News this Week

Science  06 Mar 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5356, pp. 179

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    What Ails French Biomedicine?

    1. Michael Balter

    France's research minister, geochemist Claude Allègre, has prescribed a tonic for French science. Top biomedical researchers, meeting in Paris last week, offered a variety of views on the diagnosis

    PARIS—Among his colleagues in the French Cabinet, Claude Allègre is known as “The Volcano”—an allusion both to his stature as an internationally known geochemist and his occasional verbal eruptions. Since Allègre was appointed education and research minister by France's Socialist government last June, researchers have been cautiously optimistic that he would blast open some fissures in what many see as the nation's overly rigid scientific edifice. Last week, in a full-page article in the daily newspaper Le Figaro, Allègre set down his blueprint for reforming French science. Although his five-point plan (see table) may not amount to a major eruption, it sends a clear signal to scientists that Allègre expects research to serve France's national interests.

    View this table:

    Allègre got almost instant feedback from one sector of the scientific community: At a conference of France's leading biomedical researchers the following day—at which Allègre gave the closing address—his nationalist goal seemed to be widely shared. Nevertheless, as the daylong meeting* held in France's National Assembly also demonstrated, there's still considerable debate over how best to manage the delicate balance between basic and applied research. For example, over the past several weeks, hundreds of scientists at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM), France's leading biomedical research agency, have signed a declaration criticizing Allègre's proposed reforms of the organization—which include giving its administrative council a greater role in setting research directions—as an attempt to “impose from above” research priorities.

    At the conference, there seemed to be consensus at least on the basic problem: France, despite its long and proud history in biomedical science, has fallen considerably behind many other countries in making this research pay off in economic terms. “The role France plays in this area, while still significant, is deteriorating, as judged by the number of new drugs we are putting on the market,” said National Assembly President and former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius in his opening address to the conference. “As for our biotech companies, their situation is often disturbing, if not downright bad.” Fabius pointed out that the revenues of new biomedical research companies started up in France over the past 10 years are less than those in Israel. And Pierre Tambourin, former head of the life sciences department at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and now coordinator of Genopole—a genetic research complex in the Paris suburb of Evry, funded by both public and private sources and which includes France's new gene sequencing center—pointed out that France has fewer than 100 biotech companies, while the United States has about 1300. “We cannot remain in such an underdeveloped state,” Tambourin said.

    While the symptoms of France's malaise seemed clear to everyone at the conference, researchers offered a variety of diagnoses. Philippe Froguel, director of the human genetics department at the Pasteur Institute of Lille and a chief organizer of the conference, cited “the old-fashioned concept of valorization that CNRS and INSERM have had for a long time, which tries to patent, often clumsily, the discoveries of their researchers rather than put into place collaborative programs with industry.” Froguel also criticized the “conformism in the academic milieu that points the finger at researchers who enter into contracts with industry and accuses them of making a personal profit from research supported in part by public money.” And Alain Fischer, a physician-researcher at the Necker Hospital in Paris, argued that even when potential new drugs emerge from French laboratories, clinicians are slow to put them through effective clinical trials. “We are not well-trained at doing this, and the trials are often mediocre. AIDS is the only area in which things have progressed in France.”

    Several scientists also decried the lack of opportunities for young scientists, which has led to an increasing “brain drain” to the United States and other countries. But, Allègre argued, “they don't go abroad because they earn more money, but because they have more [scientific] autonomy. We must give more autonomy to young researchers.”

    Indeed, many scientists in France see the United States as the nation's main competitor and often regard the successes of American science with a mixture of envy and resentment (Science, 16 January, p. 312). “Europe is being eaten alive by American industries,” Allègre said. In his Le Figaro article, the research minister went so far as to suggest the creation of a European scientific press agency, “to make known … scientific findings made in Europe, and to counterbalance American media propaganda, which inundates the media so much that it is sometimes unbearable.”

    But some researchers, while agreeing that France is lagging behind, counseled against trying to duplicate the American model. “Let us not try to copy some American companies that bring together hundreds of [researchers] and keep their eyes riveted on their stock prices on NASDAQ,” Froguel argued. Instead, he said, the main priority should be to “give more muscle to public research” so that basic scientists can enter into collaborative research projects with industry—but only, Froguel added, “when it is desirable and possible.”

    Axel Kahn, a geneticist at the Cochin Institute in Paris who also serves as deputy scientific director for life sciences at the French pharmaceutical giant Rhône-Poulenc Rorer, warned that too great an emphasis on applied research could slow progress in biomedicine. “Most recent medical advances have come from academic research,” Kahn said. “The future for finding new drugs lies in a powerful and effective basic research effort.”

    Whether Allègre will adopt this prescription for France's ailing biomedical research effort will be better known next month, when the government plans to hold a Cabinet meeting to define the priorities for all of French science. But in his Le Figaro article, the minister promises a “mobilization” of researchers, university instructors, industry chiefs, politicians, and others to revitalize the nation's research effort. Says Froguel: “We have in France all the human, technical, and financial resources necessary to develop interactions between public and private research, to serve science but also our economy. It is up to us to find the ways to make that work.”

    • *“French Biomedical Research: What Policies for Which Ambitions?” Paris, 27 February.


    Faster, Cheaper, Better Is Also Harder

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Six months after losing the Lewis spacecraft in orbit, NASA last week canceled its intended companion, the Clark mission, before it even got off the ground. Agency officials blame themselves for failing to oversee the two Earth-monitoring projects adequately, but they say that the demise of these missions does not weaken NASA's resolve to build and operate smaller, faster, and cheaper robotic space flights.

    The decision not to fly the $55 million Clark vehicle, scheduled for launch this spring after a 2-year delay, marks an ignominious end to a 6-year program designed to show that NASA flights could be accomplished for a fraction of the time and cost of past efforts. Clark's older sibling, the $71 million Lewis mission, lasted just 4 days before spinning out of control last August. NASA Chief Engineer Dan Mulville is leading a group that is sifting through the twin debacles to identify lessons for future missions.

    The cancellation of Clark, a small spacecraft with a sophisticated high-resolution camera to scan Earth, came after several months of indecision at NASA headquarters (Science, 16 January, p. 318). Officials had long been unhappy with the performance of Orbital Sciences Corp. (OSC) of Fairfax, Virginia, the company that last year purchased the original contractor, CTA Inc. NASA officials cite OSC's failure to fix a host of technical problems and provide sufficient staff to handle those efforts as the primary reasons for the program's continuing delays since the CTA purchase.

    But Bill Townsend, NASA's deputy earth science chief, and other agency officials say OSC should not shoulder all the blame. CTA was struggling with the project before it was taken over by OSC, say NASA officials, who admit the agency's own performance also was flawed. The project was initially run by the technology office at headquarters; when that unit was abolished, Clark was transferred to the earth science office. However, the former head of the earth science office, Sam Venneri, remained involved in his new job as chief technologist. The confusing arrangement undermined what was to be a lean and mean management machine. “We learned that we can't expect the contractor to manage the project with just a little NASA oversight,” one official says. Venneri was traveling and could not be reached for comment, but Townsend says, “This was a bold management experiment to get out of the oversight business. But with 20/20 hindsight, we did not do a good job.”

    NASA is anxious to avoid a costly legal battle with OSC, which one agency source gripes “has more lawyers than engineers.” Faced with the possibility of a suit for reneging on the contract, and lacking an ironclad case against the company, NASA canceled Clark at the “convenience of the government.” That phrase means NASA is not officially blaming OSC and will not try to recoup any costs. “It's a very unfortunate learning experience,” says one chagrined NASA official. OSC spokesperson Barry Beneski declined comment.

    NASA will keep the spacecraft hardware and instruments, now at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and cannibalize them for use in other programs, says Townsend. “They own the satellite—they bought it—and they can use it as they see fit,” says Beneski, who adds that the company has dropped any plans to sue. The agency intends to use the Lockheed Martin Athena rocket to launch another NASA mission.

    An independent inquiry into the failure of the Lewis spacecraft, which is due for release soon, has also apportioned blame between NASA and a contractor. NASA sources say the inquiry faults TRW Inc. for technical flaws in the attitude control system that left the spacecraft vulnerable to instability. Those sources add that the inquiry also criticizes TRW for leaving the control room unattended overnight, when the spinning began. Had the control center been staffed, NASA officials say it is possible the satellite could have been rescued.

    TRW spokesperson Sally Koris declined comment, pending release of a report by a panel chaired by Christine Anderson, space vehicle director at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sources say that the inquiry also will criticize NASA for not providing sufficient oversight of TRW's efforts. The agency, for example, was not aware of the company's staffing plans for the control room until after the launch. “Our problem was that we had too small a management team,” one agency official says.

    Anderson's report upholds the faster, cheaper, better philosophy espoused by NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, the sources say, but finds that neither NASA nor TRW had a clear understanding of how to put it into practice. It also faults headquarters for trying to manage the effort. Townsend says that NASA hopes to share with industry the findings of Mulville's panel on lessons learned from Lewis's failure and Clark's termination.


    Dutch Pull the Plug on Cow Cloning

    1. Martin Enserink
    1. Martin Enserink is a science writer in Amsterdam.

    AMSTERDAM—In an unprecedented move, the Dutch minister of agriculture on 26 February put a stop to cloning experiments carried out by Pharming, a company based in Leiden, the Netherlands, that specializes in producing drugs in milk. According to the government, Pharming must desist from cloning cows until it proves that drugs from such animals are better than those made by other methods. The ban came a few hours after Pharming announced the births of Holly and Belle—two calves cloned from embryonic cells—and applies only to work at Pharming. In a pointed response, the company announced plans to move its cloning research to the United States.

    Several competing companies view cloning as a way to boost the efficiency of protein production in cows and sheep. Pharming currently uses a technique in which embryos are injected with the gene encoding a desired pharmaceutical protein and placed in another cow's womb. But this fairly haphazard method leads to many nontransgenic calves that fail to produce the target drug. Pharming is interested in using nuclear transfer to clone cows, because the technique could speed the process of growing herds that reliably produce drugs in their milk. Researchers could use cloning to produce transgenic embryos, screen for those that carry the desired gene, and then use cloning to produce many copies of the successful embryos. This would hasten research and development, the company says.

    The Dutch government, however, permits genetic engineering and animal cloning only when there aren't feasible alternatives in lower organisms and when the benefits to society outweigh animal suffering. Since last April, the government has required that all research proposals in the field—from public and private entities—be evaluated by a committee of researchers, ethicists, and animal-welfare experts.

    The experiment that produced Holly and Belle was performed under a temporary exemption while the committee discussed Pharming's research. In January, however, it advised agriculture minister Jozias van Aartsen to halt the project. The panel said that before Pharming can clone more cows, it must demonstrate that the cows can deliver better drugs than yeast or other alternatives can. Van Aartsen accepted the committee's recommendation and put the kibosh on further Pharming work in this area.

    Pharming officials say the decision cripples its efforts to compete with Scottish and U.S. labs that are also racing to develop cloning for use in producing drugs in milk. The egg-injection technique is not a viable commercial approach, says Pharming Vice President Gerard van Beynum. He says the company “has no choice” now but to move its cloning research to the United States, where it will be carried out with Infigen Inc., a company based in DeForest, Wisconsin.

    The government's decision applies only to Pharming's current proposal; it doesn't outlaw cloning per se. But it underlines the Dutch authorities' resolve to allow animal biotech only under strict conditions—a position that, Van Beynum charges, threatens to undermine the country's scientific strength. The government has abdicated its powers to regulate responsible uses of cloning, he says: “By chasing the technology away, you give up control.”


    Problems Plague Oak Ridge Reactor

    1. Andrew Lawler

    The Department of Energy (DOE) is investigating a series of mishaps and management problems at an Oak Ridge (Tennessee) National Laboratory reactor. The incidents, occurring over the past 9 months, prompted Oak Ridge officials in January to shut down the reactor, reassign the senior manager of the High Flux Isotope Reactor Facility (HFIR), and conduct an independent examination of the problems at the facility. A separate DOE review is due for completion 13 March.

    HFIR, which remains shut for a long-scheduled inspection, is one of two DOE reactors used in neutron-scattering research. The second, at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, has been off-line since late 1996, following the discovery of a tritium leak. Unlike the Brookhaven facility, called the High Flux Beam Reactor, the 32-year-old HFIR is used primarily to produce radioactive isotopes for research, medical, and industrial applications. However, 150 to 200 neutron researchers use the reactor each year for neutron scattering studies, a number that has grown in recent years. Both DOE and Oak Ridge managers say that HFIR's problems are unlikely to delay resumption of operations after the inspection is completed at the end of the month.

    Seven specific events since last June—none of which posed immediate danger to the reactor or the public—led Oak Ridge director Al Trivelpiece to shut the reactor on 6 January and remove Hal Glovier as director of the research reactor division. He is now a senior technical staff consultant at the lab. Trivelpiece then called in Harold Denton, the former head of nuclear reactor regulation at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to conduct an independent assessment. According to DOE documents, the incidents included maintenance problems with backup cooling motors, an electrical injury to a member of the reactor crew, and the failure to shut down a water valve in a tank that is part of the emergency cooling system.

    “The fact that there have been so many incidents in so short a time has really raised our concern,” says Iran Thomas, materials science chief in DOE's office of basic energy sciences. Denton's panel recommended that reactor personnel focus less on paperwork and more on day-to-day operations and that the lab improve the way problems are identified and reported. Its advice was welcomed by lab officials. “There was an inattention to detail, and there have been a lot of opportunities for staff distractions” given the inspection and the pending upgrades, explains Jim Ball, Oak Ridge associate lab director for advanced materials, physical, and neutron sciences.

    DOE, meanwhile, is wrapping up work on its own investigation, and the department likely will take a share of the blame. Thomas notes that the Office of Nuclear Energy is responsible for operating the reactor, while his basic science office foots the bill. “We're sending [Oak Ridge] mixed signals,” he says. Last year DOE concluded that such muddled lines of authority were a major reason behind Brookhaven's failure to note and fix the tritium leak. However, Thomas and Ball say that neither the Denton report nor the DOE study sees any reason to delay restarting the reactor.


    Brazil Wants Cut of Its Biological Bounty

    1. Elizabeth Pennisi

    A debate is brewing in the Brazilian Senate over legislation designed to ensure that Brazil's citizens share in any profits from crops or medicines derived from the biological wealth of the Amazon and other species-rich regions. Brazilian officials say they hope the legislation will encourage bioprospecting. “We want to establish rules to stimulate the use of biodiversity, not restrict it,” says molecular biologist Luiz Antonio Barreto de Castro, an official in Brazil's science ministry. But some scientists, while applauding the legislation's goals, warn that it could imperil field research in Brazil. The legislation “is potentially a real roadblock … to scientific progress,” says Smithsonian Institution biologist Thomas Lovejoy.

    The legislation, observers say, has its origins in still-smoldering anger over the collapse of Brazil's rubber industry in the early 1900s after Brazilian seeds were transplanted to Southeast Asia and used to start the region's booming rubber plantations. In several other instances since then, foreign organizations have claimed breeding or patent rights to Amazonian plants that might be useful as crops or medicines, such as the pinto peanut. According to Pat Mooney, executive director of the Rural Advancement Foundation International, a nonprofit organization based in Ottawa, Canada, Brazilians “feel ripped off.”

    The first attempt to reverse this trend and formally assert Brazil's ownership of native plants and animals came 3 years ago. A Brazilian senator from the Amazon region, Marina Silva, introduced a bill that would recognize local citizens' ownership of native species and mandate that any benefits derived from commercial uses of these resources be shared with local tribes. After a series of hearings, a more detailed version of that bill was introduced last year outlining a series of bureaucratic hurdles that anyone who wants to collect and use biological specimens in Brazil must clear.

    Supporters had hoped this second bill would breeze through the Senate's education commission later this month before heading for debate in Brazil's Chamber of Deputies. But it has encountered opposition. The bill “can have tremendous impact on research” by discouraging basic research by non-Brazilian biologists, contends geneticist Marcio de Miranda of the Brazilian Cooperation for Agricultural Research. “Depending on how much you centralize the power,” he says, the bill “could lead to a huge bureaucracy” of national, regional, and local offices that must sign off on any proposed collecting.

    Now Brazil's executive branch is about to step into the debate. It plans to offer alternative legislation in the next couple of months that would leave it to regulators to devise how to implement the bill's provisions. One issue that must be clarified, says de Castro, is how to ensure that local residents are rewarded for providing knowledge used to identify potentially valuable species. “It is very difficult to establish rights related to this knowledge,” says de Castro. Both the Senate bill and the government's draft version state that folklore has unspecified value—opening the door for local residents to receive compensation and have a say in what happens to their resources, de Castro says. But exactly how to do that is still a hotly debated issue.

    Biotech companies hoping to work in Brazil are watching with interest. If Brazil manages to lay out a balanced legal framework that empowers indigenous peoples but doesn't cut too deeply into a company's bottom line, it could stimulate bioprospecting, says Steven King, a botanist with Shaman Pharmaceuticals in South San Francisco. “When a country enacts clear-cut legislation, it makes it easier, not harder, to work there,” he says. Indeed, de Castro, who says he knows of several Brazilian businessmen now seeking capital and expertise for large-scale collecting ventures, predicts that “efforts toward bioprospecting will increase [when] we have legislation of this kind.”

    But some biologists who collect specimens for research remain wary. “I want these countries to realize the proper return [on their biodiversity],” says Lovejoy. However, he adds, during recent hearings in the Brazilian Senate, research activities were lumped with commercial and amateur collecting. That might lead to unduly harsh restrictions on research, says Lovejoy, who's flying to Brazil later this month to discuss the bills with government officials and legislators. Lovejoy acknowledges that Brazil faces a difficult balancing act: juggling the concerns of scientists with a desire to redress old wrongs and the need to return benefits to its peoples.


    Research Funding Cuts Restored

    1. Wayne Kondro
    1. Wayne Kondro is a free-lance writer in Ottawa.

    OTTAWA—The Canadian government has moved to restore 3 years' worth of funding cuts to the country's three research granting councils. The increases, part of the country's new 1998 budget announced last week, will provide greater support for graduate students and individual investigators as well as stronger links with industry and community-based activities. They are being hailed by academic officials as an important “first step” in ending a dangerous slide in public R&D investment. “I'm very grateful,” says University of Toronto President Rob Prichard. “But we have a very long way to go to reassert Canada's international competitiveness.”

    The new funding is part of the government's increased commitment to education at all levels. (A major component of the new budget, for the fiscal year that started on 1 March, is a $1.75 billion scholarship fund for some 100,000 students entering university.) And the granting council increases—reversing a 3-year trend and overturning a planned 3% cut for 1998–99 that was announced last year—are made possible in part by the country's first balanced budget in 29 years.

    The biggest beneficiary of this increased spending is the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), whose funding will rise 13.8%, to US$346 million. The Medical Research Council (MRC) will get a 12.1% hike, to $187 million, while the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) lags behind, its budget going up only 7.4%, to $71 million. Industry Minister John Manley says the government wanted to give each council the same share of the overall research pie this year as it received in 1995. But the government's network of centers of excellence at the time were supporting only projects in the natural and medical sciences. Since then, the social sciences have received $4 million from the program. So when the government moved to restore the 1995 balance, it in effect penalized the social sciences for its newly obtained network centers funding.

    At the same time, those allocations will be reviewed later this year for the first time in a decade, says junior science minister Ron Duhamel, in the wake of academic concerns about the status quo. In particular, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has called for a larger share for the SSHRC. It cites, for example, the fact that 57% of faculty are social scientists, yet the granting council receives less than 12% of the pot.

    The budget increases are a product of a strong Canadian economy. But they won't offset the effects of inflation, and they aren't quite as generous as the government claims. The Coalition for Biomedical and Health Research, for example, has calculated that the new funding levels give each council the buying power of its 1985 budget. “Ask any academic. It's never adequate,” says Frederick Lowy, president of Concordia University in Montreal. “There are flaws, but at least we're headed in the right direction, finally.”

    Ottawa says that the councils will receive $280 million more over 3 years. But that figure is calculated by recounting this year's increases twice more, as part of the boosts for 1999–00 and for 2000–01. In reality, the councils will receive increases of $67 million this year, and $14 million more over the next 2 years.

    SSHRC President Marc Renaud hopes to bolster stipends to graduate students and to open Dutch-style science shops in which academic teams work with community organizations to improve public health and boost scientific literacy. “It's not enough, but it's an occasion to get started on a few things,” he says. NSERC President Thomas Brzustowski hopes to beef up support for graduate students and university-industry partnerships with its additional funds. Some of the money will be used to satisfy increased demand stemming from infrastructure projects funded by the new Canada Foundation for Innovation (Science, 28 February 1997, p. 1256). The MRC hopes that its boost will reverse a declining success rate for applicants that last fall stood at 19.6%, the lowest in the council's 38-year history.


    Government Stalls on Dearing Challenge

    1. Nigel Williams

    LONDON—Last summer, within weeks of taking office, Britain's Labour government was handed a hot potato: a major report calling for fundamental reforms in Britain's higher education system. The government responded quickly on some issues and promised a full response on the rest by the fall. It took until last week for the Department for Education and Employment to issue its official response, however, and researchers were unsurprised to find that the main message was that the government needed more time.

    The department offered no decisions on most of the report's recommendations for university research, saying that these would have to await the outcome of a comprehensive review of all government spending, due to be completed this summer. And although the response contained supportive words for academic research, it shot down one of the report's main recommendations for funding university facilities and offered no substantial alternative solution. “The response leaves all the key issues unanswered and raises questions about the government's real commitment to maintaining a world-class science base,” says physicist John Mulvey of Oxford University, spokesperson for the lobby group Save British Science.

    The higher education report, commissioned by the previous Conservative government with all-party support, was written by a panel chaired by educational troubleshooter Sir Ron Dearing, now Lord Dearing (Science, 1 August 1997, p. 628). The report suggested some root and branch reforms, many with expensive price tags, to fund university research in the face of a huge growth in student numbers and growing pressure on existing sources of funds. “Expenditure on research in the U.K. compares unfavorably with competitor countries. The lack of increased investment by government in research is surprising over a decade when the opportunities for discovery and technological progress have continued to expand rapidly and global competition has increased,” the report said.

    The Dearing report was especially concerned about a shortage of funds for academic research facilities, which it said amounted to somewhere between $220 million and $1.1 billion. “Multinational companies are dissatisfied with the state of research facilities and equipment in higher education institutions,” the report said. “Some are relocating their collaborative projects with universities outside the U.K. as a direct result of decay in the research infrastructure.” Dearing suggested that the government should set up an $800 million loan fund financed by government and industry to make equipment purchases. “The fund would support departments or institutions with a track record of conducting top-quality research,” the report said.

    The government dismisses that idea, however, arguing that industry will be willing to fund infrastructure only on a case-by-case basis rather than through a pool. It offered no substantial alternative, however, and that stance has drawn barbs from both industry and academia. “We believe this is a matter of urgent attention now, and not after the deliberations of the [comprehensive spending review],” says a spokesperson for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. “Renewal of research infrastructure and equipment is now urgent: Unless there is a strong response by the government, a major national asset will be damaged,” says Dearing.

    The Dearing report also devoted much attention to Britain's “dual support” system for university research. Funds for infrastructure are distributed to the universities by the higher education funding councils for England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, while the subject-based research councils provide grants for specific research projects and part of the overhead costs. “The dual-funding system is creaking. We think it is a logical position that research councils fund all costs,” the report said. Accordingly, it called on the government to allocate an estimated $180 million to the research councils to meet all the costs associated with their research projects.

    In its response, the government says it “recognizes the strains” on the dual support system, but it has deferred any decision until after the spending review. A recent study commissioned by the Office of Science and Technology, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals suggests that the research councils will need much more than Dearing estimated to pay indirect costs—perhaps as much as $800 million.

    The government did have at least one firm response to a Dearing recommendation. The Dearing report argued for a new high-level independent body to advise the government on policies for public funding of research in higher education, on the level of such funding, and on the performance of the public bodies that distribute it. But the response says the government is “not convinced” that there is a need for such a body.


    As Mideast Peace Process Lags, Science Endures

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    Strife-torn Arab East Jerusalem is not an obvious place to find cutting-edge cell biology. Yet at Makassed Hospital, cytogeneticist Bassam Abu-Libdeh's team is screening cancer patients with an experimental technique so sensitive it can latch onto a single malignant bladder cell among millions of healthy cells. Even more surprising, the Palestinian group's collaborators—who analyze digitized images of tissue samples sent over the Internet—are Israeli researchers across town. “It's science, cancer diagnosis, and peace together,” says Hebrew University of Jerusalem cell biologist Abraham Hochberg, a former army officer who initiated what he calls the “telemolecular pathology” project. “I really didn't ever believe I would achieve such a thing.”

    The project, which also involves scientists in Germany, is one of about two dozen such trilateral research efforts—funded mainly by Germany and the United States—launched in the 5 years since Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization forged the famous peace accords in Oslo, Norway. By infusing money for labs and training at woefully underfunded Palestinian research institutions, these projects, totaling about $10 million in 1998, are providing crucial sustenance for science in Arab Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, researchers say. The mostly applied-science collaborations are also meant to help promote peace between Arabs and Jews—although the stalled peace talks have prevented such joint efforts from truly blossoming. “When we started out, we were hoping to strengthen and reinforce” the peace process, says Christoph Mühlberg, who administers a 3-year-old German-Israeli-Palestinian cooperation program run by the DFG, Germany's main scientific grants agency. But these lofty goals have receded, he says, ever since the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Itzak Rabin in November 1995 and the continuing tense standoff between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Yassar Arafat wilted hopes of a speedy and lasting peace.

    Other political problems threaten the frail scientific detente. Frequent clampdowns on Palestinians who want to cross from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel can make doing science next to impossible, researchers say. And strong anti-Israeli sentiments in Palestinian universities complicate efforts to find Palestinian scientific partners. “We don't have complete separation between politics and science,” says Naim Iraki, director of the UNESCO Biotechnology Educational and Training Center at Bethlehem University in the West Bank. Still, researchers on both sides of the political chasm view the collaborations as a vital scientific lifeline linking Palestinians to Israel and beyond. “Using science to improve the well-being of society sends a clear message of peace,” says Hebrew University soil chemist Yona Chen. “It's a good, strong bridge on which politics can step.”

    Shoring up scientific oases. The U.S.-supported projects are funded by a 20-year-old program aimed at promoting peace between Israel and Egypt. After the historic 1978 Camp David peace agreement between the former adversaries, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) earmarked $5 million in the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to fund joint research involving Egyptians, Israelis, and Americans. Called USAID's Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) program, the money—about $7 million a year—“has equipped an awful lot of laboratories and trained an awful lot of people,” says Josette Lewis, who directed MERC until a month ago.

    Since the Oslo accords in 1993, many MERC projects have begun to include Palestinians. Most projects are focused on applied problems in water resources, health, and agriculture. The DFG's program, which is independent of MERC's, sprang from its long-running support of joint German-Israeli research. It now funds 11 projects—including one in theoretical physics—to the tune of $5.3 million. Although publications sometimes result, sponsors don't expect the projects to yield a stack of research papers. “Clearly science is more the agent,” says William Malamud, a former consultant for Hebrew University in Arlington, Virginia. “We're probably not getting the best science in the world.”

    But many projects do have practical payoffs in sight. For example, a 4-year-old MERC project on the population dynamics of houseflies and mosquitoes that bedevil West Bank homes and Israeli resorts has led to strategies to curb the bugs, such as improved ways of handling their primary food sources: manure and fertilizer. In another MERC study, researchers are tracking how pollutants find their way into a vast aquifer beneath the West Bank, the only source of ground water for both the West Bank and Israel. The project “hits the whole issue of peace in the region,” says co-investigator Hosni Mancy of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, because access to water is “one of the most important and contentious issues.”

    Another aim of the collaborations is to help revitalize some 10 Palestinian universities, which were established in the occupied territories only after Jordan lost the West Bank in the 1967 war. After the Palestinian uprising known as the Intifadah began in 1987, most universities were shut down and professors resorted to holding classes in homes, if at all. With the end of the Intifadah in 1993, universities began to open their doors again but lacked money to teach students—let alone do science. “In [Palestinian] universities and institutions there is no money for research,” says Issa Khater, director of the nongovernmental Palestinian Consultancy Group.

    That makes the Western grants a lifesaver. For instance, at the Environmental Protection and Research Institute in Gaza, an independent institution, trilateral grants bring in about $700,000, a whopping 75% of its overall support in 1998. “Students who had no chance to do research are now working with very modern equipment and doing research at an international level,” says Iraki, who ticks off a list of tools—such as PCR setups, a spectrophotometer, a deep freezer, and an incubator—that his lab recently acquired with its grant to study nematodes. “It's very important in terms of developing scientific infrastructure. Scientists who were just teaching are now starting to be employed in research,” Iraki says.

    Political reality check. Despite their tangible benefits, the collaborations inevitably get bogged down in the region's everyday troubles. One often-cited problem is the travel restrictions frequently slapped on Palestinians. Although the Internet and phones help keep research projects alive, researchers say, certain activities—such as training grad students, attending conferences, and conducting field research—require freedom of movement. Travel restrictions altered the course of the bladder cancer project: Hochberg had initially planned to team up with a hospital in Nablus in the West Bank, but instead chose East Jerusalem because there's no border to cross. The DFG-sponsored team now hopes to expand to West Bank hospitals.

    Israel's security apparatus has also put the kibosh on important facets of other projects. For instance, the Israeli government has refused to share any of its extensive aerial surveillance data with the aquifer project, forcing researchers to rely on fuzzier satellite images, Mancy says. And agricultural scientist Jad Isaac, who directs the nongovernmental Jerusalem Applied Research Institute in Bethlehem, recalls the trouble his Palestinian institute ran into with a DFG-sponsored study aimed at finding ways to reduce the oppressive air pollution from Israeli traffic. When Isaac sent out Palestinian field workers to 37 locations to count vehicles for a few days last July, “it was a fiasco,” he says. “Some of them were arrested. Some were taken to jail. The Israeli army took papers and destroyed them or never gave them back.”

    A more insidious problem is that some Palestinians are wary of being ostracized by their peers if they work with Israelis. “Most of the Palestinians I know liked to keep it quietish,” says tropical disease researcher and MERC veteran Kate Aultman of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. “It's very much more sensitive today than it was a year ago,” perhaps because of heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Some Palestinians decline to co-author research papers because of the perceived stigma of working with Israelis. “We would like to see more joint publications, but at the same time, we … certainly don't want to suggest [one] compromise [one's] career,” says Lewis.

    Given these obstacles, “you just have to be absolutely committed and absolutely patient,” says Mancy, who worked with MERC for many years in Egypt. Mühlberg says the DFG is determined to persevere despite the travails of the peace process. The future of MERC is less certain; the program persists as an earmark that Congress adds to USAID's budget every year, and some say it's an unwanted stepchild of the agency, whose mission is development, not science.

    But as they wait for an enduring peace, scientists say they take comfort in the small signs of progress. Abe Hochberg says his group pulls together in hard times: “When there was a blast in Jerusalem, [the Makassed hospital partners] would call and say, ‘Our heart is with you, Abe.’” Those words alone are worth any political cost of keeping the collaborations alive.


    Partnering of the Red Sea Lets Scientists Bond

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    Collaborations between Israeli and Palestinian scientists often have to navigate choppy waters (see main text), but the German government's 3-year-old Red Sea Program (RSP) has had to withstand a whole series of ocean squalls. It's been buffeted by, among other things, arguments over money and a Byzantine research-permits system in Egypt that has slowed research. But participants now say they see calmer weather ahead for joint studies probing the diverse ecosystem of the Red Sea's northeast basin.

    The idea for the RSP came from two top scientists: Israeli neurophysiologist Micha Spira and German Nobel laureate and biophysicist Erwin Neher, who persuaded the German science ministry to put up $4.8 million to fund a proposal backed by Egyptian and Palestinian officials. Led by the Center for Tropical Marine Ecology in Bremen, Germany, and based at the Interuniversity Institute in Eilat, Israel, its six dozen German, Israeli, and Egyptian scientists, and five Palestinian scientists and grad students, are now engaged in seven peer-reviewed projects spanning plankton dynamics to marine neurotoxins.

    The young program can already point to a handful of achievements, such as using new sonar and video technologies to study patterns of zooplankton drift and coral reef ecology. RSP scientists have also identified key metabolic genes in the plankton Trichodesmium, a major player in the ocean's nitrogen fixation cycle that's notoriously difficult to keep alive in the lab.

    But RSP has hit plenty of snags, mainly in unraveling the intricacies of getting permits from various Egyptian ministries to work in that country's waters and collect specimens. At one point in 1996, all permits for the RSP were banned for several weeks, throwing a wrench in the program's plans for 50 ship days that year. Permits for this season were also on hold as Science went to press. “There's a lot of distrust, a lot of misunderstandings” between the scientists and government officials, says RSP office secretary Claudio Richter. At the same time, he adds, the officials are justifiably worried, for instance, about oversampling of unique microbial mats in Egypt's salty Solar Lake, the project's sole land-based project.

    Some observers are less than impressed with the program's political record, however. According to one German official, Germany handed over too much funding and decision-making power to the Israelis, who got most of the program's equipment and in several cases incorporated Arab scientists only after projects had been planned. “It's not a very good example of how you should initiate regional cooperation,” the official says. Richter acknowledges that “if you only count the dollars, you probably would reach the conclusion that it's unfair.”

    But money goes further in Egypt because living costs are cheaper, Richter notes, and when the Egyptians—from the National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries in Cairo—complained that much of the funding and most equipment were going to Israel, he says, the RSP did what it could to redirect some money.

    But with the bickering over funding subsiding, the collaborators say they are keen to forge ahead and even expand the program. Germany plans to fold into the RSP a bilateral marine studies project it has with the Jordanians in nearby Aqaba, Jordan. Also in the works is the first Palestinian marine science department, at Al Quds University in Jerusalem, with hefty financial support from RSP. “We won't change the big political picture,” Richter concedes. But “despite all the tensions, we are really now a community of scientists who know each other and come together.”


    Intimate Views of the Stars

    1. James Glanz

    By teaming up small ground-based telescopes, astronomers can capture details of nearby stars that elude even the Hubble Space Telescope

    If you want to see faint objects out to the edge of the visible universe, book time on the $2-billion-plus Hubble Space Telescope, the great eye soaring above the confusion of Earth's atmosphere. But if you want to examine nearby stars with a sharpness, or resolving power, tens of times better than the Hubble's, then sign on at one of the new optical interferometers. These ground-based arrays of small telescopes, costing as little as $1 million, can tease out such intimate details of the stars as their girth and close binary companions—details that no single telescope could image.

    Now is a good time to get on board: At a meeting of the American Astronomical Society here in January, a rush of new results presented by one team suggested that these instruments are poised to fulfill their astounding promise. The instrument showcased at the meeting, called the Palomar Testbed Interferometer (PTI), “is producing just beautiful results that show this is all going to work,” says Harold McAlister, director of the Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy (CHARA) at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Led by Michael Shao of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, the PTI team has traced the orbits of binary stars separated by less than a fifth of the Earth-sun distance, enabling the team to “weigh” the stars with exquisite accuracy. The team has also measured the actual sizes of dozens of nearby giant stars, gaining new clues to how these stars grow old.

    These results are just the beginning. Other interferometers are starting to yield results, and PTI is a test-bed for even more ambitious projects—“the groundwork for some truly phenomenal astronomy instruments,” says Geoff Marcy of San Francisco State University, who predicts that future interferometers may even be able to photograph planets outside the solar system. But the Palomar instrument has also delivered a lesson in the pitfalls of interferometry, which reveals the secrets of stars not in crisp images or spectra but in subtle interference patterns. Early PTI measurements had hinted that the first planet discovered around another sunlike star was actually a second, dim star (Science, 30 May 1997, p. 1338). But most PTI team members now think they were misled by a calibration problem.

    Close shave.

    The Palomar Testbed Interferometer traced the orbit of one of the stars in the binary system, Iota Peg, around its companion. In this circular orbit, seen nearly edge-on, the stars are separated by about a tenth of the Earth-sun distance.


    Interferometry, long a staple of radio astronomy, is a way around two stringent limits on an ordinary telescope's ability to see fine detail. One is related to mirror size: The bigger the telescope, the smaller the details it can resolve. The other is atmospheric turbulence, which smears out images and keeps large, ground-based telescopes from living up to their potential. By combining light from telescopes tens or hundreds of meters apart, an optical interferometer squirms out of both limits, mimicking a single telescope that has a mirror the size of the baseline (the distance between the telescopes) and is unaffected by turbulence. The result is a resolution of 1 milliarcsecond (mas)—1000th of a second of arc—or less. By contrast, the 2.4-meter Hubble is limited to 50 mas, and a ground-based telescope of the same size achieves only about 1 arc second.

    The advantages come at a cost. Instead of the image that an ordinary large telescope would collect, an interferometer captures light and dark interference bands, generated when beams from the separate telescopes merge. If the light source is pointlike—a small or distant star, for example—the beams meet “coherently,” with the crests and troughs of the light waves lining up to produce crisp bands. If the source is not a point—if it is, say, a binary or giant star—the coherence decreases by an amount that depends on the object's apparent size along the baseline. By making repeated observations while Earth's rotation reorients the baseline, an interferometer can capture the full dimensions of a star or a binary system.

    To do so, however, it has to cancel atmospheric turbulence, which can also degrade the coherence of the beams by corrugating the wave fronts of the light before it enters the telescopes. Undoing the turbulence requires readjusting the light's path lengths within the device every few milliseconds, with an accuracy of a fraction of a wavelength. Because radio waves have much longer wavelengths, radio astronomers succeeded in coherently combining signals from separate radio telescopes decades ago. But the challenge of doing so with light waves looked forbidding until recently. “Ten years ago, people said you could never [meet such tolerances],” says team member Gerard van Belle of JPL. “Now it's run-of-the-mill.”

    In the $3 million PTI on Mount Palomar near San Diego, something that JPL's Mark Colavita calls “a glorified trolley” keeps the beams in synch. Near-infrared light passes from the two 40-centimeter telescopes, set 110 meters apart, onto movable mirrors. Under the control of a laser-driven feedback system, these mirrors keep the beams as coherent as possible by trundling back and forth on rails, vibrating like a stereo speaker, and jiggling on mounts made of piezoelectric elements, which quickly swell or shrink in response to electric fields. The result is an effective resolution as fine as 1 mas—less than 10% of the Earth-sun distance seen from 150 light-years away.

    The Palomar group isn't the only one to try to realize this promise. The Sydney University Stellar Interferometer, which is nearly ready to begin taking data with a 200-meter baseline, will ultimately have a baseline as long as 640 meters, enabling it to make measurements as fine as 0.05 mas. And the Navy Prototype Optical Interferometer (NPOI) near Flagstaff, Arizona, will have as many as six telescopes spaced out along intersecting baselines as long as 437 meters. Like some other interferometers with multiple baselines, including one in Cambridge, U.K., and the CHARA array in California, NPOI is able to reconstruct actual images, rather than being limited to simple features such as the shape of an orbit or the radius of a star (see sidebar).

    Vital stats of the stars

    So far, the lion's share of results on binary systems and giant stars has come from PTI. One effort, led by JPL's Andy Boden, fished out the orbits of the stars in close binary systems. Boden first determined the shape and apparent size of each orbit; then he added high-precision data from other astronomers on the Doppler shifts of the starlight. This “train-whistle” effect reveals each star's velocity toward and away from Earth, making it possible to compute how fast the stars are whirling around each other.

    By using methods developed by other astronomers to analyze the orbital trajectories, Boden could then calculate the masses of both companions to within 1%. He was also able to measure the apparent diameters of the stars. Mass and diameter—along with temperature, which is derived from other observations—are stars' vital statistics, the numbers theorists need to test their understanding of how stars evolve. Such data are “few and far between,” especially for stars with masses less than the sun's, says Daniel Popper, a veteran astronomer at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If you don't know the fundamental properties of stars,” asks Popper, “what do you know about them?”

    So far, says Boden, the sizes and masses “are landing right where we expected them to be.” Likewise, the sizes of 70 older, bloated, and solitary stars measured for the first time by van Belle and others fall roughly in line with predictions based on computer models of how the stars burn successively heavier elements in fusion reactions.

    Pipelines to the stars.

    Light pipes carry beams from the two outlying telescopes of the Palomar Testbed Interferometer to the beam-combining building.


    But starting in the summer of 1996, it looked as if some of the first data out of PTI might undermine a different claim. A year earlier, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the Geneva Observatory had discovered, from Doppler measurements on an ordinary telescope, that the star 51 Pegasi was wobbling toward and away from Earth with a period of 4.23 days (Science, 20 October 1995, p. 375). An unseen companion is apparently pulling it to and fro. The observation gave only a minimum mass for the companion: 0.47 times the mass of Jupiter if we are viewing the orbit edge on, which would make the companion a clear-cut planet. But if we happen to be seeing the orbit face on, the companion's mass would have to be larger—perhaps as large as a star's—to explain the wobble. In work led by Xiaopei Pan of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, an initial look with PTI seemed to reveal just such a binary companion.

    Since that first work, notes Caltech's Shri Kulkarni, “we acquired considerable experience in the proper usage of PTI.” The team has now found, for example, that pointlike calibrator stars must be as close as possible in the sky to the targets so that variations in the atmosphere or the instrument don't mimic a moving companion. “The new data show no evidence that 51 Peg is any different from [a] single star,” according to Kulkarni. Because Pan did not accept that verdict, an outside panel led by CHARA's McAlister has examined both claims. “It's not a completely open-and-shut case,” says McAlister, but the panel agreed that 51 Peg's companion is most likely a planet and not a star.

    The disagreement makes a larger point, says McAlister: Interpreting data from these devices is still “a very subtle business.” But with new refinements in their observing technique, the PTI team now hopes to monitor stars for side-to-side wobbles caused by planets that are too small and have too long an orbital period to be detected with the Doppler technique—planets with, say, a tenth of Jupiter's mass and a period of 10 years. “I'm pretty confident,” says Queloz, who has moved to JPL to help start up the program.

    In the long run, PTI is merely a test-bed for more ambitious interferometers, including one that would link the Keck I and II telescopes, separated by 85 meters on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, together with as many as four smaller “outrigger” telescopes. The interferometers built so far can't see faint objects, because they consist of small telescopes that collect little light. The 10-meter Keck mirrors will change all that. The resulting interferometer might get a direct view of objects such as the 51 Peg planet.

    Looking still further ahead, JPL's Shao leads the planning for NASA's Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), a spacecraft carrying an array of telescopes that could watch stars for planet-hinting wobbles as small as 0.001 mas. “SIM will map the 'hood for all its sizable planets,” out to 100 light-years or so, says Marcy of San Francisco State. The Hubble has drawn eyes to the deepest reaches of space, but the new interferometers should pick up the hot gossip of our own neighborhood.


    Boom and Bust at R Leonis

    1. Andrew Watson
    1. Andrew Watson is a writer in Norwich, U.K.

    John Baldwin is hoping for some frosty nights in the next few weeks. They won't help his garden but could benefit his astronomy. At this time of year, frost goes hand in hand with clear night skies. And clear skies are a prerequisite for using an innovative telescope—set in a damp, low-lying field near Cambridge, England—to watch a star more than 300 light-years away puff up and shrink.

    In a dramatic demonstration of the power of optical interferometry, a technique for linking separate telescopes into the equivalent of a much larger one (see main text), Baldwin and his colleagues at Cambridge University have made the first-ever observation of regular changes in a star's size. The star in question, a variable star called R Leonis, changes diameter by up to 35% over the course of nearly a year, an amount that one of Baldwin's Cambridge co-workers, Chris Haniff, calls “outrageous.”

    The result, to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, “is very exciting in itself,” says Michael Feast, an astronomer at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He notes that it promises insight into the behavior of these old, bloated stars, called Mira variables, and how they eventually throw off much of their mass and turn into white dwarfs. But he adds, “I also think it's exciting for what it shows [the Cambridge interferometer] can do, and what is now going to be done by them and by other groups too.”

    Ordinarily, picking out detail on something as distant as a star defeats even large telescopes. The Cambridge instrument, dubbed COAST, or Cambridge Optical Aperture Synthesis Telescope, does the job by capturing light with four small mirrors—each just 16 centimeters across—spaced as much as 6 meters apart (Science, 16 February 1996, p. 907). By adding light from the separate telescopes, COAST simulates a telescope with an aperture of 6 meters and—just as important—is able to see through the atmospheric distortion that turns R Leonis and every other star into a bright smudge with even the largest conventional telescope. And because COAST has four mirrors rather than the two of some other interferometers, it can produce complete images of objects, rather than just measuring them along a single dimension.

    “We've followed the diameter of this star throughout its cycle,” for a total of 2 years, says Baldwin, “and we've seen that throughout a large part of its cycle, the diameter changes from being very small when it's brightest to being much larger when it's at its faintest.” The diameter varies from 450 times the diameter of the sun to 600 times, explains Baldwin, even though R Leonis is no more than twice the sun's mass. Its internal instability is thought to drive the cycle: When the star is most compact, its atmosphere dams up radiation, which forces the star to expand so the energy can dissipate.

    R Leonis is not just pulsing; it's also losing mass. One day soon, judging from other Mira variables, it will be down to a tiny fraction of the sun's mass, and Baldwin and his colleagues hope their observations will help explain how these stars shed material. The COAST measurements show, for example, that R Leonis expands at the rate of up to 10 kilometers per second, and Haniff suggests that the star might throw off material as it reaches its maximum size, when gravity is less able to hold on to the rapidly expanding, tenuous atmosphere. Another possibility, says Baldwin, is that the surface of the star is churning, with “large convection cells ‘boiling,’ so that mass comes to the surface in some great sort of blob and then is thrown off.”

    If so, the surface of the star might look mottled. “There is some small evidence for variations on the surface of this particular star,” says Baldwin. Checking out these hints is one goal for future observations, as is trying to capture images crisp enough to see signs of material floating away from the star's surface.


    Owl Study Sheds Light on How Young Brains Learn

    1. Marcia Barinaga

    Consider how a child learns a second language. Whereas adults struggle to speak a new language even passably, a boy or girl can pick up a language on the street and speak it like a native for life. The young brain, it seems, is a sponge for knowledge, primed to soak up skills and information with an ease and depth it will never match again. It's a capacity that parents and teachers would do well to exploit, as cover articles in Time and Newsweek and a town meeting last year at the White House, led by Hillary Rodham Clinton, have stressed. New results now suggest an intriguing way in which the young brain may store what it learns for later use.

    On page 1531, neuroscientist Eric Knudsen of the Stanford University School of Medicine reports that early experience imposes a “memory trace” on the brain that can lie dormant until adulthood and then be reactivated. Knudsen came to this conclusion from a study of barn owls that, when young, had learned to adapt to a visual field shifted by prisms fitted over their eyes. The trained birds, unlike controls, could relearn the task as adults—apparently because they had grown extra neural connections when they first adjusted to the prisms.

    Wise young owl.

    Prisms on a young owl shift the location in visual space (V) to which optic tectum neurons respond. Over time, auditory neurons shift the locations to which they respond (A), to realign the auditory and visual maps.

    ANNE L. KNUDSEN (left) and E. KNUDSEN AND M. BRAINARD (right)

    Beginning in the 1970s with the Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientists David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel, both then at Harvard, researchers have explored “sensitive periods” during an animal's youth, when normal neural connections are formed that produce binocular vision, depth perception, and other abilities needed throughout life. Knudsen's work goes further to show that unusual experiences can create extra links that may remain unused until much later. “This is very important, because it says there is a possibility of reactivating existing connections that were established [earlier],” says neurobiologist Carla Shatz of the University of California, Berkeley. “Even if those skills haven't been used for a long time, the learning is still there.”

    Knudsen studied the ability of owls to localize sounds in space. In total darkness, an owl can pinpoint the source of a sound—such as the peep of a mouse it may be hunting—by using cues such as microsecond differences in when the sound reaches its two ears. The roots of this ability are in a brain area called the optic tectum, which contains a set of neurons that respond to both visual and auditory signals coming from particular locations, allowing the brain to merge its auditory and visual maps of space.

    Owls' eyes are fixed in their sockets; the birds must move their heads to change their fields of vision. As a result, prisms placed over the birds' eyes displace the visual information sent to their optic tectum neurons. For example, if a prism shifts the visual image to the right, a neuron that originally responded to what was straight ahead is now tuned to a location to the left of center. This creates a problem for the owl: Its visual and auditory maps are out of register. “If you optically displace the visual map, you have to adjust the auditory map physiologically to bring the two maps back into alignment,” says Knudsen.

    In earlier work, Knudsen's team showed that preadolescent owls can do this: Within a month or so of wearing the prisms, the properties of the neurons shift so that they respond to sounds coming from the places to which the neurons are now visually tuned. Young birds can adjust to virtually any prism shift, an ability adult birds have lost.

    What's more, Dan Feldman in Knudsen's lab found that the neurons form a new set of connections as they adjust. In birds wearing prisms that shift the visual image to the right by 23 degrees, each responding neuron retained its original connections from auditory neurons, but it gained a second set of connections from auditory neurons that responded to sounds from a location 23 degrees to the left. When the team removed the prisms, the young birds again adjusted their sound localization, apparently by reactivating the old connections that remained.

    In the new experiment, Knudsen tested whether these previously trained birds can readjust their auditory maps to the prisms many months later, when they are well into adulthood. These birds were able to adapt, but adult birds that had never had prisms couldn't. “I put these prisms on birds that had been without prisms for half a year, which is a long time in bird life, and—Voilà!—3 weeks later, I saw this neural learning appear,” says Knudsen. “In the normal adults, you'd never see it happen.”

    The prior prism exposure did not give the adults the same wide-open adaptability of young birds. Although they could relearn what they had mastered when they were young, they could not adjust to prism shifts of other directions or magnitudes. That suggested they were limited by the connections they had grown earlier to accommodate the 23-degree rightward shift. The birds seem to “go back and use the old anatomy,” says Jon Kaas, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. “You can actually understand this in terms of altered anatomy of the system.”

    Although his data are entirely consistent with the reactivation of the old connections, Knudsen hasn't shown directly that the connections persist in older birds. But if tests he plans to do this year confirm that the connections remain, his system will allow researchers to ask new questions. Neurobiologist Michael Stryker of the University of California, San Francisco, proposes two: “What is it that causes these connections to be turned off after they are no longer useful, and yet to remain there? And what turns them back on again?”

    Even if it turns out that the physical connections don't endure into adulthood, says Berkeley's Shatz, the owls' early experience must leave some relic that explains why they can relearn the prism shift. Knudsen's system, she says, “represents a fantastic opportunity to study what the enduring trace of that early experience is.”

    Many neuroscientists expect that what Knudsen has found in the brains of barn owls will generalize to learning in the brains of other animals, including humans. It all reinforces what Hillary Clinton and the news magazines have been telling us: that exposing our kids to more experiences at a young age may make them smarter adults. Indeed, it may physically lay down the pathways for achievement later in life.


    Yemen's Stonehenge Suggests Bronze Age Red Sea Culture

    1. Heather Pringle
    1. Heather Pringle is a science writer in Vancouver, British Columbia.

    For decades, classical archaeologists focused much of their attention on the Mediterranean Sea, where Egyptian stelae, Minoan friezes, and Turkish shipwrecks reveal the rise and fall of empires and the skein of sea trade among them. Now, new excavations are offering the first, tantalizing glimpse of an ancient civilization that flourished 4000 years ago near another major Old World waterway: the Red Sea. Work by researchers from several different countries on the Red Sea's arid southeastern coast points to a complex culture whose people enacted costly rituals, possessed metal tools, and raised daunting megaliths at about the same time as Stonehenge appeared in Great Britain.

    In research currently in press in the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, Edward Keall, head of the Department of Near Eastern and Asian Civilization at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, presents preliminary evidence for a previously unstudied Bronze Age culture in coastal Yemen. His team members found the ruins of a circular prehistoric religious site, or henge, built of granite pillars weighing 20 tons. Buried at the foot of a fallen megalith, they discovered a cache of copper-alloy tools dated to between 2400 and 1900 B.C. And nearby, they unearthed fragments of children's skeletons from what appeared to be ceremonial burials. All this suggests a well-organized people living in an arid coastal plain once thought to have been almost empty at this time. “People had assumed that there was nothing there during the Bronze Age,” says Keall.

    Bronze Age networking.

    Discoveries at al-Midaman raise the possibility of trade between the famous Mediterranean cultures and those along the Red Sea coast.

    Other experts say the finding should draw attention to the dozen or so similar stone pillar sites scattered across western Arabia. “These sites have been sort of looked at, but not very thoroughly,” says Christopher Edens, a research associate in the Near Eastern section at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. “Now, someone has actually investigated these things and found this cache of bronzes, which is phenomenal for this area. I was floored.” Moreover, the new excavation, which has yielded the first date for these mysterious megaliths, raises the possibility that an ancient and unsuspected trade network operated along this stretch of Red Sea coast.

    Keall stumbled on the site, known today as al-Midaman, in March 1997, while transporting gear from work on a nearby medieval port. Taking a wrong turn along a local road, he encountered a date farmer, who led him to three granite pillars standing in roughly a straight line and towering nearly 3 meters above the desert sands. Other pillars, some granite and some of basalt, lay eroding on the ground or buried in the sand. “Stonehenge was the only thing I could think of,” says Keall.

    There are a dozen or so similar monuments in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but until now only one—Rajajil, in northwestern Saudi Arabia—had been excavated. Studied in the late 1970s, this dig was a disappointment, yielding no grave goods or bones and virtually no cultural material. And although relics of agricultural people from this time are known in the Yemen highlands, these sites yielded almost no metal, as might be expected of Bronze Age sites.

    Keall, however, was fascinated by the standing stones. With the nearest granite source in the Red Sea islands to the west or 50 kilometers east in the Surat Mountains, he realized that the henge represented a formidable labor. Either the builders had struggled for days to drag stones of 20 tons across the desert on rollers, or they had floated them to the site across water on a raft, then dragged them nearly 2 kilometers inland.

    He decided to investigate. Preliminary reconnaissance turned up a dense litter of ceramic sherds, fragments of sheep and goat bones, flakes of obsidian, and pieces of copperlike metal and carnelian beads, all scattered by desert winds over an 8-square-kilometer area. Some of the sherds bore scored symbols and closely resembled a pottery type fashionable in Yemen between 1300 and 900 B.C. But other fragments seemed more crudely made and so were perhaps older.

    Hoping to find ruins of what seemed to be a large settlement, Keall sunk a series of trenches around the henge. But the team found no trace of residential buildings, only firepits, broken cooking pots, and scorch marks in the sediments. There was so much domestic debris, however, that Keall suspects people did live there, in dwellings made of perishable materials such as reeds.

    Undaunted, the team continued to excavate beneath two of the toppled 3-meter-long basalt columns. There, they discovered fragments of three poorly preserved skeletons of children who were about 8 years old at death. There were no grave goods or clues to how they died. But Keall speculates that they might have been buried during funerary ceremonies and might even have been human sacrifices, given that the immense amount of labor represented by the stones suggests some vital and dramatic ceremony.

    A short distance away, team members unearthed part of the ruins of a huge public building more than 20 meters long. It was apparently built in a later phase of the culture, for its foundations included granite megaliths robbed from the henge and basalt columns uprooted from nearby children's burials. Seemingly empty of artifacts, the building is of unknown purpose and date.

    At the foot of another fallen megalith, however, the team hit the jackpot: a cache of corroded copperlike tools—daggers, adzes, razors, and javelin points—arranged around a block of untrimmed obsidian. The tools were apparently buried deliberately, presumably as some sort of offering.

    To date the unexpected trove, Keall enlisted the assistance of Alessandra Giumlia-Mair, an archaeometallurgist at the University of Udine in Italy. She analyzed the composition of 16 samples taken from the tools and their rivets. All the samples consisted of copper alloyed with small amounts of tin and arsenic, added to harden the metal. Some of the objects contained just 3% tin, others only 2% arsenic. The sparing use of these two alloying elements was a clue to the tools' age, because it is characteristic of Bronze Age objects made in Egypt, Syria, and Palestine some 4000 years ago. Objects made later contain more of these elements, but during this time some metalsmiths were still experimenting with adding tin, while others had scarce supplies, Giumlia-Mair explains.

    The team also found that the al-Midaman daggers—made with a double rivet below the tang (the part of the tool that fits into the handle)—closely resembled daggers from the Red Sea and Levant regions between 2400 and 1900 B.C. Taken together, the evidence dates the weapons to “the last period of the Early Bronze Age or the early Middle Bronze Age, say, the end of the third millennium or the beginning of the second,” says Giumlia-Mair. “You do find these sorts of shapes, these kinds of tools all around the Mediterranean at this time.”

    Romancing the stone.

    Researchers excavating a 4000-year-old megalith found a copper-alloy dagger (top) in ancient Yemen.

    E. KEAL

    While Keall is expanding the fieldwork at al-Midaman and in the surrounding region, he and other archaeologists are trying to learn whether all the megalith sites of the Arabian peninsula were the work of a single culture—and why they were built. The outer stone circle of Stonehenge was raised at about this time—1800 B.C., at the beginning of the Bronze Age in Great Britain. “There seems to be a phase in the history of people where setting up a giant stone for some reason was their cultural expression,” says Keall.

    Like Stonehenge, the Arabian megaliths may have marked particular astronomical alignments such as the winter solstice, says Juris Zarins, a Near Eastern archaeologist from Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield and a member of the team that excavated the megalith site at Rajajil. Some of the southern Arabian henges could have served as calendrical devices for the planting of sorghum, suggests Marcello Ranieri, an astrophysicist at the Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale in Frascati, Italy. “Prehistoric people had to have an exact count or calendar to establish which were those 2, 3, 4 days during the year to plant sorghum,” in order to benefit from monsoons, adds Geraldina Santini, a Near Eastern expert at Oriental University Institute in Naples. To check this theory, she and colleagues plan to map precisely the 900 or so stone pillars at Mohamdid al-Hamli, another as-yet undated megalith site on the Yemen coast.

    Keall and others are also wondering how the people of al-Midaman acquired the wealth and leisure implied by the copper tools and the monuments while living in a desert of scorching heat and scant rainfall. One possibility is trade in a valuable good. Keall speculates that it might have been soap, as many of the dunes at al-Midaman today are covered with a shrub that can be dried and burned to produce natron, a form of sodium carbonate that is a key ingredient in soap. And Zarins has found evidence that the ancient Yemenite traded with the Egyptians, who at this time had already mastered the building of pyramids. He analyzed the trace element composition of obsidian, volcanic glass prized for use in knives and decorations. He found that obsidian pieces from 5000- to 3000-year-old Egyptian sites matched samples from highland Yemen and the Arabian Red Sea Coast.

    The obsidian from al-Midaman itself has not yet been tested. But whether or not the megalith builders were trading all the way to Egypt, the new research clearly suggests that far more was going on along Yemen's western coast 4000 years ago than researchers once credited. “As archaeologists, we've been very Mediterranean-centric,” says Keall. “We have Egypt, Anatolia, the Levant, and so on as the heart of the ancient world, and [we considered] everything else on the periphery of that as marginal. But we may find in fact that there were other civilizations—maybe not earth-shattering like the others, but viable in their own right—elsewhere. And that's the novelty.”


    Habitat Seen Playing Larger Role in Shaping Behavior

    1. Dennis Normile

    INUYAMA, JAPAN—Most primatologists accept the idea that a female macaque's birth order is inversely related to her rank, that orangutans are solitary, and that male chimpanzees remain with their natal group for life. But data presented at a recent conference* here raise questions about all those bits of conventional wisdom. New studies offer evidence that nonhuman primates exhibit a greater range of behaviors than was previously thought, and that the environment—especially the accessibility of food—plays a major role in determining behaviors that were widely believed to be largely innate. “If [the findings] are true, it means rewriting the textbooks,” says Jim Moore, a primatologist at the University of California, San Diego.

    David Hill at the University of Sussex in England, also a primatologist, provided the challenge to conventional wisdom on macaque behavior. Hill has been observing a troop of Japanese macaques living under completely natural conditions on Yakushima, an island off the southern tip of Kyusha. Most of the previous studies of Japanese and rhesus macaques involve troops that are provisioned—fed by humans—but otherwise live in the wild. The difference in feeding appears to have a critical impact on behavior.

    Previous researchers had noted that provisioning brings the animals in closer proximity to one another and results in more aggression. A mother may feel compelled to look out for her youngest, and thus most vulnerable, daughter in the competition for food. This special attention would translate into a higher ranking for the youngest siblings within the troop, which would extend into maturity in such areas as feeding and not being a target of aggression. Several researchers have speculated about how this so-called youngest ascendancy confers an evolutionary advantage.

    In the Yakushima troop, however, dispersed foraging for leaves and fruit means that the mother's presence is not necessary to ensure that her youngest daughter gets her share. “We didn't see any evidence of youngest ascendancy,” Hill says. He adds: “If the mechanism doesn't take place in nonprovisioned troops, then it's a bit early to be looking into the evolution of it.”

    Tetsuhiro Minami, a psychologist at Osaka University, is part of a team that has tracked, for 36 years, a provisioned troop of macaques in Katsuyama, in western Honshu. Youngest ascendancy is common there, he says, and “if it's not seen in Yakushima, that would be very interesting.” But he cautions that one relatively short-term study is not enough to overturn decades of previous research.

    Carel van Schaik, a professor of biological anthropology and anatomy at Duke University, has found that food availability plays a key role in behavioral differences among orangutans. The solitary image of orangutans is drawn primarily from studies in upland and mountainous areas of Borneo, whereas van Schaik has studied the animals living in a swamp forest on the west coast of Sumatra. His research team observed as many as 10 adults feeding together in the same tree and even saw coordinated group travel, both patterns of behavior rarely seen among their upland cousins. “Borneo orangutans are consistent with the stereotype of orangutans being solitary,” van Schaik says. “The Sumatra [orangutans] are real partygoers.”

    The reason for the difference, van Schaik speculates, is that upland orangutans have to forage over a wide area to gather a sufficient quantity of the leaves they feed on, and there would be no advantage in hunting in packs for widely dispersed food sources. But sustenance for the Sumatra primates—fruits and insects—is plentiful in the swamp. There's even a correlation between food availability and the size of the feeding party. “Gregariousness is a function of habitat productivity,” van Schaik concludes.

    Harvard University anthropologist Cheryl Knott says her work in Gunung Palung, in western Borneo, supports van Schaik's observations. The orangutans she has studied can be sociable, depending on seasonal variations in food availability and other factors, she says. Even so, she agrees on the need for further observation to gain “a broader understanding of how conditions affect primate social behavior.”

    Work by Yukimaru Sugiyama, a primatologist at Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute, has broadened the debate to chimpanzees. The classic studies of chimps have been in Gombe and Mahale in Tanzania, where males typically remain in the natal group throughout life and females often leave and join a neighboring community. But Sugiyama has observed a different pattern over 2 decades of observation in Bossou, Guinea: Both males and females tended to leave the Bossou group as adolescents, and males were actually more likely than females to leave. Of seven males born into the group during the study, for example, only one remained past adolescence. Although Sugiyama has no hard evidence that the wandering males survived, he believes it is unlikely that such a high number would have died or been killed by poachers.

    Sugiyama also observed three different males joining the Bossou chimps and coexisting peacefully for varying periods of time before moving on. There is even evidence that wandering males can father offspring, perhaps by mating with females that wander from their group. Genetic tests indicate that the father of one now-adolescent member of the Bossou group came from outside it.

    In Gombe and Mahale, Sugiyama says, male bonding within groups is believed necessary to defend territory, and trespassing males are not welcomed by other troops. In Bossou, however, the group is not habituated to the need to defend its territory because it has no close neighbors who might try to extend their own domain. Another incentive for mobility is the fact that the Bossou forest, although a rich source of food, is small and may be near its carrying capacity.

    Anne Pusey, director of the Jane Goodall Institute's Center for Primate Studies at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, says that the Bossou chimps live in an extremely disturbed area and that such conditions may explain their unusual behavior. “In Gombe, we don't have a single instance in 37 years of an adult male joining the community,” she says, adding that the norm is for males to remain with their natal group.

    Others have also raised questions about the significance of the new findings. Michael Huffman, a primatologist at Kyoto's primate institute, agrees that many social behaviors are likely to be influenced by environmental factors. But others—such as mating preferences—are likely to be consistent throughout a species, regardless of habitat. “If you look long enough, Japanese macaques are still Japanese macaques,” he says. And Maria van Noordwijk, a primatologist at Duke University, questions drawing conclusions from small data samples. Hill's study, she notes, covers only one troop.

    The bottom line for all these researchers is the need for additional studies. And that takes long-term funding, which is always in short supply. The need to generate results in 2 or 3 years, says San Diego's Moore, forces researchers to return to the same small bands. “People have [difficulty] getting secure funding for studies of wild, undisturbed, initially unhabituated animals, where the most interesting results can easily take 5 to 10 years to start coming in,” he says. If that situation doesn't change, he predicts, questions about which traits are inherited and which are flexible could remain unanswered.

    • * “Recent Trends in Primate Socioecology,” 5–8 January, Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, Japan.


    Inflation Confronts an Open Universe

    1. Andrew Watson
    1. Andrew Watson is a writer in Norwich, U. K.

    It is not often that debates over the finer points of cosmology are played out in the pages of daily newspapers, but last week several British papers gave their readers a glimpse of a passionate dispute between some of the mightiest theorists in the known universe. On one side are Cambridge University cosmologists Stephen Hawking and Neil Turok, and on the other is Stanford University's Andrei Linde. Their disagreement—spelled out in reports awaiting publication in physics journals and currently circulating on the Internet—revolves around how to reconcile events in the earliest moments of the big bang with the other end of time: the eventual fate of the universe.

    Many cosmologists had long assumed that the universe contains just enough matter that gravity would eventually halt its expansion to give what is known as a “flat” universe. But recent astronomical evidence suggests that there is not enough matter and that the universe will expand forever, yielding a so-called “open” universe. Hawking and Turok have come up with a mathematical explanation for how a subatomic-sized universe can spring into existence, then transmute into an open-ended, ever-expanding one. But Linde is not convinced. A few days after Hawking and Turok released their paper as a preprint, Linde produced a long paper disputing their conclusions. This was swiftly followed by a rebuttal from the Cambridge researchers.

    Both sides invoke inflation theory, which proposes a period of stupendous expansion of the universe, starting when the universe was about 10–34 seconds old and lasting perhaps 10–32 seconds. Because inflation deftly tackles several prickly problems in cosmology, such as the remarkably even appearance of the universe in every direction, it has become received dogma among most cosmologists. Inflationary models traditionally favor a flat universe. But recent results, ranging from measurements of the recession of distant supernovae to the small changes seen in galactic clusters over recent cosmic history (Science, 31 October 1997, p. 799), seem to point to an open universe. As a result, some cosmologists, including Turok and Hawking, have been exploring ways of producing an open, inflating universe.

    “What we've found is a new set of solutions that describe the beginning of an open universe,” says Turok. The work—accepted for publication in Physics Letters B in just 3 days—combines a quantum equation for the universe proposed by Hawking and collaborator Jim Hartle in 1983 with a method of spawning an open universe proposed in 1995 in an influential paper by Turok, Martin Bucher of Princeton University, and Alfred Goldhaber at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

    But their solution has a glitch: The approach produces many possible universes, most of which are devoid of matter. To avoid this outcome, Turok and Hawking resort to a controversial fix known as the anthropic principle: If a universe is empty, there will be no one to observe it, so it is not worth considering. Thus, Hawking and Turok discard observerless universes and home in on those with the most matter. But they still end up with a universe that is very sparsely filled: Its mass density is a mere 100th of the critical value for a flat universe.

    Linde is not impressed. “This prediction tells us that we must practically live in an empty universe, which disagrees with observations,” he says. But Turok counters that the new result “applies only to the simplest versions of inflation.” He believes that a more complete theory will predict a mass density closer to 30% of the critical value—a figure currently favored by astronomers. Nonetheless, Linde describes their results as “disastrous.”

    Linde disputes the pair's use of the Hartle-Hawking “wave function” equation for the universe. “I believe this wave function does not describe the creation of the universe,” he says. Instead, Linde offers his own, alternative wave function, based on a quantum tunneling approach. In a paper submitted to Physical Review, Linde outlines how, when this equation is combined with the Hawking-Turok model, it predicts a flat universe. He also claims that his own recipe is capable of creating a whole range of open universes from inflation, yet it gives nonsense results if fed the Hartle-Hawking wave function.

    Turok contends that Linde's reply is “mathematically inconsistent,” adding, “I think what his paper has done is basically thrown a large amount of confusion into the subject.” Last week, Turok and Hawking released a rebuttal of Linde's criticism. However, Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who invented inflation theory back in 1981, thinks that Hawking and Turok may be fighting the wrong battle, attempting to recast inflation theory in a way that makes it work for an open universe. “I still strongly suspect that the universe will turn out to be flat,” says Guth, “because the models of inflation that give open universes seem to me to be somewhat more contrived.”

    Turok believes forthcoming experimental data will help resolve matters. “The cleanest way to test these theories is to look at the microwave background radiation left over from the big bang,” says Turok. “If the universe is open, and if the scenario we are discussing is correct, there will be a distinct pattern of fluctuations on the microwave sky.” NASA's Microwave Anisotropy Probe, due to fly in 2 years' time, is designed to look for exactly these kinds of patterns. So too is the European Space Agency's Planck mission, due to fly in 2006. So keep watching those morning papers.


    Bone Marrow Cells May Provide Muscle Power

    1. Elizabeth Pennisi

    As we age, many of us start hitting the workout trail to stave off the muscular decline that comes as the years go by. But people afflicted with muscular dystrophy or other such degenerative diseases don't have that option. Over time, the dystrophy gradually destroys their muscle cells, eventually robbing them of even the ability to move. Now, a team from Italy has provided preliminary evidence that it may one day be possible to replenish degenerating muscles with fresh cells from an unexpected source: patients' bone marrow.

    On page 1528, molecular biologists Giuliana Ferrari and Fulvio Mavilio of the San Raffaele-Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy in Milan, Italy, in collaboration with developmental biologist Giulio Cossu from the University of Rome, show that bone marrow cells can move into damaged muscle and grow into new muscle fibers in mice. The result overturns current dogma that muscles must depend on local cells to repair injury and are not aided by cells migrating through the blood from the bone marrow or elsewhere.

    Telltale blue.

    This muscle's blue nuclei could have come only from bone marrow cells.


    That has clinical implications. Terry Partridge, a cell biologist at the Medical Research Council Clinical Research Centre at Imperial College School of Medicine in London, says the finding presents “a whole avenue of potential therapies that didn't exist before” for muscular dystrophies. For example, researchers might one day be able to introduce a good copy of the defective gene that causes muscular dystrophy into the patient's own bone marrow cells so that they provide decaying muscles with a plentiful source of new—and normal—muscle cells. This might be easier than other strategies now being attempted, such as using viruses or injections of other types of cells to deliver a good muscular dystrophy gene.

    Mavilio and Cossu got their first clue that bone marrow might contain cells that could repair damaged muscle about 2 years ago. At the time, most researchers thought the so-called satellite cells that surround skeletal muscle fibers were the usual agents of repair in injured muscles, fusing with damaged fibers to repair or replace them. But because the new muscle cells that grow in an injured region can outnumber the satellite cells there, researchers suspected that other cells might also play a role in regeneration. No one had been able to pin down their source, however.

    The group in Italy began to suspect bone marrow after getting some surprising results in experiments aimed at determining whether fibroblasts, cells that normally make connective tissue, could also become muscle. The researchers had injected the forelimb muscles of mice with fibroblasts purified from various tissues. For their controls, they injected other types of cells, including bone marrow devoid of fibroblasts. They then chemically induced muscle damage in all the mice, expecting to see new muscle precursor cells, if at all, only in the mice that got the fibroblasts. But Mavilio recalls, “We obtained better results in the mice receiving bone marrow without the fibroblasts.”

    They began to wonder whether bone marrow might contain cells other than fibroblasts that can travel through the bloodstream to injured muscle to help with repair. Mavilio notes that there was already some evidence for the possibility. Two other research teams, those of Arnold Caplan at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Darwin Prockop at Allegheny University of the Health Sciences in Philadelphia, had shown that stromal cells—the support cells of the marrow—could be coaxed into becoming precursor muscle cells in lab dishes (Science, 4 April 1997, p. 71).

    Mavilio and Ferrari wanted to find out whether the same thing could happen in animals, but they realized that the experiment would require a very sensitive means of monitoring the fate of the bone marrow cells they were testing. Help came from Margaret Buckingham and her colleagues at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. For their studies, this group had created a strain of transgenic mice carrying a so-called marker gene that, when activated, causes cell nuclei to turn blue—but only in muscle cells. Thus, it could provide a way of identifying any bone marrow cells that had migrated to damaged muscle and turned into muscle cells.

    In her experiments, Ferrari transplanted bone marrow carrying the marker gene into mice whose own bone marrow had been destroyed by irradiation. Then, after several weeks, she injected a toxin into the forelimbs of these mice to damage the muscle there. Two weeks later, Ferrari found that the damaged muscle areas in nine mice not only showed signs of recovery but also had numerous blue nuclei throughout—the nuclei of bone marrow cells that had, when surrounded by muscle, transformed into muscle cells themselves. The results show, says Partridge, that “there are bone marrow cells that are perfectly capable of becoming muscle.”

    Everyone, including Mavilio, stresses that much more work is required to determine whether bone marrow cell transplants will be of any use to people with muscular dystrophy. Ronald Schenkenberger, director of research administration for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, based in Tucson, Arizona, cautions that while the mice used in the experiments in Italy still had functioning satellite cells in the damaged muscles, that's not the case for people with the disease. Without those cells, muscles might not be able to regenerate usefully even with the aid of normal bone marrow cells.

    The Italian team finds, for example, that the bone marrow cells are both slower and less effective at producing muscle cells than satellite cells are. The team is now repeating the bone marrow transplant experiments in mice that have the same genetic defect as people with Duchenne type muscular dystrophy to see whether the marrow cells can produce functional muscle regrowth in these animals as well. If they do, “that would be eureka,” Schenkenberger says.

    And if the cells responsible do in fact turn out to be stromal cells, the prospects for a useful treatment for muscular dystrophy are even better, says Prockop. Stromal cells, he points out, “are relatively easy to isolate and genetically manipulate,” and they will reproduce in the lab. A person with the disease would thus need to donate just a small amount of bone marrow, to which normal copies of the muscular dystrophy gene could be added. Once those cells had been allowed to multiply, they could be injected back into the patient, where they would grow into new and healthy muscle. Partridge cautions, however, that such therapies are “certainly not around the corner.”


    Landslide Exposes Roots of Io's Peaks

    1. Robert Irion
    1. Robert Irion is a writer in Santa Cruz, California.

    Fans of the Galileo spacecraft's exploits near Jupiter are well acquainted with the pockmarked face of Io, the Jovian moon where volcanoes spew sulfurous lava and isolated mountain peaks jut skyward. Now, a new analysis of images taken nearly 20 years ago by Voyager 1 reveals another kind of scar on Io's tortured face: a giant landslide. On page 1514, the researchers who identified the slide say it's more than another blemish; it may be a sign that movement along faults deep in Io's crust built many of its peaks. If so, says co-author Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, Texas, Io would be unique among the solar system's rocky moons in having this style of tectonics, which is common on Earth.

    Io's volcanoes have posed no great mystery. It is the innermost of Jupiter's four large moons, and its nearby parent exerts strong tidal forces that flex and melt the moon's interior to feed its volcanoes. But scientists have puzzled over Io's other prominent features: about 50 isolated mountains that tower above the surrounding plains like “rockbergs,” as geophysicist William McKinnon of Washington University in St. Louis describes them. Most of these scattered crags don't seem volcanic, leaving geologists wondering where they come from.

    The big slide.

    Voyager 1 reconstruction (vertical scale exaggerated five times) shows that an entire side of Euboea Montes (center) slide into the plains of Io.


    To help find out, Schenk and Mark Bulmer of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., reanalyzed stereo images from the 1979 flyby of Voyager 1 with an automated program, devised with the help of Brian Fossler at LPI, to calculate Io's topography. On a mountain called Euboea (“you-BEE-uh”) Montes, an oval massif that surpasses Mount Everest with a height of 10.5 kilometers, Schenk and Bulmer identified a remarkable feature: a 200-kilometer-wide fan of debris. This slide contains an estimated 25,000 cubic kilometers of rock, a volume rivaled only by possible mass movements on the flanks of the Olympus Mons volcano on Mars. It is 10,000 times bigger than the landslide that set off the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

    The slide gave Schenk and Bulmer clues to the churnings beneath Io's surface that create its mountains. The peak's slope and the height of the debris, Schenk says, suggest that a 2-kilometer-thick layer of loosely consolidated rock shifted into the plains, implying that formerly flat layers of rock must have tilted when the mountain rose. He and Bulmer reasoned that such tilting could only have resulted from crustal movements along deep faults.

    In this scenario, Io's volcanoes drive these movements by ejecting lava plumes from the interior so fast that they spread a layer of new material a kilometer thick on the surface every 100,000 years. “Such rapid rates of burial are bound to put a considerable strain on the crust,” Schenk says. As a shell of new crust subsides into the moon, its circumference shrinks, squeezing the rock until “something has to give way.” Schenk thinks these compressional forces thrust entire blocks of crust upward along deep faults, a process much like the one that lofted parts of the Rockies. “These [mountains] should pop up at random above the surface of Io as the lithosphere fractures,” Schenk says, noting that neither Voyager nor Galileo has found any pattern in the peaks' distribution.

    Although planetary scientists say that Voyager's coarse resolution of about 1 kilometer leaves room for interpretation, many find Schenk and Bulmer's model plausible. The detailed topographic data “cinch the story of the landslide for me,” says planetary geologist Jeffrey Moore of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Moore adds, “[They] deserve a lot of credit for developing a technique to get this topographic information.” But planetary geologist Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson, wonders whether other processes might be at work instead, such as buoyant floating of low-density blobs of crust or intrusions of magma from deeper within the planet.

    McEwen notes, however, that if Schenk and Bulmer are right, then Galileo scientists are in for a treat next year when the spacecraft makes close flybys of Io, imaging its surface at up to 100 times the resolution of the Voyager photos. “If these truly are tilted and rotated crustal blocks, that means Io has exposed layers of its crust to us,” McEwen says. “To a field geologist, that's wonderful.”


    A Dial-Up Quantum Reality

    1. David Kestenbaum

    The lenient laws of quantum mechanics permit a lone electron to be in two places at once—as long it avoids leaving a trace in its surroundings. Now physicists have built an environment with a knob so they can dial up the quirky quantum world or tune it out. The tabletop device, built by physicist Mordehai Heiblum and colleagues at the Weizmann Institute for Science in Rehovot, Israel, and described in last week's Nature, pulls electrons through two adjacent corridors atop a tiny microchip. If not watched—that is, if it can skirt through the hallways without interacting with them—a single electron will go through both at the same time and “recombine” when the pathways merge. But add something that can detect which path the electron takes and suddenly it cleans up its act, taking one corridor or the other like a rat in a maze.

    The Weizmann researchers rigged a kind of adjustable electric dam in one of the channels. By adjusting an electric field near the channel, they could, in effect, block part of the channel so that only a couple of electrons could squeeze by. Roughly speaking, the higher the dam, the more accurately they could tell whether an electron had passed by. Raise it, and more electrons should be forced to take a single path. “You can tell ‘Oho!’—one went by,” says Heiblum. Lower it, he says, and all the electrons should duplicitously slide through both channels at once.

    By watching the flow of electrons where the two corridors merged, the researchers could count how many electrons had taken the single route and how many had taken the double route. When they set the dam to detect 5% of the electrons, about that same percentage took a solitary corridor. As they lowered the dam, the strange hand of quantum mechanics took over again until all electrons were taking both paths.

    “It's a beautiful experiment,” says Ned Wingreen, a physicist at the NEC Research Institute in Princeton, New Jersey. In the everyday world, he says, the environment that kills quantum behavior is unfathomably complex, but “here, it's something you can understand perfectly” with the laws of quantum mechanics. That suggests that any environment is just a big quantum system, which brings up the strange question of whether the universe itself is forever splitting off, taking multiple paths at once. That's the logical conclusion, he says, “but it makes me ill to think about it.”


    Getting Ready for Prime Time

    1. Jeffrey D. Mervis,
    2. Dennis Normile

    For more than a decade, a surging regional economy has given the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines a chance to build up their countries' capacity to do science. The results are evident in labs and developments across the region, including a new university rising from the forest in Sarawak, Malaysia; a top-class volcanology center in the Philippines; a biomedical institute in Indonesia that draws on a century-old tradition of Dutch research; and a multimillion-dollar basic biology initiative in Thailand.


    Such developments have won an appreciative audience among a handful of researchers in the industrial world. But they are not widely known in the West, which pays at best sporadic attention to events in Southeast Asia. That anonymity ended last fall, however, when a currency crisis brought on by unwise financial management practices spread across the region and triggered fears of a global crisis. Now, the most critical issue facing scientists in all four countries is whether the gains of the past 10 years will be slowed, or even reversed, under the stringent fiscal measures being adopted.

    This Special News Report takes a look at what these four countries have been doing to develop their homegrown science—from creating a pool of scientific talent and injecting more peer review into decisions on research spending, to strengthening universities and collaborating with foreign institutions. Rather than focusing on individual countries, the section explores broad issues that stretch across the entire region. It is peppered with the stories of people who are setting down and carrying out the policies and the research that will allow their countries to compete internationally.

    We make no claims to be comprehensive in a survey this brief. Rather, our aim is to provide a broad-brush picture of science in the region, with some fine detail for emphasis and illustration. We hope that you will find the articles interesting and that you will share your reactions with us.


    Scientific Growth Faces Fiscal Crisis

    1. Jeffrey Mervis,
    2. Dennis Normile

    Southeast Asia has been pouring money into science to create a talent pool that can compete globally. Can those policies weather the current economic storm?

    KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA—IMAX films—the large-screen spectaculars so popular around the world—are a great way to draw people into a museum and teach them about science. That's why astrophysicist Mazlan Othman, founding director of Malaysia's National Planetarium, is so eager to use them to lure future scientists and their parents into her 3-year-old museum.

    At a glance.

    Indonesia's population is tops, but Malaysia leads in per capita R&D spending.


    But this year, she can't afford to rent a new film. The economic crisis that has rocked her country and much of Southeast Asia has resulted in a 20% cut in the planetarium's budget, and devaluation of the local currency has doubled the cost of renting a U.S. movie. Mazlan also has delayed plans for a laser show and other new exhibits, and she may not be able to fill staff vacancies. Her personal finances have taken a hit, too: Malaysia has cut the pay of all senior government administrators by 3% and canceled their annual salary increment. “Science usually suffers when there is a recession,” she says. “And this year the outlook is bleak.”

    Mazlan, a professor of astronomy at the National University of Malaysia (UKM), is just one of thousands of scientists in the region who are tightening their belts and hoping that the present crisis doesn't deliver a fatal blow to long-term plans to bolster science and technology. The dark financial clouds that have gathered over Southeast Asia follow more than a decade of bright sunshine for the region's scientific enterprise. As economies surged, government officials invested heavily in all aspects of science, including more and better training for would-be scientists and engineers and greater support for those already doing research. They also adopted new mechanisms for managing science, making it more competitive, more accountable, and more attuned to their country's needs.

    There are, however, distinctive differences in the scientific paths followed by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Malaysia's outspoken prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has placed science and technology at the center of that country's development plans for the last 15 years. He also has played a personal role in promoting them, from the grand vision of the proposed Multimedia Super Corridor—a 50-kilometer strip that he hopes will rival California's Silicon Valley—to the color scheme for Mazlan's planetarium. In Indonesia, a key figure in strengthening science is B. J. Habibie, an aerospace engineer with close ties to longtime President Suharto. Habibie has used his position as Minister of Research and Technology to create and oversee an empire of research agencies and companies; its crown jewel is a heavily subsidized aircraft industry.

    Thailand, stung by a cutoff of U.S. support for research in the aftermath of a 1991 military coup, set in place new grant programs that are models of transparency and rigorous peer review. And Philippine President Fidel Ramos, a civil engineer whose 6-year term is now drawing to a close, has refocused the government's attention on research after years of neglect during the country's turbulent transition to a democracy.

    Despite the vast differences among the four countries, there is a striking consensus about the need to change one aspect of the scientific landscape. In conversations with hundreds of scientists and government officials, a recurring theme is concern about the existing culture of science. “The real issue is not money,” says Triono Soendoro, a reproductive biologist in Indonesia's national development planning agency, BAPPENAS. “The culture has to be changed, but not by the research managers. It has to be done by the researchers themselves.”

    The present culture manifests itself in various ways, say Triono and others. One feature involves deferring to superiors and avoiding risks in plotting out a course of research. Work ethic is another important element. “When I was working on my Ph.D. in England, I would be in the lab until midnight,” says physicist Jazi Istiyanto of the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. “Here, at 2 p.m. people are gone; it's unusual to find anyone in the lab in the afternoon.”

    The right culture also means adopting a broader view of how science should be done. “It's not just developing a critical mass of people. It's training them the right way, to develop the right spirit and attitude,” says Jane Cardosa, a virologist at the University of Malaysia, Sarawak, speaking about students and staff in her lab. “I'm here to teach, and to help, and to catch them out if they try to cheat because they want the experiment to work.”

    The reformers are targeting a relatively small community. In Malaysia, the smallest of the four countries in this special report, officials from the Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment estimate that there are only about 2000 researchers qualified to compete for its major grants program, called Intensifying Research in Priority Areas. And a new fellowship program for advanced science and technology training at domestic institutions in those same areas made fewer awards than anticipated—only 156 in the first year. Even in Indonesia, with a population nearly 10 times that of Malaysia, officials peg the number of active researchers at about 4000.

    In Thailand, which already leads the region in publications in international journals, so few researchers are chasing the available money that “anyone with a good proposal will get funded,” says Vudhipong Techadamrongsin, deputy director of the Thailand Research Fund. That is why all four countries have expanded graduate programs and are sending young scientists overseas for advanced degrees or postdoctoral training. But it's hard to know whether they will continue to do so in the current economic climate.

    A related problem is a lack of public understanding of research—what it is and what it can do. Two years ago, an outcry from a coalition of Philippine citizens groups prompted national legislators to introduce a bill that would have outlawed all research using transgenic organisms. Media reports raised fears of mutant organisms escaping from laboratories. Department of Science and Technology Secretary William Padolina took the lead in educating Congress about both the benefits and risks of such research, and the bill was defeated. But it taught scientists not to ignore public attitudes. “Information dissemination has become an important part of our program,” says Mariechel Navarro of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of the University of the Philippines, Los Baños.

    Correcting such misimpressions is also high on the agenda of the cluster of national academies of science that have sprung up in recent years to advise their government and promote science. But their leaders admit that they have a long way to go. “Scientists are not very visible in public dialogue, and we are partially to blame,” says A. K. Zakri, deputy vice chancellor of the UKM and a founding member of the 2-year-old Academy of Sciences Malaysia. “We don't have a Carl Sagan or a David Attenborough to promote science or nature.”

    Mazlan tries to make a case for science with every visitor to the planetarium and with every undergraduate in her classes. “I tell students that they should enjoy what they are doing and not worry about how much money they can make,” she says. “And I tell their parents that there are lots of jobs out there for scientists, and their children can make a good living.”


    Strengthening Science: First You Need Trained Scientists

    1. Jeffrey Mervis,
    2. Dennis Normile

    BANDUNG, INDONESIA—Indonesian geologist Duddy A.S. Ranawijaya studies the shallow floor of the Java Sea. Some 18,000 years ago, he wouldn't even have needed a boat to get there: The sea level was 125 meters lower then, and the basin was part of a landmass that connected the islands of Java and Borneo. Ranawijaya, a researcher at the Marine Geological Institute (MGI) here, hopes that the sedimentation cores he extracts will provide information about the composition of the ancient atmosphere that could shed light on the factors driving today's changing climate. But first he needs help from the French government.

    Filling the pipeline.

    Each country wants more trained workers.

    “I'd like to go back to France” to get a Ph.D., he says, “because I need to learn a lot more about paleoclimate change.” [Ranawijaya graduated from the Institute of Technology at Bandung (ITB) and joined MGI in 1992 before going abroad for his master's degree.] “But it's up to the [French] embassy to decide what fellowships it will offer, and the current [science and technology] counselor is less interested in the hard sciences.” His plight is a common one for young scientists in Southeast Asia and the rest of the developing world, where educational opportunities are still limited. And the current economic crisis has made matters worse by making overseas training almost prohibitively expensive.

    The economic downturn has also made it harder for the region's governments to continue pouring money into training scientists like Ranawijaya and making the best use of existing talent. In the past decade, they have aggressively pursued policies—ranging from improving primary school curricula to changing retirement practices—aimed at creating a critical mass of scientists and engineers to help compete in global markets and raise the standard of living at home. Although most policies have numerical goals attached to them, officials realize that the process may also require a shift in thinking. “I think there is a change in moods about the role of science, although it may take a decade or more to show up,” says Teuku Jacob, a physical anthropologist and former rector of the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. “Other countries are promoting basic science—in Japan, Korea, and Singapore, for example—and if we do not follow, we will fall behind.”

    Devaluation and education. A quick way to educate a scientific elite is to send promising students overseas for training. But the recent plunge in the value of local currencies has suddenly increased the costs of that option. “Each year, we send about 600 people abroad for graduate training, at a cost of $30,000 a year” for each of them, says Mohammad Makin Ibnu Hadjar, secretary of the Board of Higher Education within Indonesia's Ministry of Education. “A master's degree takes 2 years, and a Ph.D. longer. For civil servants, the government pays all costs. While we don't want to stop sending them, we would like to train more people here. That would be good for our system of higher education, and it would also reduce costs.”

    Historically, Malaysia has been even more committed to sending its best students overseas, supporting some 15,000 to 20,000 a year in all fields and levels of higher education. But this year, in response to its currency deflation and the larger economic crisis, it will reduce the number of overseas government scholarships by 80%, saving money by educating students at home.

    University administrators are worried about the effect of the new policy, even if it exempts those areas where sufficient local expertise is lacking. “Malaysia's quest for knowledge, skills, and expertise must transcend national boundaries,” says Ghazally Ismail, deputy vice chancellor for research at the University of Malaysia at Sarawak (Unimas), which graduated its first class last year. “This is simply not possible if we are prevented from sending people abroad. I fear that Unimas will end up very insular in character.”

    The rest of the region is facing a similar dilemma. The Philippines' Department of Science and Technology, for example, last year began a program to send students overseas for advanced degrees. But recipients may need a special exemption to get around recently adopted cost-cutting restrictions on government-funded overseas travel. In Thailand, “the government barely has enough money to continue to support those [students] already overseas,” says Pornchai Matangkasombut, dean of science at Mahidol University in Bangkok. However, he says that the university will “dip into its own cookie jar” if need be.

    Rising enrollments. An alternative to educating students abroad is to beef up domestic universities and attract more students into higher education. Malaysia faces the biggest challenge: It has the lowest portion of its student-age population (age 19 to 24) enrolled in some type of higher education, a bare 3.5%. (Figures for the rest of the region range from 10% in Indonesia to 26% for the Philippines. By contrast, rates for European countries typically run from 30% to 50%, while the U.S. figure is 81%.) Under Malaysia's current 5-year development plan, the level of participation would rise to 5% by 2000. Government officials also hope that a majority—60%, compared with less than 40% at present—will decide to major in technical fields, although a new study by SRI International advises that such a ratio is neither achievable nor, in the long run, desirable, because it would shrink the eligible talent pool for other fields.

    Other countries are also pursuing a variety of strategies to prime the talent pump for science and technology. Last year, the University of the Philippines at Diliman doubled the size of its freshman engineering class as one step in raising by half the nation's annual number of new engineering graduates. Emil Javier, president of the six-school University of the Philippines system, also sees this growing student body, and their parents, as a potent lobbying force. “That's the kind of thing our legislature will listen to,” he says. In Indonesia, the government hopes to boost science and technology's share of undergraduates from a quarter to a third by 2000, as part of a near-doubling of overall enrollment in higher education in the next decade. Toward that end, it has opened 150 polytechnic institutions in the past 25 years.

    Of course, the quality of that education is also a major concern. In Indonesia, nearly three-quarters of students in higher education attend private universities, which generally offer a less rigorous curriculum despite higher fees and better faculty salaries (see p. 1474). Officials in the Philippines are proud of the country's high rate of participation in tertiary education, but admit the level of instruction is uneven. “There are 100 engineering schools in the country graduating 20,000 engineers, but 90% of those would be only glorified technicians,” says Roger Posadas, a physicist and the former head of the Diliman campus.

    The problem starts with poor secondary-level instruction, Posadas notes, particularly in science. A recent survey found only 4% of high school physics teachers had taken university-level physics. And there are no quick solutions. In-service training “is just a Band-Aid. The right approach would be to require a B.S. in physics for teaching high school physics,” he says. “Unless we raise the standards for teachers, we can never raise the standards of education.”

    Linking up with research. The World Bank is funding a cluster of programs in Indonesia and elsewhere to improve the links between education and research. One, called DUE (Development of Undergraduate Education), is aimed at 17 second-tier Indonesian universities, says Makin, while a second, called QUE (Quality in Undergraduate Education), “is trying to meet the same goal for the top tier of universities.” The oldest program, URGE (Unifying Research and Graduate Education), is a 5-year, multifaceted effort to beef up graduate education.

    In addition to offering small and large grants based on rigorous peer review, URGE provides young scientists with starter grants, pays a bonus to first-time authors for publishing in international journals, and encourages student participation in research. Although the program runs for another year, World Bank and Indonesian government officials are already hatching plans for a successor that's likely to combine successful elements from all three programs.

    “We're trying to change the system,” admits Chris Smith, an educational consultant in the World Bank's Jakarta office. “We want to give young faculty, often returning from overseas, the incentive to stay at the university and to work with students, as well as to continue their contacts with overseas scientists. … We also want to see the results of that improved training—a reduced time to degree for students, for example, or a shorter wait between graduation and employment.”

    The Philippines is also in the midst of an $85 million program, funded by the World Bank, to upgrade facilities—from 110 new science lab buildings for selected high schools to new equipment for universities—and support more than 4000 science, engineering, and science education graduate students. And Thailand has stitched together support from several sources for a major reform of higher education that includes boosting science and engineering enrollments. The country has coupled a $143 million World Bank loan to equip science and engineering labs with a $14 million grant from Australia to improve its management practices and help to update curricula and teaching methods.

    But even with more students receiving advanced training, governments face an uphill battle in convincing talented young people to pursue research careers. Indonesia's Ranawijaya confesses that his fellow ITB graduates “thought it was a mistake” for him to join MGI and instead went to work for mining and natural resources companies. Ruud Valyasevi, a researcher at Thailand's National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, says that many of his university friends chose private-sector jobs because “they couldn't see a career path [for themselves] in science.”

    Administrators throughout the region have launched programs to lower the entry barriers for young researchers. Outstanding young Filipino scientists, for example, can compete for generous grants by making presentations to a committee of senior researchers. And the Thailand Research Fund, one of the country's major funding agencies, established a special category for postdoctoral-level researchers, says deputy director Vudhipong Techadamrongsin, after officials realized that its mainstream awards favored researchers with a long list of successful publications.

    Gender equity. By most accounts, women planning to enter science face few hurdles, although some researchers say they have bumped against a glass ceiling on their way up the career ladder. For example, women make up two-thirds of the student body throughout the six universities of the University of the Philippines system, considered the country's top schools. And they head up five of the six programs at the Philippines' National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (Biotech) in Los Baños.

    Some suggest that Filipino culture actually steers women into intellectual areas, while men aim for more macho fields or at least higher paying positions in the private sector. Universities also provide free or subsidized housing for faculty families and schooling for faculty children near or on campus. “You can combine a career and household responsibilities without too much guilt,” says Mariechel Navarro, a science communications specialist at Biotech.

    Not every field is as open to women as the life sciences, however. “Men don't realize that women can work and think and do geology just as well as a man, and there is definitely still a bias against women doing fieldwork,” says ITB petrologist Emmy Suparka. In 1988, she was the first Indonesian woman to obtain a Ph.D. in geology, and in 1992 she became the country's first female chair of an academic geology department. Although she believes her country has an open attitude toward women—nearly half of the fellowships in one graduate-level training program go to women, for example—she admits that a gender bias exists within her discipline and throughout the university. “I found it difficult to advance professionally,” she says. “Our faculty senate is still a bit old-fashioned.”

    Clinical neglect. Another traditional barrier to a research career—low salaries—has hurt efforts to build up clinical research programs. “I was the first M.D. to return to Malaysia with a Ph.D.,” says Malaysian endocrinologist B.A.K. Khalid, who last fall was a co-recipient of the country's Scientist of the Year award. Khalid, a professor of medicine and director of the hospital at the National University of Malaysia (UKM), points to the disincentives for physicians to do science. “They would rather be cardiologists or surgeons because they can make more money that way,” he says. “Who cares about compiling a résumé with 200 papers on it when you could have 2 million ringgit [US$500,000] in the bank?”

    The 49-year-old Khalid, who returned to Malaysia in 1982 after extensive training in Australia, has been a pioneer in developing less expensive, domestic immunoassays for measuring basic metabolic functioning and for clinical use in the treatment of diabetes and other endocrine disorders. Last year, he stepped down as dean of the medical school, and he hopes within a few years to relinquish his other administrative duties and concentrate on clinical research. But the financial pressure to practice medicine is also strong. The father of three admits that he'd also like to have enough money to send his children overseas for the same high-quality education that he received. And he'll be at retirement age—55 in Malaysia—when his youngest is ready to go to university.

    The end of the pipeline. Indeed, retirement policies play a big role in shaping a country's scientific infrastructure. To cope with a shortage of trained personnel in senior positions, Indonesia recently raised the retirement age for civil servants from 65 to 70. In contrast, Malaysia's policy is a holdover from British colonial days, when the goal was to ensure opportunities for younger workers. But faced with the same lack of experience in the upper ranks, the government in recent years has given those who want to remain a chance to apply for a 5-year extension.

    For science administrators, the choice is a tough one. “The staff generally wants the retirement age to be increased, because they feel that they are still productive,” says A. H. Zakri, a plant ecologist and UKM's deputy vice chancellor for academic affairs. “After all, 55 is a very young age, and retirement is a scary thought for many people. At the same time, [the current age limit] allows us to weed out the deadwood.”

    Retirement is a long way off for Ranawijaya. His goal is to be as productive as possible over the next quarter-century and to justify his decision to pursue a career in research. “One of my friends has a nice car, a nice house, and his salary is many times what I make,” he admits. “But his time is not his own. For me, time means a chance to improve my knowledge, or write a paper, or supervise students. It's a question of motivation. I like to be able to explore a subject and to seek answers.”


    Agencies Embrace Peer Review to Strengthen Research Base

    1. Jeffrey Mervis,
    2. Dennis Normile

    JAKARTA, INDONESIA—Biochemist Sangkot Marzuki, director of the Eijkman Institute here, still remembers the first meeting to screen proposals for Indonesia's new competitive grants program. It was 1991, and Marzuki was chairing the panel on biotechnology, one of 10 fields that the government had highlighted for increased investment. Drawing on his 17 years at Australia's Monash University, Marzuki began to explain how the process would work: The 10-member panel of senior scientists would eliminate the proposals that were clearly inadequate and send out the rest for peer review. Then the panel would incorporate those comments into a second review and recommend to the government which proposals were worth funding. He didn't get very far. “The panel felt capable of making the decision itself,” he recalls. “The resistance was so strong the first year that we used only the panel, no outside peer reviewers.”

    What Marzuki was proposing ran counter to cultural norms in much of Asia, where criticism is rarely voiced publicly and junior faculty defer to their elders. It would also have meant opening up an activity previously conducted in secret by a handful of insiders. “Their attitude was, ‘I know the field and my decision is final,’” he says. “It's hard for people to admit that they may not be an expert in every area.” Yet, despite those obstacles, Marzuki's view eventually prevailed: Subsequent rounds of grants have incorporated more peer review.

    Marzuki's efforts to emulate the open, competitive research programs in the world's scientific powerhouses are being repeated across Southeast Asia. In the past decade, governments in the region have established a variety of new science and technology (S&T) programs and agencies, and they are distributing grants according to merit. And government officials insist that these and similar programs will remain in place despite the current economic hard times.

    Researchers say these new grant programs and agencies mark a real turning point. There was a sense that the old ways of managing science “would get us nowhere,” says Yongyuth Yuthavong, director of Thailand's National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA). That approach, he recalls, included “a committee of very senior people sitting around a table reading [proposals] and saying, ‘Shall we fund this?’ ‘Shall we do that?’”

    “Things changed because of the grant systems,” says Prasert Sobhon, a professor of cell and human biology at Thailand's Mahidol University. Scientists now not only get support for research, but typically the research grants include a salary component that allows professors to drop outside consulting or teaching in favor of research. “Science is more recognized as a profession,” Sobhon adds.

    A fresh start in Thailand. Some of these new programs came about as part of broader shifts in managing science. In Thailand, for example, the creation of the Thailand Research Fund (TRF) and the NSTDA in the early 1990s freed R&D funding from the red tape that was strangling the country's existing science agency. NSTDA consolidated separate agencies funding primarily applied research in biotechnology, materials science, and information science. TRF funds research in all disciplines, including the humanities.

    Both agencies have clearly defined procedures to review applications and monitor research progress, an improvement over past practices. A typical 3-year TRF grant, for example, has been reviewed by outsiders, presented at a seminar, and then revised further before the money is awarded. The researcher also submits annual progress reports. Whereas TRF is strictly a funding agency, NSTDA is also building in-house labs in each of its areas of focus. And those projects also undergo external review.

    Although Thai officials are proud of the country's new system of funding research, they admit it's not perfect. “We may not be able to find the right [reviewer] every time,” says Vudhipong Techadamrongsin, TRF's deputy director. But continued funding, even given the current crisis, is not at the top of the Thai list of worries. NSTDA's funding has grown sixfold in just 6 years, Yuthavong says, adding that even a 20% cut in the upcoming fiscal year “may be a good thing. In the last few years, we've had more money than takers.” TRF's budget has also grown rapidly to its present level of $10 million.

    Keeping score.

    The number of papers and citations is seen as one way to measure quality.

    View this table:

    The Philippines takes a STAND. That is not the case in the Philippines, however. Universities and research institutes have been starved for money during the long and turbulent transition to a democratic system. “Our budget now is the same as 10 years ago,” says Violeta Villegas, a plant breeder and acting director of the Institute of Plant Breeding at the University of the Philippines, Los Baños. And with more than 90% of the base budget devoted to staff salaries, there's little left for other research needs, including upgrades of equipment and building maintenance.

    Outgoing President Fidel Ramos, a civil engineer, has promoted S&T to reinvigorate the Philippines' stalled economy. Since taking office in 1992, his administration has nearly quadrupled the budget of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), to $97 million last year, including $20 million for direct research grants. The department, led by William Padolina, sets spending priorities through its Science and Technology Agenda for National Development (STAND), which has flagged biotechnology, materials science, and marine science as potential sources of higher value-added exports. DOST also reinvigorated five planning councils—industry and energy, agriculture, health, marine resources, and advanced science—that follow a peer-review process used by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

    Although the extra money is welcome, scientists say it doesn't go far enough. Edgardo Gomez, director of the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, says the institute gets only a third of its budget from government grants, with the rest a hodgepodge of mostly international grants: support from UNESCO to study algal blooms, a collaboration on giant clams with the Manila-based International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management, and Japan-funded studies of coral reefs.

    Experts wanted in Indonesia. Although Philippine researchers were generally familiar with outside peer review, the approach was new for most of their colleagues in Indonesia. Much of the responsibility for the new competitive grants program, whose Indonesian acronym is RUT, fell to Triono Soendoro, a reproductive biologist and bureau chief for the national development planning agency, BAPPENAS. (Its U.S. equivalent would be the Office of Management and Budget.) A physician who received his research training at Yale University, Triono joined BAPPENAS at the age of 37 with a mandate to reform the way the country managed its investment in research. “When I arrived, in 1990, we didn't have a system to select research proposals through peer review, which was a new concept in this country,” he recalls.

    Triono worked with B. J. Habibie, state minister for research and technology and a confidante of President Suharto. He heads the government's technology agency, BPPT, which receives about 30% of the government's overall R&D budget and which oversees funding for several smaller agencies, including space and atomic energy. While Habibie supplied the political clout, Triono enlisted the help of senior research administrators to sell the idea to his bosses at BAPPENAS. He also invited the National Research Council, created several years earlier to advise the government on S&T policies, to oversee the implementation of RUT.

    Indonesian researchers who have won RUT grants are enthusiastic. “Our success has come only in the past 5 years, when the government started supporting science through the RUT grants,” says physicist M. Barwami of the Institute of Technology in Bandung, whose work in optoelectronics and lasers is ranked by reviewers as on a par with the best foreign labs. “I had been interested in the topic since 1982, but I couldn't start assembling components until the RUT grant.”

    Researchers like Barwami may not be so happy when their grants come to an end, however. Early on, Triono decided to bar RUT grantees from a second award so that they would not become dependent on the program and other scientists could have a chance to shine. “After the grant ends, they should be able to go international with their work,” he says.

    Marzuki, whose institution doesn't compete for RUT grants, doesn't see it that way. “Triono sees RUT as a steppingstone to other competitive awards. But there aren't any that are equivalent to RUT. And 3 years is too soon to compete successfully for overseas grants.” The policy actually undermines peer review, he adds, by excluding proposals from the most talented researchers. As a result, he notes, only about 15 of the roughly 100 proposals his biotechnology panel has received in recent years are worth funding, and last year the medical panel endorsed only two of 76 proposals.

    Calling the shots in Malaysia. Similar debates followed the 1988 introduction of peer review for Malaysia's Intensifying Research in Priority Areas program, which represented the first significant pot of competitive research funds in the country. Because government officials wanted scientists to take the initiative, they gave researchers great leeway to propose projects. They also rejected very few proposals. “Because we wanted to build an R&D culture, we weren't too strict about quality,” says Fatimah Mohdamin, head of the science division for the Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment (MOSTE), who is currently studying for a Ph.D. in science policy at George Mason University in northern Virginia. “The acceptance rate was as high as 90% in the first few years.”

    By 1995, however, the government had changed directions and adopted a top-down approach, selecting 10 specific priority areas and requiring researchers to show how their research would profit the country. The success rate also plummeted and now stands at about 30%. “After a while, we realized that you can't go into new areas without direction from the top,” says Tan Sri Omar Adbul Rahman, science adviser to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who instituted the program. “Otherwise, the research will just move ahead in small increments.”

    Although the competition has become stiffer, the overall allocation has grown fivefold over the last three 5-year plans to its current RM1 billion (US$250 million) for 1996–2000. A more pressing problem is inadequate administrative support to oversee the grants process. MOSTE's secretary-general, V. Danabalan, acknowledges that a problem exists. “We are looking at ways to improve the process,” he says. At the same time, he says, the government's attempt to shrink the civil service precludes beefing up the bureaucracy. “I don't think that more people is the answer. But we are looking at outsourcing or some type of electronic system.”

    With more money not an option for Indonesia's battered economy, it's no surprise that some new grants schemes have been put on hold, including a plan to fund large collaborations in strategic areas. But Marzuki says he's still optimistic that the path carved out by RUT will become part of the scientific mainstream. “I'm happy with the way it's working,” he says. “And I think that we are slowly educating the community.”


    University Reform Seen as Key to Improving Research

    1. Jeffrey Mervis,
    2. Dennis Normile

    YOGYAKARTA, INDONESIA—Jazi Istiyanto hit the ground running when he returned to the University of Gadjah Mada (UGM) here in 1996 after receiving his Ph.D. from Essex University in England. Within weeks, the 36-year-old physicist and electrical engineer had teamed with colleagues to set up the new Reconfigurable Electronics Research Group and applied for a competitive government grant (which he won) to extend his work on microprocessors and advanced memory architectures. The research involves manipulating the wiring and structure of a microchip to fit a variety of uses. Istiyanto also has big plans to commercialize his work, including a joint effort with Telkom, the country's giant communications utility, and perhaps forming a start-up company.

    But Gadjah Mada, one of the nation's premier research universities, isn't the only place the hard-driving and enthusiastic young scientist hangs his hat. Istiyanto, like thousands of other Indonesian academics, also lectures at nearby private colleges to supplement his meager salary. What he can earn there for teaching one 10-week course (which consists of a weekly 2-hour lecture and a final exam) nearly matches his annual salary. Indeed, driven by the need to support his wife and three small children, Istiyanto spent his first year back in Indonesia teaching courses at eight area colleges in addition to UGM. Although he has since cut back sharply on his moonlighting, the killer workload isn't the only thing he's happy to escape. “The students are less motivated at a private university,” he says. “They don't want to learn; they just want the degree so they can get a better job.”

    Throughout Southeast Asia, academic researchers such as Istiyanto are key pieces in a puzzle that their governments are trying to assemble as they strive to improve their systems of higher education. The pieces include higher quality students, better faculty pay, a stronger commitment to research, and increased revenue from outside sources. The goal is to produce a technologically trained work force that will help these nations achieve sustained economic prosperity. That's a tall order for institutions that, in some cases, are quite a bit younger than the students attending them (see “Malaysia Orders Up MIT Clone” and “Carving Out a Culture of Excellence”).

    Role models. Individual scientists have an important role to play in assembling that puzzle. “Young people lack the models of research leadership, the grouping of talent around a well-known researcher. That isn't happening yet,” says Tan Sri Omar Abdul Rahman, a former university vice chancellor and, for the past 14 years, science adviser to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Biologist Phaik Hooi Tio had seen that lack of leadership firsthand in Thailand and Malaysia before she came to work with virologist Jane Cardosa at the fledgling University of Malaysia at Sarawak. “The head of the lab is important, because in Asian cultures we watch what our boss does. If your boss says it's OK to take it easy, then people don't work very hard.”

    A similar passivity affects many university administrators, says Triono Soendoro of BAPPENAS, Indonesia's development planning agency. Rather than blaming their problems on others, he says, academic officials should set high goals and then figure out how to reach them. “At ITB [the Institute of Technology at Bandung in Indonesia], about 35% of the faculty hold Ph.D.s—and that represents the best of the best,” he says. “Why isn't the percentage higher? They have to make the change themselves, to make a commitment to improving the quality of teaching and research.”

    That's what marine biologist Edgardo Gomez did more than 20 years ago when he was asked to create a marine science institute at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. Now, it is the only institute in the Philippines with an all-Ph.D. faculty, and it may be the country's most productive in terms of papers. His success, says Gomez, is attributable to a good staff. “I was able to get a bunch of people as crazy as I am,” he laughs, “who work hard and don't ask for too much.”

    Malaysian corporate reforms. Individuals like Gomez can only achieve so much on their own: Their efforts to create top-class labs are constrained by the systems within which they work. For most academic researchers, that means a myriad of government-imposed restrictions on how they interact with colleagues and the outside world. Malaysia is, however, leading the way in freeing its leading institutions, including its universities, from tight government controls. Although its primary goal is to trim government expenditures by shedding tens of thousands of civil servants, the new corporatization policy also frees institutions to create for-profit companies, revamp administrative practices, and otherwise set their own course.

    The University of Malaya (UM) took the plunge on 1 January, with several others close behind. “The idea is to become less dependent on the government, and to run the campus more efficiently,” says Syed Jalaludin, vice chancellor of the University Putra Malaysia, whose 35,000 students make it the largest university in the country. “It's not about becoming more like industry; it's aimed at reforming the university structure so we can work better with the private sector.” To ease the transition, which removes faculty members from the national pension system, the government granted them a 17% pay boost.

    For some researchers, the changes are entirely pecuniary. “It really means a way [for the university] to make money,” says Ali Hashim, a UM chemical engineer who recently stepped down as director of an interdisciplinary graduate institute on campus. “They aren't talking about improving research.” But others see the new rules as a chance to increase the impact of their work.

    Physicist V. G. Kumar Das, dean of UM's science faculty, has hatched a plan to share with industry a recently purchased critical mass of high-tech instrumentation—at a price. “The idea is to make it a one-stop center for industry. All the contracts and consultancies will be coordinated through one place,” says Das, whose term was extended 2 years ago so he could get his project up and running.

    Thailand has gone a step in this direction. National universities now have the option to adopt new charters that give them quasi-independent status, including greater flexibility on financial and personnel issues. But the universities have been cautious about exercising these new rights because of staff opposition. Pornchai Matangkasombut, dean of the faculty of science at Mahidol University in Bangkok, says that if serious moves were made to reform personnel practices, “hell would break loose for sure.”

    This leaves Mahidol with few options for clearing out deadwood. Although the university produces more publications than the rest of Thailand's universities combined, says Matangkasombut, “productivity is very poor,” an average of one paper per faculty member every 3.3 years. Older faculty members “have forgotten what research is,” adds Mahidol biologist Visut Baimai.

    Medical geneticist M. K. Tadjudin, who just completed a 4-year term as rector of the University of Indonesia (UI), openly admires his neighbor's moves. “We need more autonomy and more flexibility,” he says. “But the politicians are afraid that we would use the opportunity to become a private entity and raise fees and not be responsive to the public.” However, even in Malaysia the process falls well short of privatization, which would require universities to become self-supporting. The official goal is for schools to derive 30% of their operating funds from private sources within 5 years, although one top administrator says that achieving even a 20% share by 2002 will be difficult.

    Banking on change in Indonesia. Lacking authority to create his own revenue sources for specific projects, Tadjudin has still managed to build up expertise in strategic areas. Grants from competitive programs funded by the World Bank, for example, have helped turn around UI's computer sciences department. In doing so, its Western-trained faculty has emphasized a research-based curriculum that will ultimately also help the country's homegrown computer industry. “We were ranked No. 1 in the first round of URGE grants,” says Bagyo Moehodihardjo, dean of the computer science faculty, referring to a competition for large center grants that is part of the World Bank project. “The award boosted our confidence, because it's not common for a computer sciences department to focus on research.”

    Bagyo, who confesses that at one point “our program was so bad that we thought about closing it if we couldn't improve it,” says the key to the department's turnaround was to become more selective. “We made a conscious decision not to accept poorly trained students. We decided that anyone we admit should be capable of becoming a research assistant after one semester. And we changed our undergraduate curriculum to be more research-oriented.”

    The department's focus on attracting the right students is a critical aspect of building up a faculty because, as in most Southeast Asian universities, those same students often constitute most of the hiring pool. “You recruit them when they graduate as undergraduates. Otherwise, you'll never get them to come because the pay is so low,” says Tadjudin. It is also rare for faculty members to change institutions once they decide to become academics. “The main challenges all come down to a matter of quality,” says Emil Javier, president of the University of the Philippines system. “The idea is to expand and then put the pressure not to let standards slip.”

    Like his peers throughout the region, Tadjudin also laments a declining interest in technical fields among top students, who instead opt for business careers. While one silver lining in today's dark economic clouds may be increased interest in academic careers, that interest may be stifled by government efforts throughout the region to reduce their payrolls. Despite Indonesia's plans to have more students attend college, for example, the number of faculty positions at each university is frozen, and most construction projects have ground to a halt.

    The region's current economic crisis will likely exacerbate many of the problems facing universities, at least in the short run. But it may also spur needed reform. “They need to show some initiative,” says Indonesia's Triono about academic officials in his country—and, by inference, the entire region. “They are afraid of making mistakes. But that's how you learn.”


    Malaysia Orders Up MIT Clone

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA—Every developing country dreams of having a university whose faculty and students can compete with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). But Malaysia has gone one step further. Rather than simply trying to emulate MIT's success in world-class research and entrepreneurship, it has hired that university's engineering department to create a graduate university for the next century.

    The Malaysian University of Science and Technology (MUST) is a new venture for both sides, made possible by a 1996 law allowing the existence of such private universities. “MIT already has ties to universities all over the world. But this is the first time that it has helped to set up a university from scratch,” says Rudin Salinger, a U.S.-bred physicist and educator with long experience in Malaysia, who has been hired by MIT as its local representative.

    The idea for MUST came from a wealthy businessman and political insider, Datuk Effendi Norwawi. It won the backing of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who saw it as another way to bolster the country's technological prowess. Effendi's Ehsan Foundation is putting up $25 million to get the ball rolling, and the Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment has asked for RM100 million (US$25 million) over 5 years to help support its activities.

    This fall, MUST hopes to admit its first class of 100 or so students to pursue master's degrees in one of four engineering specialties—information technology and multimedia, transportation, biotechnology and chemical processing, and systems design and management—with plans to add fields, as well as doctoral degree programs, as staffing allows. The courses will follow MIT's research-based curriculum and explore real-life problems, first by teams and then individually. U.S. faculty members will tape lectures and send them to their Malaysian counterparts, and course material will also be available on the World Wide Web.

    Organizers hope to hire faculty from a pool of Malaysian scientists now working and studying abroad, particularly in Singapore, at salaries competitive with those offered by Western institutions. They also have pledged not to raid public universities for talent. “That would be taking from Peter and giving to Paul,” says MIT engineering professor Fred Moavenzadeh, co-director of the project. Even so, Moavenzadeh admits that talks are under way with two senior Malaysian academics—electrical engineer Zawawi Ishmail, now vice chancellor of the University of Malaysia at Sarawak, and astrophysicist Mazlan Othman, head of the government's space science programs—to be MUST's president and provost, respectively. But government approval is needed for the appointments of these career civil servants.

    Recruiting students isn't expected to be a problem, however. Tuition was set at a relatively low US$7500 a semester and was pegged to the value of the ringgit before devaluation, making it even more of a bargain at today's exchange rates.

    MUST will begin its life in rented facilities at SIRIM, the government's standards research institute. But work is already under way on a 40-hectare site near a high-technology park that's home to a factory for Proton, the national car. Indeed, government officials hope that MUST will open the floodgates to a flow of advanced products. “We hope that MUST will bring the tradition of MIT to Malaysia—teaching through problem solving,” says Tan Sri Omar Abdul Rahman, the prime minister's science adviser. “I think MUST will grow over time, and I'd like to see a few more universities like that.”


    Carving Out a Culture of Excellence

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    SARAWAK, MALAYSIA—Zawawi Ismail admits that he was “bewildered” when his country's prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, told him in 1993 that he had 5 months to draw up and implement plans for a new university here. The timetable alone was a killer. Even more daunting was the new school's location—a swath of secondary peat forest in western Borneo, an island separated from peninsular Malaysia by the South China Sea and by an even wider political, cultural, and economic gulf. “I had many sleepless nights thinking about how to create a culture of excellence in the midst of rapid change,” says Zawawi, an electrical engineer. “I had ideas, but I had to find a way to accommodate them to the political realities.”

    But Zawawi found the challenge irresistible, so he left the National University of Malaysia (UKM) to become vice chancellor of the University of Malaysia at Sarawak (Unimas). Five years later, a visit to the campus—sprinkled with simple, wood-framed buildings that provide temporary quarters for its 2600 students and 298 faculty members until a permanent campus can be erected down the road—provides ample evidence of how he has begun to create that culture of excellence. His performance has so impressed Massachusetts Institute of Technology officials that they are eager to have him head the new Malaysia University of Science and Technology (see Malaysia Orders Up MIT Clone).

    One Unimas innovation is teaching faculties that can cross disciplinary boundaries and reduce the traditional infighting between departments. The newest of eight, covering cognitive science and human development, is a novel response to a national mandate for universities to improve primary and secondary education. “We didn't want to confine ourselves to K-12 and university teaching,” explains microbiologist Ghazally Ismail, deputy vice chancellor for research. “Our graduates are still qualified to become teachers if they get a diploma, but they know a lot more about how kids learn than the average teacher does.”

    Zawawi also recruited hard-charging scientists to head three graduate research institutes that focus on areas of regional and national importance—biodiversity and conservation, health and community medicine (see Tracking a Virus and Making a Point), and software technology. State officials have lent a hand by endowing two research chairs, one on the economically valuable sago palm crop and the other on medicinal chemistry to exploit a potentially active anti-AIDS agent found in rubber trees.

    In addition to building up research capacity, Zawawi sunk a major chunk of his infrastructure budget into fiber-optic cables to lower the barriers to communication across campus—and, by extension, between Sarawak and the rest of the world. “From Day 1 the idea was to get connected, as quickly and thoroughly as possible,” says Zaidah Razak, dean of the information technology faculty. Zaidah and her husband, Zahran Halim, director of software technology, left academic posts in New Zealand for the chance “to break new ground and test new models.”

    Zawawi also tries hard to send the right message to potential faculty members. “We are willing to share some of their dreams,” he says about his sales pitch. “We can offer them a high quality of life and the natural beauty of the region. The isolation, in fact, has provided us with a sense of camaraderie.” Faculty members who have signed on seem to agree, noting the freedom to pursue their ideas and the relative absence of bureaucratic barriers.

    That harmony may also be a result of self-selection. “You have to be a pioneer-type personality,” says Ghazally, a former UKM professor and administrator who also helped to build up the school's branch campus in the neighboring state of Sabah before coming to Unimas. “You need to have a strong vision and the energy to create something that can make a difference. That's what we're all trying to do here.”


    Lopsided Partnerships Give Way to Real Collaboration

    1. Jeffrey Mervis,
    2. Dennis Normile

    LOS BAÑOS, THE PHILIPPINES—When the Ford and Rockefeller foundations joined hands in 1960 to establish the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) here, in the heart of this country's rice bowl, they designed a well-appointed, self-contained facility with its own laboratories, test fields, housing, and recreational opportunities for the dozens of First World scientists hired to lead the effort. The foundations had little choice: The Philippines' own scientific infrastructure was too weak to offer much help.

    By 1977, when the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM) set up shop in Manila, the country's scientific capabilities had improved to the point where a couple of floors of downtown office space could suffice for its administrative needs. That's because the center's scientists do most of their research in labs across the country and around the region—working with another Philippine research institute to improve the tilapia fish genetically, for instance, or with the James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, to cultivate giant clams.

    Jump ahead another generation, to the 1993 founding of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Bogor, Indonesia, and the trend is even clearer. With regional offices in southern Africa and Latin America, CIFOR's 35 scientists spend most of their time on the road, collaborating with 800 scientists around the world.

    These three centers—all members of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a global network supported by 42 countries—reflect both the old and the new waves of international collaboration with scientists in the region. Such joint efforts have trained local scientists, strengthened their institutions, and helped both earn credibility—and funding—from their own governments. They also provide unique opportunities for outside scientists. But these links can foster dependency on outside sources of funding and isolate researchers from their own governments. And bureaucratic red tape can frustrate the best intentioned collaborations.

    In many respects, the CGIAR centers have led the way in helping to build up local scientific capacities. F. A. Bernardo, an adviser to IRRI, proudly ticks off a list of alumni that includes the undersecretary of agriculture in Egypt, the secretary-general of the Ministry of Agriculture in Indonesia, Laos's Minister of Agriculture, and the head of research for the Ministry of Agriculture in Vietnam. But training is also a component of direct research collaborations. “We've tried to be an institute without walls,” says Meryl Williams, ICLARM's director-general. Adds Neil Byron, CIFOR's assistant director-general and an Australian-born natural-resource economist, “We think these long-term alliances are the only way to meet the technological, social, and economic needs of the region.”

    Follow the leader. But IRRI's influence on scientific development in the Philippines has had its drawbacks, too. For example, it wasn't until 1986 that the Philippines established its own rice research institute to focus on problems particular to its environment. “We had the mistaken notion that there was no need to do rice research because IRRI was here,” says William Padolina, secretary of the Philippines' Department of Science and Technology. “We lost a lot of opportunities in the past by not taking advantage of IRRI's presence.”

    Thailand has also experienced the pluses and minuses of international collaborations. Mahidol University in Bangkok was strictly a medical college until the mid-1960s, when it was given a charter to expand to a full-fledged university. In the early 1970s, using Rockefeller grants, it brought in a number of foreign, primarily U.S., academics on temporary appointments to develop graduate curricula and start up research activities. That focus has remained even after the foreigners left: Mahidol officials boast that their school accounts for more than half of all of Thailand's scientific papers published in international journals.

    But Thailand's dependence on U.S. aid, which fueled much of the country's research activities in the 1980s, was made painfully clear when that aid was cut off after a military coup in 1991. At about $30 million annually, it was the largest source of grant support for university researchers, who would have been left high and dry if the Thai government hadn't stepped in quickly with its own money. “That made policy-makers in Thailand realize that for science, you can't depend on the foreign policy of another country,” says Yongyuth Yuthavong, director of Thailand's National Science and Technology Development Agency, which was formed in response to that need.

    Building up local scientific capacity can help overcome such dependency, and it can also lend credibility to international projects. Notes CIFOR's Byron: “It's better for a group of scientists to go to their government and say, ‘We came up with this solution to our problem, as part of an international team of scientists, and we think it should be adopted,’ than to say that some outsiders did this and now they are trying to tell us what we have to do.” It's even better if a local scientist takes the initiative and sells it to an international organization.

    Mounting a fresh effort. That's what happened in the case of a $14 million biodiversity project now under way at the Bogor (Indonesia) Herbarium. The 5-year effort to upgrade a 2-million-specimen plant collection, which will also train 50 taxonomists, is being funded jointly by Indonesia and the Global Environmental Fund (GEF), a $2 billion pot of money created by the industrialized nations in 1993 and managed by the World Bank. In addition to remounting and rehousing the specimens, which date back to 1817, information about them is being put into a computer database with a tailor-made search engine accessible to scientists worldwide. “The purpose is to preserve Indonesian biodiversity,” says Mien Rifai, former head of the herbarium and now an official with the Ministry of Research and Technology. “In the past, everything was done manually and by memory. Now, it will be available to everyone, and we will have the capacity to do research, too.”

    Down the road from the herbarium is another transnational project, the Southeast Asian Impacts Center, that has both benefited and been constrained by its international roots. The center, headed by Indonesian meteorologist and forester Daniel Murdiyarso, was established in 1995 with a $2.1 million grant from Australia. It is affiliated with a Southeast Asian regional center on tropical biology and is part of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP), a collection of long-term, global scientific projects.

    The center wins points from outside scientists for its willingness to join forces to monitor the impact of global change on terrestrial ecosystems—especially on forestry, agriculture, and natural resources—and to help policy-makers translate those scientific findings into sound policy. “Dan is brilliant,” says fire ecologist Johann Goldhammer of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Freiburg, Germany, who leads another IGBP project that monitors the impact of tropical forest fires on the atmosphere and biosphere and is trying to launch a Southeast Asian version of the experiment, called SEAFIRE. “He's open to new ideas, and he's easy to work with. If we had more people like Dan, we'd make a lot more progress.”

    But the center's reliance on foreign support makes it an outsider on politically sensitive issues—such as land use and sustainable development—that trigger heavy-duty bureaucratic turf wars, notes Goldhammer. And its informal ties to Indonesia's environmental ministry are of little value in such battles, Murdiyarso admits. “The Ministry of Environment is limited to air and water pollution, and it hasn't gotten very involved in global change. And even though the ministry is coordinating Agenda 21 activities [stemming from the 1992 U.N. Earth Summit in Rio], it isn't the implementing agency. There is really no coordinated effort.”

    Taking time. Making the right connection is vital for an effective collaboration. Typically, outside research projects must strike a chord with local scientists and also satisfy some national need. The plot thickens when the work involves areas of military significance, such as seabeds and coastlines, or national treasures, including coral reefs and fossils. Indonesia can be an especially difficult place to arrange joint research, say many scientists, because of the country's sluggish and often opaque bureaucracy. The problem can become acute if foreign scientists are on a tight deadline.

    “It's not hard to get a permit for research, as long as you give us sufficient time—at least 6 months in advance,” says Indroyono Soesilo, deputy director for natural resource development at BPPT, the government's chief technology agency. Part of the reason for the delay, agree both local and foreign scientists, is that the agency handling the requests, the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (LIPI), must consult with other, more powerful government bodies before a decision is made. And agency officials admit that the process can be frustrating.

    “LIPI is not the only actor. And if one member of the committee doesn't agree, then we cannot give our approval,” says Suparka, LIPI vice chair and former head of its geotechnology center in Bandung. “And sometimes the decision is not based on rational grounds. I'm a geologist, and 10 years ago I bought a GPS [global positioning system] receiver and showed it to the military. They said, ‘Now you can give the exact location of our office to the enemy, so he can target a missile to hit us.’ They didn't understand that it was an important scientific tool.”

    However, another type of threat to a country's national security can cement a collaboration. Raymundo Punongbayan, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, proudly points to a hefty volume of the collected papers that resulted from joint studies of the phenomenal eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, done in cooperation with scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey. The collaboration began when the volcano first started rumbling and is still continuing. “They brought state-of-the-art equipment, but we were working together to set it up and interpret the data,” Punongbayan says. Volcanologist Chris Newhall, of the University of Washington, agrees: “It was truly a joint effort.”

    Some foreign scientists have taken collaboration one step further by joining the local institutions with which they have worked. For such hired scientific guns, the natural resources of the area are a major attraction. “I love to be in the forest,” says Stuart Davies, a recent Harvard Ph.D. who took a job at the University of Malaysia at Sarawak after completing his thesis on how plant communities in a nearby national park respond to both human and natural disturbances. Davies, who is advising three local master's students, says “There's really no longer any excuse, if there ever was, for our research not to be as good as anybody else's anywhere in the world.”

    For Davies and others, the long-term goal is to make the local scientific infrastructure as strong as the one in which they were trained. That would bring the region full circle from the days when two philanthropies had to build a research establishment from the ground up. Or as Salleh Mohd. Nor, executive director of TropBio Research, a Malaysian plant biotechnology company, puts it, “Robbing other countries of the best scientists should not be an American monopoly.”


    Counting on Technology for Help Up the Economic Ladder

    1. Jeffrey Mervis,
    2. Dennis Normile

    LOS BAÑOS, THE PHILIPPINES—The coconut-oil processing plant chugging away on campus is decidedly low-tech: It first dries and grinds the coconut meat and then presses the pulp to extract the milky-white oil. Yet its simplicity is what most pleases the machine's developer, Ernesto Lozada, dean of the college of engineering at the University of the Philippines, Los Baños. Local machine shops can make it, and workers can learn quickly how to operate it. Most importantly, the 15 agricultural cooperatives that have set up similar mills over the past 2 years now have an alternative to selling their raw coconuts to giant international traders. And selling a processed product could put more money in farmers' pockets.

    Like it or not, the farms, factories, and businesses here and across Southeast Asia are increasingly knit into a global economy. And they will have to climb the technology ladder to compete successfully. That requirement is driving the steady rise in government spending on R&D throughout the region. “We realized that we needed to move into improving the interface between research and the private sector, to support the thousands of small and medium-sized companies that provide jobs and fuel the economy,” says Tan Sri Omar Abdul Rahman, science adviser to the prime minister of Malaysia. “And government has to play a bigger role in a developing country,” he adds. “Without that push, we would still be planting rubber trees and digging for tin.”

    In drawing up their R&D portfolios, government officials want to strike the right balance between applied and basic research, in particular between a desire by researchers to do world-class science and the country's need to develop technology appropriate to local industries. And despite an urge to rush into the 21st century (see sidebar on p. 1481), their starting point is usually the region's natural resources.

    Lozada's coconut-oil mill is just the latest in a string of improvements in process manufacturing from his lab. In each case, his goal is to put local producers on the first rung of the technological ladder and to teach farmers and factory hands that technology is a tool for adding value to their raw materials and products. “That culture has not been brought [home] to us,” he says.

    In Indonesia, the idea of applying science to solve economic problems began with a modest request from the president for the nation to become self-sufficient in rice, recalls geologist John Katili, recently retired vice speaker of Indonesia's Parliament and a former director-general of the Department of Mines and Energy. Its success, he says, “made people recognize that science could be valuable in helping solve the country's economic problems.”

    Over the years, the region's technology policy has become more sophisticated. But it has largely retained its focus on areas where scientists and government policy-makers see a natural advantage for their country. In the Philippines, for example, two separate government panels set up at the beginning of Fidel Ramos's presidency 6 years ago each concluded that a handful of broadly defined areas—marine products, fruits and flowers, ceramics and other materials—could produce “export winners,” says William Padolina, secretary of the Philippines' Department of Science and Technology.

    Common targets. That list is a familiar one to policy-makers in the region. To a large extent, all four countries in this special survey have zeroed in on the same fields: biotechnology, for its impact on agriculture and forest products; materials science, for its connection to rubber and ores; and biodiversity, for possible payoffs in chemical and medicinal compounds gleaned from the region's wealth of still-undiscovered flora and fauna. “Everyone thinks they have a natural advantage in one area that they can develop into a technological strength,” says Yongyuth Yuthavong, director of Thailand's National Science and Technology Development Agency. “Of course,” says Yuthavong with a smile, “Thailand really does have an advantage in biotechnology because of our biodiversity.”

    One exception to the policy of focusing on areas of comparative advantage has been Indonesia's controversial push to develop an aircraft industry, led by Research and Technology Minister B. J. Habibie. An aeronautical engineer, Habibie “didn't think that our economy should depend on natural resources to become stronger,” Katili explains. “His philosophy was: If you can build a jet plane, then you can build a bicycle.” The goal was to tackle the development of a very sophisticated end product and then work to build up the high-tech industry and scientific infrastructure needed for it.

    The heavily subsidized approach has bolstered the country's confidence in its ability to tackle technological challenges, says biochemist Sangkot Marzuki, director of the Eijkman Institute in Jakarta. And it is a technique that can be applied to other high-priority sectors, including shipping and biotechnology, adds mycologist Mien Rifai, assistant research and technology minister for development under Habibie.

    But others say the project has provided few spin-offs for other sectors. “Nothing has trickled down. That's not how nature works,” says Teuku Jacob, a forensic anthropologist and former rector of the University of Gadja Madah in Yogyakarta. “You start with the roots, and the roots suck up the water to the leaves.” Katili expresses similar doubts. “I don't think you can start at the end. You need to start at the beginning and build up the scientific infrastructure.”

    Calling the shots. As governments in the region increasingly direct their scientific resources toward priority areas, they are facing the question of just how much to let scientists follow their curiosity and how strongly to direct research. Most are opting for a top-down approach. Take Malaysia's Intensifying Research in Priority Areas program. In the beginning, the agency allowed scientists to set priorities. But now research officials have firmly grabbed the reins. “What have our scientists achieved for all the investment in biotechnology that we have made? The answer is, very little,” says Malaysia's Omar. Although the government now sets the objectives, he says, “it will not tell people how to get there. That part is still up to the scientists.”

    Policy-makers and scientists throughout the region generally agree that curiosity-driven basic research is valuable, but governments with limited science budgets are giving priority to more applied programs. “The policy is for greater emphasis on applied research,” says V. Danabalan, secretary-general of Malaysia's Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment, in a comment that echoes the views of his peers in other countries. “In areas where we need to be strong to advance our priorities, we will support basic research, too. But research for its own sake is not something that we can afford.”

    However, putting an emphasis on applied research can leave academics feeling pulled in different directions. Promotion at most universities remains heavily weighted toward publications, and many researchers would like to see equal weight given to the extension work with farmers or joint work with industry. “Solving a practical problem is better than producing one publication that nobody reads,” says Teresita Espino, a molecular biologist at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, a part of the University of the Philippines, Los Baños.

    And some professors think that the pendulum has swung too far toward immediate economic payoffs. “If they want to build up an electronics industry, they should be funding work in semiconductor physics,” says W. C. Fon, a nuclear physicist at the University of Malaya and co-winner last fall of his country's Scientist of the Year award. “The pool of knowledge is drying up, and the 21st century will belong to those who are doing fundamental research. Unless you are able to improve the technology,” he warns, “you won't succeed in the long run.”

    Patents pending.

    Most patent applications come from foreign entities.


    Industrial-strength programs. To many government officials and scientists, the most critical issue is not what kinds of government research would best benefit the economy, but how to strengthen industry's capacity to develop and use new technology. Throughout the region, private sector spending on R&D is a tiny fraction of government spending. In Indonesia, for example, the figure is estimated at 20%. “The real issue is whether industry can accommodate and make proper use of the skills of the people coming out of the universities,” says Katili. And Roger Posadas, former chancellor of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, and founder of that school's Technology Management Center, believes that until industry recognizes the importance of research, efforts to boost applied academic research efforts will be futile. “Even if [public research] budgets increase substantially, there will be no impact on the economy, because there is no demand for science and technology from the private sector,” he says.

    Although each country has a selection of carrots to try to get the private sector involved in research, they have generally had mixed success. Many private companies feel they have not yet reached a scale where they can afford much R&D. Indeed, governments are finding that there are few takers for some of the joint-venture grants. The Thailand Research Fund, for example, originally intended 50% of its funding to go to academic-industrial research, but because of the dearth of takers, the percentage has never risen above 10%.

    Most observers agree that it will take a change of attitude on the part of both scientists and industrialists before the region's economies begin to reap the benefits of new technology. “In the U.S., you have the entrepreneurs to make it happen, to take the basic research and put it into a product,” says Malaysia's Omar. “But this is not the mindset in the developing world.”


    Betting on a New Silicon Valley

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA—Fifteen years ago, Makhdzir Mardan was a pollination biologist working with bees at Malaysia's national agricultural university. Now he's director of the school's CyberCreative Lab, which is drawing up plans to join with Silicon Graphics on a $500,000 state-of-the-art educational animation studio.

    Makhdzir is riding a wave of government investment in one of the most grandiose high-tech schemes in Southeast Asia: an Asian Silicon Valley—complete with a paperless city and “smart” schools equipped with the latest technology—that would extend south from the capital for 50 kilometers to a new international airport set to open this summer. The Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) project hopes to attract technology-intensive companies to the site, foster partnership with global communications giants, and spur innovation among all sectors of the domestic economy.

    Although the current fiscal crisis could slow development of some parts of the plan, universities throughout the country are still jockeying for position to reap the rewards of this information technology (IT) extravaganza. “The next stage of growth is to move from manufacturing into the IT phase, and MSC is the way to do it,” says Tan Sri Omar Abdul Rahman, science adviser to the prime minister.

    Taking the lead by virtue of its location is the University Putra Malaysia (UPM), whose 3000-hectare campus sits within the corridor. And Makhdzir isn't the only one who has shifted course to bring himself in line with MSC. Last year, the university itself changed the meaning of the “P” in its name from Pertainian, which means agriculture in Bahasan Malay, to the name of the country's first prime minister.

    “Pertainian doesn't fit anymore,” says Makhdzir, who a decade ago volunteered to help plan the first computers on campus and wound up becoming point man for IT-related activities, which include SPARC workstations on the desk of every faculty member. “But we haven't abandoned our strengths. With IT, our emphasis on bio-based research can be converted into a focus on bioinformatics.” Along with their colleagues at other universities, UPM faculty members are also designing computer-based curricula for students who will attend model schools within the corridor, as well as training modules for the teachers who will instruct them.

    For the average academic scientist, however, MSC serves more as a symbol of the government's commitment to high technology than as a source of research support. “The government has made it clear that the goal [of higher education] is not to produce workers for the IT industry,” says science educator Rudin Salinger, a senior adviser to MUST (see Malaysia Orders Up MIT Clone), “but rather to produce people who are computer literate in all sectors of the economy.”


    Tracking a Virus and Making a Point

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    SARAWAK, BORNEO—An infectious agent that killed more than two dozen young children here last spring, some of them within 24 hours of becoming ill, remains a mystery. But virologist Jane Cardosa and her team at the University of Malaysia at Sarawak (Unimas) are in hot pursuit. If they identify the killer—she's characterizing an adenovirus isolated from a few of the victims, while a team at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta works on a different virus—she also hopes to strike a blow for the value of local expertise in tracking down global health threats.

    By all accounts, the 45-year-old Cardosa is equal to the challenge. “She's a first-rate virologist, and she's developed a first-rate lab in Borneo,” says David Warrell, a professor of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at Oxford University, where Cardosa trained. “She was one of the best students there,” adds her former adviser, James Porterfield, whose work in Africa in the 1950s taught him “how essential it is to be as independent as possible under adverse conditions.”

    Independence is one of Cardosa's strong suits. Raised in Malaysia and educated in the United States—with an undergraduate biology degree from Princeton University and a year of graduate work at Columbia—she returned in the late 1970s to start a family and continue her education at the country's then-new science university (USM) in Penang. When that training proved insufficient, she decided to “get on with [her] life” and headed for England, with her 3-year-old son, to learn virology.

    Her training made Cardosa a good choice in 1995 to establish a research-based Institute for Health and Community Medicine at the new university. “They wanted somebody who had started from scratch,” she says about her move to Unimas from USM, where she had returned to teach after obtaining her degree from Oxford. “Lab chiefs have to be very hands-on to do science here. We don't have that middle level of workers to keep the lab running, like in the West.”

    Despite those limitations, Cardosa is slowly stocking up on young talent. “I came here because it was a chance to solve the pathogenesis of dengue at home, with Jane, in a better environment,” says biologist Phaik Hooi Tio, who had worked with her at USM. Last fall, she was joined by chemist Donald Yapp, who completed postdocs at Washington University in St. Louis and McGill University in Montreal. “I was nervous about coming back,” says Yapp. “The last time I lived here, in 1979, I was still in primary school. But the equipment here is better than what we had in Montreal.”

    For her research, Cardosa augments her government grants with income from a company, Venture Technologies, that she started several years ago to sell diagnostic kits for dengue and Japanese encephalitis. The company has annual sales of $150,000. “We charge people and organizations that can pay, and those who get it for free we treat as collaborators, and we ask for access to their data in return,” she says.

    That expertise put her in a position to help after local pediatricians reported the first cases of an illness, marked by a rash and high fever and often accompanied by damage to the heart and central nervous system, that was killing very young children. A local research team initially pointed the finger at Coxsackie virus, first identified by U.S. scientists in the 1940s. But some of the symptoms were not characteristic of Coxsackie, and the virus was never found in the victims.

    A few days later, health officials and the CDC said the culprit was an enterovirus, EV-71. But Cardosa is convinced that it's not the causative agent, and Mark Pallansch, chief of CDC's enterovirus section, agrees. “EV-71 is clearly there, but lots of kids had it and didn't die. So the question is, Are there other factors?” Pallansch's lab is studying a “nonentero-, nonadeno-” virus as another possible candidate, while Cardosa has finished sequencing about half of the virus's genome.

    Despite this uncertainty, Cardosa says it was an uphill battle to convince CDC officials that her lab had anything to contribute. Colleagues familiar with the incident agree that hers is a valid criticism. “The questions she was raising were legitimate, and her data were solid,” says epidemiologist Joe McCormick, who spent 24 years at CDC and is now heading a new epidemiology program at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. “It was shortsighted of them not to take advantage of her capabilities. And it makes them look arrogant.”

    Cardosa estimates it will take several more months to sequence the virus, and Pallansch allows that the true killer may never be found. Still, she says her principles leave her no choice but to continue. “I fear that there's no concern for truth, for what really happened. … I'm a scientist, and I want to know.”


    Making a Splash in Marine Science

    1. Dennis Normile

    MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES—Every new Ph.D. wants a challenge, but few get the kind of task handed to marine biologist Edgardo Gomez. Shortly after Gomez joined the University of the Philippines, Diliman, in 1974 after studying at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, the school's vice president of academic affairs handed him a two-page charter for a new marine science center and told him to make it happen. “There was no space, no money, nothing,” says Gomez, now 59. He set up labs in an abandoned botanic culture house and, as an early staffer recalls, “begged on his knees” for money to buy equipment.

    The venture has come a long way since that inauspicious start. The Marine Science Institute (MSI) now has a 10,000-square-meter lab at Diliman, 100 staffers, and a research station on the South China Sea coast north of Manila. And its publication rate is the highest of any Philippine academic institute, averaging one international publication per faculty member per year. “He knows the science, and he has both the people skills and the political acumen to get the resources he needs,” says Edward Murdy, a marine biologist at the U.S. National Science Foundation who worked at MSI in the late 1970s.

    Gomez showed that savvy in 1995, when China built some observation structures on a few of the Spratly Islands, a group of coral reefs and rocky outcroppings in the South China Sea that are claimed by five nations, including the Philippines. Gomez used that territorial spat to gain government funding for a study of the links between the aquatic life on the reefs and the fisheries of the surrounding sea. “The most obvious thing that should be happening out there is marine scientific research,” he told officials.

    Those kinds of opportunities, he says, “provide an environment where [young researchers] can work.” Helen Yap, for example, got her start at the institute in 1980 working on a coral reef study for her master's degree. At the time, says Yap, few department or institute heads in the Philippines could provide both a paying job and advanced training. And the institute preserved her slot when she went to Germany for her doctorate.

    Gomez nearly missed his chance to start MSI. Unaware of the university's plans to start a marine science center, he was preparing to apply for an overseas postdoc until government sponsors urged him to come home. “In retrospect, [it's a] good thing that I did return,” he says. “The planets and stars get aligned a certain way only once in a lifetime.”

    Scientists elsewhere have also benefited from that alignment. In the mid-1970s, Gomez and his team worked out a strategy to assess the condition of a coral reef, based on the percentage of cover that was living coral, that remains a major tool for coral reef assessment in the region. And William Newman, his thesis adviser at Scripps, credits Gomez for stimulating programs throughout the Pacific to rebuild giant clam stocks endangered by overfishing. “He's been a key person in getting that going,” Newman says.

    Gomez readily shares the spotlight with his staff. And he thinks they have only begun to make their mark. Tropical marine science is still a “wide-open field,” he says. “If you have the right people with the right attitude, there is a lot you can do.”


    Reviving a Nobel Past in Indonesia

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    JAKARTA, INDONESIA—It was the fall of 1965—a period of Indonesia's history captured vividly in the Hollywood film The Year of Living Dangerously. Sangkot Marzuki remembers joining thousands of other university students in the streets of Jakarta during protests marking the final days of the Sukarno regime. But a less heralded event during those turbulent times would turn out to have a more lasting impact on the 54-year-old biochemist, for 1965 also marked the closing of the Eijkman Institute, named after the Dutch bacteriologist. Eijkman's discovery of the relationship between vitamin B-1 deficiency and beriberi, in the Jakarta lab he founded in 1888, earned him a Nobel Prize. The once-thriving institute was crumbling, however, neglected by a government too poor to support basic research.

    Fast-forward 28 years, to 1993. Marzuki is greeting visitors as director of a rebuilt Eijkman Institute, made possible by a $10 million injection of government funds. Marzuki had gone abroad after completing his undergraduate degree and was planning a centennial conference to honor Eijkman's laboratory when he received a faxed message from B. J. Habibie, Indonesia's minister of research and technology, asking him to set up a research institute in molecular biology.

    The prodigal son had returned once before, in 1976, but had found the country a scientific backwater. “There wasn't anything going on,” he recalls. “The government then wasn't interested in science.” But this time he accepted. “I told him it was one of my fondest dreams to reopen the institute, and Habibie said ‘OK, do it.’ It's modeled after the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Singapore” (Science, 15 October 1993, p. 353).

    Over the past 4 years, Marzuki has set up a modern laboratory to explore human molecular genetics and the molecular basis of infectious diseases. That approach, he says, allows researchers to follow up on the latest discoveries without worrying about whether the work falls outside the lab's mission. “I don't see any other labs set up like Eijkman—by program activity, not by subject,” says Triono, head of health research at BAPPENAS, the country's national planning and development agency. “I hope that it will show the scientific community what needs to be done.”

    In addition to expanding Marzuki's work on thalassemia, the institute has recently begun a $1.5 million collaboration with Australia's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) to pursue the pathobiology of cerebral malaria, the mechanism of resistance to antimalarial drugs, and the development of new vaccines and diagnostic procedures. “It's an extension of what we are doing here,” says microbiologist John Reeder, WEHI's senior research officer. “They have some very bright scientists, trained abroad, and we're trying to bring them up to the point where they can be peer collaborators.”

    Marzuki hopes WEHI's approach to science will rub off on his young staff. And Triono is confident that Marzuki will succeed. “Sangkot is a great scientist trying to make a difference,” he says. “I tell him that he belongs to the nation, not just to the Eijkman Institute.”


    Setback Spurs a Leap Ahead

    1. Dennis Normile

    BANGKOK, THAILAND—Being on the losing end of a bid to host a major research center is never pleasant. But Yongyuth Yuthavong, an organic chemist and director of Thailand's National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), says the nation's failure to land the U.N.-sponsored International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in 1983 spurred officials to increase their commitment to biomedical research and contributed to wholesale changes in how the country's scientific research is funded and managed. It was a blow, he acknowledges, “but in retrospect it was a good thing,” says Yuthavong, 53, who led the scientific committee that lost out to Italy and India.

    Stung by that rejection, yet convinced biotechnology was of strategic importance, Thai authorities soon created the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and named Yuthavong as its deputy director. In 1991, when a military coup led the United States to end scientific aid to the country, Yuthavong and colleagues quickly drafted a plan for the Thai government to pick up the slack. Within the year, the government created NSTDA and appointed Yuthavong its director. While the new agency had widespread support from the country's scientists, Yuthavong was “the key implementer,” says Pornchai Matangkasombut, dean of the Faculty of Science at Mahidol University in Bangkok.

    Yuthavong already had firsthand evidence that Thailand needed its own research funding agency. As an associate professor at Mahidol in the early 1970s, he relied on Britain's Wellcome Trust to fund work he began at Oxford University on how the malaria parasite changes the membrane of the host's red blood cells to facilitate its own growth. “There was almost no local support,” he says about his research, which led him to be named Thailand's Scientist of the Year in 1984. Daniel Santi, professor of biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco, says Yuthavong has been “a major contributor” to an increased understanding of how the malaria parasite develops drug resistance.

    NSTDA's budget has grown sixfold since 1992, and its system of managing grant proposals, including competitive peer review, gets a thumbs-up from the community. “It's working quite nicely,” says Matangkasombut.

    With NSTDA up and running, Yuthavong plans this summer to return to research full-time, but not without some trepidation. The administrative work “has really blunted the research acumen,” he says. “Call me next year and ask how it's going.”


    Keeper of the Keys to Fossil Kingdom

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    YOGYAKARTA, INDONESIA—Teuku Jacob is the undisputed king of paleoanthropology in a country rich in early hominid fossils. Trained as a pathologist and a physical anthropologist, Jacob has curatorial control of an extensive collection, much of it bequeathed by his mentor, Dutch anthropologist G.H.R. von Koenigswald, who died in 1977. But most of the collection sits locked away in a refrigerated safe in the basement of the institute that Jacob directs at the University of Gadjah Mada. Over the years, Jacob has made the fossils available for brief peeks, but rarely for detailed analysis.

    Researchers around the world complain that Jacob's iron grip on the collection has slowed progress in understanding an important chapter of human development. But few are willing to discuss their complaints on the record for fear of repercussions. “When you play on their court, you have to respect their rules,” says Sidney Smith, a retired U.S. science attaché in Jakarta. “That's true for all interactions.”

    The 67-year-old Jacob confesses to being wary of outsiders who seek access to the collection. “We want people for whom anthropology is their life, not just people interested in the famous fossils,” he says. “You have to be interested in the country, which is still young and trying to develop its science.” Indeed, Jacob has been an eyewitness to that process: In 1950, he was a member of the first class to be admitted after independence to Gadjah Mada, the country's oldest and largest university, and he later moved up the professorial ranks until he became its rector in the mid-1980s. And his patriotism runs deep. As a 19-year-old soldier for the government in exile, Jacob broadcast a passionate message of resistance every Monday night to his comrades fighting to end Dutch colonial rule.

    Today, however, Jacob operates on a time scale that harried scientists on a short-term grant may find hard to understand. “Our first inventory was published in the 1960s,” he says. “Now we have to rework the whole thing as part of making our own collection.” In 1991, he accompanied a skull for a 1-month trip to Paris for analysis by gamma ray spectrometry, “but we're not yet ready to publish the results,” he says. Jacob is especially bothered by “pushy Americans, who want to go ahead and work even if you're not there. … I think that manners are important.”

    It's not just pushy Americans who raise Jacob's hackles. He confirms that he had a stormy relationship with S. Sartono, a geologist at the Institute of Technology in Bandung, which holds several important hominid specimens. Jacob acknowledges that the rivalry, which lasted for more than 30 years until Sartono died unexpectedly in 1995, stifled collaboration between the two labs. It also forced outsiders to choose sides when working in the country.

    Foreign scientists are pinning their hopes for greater access to the fossils on the pair's successors. Jacob received a 5-year extension beyond the mandatory retirement age of 65, but he says he expects Etty Indriati, a faculty member finishing her Ph.D. in bioanthropology at the University of Chicago, to take over most of his lab duties when she returns. She will also need to rebuild the staff, which Jacob notes has shrunk as a result of recent deaths and retirements. In the meantime, Jacob says he will continue working at his own pace. “There's no hurry. Science is continuous, and you learn a bit more every year.”


    Reaching for the Sky to Nurture Science

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA—Mazlan Othman doesn't like it when local newspapers focus on her achievements. But they're hard to ignore. One of only three Ph.D. astrophysicists in the country and a full professor at the National University of Malaysia, she is also the founding director of the National Planetarium and head of the space science division within the Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment. She has volunteered, in her spare time, to draft policies to govern the country's fledgling space program. And she's also responsible for overseeing the design and construction of Malaysia's first microsatellite, a 50-kilogram scientific payload to be launched before the end of the year.

    So how does this 46-year-old dynamo feel about what she has accomplished since she “discovered e=mc2” at the age of 15 and fell in love with the idea that “the world is so simple and so beautiful”? She pauses to straighten a pile of papers on a messy desk in an office crammed with law books, posters, scientific reports, and other evidence of her activities. Then she avoids the question. “I have a 2 1/2-year-old daughter who wrecks my office,” she said during an interview last fall. “But I bring her to work sometimes because I feel guilty about not spending more time with her.”

    Indeed, even 24 hours is not nearly long enough for Mazlan to do everything that she would like to accomplish. “When I came back [from New Zealand] after getting my Ph.D., I wanted to do astrophysics,” she recalls. “But there was no activity here. So I tried to sell the government on the idea of building an observatory.” The effort failed, she explains, “because nobody understood what an observatory could do.”

    That setback led to her first foray into public education. Some 3 years later, she had convinced the Ministry of Education to add a 25-hour block of time on astronomy to the national curriculum. But she didn't stop there. “A planetarium is an obvious way to attract people and increase interest in the subject,” she says. A few years later, she was presenting her plans to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who took a personal interest in the project. “He chose the color and the shape of the dome,” she says about the building's distinctive architecture, which allows it to blend in with its neighbors, the National Mosque and the Islamic Center. “He even comes once a month, after hours, to look at the exhibits,” she confides.

    The museum opened in 1994, just in time for Mazlan to begin working on Mahathir's plans to make Malaysia a space-faring nation. The next year, the country signed a deal with a company owned by the University of Surrey in the U.K. to build a microsatellite that would be the first step in training a generation of space scientists and engineers. “It's the first time we will be doing real space science,” she says. “And we're already starting to work on the next one, a bigger one with better technology,” although the current economic downturn has put a hold on any new projects.

    Work on a stand-alone space agency has been delayed for the same reason, she says, and the country's weakened currency has put a big dent in plans to upgrade the planetarium's exhibits and educational programs. And while Mazlan hopes this summer to turn over some responsibility for the planetarium's operations to a newly minted Ph.D., the move may not give her any more free time to spend with her family. That's because officials at the new graduate engineering university would like to hire her as provost (see sidebar on Malaysia Orders Up MIT Clone). If they do, it will mean one more opportunity for Mazlan to apply her green thumb to nurturing scientific enterprises in Malaysia.


    Shaking Up a Seismology Institute

    1. Dennis Normile

    QUEZON CITY, THE PHILIPPINES—In a sense, Raymundo Punongbayan spent nearly a decade preparing for the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. And when it blew—in one of the century's biggest volcanic events—Punongbayan and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology were ready.

    In the old days, staff members at the forerunner of what's known as Phivolcs recorded changes in geologic conditions “without trying to understand the underlying processes,” says Ernesto Corpuz, the institute's chief monitoring scientist. But that passivity disappeared when Punongbayan became director in 1982. Soon, staffers were headed overseas for advanced degrees—Punongbayan was the only one on the staff with a Ph.D., which he received from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the early 1970s—and research was part of every scientist's job description. In addition, Phivolcs was no longer a lonely outpost atop one of Earth's most active faults: Scientists were arriving from all over the world, bringing the latest techniques and equipment. “Now we try to relate [what we see] to what is going on beneath the ground,” says Corpuz.

    When Punongbayan, 60, left the University of the Philippines, Diliman, to take charge of Phivolcs, he promised “to deliver what we're supposed to deliver,” referring to the institute's mission to keep tabs on the country's two dozen or so active volcanoes and other seismic activity. In early 1991, when Mount Pinatubo began rumbling, Phivolcs's staff could see a big one coming. However, with limited instrumentation on hand, Punongbayan turned to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for help. As its understanding of the precursor events increased, Phivolcs repeatedly enlarged the size of the area that it recommended be evacuated, eventually to a radius of 30 kilometers. That advice saved thousands of lives when Pinatubo exploded on 12 June.

    Although USGS scientists have received much of the credit for their work, Chris Newhall, a USGS volcanologist at the University of Washington who headed the USGS team, insists it was a joint effort. “The truth is, neither team could have done it by itself,” he says. “[Punongbayan] has really done quite a remarkable job in turning Phivolcs from what was a small, sleepy bureau that did no research at all into a very active group.”

    Since Punongbayan's arrival, six staffers have earned Ph.D.s and 10 more are pursuing advanced degrees. He hopes their training will enable the institute to take advantage of the natural laboratory under its feet. “This is one field where I think Filipinos can excel and be recognized internationally.”


    Securing a Niche for Basic Biology

    1. Dennis Normile

    BANGKOK, THAILAND—When the Thai government started talking a few years ago about turning its wealth of flora and fauna into a biotech cornucopia, biologist Visut Baimai pointed out a fundamental flaw in the approach: The country had only a rudimentary idea of what existed. So Baimai, a professor at Mahidol University, launched a yearlong effort to gather support for a special research fund. “We need to do basic biology before we can apply it to biotechnology or genetic engineering” became his mantra.

    It worked. In 1996 Thailand set up the Biodiversity Research and Training Program and made Baimai its director, giving him $12 million over 5 years for competitively reviewed projects. The amount may not seem large, but Baimai, age 56, is ecstatic. “This sort of research had never before been supported by the Thai government,” he says.

    The 120 research projects funded so far are heavily focused on field surveys and taxonomy. “You can always come up with new species here,” Baimai says. Several projects also focus on long-term ecological change, while some—in a nod to applicability—are screening organisms with potential commercial value. The program also supports 80 master's-level students and field workshops.

    The funding is especially sweet for Baimai, who earned his Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Queensland in Australia and did postdoctoral work at the University of Hawaii after joining the Mahidol faculty in 1969. “Basic science hardly got any support,” he says, and so he sometimes dipped into his own pocket to fund his research on fruit fly and mosquito population genetics. Despite that handicap, “he's got a lot of publications under his belt,” says Vudhipong Techadamrongsin, the deputy director of the Thailand Research Fund, who calls Baimai one of the country's foremost biologists.

    Baimai jokes that his prominence is due to the meager competition: “For fungi, for example, we don't have any experts at all in Thailand.” To remedy that, Baimai hopes to create a more permanent fund for biology. “We'd like to see this activity go on for 5, 10, 20 years,” he says, “and we're starting to talk about how to do it.”

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