Science  10 May 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5570, pp. 999

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  1. ITER Reconsidered

    Four years after bailing out due to cost concerns, the U.S. government is considering rejoining a slimmed-down international fusion power project. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham last week told an international conference that President George W. Bush was “particularly interested” in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) and had asked the Department of Energy (DOE) “to seriously consider American participation” in the $4 billion project (Science, 3 May, p. 823).


    Fusion advocates welcomed the speech, as did potential partners in Japan, Russia, Canada, and Europe. But DOE science chief Ray Orbach cautioned that it will take a while “to do due diligence on the scientific issues” and decide whether ITER, or some other domestic fusion project, would be the United States' best bet. Fusion researchers are due to meet in Colorado this summer to hash out the issues, and they hope to issue a consensus recommendation by the end of the year. ITER planners, meanwhile, hope to select a site for the planned machine at about the same time. Finding funding for any fusion project, however, could be difficult.

  2. Bigger Rebates?

    The United Kingdom wants to expand the reach of its R&D tax credit in a bid to spur commercial science. The government last month unveiled a budget proposal to increase existing tax credits for small firms and—for the first time—give large companies a tax break for R&D spending.

    Currently, companies with fewer than 250 employees can deduct 100% of their R&D expenses. Under the new plan, these small firms would be able to deduct 125%, with large players getting a new 25% rebate. Analysts estimate that the breaks would cost the treasury about $585 million.

    Government officials hope the rebates will help persuade multinational firms to shift some of their R&D operations to the island. Indeed, large pharmaceutical companies may be the biggest beneficiaries of the change, says Daniel Abrams of the U.K.'s BioIndustry Association, because small biotech outfits already benefit from other subsidies. Parliament, which must approve the new credits, is expected to consider the change later this year.

  3. Neutron Plans Unveiled

    European researchers will make their case next week for a powerful accelerator designed to produce neutrons to probe the structure of proteins and designer materials. On 16 and 17 May, leaders of the European Spallation Source (ESS) project will meet in Bonn, Germany, to unveil their plan to the research community, the media, and—most importantly—politicians who will decide whether to fund the long-discussed facility. “It's like a motor show where we'll pull the sheet off our wonderful new model, and we want to hear the audience gasp,” says Robert Cywinski, a physicist at the University of Leeds, U.K., and chair of the European Neutron Scattering Association.

    An expert commission gave ESS its blessing in 1996 (Science, 9 May 1997, p. 891), but political support was slow to follow. Since then, planners have redesigned the machine so that it would leapfrog over two sources under construction in the United States and Japan. ESS “would allow [Europe] to keep [its] position on the world stage for 30 to 40 years,” Cywinski says.

    But ESS backers first need to find an estimated $1.5 billion. Construction could begin in 2004, with completion set for 2011. Five sites are competing for the project: Yorkshire and the Rutherford-Appleton site near Oxford, U.K., Lund in Sweden, and Jülich and Halle in Germany.

  4. Mouse Tale at End?

    It's official: Mice, rats, and birds used in laboratory research are no longer animals—at least according to a major federal animal welfare law. In a big win for the biomedical research community, Congress this week approved a massive farm bill that includes language exempting the animals from regulation under the Animal Welfare Act. President George W. Bush is expected to sign the bill, ending a decade-old struggle by animal activists to force the U.S. Department of Agriculture to regulate the use of the most common laboratory animals (Science, 22 February, p. 1439). The bill also orders the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a 1-year study of the use and regulation of mice, rats, and birds in research.


    Animal advocates, however, say they will carry the fight to a new arena: the states. John McArdle of the Alternatives Research and Development Foundation in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, says activists will work to pass state laws that require researchers to consider alternatives to animals in experiments and to treat all animals humanely.

  5. Case Closed

    U.S. prosecutors have dropped most of their charges against one of two Japanese researchers accused of scientific espionage—leaving him with hefty legal bills. Biologist Hiroaki Serizawa last week pleaded guilty to giving false information to FBI agents. But prosecutors in Akron, Ohio, dropped charges that he had conspired in 1999 with a friend, Takashi Okamoto, to smuggle Alzheimer's disease research materials out of the United States (Science, 18 May 2001, p. 1274).

    Serizawa's troubles began after Okamoto gave him vials containing “DNA constructs” and other “trade secrets” taken from Okamoto's former lab at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Some vials were shipped to Japan, sparking the charges. Japanese officials have found no trace of the vials, but the United States has asked them to extradite Okamoto to Ohio to stand trial.

    Serizawa has said that he never knew what was in the vials, and the government conceded that the material did not constitute trade secrets. But rather than face an expensive trial, Serizawa pleaded guilty to the lesser charge, which carries a maximum 5-year jail term. Prosecutors let Serizawa, who lives in Kansas City, Kansas, retain his green card and continue as a permanent U.S. resident. However, he was denied tenure last month at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. Friends and colleagues, meanwhile, are raising funds to help him pay an estimated $250,000 in legal bills.

  6. Genomics for All

    The World Health Organization (WHO) could become a broker between the genome haves and have-nots. A new report surveys the genetic research landscape internationally and calls for WHO to help developing nations benefit from genomics. It concludes that WHO could carve a useful niche by setting up ethics guidelines to protect research volunteers, building research and training programs in poor nations, and examining new gene-based therapies for developing-world diseases. Such steps would help developing nations “be ready” to exploit future advances, says lead author David Weatherall, a geneticist at Oxford University, U.K.

    WHO's General Assembly is expected to consider the ideas at its 13 May meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. Even if approved, however, donors—including governments, drug firms, and philanthropies—will have to be convinced that the plan is worth the estimated $20-million-a-year price tag.

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