ScienceScope

Science  10 Nov 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5801, pp. 907
  1. Animal Eggsploitation

    Two British research groups have asked the government for permission to use animal eggs in attempts to develop populations of human embryonic stem cells for studies of human diseases. A team headed by Lyle Armstrong of the International Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne wants to generate stem cell lines for studying muscle neuron disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) by inserting the nucleus from a patient's skin cell into a cow oocyte. At the same time, Stephen Minger of King's College London has applied for permission to use cow, sheep, goat, and rabbit eggs to create embryos to study Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. A third group, headed by Ian Wilmut of the University of Edinburgh, is also planning to apply for permission to use animal eggs.

    Such research is forbidden now in the United Kingdom because it would require growing hybrid embryos to the blastocyst stage. That's about 4 days beyond the legal limit for mixing human and animal gametes, set for a technique that uses guinea pig eggs to test human sperm. The U.K.'s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority says some oppose such proposals—the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics said they threaten “the very concept of being entirely human”—but Minger and others say that using plentiful animal eggs makes more sense than using hard-to-obtain human eggs for this unproven technique.

  2. Missing: Climate Data

    Although the African continent is likely to be hit hardest by climate change, its monitoring facilities are the least prepared to track the shifts, says a report issued this week by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Some 1165 stations in the Global Climate Observing System span more than 50 nations worldwide to provide coordinated climate data. But roughly 21 of the 84 surface posts in eastern and southern Africa, which collect temperature and precipitation data, are damaged. Also, two of the upper-air stations in the region, which record wind and temperature data, are silent. That leaves data gaps and a weakened “ability to predict the global climate system,” the report laments.

    David Goodrich, director of the worldwide sensor network, says he's “optimistic” that he'll get the roughly $60 million in commitments he'll need to fix things during this month's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

  3. Share and Share Alike

    China will set up 20 data-sharing centers and networks by 2010, according to a new national plan on technical development. The centers will store data in areas including agriculture and health. The move expands a well-received 2001 pilot program to share data in 12 disciplines such as meteorology and hydrology, including a widely used online forestry database. Chinese Academy of Forestry researcher Yi Haoruo says the expansion will “enhance the competitiveness of Chinese science and technology” by helping scientists share resources and eliminate redundant efforts. But he says some “are concerned” that sharing could harm their competitive advantage.

  4. Dem Union Blues

    Leaders of an abortive attempt to form a postdoctoral union at the University of California (UC) plan to try again. In July, the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers Union (UAW) filed a petition with California's Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to represent 6000 UC postdocs based on having collected signatures from a majority of them. Some UC post-docs have alleged that UAW representatives didn't fully explain the implications of forming a union while collecting signatures. But last week, before PERB had ruled on the validity of the organizing drive, UAW withdrew the petition. Between 500 and 600 signatures “were from individuals who are no longer postdocs,” explains UAW's Maureen Boyd, which left them short 100 signatures. Prounion postdocs say organizing will increase negotiating leverage and hope to eventually resubmit the petition. But Jerome Breslin, head of the postdoc association at UC Davis, says unionizing is “combative” and less effective than friendly dialogue.

  5. New Top Quarks at Fermilab

    The U.S.'s premier particle physics lab is hoping a partnership with the University of Chicago will help it effectively compete with European particle physics. Managers at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, say the deal, which was finalized in a new federal contract last week, will strengthen data sharing between the two institutions and bolster long-standing research ties.