Science  30 Oct 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5390, pp. 853

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  1. French Minister Not in Sync With New Lab

    The sudden opposition of the French science minister to a long-planned synchrotron has dismayed researchers.

    Last week, while answering questions in Parliament, science chief Claude Allègre hinted that he won't support construction of the $180 million, 106-meter-diameter SOLEIL electron-storage ring, on the drawing board since 1991. Allègre said the machine isn't needed because there will soon be seven new European x-ray sources that can produce similar beams for biological and biomedical research.

    The remarks outraged synchrotron scientists at the LURE facility in Orsay. “We are dumbfounded by your answers,” they wrote to him on 22 October. And European synchrotron directors warned Allègre that, without SOLEIL, there won't be enough x-rays to go around and that French research could suffer.

    Next month the European Science Foundation is expected to issue a report on beamline supply that could clarify the picture.

  2. U.K. Life Sciences Get Big Boost

    Life sciences are the big winner as the British government announced this week how it would divvy up a $1.1 billion boost for science over the next 3 years.

    The 15% hike in science spending was announced in July without details of how it would be distributed among the six main research councils. The new information shows the Medical Research Council's (MRC's) budget rising the fastest, by 6.8% after inflation. Hikes of slightly more than 3% go to engineering and the physical sciences, environmental research, and biotechnology and biology. Although particle physics and astronomy can expect just a 0.5% boost, officials say it's enough to preserve their place in various international projects. The government and the Wellcome Trust also will contribute equally to a $950 million pot to improve university laboratories.

    George Radda, head of the MRC, says he is “enormously pleased” by the boost, adding: “It recognizes that research is a long-term business.”

  3. Babbitt Asked to Ban Seaweed Imports

    Marine scientists are asking U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to make possessing a particular seaweed a crime. Last week, 107 scientists wrote Babbitt and urged him to ban the possession, transport, and sale of Caulerpa taxifolia, a lush aquarium plant that has already invaded Mediterranean coastal waters, choking out native life. Without a ban—which France, Spain, and Australia have already imposed—researchers say it is only a matter of time before the weed gains a foothold in U.S. waters.

    The researchers also called on Babbitt to consider a big change in import policy. Currently, the United States bans the entry only of those organisms on a few short “dirty lists” of pests and weeds. But the researchers say the ecological risks posed by invaders demand a “clean list” approach: “Organisms [should] be imported only if the evidence shows they are not dangerous,” says ecologist Dan Simberloff of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. A formal response is not expected until early next year.

  4. Global Teams to Battle Infectious Diseases

    Biomedical scientists in North America, the United Kingdom, and tropical nations will need to work together to win funding from a new $25 million research effort to fight infectious diseases.

    Yesterday, the U.K.-based Wellcome Trust and the U.S.-based Burroughs Wellcome Fund unveiled an Infectious Diseases Initiative that aims to promote equal research partnerships among developed and tropical developing nations. “It is clear that forming global partnerships … is a key step toward reducing the health toll of infectious diseases,” said fund President Enriqueta Bond.

    The multinational teams—which must include members from the United States or Canada, Britain, and a tropical nation—will compete for 5-year awards worth up to $4 million. The first proposals are due in January, with a decision expected in August. A second funding round is planned for 2000.

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