Science  29 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5402, pp. 613

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  1. Stem Cell Switcharoo

    Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) now says he won't hurry to lift the controversial ban on federal funding of human embryo research. In an attempt to accelerate promising studies of human stem cells, Specter's staff had drafted a bill to end the legal taboo against using embryo tissue from private fertility clinics in taxpayer-funded labs. It would have given these labs direct access to “spare” frozen embryos, which are the source of one type of stem cell. But at a 26 January hearing, Specter suggested he will shelve the bill now that the Department of Health and Human Services, parent of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has announced that stem cell research doesn't violate the ban (Science, 22 January, p. 465). Scientists hope this new interpretation will enable them to work with privately developed cells, which they aim to coax to grow into an array of transplantable tissues.

    Curiously, Specter's cautious approach—which would prevent a contentious debate over the ban—is welcomed by an odd couple: the U.S. Catholic Church and members of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). The clerics like the status quo because it continues the funding ban, which has been attached as a “rider” for several years in succession to NIH appropriation bills. ASRM members favor it because the current rider expires with the 1999 appropriation in September. There is a chance, at least, that Congress will decide not to renew the ban. From their point of view, no law would be better than an “improved” law.

  2. Mix and Match

    A prominent Japanese scientist has added his voice to the rising international chorus calling for stronger links across academic disciplines. Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, president of the powerful, independent Science Council, has been talking up the idea of mixing social scientists into projects that have broad implications for the public. Cloning experiments, for example, might add ethicists to the usual mix of biologists, while public health experts might join nuclear fusion teams.

    The idea is to look at research “from a very wide point of view,” Yoshikawa says. His “very important” ideas will get a hearing during an upcoming review of Japan's R&D policies by the Council for Science and Technology, says Hiroo Imura, former president of Kyoto University and a member of the panel, which advises the prime minister.

  3. Dive! Dive!

    Scientists at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) in Washington, D.C. regularly take on macabre and unusual assignments, including the grisly task of analyzing the remains of bomb blast victims. Now, thanks to controversial U.S. Navy plans to battle test one of its new Seawolf submarines off the coast of Florida by detonating five nearby underwater mines, AFIP researchers may be examining corpses of another kind: whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.

    Some conservationists fear that the Navy blasts—scheduled for sometime after 2000—could kill or injure the legally protected sea creatures. So, as part of a test permit, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has required the Navy to fund, for a year after the blasts, AFIP studies of animals that strand on nearby beaches. The AFIP researchers—who have in the past conducted other studies on marine mammals—will be looking for evidence of explosion-induced “barotrauma,” such as shattered ear bones. The free exams are a “wonderful” windfall to marine researchers, says Blair Mase, who coordinates regional stranding studies for NMFS in Miami.

  4. Court Date

    A dozen scientists at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. have followed through on their threat to sue the institution, claiming the university's directors ran roughshod over opposition to a new salary policy (Science, 22 January, p. 487). The complaint, filed 15 January, charges that the new policy—which ties salaries more tightly to a researcher's ability to win grants—“abrogated the core principles of tenure at the University and overturned 200 years of tradition in the treatment of Georgetown faculty.” Several campus grievance committees have found in favor of the protesters over the last year. But university officials say they played by the book in overriding the rulings and implementing the new policy last July. A D.C. Superior Court judge could hear opening gambits as early as April.

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