News this Week

Science  19 Sep 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5896, pp. 1616

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    California Academy Practices What It Preaches About Sustainable Living

    1. Greg Miller

    SAN FRANCISCO—When Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano set out 8 years ago to design a new building here for the California Academy of Sciences, he envisioned lifting up a piece of the city's famous Golden Gate Park and slipping the academy's museum underneath it. Now, tucked under an undulating 1-hectare living roof, Piano's vision is ready for visitors. It houses a colony of African penguins, a four-story rainforest, and the deepest coral reef tank in the world. When the building opens to the public 27 September, it will mark a milestone for the 155-year-old academy, which closed the doors on its old museum, aquarium, planetarium, and research buildings in the park nearly 5 years ago, eschewing relatively modest repairs and seismic retrofitting in favor of a more dramatic transformation.

    New digs.

    Topped with a living roof (inset), the eco-friendly California Academy of Sciences building opens its doors next week.


    The new building is green, literally and figuratively. The roof mimics the city's rolling hills and is covered with native plants to provide habitat for birds, butterflies, and other insects. Skylights, solar panels, and a host of other eco-friendly features should qualify the museum as the largest public space in the world to earn the U.S. Green Building Council's highest rating for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. “It's a fantastic building,” says Leonard Krishtalka, director of the University of Kansas Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center in Lawrence. “It practices what natural history museums are preaching, that we need to live in harmony with biodiversity and harm the environment as little as possible.”

    The new building also unites the academy's research collections and scientists, who were previously scattered across a 12-building campus. The academy's new dean of science and research collections, evolutionary biologist David Mindell, says the move will help foster greater collaboration among the various disciplines. “This is intended to be a new beginning,” Mindell says.

    The academy's move has roots in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which damaged several of the old buildings. During the dot-com gold rush of the late 1990s, San Francisco was booming, and the academy's then-director, Patrick Kociolek, saw an opportunity to tap into public goodwill to build a more inspiring museum (Science, 30 April 2004, p. 669). Although a few planned features proved unfeasible, “it is remarkable that the vision we had back in those days actually did turn out pretty much as we'd described it,” says Kociolek, now the director of the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History in Boulder.

    The vision came with a hefty price tag. The entire project, including the transfer of about 300 academy staffers and 20 million specimens to a temporary location during the construction, cost approximately $488 million. So far, the academy has raised about $465 million: about $152 million from city, state, and federal funds, and the rest from individual, corporate, and foundation contributions.

    The new museum, which incorporates the once-separate planetarium and aquarium, puts a new face on the academy's public spaces. Old standbys like the Africa hall have been enlivened: The dioramas are still there, but now a video system projects a troop of elephants trudging along on the horizon behind the stuffed zebras and oryx. Live African penguins preen and splash behind a large window.

    In the rainforest dome, an underwater tunnel takes visitors below the surface of a flooded Amazon forest, and a ramp takes them up through exhibits of flora and fauna native to other rainforests of the world, including Madagascar—a case study in habitat destruction—and Costa Rica—where large swaths of rainforest have been preserved. The goal is to present the natural world in the context of the scientific issues of our times, such as climate change, extinction, and evolution, says the academy's executive director, Gregory Farrington. “It's not just a series of cases of stuffed lemurs.”

    The living roof is itself an exhibit and an opportunity to teach visitors about sustainable architecture, says senior botany curator Frank Almeda. In addition to providing insulation, the roof's plants absorb storm water to reduce runoff, and its hills funnel air into the museum's central piazza, providing natural ventilation.

    The academy also hopes to breathe fresh air into its research programs with new hires, including Mindell, who left the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, to join the academy in July, and Zeresenay Alemseged, a 39-year-old Ethiopian-born paleoanthropologist who joined the academy in May as its anthropology chair. Mindell says he hopes to hire several more young researchers like Alemseged, a rising star recognized for his discovery of the earliest known skeleton of a hominid child (Science, 22 September 2006, p. 1716). Mindell also aims to foster more collaborations with scientists at Bay Area universities.

    Expanding the academy's research into microbial biodiversity and the phylogenetic relationships among viruses, bacteria, and other microscopic life forms is also part of the plan. “Natural history museums have traditionally been unconcerned with those taxa because they were relatively unknown at the time when the large research museums were formed, yet they represent the vast majority of the tree of life,” Mindell says.

    “It's a huge world waiting for exploration,” agrees Michael Novacek, provost of science at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. Novacek says AMNH was the first museum to appoint a microbial curator in 2004, but it's an idea that seems to be catching on. By virtue of the expeditions they mount to sample diverse environments and their expertise in building and maintaining collections, natural history museums can play an important role in microbiology, Novacek points out.

    The work of reinventing the academy is just beginning, says Farrington. “Our goal is really simple: We want to do our very best to define what it means to be an institution of this sort for this century,” he says. “Opening day is the starting line.”


    Smithsonian Takes the Plunge With Ocean Exhibit

    1. Elizabeth Pennisi

    The right whale hanging from the new Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) is only half the size of the iconic blue whale featured at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. But she's much more “alive.” The 14-meter-long, 1043-kilogram replica is modeled after 21-year-old Phoenix, one of 400 remaining North Atlantic right whales, and one that researchers have tracked since birth thanks to her signature tail and fin shape and birthmarks. Visitors can retrace her maritime travels in a new permanent exhibit opening next week that showcases the popular Washington, D.C., museum's expanding presence in marine research.

    “The new ocean hall will really make a difference,” says marine ecologist Larry Crowder of the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, North Carolina. Adds NMNH advisory board member Rita Colwell of the University of Maryland, College Park, “It gets millions of visitors a year; you can get the message across in an exceptional way.”

    Phoenix joins the hall's 674 specimens, including two giant squid, a live coral reef, and fossil trilobites and shark jaws, along with an 8-meter Native American canoe and a surfboard. Their new surroundings are a response to a call 5 years ago for the 160-year-old institution to take stock of its strengths and focus on a few research areas ( In addition to an exhibit, NMNH is hiring curators with a marine bent. It also plans to set up a Web portal that will provide ocean education and outreach over the Internet in conjunction with other leading oceanographic and marine research institutions.

    Five years ago, very little exhibit space dealt with the marine realm, despite its importance to the evolution of life and to humans, past and present. Yet 80 million of the museum's 124 million specimens and artifacts came from the sea. Dozens of curators study some aspect of the marine world—from undersea volcanoes to fish systematics—but not in any cohesive way. Several other Smithsonian research centers also concern themselves with marine studies.

    Calamari, anyone?

    The museum required special fluid to exhibit its giant squids.


    Congress gave $22 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration toward the 2137-square-meter, $49 million museum exhibit. In addition to displaying sea life and human maritime culture, the new hall will highlight “why science matters” and how science works, says NMNH Director Cristián Samper: “This is not a hall just about fish. We're trying to look at oceans from every discipline.” A $15 million endowment from Washington, D.C., philanthropist and Smithsonian Regents adviser Roger Sant and his wife, Victoria, will ensure that the exhibits are kept up-to-date. The Sants also donated $10 million for an endowed position in ocean research, the centerpiece for an expanded program in marine science, now filled by marine biologist Nancy Knowlton.

    “It is critical that the Smithsonian be a convener rather than just another research program competing for the same dollars and projects,” says oceanographer Andrew Rosenberg of the University of New Hampshire, Durham. “It needs to be a linking institution—linking together researchers from around the country and the world, linking research to public education and education and research to public policy.”


    Privatization Prevents Collapse of Fish Stocks, Global Analysis Shows

    1. Erik Stokstad

    Two years ago, a team of researchers took a broad look at the world's commercial fisheries and predicted that excessive harvesting would cause them all to collapse by 2048. Now, three other scientists have taken an equally broad look at how fisheries are managed and come up with a more hopeful view.

    On page 1678, the trio—Christopher Costello and Steven Gaines of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and John Lynham, now at the University of Hawaii, Manoa—shows that stocks are much less likely to collapse if fishers own rights to fish them, called catch shares. If implemented worldwide, they say, this kind of market-based management could reverse a destructive global trend. Says David Festa of the Environmental Defense Fund in San Francisco, California, “This gives definitive, concrete proof that this tool does end overfishing.”

    In the bank.

    Transferable quotas helped save the halibut fishery in Alaska, which was threatened by overfishing in the early 1990s.


    The new paper was inspired by a dismal report by Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and his colleagues (Science, 3 November 2006, p. 745). Worm's team had analyzed all the large marine ecosystems in the world and found that those with declining biodiversity tended to have more collapsed fisheries, defined as yields less than 10% of historical maximums. Costello, Gaines, and Lynham wanted to know if allotting catch shares—a kind of equity in the ecosystem—might provide a solution. “It's like having shares in a company,” Costello explains. “It gives fishermen an incentive not to overharvest.”

    There was anecdotal evidence for optimism. Fishing for halibut in Alaska, for example, used to be a dangerous, inefficient race. Competitors rushed to fill their holds before the industry reached its quota. They often overshot the quota, so regulators shortened the season to just a few days—prompting all the boats to go to sea no matter how bad the weather. When they returned en masse, they promptly flooded the market with a year's worth of fish.

    Business became better—and safer—after a system of catch shares was implemented in 1995. Each fisher was allocated a number of individual transferable quotas (ITQs), which they can use to catch fish or sell to others. The quotas are a percentage of the total allowable catch, which is set by regulators each year. The catch varies from year to year, based on scientific assessment of the health of the fishery. The result: Captains could plan when to fish without worrying about weather or being beaten, regulators have extended the season, and prices for halibut have climbed.

    Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland, among others, claimed success with this approach, but no one had done a comprehensive analysis. Costello, Gaines, and Lynham examined more than 11,135 fisheries worldwide. Only 14% of the 121 fisheries using ITQs or similar methods had collapsed, compared with the 28% collapsed among fisheries without ITQs. Had all the world's fisheries implemented catch-share management in 1970, the researchers found, only 9% would have collapsed by 2003. The findings are conservative, Costello explains, because most ITQ systems have been put into place fairly recently; each year of rights-based management makes a collapse 0.5% less likely.

    Jeremy Prince, a consultant in fisheries ecology in Perth, Australia, says that further research could help reveal how to tailor catch-share management schemes to particular fisheries. Meanwhile, he says, the new findings could help win over skeptical fishing communities. Most important, Prince says, the study highlights the impact of rights-based management. “It comes down to a long-term choice about having sustainable fishery or not.”


    Troubled U.S. Satellite Program Runs Into Additional Hurdles

    1. Eli Kintisch

    Problems with a key sensor could further delay the first flight of a troubled $12.5 billion U.S. weather and climate satellite program. Science has learned that the technical problems not only threaten the planned June 2010 inaugural launch of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) but also could imperil the satellites' ability to collect reliable climate measurements during the next decade.

    NPOESS is a planned fleet of five satellites, launched sequentially, that would gather environmental data continuously from every inch of Earth. The latest problems concern the troubled Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), one of four instruments aboard the first proof-of-concept satellite. The three agencies that jointly manage the program—NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Department of Defense—must decide by the end of the month whether to delay the 2010 launch, which could have a snowball effect on the program's schedule and cost.

    NPOESS is no stranger to adversity (Science, 2 June 2006, p. 1296). Begun in 1994, the program was to cost $6.5 billion and send up its first satellite in 2008. The date was later pushed back to 2013. Two years ago, a mandatory Pentagon review led to the removal of five crucial climate sensors, three of which have since been restored.

    Hazy picture.

    VIIRS sensor hopes to measure climate variables such as dust over land.


    Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, which is building VIIRS, calls it “the most sophisticated weather sensor ever developed for space.” But the $153 million instrument, which can measure 23 environmental variables, has also created a multitude of headaches. One problem has been getting the latches that secure its radiator to work properly, a problem that engineers have been unable to resolve for months. NASA engineers are also worried that the instrument may have been damaged during a July test in which it was exposed to an electromagnetic field roughly 10 times stronger than the level NASA terms a safe operating limit.

    The biggest fear among climate scientists is that electrical noise between segments of the VIIRS sensor has not been eliminated. Northrop Grumman says the sensors meet specifications, but NASA's James Gleason, the head scientist on the preliminary mission, says tests on that specific part “were not quantitative, as we would have liked.” An upcoming test should determine whether the noise levels are low enough to allow measurements precise enough to detect climate trends.

    If the levels are too high, it may not be possible to fix the problem. In June, the Pentagon said any further projected cost increases could force a return to lower specifications for data quality that scientists say could make climate measurements impossible. NASA and NOAA officials oppose such a move, but the Pentagon has threatened to cut off its share of funding for the program if the three agencies cannot agree on an overall budget and schedule. A 31 August deadline for such an agreement, already 4 years late, has passed. At presstime, officials said the agreement was in “final sign off.”


    Lower Malaria Numbers Reflect Better Estimates and a Glimmer of Hope

    1. Martin Enserink

    At first glance, a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) appears to herald good news in the global battle against malaria: The number of cases is down from the 350 million to 500 million WHO estimated in 2005 to 247 million, and deaths from more than 1 million to 881,000. But the report's authors say that the drop isn't a sign we're winning the battle, just that the methodology of gathering data is better. Among other things, WHO has a better way to estimate the true number of malaria cases from the figures reported by governments—which are known to be inaccurate.

    The study does have some truly good news, however: In endemic areas, the number of people who sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets and have access to a new generation of effective drugs called artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) has gone up rapidly. Plummeting malaria rates in Eritrea, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe (a country off Africa's West Coast), and Zanzibar, which led the way in introducing these interventions, suggest they hold great promise.

    Determining the burden of malaria is notoriously hard because many patients don't seek or receive medical attention, and even if they do their case may not be lab-confirmed or entered into government statistics. One result is that WHO's numbers have huge error bars: For instance, the estimate for Kenya ranges from 5 million to 19 million cases.

    The uncertainty also leads to controversy. Malaria epidemiologist Robert Snow of the University of Oxford, U.K. and the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi says that WHO still relies too heavily on weak government data, resulting in too rosy a picture. Based on his own work, Snow believes the actual numbers are at least 50% higher than WHO's. But Nicholas White, a malaria researcher at Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand, says the report is “reasonably robust” given the difficulties.

    In any case, says report co-author Mac Otten, the key news is that ACTs and bed nets have more than halved the malaria burden since 2000 in the areas that led the way with intervention. White agrees. “I think we can be confident that we're having an impact,” he says—and that should translate into numbers dropping in many countries in the years to come. But Peter Agre, head of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, says that will happen only if donors keep up the funding that makes scaling up the interventions possible.


    House Weighs Proposal to Block Mandatory 'Open Access'

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    A controversial policy requiring researchers to make their papers freely available to the public at a U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Web site is facing a potential roadblock. Last week, members of a powerful House committee held the first-ever congressional hearing on the policy and floated a proposal to overturn it.

    Three years ago, NIH began asking grantees to send the agency copies of their accepted, peer-reviewed manuscripts so that it can post them in its full-text PubMed Central archive within 12 months after they are published. But compliance was so poor that proponents of the idea persuaded the House and Senate appropriations committees to tell NIH to make the policy mandatory (Science, 18 January, p. 266). Many publishers protested, complaining that the “public access” policy infringes on their copyrights and will put them out of business by cutting into their subscription base.

    These critics have now found allies on the House Judiciary Committee. Last week at a 2-hour review of the policy, members of its Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property grumbled that by changing copyright rules, appropriators had overstepped their jurisdiction. Members heard testimony from both sides of the debate.

    Paper chase.

    More authors have been submitting their articles to NIH since its public-access policy became mandatory in April.


    NIH Director Elias Zerhouni argued that NIH simply wants to “maximize the return of our investment” of $400,000 per research grant. He emphasized that PubMed Central is enhancing the papers by linking them to other databases. “The real value is in the full connectivity,” not “the passive document” in archives, he said. He noted that compliance with NIH's rule has risen since it took effect in April: Submissions are on track to reach 56% of the 80,000 eligible papers per year, many submitted directly by journals (see graph, above). “There is no evidence that this has been harmful” to publishers, he argued. Open Access advocate Heather Joseph of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition in Washington, D.C., agreed. She argued that journals lose little by posting “old” papers 12 months after publication and noted that the policy applies to only NIH-funded studies.

    Others disagreed. Law professor Ralph Oman of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., argued that NIH's policy is a “dilution of the rights of the copyright owners” and “will destroy the commercial market” for science and technology journals.

    A bill introduced by Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) would bar any federal agency from requiring “the transfer or license” to the government of a work that has been produced in part with nongovernment funds or to which value has been added by the publisher through peer review. The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (HR 6845) would mean grantees could not be required to submit accepted papers to a free archive.

    Congress is not expected to act on the legislation before it adjourns later this month. Jonathan Band, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents the American Library Association, which favors open access, says the bill is fatally flawed because of its sweeping provisions. “It goes far beyond the NIH policy. It limits a lot of what the federal government can do,” he says. But Allan Adler, legal affairs director for the Association of American Publishers, which supports the bill, expects that both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees will examine the issue again next year. “This is really the beginning,” Adler says.


    And Then There Was One

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    A decade after 26 members of the entering class of 1991 earned their Ph.D.s from Yale's elite molecular biophysics and biochemistry program, only one holds a tenured faculty position. But is an exodus from academia a bad thing?

    A decade after 26 members of the entering class of 1991 earned their Ph.D.s from Yale's elite molecular biophysics and biochemistry program, only one holds a tenured faculty position. But is an exodus from academia a bad thing?

    Work and play.

    Both the Bass Center for Molecular and Structural Biology on Yale's Science Hill and the GPSCY bar were landmarks for MB&B students.


    Tricia Serio had been a big fish in the small, student-oriented biology department at Lehigh University in southeastern Pennsylvania. But could the daughter of a close-knit, working-class family in New Jersey, the first sibling to go away to college, make it as a graduate student at a research-intensive, Ivy League university?

    Serio wasn't the only one feeling insecure as she arrived at the summer orientation weekend put on by the molecular biophysics and biochemistry (MB&B) program at Yale University. The size of the incoming class of 1991—with 30 students, it was more than twice the norm—had spawned a false rumor that the dean had accidentally mailed acceptance letters to dozens of students on the waiting list. The orientation was intended to ease those doubts among first-year Ph.D. students. So after spending the day listening to MB&B faculty members talk about their research, Serio headed to the GPSCY (Graduate and Professional Student Center at Yale) bar on the New Haven campus to unwind and compare notes with her classmates.

    That's when the GPSCY cast its spell on her. Amid the low ceiling, concrete walls, cheap furniture, and spilt beer in this basement grad student hangout, Serio's fears began to dissipate. Seeing how easily the “adults”—professors and older graduate students—mingled with people like herself at the bottom of the food chain, Serio decided that she might belong after all. I could be comfortable here, she thought.

    She was right, and not just about graduate school. In her last year in the program, Serio married Jeffrey Laney, a third-year MB&B student she had met at the mixer. Then she did a postdoc with Susan Lindquist at the University of Chicago in Illinois and was hired by Brown University in 2002 (along with Laney, who comes up for tenure in 2009–10). Named a Pew Scholar in 2003, she received her first R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2006. And this spring, at the age of 38, she was awarded tenure.


    Back at the GPSCY (which has since been upgraded and now bears the name Gryphon's Pub), Dan Zimmer wasn't having any trouble blending into his new surroundings. Maybe it was his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge and the 2 years he had spent doing summer research. In any event, Zimmer remembers feeling pretty confident about his ability to handle the coursework, pick a good lab, nail his thesis, and embark on an academic career.

    Zimmer was midway through the MB&B program before he began to question whether that path was right for him. It wasn't until his postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley, that he realized Serio and other “academically bound” colleagues had a passion for independent research that he just didn't share. “I don't think I ever developed that trait,” he says. “I didn't have a specific area of science that I loved and wanted to pursue.”

    Sensing that the collaborative nature of industrial research would be a better match, Zimmer left Berkeley in 2001 and became the 50th employee of a fledgling biotech company in Cambridge. In April, the same month in which Serio got the news that cemented her academic status, Zimmer's employer changed its name from Microbia to Ironwood to reflect its expanded mission to discover, develop, and market its own drugs. After a series of promotions, Zimmer is now in charge of the company's drug-discovery program.

    Coming from the University of Hawaii, where she had grown up as a fourth-generation Filipino-American, Tammy Spain was thrilled at the chance to earn a doctoral degree from Yale. Meeting over drinks at the GPSCY, she and Serio quickly became friends and first-year roommates, and both chose to study under virologist George Miller. Spain also became friends with Zimmer, and the two dated before they went their separate ways.


    But unlike her two classmates, who have put down strong roots in academia and industry, respectively, Spain is still searching for her true path in science. After doing two postdocs and working in industry and for the public sector, Spain was hired this spring by the University of South Florida, Tampa, to manage a new center designed to help faculty members from many disciplines find commercial applications for their work in detecting pathogens, diagnosing diseases, and targeted therapeutics. “I'm drawn to new things,” says Spain, who says the job lets her combine her knowledge of microbiology with her real-world experience. “And I like to be where the action is.”

    Choosing a career

    On its Web site, the MB&B program declares that its mission is “to prepare students for careers as independent investigators in molecular and structural biology.” In academia, that typically means the ability to sustain a lab with peer-reviewed funding from NIH. The mission rests on the premise that the U.S. research enterprise, acknowledged as the finest in the world, affords anyone with sufficient talent and determination the chance to become a successful scientist.


    But that premise, a core tenet for academic biomedical researchers, has been sorely tested in recent years. They've watched the NIH budget, their most important source of funding, remain essentially flat for the past 5 years after doubling over the previous 6 years. That dismal funding picture has shrunk their already slim chances of obtaining the resources to become independent investigators. One unfortunate outcome, say community leaders, is that promising young scientists are being pushed out of academic research.

    But is that true? Science decided to examine that argument by looking at the career paths of one group of young biomedical scientists who would seem to have an inside track on such jobs: the MB&B class to which Serio, Zimmer, and Spain belong. Twenty-six of the 30 students who entered the elite program in September 1991 earned their Ph.D. degrees in 1997 or 1998 and have spent the next decade spreading their wings. What are they—13 men and 13 women—doing now? And what role did NIH's funding roller coaster play in their decisions?

    The answers come in 26 different flavors, and some of them might surprise you. Serio is the only graduate from the 1991 entering class who holds a tenured position. Five others are doing science in an academic setting, and a seventh is a university research administrator. But of those, only Matthew Goldberg, who in 2005 joined the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas as an assistant professor of neurology, currently has a tenure-track position. “When we started grad school, we all planned to go into academia and run our own labs,” recalls Kathy Seggerson Gleason, now an adjunct biology faculty member at a small, 4-year college outside Denver, Colorado, who says she's currently “on hiatus” after adopting a child last year from China.

    The small number in academic science doesn't mean the rest of the graduates have turned their backs on the profession. Roughly two-thirds of the graduates are employed in the life sciences and are “using” their degrees. Of those, 11 are working in the biotechnology industry—four doing research, and seven holding a variety of administrative positions. There's also a patent lawyer who works with biotech companies. Three graduates have gone into the information technology sector. Science could not confirm the job status of three other graduates. Four class members left within the first year of the program, one after an internal investigation into allegations of scientific misconduct.

    “I would have guessed that the percentage in tenure-track positions would be higher, maybe 20% to 25% [rather than 7%],” says Mark Solomon, an MB&B professor and director of graduate studies at Yale. “But we're not just aiming for replacement faculty. That's not the reality anymore. There are a lot of good opportunities out there.”

    How many of the graduates would be in academic positions if the funding picture were brighter? That's impossible to say with any certainty. But most MB&Bers said they had other reasons for steering clear of academia. Some cited a strong interest in industry, and others mentioned family or personal reasons. Several say their training experiences soured them on following in their advisers' footsteps.


    For some MB&Bers, academia was never really an option. “Even as an undergraduate in college, I never bought into the concept of being a professor,” says Deborah Kinch, associate director for regulatory affairs at Biogen Idec in Cambridge. “Being a grad student is the last bastion of indentured servitude, and being a faculty member is pretty much the same thing, at least until you get tenure. Earning the same low salary and fighting for every grant—that was the last thing I wanted to do.”


    Despite those reservations, Kinch and her classmates uniformly praise the training that they received. “Those were formative years for me, and I learned to think independently,” says Jennifer Holmes, now a patent attorney at Ropes & Gray LLP in Boston, who has been friends with Kinch since their undergraduate days at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and who worked alongside her in Solomon's cell cycle lab. “A Ph.D. is highly valued in this field. It's definitely opened doors for me.”

    The road to New Haven

    Although they come from different backgrounds, the members of the 1991 MB&B class share a love for science that goes back to childhood. Tori Williams Reid, one of three students on an NIH-funded MARC (Minority Access to Research Careers) fellowship, recalls getting first a microscope and then a chemistry set from her mother. “She had no familiarity with science, but she must have perceived something in me,” says Reid, who joined Accenture, the global consulting giant, shortly after graduation and moved around the country on a series of corporate assignments. In July, Reid left the company to start a home-care business for seniors.


    For most MB&Bers, pursuing a career in science meant striking off on one's own. “If I hadn't gotten into the University of Illinois, I'd probably be making tractors,” says Brian DeDecker, a research assistant professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. DeDecker grew up in a small Midwestern town and was the first in his family to go to college. One exception is Jing Xu, who helps life science companies develop their business plans as an independent consultant based in San Diego, California. Studying science was the equivalent of going into the family business, she says. “Both my parents are chemists, and I grew up [in Xiamen, China] with the expectation that I would go into science.”


    Once the record-sized class descended on Yale in the fall of 1991, they began to worry that some of them weren't supposed to be there. To help convince herself that she belonged, Julia Pinsonneault says she took the first-year coursework very seriously. “I was obsessed with my grades,” confesses Pinsonneault, who last month ended what she calls “the world's longest postdoc”—an 11-year ordeal—by becoming a research scientist in the pharmacology department at Ohio State University in Columbus. Chad Brautigam, a research scientist in the structural biology laboratory at UT Southwestern, says he went a bit in the opposite direction. “By the second semester, I was burnt out. I had worked really hard as an undergraduate, and I was so tired of taking tests that I let things go a little.”

    Goldberg, who had taken a year off to work in a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) lab at Harvard University, was chagrined to find that his undergraduate physics degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, had left him unprepared to grasp the secrets of living cells. “All of a sudden I had to learn biochemistry and cellular biology and genetics,” he notes. He and a few other MB&Bers even took an undergraduate biochem course to catch up.

    To help each other out, the class met regularly for informal study sessions in which they pooled their knowledge. “The biophysics was a challenge for me,” recalls William Russ, now an assistant professor in the pharmacology department at UT Southwestern, who was a biochemistry major at Cornell University. “Fortunately, I had some friends from physics who struggled with memorizing the molecular biology but who loved the equations.” In contrast, most MB&Bers say their professors weren't much help. “It came so easy to them, they didn't know how to explain it to somebody who didn't already understand,” says Spain.

    In addition to taking a full load of courses, first-class MB&B students were required to do three 10-week lab rotations covering both molecular biophysics and biochemistry. The rotations gave students a chance to dip their toes into both wet and dry science and helped prepare them for qualifying exams in both areas. The large size of the 1991 class made the normal jockeying for spots even more intense.

    In October, the class went on a departmental retreat at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory. Cowed by the subject matter, Russ was planning a “token” rotation in biophysics when his eventual adviser, Donald Engleman, a structural biologist, pulled him aside and gave him a piece of career advice that he's never forgotten.” ‘You have a question, and you learn what you need to learn to answer it,’ he told me,” Russ recalls. “Everything I've done since the MB&B program is an extension of that conversation.”

    What Peter Kosa, now director of business development at XOMA, a northern California biotech company, learned in his first year was that he needed to take a year off. “I fell in love with structural biology after seeing these tremendous 3D pictures of molecules interacting with each other,” he says about his decision to join the lab of Paul Sigler, a senior scientist with an impressive track record who had recently joined the Yale faculty. But Kosa had also fallen in love with a former classmate at Swarthmore College, where he had majored in biochemistry. After getting married, the couple decided they wanted to spend a year together “living somewhere we haven't lived before.”

    Kosa knew that he was bucking the odds. But after obtaining Sigler's backing and approval from the department, he spent a year working in an HIV lab at the University of Utah. True to his word, he returned in 1993 and 5 years later completed his Ph.D.

    Settling into a lab

    Although most students say they were able to get into the lab of their choice, those relationships weren't necessarily lasting ones or even helpful to their careers. “I wanted to work on solid-state NMR, which was still fairly new, and I picked a young faculty member,” says DeDecker. “But the project, which was really more of a technique, didn't go anywhere.” DeDecker blames himself for the misstep. “I'm not very politically savvy. I just wanted to find something that was cool and that interested me.” Learning from that experience, he then joined Sigler's lab.

    Macarena Parra, a payload scientist for life science missions at NASA Ames Research Center in northern California, says she got off to a rocky start under David Gonda, a young scientist just setting up his yeast lab, and never fully recovered. Not only was the project a stretch for a graduate student, she says in retrospect, but she missed the collegial, interdisciplinary research atmosphere she had enjoyed as an undergraduate at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute working in General Electric's corporate lab in Schenectady, New York. “Everybody at Yale had their disciplinary blinders on,” she says. She also hated the treadmill existence they seemed to lead.


    Unbeknownst to Parra, and in the midst of her training, Gonda began studying for a master's degree in computer and information science. In 1998, he left Yale to join industry and is now doing computational research applied to risk management for The Hartford, a Connecticut-based financial services company. “I guess I should have added two and two together,” says Parra.

    Joseph Toth, a senior scientist at Adnexus Therapeutics, a Waltham, Massachusetts, biotech owned by Bristol-Myers Squibb, rotated through Gonda's lab before settling in with Mark Biggin, another young faculty member who left Yale and is a staff scientist in the genomics division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. “It was an eye opener for me,” says Toth. “It was discouraging to see what they were going through, and it reinforced my feeling that maybe I didn't want to do that.”

    Toth has still lived that experience through his wife, Rachelle Gaudet, who was 2 years behind him in the MB&B program and now holds a tenure-track position in molecular and cellular biology at Harvard. “We decided that it wasn't a good idea for both of us to be struggling with grants and an academic lab,” he says. “And it's worked out pretty well.”

    A young, enthusiastic mentor can also be an asset, however. Athena Nagi, a principal scientist at Amgen in Longmont, Colorado, worked under Lynne Regan, who had come to Yale a year earlier to pursue fundamental questions about protein folding. “She was more hands-on and spent more time in the lab” than many senior faculty members, Nagi says of Regan, now a full professor in the department. Regan also taught her not to expect the same technology to solve every problem—a valuable lesson that she's tried to apply at each of the four biotech companies at which she has worked. “In industry, the goal is to use whatever [tool] will get you an answer,” says Nagi, currently a team leader for a late-stage clinical monoclonal antibody therapeutic.

    Long before she graduated, Kinch had decided that the MB&B program would mark the end of her academic career. Her experience as Solomon's first graduate student reinforced that decision. “It was pretty stressful,” she says, “watching someone who was under such tremendous pressure to publish, to get his NIH grant renewed, and to do everything else that he needed to keep the lab going.” Solomon says his students typically know when he's applying for a grant “because I'm asking them for data. But I try not to stress them, since I'm not sure there is much that they can do” to help with the proposal.


    Whereas Zimmer says he spent the last few years at Yale “trying to decide what I wanted to do,” Serio never wavered from her decision to pursue a life in academic research. “I always knew what I wanted to work on,” she says. “I didn't think about the long-term, career consequences. I just wanted to do it.”

    Serio says Miller built up her confidence by encouraging her to be independent while remaining accessible. “He's my biggest cheerleader, next to my father,” she says. But Miller, a prominent cancer virologist who at 71 still maintains an active lab, refuses to take any credit. “Her independence was probably something that happened when she was 4,” he jokes. “Trish was very self-directed. Both she and Tammy worked on difficult problems that are still not solved. And both did lovely work. But Trish was probably more determined to set out on her own.”

    The next steps

    Midway through their graduate training, a few MB&Bers hatched the idea of a seminar series to hear from former graduates working outside the academic fold. Nagi said the group wrestled with the definition of an alternative career and decided that the answer was, in essence, “anything that didn't involve teaching at a major research university.”

    The speakers held jobs as diverse as running a seed company, remediating brown-field sites, and working as an undercover FBI agent. Although Spain says she enjoyed hearing them talk about their work, what Spain remembers most were their reasons for branching out. “They all said they didn't want to go into academia. None of them said, ‘I failed.’ None had even tried to find an academic job. It was the first time I got the sense that there was no shame in not going into academia.”

    That heightened sense of empowerment reinforced what some class members were already feeling. “At first, you think that academia makes sense,” says Nagi. “But by your 3rd or 4th year, you start to get the lay of the land and look at the options. You realize that a postdoc isn't just for 1 year and that there are multiple postdocs.”

    Eager to apply her knowledge to helping treat and cure diseases, Nagi was chagrined to learn that her Ph.D. wasn't seen as sufficient training for a career in the field. “I was talking with someone from Merck who seemed very interested in my work,” she recalls about one job fair she attended as a graduate student. “But then she realized I wasn't a postdoc, and she said, ‘I don't see any reason to continue talking with you.’ That's when I realized there is a prescribed path that people were supposed to follow, for no good reason.” Regan, her former adviser, says that Nagi's decision not to do a postdoc “was very unusual, because the assumption is that anyone who wants a science-related job will do one. But it worked out for her.”


    To Kinch, the idea of moving lockstep into an academic postdoc “started to look like a trap.” But avoiding that trap also required a bit of luck. “Biogen had just begun a postdoc program, and it was being handled by the temp agency that I was working for,” she recalls. “They had just posted it, and I went for an interview and got hired that day.” A year later, she was hired as a full-time employee.

    Kosa remembers how his initial excitement about being a graduate student faded as he soldiered through his doctoral program. “At the beginning, they are paying you to go to school, and you think, ‘Wow, what could be better?'But by the end, it just seems like a low-paying job.”

    Kosa's days as an academic scientist were numbered once, as a postdoc at Harvard, he got a taste of the burgeoning biotech industry in and around Cambridge. “I wanted to understand the nonscientific side of the biotech industry, and my work was too basic to be applied,” he says. So he left Harvard and enrolled in an MBA program at the MIT Sloan School of Management, turning a student project into a biotech start-up that performed liver toxicity testing with a technology billed as a “liver on a chip.” Upon graduation, he counseled venture capitalists looking to invest in the biotech industry, and in 2006, he joined Bayer HealthCare before moving last month to XOMA.


    The idea of going to law school first occurred to Holmes midway through her graduate training after a patent lawyer described her work at one of the alternative-career seminars. But it would be several years until Holmes acted on that impulse, and only after she had tested the waters by working as a patent agent for a law firm.

    “I had wanted to be a scientist for as long as I can remember,” she says. “So it was scary when I started to second-guess myself.” Working and going to school full-time, Holmes received her law degree in 2004 and joined the patent division of Ropes & Gray. “I didn't hate my project,” she says about her work on kinase substrates in Solomon's lab. “It was more of a realization that most of science is about making small contributions. Not everybody can cure cancer or even get the cover of Science or Nature.”

    Committed to a career in academia, DeDecker has struggled to move up the academic ladder. But NIH's budget has been the least of his obstacles. “The way to get a job is to have a famous person say [about you] that ‘this is the best person I've seen in the last 40 years.’ Unfortunately, I haven't been very good luck for senior scientists.”

    At Yale, he studied crystallography under Sigler, who in January 2000 died after suffering a heart attack while walking to work. DeDecker says a decision to “learn something new” after his Ph.D. and to do it at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. has also hurt him professionally. “I'm really glad I did it,” he says about his 2-year postdoc in protein engineering. “But going abroad is a bit of a career killer. I had to start over again when I came back to the States.”

    For his second postdoc, DeDecker joined crystallographer Don Wiley at Harvard's new Institute of Chemistry and Cell Biology, which planned to do large-scale screening of small molecules. “It was a grand plan, and it looked like a good thing,” he says. But DeDecker admits that he had a hard time “finding my place.” And tragically, in November 2001, Wiley died after falling off a bridge over the Mississippi River while attending a scientific conference in Memphis, Tennessee.

    Learning from their mistakes

    Several members of the MB&B class were faced with some tough choices as they sought to carve out their scientific niche. In 2001, Spain moved to south Florida with her physician husband—they have since divorced—so that he could establish his practice. “In coming down here, I pretty much knew that I was giving up an academic research position,” she says.

    She left the door ajar, however, by taking a second postdoc. “I was developing preliminary data that I hoped to use to write up an R01 application,” she explains. “But the person I was working under had run into funding problems, and the lab was limping along with only one NIH grant. So he decided to incorporate my work in his next application. I don't really fault him. What else could he do?”


    That experience pushed her into the arms of industry. “If I'm going to work my butt off, I want to be in control,” she recalls thinking. She posted her resume online, where it was picked up by a recruiter for a south Florida company that was setting up a molecular biology unit to develop military sensors that would detect biological contaminants in the environment. The resulting negotiations were a refreshing change from academia, she says. “I asked for double my salary [$66,000], and they gave it to me,” she says.

    Kinch was already ensconced at Biogen when professional disaster struck. A member of the scientific team that had sought government approval for the anti-inflammatory drug Tysabri, Kinch arrived at work one morning in February 2005 to discover that the company had suddenly pulled it from the market after three patients taking it to treat multiple sclerosis developed a rare neurological condition. “It was very demoralizing. But it's part of the business, and you roll with the punches.” Tysabri was subsequently remarketed with restrictions on its use, and in 2006, Kinch decided she wanted to learn more about the regulatory side of the business. “We pretend that we're the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] reviewers, and we try to spot holes in the data,” she says about her current position. “It's a lot of fun.”


    For Nobuyuki Ota, the death of a colleague thrust him into the role of CEO of A-CUBE Inc., a small Burlingame, California-based start-up company that is using computer models to design novel monoclonal antibodies. Trained as a bioinformaticist under Axel Brunger at Yale, Ota had met the company's founder, Hisaaki Kawakatsu, while working on ligand recognition as a postdoc in David Agard's biophysics and biochemistry lab at the University of California, San Francisco. Their conversation had stimulated Ota's interest in “modifying the biology and health of an organism,” in other words, finding clinical applications for what he had been doing at a molecular level. Returning to Japan to tend to his ailing parents, Ota began looking for venture capital to launch the company. Soon after, Kawakatsu was diagnosed with cancer. When he died a year later, in 2006, Ota took the reins.

    Before starting A-CUBE, Ota says he turned down two tenure-track university offers because they were in bioinformatics, “and I'm more interested now in antibody medicine.” He also prefers what he regards as the greater transparency of commercial research. “In academia, some of the papers are not reliable and the findings are not reproducible,” he says. “In industry, if you don't make a very good antibody, there are tests that can prove it doesn't work. So you have to be honest.”


    Parra says she tries to be honest with herself in assessing her career options. Part of a team from government, industry, and academia that last year successfully launched GeneSat-1, a miniaturized biological package tucked aboard another payload, she's learned to cope with both the pressure and the tenuous nature of her position. “There's always the fear of budget cuts,” she says, noting that at one point she and her colleagues would receive layoff notices every other Friday, only to have them rescinded on Monday.

    Right now, she likes what she's doing—PharmaSat, her current project, is due to go up later this year—enough to stick with it and see what happens. “I've mellowed. I've decided to stay and wait for the pink slip.” Losing her job would be hard, but there would at least be a small silver lining, she says: It would give her more time to work on a two-passenger biplane that she and her boyfriend are building.

    Doing whatever it takes

    Goldberg, who studies Parkinson's disease and has developed a strain of knockout mice that helps him explore its molecular pathways, has always been a realist in assessing what it will take to carve out a career in academic research. That approach has meant both deliberate zigzags and some serendipitous turns along the way.

    After working on protein aggregation in Arthur Horwich's NMR lab at Yale, he chose to do a postdoc with Jie Shen, then a new assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “I wanted to do something more applied,” he explains. “Neurodegeneration was the logical next step to put my thesis to work. And with the growth in the aging population and the increase in neurodegenerative diseases, I figured I should enter a field that would be in demand.”

    One week before he joined Shen's lab, however, she called with some surprising news: “She said a mutation of the gene I had been studying is the first that has been linked to Parkinson's.” Goldberg, a protein biochemist, suddenly needed to know a lot about mice genetics. And as a postdoc, he was in a perfect position to do so. “I learned the techniques, and then I trained everybody else.”

    That clear-eyed recognition of what's needed to get the job done is part of the reason fellow MB&Bers said that they were not surprised to learn that Goldberg and Serio are the only members of the 1991 class to hold tenured or tenure-track positions. “Tricia was always a very driven, type-A personality,” recalls DeDecker. “She's a very good scientist, but she also knows the business of science, what it takes to get into the right lab, in a hot field, and get the best out of the situation. I also give Matt lots of credit for branching out and changing fields.”


    DeDecker is hoping that a tenure-track position will open up within his department. Russ says that he's thinking of looking this fall for a tenure-track position that would begin as early as the 2009–10 academic year. Neither has abandoned their original dreams of running their own labs. But both men have no illusions about what it will take to succeed. “I'm putting in an NIH grant, although realistically, my chances are awful,” says DeDecker. “If I calculated the odds, I'd have to stop. But you just have to have some sort of faith in your ability.” Goldberg is even more convinced that the payoff will come. “The most important thing is to keep applying,” he says.

    Serio, the only one from the class of 1991 who's hit that particular jackpot, epitomizes that nose-to-the-grindstone attitude. In an e-mail to Science the day after learning she had been recommended for tenure, she admitted sheepishly that the news was a bit anticlimactic. “I kept thinking that I would sleep well if this happened. But I was up working until one [a.m.] last night. Some habits die hard, I guess.”


    Australia's New Era for GM Crops

    1. Elizabeth Finkel*
    1. Elizabeth Finkel is a writer in Melbourne, Australia.

    The new leaders of Western Australia have promised to rescind a moratorium on transgenic crops that has put a damper on R&D.

    The new leaders of Western Australia have promised to rescind a moratorium on transgenic crops that has put a damper on R&D

    CANBERRA—Australia's 2-century-long effort to adapt wheat to its arid heartland has made it a research leader on this staple grain. Hoping to draw from that expertise, Thomas Lumpkin, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in El Batán, Mexico, exhorted scientists in Australia to develop genetically modified (GM) wheat resistant to pests and tolerant to salty soil at a Crawford conference here earlier this month. GM varieties, he said, could boost global wheat yields, which had grown by up to 2.5% a year in the 1990s but have risen only 1% a year in the past decade.

    Australian scientists may soon be able to take up that gauntlet. Four years ago, the governing Labor Party in Western Australia (WA), the country's breadbasket, banned growing GM crops in the state. But after elections last week, the Liberal and National parties formed a coalition that will oust Labor—and the Liberals have promised to rescind the GM moratorium. “It's an exciting time for agricultural R&D,” says Mike Jones, director of the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre in Perth.

    The surprising election outcome is the latest boost for transgenic crops in Australia. Five years ago, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand approved GM canola as safe for the environment and for consumption. In 2004, four canola-growing states, arguing that a GM-free label would deliver premium export prices, banned GM canola. Two states—New South Wales and Victoria—lifted their bans earlier this year.

    But WA's anti-GM stance has taken a heavy toll. “The political climate has driven out agricultural biotech investment in the state. Venture capital has dried up, the major companies are walking away, and so are the scientists,” says Ian Edwards, former CEO of Grain Biotech Australia in Bull Creek, WA. Edwards founded the company in 1998 to address WA's most pressing problem: salt. Much of the state's wheat is grown on saline land that drags down wheat yields by as much as 20%. Grain Biotech Australia developed GM wheat with a salt-resistance gene cloned from the Arabidopsis plant. An early-stage field trial 3 years ago of the salt-tolerant wheat had promising results, Edwards says. But WA's moratorium on commercialization of GM crops deterred investors and salt-resistant wheat is languishing on a shelf, he adds.

    Shifting into high gear.

    Australian researchers have a growing number of GM varieties in field trials.


    WA's outgoing government had argued that the GM-free label is a boon, but an analysis last May by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics showed that the reverse is true. The federal agency estimated that WA would forfeit AUS$180 million in revenue over the next 10 years if it continues to outlaw herbicide-resistant GM canola, which produces higher yields at lower costs. The bureau predicts that if Australia as a whole forgoes new GM wheat and canola varieties, that could lop $918 million a year off its GNP in a fiercely competitive world market by 2018.

    Although South Australia also has a moratorium on growing GM crops, research and development is flourishing there. The trace element boron, at elevated soil levels, stunts plant growth. Last year, a team led by Peter Langridge, CEO of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics in Glen Osmond, identified a gene conferring boron tolerance in barley (Science, 30 November 2007, p. 1446). A barley variety with that gene is now in field trials. The center is also testing GM barley that produces more β glucan, a component of dietary fiber linked to lower rates of colorectal cancer and heart disease. “We're 5 to 10 years off from having a commercial crop,” says Langridge. “Our hope is that the moratorium will be lifted by then.”

    Victoria's move to lift its moratorium has certainly buoyed researchers' spirits in the state, which is home to Australia's dairy industry. Scientists there are tweaking pasture clover and ryegrass to reduce the amount of methane cows release during digestion; nearly one-eighth of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions are from cows. The Molecular Plant Breeding Cooperative Research Centre, based in Bundoora, with outposts across Australia, has several GM varieties in field trials in Victoria. One is ryegrass engineered to produce less lignin and more fructan, which leads to less fermentation in the cow's stomach and hence less methane. In Victoria's private sector, Hexima Limited, a biotech firm based in Melbourne, formed an alliance last month with DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred International to commercialize fungus-resistance technologies for corn and soybeans.

    The state with the sunniest outlook, perhaps, is Queensland, which has never had a GM ban. “The government has been very aggressive in the development of biotechnology,” says James Dale of Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. Here the main objective is to protect Australia's AUS$300 million banana industry. Bananas are under threat from Fusarium wilt and a second fungal disease, black sigatoka. Last October, tropical race 4, a virulent new strain of Fusarium wilt that has decimated plantations across Asia, slipped into Australia's Northern Territory. Dale's group is about to start trials of fungus-resistant bananas.

    The embrace of GM in other parts of Australia—and abroad—makes some WA scientists envious. “When I see hundreds of thousands of small farmers in [India] sowing GM crops, it's very disheartening to come back to WA,” says Jones. That is about to change: The Australian state that may need GM technology the most should now have a chance to benefit.