Science  21 Aug 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5380, pp. 1121

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  1. China Ramps Up Genome Effort

    China has unveiled a new Human Genome Center in Beijing that it hopes will boost its contribution to international genome research. Completion of the facility, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Genetics, was hustled along so that researchers in town for the 18th International Congress of Genetics could attend the 11 August opening ceremony.

    Director Yang Huanming, who plans to hire 30 researchers and technicians within a year, says the center will hunt for disease genes more prevalent in Chinese populations and carry out large-scale sequencing of up to 2 megabases per year. Maynard Olson, a geneticist at the University of Washington in Seattle, says the center's focus on China's vast genetic diversity will be a “major benefit.”

  2. Convict DNA Bank Unconstitutional?

    Gene-wielding crime fighters across the nation are keeping a close eye on the fate of an apparently unprecedented Massachusetts ruling declaring the state's prisoner DNA bank unconstitutional. Last week, a state judge shut down the bank, which stores blood samples drawn from convicts, ruling that the state can't force prisoners to give blood. The samples stored in Massachusetts and dozens of similar vaults worldwide yield genetic data that have helped investigators crack unsolved crimes.

    The ruling—which the state plans to appeal—found that officials violated prisoners' constitutional rights to privacy. It could mark a turning point in efforts to force similar banks to change their practices, says John Roberts, director of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit. But Dawn Herkenham, who heads the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Forensic Science Systems Unit, doubts the decision will stand. “I wouldn't say I'm alarmed,” she says, noting that other states have successfully defended the legality of their banks.

  3. Earth Probes Earthbound

    It is proving harder for NASA to explore Earth than to send spacecraft millions of kilometers to Jupiter. Launches of two Earth observation satellites are again on hold due to technical problems, hobbling researchers' efforts to gather data on everything from land-use changes to the carbon cycle.

    Landsat 7 and EOS-AM1 were slated for launch earlier this summer, but NASA officials now say neither will be ready for orbit until next year. During a recent thermal vacuum test, key components failed on the $444 million Landsat 7, according to James Irons, the project's deputy scientist. Meanwhile, problems with the flight operations software for the $1.2 billion EOS-AM1, the first major spacecraft in the Earth Observing System series, likely will set that launch back until next summer, according to agency officials.

  4. Internet's Fast Track

    The faster Internet being built by the federal government is supposed to help knit the research community more tightly together. But scientists working in academic outposts worry that it may actually make them second-class cybercitizens. That's because most rural researchers can't afford to pay the higher tolls needed to get onto the Internet's fast lane, says Joe Thompson of Mississippi State University, who has invited academic, government, and industry leaders to his campus next month to hash out the problem.

    “Universities in nonurban states are at a significant disadvantage,” says the engineer, who notes it can cost up to 10 times more for rural institutions to hook up to high-speed computer connections, which rely on infrastructure typically installed first in urban areas. Under pressure from Congress, the National Science Foundation last year began offering extra hookup funds to nonurban researchers (Science, 13 June 1997, p. 1639), but Thompson claims the bonus has proved “an order of magnitude too small” to cover real costs.

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