Science  25 Sep 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5385, pp. 1933

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  1. Making Hay With Plant Genome Awards

    The University of Missouri, Columbia, learned it had snagged its largest grant ever last week—but not through the usual channels. Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) announced the $11 million National Science Foundation (NSF) award to start mapping the corn genome even before university officials in his home state were officially notified of their windfall.

    The grant is just the first from a $40 million plant genome initiative added—with Bond's help—to NSF's budget. Three-quarters of the extra funds are supposed to help meet the growing demand for genomic studies of food crops and other economically important plants (Science, 27 June 1997, p. 1960), rather than expand studies on a laboratory workhorse, the mustard Arabidopsis.

    In Missouri, plant geneticist Edward Coe's team will use its funds to take the initial steps needed to determine the order of some of the 2.5 billion bases that make up corn's genetic code. The 5-year project will soon be joined by other studies: NSF plans to announce about two dozen more plant genome projects by 1 October. Just who gets to break the good news to winning researchers remains to be seen.

  2. Russian Initiative Wins Major Sponsor

    Despite Russia's economic turmoil, an ambitious plan to reform the nation's research and higher education establishments is moving forward. Science has learned that the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will spend $6 million over 4 years to help create elite research centers at top universities.

    Run by the Russian Education Ministry and the U.S.-based Civilian Research and Development Foundation, the initiative will establish centers that can help train the next generation of scientists (Science, 29 May, p. 1336). The MacArthur money—and potential matching funds from other foundations and Russia—will allow the program to expand beyond a pilot project under way at the University of Nizhny Novgorod. In January 1999, organizers expect to invite proposals for a competition to award two to three new centers.

  3. Gore Gets Political Mileage From NSF Internet Grants

    The pivotal New Hampshire presidential primary election may be more than a year away, but Oval Office wanna-be Vice President Al Gore is already grabbing his chances to impress the state's voters. Last week's opportunity came in the form of a National Science Foundation (NSF) announcement that 36 universities had won grants of up to $350,000 each to hook up to the NSF's speedy Internet backbone. The headline on NSF's press release: “Vice President Gore Announces High Performance Award to University of New Hampshire.” The names of the other worthy winners are relegated to a list at the end of the release.

    An NSF official claims there is a nonpartisan explanation for the headline: Gore announced the awards during a visit to New Hampshire, after shelving a plan to announce them in California. More politically savvy headlines could be on the way: NSF plans to award at least a dozen more Internet grants before the 2000 elections.

  4. Hughes Head to Step Down

    The largest U.S. private nonprofit biomedical research funder is looking for a new leader. On 22 September, Purnell Choppin, 69, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), announced that he will retire at the end of next year. In 2000, “it will be time for someone else to take up the reins,” Choppin wrote in a memo that surprised staffers at the institute.

    Choppin, a virologist, was recruited from The Rockefeller University to serve as HHMI's science chief in 1985. After becoming president in 1987, he oversaw construction of a new headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and guided the organization through a decade of extraordinary growth, focused on molecular biology. During his tenure, the number of HHMI scientists has grown from 96 to 330 and the annual budget from $77 million to $556 million. HHMI's endowment is roughly $11 billion.

    A conservative manager, Choppin carefully planned his own departure, noting his 15-month advance warning “will allow ample time for the trustees to select a new president.” The institute has not yet named a search committee.

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