News this Week

Science  24 Sep 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5999, pp. 1582

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  1. Science in U.S. Schools

    A Way to Heal Science Education, But Is There the Political Will?

    1. Jeffrey Mervis
    As the worm turns.

    Kindergarten students in San Francisco study earthworms with help from a visiting scientist.


    The Obama Administration received bold advice last week from two presidentially appointed bodies on how to improve math and science education in U.S. elementary and secondary schools. The reports focus on different aspects of the problem, but they share one important theme: The nation can't produce the scientifically literate workforce it needs unless everyone—elected officials, scientists, the private sector, and the public—pays more attention to the topic. Science education advocates have already embraced that message, but implementing it will be much more difficult.

    The heftier report—both in scope and potential clout—comes from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology ( Despite its pedestrian title, Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America's Future, the PCAST report offers a soaring vision of how to achieve President Barack Obama's goal to lift U.S. students by the end of the decade “from the middle to the top of the pack” in the rankings on international tests. The other report (, by the policymaking body for the National Science Foundation, says the country needs to be more concerned about the high end of the student population, namely, those most likely “to become leading STEM professionals and perhaps the creators of significant breakthroughs in scientific and technological understanding.”


    PCAST's Mario Molina and others recall their favorite teacher (


    The challenge is stark, says the PCAST report: “[T]oo many American students conclude early in their education that STEM subjects are boring, too difficult, or unwelcoming, leaving them ill-prepared to meet the challenges that will face their generation, their country, and the world.” So the panel's solutions—which include a new federal agency to promote digital learning, higher salaries for the cream of the nation's teaching corps, and the creation of 1000 STEM-focused schools—must be up to that challenge, say PCAST members Eric Lander and S. James Gates Jr., who co-chaired the 19-member panel. Lander is director of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Gates is a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, College Park.

    The cost of implementing those reforms could approach $1 billion a year, according to the report, but Lander says anything less risks falling short of meeting the president's goal. “It isn't about the money. We're handing over to the president a set of ideas that we think make a lot of sense. And now they have to be worked.”

    That's where things are likely to get sticky, says Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Lander says “the vast majority of what we are talking about will not require new money because it is either already something that could be covered under existing authorities and appropriations, or under existing appropriations with new authorities.” But Whitehurst, who led the Department of Education's (ED's) research arm, the Institute for Education Sciences, during the Bush Administration, says that's wishful thinking. “PCAST has some useful recommendations in the abstract, but they are not grounded in the realities of politics, legislation, or how federal agencies operate,” he says.

    Going through the report's key suggestions, Whitehurst explains how much heavy lifting would be required to implement each one. “The program to pay bonuses to master science teachers would require specific congressional authorization,” he says about the report's suggestion to give a $15,000-a-year salary boost to some 22,000 teachers around the country. “The funding that PCAST mentions is from something in the Administration's 2011 budget, which is unlikely to be funded at anything like the requested levels. STEM schools would certainly require a new authorization and appropriation. The 21st century after-school program is a formula-funded grant that is to be used by statute to improve student performance in the core academic subjects. I don't see any authority in legislation to allow ED to focus it on STEM.”

    Whitehurst is also skeptical that the Obama Administration has sufficient political capital to achieve major structural changes, in particular a $200-million-a-year entity to promote new educational technologies and digital learning materials. “An Advanced Research Projects Agency–Education seems like a good idea,” says Whitehurst, “but it, too, would have to be authorized and funded if it is to have the scale to address the goals articulated in PCAST. ARPA–ED can't exist unless Congress wants it and wants to spend real money on it.”

    Key congressional education leaders declined comment on the PCAST report, saying they needed time to digest it. And although the idea of boosting STEM education enjoys bipartisan support, Republicans have sharply criticized the tens of billions more in overall federal spending on education during the Obama Administration. They also take a dim view of expanding the federal bureaucracy and giving Washington a bigger role in an area that constitutionally is the province of state and local governments.

    One area in which the federal government is now almost invisible is nurturing the smartest students. “Talent development takes a lot of hard work,” says Camilla Benbow, who led a National Science Board panel that last week issued its report on what it labels “STEM innovators.” Benbow says most education reformers “have been focused on trying to bring up the mean.” The new report, in contrast, aims “to increase the top level of achievement by focusing on excellence as well as equity.” Its recommendations include portable, merit-based scholarships for middle- and high-school students along the lines of NSF's prestigious graduate research fellowships. “We don't want talent to be dependent on who your parents are, or where you were born,” says Benbow, an educational psychologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

  2. Scientific Misconduct

    Misconduct by Postdocs Leads to Retraction of Papers

    1. Greg Miller

    Last week, Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City said that two postdoctoral fellows working in the lab of noted gene-therapy researcher Savio Woo had been fired for research misconduct. In a statement, the school said that Woo had been cleared of any wrongdoing in an internal investigation and had voluntarily retracted four research papers. Other researchers say the impact of the retractions probably won't be widespread, but they are an unfortunate blow for a distinguished scientist in the latter stages of his career.

    “He's one of the leaders in gene therapy. He's widely respected and well-liked,” says Michele Calos, a gene-therapy researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

    Mount Sinai spokesperson Ian Michaels declined to name the postdocs, but the process of elimination suggests they are Li Chen and Zhiyu Li, each the first author on two retracted papers and the only ones not currently listed in the Mount Sinai directory as faculty members. The statement (available at says the school has reported its findings to the appropriate federal agencies.

    The retracted papers focus on two areas of gene-therapy research. One pair describes a method for using a bacteriophage enzyme to introduce therapeutic genes. In 2005, Chen and Woo reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that mice with the metabolic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) appeared to be cured using this technique (Science, 17 June 2005, p. 1736). A 2008 paper in Human Gene Therapy described the method's use in human cells.

    The work is conceptually similar to a method pioneered by Calos and colleagues a few years earlier. They demonstrated that a bacteriophage enzyme called phiC31 integrase could be used to introduce a gene at specific spots in the genome—an improvement over virus-based methods of gene delivery, which tend to insert genes at random locations. Chen and Woo used the same approach with a more recently discovered phage integrase called phiBT1. Calos recalls being surprised when their PNAS paper came out because her lab had also been experimenting with phiBT1 but without much success. “It's not as efficient or as precise as phiC31,” Calos says. “It was kind of a dud.” Calos says she told Woo about their unpublished findings and expressed concern that something must be wrong with both papers. Initially, Woo defended the work, Calos says, but he must have developed doubts.

    Savio Woo.

    An investigation cleared him of wrongdoing.


    Yuet Wai Kan of the University of California, San Francisco, who communicated Woo's paper to PNAS as a member of the National Academy of Sciences, says the retraction probably won't be a huge setback for the field. “The Calos system is more popular” with other researchers, Kan says.

    In retraction letters sent to both journals, Woo merely cites “data irregularities.” Two subsequent papers published in 2007 in Molecular Therapy by Chen and Woo appear to build on the phiBT1 work, but they have not been retracted.

    The other two retracted papers deal with an entirely different topic. Published in 2008 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) and in 2009 in Human Gene Therapy, they involve using genetically engineered bacteria to fight cancer. The origins of the idea date back nearly 2 centuries to observations that cancer sometimes regresses in patients who become infected with certain bacteria. More recently, researchers have discovered that some bacteria appear to concentrate in tumors and kill them. “The excitement about this is that you can get this specific accumulation in tumors that you don't see with other treatments,” says Neil Forbes, who studies cancer-fighting bacteria at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

    One limitation is that the immune system can prevent bacteria from dispersing throughout a tumor. In the JNCI paper, Li, Woo, and colleagues showed that adding an inflammation-suppressing gene to Clostridium perfringens bacteria enhanced its ability to kill tumors in mice. In the Human Gene Therapy paper, they describe knocking out a Clostridium toxin gene, which could reduce the side effects of treatment. In retraction letters, Woo wrote that some micrographs in the two papers were duplicated.

    The problems with that work may be more serious, however. Forbes is writing a review article, and he says he contacted Woo to ask if it would still be appropriate to cite the retracted JNCI paper as proof of the concept that engineering bacteria with immune-suppressing genes could enhance their tumor-fighting capacity. Woo promptly wrote back urging him not to. Even so, Forbes says he doesn't expect any major setbacks for the field given the timely retraction of the papers.

  3. Scientific Publishing

    Genomics Researchers Upset by Rivals' Publicity

    1. Elizabeth Pennisi

    Last week was a tough one for Stephan Schuster. A genomicist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Schuster has pioneered genome-sequencing techniques for both modern and ancient DNA. But over the course of 2 days, announcements by rival teams upstaged two of his current projects. On 15 September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the chocolate giant Mars Inc. announced in a press release that they had sequenced the cacao tree, whose seeds are the source for chocolate. The very next day, Elizabeth Murchison of the Sanger Institute in Hinxton, U.K., announced at a conference in Tasmania that her group has sequenced the genome of the Tasmanian devil, a talk widely publicized by Sanger and the sequencer manufacturer Illumina Inc. in press releases.

    For Schuster, the back-to-back announcements were devastating. He is part of separate groups sequencing both genomes. One group has already submitted a paper on the cacao genome, and the other is currently analyzing the Tasmanian devil sequence. “With what happened yesterday, I don't believe in scientific publication anymore,” says Schuster, who thinks work shouldn't be publicized until after peer review. “We tried to be a good citizen, … and we lost.”

    His view may be a minority one in the rapid-fire world of genome sequencing. The precedent for announcing genome sequences to the media well in advance of publication was established a decade ago, when rival sequencers held a press conference with President Bill Clinton to herald the completion of drafts of the human genome. Papers came out 8 months later (Science, 30 June 2000, p. 2304; 16 February 2001, p. 1177). And although some complain about science by press release, others say it's okay. “It's hard to fault people for putting out a press release,” says Daniel Rokhsar of the Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California. “When people have put a lot of effort into doing these genomes, they want to make sure they are on the map.”

    Murchison picked a good spot to get on the map: She announced her group's sequence in Hobart, Tasmania, at a regional genomics meeting, AMATA 2010. Since 1996, the numbers of this carnivorous marsupial have plummeted by more than 80% because of a deadly transmissible cancer that seems unstoppable, fueling fears of extinction and inspiring a mad scramble by researchers and conservationists to save the species (Science, 18 February 2005, p. 1035). Murchison didn't give out many details about the new sequence but said that with new technology, the genome took just 2 months to sequence. “We have a reference genome that we are happy with,” she says.

    Schuster and the Penn State group, working with Vanessa Hayes, now at the J. Craig Venter Institute in San Diego, California, had sequenced and assembled a draft of the genome of one devil, with 8X coverage. The team had also lightly sequenced the genome of another devil from the opposite side of Tasmania. By comparing the two genomes, the researchers identified single-base differences, called SNPs, that they used to help assess the diversity of these animals across Tasmania. These assessments are helping conservationists who are trying to raise devils in captivity representing the full diversity of the species, says Hayes. She and Schuster are planning to publish the genome when the population-structure studies are completed; until then, putting out a press release or statements about the project would be premature, they argue.


    Stephan Schuster's rivals beat him to the punch last week with announcements about the Tasmanian devil (top right) and cacao genomes prior to publication.


    While Schuster was fretting about his group's Tasmanian devil work being overshadowed, his colleagues working on the cacao genome were scrambling to prevent the same thing from happening to their project. The rival Mars-USDA collaboration announced that it had assembled the sequence and opened a Web site to provide other researchers access to the data.

    The Penn State researchers are part of a group led by Claire Lanuad of CIRAD in Montpellier, France. The group, which is still revising its cacao genome manuscript, countered the Mars-USDA announcement by posting a summary of its results on a preprint Web site called Nature Precedings and issuing press releases of its own. “We were waiting to talk about our paper [after] it was published,” says Mark Guiltinan, the plant molecular biologist shepherding the cacao project at Penn State. “But we would like people to know about our project.”

    The Penn State-CIRAD group sequenced the Criollo variety of cacao, assembling 76% of the cacao genome into its 10 chromosomes and placing 82% of the 28,798 genes along this DNA. “We were at the point of the [Mars-USDA] press release about 6 months ago,” claims Guiltinan.

    USDA's David Kuhn, based at the Agricultural Research Service in Miami, Florida, says his team is still gathering sequence data, but he disagrees with Guiltinan's assessment of where the Mars-USDA cacao genome stands. “Our assembly is so much better than theirs, it's astounding,” he says. Kuhn's group, which sequenced a different variety, says it has assembled 92% of the genome and identified 35,000 genes, 97% of which have been validated. (It is unclear if the two varieties of cacao have different numbers of genes.) “Cacao is a well-behaved genome,” he explains. The assembly “went better than we could have imagined.”

    None of these projects has stood the test of peer review, but the headline grabbing is unlikely to cloud the prospects for publication. “As long as the paper contains new insights that are not in the press release, then there is minimal [negative] impact,” says Richard Gibbs, director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and an editor at Genome Research. Science editor Laura Zahn agrees: The novelty—a criterion for acceptance by journals such as Science and Nature—lies not in the genome itself but in the analysis. Last week's announcements indicate that the race to publish is in the home stretch.

  4. Parasitology

    Origin of Most Deadly Human Malaria Comes Out of the Mist

    1. Jon Cohen

    It's a gorilla!

    In the search for the origin of the parasite that causes the most severe malaria in humans, researchers have implicated relatives in a variety of species. Last year, new evidence appeared to have solved the mystery: Chimpanzees, it seemed clear, harbored the ancestor to human Plasmodium falciparum, which causes raging fevers in a few hundred million people each year, killing about 1 million. But now a new study of DNA plucked from the feces of a huge number of African apes has led the small but impassioned malaria origins field to do a double take, as it appears that the closest relative to human P. falciparum is a parasite found only in gorillas.

    A research team led by virologist Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, used the polymerase chain reaction to amplify Plasmodium DNA from a whopping 2739 fecal samples from chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos. As Hahn's team explains in the 23 September issue of Nature, bonobos were free of the parasite, but 473 of the samples from chimpanzees and gorillas tested positive. When they compared the DNA sequences in evolutionary trees, the chimpanzee sequences of what's known as P. reichenowi, fingered last year as the human P. falciparum predecessor, clustered together, as expected. But surprisingly, none showed a close relationship to human P. falciparum. A gorilla branch of the Plasmodium family tree neatly included all human P. falciparum sequences. (The nomenclature of the new sequences has yet to be sorted out, and for now they are simply referred to as gorilla P. falciparum.)

    Big surprise.

    Gorillas, not chimpanzees, harbor what looks like the ancestor to human P. falciparum.


    The evidence has persuaded researchers who have studied the question for years, including those who have put forward different hypotheses. “This provides the clearest picture yet,” says Richard Carter, a malaria geneticist at the University of Edinburgh. “It looks definitive.”

    Karen Day, a malaria geneticist at New York University's Langone Medical Center in New York City, notes the critical difference between this study and those that preceded it is the number of samples analyzed. “By the greater depth of sampling, we're getting closer to the truth,” says Day.

    Although the findings may have little practical importance other than to re-emphasize that pathogens can jump from apes to humans, it has stoked a hot debate back to life about both the origin of human P. falciparum and the timing of its emergence.

    Until last year, scientists had isolated only one sample of the chimpanzee parasite, P. reichenowi. Then a group led by Nathan Wolfe of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and Stephen Rich of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, reported online 3 August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that they had fished eight new P. reichenowi isolates from the tissue and blood of wild chimpanzees that had died in Côte d'Ivoire or lived in a Cameroonian sanctuary. Working with evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala of the University of California (UC), Irvine, the team contended that a sequence analysis clearly showed how human P. falciparum evolved from P. reichenowi.

    This finding challenged a theory that P. reichenowi and P. falciparum had evolved separately when humans and chimpanzees split from a common ancestor some 6 million years ago. It also added weight to an earlier assertion by Ayala and Rich, called Malaria's Eve hypothesis, that all extant strains of P. falciparum came from a single ancestor and that the parasite had established itself in humans perhaps as recently as 10,000 years ago.

    A subsequent PNAS paper published online 19 January by a French team collaborating with Ayala further backed the story that the chimp parasite gave rise to the human one. The group, led by geneticist Franck Prugnolle of the Institute of Research for Development in Montpellier, France, retrieved DNA sequences of the malaria parasites from ape fecal samples for the first time. They obtained five good samples from chimps and, surprisingly, seven very different sequences from gorillas. They noted that the gorilla P. falciparum could be a reservoir for P. falciparum in humans, but P. reichenowi still appeared to be a closer relative.

    Then came Hahn's work suggesting the opposite. Ayala says he is convinced that Hahn's team has it right. “It's very impressive,” says Ayala. “This does not invalidate most of the previous work but adds considerable new information, and the picture changes in a constructive way.” Specifically, he would like to analyze mutations in the gorilla sequences to see if they can help clarify the evolutionary history of P. falciparum.

    Hahn, who specializes in the origin of the AIDS epidemic, ventured into malaria after she read the Prugnolle study and learned that Plasmodium DNA could be extracted from feces. She was studying the impact of the chimpanzee AIDS virus, SIVcpz, in the Gombe community in Tanzania, which she believed was leading to their premature deaths. “We wanted to make sure the chimps were killed by the virus and not something else,” says Hahn. “Obviously, SIVcpz and malaria is worse than malaria alone.” But her team didn't find any malaria in the 400 or so fecal samples of Gombe chimps they studied.

    Still, Hahn was puzzled that Prugnolle found the malaria parasite in gorillas, which seemed to put a question mark on the purported ancestral relationship between P. reichenowi and P. falciparum. So she collaborated with ape researchers across Africa to obtain fecal samples and reopen what seemed to be a closed case.

    Hahn stresses that the new data leave open the date of the jump from gorillas to humans. And she's less sanguine than Ayala about the new sequences answering the question. Plasmodium does not mutate much, she explains, making it difficult to calibrate a so-called molecular clock that enables evolutionary biologists to back-calculate the timing of a pathogen moving from one species to another. “Short of finding fossils, I don't know how to do it,” says Hahn.

    Ajit Varki, an evolutionary biologist at UC San Diego, agrees, but he believes a human gene mutation, CMAH, which arose about 2 million years ago, may provide a clue to how and when the jump occurred. The mutation changes sialic acid receptors on red blood cells, rendering them much less susceptible to P. reichenowi, and Varki suspects that the gorilla P. falciparum similarly would have great difficulty infecting human cells. “If I put that falciparum from gorillas into humans, I'd bet it wouldn't make them sick,” he says. He contends that the bug made the jump just one time because the barriers are so high. And it likely required a powerful force like the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago, which benefited the mosquito vector and created close living conditions for the parasite to have a chance to pass through several humans and adapt to its new host.

    Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist who has also focused on the origin of the AIDS epidemic, is similarly intrigued that gorilla P. falciparum has not repeatedly infected humans. But he, too, is convinced that it's the ancestor to human P. falciparum, noting that it's 10 times closer than the chimp's P. reichenowi. “For years, the field has been stumbling around in the dark, and now the light switch has gone on and … it's really quite clear,” Worobey says. And he tips his hat to Hahn, an outsider to the field. Says Worobey: “A virus person now cleaned up 20 years of Plasmodium research.”


    From Science's Online Daily News Site


    Hitchhiking on Kelp You're not from around here, are you? That's what marine biologist Ceridwen Fraser thought when she spotted a piece of seaweed encrusted with large barnacles on a New Zealand beach in 2009. Turns out she was right. Genetic data reveal that the kelp came from islands hundreds of kilometers to the south. And it carried other hitchhikers—at least 10 types of marine invertebrates, including two tiny crustaceans, a sea spider, six species of mollusks, and a sea star. The find, reported online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, represents the first direct evidence that whole communities of organisms can make long ocean voyages floating on organic rafts.


    Under pressure, zinc and magnesium atoms (small dots) clustered together by size.


    Steely Strong Aluminum Snuffing out a cigarette butt with a 10-ton boot would be excessive, but using the equivalent on certain metals can yield amazing results. By squeezing an aluminum alloy between two anvils with a force of about 60,000 kilograms per square centimeter, researchers have created a metal that's as strong as steel but much lighter.

    In the new study, an international team of materials scientists subjected an alloy of aluminum called aluminum 7075 (which contains small percentages of magnesium and zinc) to a metal-processing technique called high-pressure torsion (HPT). Basically, HPT involves clamping a thin disk of metal to a cylindrical anvil and pressing it against another anvil, all while turning one anvil slowly. The metal attained a strength of 1 gigapascal, the researchers report in Nature Communications. That's equal to some of the strongest steels and more than three times higher than conventional aluminum.

    When the team examined samples using a technique called atom probe tomography, they found that HPT had deformed the lattice of atoms into what the researchers call a hierarchical nanostructure: The size of the aluminum grains was reduced, and the zinc and magnesium atoms clustered together in groups of various sizes, depending on whether they were located inside the aluminum grains or on the edges.


    Dance Your Ph.D. Finalists Chosen The dreaded question: “So, what's your Ph.D. research about?” You could bore them with an explanation. Or you could dance. That's the idea behind “Dance Your Ph.D.” Over the past 3 years, scientists from around the world have teamed up to create dance videos based on their graduate research. This year's contest, launched in June by Science, received 45 brave submissions.

    Last week, judges—including scientists, choreographers, and past winners—announced the finalists in four categories: physics, chemistry, biology, and social sciences. Each receives $500. The overall winner will be announced at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York City on 19 October. View the finalists and runners-up at

    Read the full postings, comments, and more at

  6. Animal Research

    Long-Fought Compromise Reached On European Animal Rules

    1. Gretchen Vogel
    Watchful eyes.

    New E.U. rules allow research on nonhuman primates under strict ethical oversight.


    After a decade-long tug of war over new rules governing animal experiments in the European Union, both research and animal-welfare advocates say they can live with the final legislation approved this month. Following a flurry of intense lobbying from all sides, the European Parliament gave its final approval on 8 September to a new directive spelling out rules governing animal research in academic and industrial labs.

    As with most E.U. legislation, however, the directive will take effect through laws enacted by each member country. And that, say observers and animal-rights activists, will determine how much the directive will improve animal welfare and change the way researchers work with animals. “This is not the end but the start of a process,” says Sonja Van Tichelen, director of Eurogroup for Animals, an animal-welfare organization based in Brussels. The 25 E.U. member countries have more than 2 years, until January 2013, to adopt laws that put the directive's rules into effect.

    The rules cover research with all vertebrates and extend coverage for the first time to cephalopods, which include octopi and squid. Unlike the previous rules, which stipulated only that animal research be authorized by a competent authority, the new directive requires that all research using such animals must pass an ethical evaluation that takes into account possible alternatives and refinements that could improve the welfare of the animal subjects.

    The directive also sets out for the first time minimum housing and care standards for dozens of the most common animals used in research—a step that many praise as a significant advance for animal welfare across the European Union. Each European breeding, supply, or research establishment must have an “animal welfare body” that is supposed to ensure that the rules are obeyed.

    The previous E.U. rules on animal research date from 1986, and officials have been working on the new regulations since 2001. Animal-welfare groups had pushed hard for a phaseout of all research on nonhuman primates (Science, 14 November 2008, p. 1037). The final rules do ban the use of great apes, with a few exceptions related to saving a species from extinction or an unexpected outbreak of severe disease in people. They also allow research with other primate species, including baboons, marmosets, and macaques if “there is scientific justification” that no alternative is available. After a transition period, the use of wild-caught primates is to be phased out, and only captive-born primates that are two or more generations removed from wild-caught animals are allowed to be used.

    For most scientists in the European Union's biggest research countries, “it's pretty much going to be business as usual,” says Wendy Higgins, spokesperson for the Humane Society International in Nottingham, U.K., because those countries already have fairly strict animal-protection laws. Stefan Treue, director of the German Primate Center in Göttingen, agrees. “The type of research that I do is so highly regulated by German law that I don't think it will change much with the directive,” he says. “From that perspective, I can live with it.” But that doesn't mean he's completely satisfied with the final version. Treue faults the directive for banning certain research without spelling out an ethical justification. “It just draws a political line: There are first-tier animals and second-tier animals.” That allows politicians to say they banned ape research, he says, but it is not a sound ethical basis for deciding whether certain experiments are justified. He says he would have preferred a rule that said, simply, “for every experiment, we have to weigh the benefits against the suffering of the animals.”

    In addition to primates, the regulations include special rules for “domestic species,” notes Treue. The use of feral or stray cats or dogs is generally prohibited, and all cats, dogs, and primates must have a record of their veterinary and social history and all projects in which they have been used.

    Another aspect that researchers will be watching carefully is a new requirement to publish nontechnical summaries of all animal-research projects. There is some worry that information will turn into a tool for activists who want to prevent all animal research, says Thorsten Ruppert, spokesperson for the German Association of Research-based Pharmaceutical Companies. Depending on how the database is organized, he says, it could help activists target specific institutes or researchers.

    The directive also divides invasive procedures into discomfort severity categories of mild, moderate, and severe, with different rules for each. Exactly how those terms are translated into law in different countries could influence certain kinds of research, Treue notes. “There is no way to foresee how countries will interpret this,” he says. Researchers who study chronic pain, certain types of cancer, or arthritis, for example, could be affected, he says. Cornelia Exner, a member of the Commission on Animal Protection and Experimentation for the German funding agency DFG, agrees. “A tumor is painful, not only for humans but also for animals,” she says. To comply with the new rules, she says, “in some cases the experimental protocols will have to be modified to minimize pain and suffering in the animals.”

    The greatest impact of the directive will likely be on the newer E.U. members in Eastern Europe. In some member countries, animal-housing standards, for example, were regulated by voluntary guidelines instead of enforceable law, Higgins says.

    In Romania, says Mircea Leabu, a cell biologist at the “Carol Davila” University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Bucharest and a member of the National Committee of Scientific Research Ethics, many of the new standards have been adopted as the E.U. discussion moved forward. And because animal research is expensive, he says, Romanian scientists are already motivated to use as few animals as possible. But the new rules boost control and enforcement measures, he says, and may require more people qualified to evaluate the ethical aspects of animal experiments. Indeed, enforcement measures are one of the most important areas to watch as the directive is translated into national laws, Higgins says.

    Observers agree that standardized rules across Europe will be a step forward for both researchers and animal welfare. “I think it's wonderful. That's a core task of the E.U.,” Treue says. Higgins agrees. “The new law brings in a number of new and welcome measures,” she says. “The sooner that new legislation is implemented the better.”

  7. Animal-Rights Activism

    A Tricky Balance Between Activists' and Researchers' Rights

    1. Greg Miller

    In 2004, animal-rights activists broke into psychology laboratories at the University of Iowa. A video they recorded, available on YouTube, shows several people wearing gloves and ski masks smashing computers and other equipment with hammers, spray-painting slogans on the wall, and loading rats into plastic tubs. Hundreds of animals were taken, and the damage totaled more than $400,000. A few days later, the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility.

    Last November, just as the statute of limitations was about to expire, federal prosecutors charged Scott DeMuth, a sociology graduate student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, with felony conspiracy in connection with the break-in (Science, 18 December 2009, p. 1609). DeMuth's trial was scheduled to begin last week, but at the last minute prosecutors offered him a plea agreement: They would drop all charges related to the Iowa case if he pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor conspiracy charge for an unspecified role in a 2006 break-in at a ferret-breeding facility in Minnesota. DeMuth took the deal and now faces up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $5000, considerably lighter penalties than he could have received if convicted of the felony.

    DeMuth's case and others highlight the difficulty of identifying the small minority of animal-rights activists who break the law and successfully prosecuting those who are charged. In July, a federal judge in San Jose, California, threw out a felony indictment against activists accused of harassing researchers at the University of California (UC) campuses in Berkeley and Santa Cruz. They had been indicted under the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), a 2006 law intended to crack down on animal-rights extremists. Several incidents of vandalism and harassment aimed at scientists at UC Los Angeles (Science, 21 December 2007, p. 1856) and elsewhere remain unsolved.

    In DeMuth's case, it's not clear what evidence prosecutors had. “I don't have any idea what the government says he actually did in terms of Iowa,” says his lawyer, Michael Deutsch. The indictment says only that he conspired “to intentionally damage and cause the loss of property.” According to Deutsch, in a pretrial hearing last week prosecutors said they planned to introduce entries from DeMuth's personal diary and MySpace page as evidence of his animal-rights sympathies, as well as expert testimony that his height (somewhat below average at 5′6″) matches that of an individual in the video. Deutsch says that DeMuth, who was 17 at the time, was asleep in his parents' home in Minnesota the night of the incident. “His mother was going to come in and testify,” he says. The U.S. attorney's office in Davenport, Iowa, where the case was to be tried, declined to comment.

    Plea deal.

    Scott DeMuth pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge after prosecutors dropped charges related to a lab break-in at the University of Iowa.


    DeMuth and his supporters have argued that his indictment was punishment for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigating the Iowa break-in. His research focuses on radical activist groups, and he claimed that forcing him to break confidentiality agreements with his subjects to reveal anything he might know about the incident would violate his academic freedom. Two activists and friends of DeMuth's said they would go to jail for contempt of court rather than testify against him if his case went to trial—a major factor, Deutsch says, in his decision to accept the plea deal. DeMuth did not respond to a request for comment.

    In California, federal prosecutors have had a similarly difficult time. In July, Judge Ronald Whyte dismissed an indictment against four activists for threatening and intimidating researchers at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz in 2007 and 2008. Supporting documents describe several instances of people chanting and chalking slogans on the sidewalk outside researchers' homes; an incident in which activists allegedly tried to force their way into a researcher's home; and the distribution of flyers around town with the names and addresses of researchers, who were described as “murderers and torturers.” The indictment made no mention of more dramatic events in Santa Cruz, including an attempted arson at a scientist's home (Science, 8 August 2008, p. 755).

    Whyte said the indictment failed to provide sufficient evidence that the activists' actions constituted “true threats” as opposed to political protest protected by the Constitution. However, in dismissing the case “without prejudice,” Whyte left the door open for prosecutors to try again. Jack Gillund, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco, said he could neither confirm nor deny plans to reindict. However, Robert Bloom, the lawyer for one of the defendants, says his client recently received and complied with a warrant seeking a DNA sample, which seems to suggest the government still has an interest in the case.

    The Santa Cruz activists were the first to be charged under AETA, the 2006 law that increased possible penalties for those convicted of crimes committed in the name of animal rights. (DeMuth was originally charged under AETA, but because the two break-ins happened before the law was enacted, prosecutors later reindicted him using language from the older Animal Enterprise Protection Act.) Subsequently, two men were convicted under AETA for releasing 650 minks and vandalizing a mink ranch in Utah in 2008. Most recently, in July, authorities charged a Utah man under AETA for lighting a fire that destroyed a sheepskin factory in Denver in 2009.

    AETA's track record—two convictions in 4 years—raises questions about whether it's having its intended effect. Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) in Washington, D.C., says AETA has given investigators new tools to monitor communications by people planning attacks and use such evidence in court. But FBR's statistics on illegal activities by animal-rights activists show no clear trend since the law was enacted.

    Some researchers who have been on the receiving end of harassment aren't sure AETA has had much impact. J. David Jentsch, a neuroscientist at UCLA whose car was set on fire in 2009, says activists still spew venom about him on their blogs and gather at his house about once a month to yell slogans that go well beyond free speech. “Any reasonable person would see it as threats,” he says. Jentsch points out that many of the actions directed at him were illegal before AETA was enacted. “Blowing up my car was obviously illegal, but no one has been arrested,” he says.

    Activists loathe the law but for different reasons, says sociologist David Pellow, DeMuth's graduate adviser. The Santa Cruz case in particular has convinced some activists that authorities are using AETA to criminalize lawful protest, Pellow says. “Others have argued that this law may have the unintended consequence of driving people in precisely the wrong direction and sending them underground,” he says.

    The reason so few extremists who commit these crimes have been caught, Pellow says, is that they often operate in very small, autonomous groups. “There's a cell of maybe three or four people who trust each other … who get together to do these actions,” Pellow says. Each cell is independent, so if one is infiltrated or someone snitches, other cells are unaffected. Pellow says, “They are very clever and very good at practicing a security culture.”

  8. Astronomy

    New Type of Cosmic Dust Tells of Galaxy's Violent History

    1. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

    The vast interstellar expanses of galaxies are filled with clouds of dust and gas in which new stars and planets form. The physical details of these cocoons have been hazy to astronomers. Now, researchers have found that the cores of many of these clouds are swarming with dust grains 10 times as large as those previously detected. These grains scatter starlight to produce a so-called coreshine effect, which the researchers say could be used to probe the age and history of interstellar clouds.

    The team, led by Laurent Pagani of the Paris Observatory and Jürgen Steinacker of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, describes the results on page 1622. “I think this is an exciting new approach to understanding the structure within molecular clouds,” says Doug Johnstone, an astronomer at the NRC-Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, Canada, who was not involved in the research.

    Interstellar clouds generally appear as dark patches against the starry sky because their dust absorbs and scatters the light from stars behind them. But light at infrared wavelengths—0.8 micrometers (microns) and longer—can filter through most interstellar dust, whose average grain size is about 0.1 micrometers in radius. That's why researchers use infrared wavelengths to image stars and galaxies that would otherwise be obscured by dust clouds.

    Pagani and colleagues originally set out to measure the dust in a prominent cloud in the Milky Way called L183. Looking at images from the Spitzer Space Telescope's Infrared Array Camera, the researchers made a surprising find: The densest parts of the cloud appeared to glow at a midinfrared wavelength far too long to shine through ordinary-sized dust.


    Researchers saw diffuse light in the dense cores of dust clouds.


    “The only way to explain what we were seeing was with grains much bigger than usually thought, that is, grains of 1 micron size on average,” Pagani says. Theorists had proposed that smaller dust grains could merge to form grains that large, but this was the first direct evidence of them.

    Studying 110 dust cloud cores surveyed by Spitzer, Pagani and colleagues detected coreshine in about half of them. The researchers say large grains—and the consequent coreshine—may be a marker of a cloud's history. They speculate, for instance, that the Gum/Vela nebula lacks coreshine because most of its agglomerated large grains might have been smashed back to smithereens by a supernova explosion a million years ago.

    Coreshine measurements could be used not only to determine the structure and density of dust clouds but also to estimate their age, Pagani says. “It takes a while for the grains to grow by collision in between them, and the collisions are all the more frequent if the density is higher,” he says. Using a model that relates growth speed to density, researchers can deduce from the quantity of coreshine “when the grains have started to grow and therefore the age of the cloud.”

    Impressed by coreshine's potential as a tool, Johnstone says he plans to calibrate and exploit the effect after the James Webb Space Telescope is launched 5 years from now. JWST—a 6.5-meter instrument designed for infrared observations—“should provide unprecedented images of the cloudshine feature with exquisite spatial resolution,” Johnstone says. That faint glow will help astronomers look deeper into those hazy stellar birthing grounds.

  9. Genetic Resources

    Parlous Times for Seed Banks Spell Trouble for Australian Agriculture

    1. Elizabeth Finkel*

    CANBERRA—Australia's seed banks are tumbling like dominoes, and the country's agricultural researchers and farmers may end up the losers. The Biloela Research Station in Queensland, home to a 60-year-old collection of seeds of legumes and livestock forage plants, is slated to shut down in the coming months. A plan is in place to rescue commercially valuable grain legumes. But the neglect of other prized accessions will make it harder for Australia to comply with a genetics resources treaty, which in turn could curtail access to overseas seed collections—a debilitating prospect for a country whose farms rely on imported species.

    Bitter harvest.

    Funding cuts imperil seed collections of purple clover (top), alfalfa (middle), and wild Vigna yams (left).


    Until a few years ago, Australia's state governments, with agricultural R&D corporations, maintained six seed banks. The Grains Research and Development Corp. (GRDC) was the dominant contributor, but in 2008 it pared back its support to grains. As a result, in mid-2008 a bank in Adelaide holding Mediterranean forages such as alfalfa closed its doors; of its 45,000 accessions, 95% are held nowhere else in the world. Other seed banks are fighting for survival. According to Biloela curator Peter Lawrence, “Vital work to regenerate and conserve some globally unique plant genetic resources has stopped, and skilled staff have resigned or retired.”

    Now the Queensland government plans to shut down the Biloela bank as part of a “national strategy” to rationalize plant genetic resources, says Rex Williams, a science leader at Queensland's department of agriculture. Seed banks in Victoria and New South Wales have been approached to store some accessions. GRDC has pledged to pick up the tab over the next 4 years for commercial crop legumes. Accessions of forage plants, including ones that provide bush food for Aborigines, will be kept frozen. But without funds and skilled staff to periodically regenerate seeds, viable accessions will dwindle.

    Like all gene banks, Biloela is obligated under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to make seeds freely available on request. Funding shortfalls have made it increasingly difficult for Biloela and other seed banks to share seeds with partner nations, as required by agreements. That, says Adelaide bank curator Steve Hughes, risks serious repercussions for Australian agriculture—including loss of access to overseas varieties of wheat, Australia's most valuable crop.

    Many experts argue that the federal government, as treaty signatory, needs to step in to safeguard the collections. Seed banks “need long-term support that is outside grant or research support,” says Megan Clarke, chief executive of CSIRO, Australia's national science agency and the country's main supporter of agricultural research. But as a stalemate over funding continues, Australia's plant genetic resources are looking increasingly fragile.

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

  10. ScienceInsider

    From the Science Policy Blog

    Last week, a Senate panel heard about the promise of human embryonic stem cell research and the damage from last month's preliminary injunction. On 27 September, a federal appeals court will hear oral arguments in the suit brought by opponents. In the meantime, advocates lost a key congressional supporter when Representative Michael Castle (D–DE) lost his bid for a Senate seat.

    Energy Secretary Steven Chu pledged to dismantle “the traditional stovepipes” that confound research managers at the Department of Energy. But after 18 months on the job, Steven Koonin, his undersecretary for science, told an advisory board that bureaucratic turf-minding and red tape continue to hamper a series of research efforts involving supercomputing, material sciences, and fusion.

    The general public favors research with animals containing human tissue or genes if it would help to improve human health and cure diseases, says a study by the Academy of Medical Sciences in the United Kingdom. The aim was to gauge public opinion on all types of such research for help in shaping policy guidelines due out next year.

    A review board at the National Institutes of Health has called for merging two NIH institutes that study drug abuse and alcohol abuse. The recommendation comes 4 years after Congress asked NIH to create the board to think about ways to reorganize. NIH Director Francis Collins has expressed interest in the idea, but Congress is likely to have the final say.

    The U.S. Senate has confirmed Nobelist Carl Wieman as associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The physicist is expected to spearhead the Administration's push to improve science education. Wieman joins Shere Abbott, Aneesh Chopra, and Philip Coyle in giving science adviser John Holdren a full complement of associate directors.

    For more science policy news, visit

  11. Conservation Ecology

    Home, Home Outside the Range?

    1. Richard Stone

    Conservationists and ecologists are at odds over the wisdom of moving species threatened by climate change to new homes.


    Found only on a single hill in rugged Guangxi Province (left), Geodorum eulophioides may be a candidate for assisted colonization.


    HUAPING, CHINA—The stem of the ground-hugging orchid is bowed at the top, weighted down by five violet-tipped buds on the verge of blossoming. The swan's-neck shape gives the flower a demure look. Or perhaps it's just resigned to its fate: This is one of the last Geodorum eulophioides left on the planet.

    The species is confined to a single hill behind a farmer's home in southwest China's Guangxi Province. Villagers “didn't know they had something so precious here,” says Hong Liu, a conservation biologist at Florida International University and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami. But Guangxi is one of the world's nine orchid hot spots, and this patch of land where G. eulophioides resides is now part of Yachang Orchid Nature Reserve, a 220-square-kilometer territory with more than 130 orchid species. Liu and colleagues persuaded reserve managers in Huaping to give G. eulophioides some breathing space by fencing off the hill.

    That action may also give scientists time to learn more about the rare orchid's biology. But it's unclear how long the species can hold out in the wild. Across China, climate change is nudging temperatures higher, disrupting rainfall patterns, and reducing the frequency of foggy days. Like the rest of northwestern Guangxi, Yachang suffered a serious drought last winter that forced rangers for the first time to pipe water into the heart of the reserve. And for the G. eulophioides on the reserve's edge, the human threat hovers, like a sword of Damocles, just outside the hill's chainlink fence.

    In light of shifting climates and relentless development, scientists here are contemplating a controversial intervention: assisted colonization (AC). “Orchids will be severely affected by warming,” says Feng Changlin, an ecologist at the Experimental Center of Tropical Forestry in Pingxiang. The idea is to move G. eulophioides and other acutely vulnerable orchids to new habitats that, as the world warms, become more suitable than present habitats—and hopefully, for a time, put them beyond harm's reach. But some scientists argue that such forced migration could do more harm than good.

    One of the hottest debates in conservation biology these days is to what extent scientists should help embattled species cope with climate change. Not just orchids are at risk: All life forms, including our own, must adapt to climate change or dwindle and possibly perish. Scientists generally agree that first they should protect or shore up ecosystems, especially fragile ones such as cloud forests and coral reefs. Consensus breaks down, however, on what to do when a species can't keep pace with a changing world.

    One camp insists that desperate times call for desperate measures. Habitat fragmentation caused by human activity has made it difficult or impossible for many species to migrate on their own to more suitable environments. Thus, a growing number of researchers argue that AC, also called managed relocation, is a vital conservation tool. “The future for many species and ecosystems is so bleak that assisted colonization might be their best chance,” Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in St. Lucia, Australia, and colleagues wrote in a clarion call for moving species in Science 2 years ago (18 July 2008, p. 345). “This is something that conservation organizations should and will start to do,” says Chris Thomas, a conservation biologist at the University of York, U.K.

    Other scientists worry that momentum for translocations is building too fast. “Advocates are not clear about what they are talking about. There are around 7 million species on Earth. Are they talking about moving them one at a time?” asks Daniel Simberloff, an éminence grise of conservation biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “There is no scientific basis to suggest that AC is the best alternative,” adds Anthony Ricciardi, an invasive species biologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. AC, he warns, could interfere with habitat preservation and restoration and compete with such efforts for resources. “AC is nothing more than a techno-fix that may provide a temporary benefit in some cases but create new ecological problems in other cases. We cannot predict which outcome will occur,” says Ricciardi, who, with Simberloff, laid out an indictment of AC in the September 2009 issue of Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

    The dueling articles have ignited a spirited debate in journal opinion pages, university classrooms, and conferences, and agencies responsible for conservation are trying to figure out where they stand. Thomas believes that AC should be a higher priority than breeding threatened species in captivity. Others see AC as a last resort. “It's much better to help species to shift naturally whenever possible,” says Stephen Willis, a conservation biologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom. Even backers call for caution. “Other options need to be carefully considered first and not discarded as if AC was a panacea,” says Hoegh-Guldberg.

    Clinging to life.

    Orchid researcher Hong Liu says that as southwest China warms, assisted colonization may be “unavoidable” for some species.


    Butterfly effect

    The world is replete with species that have been moved far beyond their native habitats. Consequently, “it is senseless to consider species distributions as somehow fixed and ‘natural’ and that the establishment and occurrence of a species elsewhere is therefore ‘unnatural,’” says Thomas. Still, scientists on both sides of the AC debate are skittish because even a seemingly benign or beneficial introduction of a species to a new habitat can have disastrous consequences.

    One cautionary tale, Thomas notes, is the cane toad, brought from Hawaii to Australia in 1935 to consume beetles that were ravaging sugar-cane crops. The toad apparently had little effect on the cane beetles—and it spread widely, becoming a pest in its own right. It makes a toxin blamed for steep declines in predators such as freshwater crocodiles and the western quoll, a ferocious marsupial cat. Australia is littered with that sort of ecological train wreck. “You only have to look at our history with invasive cacti, poisonous toads, and exploding rabbit populations to know that there are some real risks attached to assisted colonization,” says Hoegh-Guldberg.

    Bearing that in mind, he and his Science co-authors devised a risk-assessment scheme in which AC would be considered only after other options are ruled out. To be a colonization candidate, they proposed, a species must be at high risk of decline or extinction because of climate change; it would have to be feasible to move and establish the species elsewhere; and the benefits of relocation would have to outweigh the biological and socioeconomic costs.

    Scientists are beginning to contemplate which species might satisfy these requirements. In Australia, candidates include the greater glider and two other native possums that were victims of recent regional extirpations, says David Lindenmayer, an expert on climate-driven range changes based at Australian National University in Canberra. Another AC candidate is the Iberian desman, an amphibious insect-eating mammal whose present habitat in the Pyrenees is likely to vanish as the world warms. Since the last ice age, the Iberian desman has not expanded its range to the nearby Alps, another suitable habitat. Thus, it is unlikely to migrate on its own in the face of climate change, Naia Morueta-Holme and colleagues at Aarhus University in Rønde, Denmark, noted last April in PLoS ONE.

    The challenge lies in assessing risk and guarding against unwelcome surprises. Transferred organisms can wipe out native species and disrupt food webs. Take, for example, the opossum shrimp. Thirty years ago, wildlife managers introduced the species into Flathead Lake in Montana to enrich the diet of kokanee salmon. It turned out that the nocturnal shrimp spent daytime at the lake bottom, while salmon fed in shallower water. So instead of becoming dinner, the shrimp competed with the salmon for food, and the kokanee crashed. A higher predator then suffered: Eagles that preyed on the salmon also crashed. “We can explain such complex effects after they have occurred,” Ricciardi says, “but we can rarely predict them.”

    Moving experience.

    In a landmark experiment, Stephen Willis and colleagues moved populations of two butterflies—the small skipper (top right) and the marbled white—north of their ranges. Ten years later, both species are thriving in their new homes.


    When assessing the likelihood of a species becoming an upstanding member of its new community or a vicious invader, looks can be deceptive. In the 19th century, two closely related Eurasian sparrows were introduced to North America. Since then, the tree sparrow, Passer montanus, has expanded its range slowly, while the house sparrow, P. domesticus, has spread widely and supplanted native birds. “Real knowledge of what determines the range limits of a particular species is extremely meager,” says Simberloff. And ill effects of an introduced species may not be detected until years later.

    In the absence of hard data, AC risk assessments boil down to guesswork. “It's really a Delphic process,” says Simberloff. “Someone says the risk is high, another says it is low.” Medium becomes the consensus. He is calling for “souped-up natural histories” that might be undertaken as doctoral theses about a given species. “This kind of research is not fashionable,” Simberloff says, “but it's what you will need.”

    AC advocates acknowledge that data gaps must be filled before the approach is ready for prime time. One lacuna is how much climate variation species can tolerate beyond the conditions in their native habitats. “This has been worked out for a few species, but there are no general rules of thumb yet,” says Dov Sax, a conservation biologist at Brown University. Another issue is the degree to which species may evolve in response to climate change. “The quick answer is that we expect species with lots of genetic variation and very short generation times to be able to adapt,” Sax says. “The trouble is that we don't know where the cutoffs should be for expecting trouble.”

    Fundamental questions remain unanswered. As the climate changes, which creatures will migrate too slowly? And which will face insurmountable barriers? Answers may come too late for some species. But at least one study has shown that AC can work.

    Turn on the AC?

    Warming threatens the Iberian desman (left) and the greater glider.


    In what may be the first AC field trial, a decade ago Willis and colleagues moved populations of two butterfly species in England from their ranges at that time to new areas to the north. “We wanted to see whether those areas could support viable populations,” says Willis. The idea was to test the feasibility of AC using a species that was not already on the ropes. There was a good shot the experiment would work. The butterflies—the marbled white and the small skipper—had pushed northward in England in recent years.

    Based on species distribution models, Willis's team forecast areas of the British Isles in which temperatures and rainfall amounts in coming years should provide suitable habitat. In summer 1999, they captured 400 adult small skippers and the next day whisked them to an abandoned quarry in Northumberland 35 kilometers north of their then-range. Another 200 were moved the following July. Also, in 2000, the researchers moved 500 adult marbled whites to a reserve in Durham, 65 kilometers north of the butterfly's then-range.

    The scientists have been tracking the butterflies ever since. After a rough couple of summers in 2008 and 2009, when England was unseasonably chilly, the butterflies have bounced back this year. “They are behaving very much like natural populations,” says Willis. In the February 2009 issue of Conservation Letters, his team concluded that “assisted colonization has the potential to be a useful conservation tool” to soften the blow of climate change for species with poor mobility or whose habitat is fragmented. The study “makes a strong case that managed relocation is feasible,” says Sax.

    Dire straits

    Deep in Yachang orchid reserve, a trail covered with skin-flaying bramble gives way to a sunlit meadow filled with young corn stalks. “It's almost like Iowa,” mutters Liu, clearly disappointed that villagers are growing corn in the heart of orchid country. At the edge of the meadow, fresh cuts ringing the base of an oak tree are a disturbing sign. It's illegal to fell living trees in the reserve. To expand their cornfield, villagers inflict mortal wounds by girdling trees and later legally remove the dead wood. Prosecutions are rare because offenders can be fined or sent to labor camp, and that would sow enmity in a small town such as Huaping. Therefore, despite the blatant transgressions, “we have to be careful,” says Yachang director Wu Tian-gui. He and his staff members don't want villagers to strike back at the reserve by poaching rare orchids that can fetch hundreds of dollars from collectors.

    Meanwhile, for Yachang's orchids, the noose tightens. As the region warms, many orchids will migrate naturally, and tissue culture could augment existing populations, says Feng. But some species will be driven higher up mountainsides, and eventually “they will have no higher places to go,” says Liu, who describes the threat to orchids in the June issue of The Botanical Review. Other orchids may be stymied as the habitat grows ever more fragmented. “Managed relocation of certain orchids may be unavoidable,” she says.

    It won't be easy. Orchids have a poorly understood symbiotic relationship with soil fungi. And pollinators are species-specific. New habitat for any orchid given a moving assist must have not only a tolerable temperature and precipitation regime but also the right species assemblage. AC for orchids, says Feng, “will be very tricky.”

    As questions swirl about how best to proceed, the plight of one species has driven people to take matters into their own hands. Blighted by disease, the Florida Torreya pine has lost more than 98% of its population since the 1950s. Over the past decade, the Torreya Guardians have been distributing seeds well beyond the tree's historic range. The private group cites climate change as one rationale for its “assisted migration.”

    Sax sees a moral justification for this eco-activism. “They have every right to try and fix a problem that they don't see anyone else dealing with,” he says. But there is a dark side, he notes. “It makes me nervous to think that any group could move any species they wanted. This would occasionally lead to some nasty ecological consequences.”

    Thus, it is imperative that scientists illuminate the benefits and risks of moving species before agencies, citizens' groups, or their own colleagues take action. “Before AC can become a safe tool, we would need to develop a much better understanding of how introduced species and recipient ecosystems respond to each other,” says Ricciardi. “Until then, AC amounts to ecological gambling: The more frequently we do it, the more we spin a roulette wheel of unintended consequences.”

  12. Immunology

    Mouse Studies Challenge Rare Immune Cell's Powers

    1. Mitch Leslie

    The functions of basophils, one of the first immune cells to be identified, continue to confound researchers.

    Back to the ranks?

    Basophils like this one might not be the immune system commanders some studies suggested.


    Long dismissed as “cannon fodder,” as one immunologist puts it, the white blood cells known as basophils have been enjoying a renaissance. Findings published mainly within the past 5 years portrayed basophils as take-charge cells that control maturation of key defensive cells, instigate counterattacks against invaders, and even help the immune system remember. But researchers who just 2 months ago were touting basophils' powers are now using words such as “reassess” and “reconsider.”

    That's because three papers published this month question whether the cells perform several jobs recently ascribed to them. Some immunologists say they are already convinced that the previous basophil work was wrong, whereas other researchers declare themselves puzzled by the contradiction.

    Discovered in the late 1870s, basophils remain among the most enigmatic immune cells. The consensus long held that basophils—which account for less than 1% of white blood cells—contribute little to the body's defenses. Many researchers considered them backups for mast cells, another type of immune cell that triggers allergy symptoms and defends against parasites (Science, 3 August 2007, p. 614).

    Then about 3 years ago, researchers found they could wipe out basophils in mice by administering antibodies that grab molecules on the cells' surface. The effect was only temporary—the animals gradually make replacements—and the antibodies might also kill or activate mast cells. But immunologists still thought they finally could tease out the functions of basophils by comparing antibody-treated mice to normal animals and ones lacking solely mast cells.

    One important role that emerged was guiding the maturation of “helper” T cells that orchestrate immune assaults against pathogens. These T cells can specialize to trigger a TH1 response, which tackles viruses and certain bacteria, or a TH2 response, which targets parasites. By producing the potent cytokine IL-4, basophils seemed able to nudge T cells down the TH2 route. In 2008, then–graduate student Caroline Sokol, her adviser Ruslan Medzhitov of Yale University, and colleagues showed that basophils can enter lymph nodes—which many researchers had thought were off-limits to the cells—to rendezvous with T cells. They also found that removing basophils with antibodies squelched the TH2 response.

    The job attributed to basophils that has spurred the most discussion is presenting antigens. Before a helper T cell can trigger a response to a pathogen or parasite, it has to “feel” these molecular bits of an invader displayed on the surface of an antigen-presenting cell (APC). Most researchers assumed that the immune system's dendritic cells (DCs) show off antigens during TH2 responses. Last year, however, in simultaneous Nature Immunology papers, three groups published evidence that basophils serve as APCs.

    That conclusion is now under fire. Immunologist David Voehringer of Ludwig Maximilians University Munich in Germany, and colleagues announced in an article published online on 2 September in Immunity that they had genetically engineered the first mice that are almost completely devoid of basophils throughout their lives. The scientists disabled a gene crucial for the cell's development.

    Even without basophils, the animals could muster TH2 responses to allergens and parasitic hookworms. That the rodents' immune systems reacted normally to these apparent threats also suggests that basophils aren't crucial antigen presenters, the researchers conclude. “We do not believe that basophils have APC function under physiologic conditions,” says Voehringer. His team did, however, find that basophils help rebuff a parasite's second attack, confirming that the cells aid immune memory.

    Two new studies of mice whose basophils had been eliminated by antibodies, both appearing online in the Journal of Experimental Medicine this month, reach much the same conclusion: Basophils are not APCs for dust mite allergens or Schistosoma parasites. “It's a matter of antigen presentation efficiency,” says immunologist Bart Lambrecht of the University of Ghent in Belgium, co-author of the dust mite allergen paper. In culture dish tests of APC prowess, his team found that basophils performed feebly.

    Lambrecht's and Voehringer's groups note that one of the basophil-depleting antibodies can knock out certain DCs. Their demise—not the disappearance of basophils—could explain why in some studies mice lost APC capability after antibody injections. Voehringer is brusque, calling many of the earlier basophil results experimental artifacts.

    The researchers who fingered basophils as APCs stand by their work. “It's hard for me to imagine that what so many groups were seeing was an artifact,” says Sokol, who is now a resident at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Immunologist David Artis of the University of Pennsylvania remains convinced that basophils act as APCs for some stimuli. “But are there scenarios where basophils may not participate in antigen presentation? Absolutely.”

    Voehringer's basophil-lacking mice don't provide definitive evidence, because other immune cells might take over basophil jobs in the animals, says immunologist Hajime Karasuyama of Tokyo Medical and Dental University Graduate School in Japan, who wasn't part of the APC research. Nevertheless, he concludes, the accumulating data suggest that “we definitely need to reassess the role of DCs and basophils.”

  13. Fisheries

    Behind the Eco-Label, a Debate Over Antarctic Toothfish

    1. Erik Stokstad

    The controversial case of the Antarctic toothfish has raised questions about the gold standard for environmentally friendly fishing.

    Consumer appeal.

    Fish certified as sustainable, such as these relatives of the Antarctic toothfish, can fetch higher prices.


    In grocery stores around the world, discerning consumers can select fish that come with a distinctive blue label and a check mark. It's the most common eco-label for seafood, offering guilt-free eating in exchange for a premium price. This stamp of approval from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a rapidly growing nonprofit based in London, means that the fishing operation doesn't catch so many fish that it jeopardizes the stock. Moreover, the fishing techniques should minimize collateral damage to the ecosystem, such as accidentally catching sea birds or turtles.

    But how well the sticker delivers on its promise is up for debate. Critics, both academic scientists and those with environmental groups, say MSC dispenses its labels too liberally, when there are not enough data for a definitive evaluation. They also say the process of certification can be too subjective. The result, they say, is that fisheries are certified when they aren't clearly sustainable. “It's the organization that can't say no,” says Gerald Leape of the Pew Environment Group in Washington, D.C.

    These concerns have been reignited by a battle over the Antarctic toothfish, which lives in one of the most pristine marine ecosystems. Three fishing companies want to market it as sustainable and were on track to get the label. But environmental organizations have objected, arguing that the label isn't warranted, given the paucity of data about the life history of the toothfish and the ecological impacts of fishing in the Ross Sea. An independent examiner is now reviewing the evidence. Whatever the outcome, the saga of the Antarctic toothfish shows that making a watertight case for sustainability can be devilishly difficult. In the 2 September issue of Nature, several scientists called for “radical reform” of MSC.

    Supporters of MSC say the process is to some degree inherently subjective; various scientists will come to different conclusions when data are scarce. They say certifiers do the best possible job, considering they have to work with imperfect data. Moreover, they account for uncertainties by imposing conditions that fisheries must meet to retain their certification—thus nudging fisheries toward even better operations. “You can eat this seafood with the assurance that it's coming from fisheries that are well-managed and the most environmentally friendly in the world,” says fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington, Seattle.

    Making the grade

    MSC was conceived in 1997 by the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever, one of the largest manufacturers of frozen fish products. Both organizations were concerned about the state of fish stocks around the world and thought that independent certification could help promote sustainable practices. After extensive consultations with scientists, MSC created a set of general standards for sustainability. A technical advisory board helps keep the assessment methods up to date.

    Despite a slow start, the number of certifications has risen dramatically in recent years. Demand from grocery retailers has also increased; in 2006, Wal-Mart announced that it would sell only MSC-certified fish. Fishers prize the label, which can provide access to lucrative wholesale contracts or higher retail prices. The 94 certified fisheries produce more than 5 million metric tons a year, totaling 5% of wild-caught fish consumed worldwide.

    But there were controversies from the beginning. Environmental groups challenged major decisions, such as the South Georgia Patagonian toothfish, variously pointing to the poor state of the stocks, risk of overfishing, or uncertainties about ecological impacts. None of 11 appeals to date have succeeded, although some have resulted in additional conditions being placed on fisheries.

    A similar conflict is now playing out in the world's southernmost fishery. Like its Patagonian relative, the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) is commonly known as Chilean sea bass. Popular for their mild, fatty flesh, the slow-maturing toothfish are inherently vulnerable to overfishing. Up to 16 ships are allowed to fish for Antarctic toothfish by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Catch levels are kept low while more is learned about the species. “It's a very well-managed fishery,” says Eric Barratt, managing director of Sanford Ltd., one of the three companies applying for MSC certification.

    MSC sets the overarching policies and technical guidance but doesn't certify fisheries itself. That's done by a handful of research and analysis companies. Staff scientists and consultants review the scientific literature and assess whether a fishery's performance measures up to MSC's many standards in each of three broad areas: the status of the stock, the impact on the broader ecosystem, and how well the fishery is managed. It's a complicated grading system, and succeeding is a bit like triple majoring in college: Each major requires a minimum grade point average; and although you can't flunk any classes, if you get enough A's, then having some C's on your transcript won't hold you back. This entire report card is then peer reviewed by two scientists.

    Fishing companies can select any approved certifier. Sanford and the other companies contracted with Moody Marine Ltd. in 2007 to evaluate the fishery. Because fisheries differ so much—in the life history of the species and the gear used to catch them, for example—Moody and other companies tailor the grading system case by case. They create so-called scoring guideposts, which determine what's required to get a passing score (60 points out of 100). The companies have a good deal of flexibility in how they define these guideposts, which has led to charges that certifiers tend to be too lax.

    Good enough?

    In November 2009, Moody decided that Antarctic toothfish caught by the three companies should be certified as sustainable. A month later, the decision was appealed by the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. After paying MSC a $23,000 fee to appeal, ASOC—backed by a group of 39 scientists—argued that the certification wasn't justified because of a dearth of key data, such as whether or how the size of the stock has changed over the past several years or the ecosystem effects of fishing there. Weddell seals are known to prey on toothfish, for example, but it's not clear how important the fish is to the seals' diet.

    Moody, recognizing some of the deficiencies, had placed conditions requiring further research on its certification of the Antarctic toothfish. (Like all certifications, the fishery would be audited annually to make sure it's up to snuff.) ASOC argues that these data gaps should be filled before the fish is sold as sustainably harvested, not after.

    MSC appointed Michael Lodge, a lawyer with experience in fisheries management, to check whether proper procedures were followed. In a preliminary report released in May, Lodge agreed with some of the complaints about the contested scores in the Moody assessment. Based on how little is known about the species' life history, such as reproductive behavior and larval movements, six scores that Moody had awarded the fishery were unjustified, Lodge found. He directed Moody to reconsider, but the company declined to change any of the scores.

    Unknown impact.

    Catching toothfish might deprive predators, such as Weddell seals.


    ASOC had also complained that Moody had ignored suggestions from stakeholders and two peer reviewers. Lodge noted that where the peer reviewers had recommended lower scores, Moody kept them unchanged. Lodge described “a defensive attitude on the part of the assessment team, coupled with an unwillingness to change scores that had already been decided.” Andrew Hough, a marine ecologist with Moody who led the assessment, says his company takes all comments seriously, but often peer reviewers misunderstand the report. “If we need to change the scores in light of the comments, then we do,” he says.

    Another issue apparent from Lodge's investigation is that various aspects of certification can be quite squishy. In setting up the scoring guideposts—that is, what's required to get a passing grade—Moody relied in many places on vague terms such as an “adequate” or a “reasonable” amount of knowledge, Lodge found. Lodge emphasized that objectively defined guideposts are crucial: “If the 60 guidepost is set too leniently, then it undermines the whole purpose of assessment.” But he noted it wasn't within in his charge to rule on the adequacy of the scoring guidelines, so he let stand the scores contested on these grounds.

    Subjectivity in scoring may be common, according to an analysis published in Fish and Fisheries in 2008. Fisheries scientist Trevor Ward, a consultant based in Perth, Australia, analyzed 22 MSC-certified fisheries and found that one major certifier systematically awarded higher scores for minimal ecosystem impact than did another.

    MSC says it fixed the problem in 2008 by revising its standards for certifiers, so that there is a consistent assessment system for every fishery. For example, assessments must explicitly consider stock status in an appropriate manner. “There's a feeling among the NGO community that [the new standards] are an improvement,” says Michael Hirschfield, chief scientist for the advocacy group Oceana in Washington, D.C. But Ward and others say certifiers continue to have excessive flexibility in deciding what information is adequate. What's needed, says Pew's Gerald Leape, are more absolute requirements; not just any qualitative measure of stock status, for example, but a rigorous stock assessment.

    MSC and the certifiers say they only approve fisheries when the existing data support that decision. What's more, they say, the conditions required for recertification every 5 years mean that fishers big and small adopt even more sustainable fishing practices. “It's led to some very significant changes in how fisheries are managed,” says David Agnew, who chairs MSC's technical advisory board.

    As for the toothfish, Lodge is expected to rule on the appeal by the end of the month. Meanwhile, some 130 other fisheries are being evaluated for certification, so the toothfish most likely won't be the last controversy over the adequacy of the science. For consumers or grocery suppliers who are mulling whether to buy fish with the MSC label, the decision may boil down to whether they want to support a fishery that is incontrovertibly sustainable or just heading in that direction.