Science  23 Nov 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5547, pp. 1633

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  1. Northern Exposure

    South Korean researchers are preparing to lift the lid on North Korean science with a Web site featuring research from their ultrareclusive neighbor. This month the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information (KISTI) will begin uploading papers from North Korean scientists onto a Web site. The goal, says Choi Hyun-Kyoo, a researcher at KISTI, is “to improve communication and contacts with the North.” The project, which has no formal input from North Korean researchers, will cost $55,000 for the first year.

    The bulk of the North's research is defense-related, but Hahn Sun-Hwa, a KISTI senior researcher, says it also claims to do world-class work in chemistry and mathematics. A contingent of North Korean students has twice in recent years won an international “Go” tournament held in Japan, he notes.

    Because North and South Koreans often use very different words for the same science, Hahn plans on building a North-South dictionary for the Web site. The content initially will be in Korean, but KISTI hopes to start posting English abstracts as soon as early next year.

  2. Smallpox Lives

    Health officials have been debating for a decade whether to destroy or preserve the last remaining samples of smallpox—held in secure vaults in the United States and Russia. The U.S. government this week ended the dithering: It will save its stocks for research, says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who participated in Administration discussions.

    Fauci says he's argued “for a couple of years that we should retain smallpox” for purely scientific reasons. “We need it to develop animal models of the disease, to conduct in vitro assays of new drug therapies and diagnostic tests, and to completely sequence various strains” for defense against potential variant forms, as well as a new vaccine. It was “verging on naïve,” Fauci thinks, to assume—as a World Health Organization (WHO) plan for smallpox destruction did—that the only extant samples were those in official U.S. and Russian labs. He fears some Russian stocks may have fallen into “nefarious” hands.

    The WHO's plan called for destruction of official smallpox samples by 2002. That agenda has now been nixed by U.S. bioterrorism concerns. Ironically, a chief designer of the defunct WHO plan is D. A. Henderson, a former smallpox fighter who recently became the top bioterrorism expert for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Henderson could not be reached.

  3. U.K. Cloning Controversy

    A legal ruling on a law governing embryo research might allow Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori to attempt human reproductive cloning in Britain. On 15 November, Britain's High Court ruled that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, passed in 1990 and amended last year, covers only embryos created by the union of sperm and egg and not those created by nuclear transfer procedures—i.e., cloning. A day later, Antinori told BBC television he planned to exploit the loophole by setting up a baby-cloning program in Britain, an idea the government opposes.

    Some scientists, however, would like to create genetically matched pluripotent stem cells from cloned embryos, and last year Parliament voted to allow such limited cloning. Last week's ruling—in response to a lawsuit by British abortion opponents—apparently nullifies that vote and calls into question the government's ability to allow just certain types of cloning. After their victory, antiabortion groups called for quick legislation outlawing all forms of human cloning, but the government said it will appeal the decision.

    The ruling does not end the government's ability to regulate stem cell research. Studies on cells derived from embryos not created by cloning are still overseen by the government.

  4. Sound Bites

    It's pretty hard to argue with a commitment to research excellence. Or more interdisciplinary collaborations, or helping underserved populations. So the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) won't need to spend much time defending its new suggestions for strengthening the country's health research.

    But CIHR president Alan Bernstein warns scientists that these fuzzy generalities may take on a harder edge when used for judging funding proposals. “If someone puts forward a large initiative that doesn't fall into these [categories], they'll have to articulate a clear reason why it should be considered,” Bernstein says.

    In particular, Bernstein suggests that biomedical scientists figure out how to take advantage of hot areas such as bioinformatics and combinatorial chemistry. “This is, to some extent, my own view of where the action is going to be,” he says. Whatever idea they pitch, he adds, researchers should spell out how it will “build Canada's international leadership through national excellence in health research.”