Science  27 Nov 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5394, pp. 1619

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  1. UN to Move on Gene Resolution

    The United Nations (UN) is nearing approval of a resolution calling for restrictions on human gene research and respect for genetic diversity.

    Last week, a UN committee approved the Resolution on the Human Genome and Human Rights, which calls for vigilance against discrimination based on a person's genes and recommends restrictions on human cloning and germline gene therapies, which risk introducing new genes into a population. The resolution also argues that use of human DNA “should not give rise to financial gain”—a controversial issue as companies race for lucrative gene patents.

    Observers say the panel's endorsement virtually ensures that the measure will pass a 10 December General Assembly vote. But whether nations will adhere to the guidelines is uncertain. Germany and Australia, which are still working on their own policies, have expressed reservations. And the United States pressed to soften the guidelines before endorsing them. Georgetown University bioethicist LeRoy Walters says Americans generally have “less hesitancy” than others about genetic manipulations.

  2. Fencing Over Swordfish

    The United States is threatening to retaliate against nations if they violate international swordfish catch quotas. But fisheries experts say the saber rattling won't help stocks—which have declined by 70% since the 1960s—unless quotas are reduced to reflect current science.

    At a fisheries summit in Spain last week, U.S. officials warned the 21 other signers of a swordfish and tuna treaty that they may impose trade sanctions against nations that violate the limits, which were set in 1996 and cut the yearly kill in half. But conservationists are pushing the nations to close a loophole that allows undersized swordfish to be discarded and not counted in the catch. “Compliance with insufficient regulations is not going to solve the problem,” says Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Whether the treaty signers buy that argument won't be known until later this year.

  3. Report on R&D Strains Could Stress Academia

    The White House is finishing a report defining its relationship with the research community. But the document, a 2-year effort in response to concerns that those ties are fraying, may disappoint academic administrators seeking relief from a handful of regulations they say drain their schools' time and wallets.

    White House sources say the interagency report, expected out in draft form in January, concludes that the relationship is strong but in need of attention. It reaffirms the importance of peer review and of both teaching and research in training students and asks agencies to set uniform policies on scientific misconduct. But it ducks such contentious issues for universities as the tax status of graduate students and recommends further study of how to simplify federal accounting practices and whether to remove limits to recovering the full cost of administering federally funded research.

    Milton Goldberg, head of the Council on Government Relations, which last year funneled complaints from university administrators to the panel, says he's glad the report upholds the value of the government's investment in research. But he warns that individual federal agencies need clearer guidelines to avoid “subverting” such principles when they set policies for specific programs.

  4. European Union Agrees on R&D Budget

    The European Union's R&D program finally got a budget last week. After lengthy negotiations, a council of research ministers and the European parliament agreed to spend $18 billion over the next 4 years on the 5th Framework research plan, which supports projects jointly funded by the 15 EU nations.

    The sum was less than parliamentarians had pushed for, but it was still the first real increase the program has seen since 1990. But only next year's $3.7 billion outlay is definite, because Spain pushed through a “guillotine” clause. It allows Spanish officials to renegotiate spending if they conclude next year that some regions aren't getting a fair share of the EU's full 2000–2002.

    Parliamentarians are grumbling about the uncertainty. But members of the Framework's commission are “rather pleased with the outcome” because the program can begin without delay, says a spokesperson.

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