Science  18 Apr 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5874, pp. 303

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  1. Come Get Your Stem Cells

    1. Gretchen Vogel

    BERLIN—Scientists in Germany will soon have more human embryonic stem (ES) cell lines available for their research. On 11 April, lawmakers voted 346 to 228 to allow them to work with cells derived before 1 May 2007. Germany's embryo protection law makes it illegal to derive human ES cells, and previously German scientists were only allowed to work with imported human ES cells that had been derived before 1 January 2002. The new law means that more than 500 cell lines are now legal for import instead of just 21. It also clarifies that German researchers working abroad will not be prosecuted for working with cell lines that are illegal in Germany. Developmental biologist Hans Schöler of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster says the wider choice is important because different ES cell lines have different properties. It will also make international collaborations much easier, he says.

  2. Institute Called a Troubled Environment

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    A new National Institutes of Health (NIH) report identifies several problems with the way the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) functioned before Director David Schwartz resigned in February. Last year, a Senate investigation raised conflict-of-interest issues about his consulting for law firms, overspending his personal lab budget, and collaborating with Duke University, his former employer. Schwartz agreed to step aside in August during a management review requested by the House Appropriations Committee. In a 47-page report dated 9 April, the NIH Office of Management Assessment found that NIEHS officials failed to document why they funded 45 grants over 2 years that were not among the 2500 top-rated proposals. It also says that an understaffed ethics office was unable to read most conflict-of-interest reports filed by NIEHS scientists. In a rare reference to Schwartz, the report says that staffers managing his conflicts were put in “a very difficult” position because they reported to him.

    Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) complained in a letter to NIH that the report ignores the fact that NIH Deputy Director Raynard Kington, not the NIEHS ethics officials, approved Schwartz's outside activities. Kington says the suggestion that he broke rules is “preposterous.” NIH says other reviews of Schwartz's conduct are ongoing.

  3. Obama Questions NASA Programs

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) says that NASA “needs to be redefined.” That may be cause for space scientists to cheer. Answering a question 11 April from a high school student in Columbus, Indiana, Obama said he was “a big supporter of the space program” but that as president he would ask whether the agency should emphasize robotic probes instead of human launches. Such probes, he noted, “oftentimes are cheaper and less dangerous but yield more information.” Obama says he wants a “major debate” on the subject with implications for the agency's budget. Earlier this year, Obama backed construction of a new human launcher, after previously calling for a 5-year delay.

    Meanwhile, NASA decided this week to extend the Cassini mission in the Saturn system by 2 years. The agency planned to shut down the spacecraft in July, but an impressive flow of data on the planet's moons persuaded managers to keep it operating until 2010.

  4. Whole-Genome Studies: You Are Wellcome

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    British researchers are expanding their search for genes involved in common diseases. Over the next 2 years, the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium (WTCCC) will genotype 120,000 people and probe the data for genetic markers involved in 25 disorders. Last year, the consortium provided some of the flood of so-called genome-wide association studies finding genetic markers involved in disorders such as heart disease or diabetes. The consortium's new £30 million effort, funded by its charity namesake, will now study the DNA of seven times as many people in the United Kingdom and other countries.

  5. Cleaner Ships Ahoy

    1. Erik Stokstad

    In an effort to improve air quality in ports and coastal areas, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) plans to cut sulfur pollution from ships. Earlier this month, IMO lowered the current standard from 4.5% sulfur content in fuel to 3.5% by 2012. Most ships already use fuel with only 2.5% sulfur, but the standard becomes 0.5% by 2020. That's still more than 10 times higher than European Union diesel right now, says Jackie Savitz of the advocacy group Oceana. “The U.S., or anyone really, can't afford to rely on IMO to address these types of problems.”