ScienceScope

Science  29 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5867, pp. 1171
  1. NIH Grants: How Low Can You Go

    A closely watched sign of health in U.S. biomedical science funding may hit a new low this year. The success rate for researchers seeking grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) is expected to drop from 21% in 2007 to 19% in 2008 (see graph), according to data in this month's 2009 presidential budget request. The falling numbers are the result of a one-two punch: NIH's budget has been held flat since 2003 while applications for grants have increased. The 2007 success rate, calculated by dividing the number of new awards by the number of reviewed applications, was already the lowest since 1970.

    CREDIT: NIH

    But dropping below the 20% mark is “a big deal,” says Howard Garrison, public affairs director for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland. “It's scary for lots of established investigators. It's devastating for younger investigators.” Next year could be even worse. The projected success rate is 18% if Congress follows the president's request for no raise for NIH.

  2. Thai Drug Rule Under Review

    Thailand's new health minister has ordered a review of a controversial government decision that broke patents on several medicines, allowing the country to make or import generic versions of the drugs. Health activists had welcomed the policy, adopted last year by Mongkol Na Songkhla, health minister in the government installed after the September 2006 coup. He ordered compulsory licenses on two AIDS drugs—efavirenz and lopinavir/ritonavir—and clopidogrel, a heart medication (Science, 8 June 2007, p. 1408). Just before the elected government took power earlier this month, Mongkol also issued licenses for four anticancer drugs: docetaxel, erlotinib, imanitib, and letrozole.

    New health minister Chiya Sasomsub said last week that the review will examine the legal basis for compulsory licensing. Health activists are up in arms and have vowed to take the government to court if licenses are suspended.

  3. A Good Death

    CREDIT: JPL/ESA

    At 17, Ulysses is ancient in spacecraft years, so the announcement last week that the $1.15 billion joint NASA-European Space Agency mission will end within weeks was not too surprising. Neither was the cause: freezing to death as the spacecraft's radioisotope electrical generator inevitably winds down. “Ulysses is a terrific old workhorse,” says project scientist and mission manager Richard Marsden, himself a 30-year veteran of the solar system-probe project. In its 6-year looping orbit, Ulysses has studied everything from the solar wind blowing from the sun's poles to interstellar dust and gas crossing Jupiter's orbit. Now the space agencies can start saving the $8 million per year in Ulysses operations costs and consider their next billion-dollar mission.

  4. DNA Database for Indian Tigers

    NEW DELHI—With India's tigers on the ropes, the Department of Biotechnology plans to create a national DNA database to better ascertain the number of individuals left in the wild. Last week, the Indian government pegged the tiger population at 1411—less than half the number estimated in 2002 (Science, 22 February, p. 1027). Experts attribute the decline to poaching, human encroachment, and habitat loss. Under the $250,000, 2-year project, individual tigers will be identified from variations in mitochondrial and nuclear DNA collected from scat and hair samples. “Due to the tiger's cryptic and secretive behavior, it is not possible to enumerate and monitor its populations through direct observations,” says the project's lead investigator, Lalji Singh, a molecular biologist at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad.

    In addition to making population estimates more credible, he says, DNA could help law enforcement officials crack down on poaching. Qamar Qureshi, a wildlife biologist at the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun, says that although the technique “sounds promising,” the cost of analyzing each sample—about U.S. $65—could be prohibitive over the long run.