ScienceScope

Science  12 Oct 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5848, pp. 181
  1. Brechot Out at INSERM

    PARIS—Christian Bréchot, the head of French biomedical research agency INSERM, has resigned amid allegations of a conflict of interest involving a company he set up with his wife, INSERM oncologist Patrizia Paterlini. In a statement released on Monday, Bréchot, 55, said he wanted to explore other career options and have his hands free to defend himself in the affair.

    The duo is fighting a legal battle with Metagenex, a company they set up to commercialize a technique to detect cancer cells or diagnose fetal abnormalities using blood samples. Bréchot says that the company—in which Paterlini and the couple's children own shares equaling 44%—is rushing the system to market without proper clinical validation. Metagenex director David Znaty says Bréchot has improperly used his position to prevent the product from reaching the market (Science, 3 August, p. 585). Bréchot's resignation comes as a joint inquiry by the research and health ministries is drawing to a close, although its findings have not been made public. Bréchot denies that he was pressured but concedes in an interview that he had “strong discussions about the timing” of his departure. For more see www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2007/1009/3.

  2. Astronomy Still Hot in Chile

    It's official: The first of a new generation of monster telescopes will be built in Chile. Sporting seven 8.4-meter mirrors, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) will have the light-gathering power of a single 22-meter behemoth. Last week, the GMT consortium—eight American institutes and universities plus one Australian—selected Cerro Las Campanas in northern Chile as the future site for the record-shattering instrument, due to be completed in 2016. The mountaintop, at 2300 meter altitude, is already home to the twin 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes.

    Only $30 million of the project's $550 million price tag has been raised as funding agencies wait for the results of the first mirror casting and polishing. But that hasn't dampened enthusiasm by Chilean astronomers. “This will keep Chilean astronomy at the [cutting] edge of science and development,” says Leopoldo Infante of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago.

  3. Few Clues in Rice Mystery

    After a 14-month investigation to find out how unapproved varieties of genetically engineered rice got into U.S. and European food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has come up with no insights into exactly what went wrong. Bayer CropScience discovered one of its experimental herbicide-tolerant long-grain rice varieties in commercial samples last year (Science, 22 September 2006, p. 1714) and another this year. USDA last week admitted that it wasn't able to figure out how the experimental rice got into the food supply. But as part of a broader review of its biotech regulations, the agency says it is thinking about ways to keep a tighter lid on experimental plants, such as requiring more isolation of seed-breeding fields. And to aid subsequent investigations, it may also require companies to keep better records.

  4. Bill and Melinda Play Risk

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a $100 million program to fund 1000 high-risk research projects. Tadataka “Tachi” Yamada, head of the Seattle foundation's global health program, says the focus will be in areas the charity already supports: infectious disease, maternal and newborn health, and nutrition, with the hopes that the research will complement the $436 million the philanthropy spread to 43 grant winners in its Grand Challenges in Global Health program. Proposals can run no more than two pages, and decisions will be made within 3 months, with the first grants going out in the second half of 2008. Yamada says the relatively small, roughly $100,000 awards should allow scientists to test novel ideas and reveal “Is this really wacko or does it have life?”

  5. California's Heavy Hitter: Bonds

    State bonds for stem-cell work flew off the shelves in a 2-day sale last week in California in what supporters say illustrates popular interest in the state's nascent research effort. Individual investors snatched up more than 40% of the $250 million worth of bonds designed to finance Proposition 71, the initiative voters passed in November 2004 to authorize a $3 billion institute. “We were thinking we'd get about $30 million” in sales to individuals, but “we wound up with almost $103 million,” says California treasury spokesperson Tom Dresslar. Lawsuits that were finally resolved this spring delayed the sales of the bonds for more than 2 years.