ScienceScope

Science  03 Nov 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5800, pp. 739
  1. All Bent Out of Shape at Topology

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    In the latest brouhaha over journal prices, all nine members of the editorial board of Topology, a prestigious math journal based at the University of Oxford, U.K., plan to step down at the end of the year to protest the rising cost of institutional subscriptions.

    Published six times a year, the title costs €100 in Europe for individuals and €1488 for institutions. In a 10 August letter to publisher Elsevier that has recently drawn media attention, the editors said the prices have had a “damaging effect” on Topology's reputation. Elsevier says it has “moderated” price hikes, but since 1999, editors of at least two other Elsevier journals have stepped down in a similar protest.

  2. Investigating the Investigators

    1. Eliot Marshall

    CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—Concerned about the expanding use of human DNA in criminal investigations, the U.K. Nuffield Council on Bioethics announced this week that it will examine how this forensic tool might endanger privacy and fair legal procedures. The review will feature public comments and a panel with legal and scientific experts.

    Britain is ripe for the one-year review, says chair Bob Hepple, emeritus professor of law at the University of Cambridge, because it maintains a “virtually unregulated” forensic DNA database—the world's largest. The bank holds 3.45 million entries taken from suspects, crime scenes, victims, witnesses, and volunteers who wanted to be excluded from inquiries. Hepple says it's not clear how a citizen may remove DNA from the bank, which now covers 5% of the U.K. population. “[T]he issue is whether our DNA belongs to us or to the state,” says Hepple.

  3. Back to School

    1. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

    The number of foreign students enrolling in U.S. graduate schools this fall has jumped by 12%, according to a new survey by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS). The rise indicates an accelerating recovery for international graduate enrollments, which posted a 1% increase last year after declining for 3 years. Enrollments from India this year leapt 32%; enrollments from China jumped 20%. U.S. academic officials, attribute the increase to streamlined visa procedures by the government and increased outreach by U.S. institutions. “This encouraging trend will continue,” predicts CGS president Debra Stewart.

  4. Rice Krispies

    1. Pallava Bagla

    NEW DELHI—Indian activists have torched the first field trial of a genetically modified food crop. Genetically modified cotton is widely grown in India, but last week, a small field trial of hybrid Bt Rice genetically modified for insect resistance was burnt to ashes at Rampur village in Haryana. It was one of 12 field locations belonging to Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited (MAHYCO), Mumbai.

    Officials with MAHYCO, owned in part by global seed giant Monsanto, say about 200 activists belonging to the farmers' Bhartiya Kisan Union forced their way into the controlled plot and shouted anti-GM slogans before torching the plot, which was ready to be harvested. Rakesh Tikait, a leader of the group, which is one of several of Indian farmers' groups, told The Indian Express that such trials would contaminate the soil and affect yield from existing varieties. “The crop was being grown in isolation as per the [rules], following all safety measures,” responds MAHYCO general manager Mahendra Kumar Sharma, who called the attack “deplorable.”

    Late last month, the nation's Supreme Court put a moratorium on new approvals of genetically modified field releases, and officials must now respond to complaints by activists that permissions had been granted “recklessly.” A hearing on the matter is expected next month.

  5. Jockeying Planetary Missions

    1. Andrew Lawler

    NASA's science budget is tight, but the agency nevertheless approved work on three planetary science proposals—to examine Venus's atmosphere, probe the moon's interior, and return an asteroid sample. Each team gets $1.2 million to provide a more detailed plan for a mission which must cost less than $425 million; the winner will be chosen next year once the studies are complete.

    The agency also plans to continue at least one of two missions now in flight. One option would be to redirect the Deep Impact spacecraft that visited Comet Tempel 1 in 2005 to Comet Boethin, to compare the two objects. The other choices would be to focus a camera from the same spacecraft on possible Earth-sized planets around stars, or to send the Stardust spacecraft, to check on changes to Tempel 1 since its encounter with Deep Impact.

    “One of the great surprises of comet explorations has been the wide diversity among the different cometary surfaces imaged to date,” says Michael A'Hearn, the University of Maryland astronomer who would lead the Boethin mission.