Science  06 Apr 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5821, pp. 29

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    IT'S NOT GARBAGE. Removing waste from waste-water is great; milking it for energy is even better. This month, the University of Southern California awarded its Tyler Prize to Gatze Lettinga, a professor emeritus of environmental technology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, for combining those two good ideas into a technology called the upflow anaerobic sludge blanket.

    The process uses microbes to digest pollutants in domestic sewage and industrial effluents and turn them into fuel. With help from the Dutch government, Lettinga built reactors in Colombia, India, Brazil, and other countries. By waiving any patent rights, he paved the way for refinements such as an expanded granular sludge bed. The award comes with a $200,000 prize.


    PARTING WAYS. Claire Fraser-Liggett is leaving the DNA research institute founded by her former husband, J. Craig Venter, after running it for nearly a decade.


    Fraser-Liggett's decision to step down as president of The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Maryland, comes 5 months after a board chaired by Venter stripped TIGR of its independent status and made it a division of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), also located in Rockville. A JCVI spokesperson says, “We will be making some announcements in the very near future about additional changes.”

    Fraser-Liggett has led a team of pioneering microbial DNA scientists at TIGR since Venter launched it in 1992 with proceeds from a DNA-sequencing deal (Science, 14 June 2002, p. 1957). Fraser-Liggett is now weighing an appointment at a major academic medical center that will link her lab research more directly to clinical work, and the speculation is that she and several TIGR staffers are being recruited by the University of Maryland.


    HELP WANTED. The province of Alberta, Canada, is offering $17 million packages for a few rising stars in biomedical research who like the idea of making their name on the Canadian plains. “We're looking to attract people who could be really big players 5 to 10 years down the road,” says Kevin Keough, president of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. “The idea is to provide them with the wherewithal to really build something here.”

    The new, 10-year Polaris Investigator Awards are for a total of three faculty spots at the universities of Alberta, Calgary, and Lethbridge, which are sharing the cost of the awards in a quest to make a bigger mark on the biomedical research frontier. The recipient “creates critical mass,” says University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera, “and becomes a global magnet for talent in that particular field.”

    The awards are an offshoot of an economic boom in the province fueled by spiraling oil prices. And the foundation has sweetened the deal by excusing the winners from any administrative duties for the first 5 years of their contracts. Applicants should contact one of the universities. The West is calling.


    “None of us is running for president, so I think we can get away with plagiarism.”

    —Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), at a 28 March meeting of the House Science and Technology Committee, after committee chair Bart Gordon (D-TN) confessed to “plagiarizing” the recommendations of a 2005 National Academies report in a bill to improve math and science education (H.R. 362) that the committee then passed unanimously.

  5. THREE Q'S


    Thailand's new science minister, Yongyuth Yuthavong, brings a deep understanding of science to a post traditionally headed by bureaucrats. A biochemist who along with colleagues deciphered the structure of a key enzyme of the malaria parasite, Yongyuth, 62, is lobbying the National Assembly to approve a several-fold increase in R&D spending over the next 3 years. Science caught up with him recently.

    Q: What is the motivation for your draft science law?

    We want a system for science policy development, with the science minister as the chief scientific adviser to the government. The science ministry has always been a “grade C” ministry. I want it to be “grade A.”

    Q: How will the legislation help rank-and-file scientists?

    The law designates a level of support for R&D—not less than 3% of the budget. Even if I get 2%, it will be three or four times the present level. [But] we'll have to lobby.

    Q: What are your chances of success?

    My first name means “keep on fighting,” and my surname means “fighting family.” And [he laughs] I have friends on the assembly's science and technology committee.