ScienceScope

Science  14 Mar 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5869, pp. 1471
  1. More Wins for Wisconsin

    1. Eli Kintisch

    The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has upheld two key patents, on primate and human embryonic stem cells, held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, giving WARF a solid victory in its hotly contested patent battle. Last month, PTO upheld a third patent, on stem cell culture techniques (Science, 7 March, p. 1323). The WARF patents, granted in 1995, 1998, and 2001, were challenged 2 years ago by two nonprofits that said the work was obvious and therefore unpatentable. The patent office disagreed, although it narrowed the patents slightly. We applaud this final decision on our two most important base stem cell patents, said the foundation's Carl Gulbrandsen.

  2. New Panel Tackles Boston Peril

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Responding to state and public concerns about the safety of a new biodefense lab being built by Boston University, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has set up a blue-ribbon panel to provide an independent assessment of the 128 million facility. We will thoroughly examine any potential risks to the community associated with this project, says Anthony Fauci, who directs NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is funding the lab. The panel, which held its first meeting this week in Boston, is chaired by Adel Mahmoud, a Princeton University biologist and former president of Merck Vaccines. The lab, which will handle highly toxic and infectious biological materials, has drawn widespread criticism for its location in a densely populated and mostly minority area of downtown Boston.

  3. Research Funds Granted

    1. Li Jiao

    BEIJINGChina's premier research labs have many advances to their credit, including superhybrid rice varieties, new dinosaur species, and instruments on the Chang'e lunar spacecraft. Now the government is showing its appreciation with a huge cash injection. Last week, the science and finance ministries announced the creation of a special fund for China's 220 key state laboratories. The fund will hand the labs 280 million in 2008, primarily for research materials and new equipment. The money is expected to liberate key-lab scientists from the drudgery of grantsmanship. Our scientists have wasted a lot of time applying for funds, says Chen Changjie of Beijing's Institute of Biophysics, which has key labs on biological macromolecules and brain and cognitive science. Now, Chen says, China's top scientists will have more time to do research.

  4. Message From Mars Mottled

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Planetary scientists who study Mars like NASA's plan to bring back samples (Science, 29 February, p. 1174). But they think the agency's plans to pay for it are unrealistic and ultimately bad for those who study the planet. A 29 February letter from the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group to the NASA Advisory Council's Planetary Science Subcommittee warns that the plan would have a devastating effect on the Mars program by creating a 13-year gap in landings and causing severe damage to the next generation of scientists. The two-page letter urges NASA to conduct a sophisticated sample return rather than a limited mission that would pick up material gathered by the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory.

    NASA's planned sample return cannot happen unless the agency doubles its current Mars spending levels, states the letter, signed by planetary scientist John Mustard of Brown University, who chairs the group. And a 2-year delay won't work, the letter adds, because the orbital trajectory between the two planets is unfavorable. Sean Solomon, a Carnegie Institution of Washington scientist who chairs the advisory subcommittee, says his panel also supports the more expensive and sophisticated sample-return mission.

  5. Australian Reactor Idle

    1. Cheryl Jones

    CANBERRA, AUSTRALIAWith the country's only nuclear reactor shut down, Australian nuclear scientists are hoping the authorities get them back in business soon. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) shut down the Open Pool Australian Light-Water (OPAL) reactor in Lucas Heights outside Sydney 7 months ago because of faulty uranium-laden fuel elements. ANSTO has been working to solve the problem, but the government regulator wants more details before it will clear the reactor to start up again, ending the shutdown.

    The delay is hampering scientists who use OPAL to conduct neutron-scattering research to probe high-temperature superconductors and other advanced materials. Robert Robinson, head of the Bragg Institute in Lucas Heights, laments the potential loss of users to overseas facilities and the impost on the users, particularly graduate students, who have either not been able to do their research or have had to fund travel to overseas neutron sources.