Science  05 Mar 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5663, pp. 1449

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  1. German Reactor Opens, Finally

    Ending years of controversy, researchers this week fired up Germany's FRM-II neutron source near Garching, which will be used by researchers in fields from physics to biology. Approval to start the reactor, which was completed 3 years ago, had been held up by a controversy over its use of highly enriched uranium fuel. Plans now call for the reactor to shift to less weapons-friendly fuel by 2010 (Science, 23 May 2003, p. 1226).

  2. NIH Ends Estrogen Study

    A study of 11,000 postmenopausal women on estrogen supplements has been halted a year ahead of schedule. The trial, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the second of two Women's Health Initiative hormone replacement studies to have been stopped early (Science, 19 July 2002, p. 325). Like its predecessor—a study of more than 16,000 women on estrogen and progestin—the estrogen-only study uncovered little benefit, and some risks, from taking hormones after menopause. “This is the final nail in the coffin” for hormone replacement therapy, says Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

  3. A Cock-a-Doodle-Doo Genome Joins the Flock


    Genome sequencers have taken a first pass at unraveling the genome of the chicken. The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and its collaborators last week released a rough draft of the genome of a red jungle fowl, considered the ancestor of all domestic chickens. At 1 billion bases, the genome is one-third the size of the human genome. It's the first—and so far only—avian genome in NHGRI's sequencing hopper.

    Birds stand between fish and mammals in the evolutionary timeline, and the new sequence will help researchers identify key sections of DNA that are not genes, says evolutionary biologist Hans Ellegren of Uppsala University in Sweden. China's Beijing Genomics Institute, meanwhile, has sequenced parts of three domestic chickens to see how their genomes differ from their ancestors'. Surprisingly, “genetic variation is much higher than in humans,” says Ellegren, a mystery that researchers will still have to peck away at.

  4. Panel Targets Thai AIDS trial

    A controversial AIDS vaccine trial in Thailand has caught the attention of the House Committee on Government Reform, which objects to the decision by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund the $119 million study. In a recent report that responds to President George W. Bush's 2005 budget request, the panel's Republican majority concludes that the money “would be better spent” on a program that provides anti-HIV drugs to low-income, uninsured people.

    The report notes that 22 leading AIDS researchers criticized the Thai study in a policy forum in Science (16 January, p. 316). The study, which combines two vaccines, has attracted intense scrutiny because past trials have found that one of the productsa genetically engineered version of HIV's surface protein gp120failed to protect vaccinated people. Although any funding decision is far off, the committee's language puts NIH on notice that this issue has moved from the halls of science to the halls of Congress.

  5. A New Weapon Against Avian Flu in Asia?

    Authorities fighting to stop the spread of avian influenza in Asia want to add another weapon to their armory: mass vaccination of uninfected flocks. The decision to try the complex, costly strategy came last week at a meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, organized by global health groups.

    In some developing nations, mass vaccination of chicks could be the best bet for controlling an outbreak that has already led to the deaths of an estimated 100 million birds, says animal epidemiologist Stefano Marangon, director of Italy's Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie in Padua. It is “the most catastrophic animal epidemic ever,” he says. Testing and deploying a vaccine could take at least 2 months, however, and adequate supplies could cost at least $200 million, estimates Bernard Vallat, director of the World Organization for Animal Health. The World Bank and Asian Development Bank have promised help, he says, but details of “a long-term program needing a lot of investment” must still be worked out.

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