News this Week

Science  13 Dec 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6164, pp. 1296

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  1. Around the World

    1 - Rome
    Disputed Stem Therapy Revived
    2 - Tokyo
    Scientists Oppose Secrecy Law
    3 - Mountain View, California
    23andMe Drops Health-Related Tests
    4 - Washington, D.C.
    Panel Calls for End to Gene Therapy Review
    5 - San Diego, California
    New Prize for New Livers


    Disputed Stem Therapy Revived

    Second chance.

    An attempt to treat brain diseases using stem cells (green) may yet enter clinical trials.


    A controversial stem cell treatment may have another shot at a clinical trial funded by the Italian government after a ruling last week from a regional administrative court. The ruling suspends the September decision of a federal scientific committee to not finance the trial. The committee concluded that the treatment, which uses bone marrow stem cells purported to treat neurodegenerative diseases, has no scientific foundation.

    The treatment has been developed by the Stamina Foundation, which asked the regional court to invalidate the panel. The new ruling implies that the committee experts were not impartial in their decision—a claim that angers the Italian scientific community. "It does not respect the rule of the scientific method and offends scientists who spend their career to find a cure to diseases," says Maria Grazia Roncarolo, scientific director of the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan and member of the committee that decided against the trials. Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin told the Italian media that she will appoint a new expert panel to assess Stamina's protocols.


    Scientists Oppose Secrecy Law


    Nobel laureate Toshihide Maskawa is among the scientists who oppose Japan's secrecy law.


    To the chagrin of many scientists, Japan's Diet adopted a state secrets law on 6 December that threatens imprisonment for those who leak or publish information deemed sensitive by the government. Nobel laureates Toshihide Maskawa, a physicist at Nagoya University, and Hideki Shirakawa, a chemist formerly at the University of Tsukuba, were among 30 scholars who issued a 28 November statement warning that the law threatens constitutional rights, including freedom of the press, of thought and expression, and of academic research. By 6 December, more than 3000 academics had signed on, and the Japan Scientists' Association expressed similar concerns.

    Despite widespread public protest, the ruling coalition used its Diet majority to pass the legislation. Under the new law, government employees leaking "secrets" could be jailed for up to 10 years; journalists publishing them could get 5-year sentences. Many worry that the vague definition of state secret could be used to restrict access to, among other things, information surrounding nuclear accidents.

    Opponents now hope to limit the law's implementation and to get the next administration to repeal it.

    Mountain View, California

    23andMe Drops Health-Related Tests


    In response to a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the company 23andMe will no longer provide health information to people who purchase its DNA testing kit. According to a 5 December announcement, current customers will still have access to a 23andMe database noting the health issues associated with their DNA, but customers who purchased its Personal Genome Service (PGS) on or after 22 November will receive only information about their ancestry and their raw genetic data without interpretation.

    "I am highly disappointed that we have reached this point," CEO Anne Wojcicki wrote on the 23andMe blog, adding that the company is seeking FDA clearance to re insert the health tests soon.

    While the 23andMe website maintains that it does not provide medical advice, recent marketing has emphasized the service's medical uses, says Cecile Janssens, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta. "It used to be more about what science knows about your DNA," she says. "But in the past year they really went on a different track. It is more about health recommendations now."

    Washington, D.C.

    Panel Calls for End to Gene Therapy Review

    After 4 decades of vetting clinical trials of gene therapy for novel risks, it's time to relax a bit, says a report issued last week by an expert panel at the U.S. National Academies. The Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC), established in 1974, was a response to public concern that genetic engineering, particularly human gene transfer trials, might run amok.

    RAC has done a good job, reviewers found. But the group chaired by law professor Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., now urges the National Institutes of Health, which houses RAC and uses its advice, to phase out the committee. It recommends creating a new panel modeled on RAC to watch over human subject research "that is so novel, and carries significant unknown risks, that the normal regulatory apparatus lacks the capacity to conduct an adequate review." RAC should focus only on "exceptional" cases until it is replaced, they conclude.

    San Diego, California

    New Prize for New Livers

    A contest will award $1 million to the first team of scientists that can grow a bioengineered liver advanced enough to keep a large mammal alive for 90 days. The Methuselah Foundation's "New Organ Liver Prize," announced 5 December at the World Stem Cell Summit in San Diego, is designed to encourage more researchers to focus on liver tissue engineering. The competition is open to teams around the world and has a deadline of 31 December 2018.

    According to the contest rules, teams must keep at least three out of four trial animals alive with transplanted, lab-grown livers, and these animals must also maintain a healthy weight and be able to eat and move normally. The liver has to be grown from scratch. Transplanting functional livers from other experimental animals into trial animals won't qualify. Allowed are "reseeding" techniques, in which a donor liver is stripped of its cells and new cells—matching those of the recipient—are grown on it.

    The Springfield, Virginia–based foundation says it also plans to launch prizes for kidney, heart, pancreas, and lungs.

  2. Random Sample


    Merriam Webster last week declared "science" the 2013 Word of the Year. The dictionary chose its winner from among the top lookups on based on the increase in searches over the previous year. With a 176% increase, "science" beat out "cognitive" for first place.

    Following Mawson's Cold Trail

    Chris Turney with snares crested penguins on Snares Island, New Zealand, on the way to Antarctica.


    "I was attacked by sea lions this morning," says Chris Turney by satellite phone from the Southern Ocean. It's all in a day's work for Turney, a climate scientist with the University of New South Wales in Australia, who boarded a Russian icebreaker heading south toward Antarctica on 27 November. Turney is leading a group of nearly 40 scientists and doctoral students and a handful of media representatives on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) 2013. The team will spend the month retracing the steps of Australian geologist Douglas Mawson's original 1911 to 1914 expedition over the frozen continent.

    The trip is more than just an adventure. It aims to investigate how poleward-shifting westerly winds affect the Southern Ocean, the Antarctic ice sheet, and the plants and animals of sub-Antarctic islands. AAE's scientific team will duplicate and extend the data that Mawson and his companions collected in surveying work marred by mishaps, brushes with starvation, and the deaths of two explorers. "Having observations a century ago covering several years is unique," says Turney of the extensive and little-studied data sets.

    The expedition hopes to kindle public interest in science by highlighting Mawson's saga of adventure and survival. "We're using some of the latest technology to take people with us virtually," Turney explains. Follow the adventure at

    Reptiles Tout Alluring Snouts


    In what could be the first example of tool use among reptiles, researchers have discovered that both alligators and crocodiles use twigs and sticks to attract nest-building birds. Behavioral ecologist Vladimir Dinets of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, first noticed in 2007 that mugger crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris) at a zoo in India balanced small sticks on their snouts near a rookery where egrets compete for sticks to build their nests. He observed the same strategy in alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) in Louisiana: They displayed sticks much more frequently near egret rookeries and during the nest-building season, he and colleagues report online in Ethology Ecology & Evolution. Although Dinets observed only one attack over a year, two co-authors who have worked for 13 years at a wildlife park in Florida have seen multiple attacks after alligators lured birds with sticks.

    By the Numbers

    13,200+ — Signatures on a petition from Italian scientists protesting a proposed law to restrict use of animals in scientific research.

    100,000 — Number of individuals whose DNA the new Saudi Human Genome Program intends to sequence over the next 5 years.

  3. Newsmakers

    Three Q's



    European scientists are celebrating a windfall in funding for the European Union's flagship research program: Horizon 2020 is set to receive almost €70 billion over the next 7 years, a nearly 30% increase over its predecessor, Framework Programme 7. Science caught up with the bonanza's chief architect, European research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, last week at the commission's headquarters in Brussels.

    Q:How will things change for scientists under Horizon 2020?

    M.G.-Q.:Horizon 2020 is putting a lot of research money into finding answers to societal challenges [such as climate change]. It's challenging all the disciplines to step outside their comfort zones.

    Q:Has research policy become more important in Europe?

    M.G.-Q.:For everybody, unemployment is the big issue. And where are the good jobs? They are going to be in research and innovation: high-quality, well-paid jobs that are secure for the future. And when I visit universities, academics say that E.U. money used to be the icing on the cake, but that's no longer the case—it's absolutely, fundamentally important to their budget now.

    Q:Your 5-year term ends next October. How do you make sure Horizon 2020 stays relevant?

    M.G.-Q.:When the Seventh Framework Programme started in 2007, there was no such thing as a climate change challenge or a food security issue. FP7 was very much like a straitjacket. One of the things that we worked strongly on is ensuring that Horizon 2020 is flexible, so if issues arise that we haven't even thought about now, at least the program will be able to respond to that.

    Scientist Behind ‘Drowning Polar Bear’ Paper Settles Lawsuit



    A long saga is finally over for marine ecologist Charles Monnett, whose observations of drowned polar bears were featured in Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and attracted scrutiny from climate change skeptics. Monnett has resigned from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) under terms of a settlement released last week. BOEM had investigated Monnett for alleged "integrity issues" over management of research grants.

    The controversy started in 2006 when Monnett, who was researching the impact of Alaskan offshore drilling on whales, published a paper noting drowned polar bears—presumably trying to swim long distances between ice packs. The observations became a cause célèbre for environmentalists objecting to Arctic drilling. BOEM, then known as the Minerals Management Service, probed Monnett's science and his grant management (Science, 5 August 2011, p. and eventually reprimanded him for leaking internal e-mails about an Arctic oil and gas exploration plan. Under the settlement, signed in October, BOEM has also retracted a letter of reprimand and paid Monnett $100,000.

  4. The Thousand-Year Graveyard

    1. Ann Gibbons

    Scientists uncover a tortured history of disease and death from the Middle Ages onward.

    BADIA POZZEVERI CHURCHYARD, ALTOPASCIO, ITALY—On a hot afternoon in July 2012, Giuseppe Vercellotti was digging up bones near the wall of an abandoned medieval church here, thinking about getting a cold drink, when he heard his students call his name. Faces glistening with sweat, they told him that they had found something strange buried half a meter down. Vercellotti took a look and saw a layer of lime, used in ancient times to squelch the stench of rotting corpses. When he tapped the hard layer with his trowel, it sounded hollow. "We immediately thought it was a mass grave," says Vercellotti, a biological anthropologist at Ohio State University, Columbus, who co-leads a field school here. "We instructors were all excited and hopeful."

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  5. Stefan Behnisch and the Good Client

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    The German architect is recognized for his smart, sustainable buildings. But an innovative science lab also requires a good partner.

    Looking ahead.

    Stefan Behnisch visited Harvard Yard in 2006 for ideas on how to design the science complex on the university's new Allston campus.


    The warning signs were there, Stefan Behnisch says. "We used to meet every 6 weeks with the college trustees, and suddenly I couldn't meet with them," recalls the burly 56-year-old German architect.

    Amherst College, an elite liberal arts college in western Massachusetts, had hired Behnisch in 2010 to design a new integrated science building. The college wanted to replace the Merrill Science Center, an ugly box built in the 1960s that devours a quarter of Amherst's total energy bill. In addition to a bigger and more energy-efficient building, trustees wanted one that would foster communication among faculty and students as well as enhance the nearly 200-year-old campus, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding New England hills.

    To make it happen, college leaders turned to Behnisch, who has won acclaim for designing innovative, sustainable, and attractive corporate and academic buildings throughout Europe and, more recently, in North America. "He unites high design and high performance, and he's been at it for decades," says Alan Brake, editor of The Architect's Newspaper, a New York-based trade publication. Behnisch's solution for Amherst (see p. 1313) was an airy, four-story structure of glass, steel, and concrete, terraced into a hill and chock-full of the latest energy-saving technologies.

    Amherst brass were initially enthusiastic. President Biddy Martin called the design "a visionary testament to the power and importance of science education and research in a liberal arts college," and the college's director of admissions said it was "the single most important decision the college has made" to attract top students. Indeed, a standout building can give academic institutions an edge in the increasingly competitive race for talented students and world-class faculty. And a science building, often the largest academic structure on campus and its biggest consumer of energy, can be the ideal show place for a school's commitment to sustainable architecture and innovation.

    But the college's enthusiasm waned once preliminary work began on the site, which stood in the center of campus near some temporary student housing. And on 1 May, Behnisch got a phone call that, despite the warning signs, caught him by surprise: Amherst was canceling the $260 million project and ending its 3-year relationship with Behnisch.

    The decision, Martin announced the next morning, was made because of steadily rising costs and concerns about the disruption to campus life during the 2 years of construction. In October, she announced that the college had chosen another site for the building and would select a new architect. Behnisch was disappointed, of course. And he strongly disagrees with how Martin described the project's costs and construction plans. But the episode also served to remind him of the profession's maxim that a good building requires a good client. "A good client is someone with whom you can have a good discussion," Behnisch explains. "You don't seduce them. You try to convince them, and sometimes they convince you. There has to be a good match"—especially when the building is architecturally and technologically ambitious.

    The family business

    To an outsider, Behnisch's decision to become an architect may have seemed preordained. His father, Günter Behnisch, was one of Germany's most prominent architects, having designed the main stadium for the ill-fated 1972 Olympic Games in Munich and West Germany's parliament building in Bonn. His sister, brother-in-law, and several cousins are also architects, as is his wife.

    But Behnisch, whose physical bulk belies a soft-spoken demeanor and an understated personality, had to do it in his own way. "I didn't want to follow their expectations," he says. "Childish, I know, but that's the way it is."

    That independent streak led him to study philosophy with the Jesuits and then to earn an undergraduate degree in economics. Eventually, however, he returned to the fold, spending a year in the United States before joining his father's firm in Stuttgart. In 1989, Behnisch founded his own firm, which now has satellite offices in Munich and Boston.

    After designing dozens of critically acclaimed buildings for corporate and academic clients throughout Europe, including several laboratories, Behnisch crossed the Atlantic and made a splash with his first U.S. project. Robert Campbell, architecture critic for The Boston Globe, says the 12-story headquarters for the Genzyme Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which opened in 2003, is "probably the best office space ever created" in the Boston area. Sustainable building guru Jerry Yudelson writes in a new book on the world's greenest buildings that Genzyme is proof "it's possible to construct an architecturally exciting, beautiful, and employee-friendly building that makes economic, social, and environmental sense."

    A healthy environment.

    A schematic (above) of the University of Baltimore's new law center features many of the components that Behnisch sees as essential for a smart, sustainable building. The 12-story, $114 million building (pictured below) opened in April 2013.


    Behnisch applied those same principles to his first research laboratory in North America, the $80 million Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research at the University of Toronto. The result is a skinny, 12-story tower—sited on a former loading dock—that has become one of the most popular spaces on campus since it opened in 2005. "It works wonderfully," says James Friesen, professor emeritus of microbiology and a prime mover behind the center, where he occupies a ninth-floor office that looks out on one of three indoor gardens.


    Sustainable buildings

    Although an office building or research lab can become a second home to those who work there, it has a far larger audience—those who pass it every day on their way to somewhere else. "Architecture is our living room. It's part of the public realm," Behnisch explained during a keynote address this fall in Chicago at a conference on building façades.

    He had that larger audience in mind in the Amherst project. "Merrill had to disappear because it was too big, too ugly, and it's an energy hog," he says with characteristic bluntness.

    Part of the challenge "was to make the building part of the landscape and not part of the built environment," he adds, so his 20,400-square-meter structure—5600 square meters larger than Merrill—was tucked into a terraced hillside to minimize its visual footprint. Just as important, the new building would create additional vistas to the New England hills from inside and atop the building, rather than block those views, as Merrill does.

    Another requirement—to make it more sustainable—was something that comes naturally to Behnisch. "Germany has been on the leading edge of sustainable design for decades, and Stefan is a leading proponent," says Brake of The Architect's Newspaper.

    The new building abounded in energy-saving features (see diagram, above). They included green roofs merging into hillside foliage, LED lighting, radiant heating and cooling in the ceilings and floors, and exposed concrete slabs in the lab to reduce temperature fluctuations. A multistory atrium would admit daylight, improve ventilation, and encourage interaction between students and faculty.

    Behnisch is a leading proponent of an industry-wide move to place more and more of a building's mechanical and environmental systems in its outer skin. "The façade is becoming a very complex structure," Behnisch told the architects, engineers, and builders gathered in Chicago. "It is ventilation, daylight enhancement, and sunshading. We also produce energy through the façade." The benefits of having smaller, decentralized systems ripple across the building and include increasing usable space and improving the working environment. "It means we don't have as much noise as before," Behnisch explained. "We don't have the ductwork, and we don't need the air shafts."

    One persistent criticism of sustainable buildings is that they cost more to erect. But Behnisch says that isn't necessarily true. "The construction manager [on the Amherst science building] calculated that it would be cheaper to build with the sustainability features than without them," he says. "Can you imagine that?"

    Even if some features are more expensive initially, they may save money in the long run. Speaking about the LED lighting for his latest building, a $114 million law center at the University of Baltimore that opened in April, Behnisch says "we calculated that it would pay for itself in 4 years, and then every year after that they will save $100,000."

    While the Amherst project gathered momentum, Behnisch was also engaged in what may be his biggest academic challenge: designing the science complex that will set the tone for the new, multibillion-dollar Allston campus at Harvard University. "When Harvard began planning its Allston campus, they looked at the bounce that MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] had received for its Stata Center [a Frank Gehry–designed building for several academic departments that opened in 2004] and decided they would also look for well-known, internationally respected architects," says James Collins, president of Payette, a Boston-based firm that specializes in science and high-tech buildings. (Collins also teamed with Behnisch on the Amherst project.) "And Stefan was on that list because of Genzyme and because of his passion and growing reputation for energy and performance."

    Not to be.

    Amherst has scrapped Behnisch's plan for a new science building tucked into a hillside.


    Behnisch's original plans for Harvard, drawn up in 2006, featured a four-building science cluster that would be a focal point for Harvard's growing efforts in stem cell research. The 2008 economic downturn caused officials to put the multibillion-dollar campus on hold, but the project has now kicked back into gear. The university's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is now expected to be the primary tenant for the science complex, and Behnisch is just beginning to meet with scientists before site work resumes next year.

    Successful debut.

    Behnisch's first U.S. project, the Cambridge headquarters of the Genzyme Corporation, has become a benchmark for sustainable buildings.


    The science complex will be the first visible result of a revised master plan that has been adjusted to reflect community sentiments. It has also created an internal competition that will shape the direction of the entire Allston campus. "If it is a successful building, the rest of the campus will be forced—or damned—to keep to the same standard," Behnisch says. "And if it is not a good building, it will not be a good start for the Allston campus."

    An idea dies

    For Amherst, Behnisch's science center proved too much of a stretch. College officials declined repeated requests from Science to detail their thinking, but a spokesperson says the school has moved on. "We've turned the page," says Peter Rooney, Amherst's director of public affairs. "There were sound reasons for the shift in plans and the new site. And we don't want to be accused of being critical of Mr. Behnisch in public."

    However, insiders say a fierce debate took place behind closed doors between those who felt Behnisch's innovative design was worth preserving and those who felt Amherst should stick to the tried and true. "It was a breakout building, that's for sure," says one knowledgeable observer who requested anonymity. Fitting such a large building into a small campus also proved to be a stumbling block. Behnisch had arranged for a two-step process. Faculty would move their labs and offices into the new building, located next to Merrill, once it was 70% completed. Merrill would then be torn down, and the rest of the building finished. That way, faculty would have to move only once.

    But Behnisch's efforts to address campus concerns weren't enough. Faculty and students were already unhappy with the noise and congestion from preliminary site work, and some had complained that the building's extensive use of glass didn't afford them sufficient privacy. In addition, the leadership team that had hired Behnisch left midstream—Martin arrived in 2011, and the board of trustees turned over the next year.

    Still, even as the tide began to turn against him, Behnisch hoped that his reputation for fiscal responsibility and collegiality would carry the day. "He's not a profligate spender," says editor Brake. "He's also no Howard Roark," referring to the protagonist in The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand's novel about an idealistic architect with a huge ego.

    Instead, Behnisch says he watched with growing frustration as college officials pushed to make the building more conventional. "All the sustainable aspects were thrown out," he says. "They didn't want LED lighting. They didn't want slab heating and cooling, even though today it is state of the art, because they said it was too complex. In the end, the building died by a thousand cuts. And that was probably for the best."

    Robert Bogomolny, the president of the University of Baltimore and a huge fan of Behnisch's work, says he can imagine the pressure on college leaders as the controversy escalated. But he thinks they made the wrong call.

    "When you have an architect who's asking you to do something you've never done before, there is a lot of room for tension," he says. "But if you hire a world-class person, you ought to listen to him. I wish they would have let Stefan build his building, because it would have been better than what they are going to get now."