ScienceScope

Science  01 Dec 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5804, pp. 1369
  1. Party Animals

    AMSTERDAM—The Dutch Party for Animals gained two seats in the 150-member Second Chamber of Parliament last week after drawing 1.9% of the votes nationwide. The group, one of whose goals is the eventual elimination of animal experimentation, appears to be the first political party devoted to animal welfare. Its platform includes a ban on transgenic animals, better oversight of animal experiments, including better housing and daily checks by independent vets, and more research on alternatives.

  2. Dawkins Versus the Gods

    After scanning the titles in a local bookshop, Oxford University geneticist Richard Dawkins discovered that “real science” was “out-numbered three to one by pseudoscience.” Concerned that “the enlightenment is under threat,” the author of The God Delusion has created and will help fund the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason. The new charity, with U.S. and U.K. branches, will support research on “the psychological basis of unreason,” produce videos and books, and run a Web site (richarddawkins.net/foundation). Another goal, “to oppose … well-financed efforts to teach creationism in science classes,” will put it up against the U.K.-based Truth in Science, which recently sent “intelligent design” promotional packs to 5700 British secondary schools. Truth in Science claims it received 59 positive responses.

  3. Hope for German GM crops

    BERLIN—In a move to support plant researchers, the German agriculture minister has apparently agreed to ease rules controlling the planting of genetically modified (GM) crops. German media reported last week that the minister, Horst Seehofer, will propose allowing the government to pay for damages resulting from any gene-altered pollen that escapes from government-funded research plots. Under current rules, the farmers or researchers who plant GM seeds are liable for any pollen that might contaminate a neighbor's field, preventing it from being sold as GM-free. The proposal, contained in a measure that could be presented to legislators early next year, would also restrict public access to information about where GM crops are planted. Despite overwhelming public opposition to GM foods, research minister Annette Schavan has been pushing for such rules.

  4. EPA, Berkeley Think Small

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided to regulate silver ions, the bacteria-killing nanoparticles used in products as diverse as shoe liners and food storage containers. The agency will require Samsung, which sells an ion-emitting device in a washing machine, to spell out possible environmental impacts under rules that apply to pesticides, even though the agency does not yet know whether the device involves nanomaterials. “The fact that EPA seems to be addressing this is a good thing,” says physicist Andrew Maynard of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. The upcoming federal notice could clarify whether the decision heralds broader federal limits on nanotechnology.

    Meanwhile, scientists in Berkeley, California, say their work will not be affected by a proposed city rule, the first of its kind in the United States, that would require the registration of nanoparticles. The council is expected to discuss the measure next week.

  5. South Korean Flu Mystery

    An outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in South Korea may reignite debate over how the disease is spread. Researchers had long argued about whether the H5N1 strain, which has killed 258 humans since it started sweeping through Asia in 2003, is spread by wild birds or the movement of infected poultry and contaminated crates and vehicles.

    Last week, the South Korean government confirmed H5N1 as the culprit behind the deaths of 6000 chickens on a farm in Iksan, south of Seoul, the first known H5N1 outbreak in Korea since 2003. The route of infection in that incident has never been proven, although South Korea's Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry has since warned on its Web site about the potential for H5N1 transmission from migratory birds to domestic chickens to people.

    Casting the blame on migratory fowl “could lead to the vilification of wild birds” and attempts to slaughter them or disturb their habitat, warns ornithologist Nial Moores of Birds Korea, a conservation group. “The real danger comes from poultry infecting wild birds and not the other way around,” Moores says. He's particularly worried about major wintering grounds at the mouth of the Geum River, 5 kilometers from Iksan, currently home to the world's largest concentration of Baikal teal. “If avian influenza gets transmitted into this flock, it could be devastating,” Moores says.

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