedule and massively over budget. The expected overhaul could shape for decades how well U.S. forces prepare for battle, civilian authorities anticipate killer storms, and scientists understand Earth's ever-changing climate.

    Since the 1960s, the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have used separate north-south orbiting satellite systems to provide daily global weather coverage and crucial multiday forecast data. In 1994, President Bill Clinton proposed to merge those systems in a $6.5 billion project that was to save an estimated $1.8 billion over its lifetime. The system would pack 14 sensors—half of them new—onto six 7-meter-long crafts, with three flying at a time until 2018. Sounders would probe the air column, sensors would look through clouds as well as watch for space weather, and the crafts' capabilities would be a quantum leap over decades-old NOAA and Pentagon polar systems. “We have made major strides to converge military and civil weather requirements,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Dickman told Congress in 1995.

    But now, more than a decade later, technical problems on one of the sensors have rippled through the program and pushed estimated cost overruns into the billions of dollars. As currently configured, the system is as much as 3 years behind schedule and carries, by the Pentagon's latest estimate, a lifetime price tag of $14 billion (see graph). The overrun triggered an automatic top-to-bottom review, which the Secretary of Defense is set to present to lawmakers next week.

    The delay could leave U.S. forces without the best data on sandstorms or ocean currents, military planners worry, not to mention a possible weakening of civilian weather coverage if there are problems with a NOAA satellite scheduled to be launched in 2007. What the Government Accountability Office (GAO) calls a “program in crisis” is really the “fleecing of America,” according to Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN), ranking Democrat on the House Science Committee, who wants NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher to resign for ignoring what Gordon says were clear warning signs about NPOESS. “This is a program that is dangling by a thread,” says one congressional staffer who follows the project.

    Skyward.

    The Pentagon's estimate for the program is much higher than what NPOESS staff assume.

    IMAGE CREDIT: NORTHROP GRUMMAN

    NPOESSing a challenge

    Polar satellites are wonderfully useful because their 100-minute orbits provide coverage of nearly every point on Earth. But their attractiveness didn't forge an automatic alliance between defense and research bureaucrats operating in two different cultures. “NOAA looked at the Air Force and said, ‘Huh, goosestepping fascists.’ And the Air Force looked at NOAA and said, ‘Fish-kissing tree huggers,’” said former program manager John Cunningham at a 2003 briefing on the project.

    Their needs were different as well: The Pentagon wanted sensors with high resolution and speedy delivery of the data, whereas NOAA sought instruments with a multitude of spectral bands for weather research. NASA agreed to join in, canceling planned follow-ons for environmental missions while adding environmental and climate sensors to the NPOESS fleet after its scientists lusted after the chance to use systems whose sequential platforms will stay aloft for 20 years rather than the usual 5-year window. “I thought [NPOESS] was the right thing to do, and in some ways, the only way to do it,” says biogeochemical modeler Berrien Moore of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, who has long advised the government on behalf of the climate community.

    The initial cooperation went “surprisingly well,” says the Navy's Robert Winokur, then head of NOAA's satellite program. The package would include everything from an ozone detector to a device for aerosol studies (see graphic). The microwave imager would provide more channels for detailed moisture profiles than existing instruments. And the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) of instruments was designed to capture everything from quarter-kilometer-resolution ground detail to surface-water temperature and movement of ice floes.

    But despite passing a critical review early on, VIIRS has turned out to be the program's Achilles' heel. Progress reports to agency brass show that the strain appeared soon after defense giant Northrop was awarded the NPOESS contract in mid-2002. In July 2003, NOAA official Greg Withee told congressional overseers that early sensor problems were “getting under control.” But only 2 months later, an internal report called VIIRS “our problem child” and confessed that the “work was more difficult than estimated.”

    The challenges included electronics not processing data correctly and protective doors that broke during vibration tests. After costs grew by tens of millions, outside experts were asked to find out why the subcontractor, Raytheon, was having so much trouble building an instrument based on a sensor currently flying on NASA satellites. “I believe these problems must have existed then but were masked by the very, very strong in-house NASA support,” a NOAA program manager wrote his boss in 2004–2 months before problems with the cooling system cropped up. Soon after, Raytheon replaced most of its technical team, and Northrop told the government that problems with VIIRS would push back a preliminary testing mission by more than a year. Last summer, NPOESS program manager John Cunningham, as a congressional staffer put it, “took the bullet” and resigned as part of a series of management changes.

    Following the ripples

    Experts disagree on whether problems with VIIRS could have been foreseen. Some, such as former NOAA director James Baker, say it's “not surprising” that such a complex endeavor could have run up such an unexpected tab. “It's a great program, [it] just got into trouble,” he says now.

    Critics say project managers should have worked harder to prevent initial delays from having a domino effect on the entire project. It didn't help the situation when, in 2003, Congress approved a Bush Administration request for a $50 million cut in the program. The lower request was triggered by the reduced sense of urgency after the launch of a defense weather satellite was delayed. That 1-year tightening of the fiscal spigot led to a huge bump-up in NPOESS's price tag, however, from $6.5 billion to $8.1 billion, due to new plans, a longer production schedule, and more staffing.

    What Cunningham's goodbye letter calls “triagency hassles” also appear to have played a role in the rising costs and delays. “Everyone—contractors, government, and scientists—misjudged the difficulty that was inherent by both the [military-civilian] convergence and [adding] the environmental mission” to the weather one, says Moore, who says the errors show contractors have “lost capability” in building new instruments. It wasn't the “mission creep” that often plagues big programs, he adds; the complexity of the whole endeavor made a tough job even harder.

    Storms ahead?

    The top priority in the pending Pentagon review is continuity of weather sensing. That fear is grounded in the fact that several current systems could fail in the near future. NOAA and the Pentagon each have two polar satellites in orbit. Augmented by coverage from foreign partners, they ensure that weather data anywhere on Earth is no more than 6 hours old. The Air Force has the last satellite ready to replace the polar DMSP orbiter that NPOESS will eventually replace, although it wants the upgrades in NPOESS. NOAA's long-planned weather satellite POES is further behind schedule—it is now scheduled for launch in 2007. The fear is that if POES fails and NPOESS is further delayed, weather forecasters and scientists would be left in the lurch. A mission to test key NPOESS sensors and fill potential gaps in NASA atmospheric data-gathering was originally to launch this year. That date has been pushed back to as late as 2008, and the belated test data from that launch will mean further NPOESS delays and costs.

    Under the weather.

    The VIIRS instrument has been the most troubled piece of the state-of-the-art weather satellite system under construction.

    IMAGE CREDIT: NORTHROP GRUMMAN

    Climate researchers fear that the Pentagon will recommend changes that will degrade their already third-class status on the craft. NOAA's Withee told Science 2 years ago that NPOESS's sensors would give climate science “a nice ride” with plenty of data. But from the beginning, calibration work—crucial to making nuanced measurements needed to detect a shifting climate—has taken a far back seat to weather operations. Work on a radiation surveyor, meant to give scientists a continuous measurement of Earth's electromagnetic radiation budget, has been rescheduled while precious program dollars have been plunged into fixing VIIRS.

    Pointing to a recent program revamp, NPOESS officials say they've done their best to cope with what they believe is a series of bad breaks, although they wouldn't comment on the program's future pending the Pentagon's review. Northrop program manager David Ryan says an interim plan written in December has the program “ahead of schedule, on budget” with VIIRS problems resolved as the instrument undergoes thermal testing. (Government managers are waiting for test results.)

    When former vice president Al Gore announced the program in 1994, he said NPOESS would “cut costs and eliminate duplication.” The result, said Gore, would “[take] the nation's space-based environmental monitoring program into the next century.” But climate researchers are worried that they could be left with 20th century tools if military officials decide that the continuing cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan force them to build a less-capable NPOESS.

  11. STEM CELL RESEARCH

    South Korea Picks Up the Pieces

    1. Dennis Normile*
    1. With reporting by D. Yvette Wohn in Seoul.

    Korean scientists are moving beyond the Hwang scandal with a new strategy for the country's stem cell research

    CREDIT: COURTESY OF KYE-SEONG KIM/HANYANG UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF MEDICINE

    SEOUL—Woo Suk Hwang, the would-be stem cell pioneer, is leaving an ironic legacy: South Korea is more determined than ever to become a force in worldwide stem cell research, and he won't be playing a role. Over the last several months, as public prosecutors were unraveling how Hwang and his team at Seoul National University (SNU) fabricated data to make it look as though they had created patient-specific stem cells, a task force of scientists and public officials has been working on a strategic plan to guide the country's future stem cell efforts. The plan's bold goal is for the government to spend $454 million over the next 10 years in the hope of having Korea emerge as one of the top three global leaders in stem cell research.

    Commissioned by the government and due to be unveiled in Seoul this week, the plan calls for developing a stem cell research infrastructure, attracting more scientists to the field, and providing even more money than what had been promised when the country's hopes and funding were centered on Hwang. (According to media reports, Korea's Ministry of Science and Technology budgeted $28 million for stem cell research last year.) “It's a national plan to do stem cell research more effectively and systematically,” says Dong-Wook Kim, a stem cell researcher at Yonsei University in Seoul, who led the task force. The funds will likely be spread in a more balanced way across institutions and between research on both embryonic stem cells—the focus of Hwang's efforts—and adult stem cells, which have been tested in a Korean clinic for treating heart attack patients and are envisioned here for possible use in treating neurological and other disorders.

    In contrast to the breathless anticipation that surrounded Hwang's work, the plan will have “a long-term perspective, not a focus on short-term results,” says Youngsook Son, a Seoul researcher working with adult stem cells at the Korea Institute of Radiological and Medical Sciences, who was among the 50 scientists on the task force. The researchers hope to convince the Korean public of the value of continuing an aggressive research program even while giving a more sober assessment of the potential benefits of stem cell therapies and when they will reach the clinic, as well as Korea's place in global stem cell research efforts. And most important, “we will forget Hwang, and we will move on,” declares Il-Hoan Oh, another task force member at the Catholic University of Korea in Seoul.

    Taking stock

    The task force's first job was a realistic assessment of Korea's strengths and weaknesses in stem cell research, irrespective of Hwang's claims. Kye-Seong Kim of Hanyang University in Seoul, who headed a subgroup on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), says there was no question about the country's greatest strength. “Maintaining and establishing stem cells is where Korea is competitive,” he says.

    Bright spot.

    Kye-Seong Kim is one of a small number of Korean researchers studying the basic biology of human embryonic stem cells (above).

    CREDIT: D. NORMILE/SCIENCE

    Korean researchers got off to an early start, thanks to a rivalry among Korean fertility clinics. In 1998, James Thomson and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, reported the first stem cell line derived from human embryos (Science, 6 November 1998, p. 1145). Within less than 3 years, four Korean groups, all affiliated with fertility clinics, had duplicated the feat. “We were all competing but still cooperating, sharing information for producing human embryonic stem cells,” recalls Hyung Min Chung, a cell biologist at Pochon CHA University College of Medicine, which is affiliated with one of Korea's largest obstetrics and gynecology hospital chains. Rival MizMedi Hospital, which produced hESC lines by the end of 2000, subsequently got a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to prepare those lines for worldwide distribution, says MizMedi chair Sung-il Roh. Those two groups, plus the Seoul-based Maria Biotech Co., are among the 15 groups on NIH's Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry, which lists stem cell lines created before August 2001 and thus eligible for use in federally funded research in the United States. A group led by in vitro fertilization specialist Shin Yong Moon at SNU Hospital derived its own hESC lines in September 2001.

    These clinics are continuing to push their advantage. For example, Chung says Pochon CHA has 1000 donated human embryos, left over from in vitro fertilization treatments, and scientists there plan to derive 100 hESC lines over the next 10 years. Unlike the original hESC lines, these will not be grown on animal feeder cells and thus should be suitable for clinical use, he says.

    Progress has been slowed, however, by the Hwang debacle, as two of the original labs are now under a cloud. Hwang recruited both Moon and MizMedi to his team for the stem cell know-how he needed to attempt therapeutic cloning. Earlier this year, SNU suspended Moon for 3 months for “failing to uphold the principles of academic honesty and integrity,” according to an SNU press release; Seoul public prosecutors later cleared him of any legal wrongdoing. Then last month, the prosecutors charged that one of the MizMedi researchers seconded to Hwang's team, Sun Jong Kim, was heavily involved in the fraud and indicted him for destroying evidence and obstructing research work. Roh says he is rethinking the direction of their research; Moon could not be reached for comment.

    The task force also concluded that Korean researchers have an edge in somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), or cloning—Hwang's specialty. Hwang attributed much of his success in cloning cows and Snuppy, a dog, to a technique that involved gently squeezing rather than sucking the nucleus out of cells. An investigation into Hwang's research by SNU concluded that he did not develop this technique, but that he had refined it; a half-dozen other Korean institutions have used it to clone dozens of pigs and cows.

    Korean researchers are also competitive in research on adult stem cells, the task force concluded. Although they are less malleable than embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, found in many tissues and organs throughout the human body, can renew themselves as well as differentiate into the specialized cells of those tissues and organs. Bone marrow has long been a source of stem cells for therapies for blood diseases and certain cancers. Recently, groups throughout the world have been experimenting with other adult stem cell therapies in humans.

    In 2003, SNU cardiologist Hyo-Soo Kim led what is so far the country's only large randomized adult stem cell clinical trial. He treated heart attack patients with their own peripheral blood stem cells to try to promote the growth of new blood vessels and heart muscle. A group in Germany had done a similar trial using bone marrow stem cells, and Kim's group wanted to try something less invasive. The team first used a drug called G-CSF to induce the patient's bone marrow to overproduce peripheral blood stem cells, which they harvested and then injected into the patients' hearts.

    Uncertain legacy.

    Construction has stopped on the building once intended for disgraced cloner Woo Suk Hwang (bottom); the space intended for his Stem Cell Hub (above) will be used for gene therapy.

    CREDITS: D. NORMILE/SCIENCE

    The trial was halted early because 7 of the 10 patients treated with G-CSF suffered a renarrowing of previously blocked arteries in the area around an inserted stent. Kim is optimistic that the side effect can be minimized, and he notes that patients treated with stem cells showed a measurable, although minor, improvement in heart function. The team published a brief report on the trial in The Lancet in 2004, and a more complete paper is now being prepared. “We believe that only a small percentage of the stem cells clung to the heart tissue,” says Kim, who is trying to “prime” cells with chemicals and proteins so that a greater percentage will lodge in the heart and, he hopes, grow into replacement tissue.

    The task force highlighted one major weakness of the Korean research community: its limited expertise in cell, molecular, and developmental biology. This hinders efforts to understand and ultimately exploit stem cells' magical ability to both self-renew and differentiate into all the specialized cells of the body. “Japan, the U.S., the U.K., and other countries in Europe are leading in this field,” admits Hanyang's Kim, whose own work is one of the bright spots. He led a team that recently identified 36 novel microRNAs apparently involved in regulating hESC development. Their report in Developmental Biology in May 2004 was among the journal's top 10 most frequently downloaded papers for the past 2 years. “I'm really proud,” he says. He's now working on elucidating the functions of these microRNAs.

    A fresh start

    The task force spelled out a new research agenda that aims to capitalize on the country's strengths and take advantage of new opportunities, says Yonsei's Kim. All grants will be competitively reviewed to avoid “concentrating funding on one person,” says Catholic University's Oh. Priority areas include:

    • characterizing stem cells and directing differentiation,

    • improving techniques to isolate and expand adult stem cells,

    • developing new culture methods suitable for clinical use,

    • exploring alternatives to SCNT for producing patient-specific stem cells,

    • verifying the safety and efficacy of transplanted stem cells in animals and humans, and

    • applying stem cells to drug development.

    The plan also calls for establishing common-use facilities such as a stem cell bank, sponsoring international collaborations, and strengthening training programs. Kim expects the government to implement these recommendations in 2007.

    In the aftermath of the Hwang scandal, the task force, which included bioethics, also called for “a heightened awareness of ethical issues,” says Oh. For instance, the group urges more stringent requirements to confirm the efficiency of therapies in animals before trying them in humans. Meanwhile, research on human therapeutic cloning is on indefinite hold, Hanyang's Kim notes, although not because of this report. He explains that groups attempting therapeutic cloning will need permission from the national bioethics review board set up last year, which has yet to decide the criteria for granting permission.

    Finally, the task force recommends frank communication between researchers and the public. “Many people in Korea and probably even most of the young officials in the government really believed that Korea was one of the most prominent and leading countries in the world in stem cell research,” says Hanyang's Kim. Instead, “we were leading in a small part of stem cell research,” he says. Researchers here say the public and patients alike must be given realistic assessments of the expected results of experimental stem cell therapies. SNU's Kim says the goal for his stem cell therapy for heart attack patients is to improve damaged heart function by 10% over what it would be without treatment. “That would be noticeable by patients,” he says, but still far short of fully restoring their hearts.

    Stem cells are “not a miracle cure; only God can make miracles,” says Kook In Park, a stem cell biologist at Yonsei University. It may help get his message across that the Hwang-inspired postage stamp showing a patient rising from a wheelchair thanks to stem cell therapy is no longer on sale.

  12. ASTRONOMY

    A Surprising Stellar Nursery

    1. Robert Irion

    By sharpening their view of the Milky Way's core, astronomers have deduced that stars can arise close to the giant black hole there

    CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—As astronomers peer through their looking glasses at the crowded heart of our galaxy, their view becomes curiouser and curiouser. For years, stars darting close to the core have pointed to a fearsome black hole hidden there, pulling with the gravity of nearly 4 million suns. But with ever-clearer vision, telescopes revealed that the true mystery was not the black hole but the youthful stars around it. Gas in that wild setting seemed too churned up to create stars, so where did they come from?

    The likeliest answer, described here at a recent meeting,* is both delightful and unsettling. Every few million years, gas gathers around the black hole into a disk that gets squeezed by the hole's intense influence. This fragments the disk into dense clumps that spawn giant stars in planetlike orbits, trapped by the hole's sway like motes in a whirlpool.

    It's the antithesis of calm star birth elsewhere in the Milky Way. “It's like moving the maternity ward into the emergency room,” says Roger Blandford, director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University in California. And it could happen at the centers of all galaxies, the realms where black holes apparently reign supreme.

    Evidence for this picture comes from deep studies of the Milky Way's core by competing teams in Germany and the United States. The astronomers use infrared light, which penetrates veils of dust, to resolve hundreds of stars in the innermost light-year around the black hole, known as Sagittarius A* (pronounced “A-star”) (Science, 30 May 2003, p. 1356). In recent years, the teams have tracked fainter stars by using adaptive optics to smooth the blurring of Earth's atmosphere. And in a new advance, spectrographs that capture light from dozens of stars at once have enabled each team to deduce the motions, sizes, and ages of the core's residents.

    The results are glaring, says Reinhard Genzel of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, leader of the German team. “There is a spectacular concentration of young, massive stars in the central light-month,” he says, jammed into a space just 1/50 as wide as the gulf between our sun and the nearest star. Team member Thibaut Paumard and colleagues found that more than half of the central stars revolve within a single plane, clockwise to our line of sight.

    The stars are just 6 million years old on average—too young to have migrated from calmer nurseries farther out in the galaxy. Rather, the team believes they were born right there in a long-vanished disk that girdled the black hole just as planet-forming disks swaddle embryonic stars.

    Flirting with danger.

    Nearly 100 young, massive stars (yellow circles) dash within close confines around a prodigious black hole (red cross) at the Milky Way's center.

    CREDIT: T. PAUMARD ET AL., MAX PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL PHYSICS

    This research, along with similar conclusions presented by U.S. team leader Andrea Ghez of the University of California, Los Angeles, impressed theorists at the meeting. Until recently, another origin for the young stars was in the running: not gas but stars deposited by the breakup of tight clusters of thousands of suns born within 10 light-years of the galaxy's core. Models suggested that such clusters could sink quickly toward a luminous self-destruction near the black hole.

    But that scenario has problems, says astrophysicist Sergei Nayakshin of the University of Leicester, U.K. “A disrupted cluster should leave behind a trail of stars, but the observed disks have outer edges,” he says. What's more, the cluster's debris should include thousands of active lower-mass stars, he notes. Groundbased telescopes can't see those stars, but the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory should spot their flares. “They clearly aren't there,” Nayakshin says.

    Advocates of doomed clusters argue that their scenario still has merit. A knot of at least seven massive stars, called IRS 13, shines a fraction of a light-year away from Sagittarius A*. The group couldn't persist in that perilous spot without the binding force of a moderate black hole of its own, says astrophysicist Simon Portegies Zwart of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Such midsize holes could shepherd big stars deep into the galaxy's maw, he maintains.

    “Honestly, I think both things are going on,” including star formation in a disk, Portegies Zwart says. “The clusters are there, and there is enough evidence that they spiral in and do these tricks,” such as perturbing some stars into cigar-shaped orbits around the black hole. As Ghez noted at the meeting, such wacky orbits exist—and they seem inconsistent with star birth solely within a Frisbee-like disk of gas.

    Today, little gas envelops Sagittarius A*. But theorists believe the galaxy feeds its core with gas in surges that take millions of years to unfold. “I think it's gas from normal stellar evolution, periodically falling into the center and triggering starbursts,” says astrophysicist Jeremiah Ostriker of Princeton University. Other galaxies show signs of star-forming wombs at their cores, Ostriker notes—such as NGC 4258, which emits dazzling beacons of microwaves from dense clouds swirling within 0.3 light-years of its central black hole.

    Closer to home, astronomers await the closest stellar passage to the Milky Way's black hole yet seen. This summer, a star may dip within 7 billion kilometers of the center, about the distance of Pluto from our sun. It will race at 3% the speed of light, Ghez observes. For a globe of gas fully 10 times the sun's mass, that's a blazing clip.

    • *Fourth Harvard-Smithsonian Conference on Theoretical Astrophysics, 15–18 May, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

  13. HIGH-ENERGY PHYSICS

    Aging Atom Smasher Runs All Out in Race for Most Coveted Particle

    1. Adrian Cho

    After years of frustration, Fermilab's Tevatron collider is running well. Researchers say they have a shot at spotting the Higgs boson—if there's time

    Roaring back.

    The Tevatron (far ring) is finally producing data at a copious rate.

    CREDIT: FERMILAB VISUAL MEDIA SERVICES

    In autumn 2004, Boston's beloved baseball team, the Red Sox, spotted the archrival New York Yankees a three-games-to-none lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series. The plucky Sox then whipped the Yankees in four straight and went on to win the World Series for the f irst time in 86 years. Now, physicists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, hope to pull off a similarly dramatic comeback and bag particle physics' biggest prize, the long-sought Higgs boson.

    Four years ago, physicists wrung their hands as Fermilab's Tevatron collider faltered after a major upgrade (Science, 8 February 2002, p. 942). The revamped machine failed to smash protons into antiprotons at the rate researchers had counted on. As a result, many thought the 6-kilometer-long Tevatron had no chance of making a major discovery before a more powerful particle smasher—the 27-kilometer-long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) under construction at the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland—came to life, as it is supposed to do next year.

    But after a reshuffling of personnel and much hard work, the Tevatron is now cranking out data at a prodigious rate. And experimenters at Fermilab are cautiously optimistic that, if nature cooperates, they have a shot at seeing the Higgs boson, the particle thought to give other particles their mass. The Tevatron hasn't recovered completely from its missteps; if the machine continues to improve, by 2009 it will produce slightly more than half the data researchers once hoped for. But that may be just enough to spot the Higgs.

    “Two or three years ago, we couldn't foresee having enough data to have a fair chance,” says Jacobo Konigsberg, an experimenter at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and co-spokesperson for CDF, one of two large particle-detector experiments fed by the Tevatron. “Now the picture has changed tremendously.” If the Higgs is light, no more than about 130 times as massive as a proton, then Fermilab researchers might be able to spot it, says Gerald Blazey, an experimenter at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb and co-spokesperson for DZero, the other particle-detector experiment.

    That's if the Tevatron runs through 2009 as planned. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) could unplug the machine a year earlier to free up money for future projects—in particular, the proposed International Linear Collider, a 30-kilometer-long straight-shot behemoth that would map the conceptual terrain opened by the LHC (Science, 21 February 2003, p. 1171). In a year, a DOE advisory panel will evaluate the Tevatron's performance and recommend whether to shutter it early. “They've turned that machine around remarkably,” says Lyn Evans, a physicist at CERN, who is directing construction of the LHC. “It's a tough call whether to run the Tevatron in 2009, that's for sure.”

    High expectations and low luminosity

    To make a comeback, first you have to fall behind. And that's what the Tevatron did in 2001, when it started up after a 5-year overhaul in which physicists replaced the accelerator that feeds the collider protons and antiprotons. Experimenters had hoped the Tevatron would pump out collisions 10 to 20 times faster than it had before the upgrade. But 2 years into “Run II,” it was producing collisions at only twice the previous rate. To spot the Higgs, experimenters needed a torrent of data. They got a trickle.

    The key problems lay not with the new main injector but with the system to produce antiprotons, says Roger Dixon, head of the accelerator division at Fermilab. To generate antiprotons, the machine fires protons into a metal target, and an accelerator known as the accumulator collects the bits of antimatter that result. Physicists had hoped to pass the particles into yet another accelerator known as the recycler to cool them and pack them into tight bunches before passing them to the main injector and into the Tevatron. But the recycler wouldn't cooperate, and accelerator physicists had to bypass it entirely.

    Fermilab threw everything it had at the Tevatron and even called on other labs for help. Then-director Michael Witherell shook up the lab's accelerator division. In 2003, the new management set a timetable for improving various parts of the facility and increasing the rate at which the Tevatron produces collisions, a quantity that is known as the luminosity and is measured in inverse femtobarns. Since then, researchers have stayed on schedule, says Fermilab accelerator physicist David McGinnis. In June 2004, they brought the recycler on line and last August implemented a bold scheme to cool antiprotons in it with electrons. The Tevatron now produces as much data in 6 weeks as it did in all of Run I, from 1992 through 1996.

    In retrospect, some of the angst over the Tevatron's performance early in Run II stemmed from unrealistic expectations, some say. “Everyone in the trenches knew this was going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and that it was going to be slow going at the start,” McGinnis says. “I don't think that message got through to the experimenters.” The Tevatron is on pace to log a total of 8 inverse femtobarns by the end of 2009, maybe just enough to snare the Higgs, the linchpin of the standard model of particle physics.

    Whence mass?

    The standard model marries the electromagnetic force, which accounts for all of electricity and magnetism, and the weak nuclear force, which produces a kind of radioactive decay. Since the 1970s, physicists have known that the two are different manifestations of the same thing, although they aren't exactly interchangeable. The electromagnetic force works at lengths as long as lightning; the weak force reaches only across an atomic nucleus. That's because the photons that convey the electromagnetic force are massless particles, whereas the particles that carry the weak force, the W and Z bosons, weigh far more than a proton.

    But there's a catch. If theorists simply assign masses to the W, Z, and other particles, the standard model goes haywire mathematically. To “break the symmetry” between the forces, mass must originate somehow through the interactions of particles that are otherwise massless themselves.

    That's where the Higgs comes in. Theorists assume that empty space is filled with a Higgs field, which vaguely resembles an electric field. The field drags on other particles, giving them inertia or mass. Like all f ields, the Higgs field consists of hidden “virtual” particles that can pop into existence in sufficiently violent collisions.

    The standard model does not predict the mass of the Higgs, but the theory is so tightly interconnected that precise measurements of familiar particles limit the possibilities. Measurements of the mass of the W, the mass of a particle called the top quark, and other particle properties suggest that the Higgs is light and possibly within the Tevatron's grasp, says Volker Buescher, a member of the DZero team from the University of Freiburg in Germany. Physicists measure masses and energies in electron volts; the Tevatron smashes particles with an energy of 1.96 trillion electron volts, or TeV. That's enough to generate new particles with masses of a few hundred billion electron volts, or GeV.

    However, the standard model also enables physicists to estimate how often a Higgs of a particular mass will emerge and how hard it will be to detect as it decays into other particles. With those effects taken into account, the Tevatron should be able to unearth evidence of the Higgs if the particle's mass is less than 125 GeV. “While a Higgs search up to 125 GeV may sound limited, that's exactly the range where we would expect to f ind it,” Buescher says. With 8 inverse femtobarns of data, researchers should be able to spot solid evidence, if not incontrovertible proof, of a Higgs in that range—if it's there.

    Of course, the standard model explains “electroweak symmetry breaking” in only the simplest and most ad hoc way. Nature could play by richer and more complicated rules. For example, a theory called supersymmetry posits an undiscovered “superpartner” for every known particle. The theory helps solve conceptual problems with the standard model, and it requires at least two Higgs fields and five Higgs particles, the lightest of which resembles the standard model Higgs. That particle might be harder to find, says Marcela Carena, a theorist at Fermilab. On the other hand, measurements at the Tevatron may signif icantly limit the parameters of supersymmetry. “One way or the other,” Carena says, “the Tevatron will shape our understanding of physics beyond the standard model in the next 2 or 3 years.”

    Just enough?

    The Tevatron could pump out 8 inverse femtobarns of data by the end of 2009. That should allow researchers to glimpse the Higgs boson if its mass is less than roughly 125 GeV, as other data suggest.

    CREDITS: (IMAGE) FERMILAB VISUAL MEDIA SERVICES; (GRAPHIC) ADAPTED FROM M. CARENA ET AL., REPORT OF THE TEVATRON HIGGS WORKING GROUP

    An early exit?

    All of this depends on the Tevatron's logging as much data as possible. But researchers would get at most 6 inverse femtobarns of luminosity if the Tevatron shuts down at the end of 2008. DOE's Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) will weigh several factors next spring when considering whether to stop the machine early, says panel chair Abraham Seiden of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    Most important will be the performance of the Tevatron and its CDF and DZero detectors. Experimenters say the detectors are running in top form, and accelerator physicists are just now completing the last upgrades that should get the Tevatron to a full 8 inverse femtobarns. But even if all the machinery runs perfectly, Fermilab faces a problem: Half of all experimenters may leave for the LHC by 2009. Having studied the issue, Fermilab officials are confident they can keep the experiments running, says Fermilab experimenter Joel Butler. “The real issue is can the data be analyzed in a timely fashion? Because of the LHC, it has a shelf life,” he says. But even on that account, he's optimistic: “If there is a real shot to get the Higgs, people will stay to do the analysis.”

    P5 will also consider progress on the LHC, which should turn on next autumn and take its first data the following spring. The LHC, which will crash protons into protons at a whopping 14 TeV, will come on slowly, says CERN's Evans. That's because it will pack so many protons and so much energy into its beams that should a beam accidentally strike the accelerator itself, it could blast a crippling hole in it. “The speed with which we bring up the luminosity will be limited by our ability to protect the machine,” Evans says. But, he adds, “certainly in 2009 we'll be up to 50% of luminosity and completely swamping the Tevatron.”

    Ultimately, whether the Tevatron runs through 2009 may depend on whether researchers catch a whiff of something in the next year, Seiden says. “The main thing will be the Tevatron data itself,” he says. “If it looks interesting, that's a really important plus. If it looks unlikely [to yield a discovery], you might want to think of ending earlier.”

    Only time will tell what nature has in store. So for the moment, physicists at Fermilab continue to push to improve the performance of the Tevatron and their detectors. In the competition for the Higgs, they've entered the late innings and are down a couple of runs—or inverse femtobarns. But they can feel their fortunes turning and hope for one last shot at triumph. As they say in baseball, it's not over till it's over.

  14. MOLECULAR BIOLOGY

    Genes Commute to Factories Before They Start Work

    1. Elizabeth Pennisi

    A new study suggests that genes whose proteins work together move to the same transcription site

    Join the club.

    The β-globin gene (red) and a heme-stabilizing gene (green) are two of several hemoglobin-related genes that meet to be transcribed by an RNA polymerase (blue).

    CREDIT: PETER FRASER ET AL., THE BABRAHAM INSTITUTE

    The more researchers learn about gene regulation, the more complicated the story gets. First there were transcription factors, proteins that bind DNA to turn genes on. Then molecular biologists figured out that each transcription factor can either stimulate or repress gene activity, depending on which specific DNA sequence it targets. Now, another layer of control is drawing increased scrutiny, says Peter Fraser, a molecular biologist at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, U.K.

    Each nucleus contains discrete sites dubbed transcription factories, where DNA's code is copied into strands of messenger RNA. Growing evidence indicates that when a gene becomes active, its DNA moves to one of those factories. For genes, “where you are in the nucleus may be extremely important for your potential to become expressed,” says Mark Groudine, a molecular biologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Earlier this month at a genome meeting,* Fraser added the latest twist to this emerging story: Genes whose proteins work together travel long distances within the nucleus to meet up in the same factories.

    Transcriptional factories first came to light some 20 years ago, when Dean Jackson and Peter Cook, while at Oxford University, found that activated RNA polymerase II, the enzyme that transcribes DNA into messenger RNA, occurs in discrete clusters scattered throughout the nucleus. Cook, a biochemist, and Jackson, a molecular cell biologist, coined the term factories for these clusters, which their experiments suggested were at fixed spots in the nucleus. “Everything you need to make a productive RNA is located [there],” says Jackson, who is now at the University of Manchester, U.K. Factories “provide an environment where transcription can occur with high efficiency.”

    Cook and Jackson suggested that genes move into such factories to be transcribed instead of recruiting transcriptional machinery to where they are. It was a heretical notion. Most researchers thought RNA polymerase II moves along stationary DNA during transcription, but the factory concept challenged that theory, suggesting that DNA is the more mobile component.

    Researchers skeptical of Cook and Jackson's interpretation worried that the techniques used to study what was happening inside the nucleus corrupt the organelle's organization and lead to spurious results. Recently, however, Fraser and a half-dozen other researchers have worked out new visualization procedures that are much gentler on the nucleus. That has let them see more clearly what's happening with factories, even in three dimensions.

    Fraser, for example, has studied genes key to production of hemoglobin, observing those genes moving into position at the factories. In 2002, he showed that a chromosome could flex and move crucial regulatory DNA, which is 50,000 bases from the β-globin gene it regulates, toward a factory. This DNA sequence, called a locus control region, “increases the gene's residency in the factories,” thereby encouraging more gene activity, says Fraser. In a manner that's still not clear, the β-globin gene actually needs the locus control region to find its way to a factory, Groudine will report in the June issue of Genes and Development.

    Fraser subsequently discovered that other genes involved in the synthesis of hemoglobin, ones on the same chromosome as β-globin but quite far away, also converge on the same factories. For example, an alpha-hemoglobin stabilizing gene is some 24 million bases away from the β-globin gene, yet it spends about 40% of its time in factories with this distant neighbor. “Nobody had thought that genes so far away could come together,” says Fraser.

    Even more impressive is the ability of genes on different chromosomes to congregate at a factory. Several recent studies have demonstrated this phenomenon. Last month, a team led by Andrew Hoffman of Stanford University in California described a role for the DNA-binding protein CTCF in helping the insulin-like growth factor 2 gene on chromosome 7 come together with another gene located on chromosome 11, allowing the genes to regulate one another's expression (Science, 14 April, p. 269). And in the 2 June 2005 issue of Nature, Richard Flavell of Yale University School of Medicine and his colleagues reported that the regulatory regions of genes involved in the fate of T helper cells positioned themselves side by side, possibly at factories, in anticipation of transcription—even though the regions and the genes were on different chromosomes. They observed this by adding formaldehyde to the nucleus to cause cross-linking of adjacent DNA. “These genes are finding each other at pretty high frequencies,” says Fraser.

    Groups of genes may be drawn to particular factories because they have transcription factors in common. But Fraser is finding that the strongest attraction for genes to a particular factory may instead be having a common goal, such as building hemoglobin. By fluorescently labeling forming mRNA sequences, he and his colleagues looked at the positioning in the nucleus of 30 genes undergoing transcription. “Physiologically related genes are coming into the same factory,” he concludes. Such an arrangement makes sense, says Kelly Frazer, a genomicist at Perlegen Sciences in Mountain View, California, because transcribing a network of genes together should help maintain a proper balance of the genes' products.

    Not everyone agrees with Peter Fraser's view of the nuclear landscape. Ana Pombo of the MRC Clinical Sciences Center at Imperial College London says her work indicates that factories are not stably located and that genes from different chromosomes are interacting all the time, both inside and outside factories. Nonetheless, other gene-regulation researchers are impressed by the latest finding from Fraser and his colleagues. “It's extraordinarily surprising that pairs of genes go through these maneuvers to be cotranscribed,” says Peter Little of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Adds Perlegen's Frazer, “It represents a paradigm shift in our way of thinking.”

    • *The Biology of Genomes meeting, 10–14 May, Cold Spring Harbor, New York.

  15. HIGH-ENERGY PHYSICS

    Neutrino Hunters Plan a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

    1. Daniel Clery

    European researchers hope detectors deep in the Mediterranean will nab high-energy particles from the center of our galaxy

    Astronomers will scale high mountains to get a clear view of the heavens, but a team of European researchers is taking the opposite tack. They are drawing up plans to build an observatory 3 kilometers down at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, looking downward.

    The team is not aiming to detect light or radio waves, but neutrinos—minuscule particles with virtually no mass that are created in the nuclear furnaces of stars and in violent events such as supernovas. Neutrinos rarely interact with normal matter—about 5 × 1034 of them pass through Earth every day—but every so often, one will collide with an atom and produce a brief flash of light. In the pitch dark of the sea floor, sensitive light detectors will be able to detect the flashes from neutrinos that have passed through Earth and will calculate where they came from. “It's a totally different way of looking at the universe,” says John Carr of the Centre for Particle Physics of Marseilles in France.

    The roots of this burgeoning field of neutrino astronomy lie in efforts beginning 4 decades ago to study neutrinos from the sun. Researchers built their neutrino traps—enormous tanks of fluid, such as perchloroethylene—deep below ground in mines, where overlying rock and the great bulk of Earth itself would shield them from particles such as cosmic rays. Two decades later, when several of these detectors picked up neutrinos that obviously came from supernova 1987A, astronomers started to get interested. Most neutrino telescopes now use water as the detection medium. Whenever a neutrino hits a nucleus in the water it produces muons, particles that streak along at more than the speed of light in water, shedding energy called Cerenkov radiation that is picked up by sensitive detectors called photomultipliers.

    U.S. researchers led the way with an attempt at building a detector off Hawaii by anchoring arrays of detectors to the seabed and co-opting a large volume of seawater as the detection medium. But Dumand, as it was called, was abandoned in 1995 because of the difficulty and expense of installing sensitive detectors in deep open water. Instead, U.S. researchers took a different tack with a telescope called Amanda buried deep in the ice below the National Science Foundation's base at the South Pole. In its 2 years of data collecting, Amanda has spotted thousands of neutrinos. But physicists think they are all local products created by cosmic rays bombarding Earth's upper atmosphere—not visitors from deep space. A Russian-German team has adopted yet another approach: They drive onto the frozen surface of Siberia's Lake Baikal during the winter and lower strings of detectors through holes into the murky depths.

    Meanwhile, three European teams—one French, one Italian, and one Greek—have persisted with experiments to attach detectors to the seabed. The French team is the most advanced and is in the process of constructing a full observatory, called Antares, off the coast near Toulon. Carr, who is the spokesperson for the Antares project, thinks that after it is completed in 2007, it may have more luck than Amanda. Amanda's Antarctic location, he explains, forces it to look outward from the galaxy, so any sources would be very distant. A Mediterranean observatory, by contrast, has most of our galaxy, including the center, in its f ield of view. “We can hope to see something that has not been seen before,” Carr says.

    Into the abyss.

    Researchers with the Antares project are putting anchors (above, right) on the seabed and attaching strings of detectors. They hope to install 12 by the end of 2007.

    CREDITS: F. MONTANET, CNRS/IN2P3 AND UJF FOR ANTARES; (INSET) ANTARES

    But neutrino researchers have already got bigger things on their minds. Kilometer-scale instruments are needed to really see astrophysical sources,” says Uli Katz of the University of Erlangen in Germany.

    Existing telescopes, researchers say, were based on theoretical estimates of the number of neutrinos produced by sources such as supernovas, gamma ray bursts, and active galactic nuclei. But in the past few years, data from a new generation of gamma ray telescopes, such as HESS in Namibia (Science, 3 September 2004, p. 1393)—which look at radiation from similar high-energy objects—show that the early estimates were too optimistic. Researchers working on Amanda now calculate that a detector needs a cubic kilometer of ice to thoroughly study astrophysical neutrinos. For the past 2 years, they've been building such a telescope, dubbed IceCube, also at the South Pole. Project director James Yeck of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, says they have drilled nine out of 70 planned boreholes and inserted strings of photodetectors. The project should be completed by 2011, he says.

    European researchers are a few years behind, but the three separate Mediterranean projects decided a couple of years ago to combine their efforts. Earlier this year, they received €9 million from the European Union for a 3-year design study, led by Katz, and boosted by a similar amount from national funders. Team members say the project, known as the Kilometre Cubed Neutrino Telescope (KM3NeT), may cost about €200 million and could be completed by 2013. Only the design study has been funded so far, and no site has been chosen yet.

    If the planned detector is built, researchers hope the neutrinos it captures will give insights into what is happening inside energetic sources and may shed light on high-energy particles called cosmic rays, whose source has been a mystery for decades. Some also hope to detect exotic dark matter, the mysterious stuff that makes up about a quarter of the mass of the universe. Some theories suggest that dark matter particles may accumulate in the core of bodies such as the galactic nucleus, or even inside stars such as our sun. When the particles annihilate each other, they produce neutrinos. Detecting them would be “a smoking gun for a dark matter population in the core of the sun,” says Lee Thompson of the University of Sheffield, U.K. project scientist for KM3NeT.

    Carr believes that the unique nature of neutrinos will lead to unexpected discoveries. “Past history, such as with the gamma ray telescopes, has shown that many new objects can be found with a new type of instrument,” he says.

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