ScienceScope

Science  06 Oct 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5796, pp. 33
  1. Mars (Sand) Bars

    Now that the Opportunity rover has reached the edge of Victoria Crater on Mars, its handlers have some major decisions ahead. “It's not abundantly clear Opportunity can get in,” says rover science team leader Steven Squyres of Cornell University, “nor is it abundantly clear it can get out.”

    Opportunity once spent 5 weeks getting itself off a sand ripple, but the 21-month trek to Victoria made clear how few alternative study sites are nearby. So the rover will circle the crater rim in the coming months to help scientists balance potential science to be done against the hazards of negotiating steep, sandy slopes. The attitude of some? Damn the dunes, full speed ahead.

  2. Gravity Research Pulled Together

    An agreement to share data could turn the world's gravitational-wave observatories into one big instrument. It would allow researchers working with the Virgo detector near Pisa, Italy, and their counterparts with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the United States to share data and jointly publish all results, says Benoit Mours, Virgo spokesperson and a physicist at the Annecy-le-Vieux Particle Physics Laboratory in France. LIGO has already joined forces with GEO 600, a smaller gravitational-wave detector near Hannover, Germany. The new deal must still be approved by the Italian and French agencies that fund Virgo, but Mours says he's confident that will happen.

  3. In the Crosshairs: Pork

    Last week, the U.S. Congress put off until November a move to increase transparency on earmarks, the controversial projects that lawmakers write into spending bills without peer review or merit competitions. Universities, often the recipients of earmarks for research, were unhappy when spending hawk Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) queried schools on the practice in a probe last month (Science, 8 September, p. 1374). Last week, however, a House-Senate conference stripped language from a military spending bill Coburn wrote that would have required the Pentagon to make its earmarks details public. So Coburn threatened to hold the important bill up for final vote, winning a promise that Congress would revisit the issue in a November lame-duck session. “The American people should not have to obtain a search warrant to know how we are spending their money,” says a Coburn spokesperson.

  4. Cell Work Halted ...

    AMSTERDAM—A clinic in the Netherlands was ordered to stop administering controversial treatments with umbilical cord blood cells on Monday after an investigation concluded that the $23,000 injections may expose patients to serious risks.

    The Preventive Medicine Center (PMC) in Rotterdam was one of several clinics and companies around the world offering stem-cell treatments that many mainstream scientists and physicians consider unproven and potentially harmful (Science, 14 July, p. 160). In a letter, the Dutch Health Care Inspectorate concluded that PMC cannot document the “origin, suitability and safety” of the cells it injects, and that as a result, patients risk being infected with HIV, hepatitis, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and developing tumors. One patient had to be hospitalized recently with acute allergic reactions, the letter noted.

    “This is justice, finally,” says neurologist Rogier Hintzen of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, who had prodded the inspectorate to take action. PMC did not return calls requesting comment. The investigation into a second Dutch stem-cell company, Cells4Health, is continuing, an inspectorate spokesperson says.

  5. ... And Sought

    Wisconsin has taken a new step to lure stem-cell science to the Badger State. Last week, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF)—which holds the U.S. patents on human embryonic stem cell technology—announced that it will no longer charge licensing fees, which range from $75,000 to $400,000, to companies in the state that sponsor research at universities and other nonprofit organizations. WARF says only two Wisconsin companies currently do such research.

    Governor Jim Doyle announced the policy as part of an economic development package that includes grants of up to $250,000 for stem-cell companies that move to the state. Doyle is in a tight election race with Republican Mark Green, who supports work on existing lines but opposes work on stem cells created by destroying embryos.

    Jerry Flanagan, head of the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which has filed administrative challenges on WARF's patents (Science, 21 July, p. 281), says the new policy “is an acknowledgment that the overly broad WARF patents stymie research and delay cures.”