Science  06 Nov 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5391, pp. 1017

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  1. Fast Track for Sequences?

    For scientists interested in the human genome, the wait for sequence data can be painfully long. But the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is taking steps to speed up the process for the most biologically interesting regions.

    The new procedure will make use of an international peer-review panel, Francis Collins, director of NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute, told researchers last week at a Denver meeting of the American Society for Human Genetics. The panel will review requests from teams hoping to have a particular region of the genome sequenced sooner rather than later. If the panel decides the arguments are compelling, “then that sequence moves to the top of the list for the center that's working on that chromosome,” says Collins. He hopes to have the system in place by early next year.

  2. A New Haul of Genome Projects

    Add social amoebas—once known as slime molds—and the zebrafish to the growing menagerie of organisms having their genes mapped or sequenced. Amoeba researchers hope to discover the basic genes that make multicelled organisms possible, while zebrafish geneticists are fishing for clues to human diseases and development.

    The zebrafish project, begun in September, has wide appeal: Thirteen of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have pledged a total of $4.7 million to fund five 3-year grants to map 10,000 Danio rerio genome markers. Biologists hope the map will help them connect hundreds of known fish mutations to human genes and diseases (Science, 14 February 1997, p. 923). Two reports in the November Nature Genetics of the first examples of zebrafish models for human disease—porphyria and a type of genetic anemia—are just “the tip of the iceberg,” says Leonard Zon of Children's Hospital in Boston.

    This week, the European Union joined the NIH and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinshaft in a $2.7-million-a-year effort to sequence the amoeba Dictyostelium's 34 million base pairs. Three labs are working on the 3- to 5-year project.

  3. Timing Troubles at NASA

    As in comedy, timing can be everything when it comes to setting priorities for space science. Last week, members of a NASA science advisory panel said they are worried that the agency's timetable for an upcoming 3-year strategic plan doesn't leave enough time for input from space scientists participating in a similar blue-ribbon study being conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. Both efforts are intended to influence the direction of space studies in the next decade.

    Researchers would like to see NASA push back the deadline for its report, which is due in June 2000, in order to influence congressional debate on the agency's 2001 budget. The academy's review, done every 10 years, is set to begin in January and also finish in mid-2000. “If the two reports are perceived as saying different things,” says Dan Lester of the University of Texas, Austin, “the science community could shoot itself in the foot.”

  4. EPA Invites Comment on Pesticide Policies

    Chemical industry officials have won the chance to comment on key pesticide science policies that will guide enforcement of a 1996 food safety law—despite complaints by environmental advocates that what's needed is action, not more words.

    Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a plan for receiving public comments over the next year on nine key technical issues raised by the law. They range from how to statistically analyze human exposure to pesticides to how to deal with chemical residues on food that may be dangerous but are not measurable with existing equipment.

    Industry representatives serving on an EPA advisory panel successfully pushed for the chance to comment on what they see as an overly strict interpretation of the policies, which will shape enforcement of the law. But one environmentalist says some companies are just trying to slow things down. “EPA has received more than enough information on these issues,” says Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group. “It should be regulating instead of issuing documents.”

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