- Jocelyn Kaiser
Gene hounds are keen on the idea of creating a massive DNA research database on the U.S. population, but planners need to do more homework first, according to a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) advisory committee.
Several countries are launching population databases that researchers could mine for links between genes, the environment, and disease, such as the 500,000-person so-called biobank in the United Kingdom (Science, 17 March, p. 1535). Last month, the HHS Secretary's Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health, and Society weighed in on a similar proposal. The panel's draft report is “enthusiastic” about the idea, which could cost upward of $3 billion to recruit up to 1 million participants, analyze their DNA, and follow their health over a decade or more. But mindful of controversy over privacy and other matters that have dogged some biobanks, the panel says the government first needs to know whether the public wants to participate and study policy issues such as ethnic diversity and the effort's scientific value. HHS now plans to assess public opinion and is soliciting comment on the report until 31 July (see www4.od.nih.gov/oba/SACGHS/public_comments.htm).
Spanish Scientists: Home Alone
- Elisabeth Pain
Young Spanish researchers are up in arms following recent comments by a government minister who referred to them as “postdoctoral and temporary.” The roughly 2500 scientists, most Spanish-born, were lured back to their home country—many from tenure-track jobs abroad—for a fellowship program that promised “their integration in the Spanish science system.” Now, with the first 5-year contracts in the Ramón y Cajal program nearing their end, many institutions have yet to offer secure employment, despite recent funding incentives from the government, although precise figures are not available.
Newly appointed Secretary of State for Universities and Research Miguel Ángel Quintanilla's words, published in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, have only added to the scientists' discontent. The National Association of Ramón y Cajal Researchers deplored Quintanilla's “disrespectful and burlesque attitude.” But the Ministry of Education and Science says it gave “generous” incentives to universities and research centers and “can't oblige [institutions] to contract anyone.”
Lugar Backs Indian Nuke Deal
- Eli Kintisch
The chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has gone to bat for the proposed U.S.-India nuclear technology agreement (Science, 10 March, p. 1356), raising the chances it will pass. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) told an audience last week at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, that the deal represents “the most important strategic diplomatic initiative undertaken by President Bush.” Lugar's comments counter those made recently in The Wall Street Journal by nonproliferation activist and former senator Sam Nunn, who says the Senate should, among other things, demand that India halt its production of fissile material for weapons as a condition of passage.
The move suggests that “Congress is not going to turn the deal down,” says Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. Lugar's committee is expected to take up the issue sometime this month.
Irish PIs Are Smiling
- Sean Duke
Ireland is rapidly becoming one of Europe's big R&D spenders. On 18 June, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern announced new R&D spending of $4.8 billion between now and 2013. This will raise R&D investment to 2.5% of gross domestic product by 2013, above the European Union average of 2% and near the United States's 2.6%. The Irish government will spend billions beginning this year to accelerate research in areas such as agriculture and energy. Goals include doubling the number of Ph.D.s with grants nationwide and creating 350 new principal investigator-led research teams.
Vote Weakens Whaling Ban
- Dennis Normile
Japan scored a symbolic victory in its quest to resume commercial whaling last week, winning support from the International Whaling Commission for its campaign to overturn a 20-year-long moratorium on the practice. The 33-to-32 vote, at the group's annual meeting on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, approved a statement that declared that the moratorium “is no longer necessary,” adding that “sustainable whaling is possible.” Japan has encouraged several countries to join the commission in recent years, offering them foreign assistance.
Although the votes of three-quarters of the members are needed to end the moratorium, supporters of the ban are concerned by the latest step.