Science  15 Dec 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5806, pp. 1669

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  1. French Vote With Their Euros

    PARIS—In what is widely seen as a rebuke to clergy members' position on biomedical ethics, French citizens had pledged more than €101 million when this year's edition of the Téléthon closed on Sunday night, topping last year's record close. Some Roman Catholic bishops had sharply criticized the Téléthon, a fundraiser for genetic neuromuscular diseases, for supporting stem cell research and genetic studies that are at the basis of prenatal tests and preimplantation diagnostics (Science, 8 December, p. 1525).

    Independently, a parliamentary committee unanimously adopted a report last week that advocates loosening France's 2004 bioethics law, which includes restrictive rules for research with human embryos. The report also says the ban on so-called therapeutic cloning should be lifted. The current law is slated for review in 2009, but the report recommends changing it as early as next year. It also suggests a series of ethical guidelines for egg donation.

  2. Greenpeace 1, Patenting Cells 0

    BERLIN—German stem cell researchers fear that medical innovation will suffer after a court annulled the first German patent for a human stem cell-related invention. Scientists are allowed to use—but not create—human embryonic stem (ES) cells in Germany for basic research, but the court decided 5 December that patents cannot be granted, citing moral concerns. The court's decision is the culmination of a 7-year legal battle between University of Bonn cell biologist Oliver Brüstle and the German branch of Greenpeace, which argues that it is immoral to use cells created through the destruction of human embryos to turn a profit.

    Brüstle was granted a German patent in 1999 for a method of converting ES cells into nerve cells for potential applications in treating neurological trauma and disease. Greenpeace challenged that patent in court soon after. The decision “will further weaken any attempt to develop stem cell-based therapies in Germany,” says Hans Schöler, a stem cell biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster. “Which [foreign] industrial partner will be interested to team up with someone who does not have a patent?” Brüstle plans an appeal soon.

  3. Onward, Uncreatively Named Telescopes

    The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has set its sights on building the largest telescope in history: a 42-meter behemoth named the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). This week, the ESO Council gave the green light for a €57 million final design study, due to be completed in 3 years. The €800 million instrument could be ready in 2017. The E-ELT, which sports five large mirrors, will be sited in 2008; potential homes include Chile and Tibet. Meanwhile, U.S. astronomers are embarking on a smaller Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), due to be completed in 2016. “I look forward to close cooperation with them,” says TMT manager Gary Sanders.

  4. A Shot in the Arm for Biodefense

    Congress has voted to create a new agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that will spend $1 billion over the next 2 years to speed private development of vaccines for bioterror and disease. Two years in the making, the nascent Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency has been criticized for its secrecy provisions and the possibility that funding it would sap existing research budgets (Science, 4 November 2005, p. 755). But research organizations did not actively oppose the measure, which passed this week with more robust information-sharing requirements. White House approval is expected soon.

  5. Getting the Lead Out

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked an advisory panel to chew on an idea that is already giving some environmentalists heartburn. Last week, EPA announced that it is considering removing a standard requiring that levels of airborne lead not exceed 1.5 μg/m3. EPA has not revised this standard since 1978, even though it is required to do so every 5 years, and the lead battery industry wants the standard to be dropped. In 2004, lawyers representing residents near a Missouri smelter sued EPA for not revising the standard. The agency lost the court battle last year and now faces a 2008 deadline for updating the standard. In a draft document released last week, EPA said the dramatic decline in lead pollution from reducing the lead in gasoline, plus other regulatory actions, might mean that no standard is needed. EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee is scheduled to vet the proposal in February.