Science  18 Aug 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5789, pp. 901

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  1. Biopharming Rules Broken

    1. Erik Stokstad

    The first U.S. biopharming field trials to undergo legal scrutiny weren't kosher, says a U.S. Hawaiian district judge who ruled last week in a case involving research done several years ago in Hawaii.

    The Department of Agriculture (USDA) broke national environmental laws when it allowed four companies to grow HIV vaccines and other pharmaceuticals in genetically modified (GM) crops on four Hawaiian islands, explained Judge J. Michael Seabright in a 10 August ruling. Environmental groups argued successfully that USDA should have considered the potential impact on endangered species and other questions. The agency, Seabright said, showed an “utter disregard for this simple investigation requirement.”

    Next week, Seabright will hear arguments for a moratorium on field trials while the USDA reviews its biopharming permit program. In the meantime, Paul Achitoff, a plaintiff representing the advocacy group Earth-justice in Oakland, California, says the ruling puts USDA on notice that ignoring the environmental impacts of biopharm GM crops makes it “a sitting duck for future lawsuits.”

  2. A Mighty Wind Blowin'

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    The U.S. government should consider a 10-fold increase in research to help understand and protect against hurricanes, according to an upcoming report from a task force of the National Science Board convened in response to Katrina's devastation of the Gulf Coast last August.

    Panel chair Kelvin Droegemeier, a meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma, says the country needs a $300-million-a-year National Hurricane Research Initiative along the lines of the multiagency National Earthquake Hazard Research Program created in the wake of the great 1964 earthquake that struck Alaska. Droegemeier says the panel hopes to capitalize on the current hurricane season to grab the attention of U.S. policymakers. “We're trying to build support for an integrative approach to this phenomenon,” he reported last week to the science board, which sets policy for the National Science Foundation.

  3. More Questions for NIH

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    Despite strict new rules on how researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should interact with industry, the issue hasn't gone away. The latest case, reported last month by the Los Angeles Times, involves Thomas J. Walsh of the National Cancer Institute and his role in helping companies developing antifungal drugs.

    In a 28 July letter to NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked if there is “a sufficient factual basis to formally investigate [larger] questions about [NIH] policy” raised by Walsh's conduct. The members requested Walsh's financial reports and reviews of his paid and unpaid consulting and other activities, which include discussing some companies' products before the Food and Drug Administration. NIH officials, who tell Science that Walsh was already an “open case,” are preparing a response.

  4. Agbio Lab List Pared

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    Eighteen of 29 applicant sites are still in the running for a new $450 million high-security agro-biodefense lab to replace Plum Island Animal Disease Center, the aging facility off Long Island, New York (Science, 2 September 2005, p. 1475). The Department of Homeland Security is funding the National Bio-and Agro-Defense Facility to study animal diseases and possibly human illnesses. It plans to name a second round of finalists by the end of this year and choose a winner in early 2008.

  5. Wanted: More Science Students

    1. Laura Blackburn

    U.K. companies say a failing education system could make the country a scientific also-ran. On Monday, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the U.K.'s biggest business group, outlined its concerns about the sharp decline in students studying physics, chemistry, and maths at A-level, the exams needed for university entry. It faults “a stripped down science curriculum, a lack of specialist teachers, and uninspiring careers advice.” In a related development, Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson of the University of Buckingham last week reported a 50% decline in A-level physics entries since 1982.

    Calling the scientific workforce “a priority,” Schools Minister Jim Knight points to a $57 million government scheme that includes pay incentives to attract and retain teachers and efforts to build interest among students.