ScienceScope

Science  20 Jun 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5883, pp. 1575
  1. A Bio Billion for Massachusetts

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick this week signed into law a plan to dole out $1 billion over 10 years to help the state's biotech industry. Proposed a year ago, the legislation includes $250 million in grants, $250 million in tax incentives for biotech companies, and another $500 million for new facilities within the state university system. The presidents of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Massachusetts have criticized earmarks inserted by lawmakers that would funnel some of that money to nonscience projects that include a highway interchange and a sewage-treatment plant. California, Texas, and North Carolina have approved similar legislation to bolster life sciences and health research.

  2. Quake Shakes Panda Breeders

    1. Richard Stone

    CHENGDU—Chinese scientists are surveying the Sichuan highlands to see how badly the 12 May Wenchuan earthquake disturbed the country's charismatic giant pandas. But it's clear that the panda breeding facilities face a long recovery. Five staff members at the panda research center in Wolong Nature Reserve near the epicenter died in the quake, and landslides destroyed much of the compound. Last week, the reserve announced plans to rebuild its center from scratch.

    Meanwhile, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding has suffered collateral damage. The center, which cares for 48 of the world's 239 captive pandas, has delayed an expansion to be funded largely by gate receipts after tourism in the usually busy spring season dropped 90%. The expansion is aimed at relieving overcrowding and boosting the captive population to allow more reintroductions into the wild.

  3. Chinese Postal Ban Pinches Labs

    1. Hao Xin

    BEIJING—Chinese researchers may be forced to curtail some experiments because of a 5-month ban on transporting hazardous substances that took effect last month in anticipation of the Olympic Games in August and the Paralympic Games in September. The Chinese postal service has stopped accepting parcels containing any liquids, gels, powders, or “chemical products.” Labs countrywide scrambled to stock up on reagents and solvents such as ethanol, says He Shigang, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Biophysics in Beijing. But those stockpiles are likely to run out long before the ban is lifted in October. “We might as well take the summer off,” says He.

  4. Bad Grades for U.S. Science Office

    1. Eli Kintisch

    The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) needs a “critical upgrade” to more effectively tackle important science issues, says a report released this week by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. In a 17 June briefing, the report's authors and other experts said that the current office, headed by John Marburger with a staff of 50 and a $5.2 million budget, is often ignored by the president and does a mediocre job of coordinating science policy among federal agencies. In that way, said consultant and co-author Mark Schaefer, it resembles science offices in previous Administrations. The report itself was more circumspect, calling for four assistants (up from two) who are confirmed by the Senate, offices in the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the West Wing (OSTP currently sits in another building slightly farther away), and more face time with the next president.

    “If you're not able to forge the relationships in the inner sanctuary, … you can't get stuff done,” said Deborah Wince-Smith, president of the Council on Competitiveness and a former OSTP staffer. But Marburger calls the additional top staff “management overkill” and says the report's recommendation to give his office more clout by making it a Cabinet-level agency “in my experience would not be necessary.”

  5. Genetic Test Kits Under Fire

    1. Jennifer Couzin

    California has told 13 companies to stop offering genetic tests directly to its residents. The action followed an investigation by state public health officials, who received complaints from consumers about the accuracy and cost of these tests, which are sold over the Internet.

    Direct-to-consumer genetic testing is a new and rapidly expanding area, and genetic researchers and physicians have expressed concern over whether the tests, which are often based on gene mutations that only slightly raise risk of disease, can provide meaningful information. The companies, including California-based Navigenics and 23andMe, as well as some outside the United States, were ordered to “cease and desist performing genetic testing” on Californians until they prove that they are following state laws for laboratory licenses and that they require orders from a physician before selling tests. New York state has made similar requests of 26 companies.

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