Science  21 Jul 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5785, pp. 295

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    UNIVERSAL OWNERSHIP. Walter Ritte, a Hawaiian fish farmer and activist, was upset when he learned late last year that researchers at the University of Hawaii (UH), Manoa, were genetically modifying taro, a sacred plant believed to have given rise to the first Hawaiians. But finding out that the university had previously patented three varieties of disease-resistant taro really made him angry. “We felt that they could not own our ancestor,” says Ritte (second from left), savoring a victory after UH agreed last month to give up its rights over the patents.

    The campaign included placing a 2-meter-tall sculpture of Haloa, the first-born Hawaiian, holding a taro root, on the front lawn of the university president's office. In May, the activists locked the front doors to a meeting of the state board of regents. They also rejected the university's offer to transfer the patents to native Hawaiians, arguing that no one should own the native plants.

    The university says it's giving up the patents out of respect for Native Hawaiians. Administrators have also put a moratorium on work to genetically modify native taro, pending discussions with native groups.



    FROM THE GROUND UP. Canadian Thomas Hudson says he couldn't resist the opportunity to build a top-notch cancer research program from scratch. So the 45-year-old genome scientist is leaving McGill University in Montreal to direct the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, which boasts a $35-million-a-year budget that the provincial government plans to double by 2008.

    “My heart was in Montreal, but my mind started moving quickly” with ideas for work in stem cells and cancer, cancer genomics, and experimental drugs, says Hudson, who launched a raft of major genomics efforts at McGill and helped lead the sequencing programs of the international Human Genome and Haplotype Map projects. “He's always moving [to] where things are going,” says biochemist Alexandre Montpetit, a McGill colleague.

    Hudson is the institute's first scientific hire. He envisions a staff of 50 investigators, working in Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario.


    TRIESTE PRIZE. Two medical researchers and two mathematicians will share this year's $100,000 Trieste Science Prize, awarded by the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World.

    Chen Ding-Shinn of the National Taiwan University College of Medicine in Taipei wins the prize for investigating transmission of the hepatitis B virus from mother to infant and proving a link between the disease and liver cancer. Rao Zihe of the Institute of Biophysics in Beijing receives the honor for helping decipher the structure of the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome.

    Jacob Palis of the Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, wins for his contributions to the field of multivariable dynamical systems, which have led to a better understanding of population growth patterns and fluctuations in the stock market. And C. S. Seshadri of the Chennai Mathematical Institute in India is being honored for his role in shaping the field of algebraic geometry.



    NEW POLICY WONK. After nearly 16 years at NASA, Guy Fogleman is looking for more direct interaction with U.S. policymakers. Last week, the physicist-turned-life sciences administrator became executive director of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) in Bethesda, Maryland.

    Fogleman, 50, says he had mixed feelings about leaving his post as NASA's director of biomedical research but ultimately decided that advocating for FASEB's 22 societies and 84,000 members was the right challenge for him. “Within a governmental agency, there are very few opportunities to have a major influence on national policy, unless you're really at the top,” he says. He's not ready yet to say what policy issues he hopes to tackle, however.

    Fogleman says he was eventually drawn to research management because of the breadth it offered. And he doesn't see his academic training as a liability. “I come from a research background,” he says, “and I can relate to the research mindset.”


    RESOLVED. Chemist Milton Harris has settled a patent-infringement suit with his former employer, the University of Alabama, Huntsville, coughing up $4 million of his own money to resolve the dispute. Last year, the University of Alabama System board of trustees sued Harris and Nektar Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company based in San Carlos, California, alleging that Harris failed to give the university rightful ownership of some patents for a technology for protecting drugs from the body's immune system. In 1992, Harris founded Shearwater Polymers, and in 2001 he sold the company to Nektar for $197 million. The board sued for the entire amount; Nektar and Harris, a faculty member from 1973 to 2000, agreed to pay $25 million.

    “As the volume of tech transfer continues to increase, this sort of conflict may become more of a problem,” says John Fraser of Florida State University in Tallahassee, president of the Association of University Technology Managers. On the other hand, Fraser says, university officials and researchers are becoming more adept at anticipating and avoiding legal troubles.