Science  14 Jul 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5784, pp. 157

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  1. Report Fuels Biomass Excitement

    1. Eli Kintisch

    One-third of U.S. cars and trucks on the road in 2030 would be powered by biofuels under a Department of Energy (DOE) road map that spells out President George W. Bush's vision for breaking the country's addiction to oil, much of it foreign.

    Released last week, the 200-page document sets interim and long-range goals for cellulosic ethanol research. According to the plan, researchers would aim within 5 years to allow refiners to make ethanol from cellulose derived from waste or plants such as switch-grass, poplars, or eucalyptus, assuming technological advances in the breakdown of cellulose and the fermentation of its sugars. That would be followed by entirely new energy crops with better ranges, and temperature and pest tolerances.

    Justin Adams of British Petroleum, who participated in a 2005 workshop to develop the plan, calls the final result a “step forward.” In the meantime, the president's request to spend $150 million next year on biomass research has been approved by the House and raised to $213 million by the Senate, which is still debating its version of DOE's 2007 budget.

  2. SOFIA Returns

    1. Andrew Lawler

    NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is officially off the chopping block. Space agency chief Michael Griffin told scientists at a Washington, D.C., meeting on 6 July that the project would go forward, despite cost overruns and delays in engineering an aircraft and its accompanying telescope. Those troubles led Griffin to not fund SOFIA in the agency's 2007 budget request released in February (Science, 23 June, p. 1729). But researchers in both the United States and Germany—a major partner on the project—objected strongly. Griffin also said that the Space Interferometry Mission, a complex effort to study extrasolar planets slated for the next decade, would be “refocused.” NASA spokespeople said they were not sure what that means, but some scientists expect the comment to effectively mark the mission's death knell.

  3. To Toronto With Love

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    The Bush Administration has relaxed controversial attendance limits it had set for the world's largest AIDS meeting next month. In February, the State Department declared that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could send no more than 50 staffers to the International AIDS Conference in Toronto, half from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (Science, 24 February, p. 1086). The policy echoed a similar bar HHS set for the 2004 meeting, which shut out dozens of researchers and drew charges of political interference from lawmakers. After “negotiating” with HHS, says NIH spokesperson John Burklow, NIH will be allowed to send 43 staffers—a compromise between the original 25 and the 77 that NIH had planned to send.

  4. Bullish on Brazilian Biotech

    1. Marcelo Leite

    SÄO PAULO—A government advisory panel has called on the Brazilian government and industry to spend $3.2 billion on biotech over the next decade. Identifying Brazil's small private research base as a problem, the plan calls for investments that would lead to a 5-year doubling of the number of start-up companies as well as the creation of 20 Ph.D. programs.

    President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a strong agriculture advocate, is expected to send the plan to Congress, which would authorize the new spending. But given the environment ministry's record in blocking genetically modified crops from the market, biologist Marcelo Menossi of the University of Campinas in Säo Paulo says the regulatory framework also needs to change.

  5. Navy to Limit Sonar

    1. Eli Kintisch

    The U.S. Navy has agreed to new limits on its use of sonar in military exercises. Responding to a suit filed by environmental groups, a federal judge on 3 July barred the Navy from using midfrequency active sonar during this week's multinational Rim of the Pacific exercises off Hawaii. Four days later, as part of an agreement lifting the restraining order, the Navy agreed to expand monitoring and avoid midrange sonar within 40 km of the new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands marine preserve. The judge noted “convincing scientific evidence … that the Navy's use of [midfrequency active] sonar can kill, injure, and disturb many marine species,” but the agreement took no position on the issue of sonar's impact on whales.