Science  05 Dec 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5907, pp. 1449

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  1. NEON Prototype Debuts

    Nearly a decade after former U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Rita Colwell proposed it, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) will open its first prototype site this month on Table Mountain, Colorado. When complete, the site will consist of an instrument shed, a 6-meter observation tower, and several pits for soil sampling; the plan is to monitor an area of tens of hectares. NEON has received about $30 million from NSF since 2000 as researchers debated the best design to achieve the project's surveillance goals. The project now anticipates 60 sites like the one on Table Mountain—along with 40 mobile labs—to monitor environmental indicators such as soil pH and carbon dioxide content on a national scale. NEON officials hope to submit their final budget plan to NSF in early 2009, the first step in obtaining construction money. But just completing a prototype is very satisfying, says NEON Chief of Science Michael Keller: “We're finally seeing a lot of the ideas being put in aluminum and concrete and wires.”

  2. Stem Cell Patent Nixed

    The European Patent Office's (EPO's) highest board of appeals has rejected a controversial application covering the derivation of embryonic stem (ES) cells filed by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. The patent, which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted in 1998, was initially rejected by EPO in 2004 (Science, 24 September 2004, p. 1887). In its 27 November decision, the Enlarged Board of Appeals upheld the original decision, citing European law that prohibits patents that involve the “use of an embryo for an industrial or commercial purpose.” The ruling does not cover human stem cells or stem cell cultures in general, however, leaving open the possibility of patents on methods using human ES cell lines that do not directly involve the destruction of embryos.

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    Launched a week before Thanksgiving, the blog provides scoops as well as insights on up-to-the-minute developments from around the world. It can be accessed from the home page of our daily online news service, ScienceNOW, or from its own site ( Let us know what you think.

  4. Biologist's Legal Battle Ends

    The legal woes of Brazilian biologist and species hunter Marc van Roosmalen, who was sentenced last year to 14 years in prison for embezzlement and biopiracy (Science, 7 September 2007, p. 1303), have ended. On 25 November, an appeals court in Brasília threw out all but one charge against Van Roosmalen, says Aguinaldo Lyra, a Brazilian lawyer living in the Netherlands who has supported the Dutch-born scientist. The 2 months he spent in prison fulfill the terms of the 1-year sentence that he received, Lyra says.

    Van Roosmalen—a 2000 Time magazine “Hero for the Planet”—has been in hiding since his release in August 2007 because of two alleged attempts to murder him and could not be reached for comment. Lyra says Van Roosmalen plans to resume his regular activities soon.

  5. Coral Reefs Still Reeling

    As the International Year of the Reef draws to a close, a new global assessment of corals adds a few bright spots to an otherwise bleak picture of this marine ecosystem. The 304-page Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008, to be released next week by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, chronicles continued problems from ocean acidification and other effects of global climate change, as well as the impact of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and unusually hot weather in the Caribbean. On the positive side, several huge protected areas have been created in the Pacific, and a Coral Triangle Initiative is under way in Southeast Asia. The assessment is expected to offer lower estimates of reefs effectively lost and critically threatened since the group's 2004 report. But network coordinator Clive Wilkinson warns that any optimism assumes that world leaders will take concerted action over the next 8 to 10 years to rein in climate change.

  6. Bright Future for X-rays

    The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), an x-ray source in Grenoble, France, will receive a €177 million upgrade over 7 years. Built for €500 million, the 14-year-old facility supports studies in materials science, structural biology, condensed matter physics, and other fields. The money will fund eight nanometer-sized x-ray beams, new instrumentation, and improvements to the accelerator. The upgrade was approved this week by representatives from all 12 countries that fund ESRF, says the lab's director general, William Stirling.