Science  09 Nov 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5852, pp. 899

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  1. Panel's Move Has Flamingo Fans Tickled Pink

    1. Robert Koenig

    An international effort to protect Tanzania's Lake Natron, the only known breeding site for East Africa's lesser flamingos, got a boost last week when a technical advisory panel recommended rejection of the environmental-impact plan submitted by a company that wants to build a soda-ash extraction plant there.

    “We suggested that they go back to the drawing board,” says Lota Melamari of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania and a member of the panel, which includes representatives of conservation groups and the national parks. He said the panel's findings are expected to be endorsed by Tanzania's National Environment Management Council in its report to the environment minister, who will make the final decision on the studies the developer will be required to do.

    The company, Lake Natron Resources, had requested permission to construct a large plant at the alkaline lake, which has been the only known breeding ground for East Africa's 1.5 million to 2.5 million lesser flamingos for 45 years (Science, 22 September 2006, p. 1724). The advisory panel found that the plan lacked several essential details, and members questioned whether its proposed mitigation strategies would protect the flamingo breeding area. The company contends that the extraction plant would not hurt or drive away the birds.

  2. Judge Blocks Patent Rules

    1. Eli Kintisch

    A U.S. federal judge has temporarily blocked new patent rules finalized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that would limit certain patent applications. The rules, originally set to take effect last week, would have limited filed amendments that allow applicants to add information to pending applications. Last week, the Virginia district judge ruled in favor of drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, saying that the limits would have “retroactively alter[ed] the bargain” that inventors such as GSK make in trading research secrets for a patent monopoly and “provide[d] a disincentive to their filing of new patent applications for researching new pharmaceutical products.” The rules will stay off the books for now. A judge will likely hear the case early next year.

    Meanwhile, the Senate is set to debate a patent-reform bill that would create a new system for challenging granted patents and set certain limits on legal damages in patent suits. A similar version passed in the House in September.

  3. Bee Virus Endemic

    1. Erik Stokstad

    A new genetic analysis, to be published next month in the American Bee Journal, suggests that the virus linked to the collapse of honeybee colonies did not arrive in the United States via recently imported Australian bees. In September, a team of researchers reported online in Science that collapsed hives, which have affected as many as 25% of U.S. beekeepers, were much more likely than healthy hives to be infected with Israeli acute paralysis virus. They did not find the virus in bees collected before Australian bee imports began in 2005, and so suspicion fell on the Australian bees. But the team behind the new analysis found the virus in preserved bees dating back to 2002. “It seems to let the Australians off the hook,” says entomologist Nicholas Calderone of Cornell University.

  4. Oil Crunch Forecasted

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    The International Energy Agency (IEA) is ratcheting up its concern about peaking world oil supplies that could trigger price hikes. In its annual energy outlook released this week, the agency warns that it cannot rule out a “supply-side crunch” in world oil markets by 2015 as flagging oil production struggles to keep up with soaring demand. Major agencies such as IEA have usually assumed that Middle East oil producers would make up the shortfall between sagging global production and rising demand, says Boston University economist Robert Kaufmann. Now IEA projects even faster demand growth than it did last year. “We're really at the knife edge” between demand for oil and the world's ability to produce it, says Kaufmann.

  5. Argo Ahoy

    1. Noreen Parks

    Scientists this month have fully deployed 3000 oceanographic floats around the world, completing work on an 8-year-old network designed to monitor the world's seas. Data from the floats have already helped scientists detect changes in the stratification of waters that affect major food webs and interpret the influence of global winds on climate. Climate-forecasting centers around the world also use Argo data, and as the data sets expand, climate predictions should become more accurate, says Dean Roemmich of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, who co-chairs the steering committee. “This will be key to proving to the contributing countries that this effort deserves a sustained commitment,” he says. Argo's $20-million-a-year budget comes from 23 countries.