News this Week

Science  08 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6001, pp. 158
  1. Nobel Prizes

    Honor for Test Tube Baby Pioneer

    1. Gretchen Vogel and
    2. Martin Enserink
    Making babies.

    Edwards's research offered new hope to infertile couples.

    ROBERT G. EDWARDS

    CREDITS: BOURN HALL; © THE NOBEL FOUNDATION (INSET)

    His work touched millions of lives and helped to create millions. Robert G. Edwards, the British physiologist who pioneered in vitro fertilization (IVF), was named the sole recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine on 4 October. Edwards became a scientific celebrity after the birth of Louise Brown, the world's first “test tube baby,” in 1978; since then, some 4 million children have been born following an IVF procedure.

    Edwards now lives in a nursing home and is “very frail,” says Martin Johnson, a professor of reproductive sciences at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom who was one of Edwards's first Ph.D. students.

    He was unable to take the phone call from the Nobel Committee on Monday, and “realistically speaking” won't be able to pick up his medal in Stockholm in December, Johnson says. Michael Macnamee, chief executive of Bourn Hall, the fertility clinic that Edwards helped to found, said that Edwards was “very pleased indeed” when his wife, Ruth, told him the news. “He is aware of the award and of course is very happy to receive it,” Macnamee says.

    In the 1950s, Edwards was inspired by research demonstrating that rabbit egg cells fertilized in the lab could give rise to offspring, and he set out to better understand the biology of human egg cells, sperm, and embryos. Working with slices of human ovaries given to him by a gynecologist, Molly Rose—who also delivered two of Robert and Ruth's five daughters—Edwards used trial and error to find the conditions that would coax human eggs to mature. With various colleagues he also pieced together how hormones regulate oocyte maturation, when the eggs can be fertilized by sperm, and the conditions necessary for sperm to activate and fertilize the egg. In 1969, he and his colleagues managed to fertilize a human egg in vitro for the first time, a feat that attracted massive media attention. But the resulting embryo didn't develop.

    In 1968, Edwards struck up a fertile collaboration with gynecologist Patrick Steptoe, who—against skepticism among doctors and surgeons—had introduced the technique of laparoscopy, or “keyhole surgery,” and used it to retrieve mature eggs from ovaries. “They were a perfect match. Both were pioneers, and they respected each other's skills and expertise,” says Johnson. But the pair ran into strong social, religious, and medical opposition to their research. “They were definitely swimming upstream,” says embryologist and stem cell researcher Roger Pedersen of the University of Cambridge. In 1971, the U.K. Medical Research Council (MRC) turned down Edwards's request for funding—a decision that surprised and disappointed him.

    One reason was that overpopulation was a growing concern at the time, says Johnson, who has become a historian of the field and who published a paper in July on the background of the MRC decision. “People said: Why would we help people having children when our main problem is how to prevent people from having children?” Other factors played a role as well, including worries that IVF might lead to abnormal fetuses. The fact that Edwards—not a physician himself—had become a media darling didn't help either.

    Donations from private sources allowed Edwards and Steptoe to continue their work, but for years they failed to establish a successful pregnancy, in part because of the side effects of the hormone treatments given to patients to stimulate their ovaries to produce mature eggs. Eventually, they learned how to time their procedures to match their patients' natural menstrual cycles. That led to their 1978 triumph. After a second healthy baby had been born, MRC quickly reversed course and became an enthusiastic supporter of Edwards's work.

    Steptoe died in 1988; because Nobel prizes are awarded to living scientists only, he could not be included in the prize. Had he been alive, he probably should have shared the honor, Johnson says. Edwards “was probably the more imaginative and creative of the two, but one shouldn't distract from [Steptoe's] remarkable and extraordinary contributions,” he says.

    Edwards's work made it possible for researchers to ultimately derive human embryonic stem cells, Pedersen notes, adding: “That was part of his original vision.” But Karolinska Institute cell biologist and Nobel Assembly member Christer Höög—who authored the paper describing why Edwards deserved a Nobel—says that the prize was not intended to make a statement about stem cell research. “This award is only for the core technology” of IVF, he said.

    Although some still see IVF as controversial—the Vatican criticized the Nobel Committee's pick this week—the treatment has become mainstream in most developed nations. But it's still far from perfect. Only about 30% of attempts end in a live birth, despite the fact that doctors routinely place multiple embryos in patients to boost the chances of pregnancy. That's in part because even in nature only 20% of all embryos successfully implant in the womb—a fact that frustrated Edwards.

    A prolific writer, Edwards was actively involved in the ethical debates around IVF from the start. As early as 1971, he published a paper in Nature, still regarded as a classic, that laid out the ethical, social, and regulatory issues in human embryology. He liked taking provocative positions, if only to flush out counterarguments, Johnson says. He disagreed with the scientific community's decision to declare human cloning off-limits without discussing the potential benefits. “I've never met anyone worth cloning, including myself,” Edwards once quipped. “But to him, closing the debate was the antithesis of scientific inquiry,” says Johnson.

  2. Nobel Prizes

    Still in Its Infancy, Two-Dimensional Crystal Claims Prize

    1. Adrian Cho*

    This year's recipients of the Nobel Prize in physics earned that honor with the most wafer-thin of discoveries and with the help of some Scotch tape. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom share the prize for their discovery in 2004 of graphene, a one-atom-thick material made of carbon. Only a few years later, the material promises revolutionary advances in electronics and other technologies. “My hope is that graphene … will change our everyday lives the way plastics did,” Geim says.

    ANDRE GEIM

    KONSTANTIN NOVOSELOV

    CREDITS: RUSSELL HART/UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER; © THE NOBEL FOUNDATION (INSET)

    Graphene had humble beginnings. Geim and Novoselov first produced flakes of it by peeling them off a chunk of graphite using cellophane tape. “It just started as a Friday evening experiment,” Novoselov recalls. “We were enjoying doing it.” Others had been trying more complicated methods of liberating a single sheet of atoms, says Philip Kim, a physicist at Columbia University. “I was shocked that they were able to get a single layer with such a simple method,” Kim says. “We were completely scooped.”

    Early on, graphene fascinated primarily theoretical physicists. Because of the material's two-dimensional nature, the electrons in it conspire to move as though they have no mass, much like particles of light. So just like photons, the electrons must always move, cruising along at their own specific “speed of light.” All of this was predicted decades ago, but graphene provided the first example of such odd behavior.

    Quickly, physicists, engineers, and chemists began to see the potential for applications. Graphene has many bizarre and often contradictory properties. For example, it is flexible like plastic but stronger than diamond, and it conducts electricity like a metal but is transparent like glass. Researchers have figured out how to make sheets measuring tens of centimeters across. They have developed methods to cut the sheets into nanometer-scale patterns and to change graphene's electrical properties by, for example, affixing hydrogen to its surface.

    That's opened the way to scads of possible applications. The South Korean electronics company Samsung has developed a touch screen from graphene, whereas researchers with IBM have fashioned ultrafast transistors from the stuff. A sieve of graphene might also serve to sequence DNA. Even Novoselov says it's too early to say exactly what uses graphene will find. “Whatever I say now will be wrong because there has been so much progress in its properties and mass production,” he says.

    In that regard, this year's prize could be considered an anomaly. In the past, a few prizes have quickly spotlighted discoveries that upended the prevailing theory; others have recognized advances that over decades had led to ubiquitous applications. This year's prize, by contrast, honors physics that by all accounts is beautiful but not revolutionary. “You don't need a new theory” to understand graphene, says Jeroen van den Brink, a theorist at the Institute for Materials Sciences at the Dresden University of Technology in Germany. At the same time, it celebrates the potential for applications yet to come. “Will this really come into the market?” Kim says. “I think it's really difficult to say.” Still, everyone interviewed by Science says Geim and Novoselov thoroughly deserve the prize.

    The prize is also unusual because one recipient has another claim to fame. In 2000, Geim won a share of an Ig Nobel Prize, a satirical award given out by the publishers of the Annals of Improbable Research, for magnetically levitating a live frog. Geim is the first person to win both prizes. During a press conference announcing the Nobel Prize, Geim reacted with unusual candor to his latest award: “When I got the telephone call, I thought, ‘Shit!’ because it is a life-changing event.”

    • * With reporting by Daniel Clery.

  3. Biomedical Ethics

    Guatemala Study From 1940s Reflects A ‘Dark Chapter’ in Medicine

    1. Kristen Minogue and
    2. Eliot Marshall
    Hidden history.

    Susan Reverby found records describing unethical studies.

    CREDIT: COURTESY OF WELLESLEY COLLEGE

    After making a public apology, the United States this week is launching two inquiries into a stunningly unethical U.S. medical study that was conducted in Guatemala 64 years ago. The research—funded from 1946 to 1948 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—infected hundreds of Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers, and mental health patients with syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. Its aim was to track the course of infection and test new preventive treatments. But the doctors who ran it for the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) never published results.

    The work was “clearly unethical,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a joint statement of regret on 1 October: “We are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health.” In a telephone press conference, NIH Director Francis Collins also deplored this “appalling example” from “a dark chapter in the history of medicine.” NIH plans to fund a “fact-finding investigation” into what happened in Guatemala, run by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine. At the same time, the U.S. Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is putting together a group of international experts, Collins said, “to ensure that all human medical research conducted around the globe today meets rigorous ethical standards.”

    The Guatemala project came to light after Susan Reverby, a medical historian at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, found a batch of forgotten records donated to the University of Pittsburgh by John C. Cutler, an expert in sexually transmitted diseases. Cutler died in 2003. Reverby was looking into another study she has written about—the 1932–1972 Tuskegee experiment in Alabama, in which researchers left African-American men with syphilis untreated in order to observe the disease. Cutler was involved in both studies.

    With the approval of his PHS bosses, Cutler set up a program at the U.S. Venereal Disease Research Laboratory in Guatemala City to recruit prostitutes (legal in Guatemala) and use them to spread disease among uninfected men. Guatemalan officials approved the plan, allowing researchers and disease-spiked prostitutes into a prison and an army barracks. They also used direct inoculation with infectious material, particularly for patients in a mental health asylum. (Children in an orphanage were involved, too, but only as blood donors.) None gave consent, and it's likely that participants were deceived about the nature of the experiments.

    Cutler's team had at least two goals, Reverby writes in a report to be published in a January 2011 edition of the Journal of Policy History. One was to test reactions to “fresh infective material,” apparently in hopes of finding a way to enhance immune responses. And the second was to test chemoprevention methods to be used after exposure to bacteria. Specifically, Reverby says, they wanted to come up with a penicillin-based formula that would be better than the “pro kit” given to U.S. soldiers at the time—a concoction of calomel and mercury that was supposed to be rubbed on the penis after unprotected sex. “As you can imagine, nobody was using it because it burned,” says Reverby. The doctors “didn't know what penicillin could do” and thought it might work better.

    Partway through, the study apparently began to implode. Cost was a problem. The doctors treated subjects with penicillin when an infection was confirmed; this required more than 3 million units of the valuable drug. Meanwhile, even Cutler was having trouble with the deception. Reverby quotes a letter from Cutler to a colleague in 1947 in which he writes: “As you can imagine, we are holding our breaths, and we are explaining to the patients and others concerned … that the treatment is a new one utilizing serum followed by penicillin. This double talk keeps me hopping. …” The project quietly faded away in 1948.

    Reverby presented her investigation at a meeting of medical historians in May. She says there were about 20 people on hand for her talk on a Sunday morning: “Needless to say, it got no press coverage.” Later, she forwarded a draft to the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), David Sencer, who “sent it up the chain of command.”

    In July, CDC looked at the files and essentially validated Reverby's report. CDC's summary, released on 1 October, says data suggest that 696 subjects were exposed to syphilis, 772 to gonorrhea, and 142 to chancroid. The corresponding infection rates were roughly 61%, 30%, and 97%. As far as is known, most were treated, but records suggest that only 76% of those directly inoculated and infected with syphilis received “adequate” amounts of penicillin.

    Monetary compensation should be considered for the victims or their descendants, according to Johns Hopkins University bioethicist Ruth Faden—although fixing responsibility would not be simple. And although rules are in place to prevent something like this from happening today, Faden says, “we're reminded again of what can happen if we drop our guard.”

    Reverby says these revelations are likely to revive rumors that men in the Tuskegee study were deliberately infected. After sifting Tuskegee's records for 20 years, she is “absolutely positive without a shadow of a doubt” that this did not happen. And why did the doctors in Guatemala go over the edge? “I think they just really wanted their results; they fell in love with their data.” If so, it was a blind love.

  4. Newsmaker Interview: Kim Heung-Kwang and Park Chan-Mo

    Will Korea's Computer-Savvy Crown Prince Embrace Reform?

    1. Richard Stone

    SEOUL—It's a rare day that North Korea watchers successfully predict momentous changes in the hermit kingdom. But last week, the heir apparent to top leader Kim Jong Il emerged from the shadows—and as anticipated, it is his third son, Kim Jong Un.

    Intelligence sources and organizations with informants in the North have been sharing what they have learned about the mysterious young Kim, who is thought to be 27 years old. According to internal North Korean propaganda, informants claim, Kim oversees a cyberwarfare unit that launched a sophisticated denial-of-service attack on South Korean and U.S. government Web sites in July 2009. South Korea's National Intelligence Service blamed the North, which has not commented publicly on the attack. Kim Jong Un's involvement cannot be confirmed, says computer scientist Kim Heung-Kwang, founder of North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a group of university-educated defectors that raises awareness of conditions in the North and first revealed North Korea's botched currency reform late last year. But it's plausible: Kim claims that Kim Jong Un was tutored privately by a “brilliant” graduate of Université Paris X who chaired the computer science department at Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang before disappearing from public view in the early 1980s.

    Reaching out.

    Kim Heung-Kwang (left) and Park Chan-Mo advocate engaging North Korea.

    CREDIT: R. STONE/SCIENCE

    Analysts can only speculate whether Kim Jong Un's presumed familiarity with cyberspace and his exposure to the outside world—he attended private school in Switzerland—will influence North Korean policy anytime soon, if at all. Science diplomacy buffs have their antennae up for signals on how last week's developments might influence international collaborations, including a new tuberculosis laboratory (Science, 12 March, p. 1312) and Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) (Science, 25 September 2009, p. 1610).

    For insights into how things may shake out for North Korea's scientific community, Science spoke with Kim Heung-Kwang and Park Chan-Mo. Kim Heung-Kwang, 50, is one of five Ph.D.-trained defectors known to reside in South Korea. (Defectors number 20,000 or more; only a few dozen hold master's or higher degrees.) He grew up in Hamhung, North Korea's second largest city, and studied at Kim Chaek University of Technology before working as a professor at Hamhung Computer College and Hamhung Communist College. Embarking on what he calls “a big adventure,” Kim Heung-Kwang crossed the Tumen River into China in September 2003. “I wanted to work with computers in a free environment,” he says. A year later, he paid a broker to smuggle his wife and daughter to the South. His organization is now raising funds to launch a think tank, the North Korea Development Institute, in 2011.

    A specialist on computer graphics and simulation, Park Chan-Mo, 75, last week stepped down as the first president of the National Research Foundation of Korea to devote his time to PUST, which he is helping establish. Foreign faculty members will begin teaching PUST's inaugural class—100 undergraduates and 60 grad students—later this month. In a remarkable gesture for a nation that permits few of its citizens e-mail or Web access, North Korea has promised PUST a campuswide Internet connection; this is not yet operational.

    Q:Kim Jong Un will need army backing to consolidate his power, so he presumably will maintain North Korea's Songun [Military First] policy. But will his experience abroad have made him a more open-minded person?

    K.H.-K.:Anyone who comes to power will put pressure on his own people at first. The leaders think their people should starve a little bit to make them calm. But Kim Jong Un is a young person with a background in information technology, so he may desire to transform North Korea from a labor-intense economy to a knowledge economy like South Korea is doing. From the outside, there may not appear to be much of a difference, but inside the government this Generation X'er may start to make positive changes.

    Q:Some South Koreans worry that the North will use PUST to acquire knowledge for its weapons programs. Is it a risky venture?

    K.H.-K.:If North Korea keeps its promises [to permit academic freedom and Internet access], it will be a success.

    P.C.-M.:Our purpose is the globalization of North Korea through PUST. In that way, their economy can gradually develop, which will make it easier for reunification later.

    Q:Is it an auspicious time for the West to reach out to North Korea's scientific community?

    K.H.-K.:It's very important to do this, especially with the severe tensions right now between North and South. If Western scientists sincerely try to engage North Korea, there will be a positive response. North Korea has solid expertise in computer algorithms and software development. Collaborations in these areas can be win-win for both sides.

    Q:How do you reassure the North Korean government that scientific cooperation isn't intended to undermine the regime?

    P.C.-M.:We never say anything bad. But we have to tell them there are certain things that need to change. For example, one day at an institute in Pyongyang we heard a siren. We thought there was a fire. Our hosts said don't worry, it just means the electricity will be shut off in half an hour. They badly needed a stable electricity supply for their research, so we suggested that they install UPS [uninterruptible power supply] equipment.

    Our first aim is to build trust, to show that we are not brainwashing them. Wouldn't it be great if someday [smiling] a collaboration with North Koreans will publish a paper in Science?

  5. Cellular Reprogramming

    New Technique RiPS Open Stem Cell Field

    1. Gretchen Vogel

    While stem cell scientists in the United States are grappling with continued uncertainty about the future of federal funding for work with embryonic cells (see p. 163), the field got a bit of good news last week: a paper describing a new method for prompting mature cells to take on a different fate. The technique is cleaner, safer, faster, and more efficient than recently developed methods for reprogramming adult cells, promising to give researchers a powerful new tool for making and using stem cells. It “will have a huge impact in the near term,” says Justin Ichida, who studies reprogramming at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and was not involved in the study.

    Cleaner, safer, faster.

    A new technique using synthetic RNA can reprogram adult cells so they are genetically identical to the source cell.

    CREDIT: M. TWOMBLY/SCIENCE

    Four years ago, scientists took a major step toward overcoming the biggest ethical hurdle in stem cell research. Instead of using cells derived from embryos, researchers found a way to make adult cells behave as though they were embryonic. Simply inserting extra copies of four genes into these cells gave the cells the ability to develop into almost any cell type in the body. Known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, these cells are a potential boon for studying and ultimately treating a variety of diseases, and many labs immediately added the technique to their repertoire. Scientists have also used the trick to turn one mature cell type directly into another (skipping the embryonic stage) by inserting key genes for the desired cell type.

    But the technique, called cellular reprogramming, has some drawbacks. The reprogrammed cells retain copies of the inserted genes, which makes them prone to forming tumors and could potentially skew experimental results. And there is some evidence that iPS cells aren't exactly like embryonic stem cells in their gene expression, retaining a subtle cellular memory of the tissue they came from. The method is also relatively inefficient, reprogramming only about one out of 1000 cells exposed to the treatment, and it takes more than a month for iPS cells to appear.

    The new technique goes a long way toward fixing those problems. Stem cell researcher Derrick Rossi of Harvard Medical School in Boston and his colleagues used synthetic RNA molecules that correspond to the genes inserted in classic reprogramming techniques. The technique makes iPS cells in about half the time, they reported online last week in Cell Stem Cell. And because the RNA quickly breaks down, the reprogrammed cells are genetically identical to the source cells.

    Rossi says his first attempts to use RNA to induce protein production were stymied by cells' innate antiviral defenses, which attack foreign RNA and can trigger programmed cell death. But he and his colleagues discovered that by substituting slightly modified versions for two of RNA's usual bases, they could make synthetic RNAs that the cell accepted as its own. By inhibiting interferon—a key part of the cells' anti-RNA defense—they got the cells to express even more of the desired proteins. When the researchers applied a daily cocktail of these synthetic RNAs to connective tissue cells called fibroblasts, the cells dedifferentiated into embryoniclike cells. The team calls its cells RiPS cells, for RNA-induced pluripotent stem cells.

    To the team's surprise, the process took just over 2 weeks and reprogrammed as many as 4% of the cells in the culture dish. That makes it roughly 100 times more efficient than the gene-transfer technique and twice as fast. Other researchers have been racing to find other methods to reprogram cells, but most of them have proved less efficient than the classic technique.

    Further experiments suggest that the RNA approach does a more thorough job of reprogramming the cell than other methods. The genes that RiPS cells express are very similar to those expressed by ES cells—in other words, they seem to be a closer match to ES cells than most iPS cells to date. The method can also prompt cells to become nonembryonic cell types. By inserting synthetic RNA that codes for a key gene in muscle tissue, for example, the researchers could turn both fibroblasts and RiPS cells into muscle cells.

    “I'm so impressed … that we are going to turn over our entire iPS core to this new method to make stem cells from patients with all sorts of diseases,” says stem cell researcher Douglas Melton of Harvard's Stem Cell Institute. “It is a major advance.”

    Rossi says the synthetic RNAs will be easy for other labs to make: “If you have basic molecular biology tools, you can make these RNAs.” Still, Ichida says he is not giving up his search for a suite of chemicals that can reprogram cells. For researchers who might want to make thousands of iPS cell lines, he says, RNA reprogramming will still be time-consuming and expensive, and a chemical cocktail could prove even more efficient, he says. Others agree. Although he says the RNA technique is a significant advance, stem cell researcher James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, says it is too early to discount other approaches to reprogramming.

    The RNA technique could have uses beyond the stem cell field, Rossi and others note. The modified RNA can also prompt cells to make designer proteins, Rossi says. And developmental biologists can use it to better understand the effects of certain genes. “It's the flip side of RNAi,” Rossi says, referring to a widely used technique in which scientists use RNA to block the expression of genes in cells. Rossi says he will be exploring how to use the RNA-prompted protein expression to replace proteins in diseased patients. “If we could reprogram somatic human fibroblasts to pluripotency, you can do anything with this technology,” he says.

  6. Court Battle

    What's Next for Stem Cell Research?

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser
    In limbo.

    The courts will soon decide whether U.S.-funded research on human embryonic stem cells is legal.

    CREDIT: AP

    Last week's appeals court decision to temporarily lift a ban on the use of federal funds for research with human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) was good news for researchers. But the legal battle is far from over. A decision on the underlying court case could come by late November. If the courts agree that hESC research violates a ban on taxpayer-funded research that harms embryos, hESC work could be shut down again. And the prospects that Congress will come to the rescue remain unclear. Given the uncertainty, some researchers say they are removing hESC work from their National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant applications.

    The saga began on 23 August, when U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce Lamberth issued a preliminary injunction halting federal funding for hESC research while he considered a lawsuit brought by two researchers who study adult stem cells (Science, 17 September, p. 1450). The suit contends that the NIH guidelines under which it is funding hESC research are illegal. For 17 days, NIH suspended grant reviews and payments and eventually shut down intramural research on hESCs. Then on 9 September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit suspended, or “stayed,” the injunction. On 28 September, a three-judge panel of the appeals court replaced the brief stay with a longer one until it hears the government's appeal of the injunction.

    During the two stays, NIH issued award letters for 24 grants for which annual payments were due in September. Grant reviews also seem to be back on track, according to hESC researchers.

    Exactly what comes next in the courts is unclear. Both sides have asked Lamberth to decide the underlying case without a trial; they've agreed on a final deadline of 28 October to submit documents. Lamberth must determine whether NIH's July 2009 stem cell guidelines violate the Dickey-Wicker law banning federal funds for research that harms embryos, and whether NIH followed the correct procedures in developing the guidelines.

    The appeals court is also moving ahead with the appeal of Lamberth's preliminary injunction. The last deadline for briefs is 4 November, then the three-judge panel will hear oral arguments. If, as expected, Lamberth rules in favor of the plaintiffs on the full case, the government will appeal and the case could be consolidated with the appeal of the preliminary injunction. (Some observers expect the stay would remain in place.) Another possibility is that Lamberth will wait to see how the appeals court rules on the preliminary injunction before he decides the case itself. Whichever court goes first, a decision could come by late November.

    If the appeals court rules against NIH, in-house research and hESC reviews and grants will be frozen again. The research community has geared up to blitz law makers with letters urging them to pass a law legalizing the NIH guidelines, says Anthony Mazzaschi of the Association of American Medical Colleges. But Congress will face a logjam of bills when it returns in November for a brief session.

    Michael Kyba of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, is one who is “extricating” hESCs from his applications and will instead use induced pluripotent stem cells, which are created from adult cells and don't carry the same ethical baggage. He will use private funds for any essential hESC work. “The legal situation is clearly driving the research project planning regarding use of hESCs rather than scientific rationale,” says stem cell researcher Timothy Kamp of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

  7. ScienceInsider

    From the Science Policy Blog

    A group of states bordering the Gulf of Mexico will dole out $500 million for research on the impacts of the BP oil spill. To be spent over 10 years, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative has already distributed a total of $30 million to five consortia of gulf universities and $10 million to the National Institutes of Health. http://scim.ag/gulf_money

    A new report from the U.S. National Academies says the fastest way to train more minority scientists and engineers is to improve the retention and completion rates of college students already interested in the natural sciences and engineering. That approach, it says, will also boost the overall number of students going into scientific fields. http://scim.ag/minority_science

    Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has embraced plant science by allocating $75 million for a new 5-year program that will pay the salaries of up to 15 plant biologists. “Plants are as good a model system as any other for studying biological processes,” says HHMI President Robert Tjian in announcing the new batch of HHMI investigators. http://scim.ag/hhmi_plants

    A policy to manage gray wolves via recreational hunting relies on faulty ecological science, say two ecologists. Their research challenges a long-held assumption that wolf populations won't be decimated by hunting. Ecologists had believed that hunters could remove 28% to 50% of the animals in a population without causing long-term harm to their numbers. http://scim.ag/wolf_hunt

    A report requested by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy says the federal government needs an organized effort to develop effective strategies to adapt to a changing climate. These approaches should include regional partnerships between scientists and local planners and resource managers as well as educational programs to train new experts in adaptation. Sharing data is another priority. But the efforts don't require a lot of new money, the report said. http://scim.ag/adapt_report

    For more science policy news, visit http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider.

  8. Brain Research

    Neuroscientists Grapple With Their Field's Big Questions

    1. Greg Miller
    CREDIT: K. MICHEVA, B. BUSSE, N. WEILER, N. O'ROURKE, S. J. SMITH, STANFORD UNIV.; P. HAGMANN/EPFL, CHUV LAUSANNE CH, V. WEDEEN/MGH AA MARTINOS CENTER/HUMAN CONNECTOME PROJECT

    SEATTLE—A shrine to rock music is an unusual place to hold a scientific conference, but last week the Experience Music Project museum here hosted 18 leading neuroscientists who gathered to discuss the major open questions in their field and the as-yet-to-be-invented technological advances that could best help solve them. The benefactor of both the museum and the conference was Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who has so far poured $126 million into brain research via the Allen Institute for Brain Science, launched in 2003.

    The Allen Institute has specialized in using brute-force technology—laboratory robots, automated microscopes, and powerful computers—to create atlases of gene activity throughout the brain (Science, 29 September 2006, p. 1879). The fruits of this effort are freely available to researchers. In a short chat with journalists, Allen said the institute was looking for ideas for what to undertake next. “There's no shortage of amazingly challenging problems,” he said. “What we try to bring to it is a unique high-throughput industrial-scale approach.”

    Spurning PowerPoint slides and speaking extemporaneously, Sydney Brenner, a 2002 Nobelist, posed questions about how the complexity of the nervous system is encoded in the genome. Some researchers pondered the complexity of synapses and the role of glial cells, which outnumber neurons in the human brain. Others described their efforts to understand the neural circuits underlying memory, perception, and decision-making.

    Several scientists presented a wish list of future technologies to help solve the questions they'd posed. “A field is often brought forward as much by new technology as by new science and new ideas,” said Michael Dickinson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Nobelist Susumu Tonegawa of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge wished for a noninvasive method to simultaneously record the activity of many individual neurons in the human brain in real time. “I have great confidence that something like that will happen, and it will revolutionize our understanding of the human brain,” Tonegawa said, adding that he didn't expect to see it in his lifetime.

    Other speakers described promising work already under way to help bridge the gaps between genes, cells, circuits, and behavior. Edward Boyden of MIT talked about his lab's efforts to develop new optogenetic tools, which have taken neuroscience by storm in recent years (Science, 15 December 2006, p. 1674). Using genetic tricks, scientists can insert light-sensitive proteins into specific populations of neurons and then use pulses of laser light to perturb their firing. Boyden has been expanding the optogenetics tool kit by combing fungi, archaebacteria, and other organisms for additional light-sensitive proteins that can be used to stimulate or inhibit neurons on different time scales or across smaller or larger areas of the brain. He's also been developing optical fibers that can deliver light at several locations. Arrays of such fibers implanted in mouse brains could one day let researchers manipulate multiple components of a neural circuit in freely behaving animals.

    Making connections.

    Array tomography (top) provides a close-up view of connections between neurons, whereas diffusion spectrum imaging (left) helps map connections among brain regions (right).

    CREDIT: P. HAGMANN ET AL., PLOS BIOL. 6, 7 (JULY 1, 2008)

    Stephen Smith of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, wowed the audience with a video tour of a 3D reconstruction of mouse cerebral cortex created by “array tomography,” a method his lab has developed. Researchers first cut ultrathin sections of brain tissue, each of which can be stained multiple times with fluorescent markers for proteins of interest. Microscopes capture high-resolution images of each section, and a computer stitches them together. The result is a brightly colored forest of axons and dendrites dotted with synapses. Smith wants to use the method to examine how synapses differ in structure and function. “Synaptic diversity is a formidable foe that undermines everything we're trying to do in terms of understanding the brain,” he said. “We don't understand it.” The video, accompanied by a soundtrack composed by Smith's daughter, will be included in the supplementary online material for a paper in the 18 November issue of Neuron. The caption includes instructions to play it on “good speakers turned up loud,” Smith said. “I think it's the first time that phrase has appeared in Neuron.”

    Panning out from the connections between neurons to the connections between regions of the human brain, Olaf Sporns of Indiana University, Bloomington, argued for a more quantitative approach to analyzing networks of brain regions. Sporns compared today's understanding of connectivity in the human brain to 15th century geography: Some areas are mapped much better than others. That may change with the new Human Connectome Project, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which announced its first round of grants in mid-September. The project will map the brains of 1200 volunteers using several magnetic resonance imaging methods, including a relatively new technique called diffusion spectrum imaging, which provides detailed images of the axon tracts that carry signals between brain regions. The inclusion of many twins and family members in the study should help researchers look for genetic influences on neural wiring, Sporns said. The project should also mesh with the Allen Human Brain Atlas of gene expression launched earlier this year, enabling researchers to investigate whether brain regions that are physically connected express similar genes and participate in similar functions.

    Allan Jones, the chief executive officer of the Allen Institute, said it's too early to speculate about specific projects the institute might tackle as a result of the meeting, but there won't be a lack of ideas, he said: “There's so much to do.”

  9. ScienceNOW.org

    From Science's Online Daily News Site

    CREDIT: ZINA DERETSKY/NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

    Another Earth? The few rocky extrasolar worlds found so far are either too close or too far from their stars to fall within the so-called habitable zone, in which liquid water—and therefore life—could exist. But discoverers of a new Earth-like planet called Gliese 581g say it could be a game-changer.

    Detected from the minuscule amount of gravitational influence it exerts on its star, Gliese 581g lives a mere 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra. Although its orbit brings it closer to its parent star than Mercury is to our sun, the star shines with only about 1% of the sun's brightness. That means the planet could harbor life, the researchers report in a paper to appear in The Astrophysical Journal.

    Hot Spot Researchers have uncovered the largest geothermal hot spot in the eastern United States.

    With the help of Google.org, he philanthropic arm of the search-engine giant, scientists used rock temperatures collected by companies drilling for oil and natural gas to create a geothermal map of the United States. The map revealed an 18,700-square-kilometer area in West Virginia where temperatures soared as high as 200°C at depths as shallow as 5 kilometers. That's comparable in depth to geothermal hot spots currently being tapped in Nevada and California.

    Read the full postings, comments, and more at http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow.

    CREDIT: A. TERO ET AL., SCIENCE

    Ig Nobel Prizes Researchers who demonstrated that swearing alleviates pain and a team that found fellatio in fruit bats were among the winners of this year's Ig Nobel prizes, given out at a ceremony last week at Harvard University. The prizes recognize studies that “first make people laugh, and then make them think,” according to the Ig Nobel committee. Also among the laureates: a group that recreated Tokyo's transportation network by growing a slime mold.

  10. Scientific Exchanges

    A Chill in China-Japan Academic Relations

    1. Dennis Normile

    TOKYO—A diplomatic tiff stemming from a collision last month between a Chinese trawler and two Japanese coast guard vessels has chilled academic exchange between the two countries. Top Chinese scientists have canceled appearances at meetings in Japan in recent days, and negotiations between two universities over educational exchange are frozen. Japanese scientists say they have not received an official explanation from Chinese counterparts, and no one knows how long the chill will last.

    The first sign that the incident would affect scientific ties came when a delegation of 15 or so researchers headed by Chinese Academy of Sciences President Lu Yongxiang pulled out of a bilateral meeting on sustainability scheduled for 29 September. “There was no explanation; we just suddenly got a fax canceling their attendance,” says engineer Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, former president of the University of Tokyo and one of the meeting organizers. It was to be the fourth in a series of annual meetings held alternately in China and Japan that bring together top researchers from the two countries. This year's discussions were to focus on low-carbon technologies.

    Also affected was the annual Science and Technology in Society Forum held 3 to 5 October in Kyoto. Several Chinese delegates canceled at the last minute, including Chen Zhu, China's health minister and a leading cancer researcher. And Science has learned that an official of a major Japanese university went to China last week to sign a cooperation agreement with a Chinese university, but his counterparts were suddenly unavailable. The Japanese official asked that the universities not be identified to avoid harming delicate negotiations to resolve the impasse.

    The 7 September collision that apparently prompted the academic chill occurred near what Japan calls the Senkaku Islands, about 185 kilometers northeast of Taiwan and 170 kilometers north of Ishigaki Island, part of Japan's Okinawa Prefecture. Japan has controlled the uninhabited islands since the late 1800s, but Taiwan and China claim them as part of Taiwan and call them the Diaoyu Islands. After the collision, Japan held the captain for possible prosecution under domestic law, infuriating China. After an escalating war of words, Japan released the captain on 24 September. China has demanded that Japan apologize and pay compensation; Japan has demanded compensation for damage to its boats.

    To underline its displeasure, China has canceled a number of governmental visits in other spheres and withdrew permission for a 1000-strong Japanese youth group to visit the Shanghai Expo. Chinese customs officials also reportedly blocked exports of rare earth minerals to Japanese firms, although China denied cutting off supplies.

    Scientists on both sides are hoping for a quick return to normality. “S&T collaboration between the scientific communities from the two countries should be promoted,” says a top Chinese government scientist. “We're scientists,” says Yoshikawa. “We don't want these tensions to affect cooperation.”

  11. Science and Native Rights

    Grave Disputes

    1. Andrew Lawler*

    As U.S. legislation requiring the return of Native American remains to tribes turns 20, a new controversy is threatening the tenuous relations between the scientific and Native American communities.

    Into the earth.

    Cheyenne rebury the remains of ancient members of their tribe in 1993, after repatriation became law.

    CREDIT: JOHN WARNER

    “No debate; repatriate!” was the chant of protesters standing outside the chancellor's home at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), on a winter's day last year. The focus of their ire: 10,000-year-old Paleoindian bones found in 1976 during excavations at the former chancellor's home. The local Kumeyaay Nation wanted to remove the remains from a university collection and return what they believe are their ancestors to Mother Earth.

    More quietly, but just as passionately, the university's anthropologists argued in nearby conference rooms that the rare ancient bones have no direct relation to the tribe and should be kept for scientific analysis. The remains, they said, could help illuminate the still-mysterious question of how and when humans migrated from the Old World to the New. Today, the sought-after bones remain locked away in a neutral facility.

    No debate.

    Native American protesters demand the return of UCSD's bones.

    CREDIT: ADRIANE TILLMAN/LA JOLLA VILLAGE NEWS

    Twenty years ago, Congress passed a law aimed at laying to rest such arguments between scientists and Native Americans, and government, university, and Indian representatives will gather in Washington, D.C., on 15 November to commemorate the anniversary. But the debate over the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which gives Indians a chance to reclaim their ancient dead, is very much alive. The Department of the Interior office that oversees NAGPRA came under fire this summer from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) for poor record keeping, questionable decision making, and inadequate resources. And new rules put into effect in May extend the law to give tribes like the Kumeyaay a way to recover even those ancient bones that cannot be linked to an existing people.

    Neither Kumeyaay nor UCSD officials will say if the new regulations tilt the battle in favor of the tribe. But the controversy over the revised law exposes the divide between some Native Americans and scientists. “Anyone deceased should be allowed a decent burial,” says James Riding In, an American Indian studies professor at Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe. “These are not just specimens for study.” Yet scientific researchers say valuable data on past North American societies may be irretrievably lost. “This is disastrous,” says physical anthropologist Keith Kintigh, who also works at ASU Tempe and helped negotiate the original legislation. “The law was not meant to return everything.” The antipathy runs deep. “It's a mini culture war,” laments Ann Kakaliouras, a physical anthropologist at Whittier College in California.

    Conflicts such as the one between the Kumeyaay and UCSD, however, obscure a measure of reconciliation and even collaboration between some archaeologists and Native Americans. “Science doesn't always supersede human needs,” says archaeologist Larry Zimmerman of Indiana University, Indianapolis. That view has resulted in growing trust between Indians and scientists, he says, and a growing number of Native Americans who are involved in archaeology in some way (see sidebar, p. 168). In return, archaeologists are increasingly gaining access to Indian oral tradition. And some researchers say early fears of a wholesale loss of specimens were overblown.

    Yet researchers who study primarily human remains rather than artifacts worry that the new rules will make their work even more difficult. They point out that the oldest skeletons, many of which are likely to be covered by the new rules, are often the most valuable to science (see p. 171). “The idea of repatriating 10,000-year-old skeletal remains to the group that happens to be living in the vicinity where those remains were found is simply preposterous,” says ASU Tempe paleontologist Geoffrey Clark. Kintigh hopes legal action will eventually overturn the new regulations.

    Sherry Hutt, who directs Interior's NAGPRA office, acknowledges that data will be lost as bones are returned to Native Americans. “I would be wrong and naïve to say otherwise,” she says. But she also warns researchers that it is “untenable and inappropriate” to retain the roughly 180,000 objects and remains now controlled by federal agencies and federally funded universities and museums. The message, she says, is that “if you haven't got going on it, you better get going.”

    Unpleasant work

    The roots of the conflict lie in the enormous collections of Indian remains and grave goods assembled primarily during the second half of the 19th century. For example, more than 4000 heads of Native Americans were taken from battlefields and burial grounds, stored in the Army Medical Museum in Washington, D.C., and used by some researchers to argue for the racial inferiority of Native Americans. Famed anthropologist Franz Boas said that it was “most unpleasant work to steal bones from graves, but what is the use, someone has to do it.”

    Whose bones?

    Scientists want to study these 10,000-year-old bones, which the Kumeyaay claim as ancestors.

    CREDIT: JAN AUSTIN/SANTA MONICA COMMUNITY COLLEGE

    Native Americans had little say about the disposition of such remains, many of which were displayed publicly. “They should have stayed in the ground with Mother Earth,” says Riding In. Given the long history of grave desecration and the reverence most tribes have for ancestors, asserting control over such remains became a key goal of the nascent Native American movement during the 1970s.

    Grave disrespect.

    In the 1800s, an army museum requested Native American remains and objects.

    CREDIT: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF HEALTH AND MEDICINE, SGO CIRCULAR 2, 1867

    During the same period, American archaeology was changing. Its long association with art and the humanities began to wane. A new generation of researchers began to draw on the hard sciences to piece together past cultures. “The move was away from the history of a people and toward adopting the scientific method,” says archaeologist Michael Wilcox of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, a descendant of Arizona Yumans. Archaeologists began to use new and more sophisticated tools to study animal, plant, and human remains often neglected in the past. They dated remains with radiocarbon, analyzed diets with isotopes, and took the first steps toward extracting DNA to trace relationships among populations. As a result, osteoarchaeology, or the study of ancient human bones, flourished in the 1980s.

    The unfortunate conjunction of these two trends pitted Native Americans, with their pent-up grievances and newfound political muscle, against a group of overwhelmingly white scientists devoted to rational inquiry and largely unfamiliar with modern Indian culture. Researchers initially fought the law but misjudged its appeal. NAGPRA was widely seen as human-rights legislation, granting Native Americans—there are roughly 4.5 million in the United States today—the right to rebury their dead. The bill passed both houses of Congress unanimously and became law on 16 November 1990 (Science, 1 April 1994, p. 20).

    The final legislation was a compromise with scientists that laid out a complicated process for repatriation. Under NAGPRA, all institutions that receive federal funding were to make inventories of remains and ceremonial objects and repatriate them to “culturally affiliated” tribes. Some items were exempt, including objects and remains that could not be linked to a particular tribe and those found on private land.

    Rescue mission.

    ASU's James Riding In says remains must be reburied.

    CREDIT: JAMES RIDING IN

    Repatriations proceeded, though slowly in many cases. By the end of 2009, federal agencies had reported giving back about 9000 or 55% of “affiliated” human remains and 130,000 or about 68% of associated funerary objects, according to a recent GAO report.

    However, in the most famous repatriation case, scientists won a lawsuit arguing for the right to study a 9400-year-old Paleoindian dubbed Kennewick Man, which they said could not be affiliated to Native Americans at all, in part because of its great age (Science, 30 July 2004, p. 591). And in other cases, Native Americans felt that institutions were using the law's “unaffiliated” category to block repatriation. So they pushed for changes that would give them an opportunity to recover those remains as well. In May, the Department of the Interior implemented rules that allow tribes to request “culturally unaffiliated” remains found on their current or historical lands. The new rules affect roughly 120,000 Native American and Hawaiian remains.

    Many Native Americans complain that the rule doesn't go far enough, because it exempts unaffiliated ceremonial objects and grave goods. And some researchers predict that the impact on science will be limited because Indians simply won't ask for large numbers of bones. Some groups no longer remember traditional ceremonies, have taboos on handling the dead, or lack the necessary time, money, and organization. “Tribes don't have the facilities or the personnel to handle this stuff,” says Wilcox. “Much of it will remain in the collections.”

    But others foresee disaster. The new rules are “draconian,” says archaeologist Stephen Lekson of the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History in Boulder, and make it much easier for tribes to request unaffiliated objects. After the original law passed, says Kintigh, “I was not one of those who said the sky would fall.” But he fears the new rule will deny researchers access to crucial specimens forever. The American Association of Physical Anthropologists argued in a 10 May letter to Hutt that the rule “could effectively remove … human remains that document the rich and complex biocultural history of the first Americans.” The result, it warned, could be “wholesale reburial of indigenous history.” The Society for American Archaeology took a softer line, criticizing the rule for failing “to recognize scientific study as an important part of increasing knowledge about the human past.”

    Counting bones

    After 20 years, just how much has NAGPRA affected research? Individual opinions vary, and answers based on quantitative analyses are hard to come by. But several researchers have tried. Physical anthropologist Elizabeth Weiss of San José State University in California examined osteological graduate work from the 1980s to 2006 and found that the number of anthropology theses using skeletal remains worldwide increased dramatically, while the percentage of U.S. work using Native American remains dropped sharply. She thinks students are abandoning research in North American bones in favor of greener pastures elsewhere (see sidebar, p. 170). Kakaliouras also found a steep drop in the number of papers based on Native American skeletal remains at annual physical anthropology meetings, but her results don't quite fit with Weiss's: She found that the decline didn't begin until after 2004 and thinks it may be due more to fear of NAGPRA than to NAGPRA itself.

    The most comprehensive attempt to understand NAGPRA's impact is now under way at the University of Arizona in Tucson, led by physical anthropology Ph.D. student Elisabeth Cutright-Smith. She and two other graduate students are analyzing the content of two journals that represent different though related disciplines—the archaeological journal American Antiquity and the American Journal of Physical Anthropology—before and after NAGPRA. Like the other studies, the team found that worldwide analyses of human remains have risen since the 1970s.

    But preliminary results show contrasting patterns in the two journals. The number of papers on Native American remains published by the archaeological journal increased after the early 1990s, but the number published by the physical anthropology journal began to decline in 2001. In addition, mention of consultation with tribes rose after 1996 in American Antiquity, as did the amount of ethnohistorical data and oral tradition. But in the anthropology journal, use of tribal knowledge declined. “The passage of NAGPRA has provoked contradictory outcomes,” says Cutright-Smith.

    Boning up.

    Anthropologist Elizabeth Weiss seeks to learn from ancient bones.

    CREDIT: ELIZABETH WEISS

    Determining the law's effect on fieldwork is even more difficult to quantify. Under NAGPRA, archaeologists and land managers must notify tribes of finds on tribal or federal land, triggering what can be a protracted consultation. Utah's state archaeologist, Kevin Jones of Salt Lake City, says land managers find the NAGPRA process “daunting and burdensome” and “want a quick decision,” so they're inclined to swiftly turn newly discovered human remains over to tribes. “I have no doubt that information is being lost,” he adds.

    Some archaeologists will even turn their backs on bones found in the field. Wilcox recalls finding a human bone in a national park with a National Park Service archaeologist, who immediately warned him against picking it up or even looking at it. That's not an option for those who rely on bones for data. “Archaeologists in the field can just avoid burials” and work on artifacts, explains Kakaliouras. “But for physical anthropologists, this is their bread and butter.”

    Collaboration or conflict?

    For many archaeologists, however, the loss of data that comes with repatriation is trumped by its human-rights value. “Absolutely, we lose some pretty important information,” says Lekson. “But it's still the right thing to do.” And NAGPRA has actually proved beneficial to some researchers. “For a long time, indigenous people were left out of the equation,” says George Nicholas, an American archaeologist who teaches at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada. “Now archaeologists increasingly are working with descendant communities” in both the United States and Canada.

    Collaboration can provide access to tribal knowledge and shed light on material remains, particularly from more recent eras. For example, Sebastian LeBeau, a Lakota who now teaches ethnic studies at Minnesota State University, Mankato, was able to elicit data on sites used for vision quests from the people of the Cheyenne River Reservation for his anthropology Ph.D. That gave researchers a more nuanced understanding of the way the people used the landscape, says Zimmerman.

    Such work reflects the growing interest in archaeology within Indian communities. Wilcox believes that Native Americans are more curious now about the traditions of their ancestors, including diet, technologies, and material culture. “When you get beyond the politics, people are interested in these kinds of questions,” he says. “Not the whole community, but enough to establish good relations.” There are more Native American professors and students, as well as many who work for private cultural resource management companies, some of which are wholly owned by Native Americans. “Before this dialogue started, many Native Americans may have hated archaeologists,” says Wilcox. “Now they see what it can do, that it can offer jobs, and they have a much more positive feeling.”

    On the scientists' side, with NAGPRA no longer an adolescent, a younger generation of researchers says they view the legislation as a historical fact and a welcome righting of past wrongs. Nicholas, for example, simply accepts that Native Americans have the right to withhold objects that contain what amounts to proprietary data. And he's confident that the new rules won't prove as damaging as many fear. “Some folks thought NAGPRA marked the end of archaeology,” he says. “But 20 years later, it is more vibrant and relevant than ever.

    Others, particularly physical anthropologists, are more pessimistic. “The next few years will be pretty dismal,” predicts Weiss. “We'll see an increase in lawsuits, infighting by tribes, and more collections placed off-limits. It's not going to be a pretty picture.” Riding In of ASU agrees there are dark clouds ahead. “Relations are still strained, especially with those hard-core scientists who want to deny Indians our human rights,” he says. “They are just as determined to resist as we are.”

    • * With reporting by Keith Kloor, a writer in New York City.

  12. Interview: Stephen Lekson

    Giving Back the Bones

    1. Keith Kloor

    Stephen Lekson, curator of anthropology at the University of Colorado's Museum of Natural History, has overseen the repatriation of 553 human remains and 800 funerary objects to southwestern tribes. He shared his thoughts about repatriation in an interview for Science; the conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

    Uncovering the past.

    Archaeologist Stephen Lekson explores a site in New Mexico.

    CREDIT: CU Public Affairs

    For an archaeologist, the job of removing objects from museums and returning them to Native Americans can be by turns stressful, saddening, and rewarding. In the past 6 years, Stephen Lekson, curator of anthropology at the University of Colorado’s Museum of Natural History in Boulder, has overseen the repatriation of 553 human remains and 800 funerary objects to southwestern tribes, mostly Puebloan descendants. He shared his thoughts about repatriation in an interview for Science with New York writer Keith Kloor; the conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

    Q:The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is considered to be part human-rights law, part property-rights law. Where does science fit in?

    S.L.:The law has almost nothing to do with science. The lines of evidence are legalistic. They’re a checklist. Oral traditions count just as heavily as archaeology.

    Q:You wrote in a recent essay [in the September issue of Museum Anthropology] that in order to connect remains from the distant past to specific modern tribes for repatriation, you had to “turn off the archaeology side” of your brain. Can you elaborate?

    S.L.:When I’m dealing with NAGPRA, I’m doing what I have to do legally. And morally. It pretty clearly is the right thing to do. But by doing NAGPRA, there are any number of physical anthropologists who are quite correct in saying that we are losing a lot of information. … Osteological analysis, analyses of humans remains really are a key part of archaeology everywhere else in the world. But we don’t do that now. Osteological archaeology is not a growth industry in North America. We just don’t do [much of] that.

    Q:What kind of information could those bone analyses give us?

    S.L.:Right now, people are doing fascinating and useful things, just measuring skeletal remains, not even destructive analysis like DNA. I proposed 10 years ago that the [people of the] 11th century regional center at Chaco Canyon moved 80 kilometers north and re-established a new capital at Aztec Ruin in the 12th and 13th centuries. A physical anthropologist recently measured facial characteristics, which are genetic, for populations at Chaco and Aztec. And yeah, the guys at Aztec look like the guys at Chaco and they don’t look like other people in the Four Corners. That’s a piece of evidence that is startling and cool and wonderful.

    Q:Could the new rules, issued in May, covering “unaffiliated” remains—remains that can’t be linked to a tribe—affect such studies?

    S.L.:There’s a category in NAGPRA called “culturally unidentifiable” remains, CUIs. There were no regulations on how to deal with them. Now there are regs. They’re draconian. They say, here’s the way to repatriate CUIs. They’ve made it much easier under these regulations to have tribes ask for CUI repatriations.

    Q:Can you give any other examples of how bone studies can give us valuable information?

    S.L.:There are two men buried in Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon who were clearly high status. They were buried in log-lined crypts with a great many grave goods—“associated funerary objects” in NAGPRA terms. There have been huge debates about the dating of those burials. They were buried in the oldest part of the building, [which was] the most important part, but of course the building stood for 3 centuries. Some of the pottery found with them was more recent, so I thought they were among the last people buried in the building. Somehow, in the last few years, scientists were allowed to date the actual bones through limited destructive analysis.

    Well, with the new dating, I find that I was wrong. They died before the building was originally built, or while it was being built. We learned something very important. And I’m glad to learn that I was wrong. Now I have to drop back and rethink, ‘What does that early dating mean?’ These two guys were the highest status burials in all of Chaco Canyon, buried at the very beginning, not at the end. That’s incredibly interesting.

    Q:Some archaeologists say that NAGPRA has helped establish better relations between Native Americans and archaeologists. Do you think that’s true?

    S.L.:I think that remains to be seen. There are archaeologists who are more accepted by the tribes now. Down the road, I don’t know if tribes are going to be any better disposed towards conventional field archaeology.

    Q:Does NAGPRA have any other effects that concern you?

    S.L.:The other part of this that concerns me more, actually, is in the interpretive arena. In my research, I am finding out things, I believe, that Pueblo people don’t want to hear, that are inconsistent with modern Pueblo worldviews—like kings, governments, regional polities, wars—and my findings may be edited by writers, or rangers, or museums hypersensitive to NAGPRA issues. I’m pretty sure that those findings are already being ignored or edited in public arenas.

    A spectacular instance of this—badly handled by our side—was cannibalism in the ancient Southwest. It was presented in your face, sensationalized in the media, and so on. Well, [cannibalism] did happen. Christy Turner [professor emeritus at Arizona State University] found something that other archaeologists already knew about, more or less, but not to that extent. And it wasn’t something that Pueblo people wanted to hear, and that’s quite understandable.

    Q:In your essay, you write that giving remains and objects back to tribes has made you wonder if in fact “archaeology was not worth the hurt it caused Native peoples.” Can you describe any experiences that led to those thoughts?

    S.L.:The worst part, personally, was participating in reburials. The tribes asked us to do that. There was one particularly large reburial, where we arranged to get the money and facilitate what was going to happen. The tribes are legally in the driver’s seat at that point, but we agreed to help out. There were many sets of human remains, many pots. So we needed a backhoe, … chemical toilets, travel arrangements, this was a major logistical operation. The Indians [representing a Pueblo tribe] didn’t want to handle the remains, so the white guys did that. So I’m putting all these dead people down in the ground. And at the end of it, there’s a huge hole 60 to 70 feet long and 8 feet deep, and 10 feet wide, with its floor completely covered with human remains—skeletons. It looked like something out of World War I. Lines and lines of skeletons. And I’m standing next to the Pueblo representatives. I don’t know whether I should apologize or what. Apologizing wouldn’t even begin to cover it. It’s one thing when they’re in a box on shelves. It’s another when they’re looking up at you.

    Q:Some anthropologists say that even though research opportunities are lost with repatriation, science should be limited by morality.

    S.L.:No argument there. Otherwise, you get Nazi experiments. I support NAGPRA. It’s burdensome, it’s a flawed process, but it’s the right thing to do. Absolutely, we lose some pretty important information. But it’s still the right thing to do.

  13. Science and Native Rights

    Walking in Two Worlds

    1. Keith Kloor*

    The small but growing number of Native American archaeologists sometimes find themselves torn between their culture and their profession, as tribal traditions clash with scientific inquiry.

    Archaeologist and Choctaw Indian Dorothy Lippert gives Native American remains and sacred objects back to tribes as part of her job at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. But sometimes her work becomes personal. Lippert, 43, recalls that in 2003 she learned that the museum held the skeleton of a Choctaw woman who was 30 to 40 years old when she died in the early 1800s. “It was me,” says Lippert. “It was so devastating to see. Over 100 years ago, I would have been dug up and put in a museum.”

    That personal connection sets Lippert apart from non-Indian archaeologists, she says. She and the small but growing number of other Native American archaeologists sometimes find themselves torn between their culture and their profession, as tribal traditions clash with scientific inquiry. Now new government rules, which allow tribes to claim “unaffiliated” remains and objects, are likely to stir up old tensions, as researchers fear a loss to science (see main text, p. 166).

    Bridging communities.

    Stanford's Michael Wilcox sees growing interest in archaeology among Native Americans.

    CREDIT: LINDA A. CICERO/STANFORD NEWS SERVICES

    But as the original law ordering institutions to give back Native American bones celebrates its 20th birthday, Lippert and her colleagues are testimony to what has changed. In 1990, there were almost no Native Americans with Ph.D.s in archaeology, according to an informal tally kept by archaeologist Michael Wilcox of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who is a descendant of Arizona Yumans. Today there are 15 to 20, plus perhaps hundreds of Native American archaeologists without degrees or with master's, bachelor's, or associate degrees.

    The central conflict these archaeologists face is how to deal with human remains, because cultural and religious beliefs make handling them all but prohibited for many Native Americans. Some tribes, such as the Navajo, believe that contact with human remains can cause physical illness. Others respect the dead by not handling them and so avoid working with bones “out of consideration for our relatives,” says Sonya Atalay, an Ojibe and archaeologist at Indiana University, Bloomington. Wilcox recalls at first being interested in studying bones, but after working in a lab he grew troubled by the lack of sensitivity among his non-Native colleagues and switched to archaeology. How many Native Americans handle Native bones as physical anthropologists today? Says Wilcox, laughing: “I would say zero.”

    And yet archaeologists in the field are bound to encounter human remains at some point. “I'm faced with that all the time,” says Atalay, who researches the cooking practices of 9000 years ago by studying food residues in hearths and cooking vessels. Most of her “dirt archaeology” takes place at an ancient site in Turkey, where she excuses herself when human remains are excavated. John Norder, a member of the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation and a professor of archaeology and ethnohistory at Michigan State University in East Lansing, has done the same on past digs and says his “colleagues have been understanding.”

    A legacy of exploitation colors the way Native American archaeologists are perceived both by their peers and by American Indians. In the early 1990s, a few years after the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was enacted, Norder says Indian activists “would literally yell in my face” for being an archaeologist. Although passions have since cooled, Wilcox says Native American archaeologists are still considered suspect by the Indian community: “To them, it's like a chicken working for Colonel Sanders.” Lippert, who like Norder caught grief from Native American activists years ago, today gets an angry earful from some of her fellow archaeologists, who wonder where her loyalties lie because she supports the new rules. Says Wilcox wryly: “We manage to make everyone unhappy.”

    Still, for Lippert at least, living in two worlds means she is positioned to make a difference. In July, 7 years after she learned about the bones, the female Choctaw skeleton was repatriated and reburied in Oklahoma.

    Personal touch.

    Dorothy Lippert feels a connection to Indian remains.

    CREDIT: CARRIE FELDMAN
    • * Keith Kloor is a writer in New York City.

  14. Science and Native Rights

    A World of Graves

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Different cultures have wildly divergent views of their long-dead ancestors, with profound consequences for the kinds of research that can be done. Science gives a brief roundup of world attitudes toward the study of ancient human remains.

    The United States isn't the only nation grappling with native claims on ancient skeletons (see main text, p. 166). But different cultures have wildly divergent views of their long-dead ancestors, with profound consequences for the kinds of research that can be done. Here's a brief roundup of world attitudes toward the study of ancient human remains:

    CREDIT: IAN HODGSON/REUTERS/NEWSCOM

    Australia: As in the United States, tens of thousands of indigenous remains were collected by mostly white researchers 100 to 200 years ago. Today, laws allow—but do not mandate—return of Aboriginal bones to their descendants. In recent years, Aborigines have focused on recovering remains from U.S., British, and other foreign collections. Some 1000 were returned between 1998 and 2008.

    Israel: Ultra-Orthodox Jews, offended by scientific study of human remains, have long argued for their immediate reburial. In 1994, in the wake of protests by this group, the attorney general ruled that archaeologists must turn over ancient bones to the Ministry of Religious Services for reburial. In September, grave finds at a Jaffa construction site sparked protests in the United States as well as in Israel.

    Canada: No comprehensive legislation has been passed, but the country has a long-standing policy to repatriate remains and objects to its indigenous peoples, called First Nations, and there is a tradition of cooperation rather than antipathy between archaeologists and First Nations people. For example, one well-preserved 500-year-old corpse, found in a British Columbian glacier in 1995, was studied with tribal approval and cremated a decade later, after researchers had dated the bones, examined the clothing, and determined that the body's DNA resembled that of 17 people living nearby.

    CREDIT: FRANCO ROLLO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES/NEWSCOM

    United Kingdom/Europe: Studies of domestic ancient remains are welcomed here, as seen in the enthusiastic embrace of scientific work on Ötzi, the 5000-year-old Ice Man found in the Alps. But many museums have drawn fire for their large collections of bones from former European colonies; only half of the 20,000 human samples now in London's Natural History Museum are British in origin. Although the prime ministers of Britain and Australia agreed in 2000 that Britain would return its Aboriginal remains, many museums have balked, with a few exceptions. The head of the Aboriginal warrior Yagan, killed by white settlers nearly 2 centuries ago, was returned and reburied in July in Western Australia.

    In other parts of the world, there is often little difficulty in studying ancient bones. In East Asia, for example, burial practices today center on cremation, so living people feel little connection to ancient remains. In Africa, widespread pride in the continent's role as the cradle of the human species fosters positive attitudes toward paleontology.

    But some physical anthropologists worry that indigenous tribes in South America will eventually focus on the issue, blocking the one open avenue for no-holds-barred studies of ancient Americans. In Chile, for example, a New Zealand team excavating on the west coast encountered concern among local tribes about how any bones might be treated (Science, 11 June, p. 1344). The result, worries physical anthropologist Elizabeth Weiss of San José State University in California, could be a stampede to more favorable places outside the Americas. “Those who want to study human remains,” she predicts, “will go to Europe, where this is not going to be an issue.”

  15. Science and Native Rights

    A Tale of Two Skeletons

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Researchers and Native Americans may be headed for clashes over ancient Paleoindian remains. But in at least one instance, the two communities collaborated—and produced good data to boot.

    Poles apart.

    Officials celebrate the end of Alaskan collaboration, whereas Kennewick Man (right) sparked a bitter court battle.

    CREDITS: (TOP LEFT) TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST PUBLIC AFFAIRS; (TOP RIGHT) ELAINE THOMPSON/AP IMAGE

    When a team of archaeologists and paleontologists came across ancient human bones in a dank Alaskan cave in 1996, they immediately told members of the local Tlingit tribe. “They knew the community,” explains Rosita Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau. “And we gave them credit for understanding the human dimension of the find.” That initial openness sparked a remarkable 12-year-long collaboration between Native Americans and scientists to study the 10,000-year-old bones. The research project ended in reburial and a 2-day festival celebrated by Tlingit, scientists, and bureaucrats. “We gave talks, the elders spoke, and there were feasts,” recalls paleontologist Timothy Heaton of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.

    That story stands in marked contrast to that of a similarly old skeleton found the same year, the famous Kennewick Man. It was discovered by teenagers on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington state, just across the river from the Umatilla Indian Reservation on U.S. government property. A local archaeologist was called in, but there was no prior relationship between the Indians and scientists involved, and a spiral of suspicion and ill will began, observers say. Eventually the skeleton became the subject of a bitter tug of war between scientists and the tribe, leading to a complex and expensive court battle that scientists won in 2004. But unlike the bones from On Your Knees Cave in Alaska, Kennewick Man to date has failed to produce significant new data such as DNA.

    New rules by the U.S. Department of the Interior are now putting the spotlight on the rare skeletons that date back to 8000 to 12,000 years ago, which researchers call Paleoindians. Because the bones are so old, many scientists argue that they can't be related to contemporary tribes, whereas Native Americans cite oral traditions claiming long ties to their land. The new regulations give tribes the right to any remains from traditional tribal lands (see main text, p. 166). Whether that will spark renewed attempts by Native Americans to rebury these ancient dead remains to be seen, but scientists are worried. “There are so few of them,” physical anthropologist Elizabeth Weiss of San José State University in California says of the few dozen Paleoindian skeletons. “Each one is precious.”

    At stake are answers to what is arguably the greatest question of American prehistory: Who settled the Americas, when, and how? In the past decade, many researchers have given up the traditional view that big-game hunters from the Clovis culture were the first arrivals some 13,000 years ago. Researchers now envision an earlier and more complicated series of migrations from Siberia to Alaska. Given advances in DNA techniques, anthropologists think Paleoindian skeletons may hold clues to how the migration unfolded as well as the origin of the first Americans.

    To date, advances in understanding the settlement of the Americas have come largely from archaeological data rather than ancient skeletons. Even much of the DNA evidence comes from living people. But better and cheaper methods for extracting ancient DNA are making it possible to glean new data from the old bones. “There is a wave of new information coming,” says physical anthropologist Michael Waters of Texas A&M University in College Station. “We're right on the cusp.”

    In the case of the Paleoindian found in On Your Knees Cave, some 200 Tlingit signed letters of consent to have their DNA tested to see if it matched that of the skeleton. No match was found, says physical anthropologist Theodore Schurr of the University of Pennsylvania, but the bones did carry DNA patterns that match those of living Native populations centered on the west coasts of North and South America. That suggests that in at least one migration wave, people moved southward along the coast or in boats.

    Of the other ancient remains, some, such as those of Kennewick Man, are too degraded to produce DNA. And others are not accessible to science (see map, p. 171). A 9000-year-old skeleton found in Minnesota was reburied by Native Americans in 1999, as was one from Hourglass Cave in the Colorado Rockies, both over objections from researchers. Other remains, such as those found in Spirit Cave, at Grimes Point, and on Wizards Beach—all in Nevada and all 9000 years old or older—are locked away pending legal decisions. And the remains of an 18-month-old dubbed Anzick, who lived nearly 11,000 years ago in Montana and is the only person associated with the Clovis culture, have been only partially studied, even though they were found on private land and so are not subject to repatriation rules. Although Montana recently declared Anzick's skeleton a “state treasure,” its fate is nevertheless uncertain, says anthropologist Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

    Heaton, after his experience with the Alaskan cave, says that a more collaborative approach may yield greater dividends than expensive legal battles. That requires compromise. In the case of the On Your Knees Cave remains, for example, “it would have been nice to have had the bones forever,” because more data can be extracted as techniques improve over time. “But [the Tlingit] gave us plenty of time and respected our wishes,” he says. “Each side gave in to some degree.” Worl agrees. “This went from cooperation to collaboration.” Tribal members even worked on the dig.

    Tlingit and scientists say they ultimately shared similar goals. “We felt this was an ancestor offering himself so we could learn from him,” Worl says. She cites the Tlingit concept of haa shagoon—that ancient, present, and future generations are linked—as a way to link tribal traditions to scientific rigor, for the benefit of both communities.

  16. Science and Native Rights

    In Search of Sitting Bull

    1. John Travis

    Can DNA help Sitting Bull's great-grandson prove his heritage and find the warrior's remains—while giving science a rare glimpse of an early Native American's genes?

    In his memory.

    Ernie LaPointe wants to identify and claim the remains of his great-grandfather, Sitting Bull.

    CREDIT: INGO WAGNER/NEWSCOM

    In 2007, ancient DNA expert Eske Willerslev found himself sitting in a pitch-black basement in South Dakota, participating in a Native American ceremony involving a medicine man, singers, drummers—and Ernie LaPointe, the great-grandson of famed Lakota warrior and holy man Sitting Bull, who defeated George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. At the request of LaPointe, Willerslev had traveled from his home in Denmark to take a snippet of Sitting Bull's hair for DNA analysis. LaPointe hopes to use the genetic information to confirm his heritage—many people claim to be related to Sitting Bull, including someone in Denmark, notes Willerslev—and to identify, claim, and perhaps rebury the chief 's remains. For Willerslev, DNA from Sitting Bull's hair, and his remains if conclusively identified, could shed new light on the genetics of early Native Americans and the peopling of the New World.

    But before this unusual collaboration could happen, LaPointe said the basement ceremony was required to get permission from Sitting Bull himself, who was killed in 1890. Willerslev says something odd happened at the ceremony, recalling a blue-green light that ran across his body and into his mouth. LaPointe says the spirit of Sitting Bull tested the geneticist and approved. As a result, LaPointe allowed Willerslev to cut a short section from a long braid of Sitting Bull's still-shiny black hair and fly it back to the University of Copenhagen for analysis.

    Three years later, Willerslev is still analyzing what turns out to be badly damaged DNA from the hair. Sitting Bull is so revered that any results may stir strong feelings in a community that has been distrustful of scientists seeking to study the remains of their ancestors (see main text, p. 166). Yet the tale of a cutting-edge geneticist and a Native American working together on the chief's remains may also suggest a way forward. “I hope this initiates better collaborations between Native Americans and geneticists,” Willerslev says optimistically and perhaps naively.

    The tangled tale of the war chief's remains includes elements common to other cases of repatriation of remains, including grave desecration and tragic divisions among Native Americans. A leader of resistance against the U.S. government, Sitting Bull was killed during a botched arrest by Lakota tribal police at Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota. His body was buried in Fort Yates, a military outpost in North Dakota on the reservation. Decades later, North Dakota denied requests to move the remains nearer to Sitting Bull's home. So in the middle of the night in 1953, Native Americans (including a young LaPointe and his mother and aunts) and South Dakota citizens dug up what they believed were Sitting Bull's remains and reburied them on Standing Rock land in South Dakota. North Dakota officials, however, said the group took the wrong bones. And some tribal officials said later that the bones had been moved yet again from the public, often vandalized, gravesite in South Dakota, says LaPointe. “There are many claims that he's buried in many places,” says William Billeck, head of the repatriation office at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C.

    The museum and Billeck entered this saga in 1999 when NMNH discovered among its unexhibited collections leggings and a scalp lock, a long braid worn by many Native American warriors to hold up their eagle feathers. The two items were accompanied only by a note saying “taken from Sitting Bull.” Billeck learned that the items had been loaned to the museum in 1896 by a physician who had examined Sitting Bull's body. Billeck decided that under the Smithsonian's repatriation laws (which are separate from but roughly parallel to national laws), the museum should return the objects. The Standing Rock tribe, a member of the larger Lakota tribe, put in a claim, but genealogical records and other documents convinced Billeck that LaPointe and his sisters were the closest direct kin to Sitting Bull. Lineal descendants have priority over tribal claims in repatriation laws. So in 2007, the Smithsonian returned Sitting Bull's hair and leggings to LaPointe.

    Around the same time, Willerslev read about the repatriation plans and LaPointe's battle to identify and claim his ancestor's remains. When the bones were taken in 1953, LaPointe says, his mother was outvoted by her sisters on where to rebury them and hadn't wanted Sitting Bull buried on the land of those who killed him. Confident that the remains in the 1953 grave are those of his ancestor, LaPointe is fighting to get them back. He believes Willerslev's DNA analysis will help persuade South Dakota to give him the remains, even if Standing Rock officials object. “That will solidify our connection to our great-grandfather. No one can say we are unrelated.” LaPointe says Willerslev could then test the remains from the 1953 site to confirm they're Sitting Bull's. If so, LaPointe plans to rebury them in a private grave.

    Removed.

    In 1953, Sitting Bull's remains were moved to a new location on reservation land.

    CREDIT: MOBRIDGE TRIBUNE

    For Willerslev's part, he's excited at the prospect of reading the nuclear genome of a pure-bred Native American from North America; most historical or ancient Native Americans studied genetically have been from South America. The hair analysis has gone slowly, as his team has had to develop methods to separate the DNA from unknown chemicals or pesticides, perhaps applied to protect the hair, which have also damaged it. So far, the hair's mitochondrial DNA has genetic markers clearly identifying it as Native American—a relief, given the number of people who have handled it. Still, Willerslev isn't sure the hair will yield a full nuclear genome.

    At work.

    Eske Willerslev is analyzing ancient DNA from Sitting Bull's hair.

    CREDIT: TINA B. BRANT, CENTRE FOR GEOGENETICS

    For now, he plans to try to read 14,000 specific DNA bases that can vary from person to person. A scan of these single-nucleotide polymorphisms should provide enough of a DNA fingerprint to confirm that LaPointe is related to the hair's owner and also to identify any remains as Sitting Bull's. LaPointe is helping Willerslev get DNA from other living Lakotas for comparison.

    Other researchers agree that the project has scientific promise. “The potential for this is fantastic. It's just a single genome, but as a reference, it's valuable,” agrees biological anthropologist Keith Hunley of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. “As long as there is no European ancestry in that lineage, it's a window into the deep past.” But Hunley is not sure he would dare to pursue this project himself, given the tensions between Native Americans and anthropologists. “I would be very leery,” he says. “It could be one more example of scientists telling Native Americans what their history is.”

    Willerslev, who grew up admiring the legend of Sitting Bull and once had a poster of him, says he is acting with respect. “Sitting Bull is my biggest hero of all times; brave and wise. Thinking of others rather than himself. The perfect leader,” Willerslev says. He notes he didn't protest—much—when LaPointe gave him only a small sample of hair and burned the rest.

    LaPointe also isn't worried about controversy, trusting in the wisdom of Sitting Bull. “If he said give him the hair, I'm not going to argue.”

  17. Interview: Ernie LaPointe

    Honoring His Ancestor by Studying His DNA

    1. John Travis

    Ernie LaPointe, great-grandson of famed Lakota warrior Sitting Bull, has entered into an unusual partnership with geneticist Eske Willerslev to analyze DNA from a lock of Sitting Bull's hair. LaPointe spoke with Science recently; this conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

    Remembering Sitting Bull.

    Ernie LaPointe (shadow) wants his great-grandfather’s memory to be preserved through the Lakota tradition of story-telling, not by a public grave.

    CREDIT: Ingo Wagner/Newscom

    Ernie LaPointe is the great-grandson of famed Lakota warrior Sitting Bull, who defeated George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Although some Native Americans are wary of scientific studies of their ancestors, LaPointe has entered into an unusual partnership with geneticist Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen to analyze DNA from a lock of Sitting Bull's hair that had been kept in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. (link to Sitting Bull story). LaPointe hopes to use the genetic results to prove his heritage and to conclusively identify bones buried in a South Dakota grave in 1953 as those of Sitting Bull. His goal is then to claim the remains and move them once again, to a more private grave known only to his family. LaPointe spoke with Science's John Travis recently; this conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

    Q:Why are you allowing Eske to examine the DNA of your great-grandfather, Sitting Bull? Was it a difficult decision to allow this?

    E.L.:Well, I have some older sisters, and I had to confer with them about this. We have our direct lineage to our great-grandfather. We've established it through our oral history—our mother told us who we're related to. And also through what we call the paper trail, which is the enrollment, the land allotment, and ration calls—all of this that they did back in the 1800s. That's how we established our connection, traced our family tree. And through the ceremonies, we also were told that we are the grandchildren of our grandfather, so that's three [ways of confirming our ancestry]. The fourth way—we, the Lakota people, believe in fours—we figured would be this genetic code of the DNA. That would solidify our connection to our great-grandfather.

    Repatriation.

    Smithsonian Institution officials shake hands with Ernie LaPointe as they return Sitting Bull’s leggings and a lock of hair to him.

    CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

    Q:Sitting Bull was buried in 1890 in Fort Yates, North Dakota, but in 1953 his remains were apparently taken in a nighttime raid. What happened that night?

    Reporter's Notebook

    E.L.:[Fort Yates] was a soldier cemetery with all of the soldiers and Native policemen buried there, and they took them all and moved them somewhere else. The only grave that was [left] there was my great-grandfather's, and it had a white, concrete slab on top of it. My mother, myself, my sister, and officials who dug it up were there. This was in April 1953. I was probably like 5 years old, but I still remember. It was cold, it was in April, it was spitting snow, but they had a backhoe and they dug up to the box.

    They cleaned out the whole gravesite there, and then they took it to the funeral home, I guess. That's when my mom and her uncle Gray Eagle went over there, and they stayed with it to make sure that all of the pieces of the bones were there. Then, they put it into a regular coffin, and then they had a steel vault that they put the coffin in. That's how they buried it into the ground [on Standing Rock Reservation land in South Dakota]. Then, they poured this concrete on it and put that big monument on top of it. It was within the boundaries of the reservation, but the land had belonged to a white man. My mother didn't really want him buried there. She said, "These people from Standing Rock trashed his grave up here [in North Dakota]. How do you know they're going to take care of him down here?" She was outvoted by the other two—my two aunts—so they moved him there, under her protest.

    Q:Why do you want to claim Sitting Bull's remains and move them?

    E.L.:[Some representatives of the Standing Rock Tribe] have opened a door for us, for my sisters and I, by saying that [what's in the 1953 grave is] not his remains. I talked to Eske about this. We can do some kind of fundraising, once he establishes the DNA from the hair. Then maybe we can dig up the remains and compare the DNA samples from the hair to the remains. If that is him, then he's not going back to that hole. We're going to have him somewhere else, a place yet to be determined.

    They wanted to build a gift shop, a restaurant on top of his grave and around it. I told them that's desecration of a sacred site, a gravesite. They said this is cultural preservation. I said there's no such thing as cultural preservation doing that. When a person of the stature of my great-grandfather, like Crazy Horse and Cochise, when they passed away, the family mourned with them for 4 days. Then, they buried the remains somewhere where only they knew. The story of the person is carried on to the next generations through storytelling. Lakota culture tells us this person had lived on this Earth, now his spirit went back to the spirit world and his body goes back to Mother Earth, where it came from. It nourishes new life; … that's the cycle of evolution in our culture. You don't fight over it, and you don't argue with anybody over the remains of your ancestors. But, this is what's happening now with these people up there. So, my goal will be to take the remains, and hopefully we can accomplish that once Eske gets the DNA together. It will be kind of difficult, but we will find a place to reinter him [to Mother Earth] under us.

    Whose remains?

    In 1953, Native Americans and white men raided the apparent grave of Sitting Bull in North Dakota and reburied those remains in South Dakota.

    CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

    Q:Eske grew up knowing about and respecting Sitting Bull, which is why he was interested in your fight and called you, he says.

    E.L.:When the repatriation [of Sitting Bull's hair from the Smithsonian] was going to happen, Eske called me out of the blue. We were going to do a ceremony with this hair, at the house here. I brought a medicine man in and invited Eske to come to the ceremony. I told Eske: "You have to ask the spirits that come in the ceremony. My great-grandfather's spirit is going to be here, and you have to ask him yourself. I can't do that for you, nobody can." So, he did.

    Q:Eske says that during the ceremony he saw a light that he couldn't explain.

    E.L.:He said he swallowed [the light]! (laughs) I said, "What the spirit is doing is checking you out from the inside out, that's what they do." Then, [Sitting Bull's spirit] gave him permission; I guess he understood that [Eske] was an honest and legitimate person.

    Q:Have you received any criticism for allowing him to do this, given some Native Americans have complained in the past about scientists examining their ancestor's remains and DNA?

    E.L.:No, I haven't, because it's our ancestor. This is what I told people when they found out. I didn't tell anybody; they found out through what they call "moccasin telegraph." Some natives went out and talked about this. Then, some news people got a hold of it, and they came up and asked me what you just asked me. I told them, "It's our decision." We're the great-grandchildren of this man, and this is one way of establishing it. … If he allowed this in a ceremony, I'm not going to argue with anybody from the spirits.

    If [Native Americans] want to criticize me, they can. A lot of Lakota people don't really understand it, but this is one way of connecting our people directly, our direct descendants genetically. Eske would like to know how we're all connected. We may not be real close relatives, but we still are related, connected. That's why we say we're connected by blood and spirituality. We were a whole people. It didn't matter if you were Lakota, Cheyenne, or whatever, we were all connected to the land. But, when the Americans came in and they started doing what they did, they severed a lot of these spiritual connections. So, we have to do this healing in order to reconnect our people again. A lot of these people don't know their history, and this is my goal to try to educate some of them. The Americans turned nephew against uncle, and that caused the death of my great-grandfather. So, the connection between his nephews, people, relatives, his descendants, and us were severed the minute he was killed. That has to be connected.

    Q:You think DNA can show how all the tribes were connected? Some people, however, say that the DNA can show connections even farther back, and may show how people came to the New World. Do you worry, as some Native Americans do, that that challenges your culture?

    E.L.:We say we've been here for thousands of years, and we have, because this is our oral history. Through this DNA, they're starting to prove that we have been here this long. If they do discover some remains of a white man, it would probably go back not more than 500 years, or a little over 500 years, because that's how long they've been here. We've been here since the land has been created—that's our oral history. So far, we've been lucky, that hasn't been disputed by guys like Eske.

    Q:What's your next step in getting the remains?

    E.L.:Since it's a gravesite, you have to get from the health board of South Dakota a permit of disinterment. In North Dakota [in 1953], it was the same way. That's why my mom and them went in the middle of the night. [North Dakota] wouldn't give them a permit, so they just stole the remains. But I don't want to do like they did. … In 2008, I sent the state of South Dakota health board a letter asking them for a disinterment permit because I wanted to move his remains. At that time, this was to stop these guys from building the stuff on his gravesite. That put a screeching halt to what they were doing right then. But the state of South Dakota said, "No." … Instead of going to court and fighting them I said, we have to have another avenue that will open the door for us. For me to do this, I have to get Eske to complete this DNA on the hair and have the codes in hand. Then, maybe he'll come, and we'll sit down and we'll construct a letter of disinterment permit to the state of South Dakota and have him as the person who's going to do the DNA, so they can't refuse us. … Once we've established the connection between the hair and the bones [in the Standing Rock gravesite], and that it is our grandfather, then he's not going back there.

    Q:You don't want to create a new public gravesite but want to have the stories, rather than a place, as his memory?

    E.L.:Right. That's our goal.

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