ScienceScope

Science  24 Aug 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5841, pp. 1019
  1. Thais Say Aye to GM?

    1. Richard Stone

    BANGKOK— Thailand may lift a 6-year-old ban on field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops. Concerned that the country's agriculture efforts are lagging behind those of China and other neighbors, Thailand's agriculture ministry was expected this week to petition the country's Cabinet, installed after a coup last year, to rescind a moratorium on open-air experiments. Critics of GM crops say the country lacks adequate biosafety laws and are urging the Cabinet to stand firm. The ministry's top priority is a GM papaya strain resistant to a ringspot virus that has decimated orchards in Thailand and elsewhere.

  2. German Physics Facilities Achieve Fusion

    1. Gretchen Vogel

    BERLIN— Materials scientists will have a new one-stop shop in Berlin when BESSY, an accelerator-driven x-ray source, and the Hahn-Meitner Institute (HMI), which boasts a reactor-based neutron source, merge into a single institute in 2009. Both facilities allow scientists to probe the atomic structure of materials, from protein crystals to high-tech ceramics. The merger, announced last week, will produce an institute with 1000 employees and a yearly budget of $136 million, almost entirely from the German federal government. That is a significant funding boost for BESSY, which will no longer have to charge users for beam time. The fusion will produce one of the few places in the world with expertise with both types of probes, says HMI Director Michael Steiner.

  3. Mmmm, Beer

    1. Elizabeth Pennisi

    Farmers, biofuel enthusiasts, and, yes, brewmasters could soon get a little enlightenment from German plant geneticists. Last week, the German government put up $8 million to more fully map and partially sequence the genome of barley, a key crop used worldwide in animal feed, human food, and beer.

    Funding agencies have been slow to tackle crops such as wheat and barley because of the daunting size of their genomes. At 5 billion bases, barley's genome is nearly double the size of the human genome. But it is only one-third wheat's size and lacks that genome's multiple copies, so it should be easier to sequence, says plant geneticist Nils Stein of the Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Gatersleben, Germany, whose team will create a draft sequence of 10% of the genome. Stein hopes the work, along with a British-led barley sequencing pilot, will set the table for a large-scale sequencing project.

  4. Time Out for Institute Leader

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    A large number of scientists at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) have turned against their embattled director. Of 146 staff scientists who responded to a survey by NIEHS's Assembly of Scientists, 107 said they did not have confidence in David Schwartz's leadership. This week, Schwartz (below) stepped down temporarily as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a sweeping management review of the $642-million-a-year institute in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said that the review is in response to congressional inquiries, which have included Schwartz's management of his personal lab, his consulting for law firms, and his handling of NIEHS's journal (Science, 6 July, p. 26).

    CREDIT: NIH

    Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) wrote Zerhouni this week to ask why some NIEHS employees had recently been given a form for logging calls received from congressional investigators. The form could intimidate potential whistleblowers, which would be “not only wrong but also illegal,” Grassley says.

  5. U.S. Targets Add-On Patents

    1. Eli Kintisch

    In an effort to streamline its operations, the U.S. Patent and Trademark office is clamping down on how often applicants can tweak their inventions. Last year, 30% of all patent filings were continuations, in which inventors add details to a pending application. So this week, after 18 months of wrangling with the community, the office decided to limit such filings to two per patent, with petitions required for further continuations.

    Biotech companies oppose the new limits, which they believe will deprive the patent office of information that could strengthen applications, including results from ongoing work. But lawyer Peter Zura of Bell, Boyd & Lloyd LLP in Chicago, Illinois, thinks the changes are not an “end-of-the-world thing” because firms that write biotech patent applications, including his own, will devise ways to protect their proposed inventions, such as more rigorously constructing original applications. But “it's definitely going to make life more difficult,” he says.

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