Science  22 Dec 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5807, pp. 1859

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  1. Canada Tackles Chemicals

    Canadian regulators last week began banning 350 chemicals after government scientists concluded a 7-year review of almost 23,000 chemicals. The list includes bisphenol A, marking the first time that any government has banned the common additive, found in plastics. “We're not afraid. There's an awful lot of science supporting the safety of bisphenol A,” says Steven Hentges of the American Plastics Council. In addition, scientists will look at some 4000 of the most worrisome chemicals under a $300 million program aimed at identifying dangerous and environmentally persistent toxic substances.

    Richard Denison, a senior scientist with Environmental Defense in Washington, D.C., applauds the move, noting that the U.S. government has only examined “a few thousand of the 82,000 chemicals in its inventory.”

  2. China Seeks Academic Partners

    BEIJING—The Chinese government is hoping that its top research institutes and universities will team up with basic research laboratories around the world. And it plans to set up a special fund to help make those partnerships happen. Shang Yong, vice minister of science and technology, last week called for top institutions with “good international cooperation records” to participate in the 5-year plan. Chinese universities will need to apply for the money, which the government hopes will be matched by the non-Chinese partner.

  3. Targeting Tropical Diseases

    SINGAPORE—A new partnership for clinical research could make Indonesia the first country to field-test drugs against dengue, a burgeoning, occasionally fatal disease that causes fever and wrenching muscle aches. The partnership—between the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD) in Singapore and two Indonesian institutes—will also focus on tuberculosis.

    NITD, co-funded by Novartis and the Singapore government, aims to develop diagnostics and drugs for diseases of the poor and polish up the company's image in the process (Science, 7 February 2003, p. 811). Next month, it will join officials from Hasanuddin University in Sulawesi and the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology in Jakarta to launch a $5 million effort to build clinical research capacity in the world's fourth most populous nation. “We hope there will be a snowball effect,” says Irawan Yusuf, dean of Hasanuddin's medical school.

  4. South Pole Death Probed

    More than 6 years after Australian astrophysicist Rodney Marks died of methanol poisoning while wintering over at the South Pole, New Zealand authorities continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death. And the willingness of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other U.S. agencies to share information lies at the heart of the inquiry.

    Last week, a coroner's inquest in Christchurch, New Zealand, heard 2 days of testimony about events shortly before Marks ingested a fatal dose of methanol, a common alcohol-based solvent that is also often used in homemade spirits. Marks was working on the Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory located at NSF's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. NSF originally reported that the 32-year-old Marks “apparently died of natural causes” on 12 May 2000. The body was sent to Christchurch once flights from the pole resumed in the fall, and in November 2000, an autopsy revealed lethal levels of methanol. Christchurch coroner Richard McElrea then asked police to investigate.

    At the inquest, Detective Senior Sergeant Grant Wormald testified that the police department has been frustrated by what he characterized as a lack of cooperation from U.S. authorities in contacting the 49 people who were living at the South Pole station at the time of Marks's death. As a consequence, Wormald said that police have yet to determine whether the poisoning was accidental or deliberate.

    NSF spokesperson Jeffrey Nesbit says that New Zealand authorities asked NSF for help in 2002 and that the following year the agency sought clarification of the request. “There are complex jurisdictional and privacy issues involved,” says Nesbit, in explaining the delay. In 2005, NSF and its contractor, Raytheon Polar Services, distributed a questionnaire to those who had wintered over in 2000 and asked them to send their responses directly to New Zealand. “We didn't get any returns, so we assume that they went to the right addresses,” Nesbit added. Wormald testified that the police eventually received nine replies.

    New Zealand officials say they hope the additional publicity will lead people to come forward with new information. McElrea declined comment on his plans. But the case remains open, and the inquest is expected to resume in February.