ScienceScope

Science  24 Oct 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5901, pp. 515
  1. Bug Hunters, Unite

    1. Gretchen Vogel

    Scientists working to map the microbes that naturally live in and on the human body have agreed to coordinate their efforts. Last week, representatives from nine countries announced the formation of the International Human Microbiome Consortium. The alliance will enable researchers who are sampling the microbial communities that inhabit the skin, gut, mouth, and reproductive tract of humans to deposit their data in a central repository, freely available online. Consortium members will conform to common data standards, avoid overlap in their efforts to sequence the genomes of different microbes, and follow common informed-consent and privacy standards. The consortium will give researchers from around the world the chance to directly and efficiently compare their data, says molecular biologist Jane Peterson of the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, who represented the U.S. National Institutes of Health at the Heidelberg, Germany, meeting at which the agreement was worked out. That could allow researchers to compare, for example, the gut microbes of people in China who follow a traditional diet with those of people in Europe and North America.

  2. Scientific Science Policy

    1. Eli Kintisch

    Researchers will gather in Washington, D.C., in early December to bolster a White House-led effort across the government to improve how science agencies make policy decisions. The “Science of Science Policy” effort, begun in 2006 and funded mostly by the U.S. National Science Foundation, is subsidizing more than $15 million per year in work that analyzes research trends, gauges scientific progress, and develops modeling and forecasting techniques. The government's goal is to “make more informed, defensible policy decisions,” says the U.S. Department of Energy's Bill Valdez.

  3. SLAC Plays a Name Game

    1. Adrian Cho

    After a spat with its owner, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center has tweaked its name. The new appellation, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, resolves a disagreement between DOE, which wanted to trademark the name of its Menlo Park, California, lab, and Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, which sought to protect its own moniker. Officials say the new name also reflects a shift from just particle physics to work in an array of disciplines, including astrophysics and x-ray studies.

  4. Google Grants Fight Disease

    1. Martin Enserink

    Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the Internet search giant, has given more than $14 million to six programs aimed at identifying new infectious disease threats that could become worldwide disasters.

    Among the winners are ProMED, a respected and well-utilized but perennially cash-strapped e-mail list that compiles reports about emerging diseases, and HealthMap, a Web site that takes outbreak reports from ProMED and other sources and logs them on world maps. The projects will use their combined $3 million share to expand their coverage of neglected countries. HealthMap, which relies on Google News, Google Maps, and Google Trends, will also receive support from Google technicians—“something that doesn't come with most grants,” says its co-founder John Brownstein.

    The rest of the funding, awarded for 3 to 4 years, will support efforts to monitor deforestation by satellite, use climate and weather data to predict epidemic hot spots, and improve the identification of pathogens in the lab. The Global Viral Forecasting Initiative plans to use $5.5 million from Google and another grant of the same size from the Skoll Foundation to hunt for new viruses in humans and animals in Africa and Asia.

  5. Cold Cash for Science

    1. Martin Enserink

    PARIS—The French government will spend more than €250 million over the next 3 years to make careers in science and higher education more appealing and reward its academic stars. The measures, including increased financial bonuses, are part of a “radical offensive” to make France's research system “among the most attractive in the world,” science and higher education minister Valérie Pécresse said at a press conference this week.

    Among the plans: A new contract with a minimal starting salary for Ph.D. students; a 12% to 25% pay hike for assistant professors; and bonuses of up to €15,000 for excellence in research or teaching and up to €25,000 bonuses for those who win scientific prizes. The plan is in line with recommendations from the French Academy of Sciences, which is “happy” with the plan, says academy president Jules Hoffman. But Sauvons la Recherche (SLR), a researchers' movement, opposes the bonuses. Eligibility criteria are vague and there's the risk of arbitrary decisions, says SLR president Bertrand Monthubert.