News this Week

Science  01 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6025, pp. 18

You are currently viewing the .

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution

  1. Around the World

    1 - London
    Budget Boosts Science, Slightly
    2 - India
    Tiger Numbers Up? Maybe
    3 - South Atlantic Ocean
    Once Again Into the Depths
    4 - Mount Paektu, North Korean–Chinese Border
    Two Koreas Explore Volcanic Détente
    5 - Johannesburg, South Africa
    End to Partnership With Israeli University
    6 - Brussels
    Europe Nudges Top Scientists to Market
    7 - Durham, North Carolina
    Trove of Vintage Primate Data Goes Digital


    Budget Boosts Science, Slightly

    The United Kingdom's budget for 2011–12, announced last week, has a modicum of good news for scientists. Spending on capital projects got a £100 million boost, softening the cuts in last year's comprehensive spending review. In the life sciences, £44 million will go to the Babraham Research Campus near Cambridge and £26 million will go to Norwich Research Park. In the physical sciences, £10 million will fund new instruments for the ISIS spallation neutron source at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and a further £10 million will support the development of next-generation particle accelerators for medical and security scanning applications at the Daresbury Laboratory. Yet another £10 million will fund a new National Space Technology Program.

    The budget also creates a new health research regulatory agency to streamline regulation and improve the cost effectiveness of clinical trials. Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, welcomed the new money, but warned that “labs across the country are going to be struggling to make ends meet.”


    Tiger Numbers Up? Maybe

    India is boasting about a 12% increase in the country's adult tiger population, but some tiger experts think the numbers don't add up. India today accounts for almost 60% of the world's wild tigers. A 2006 survey estimated that the country housed 1165 to 1657 tigers. The latest survey counts 1571 to 1875 tigers, including 100 tigers that were found in areas not covered during the last survey. However, tigers are now squeezed into 72,000 square kilometers, a range that has shrunk 20,800 square kilometers in 5 years.


    These numbers, released earlier this week by India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh, come from a massive 18-month, $2.1 million survey that involved 800 camera traps and 476,000 people walking 625,000 kilometers looking for scat and other signs of tigers.

    One expert called the results “very encouraging,” but P. K. Sen, former director of the government-sponsored conservation initiative Project Tiger, called the new figures “statistical jugglery.” “The habitat of the tiger has only shrunk, poaching has increased, and conservation has been diluted, so how can the numbers of tigers increase?” he says.

    South Atlantic Ocean

    Once Again Into the Depths

    In a determined effort to retrieve the flight recorders from a doomed 2009 flight, oceanographers working with French authorities are this week sending three state-of-the-art submersibles to scour the sea floor about 500 kilometers off Brazil's northeast coast. Three previous attempts to locate the downed Airbus A 330 of Air France Flight 447, including last year's by this same group from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, have failed.

    The team will spend more than 3 months canvassing an area of 10,000 square kilometers, the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Using sonar, each REMUS 6000 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) can crudely image a swath of sea floor just 1.2 kilometers wide while skimming the bottom at 5 kilometers per hour. But the AUVs can operate simultaneously and independently for up to 20 hours before returning to the mother ship to dump their data.

    Oceanographers must then identify what might be a crumpled or even dismembered plane on the rocky, rugged bottom of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and send an AUV back to take close-up photographs. WHOI researchers are hopeful of success; they've been studying that ridge for 30 years.

    Mount Paektu, North Korean—Chinese Border

    Two Koreas Explore Volcanic Détente

    Koreans cherish Mount Paektu on the North Korean—Chinese border as the birthplace of their nation. Now the venerated volcano has inspired a rare attempt at scientific partnership on the divided peninsula.

    Mount Paektu's caldera.


    About 1000 years ago, Mount Paektu disgorged up to 30 cubic kilometers of magma—10 times as much as Krakatoa did in 1883. Smaller eruptions have occurred roughly every century since, until 1903. Mount Paektu's plumbing rumbled anew several years ago, but the volcano did not erupt, and since 2005 it has been largely quiet (Science, 30 July 2010, p. 498).

    A few days after the Tohoku earthquake struck Japan on 11 March, North Korea's earthquake bureau floated the idea of a North-South project on Mount Paektu's hazards. As a result, at a highly symbolic 29 March meeting at the border village of Munsan, three scientists with North Korea's Institute of Paektu-san Volcano and four South Korean counterparts agreed to begin work on a joint research agenda.

    Johannesburg, South Africa

    End to Partnership With Israeli University

    The faculty senate of the University of Johannesburg in South Africa voted last week to terminate a collaborative research agreement on water pollution studies with its 25-year research partner, the Ben Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Be'er Sheva, Israel. Proponents of an international academic campaign to sever ties with Israeli researchers hailed the step as a “boycott.” But University of Johannesburg Vice Chancellor and Principal Ihron Rensberg rejected the term, saying “peer-to-peer” collaborations could continue.

    A petition circulated by pro-boycott supporters before the vote refers to BGU's “complicity in Israeli apartheid”—its failure to involve Palestinians in research projects—and “its direct and deliberate collaboration with the Israeli Defense Force,” a reference to BGU's scholarships for military personnel. About 400 South African academics endorsed the petition.

    The Jerusalem Post reported that BGU issued a statement calling the petition “a collection of lies and mistruths about BGU and the State of Israel,” adding that “it would be unfortunate to cancel a research agreement that is meant solely to improve the quality of life for the residents of South Africa.”


    Europe Nudges Top Scientists to Market

    Some of Europe's top scientists will get financial help to take their discoveries to the marketplace. The European Research Council (ERC), the European Union's funding program for frontier research, will offer scientists it already funds the chance to apply for €150,000 “Proof of Concept” grants. Researchers can use the funds to clarify intellectual property questions, do market research, and team up with venture capitalists, according to a 25 March announcement.

    The idea grew out of the ERC Scientific Council's efforts to build better relations with industry, says ERC President and Scientific Council Chair Helga Nowotny. Although ERC grants are open to company scientists, “We have very, very few apply,” she says. “Hopefully, where the potential is there, someone [from industry] will pick up on it.”

    Peter Tindemans, a Dutch physicist and E.U. science policy expert, welcomed the new grants. “The combination of the ERC focusing on very high scientific originality and quality—and stimulating people to think about what it might mean for society? I think it's a very good development,” he says.

    Durham, North Carolina

    Trove of Vintage Primate Data Goes Digital


    Jane Goodall had no scientific training when she arrived in Tanzania in July 1960 to begin studying chimps, but the then 26-year-old was meticulous about recording the behavior, habits, and even personalities of her primate subjects. This week, Goodall gave a lecture at Duke University to mark the beginning of a new life for the 50 years of data collection that followed. Led by Anne Pusey, an evolutionary anthropologist who has been working with Goodall for 41 years, Duke scientists are digitizing 20 file cabinets' worth of handwritten notes, typed audio transcriptions, and color-coded check sheets (see inset) that comprise the complete life histories of more than 200 chimpanzees. Pusey hopes the effort, dubbed the Jane Goodall Institute Research Center, will open up the data to new generations of scientists.

  2. Random Sample


    >If your favorite American college basketball team is in a slump, try the “Tweet 16.” Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology has launched its own March Migration Madness, a Facebook popularity tournament featuring North American birds ( The bald eagle, beloved of Americans, was left out: “We didn't want anyone to be conflicted about voting for or against our national symbol,” the lab's Web site says.

    They Said It

    “Now I know why they went extinct! Nature abhors a vacuum.”

    —Kirt, one of our online readers, who commented on a story about plant-eating sauropod dinosaurs and their improbably long necks. To find out “How a Dinosaur Is Like a Vacuum Cleaner,” see p. 21.

    Grown on Garbage


    Piles of garbage left by humans thousands of years ago in the Florida Everglades may have helped the formation of tree islands like this one, according to a new study.

    Previously, scientists had presumed that the larger tree islands, which host two to three times the number of species living in the surrounding marsh, formed atop topographical high spots in underlying carbonate bedrock. But during their fieldwork, Gail Chmura and Maria-Theresia Graf, both paleoecologists at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, found instead concretelike layers of carbonate formed by water's evaporation from the peaty soil. Beneath the layers were prehistoric trash heaps, or middens.

    Slightly higher and drier than the surrounding marsh, the middens could have offered a foothold for trees, shrubs, and other vegetation, the pair reported last week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Santa Fe. Bones in the trash would have been a good source of phosphorus, a scarce nutrient in the Everglades.

    Friendly Fires

    A view from a Welsh hill fort.


    Just after sunset on Saturday, 19 March, archaeologist Erin Robinson waited with a small crowd of volunteers at Moel y Gaer, an Iron Age hill fort in Wales not far from the English border. They were watching another hill fort, Moel Fenlli, about 10 km to the southwest, waiting for a flare to shoot up. “There was just a huge bolt of excitement when it went off,” Robinson says. “We had a huge cheer.”

    The volunteers were part of an experiment to see whether the people who occupied hill forts along the Welsh-English border some 2500 years ago could have seen each other and maybe even sent signals with fire. After the flare's signal, the group on Moel y Gaer shone their flashlights at the people at Moel Fenlli, who flashed theirs back, simulating light from a fire. Over the next hour, the greeting was repeated among a total of 10 hill forts.

    Robinson's doctoral research at Bangor University in Wales is on the connections between the different hill forts, such as shared architectural styles. If these sites were occupied at the same time, they would have been aware of each other, the experiment shows. “The thing that I found more than anything was the emotional attachment,” Robinson says. “By seeing people with a signaling light on a fellow hill fort, maybe up to 40 kilometers away, you felt the sense that you were part of one large community.”

  3. Newsmakers

    Trailblazer of Chemical Ecology Dies


    Thomas Eisner, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Cornell University, died last week at age 81 of complications from Parkinson's disease.

    In hundreds of journal articles on topics ranging from spider webs to bombardier beetles, Eisner explored how insects and arthropods defend themselves, capture prey, and attract mates in sometimes complex ways. With Cornell collaborator Jerrold Meinwald, he helped found the field of chemical ecology—the study of how animals and plants use chemicals to communicate. An outspoken conservationist, Eisner promoted the idea of allowing companies to “bioprospect” in the rainforest for useful chemicals in order to raise money to protect biodiversity.

    Eisner was also a pianist, a popular science writer, and—with his wife, Maria—a nature photographer whose images of larval hooks (pictured), beetle hairs, and other minute wonders graced many pages and covers of Science. “He was a remarkable, amazingly accomplished individual who met every challenge with courage and grace and good humor. He was my personal scientific hero,” says University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, entomologist May Berenbaum, who earned her doctorate at Cornell.

    Pioneer of High-Dimensional Spaces Wins Abel Prize

    The 2011 Abel Prize in mathematics goes to John Milnor, a topologist and dynamical systems theorist at Stony Brook University in New York state. Worth approximately $1 million and first awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in 2003, the prize has acquired a nearly Nobel-level cachet among mathematicians.

    For Milnor, the prize caps a long and distinguished career. In 1956, he produced what others immediately recognized as a masterpiece for the ages: a seven-dimensional sphere too badly twisted to be unscrambled without creating corners and folds. By the rules of topology, two spaces are considered equivalent if one can be bent, stretched, and perhaps folded until it looks like the other. Creases are not allowed. Before Milnor, no one knew that this restriction made any difference; for spaces of three dimensions or fewer, it does not. His insight has led to decades of research in mathematics and physics.


    Milnor says that what he loves most about mathematics is “a feeling of miracles.” He adds, “You're working on a problem and it seems impossibly hard, but then you just put together an idea here and an idea there, and somehow the answer just drops out.”

    Bug Expert Snags Enviro Prize

    For more than 35 years, May Berenbaum has been a champion of insects, studying how they interact with plants and humans and conveying her fascination with bugs to the general public. For this work, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, entomologist will receive the 2011 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.

    Berenbaum helped elucidate the molecular arms race between plants trying to fend off herbivores and insects that evolve ways to sidestep, and sometimes make use of, these defenses. Ever since she was an undergraduate, she has reached out to the general public. “I serve as a self-appointed spokesperson for all things six-legged,” she says. In 2006, she led a National Research Council panel that pointed out the precarious state of pollinators in the United States. Later, her work on bee colony collapsing disorder helped focus attention on viral causes of this epidemic.

    She hopes to use the $200,000 prize to promote citizen science, possibly by expanding a local Illinois bee spotting program that involves the general public in bee surveys. “I dream of taking it national,” she says.

    Three Q's


    BEIJING—Last month, physical chemist Bai Chunli was appointed president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), China's top research body with tens of thousands of scientists at dozens of institutes across the nation (see Science spoke with Bai about innovation, which China, like Europe and the United States, emphasizes as a crucial driver of future economic growth.

    Q:What are the obstacles to China's innovation efforts?

    Previously, China had hoped that by ceding market shares to foreign companies, we could in exchange obtain advanced technology and increase our capacity for innovation. However, we have realized that core technologies could not be obtained this way, nor could they be purchased. Technologies that are truly essential [to our economy] must be developed indigenously.

    Q:What is your vision for CAS's “Innovation 2020” project, which sets priority R&D areas for the next decade?

    The main goal is to solve science and technology problems that are of strategic importance to China's modernization and meanwhile to develop CAS into a world-class research institution. The central government's investment will emphasize stable support for talents on the one hand, and mega-projects and infrastructure development on the other.

    Q:How will CAS increase its ability to innovate?

    We will center around three ideas: more democracy, more openness, and [giving] more prominence to talent.

  4. Animal Rights

    The Rise of Animal Law

    1. Greg Miller

    Will growing interest in how the legal system deals with animals ultimately lead to changes for researchers?


    At the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton, some 20 law students tour the outdoor enclosures that house breeding colonies of macaque and rhesus monkeys and talk with the veterinarian in charge of their care. “It's a very powerful trip for the students,” says Kathy Hessler, who teaches a course on animal law at Lewis & Clark Law School in nearby Portland. “Some of them are really shaken.” That's not because they see violations of the law, Hessler explains: “The primate center is working very hard to meet the requirements under the law, but there's a disconnect between what the law provides and what the students think the animals need.”

    Hessler and her class are part of the rapidly growing field of animal law, a relatively new area of study that examines—and often challenges—how the law treats animals. As recently as 2000, only a handful of law schools in the United States offered courses in animal law. Now roughly 120 do. These include several of the nation's premier law schools, including Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia, which have established endowed programs in animal law thanks to $1 million donations from TV celebrity and longtime animal rights activist Bob Barker (see table). Some of those who teach animal law courses, including Hessler, describe themselves as activists. Others shy away from that label. But many take issue with a legal system that treats animals as property and provides few mechanisms for protecting their interests in court.

    Some of these legal scholars have proposed strategies for advancing animal rights through steppingstone cases that erode the notion of animals as property and grant them some of the same protections people have. Others, drawing inspiration from antislavery and civil rights movements, advocate a more direct effort to establish fundamental rights for animals—at least for more cognitively sophisticated species such as great apes and cetaceans (see sidebar, p. 30). No one is arguing that orangutans should be given the right to vote, but some legal scholars see no reason why apes shouldn't have rights similar to those of a child or a person in a coma. Whether these efforts will succeed remains to be seen. But if they do, there could be repercussions for everyone who works with animals—including scientists.

    “It's a developing area of law, and we're monitoring it closely to see how it may evolve,” says Andrew Cardon, director of state and legal affairs for the National Association for Biomedical Research, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. “Our concern is that incremental changes in the law could have negative consequences for lifesaving research.”

    A movement is born

    Joyce Tischler has loved animals since she was a child. After graduating from law school in 1977, she began searching for a way to use her law degree to help animals. She and a like-minded colleague put an ad in a San Francisco legal newspaper to see whether anyone else shared their interests. “About six people showed up to our first meeting,” Tischler says. “We formed a little group and met for several years to educate ourselves about the laws that relate to animals.” That group grew into the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), a Cotati, California, organization that has been a driving force in the growth of animal law.

    ALDF's efforts include litigation, legislation, and education. The group has filed scores of civil lawsuits to protect animals and assists with hundreds of criminal prosecutions each year. In 2010, ALDF and other animal protection groups successfully sued to stop BP from carrying out “controlled burns” of spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico that would have endangered sea turtles. ALDF drafted a 2008 Virginia law that toughened penalties for dogfighting in the wake of the Michael Vick scandal. (Vick, an American football star, was convicted in 2007 on dogfighting charges.) Tischler says she's especially excited about a current project in which ALDF lawyers are working with scientists and leaders from government and industry on strategies for implementing a 2007 National Research Council report urging companies to adopt alternatives to toxicity testing in animals. ALDF's Web site encourages visitors to petition Congress to adopt an Animal Bill of Rights, which includes “The right of laboratory animals not to be used in cruel or unnecessary experiments.”

    ALDF now has student chapters at 155 of the 200 U.S. law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). ALDF student chapters help establish animal law courses, arrange talks and symposia, and produce articles for law review journals.

    Mainstream legal establishments are taking notice. ABA created a committee on animal law under its Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section in 2004. The committee sponsors continuing education courses for practicing lawyers and develops policy proposals aimed at improving animal welfare. The Association of American Law Schools started a section on animal law in 2008 to promote education and professional development.

    Tischler and other animal law pioneers attribute the field's rapid growth to a combination of societal change and scientific advances in animal cognition. “Pets are becoming of increasing importance to individuals and considered part of the family circle,” says David Favre, a leading animal law scholar who teaches at Michigan State University College of Law in East Lansing. People's bonds with their pets tend to foster protective attitudes toward other animals, Favre says. That's reflected in a spate of recent state laws that punish not only animal cruelty but also neglect. Fourteen states now have laws that explicitly prohibit leaving animals in an unattended vehicle in hot or cold weather, for example.

    The Price Is Right: $1 Million.

    As the game show's host for 35 years, Bob Barker gradually eliminated fur and leather prizes and signed off each episode with a plea for viewers to spay and neuter their pets. More recently, he's written $1 million checks to eight leading law schools to endow programs in animal rights law, plus two to his alma mater, Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, for undergraduate animal rights studies.


    At the same time, books such as The Omnivore's Dilemma and movies such as Food, Inc. have increased public concern about how animals are raised and slaughtered for food, and the law is changing in this arena, too. In 2008, for example, California voters approved a ballot measure that will outlaw cages that restrict the movement of egg-laying hens, calves raised for veal, and pregnant sows (see map).

    In parallel with these societal changes, research with a wide range of nonhuman animals has demonstrated behaviors and traits once thought to be the exclusive domain of humans, including cooperation, altruism, empathy, and a sense of fairness. “Science is incredibly important to animal law,” says Mariann Sullivan, a New York City lawyer who chairs the ABA's Animal Law Committee. “Cognitive ethology is really what animal lawyers rely on in arguing that conditions for animals in any area should be improved.”

    According to animal law scholars and practitioners, the law has not kept up with science and society. “The legal and even moral distinctions we make about how we treat [animals] are based on the choices humans make about using animals and have nothing to do with the scientifically determined capacity of animals to feel pain or be self-aware or any of those things,” Hessler says. A pet rat, a lab rat, an endangered wild rat, and a city rat that gnaws its way into someone's basement all have a similar interest in staying alive and avoiding pain, Hessler says, but the law now treats them very differently. “Inclusion of the interests of the animals themselves is what is novel in the animal law approach,” she says.

    Case studies

    Some students may take animal law courses because they're already interested in animal protection, but instructors say many more sign up simply because the field is new and fast-moving. Coursework includes studying potentially precedent-setting cases. One of the most active areas involves monetary awards for emotional distress suffered by pet owners, says Bruce Wagman, a lawyer who teaches at the University of California (UC) Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and developed the first casebook on animal law. “That's a hotbed of litigation and judicial opinions,” Wagman says.

    Historically, in cases in which a pet has been killed, U.S. courts have limited awards to the purchase price or replacement cost of the animal—typically a few hundred dollars. In recent years, grieving pet owners have argued that emotional bonds with pets are comparable to those with family, and they've sought monetary compensation for emotional distress. Courts often award damages for emotional distress after the death of an immediate family member, but not for loss of property, Wagman says. Pet owners have had some success when the pet's death was caused intentionally. In 2006, for example, a Washington state judge awarded a woman $5000 for emotional distress after a boy stole her cat from her porch and took it to a nearby schoolyard, where he doused it in gasoline and set it on fire. However, when a pet dies as a result of negligence—due to veterinary malpractice, for example—few if any courts have been willing to award damages for emotional distress, Wagman says: “That's the dividing line now, but people are constantly trying to push that envelope.”

    The law is also changing rapidly in how animals are dealt with in the establishment of trusts and custody cases. Forty-five states have statutes enabling people to set up trusts to provide for their pets after their death, up from eight states in 2000. Pets are increasingly an issue in divorce proceedings, too, with judges being forced to decide whether to treat pets as property, whereby whoever bought the animal keeps it, or more like children, for whom consideration is given to who can provide the best home.

    Such cases erode the notion of animals as property and move them closer toward some of the protections and privileges accorded to people—a move that concerns some advocates of biomedical research. But Favre, whose writings on animal law and philosophy are required reading in many animal law courses, finds it long overdue. In a 2010 article in the Marquette Law Review, he argues for classifying domestic animals as “living property.” This designation would acknowledge that animals have interests—in staying alive, moving freely about, and socializing with other members of their species, for example—that should be weighed against human interests by the legal system.

    Favre argues that the law already provides modest rights for animals to protect these interests: Anticruelty laws protect their right not to be harmed, for instance. He advocates expanding such existing rights and creating new ones. Perhaps most provocatively, he argues in a 2005 article in the Michigan State Law Review that animals, through self-appointed attorneys, should have the right to sue humans who violate their primary interests. Currently, animals do not have legal standing to sue, and animal welfare advocates have had limited success suing on their behalf. That's because courts will only consider harm done to a human being, leaving animal advocates in the difficult position of arguing that they themselves have been harmed by an animal's suffering. Favre argues that an animal's interests should be part of the legal equation.

    Reason for concern?

    Although the growth of animal law is undeniable, the implications for animal research are uncertain. There are serious barriers to implementing the kind of theoretical changes to the legal system that Favre and others advocate, says Taimie Bryant, who teaches animal law at the UC Los Angeles School of Law. “How you would take that from academia and put it into a practical setting where most entities that use animals have more lobbying power than academics isn't clear,” Bryant says. She thinks changes that affect scientists are more likely to come from societal change and the efforts of organizations like the ALDF and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

    Indeed, the HSUS legal team has grown from three full-time lawyers in 2005 to 16 today, and the organization draws from a network of 2000 lawyers who have volunteered to work pro bono, says Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel of animal protection litigation and research. Most litigation and lobbying efforts at HSUS involve pets, livestock, and wildlife, but the group also takes on issues involving research animals when the opportunity arises, including pushing for the Great Ape Protection Act, which would ban invasive research on those animals (Science, 13 March 2009, p. 1414).

    Some research advocates are wary of all these trends. “Those of us who represent scientists who work with animals don't look on this as a positive development, although a lot of what they're doing we have no objection to,” says Deborah Runkle, a senior program associate at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which supports the use of animals in scientific research (and publishes Science). “It's not an immediate threat, but it's something that needs to be watched,” says Alice Ra'anan, director of government relations and science policy for the American Physiological Society. “If there's a concern, it's that there are relatively few lawyers who are interested in this who have an understanding and appreciation of animal research and of the laws that already exist to protect animals.”

    The growth of animal law both reflects and encourages societal change, says Richard Cupp, who writes and teaches about the legal and moral standing of animals at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, California. Cupp applauds legal protections for animal welfare, but in several law review articles he has argued that establishing legal rights for animals would not serve society's best interests. To pick one example, if animals were given the right to sue as Favre proposes, activists suing on behalf of research animals could bog down universities with endless lawsuits. “We could lose a lot of research that might be very helpful,” Cupp says.

    At a more philosophical level, Cupp argues that talking about rights for animals obscures the fact that at the end of the day any legal case involving animals will be decided by humans. The developing field of animal law should focus on emphasizing and delineating humans' moral responsibility toward other animals rather than on establishing legal rights, Cupp says: “We're stepping toward something, and the fight is over what we should be stepping toward.”


    Read more about animal law cases and issues online:

    Animal Legal Defense Fund:

    Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University College of Law:

    National Association for Biomedical Research, Animal Law Section:

  5. Animal Rights

    A Road Map for Animal Rights

    1. Greg Miller

    Lawyer and legal scholar Steven Wise is preparing to file lawsuits on behalf of intelligent animals such as chimpanzees and dolphins in an attempt to convince courts that at least some nonhuman animals meet the requirements of legal personhood and should be accorded certain basic rights.

    In 1772, a slave named James Somerset won his freedom in an English court. Months earlier, three people acting on his behalf applied to the Court of King's Bench for a writ of habeas corpus, which would require Somerset's captor—he'd escaped his owner and been recaptured—to bring Somerset before the court to determine the legality of his imprisonment. In deciding that English common law provided no basis for holding Somerset, the court brought an end to slavery in that country.

    The case is a potential blueprint for establishing personhood and legal rights for animals, says Steven Wise, a lawyer and legal scholar in Coral Gables, Florida, and founder of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NHRP). In the eyes of the law, animals are considered things to be owned, as slaves once were, Wise notes: “The story of James Somerset is a metaphor for how any legal thing [such as an animal] can use the court system to become a legal person.”

    Rattling cages.

    Steven Wise wants courts to acknowledge “dignity” rights for some animals.


    That's a goal Wise has been working toward for 30 years, and he now says his group is close to filing lawsuits on behalf of intelligent animals such as chimpanzees and dolphins in an attempt to convince courts that at least some nonhuman animals meet the requirements of legal personhood and should be accorded certain basic rights. “We're hoping to file the first suits, if everything goes right, in 2012, and if everything goes wrong, in 2013,” Wise says.

    As improbable as it may sound, there's a chance he will succeed, says Richard Cupp, a legal scholar at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. “Steven is a very smart guy, and he'll choose his jurisdictions very carefully,” Cupp says. “In the short term, I suspect he won't be successful, but I could be wrong.”

    In law review articles and books, Wise has laid out a philosophical framework for animal rights. He argues that some nonhuman animals, particularly great apes and cetaceans, are cognitively complex in many of the same ways that humans are: They can have desires, act intentionally, and have some sense of self. Therefore, Wise asserts, they deserve basic “dignity” rights, such as the right not to be harmed or held in a distressing environment. Human infants and people in a vegetative state have such rights, and Wise argues that a chimpanzee of similar or greater intelligence should be granted them as well.

    Getting a judge or jury to consider these arguments is the goal of NHRP. Since 2007, Wise has recruited more than 50 volunteers, including lawyers and sociologists, who are working to identify potential plaintiffs and determine which jurisdictions are most likely to be sympathetic to their arguments and which legal strategies are most likely to be effective. He estimates that they've spent a cumulative 20,000 hours analyzing dozens of legal and sociological issues in all 50 states.

    The first case will likely involve an animal being held in substandard conditions: perhaps a dolphin kept in a small pool at an aquarium or a chimpanzee confined to a small cage at a zoo or research facility. NHRP will file a lawsuit in trial court, probably using habeas corpus or another common law writ, de homine replegiando, used centuries ago in slavery cases.

    If the trial court dismisses the case, Wise says he will appeal all the way to the state's highest court. NHRP is combing over the judicial decisions of state appellate court and high court judges to determine their judicial philosophies. Volunteers are also looking for courts sympathetic to civil rights and animal welfare issues, as well as those that have ruled in favor of gay marriage, which Wise suspects might reflect a sensitivity to equality that would work in his favor.

    People have tried previously—and unsuccessfully—to gain legal standing for animals. In 1998, Wise lost a case in which he argued that a dolphin named Kama had legal standing to sue the New England Aquarium to prevent being transferred to a Navy marine mammal facility. In 2004, a district judge in San Francisco ruled that whales, porpoises, and dolphins (represented by a self-appointed attorney) did not have legal standing under federal law to sue the Navy to stop allegedly harmful sonar testing. In both cases, the judges ruled that only “persons” can sue under federal law and that the legislators who wrote the laws did not intend the definition of “person” to include cetaceans.

    Wise says he's learned from his mistakes in the Kama case. That's why he's focusing on state common law. “Common law is the law that judges make, so you don't get into this issue of legislative intent,” he says. “We're looking for courts that view common law as elastic, as something that changes as morality changes or as new scientific facts come in” about the cognitive capabilities of nonhuman animals.

    If he wins, the animal in question will be moved to a better home. But more important from Wise's perspective, a legal door that has been slammed shut will have opened just a crack, enabling him and others to push for more rights for more animals. “Win or lose, we're going to keep going,” he says.

  6. Microbiology

    Girth and the Gut (Bacteria)

    1. Elizabeth Pennisi

    Mouse and human studies are beginning to clarify the role gut bacteria play in obesity.


    Five years ago, a team headed by Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) in Missouri made a surprising discovery: The guts of obese mice and people harbor an array of microbes different from that of their lean counterparts. More provocatively, when they gave lean mice certain gut-dwelling microbes, the rodents became fat (Science, 29 May 2009, p. 1136). The findings sparked headlines and fueled popular speculation that manipulating gut bacteria might keep weight down in people.

    Already, Martin Blaser had been heading down a similar track. Blaser, a microbiologist at New York University in New York City, was struck by how successful farmers are at increasing the growth rates of livestock by adding low doses of antibiotics to their feed. “The earlier in life they start the antibiotic, the more profound the effect,” he points out. He began to wonder whether antibiotic use, particularly in children, might affect the long-term establishment of a balanced microbial community in the human gut, eliminating bacteria there that could help ward off obesity. He started conducting mouse studies to examine the hypothesis.

    Since then, several other groups have joined in. A raft of intriguing obesity-related findings was presented at a meeting last month on the microbiome, the bacteria that live inside the guts and other tissues of animals. Yet many in the field caution that it remains difficult to determine whether changes in gut microbes drive or contribute to obesity or whether the excess weight itself triggers those changes. “The jury is still out [about] what the role of the gut microbiota may be in obesity in humans,” says Claire Fraser-Liggett, a microbiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore who has studied gut bacteria and obesity in the Amish.

    Case of the missing microbes

    The farm animal–antibiotic connection was one clue that led Blaser to wonder about microbial causes of the obesity epidemic. Another was the fact that very few people now harbor the ulcer-causing bacterium Helicobacter pylori in their stomachs. H. pylori, which has also been linked to stomach cancers, is one of up to 1000 different microbes that call the human body home. Once ubiquitous in the human microbiome and still so in the guts of people from developing countries, it is now found in just 6% of U.S. children. That might seem like good news, as there should be fewer ulcers and cancers. But Blaser suspects that it is also bad news, as studies suggest that H. pylori's presence in the gut helps regulate the stomach's production of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates food intake.

    This bacterium may not be the only species disappearing from our microbiome. After a person takes antibiotics, “it has always been presumed that the microbiota will spring back,” Blaser says. But the fate of H. pylori suggests otherwise. Its vanishing act and other shifts in the microbiome may contribute to an increased risk for weight gain, Blaser worries.

    Go with the gut.

    Antibiotic use may adversely affect the long-term makeup of the intestine's bacterial communities.


    He has started to investigate this theory by giving mice either low doses of antibiotics over long periods, akin to what farm animals receive, or short-term, high doses, more like what a sick infant or adult would get. He then compares the physiology and microbiomes of these treated rodents with those of mice raised under similar conditions but given no antibiotics. In one set of studies, the mice fed low doses of antibiotics long-term wound up with 15% more body fat than the control mice, Blaser reported last month at the International Human Microbiome Congress in Vancouver, Canada. The chubbier, antibiotic-fed mice also had about 25% more fat in their livers.

    The treated mice also had a different set of bacterial species inhabiting their guts. And several hundred bacterial genes, including ones for fatty acid production, exhibited different levels of activity—some increasing, others decreasing—in these mice compared with the controls. Similar changes occur in the rodents given short pulses of antibiotics, he noted.

    Antibiotics “may be driving the gut microbiome to a place where it shouldn't be,” Fraser-Liggett says. “We do not know the functional consequences, but with these miracle drugs now 60 years later, we may be seeing effects that change susceptibility to various diseases.”

    Blaser will examine the gut microbiomes of children to see whether his results are applicable to humans. If so, “that would be a remarkable connection that could have a significant impact on medical care,” says genome scientist George Weinstock of WUSTL. But he's cautious: “In a lot of cases, the microbiome in mice doesn't translate into humans.”

    Patterns in genes

    S. Dusko Ehrlich has avoided that issue, bypassing mice and instead directly examining whether patterns in the microbiome of people relate to body mass index and obesity. A microbiologist at the INRA Microbiology and Food Chain Division in Jouy-en-Josas, France, Ehrlich is part of a group, the Meta-HIT consortium, investigating connections between microbial genes in human intestines and human health. By comparing such genes from obese and nonobese individuals, he and his colleagues have found that certain sets of bacterial genes and bacteria correlate with excess weight and insulin resistance.

    The researchers first sequenced all the bacterial genes in stool samples of 177 Danes, 55 who were thin and 122 who were either overweight or obese. Although the researchers concluded that most participants in the study had roughly 600,000 distinct bacterial genes in their guts, almost one-third of the obese study participants had only about 360,000 such genes, 30% to 40% fewer. A similar percentage of 36 obese French people had a comparable dearth of gut bacteria genes, Ehrlich reported at the Vancouver meeting. Moreover, the obese people “don't have as great a bacterial diversity” in their guts, Ehrlich reported. One missing microbe in that group was a methane producer, leading Ehrlich to wonder whether “the carbon that does not get out [of the body] as gas could be incorporated as fat.”

    Personalized microbiota.

    Germ-free mice grown in sterile environments and given human gut microbes provide a way to test links between bacteria and obesity.


    When they looked at medical histories of all their study subjects, Ehrlich and his colleagues found that the obese people with fewer gut bacteria genes were more likely to be insulin resistant than were the obese people who had a typical tally of intestinal microbial genes. These obese people also tended to have higher than normal white blood cell counts, suggesting that they were in a state of low-level inflammation, Ehrlich said. Some researchers have found evidence of a link between inflammation and obesity (Science, 17 December 2010, p. 1621).

    Ehrlich and his colleagues have also tested whether the types of bacteria in a person's gut can “diagnose” obesity. Using just six metaspecies, they were able to correctly predict whether a person was lean or obese more than 80% of the time, he reported. When researchers try to make the same predictions by considering all of a person's genetic risk factors for obesity, they are right only 58% of the time, Ehrlich pointed out.

    At this point, however, it's unclear whether the differences in intestinal microbes are “the cause, a contribution to, or the consequence” of obesity, notes Ehrlich. “If we can provide evidence that they [at least] provide a contribution, then we can go and find a treatment.”

    Help from the Amish

    Other work presented at the microbiome meeting indicates that sorting out this cause-and-effect puzzle will be tough. Frustrated by the inconsistent results others were getting when they looked for connections between the microbiome and obesity, Fraser-Liggett and her colleagues examined 400 adult Amish living in Pennsylvania. Amish marry within their group and have very similar lifestyles, environment, and eating habits—they even cook in communal kitchens. Thus, Fraser-Liggett hoped to eliminate some of the variables that might have confounded other studies.

    The body mass index of Amish ranged from 16 to 51 (30 is obese), and some of the obese ones also had metabolic syndrome. Fraser-Liggett and her colleagues captured a snapshot of the gut microbiome of each Amish by obtaining stool samples, sequencing the DNA in them, and using the 16S ribosomal subunit gene often used to tell bacteria apart, identifying any microbial components. Although the scientists did detect some differences in certain bacteria between obese and lean Amish, they didn't find the dramatic shifts that Gordon had documented between lean and obese mice, Fraser-Liggett reported at the meeting.

    One problem may be that simply taking a census of the bacteria present in a person's gut may not be enough. “16S [analysis] is not very informative,” Ehrlich says. “We need to go to more precise measures.” Increasingly, microbiome researchers are looking at what bacterial genes are active in a person and not just at which bacteria are there. Scientists have found that although the species mix of the microbiome may vary significantly from one person to the next, those individuals often still have equivalent complements of bacterial genes at work inside them. Through such gene analyses, researchers can begin to better assess what the bacteria in the gut are really doing to, or for, their host, Fraser-Liggett notes.

    Gordon suggests that more clarity on the obesity-microbiome issue will also come from using the guts of mice as bioreactors for human microbes. His group has pioneered the study of germ-free mice, which are grown in a sterile environment from birth, and he is now exposing such mice to bacteria from human guts. Once those human microbes have established residence in the guts of the mice, Gordon then feeds the animals a variety of human diets. Using these rodent proxies, he can thus track how different diets affect the “human” microbiomes, assessing the bacteria as often as he needs to to get a dynamic picture. “You can sample many features between the microbial community and the host,” he says.

    Despite his role in igniting the study of obesity and microbiomes, Gordon resists the idea that our gut bacteria are the sole explanation for the growing number of obese people. “It's not the dominant part of the problem; excessive energy intake is,” he contends. The simplistic notion of only changing one's gut bacteria to lose weight has been “hyped a lot,” he complains.

    Others, such as microbial ecologist Liping Zhao of Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, are more convinced that the microbiome will prove important when it comes to obesity. “Increased abundance of ‘bad genes’ and [a] decrease of ‘good genes’ in our diet-disrupted gut microbiome [may] be the primary driving force for this obesity epidemic,” Zhao says.

    Even if Zhao's prediction proves right, the studies to date make clear that the connection between the microbiome and excess weight is complex, Fraser-Liggett says. For those looking to bacteria to stem the obesity epidemic, she concludes, “there's clearly no magic formula.”