Science  31 Aug 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5842, pp. 1157

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  1. Slime for a Dime

    1. Elie Dolgin

    Worm biology just got $4000 more lucrative. That's the amount a small team of leading worm biologists has put up for a reward to the first person to find a new sister species to Caenorhabditis elegans. The problem is that although the nematode C. elegans was the first animal to have its entire genome sequenced, the other nematodes sequenced since are too distantly related to allow biologists to identify the genetic differences in C. elegans that evolution has retained through natural selection. The worm's closest known relative branched off tens of millions of years ago, and scientists need a more recent relative for genome comparison.

    Creators of the prize, including Caltech's Paul Sternberg and James Thomas of the University of Washington, Seattle, took a page from the Ansari X PRIZE—2005's $10 million private space flight competition—in announcing the prize, which will come out of their pockets. “Someone was talking about what types of species they would like to study,” recalls Sternberg. “I whispered, 'I would pay 1000 bucks from my own pocket to see a true sibling of C. elegans.' James Thomas immediately replied, ‘Me, too.’” Details are at

  2. Marvin the Martian, Googled!

    1. Benjamin Lester

    Google Earth has been turned inside out. In partnership with three astronomical teams, Google has created a new feature for stargazers in its Google Earth interface. Dubbed Sky, the tool presents an easily manipulated map of the sky as seen from Earth, complete with constellations and the locations of famous images like the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula. Currently, images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Digital Sky Survey Consortium, along with about 125 of the best known Hubble shots, are the only ones displayed in the program, which is geared toward educational usage and the general public.

    The astronomers behind the system, however, say Sky could in the future integrate more images from visible, infrared, ultraviolet, and x-ray observatories to make the system useful for academic scientists, either as a full-fledged reference system or as a way for researchers to do quick checks on areas of potential interest before consulting other professional databases. “Right now, that's a challenge,” says astronomer Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who calls the tool a “great idea” for publicizing astronomy.

  3. Ocean Observatory Wet Under the Ears

    1. Matthew Busse

    The final pieces of the National Science Foundation's Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) have fallen into place. Last week, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and Oregon State University joined the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Washington in receiving contracts to be the primary managers of what is hoped to be a 5-year, $331.5 million effort to establish coastal, regional, and global networks of anchored sensor buoys and underwater vehicles. The network will provide the first real-time measures of key parameters such as nutrient levels and currents. Current measurements are often taken once, not continuously, and in specific points throughout the ocean that may or may not be indicative of larger patterns in the sea. “We don't … really know what normal means,” says Holly Given of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions, which is running OOI.

    In addition to illuminating new trends in ocean conditions and wildlife, says James Bellingham of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, the initiative “heralds the beginning of a push to better instrument the ocean's interior, which is an essential part of developing a better ability to observe and predict Earth's climate.”

  4. Endangered Species at Issue

    1. Erik Stokstad

    Political appointees have overruled scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on endangered species decisions dozens of times, claims the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in Tucson, Arizona. This week, the environmental activist organization formally alerted the agency of its plans to sue, demanding it open an investigation of decisions made on 55 species.

    FWS is currently reviewing eight decisions made by Julie MacDonald, a former political appointee with oversight of the agency. She resigned in May after the Department of Interior's inspector general found she had pressured scientists (Science, 6 April, p. 37). “The political corruption in the system goes way beyond eight species and Julie MacDonald,” says CBD's Kieran Suckling. Among the cases he wants investigated is that of Tabernaemontana rotensis, a rare tree on Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. Agency scientists and peer reviewers concluded it deserved protection, but in 2004, FWS ruled it wasn't a valid subspecies and declined to list the species.