Science  25 Aug 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5790, pp. 1029

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  1. Controls Sought ...

    AIDS researchers have known for years that a small percentage of people infected with HIV do not show symptoms of the disease, but they have yet to understand why. Now immunologist Bruce Walker of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has identified about 100 so-called elite controllers in the Boston area and says that dozens of investigators want to join an international consortium he's organizing to uncover genetic or immunological clues to this group's good health.

    Elite controllers—thought to number about 3000 in the United States—by definition show no immune damage and have unusually low levels of the AIDS virus in their blood 1 year after being infected, despite taking no anti-HIV drugs. Walker says a consortium could perform haplotype mapping of the controllers, comparing their genes with those of uninfected people. One key difference encoded within the controllers' DNA, for example, may be high levels of so-called PD-1 receptors; these immune cell surface proteins, Walker's lab reported online 20 August in Nature, appear to play a key role in controlling HIV replication.

    The proposed effort, for which Walker has received $2.5 million from the Mark and Lisa Schwartz Foundation to launch, “could provide important insights into what's important to intervene with prevention strategies,” says virologist Douglas Richman of the University of California, San Diego, who has joined the consortium.

  2. ... Controls Eased

    The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has abandoned a controversial proposal that would have required universities to keep a watchful eye on foreign nationals involved in defense research. DOD proposed the rules 13 months ago to prevent the transfer of sensitive technologies to countries seen as security threats. Under the proposal, universities not only had to supplement the normal export licenses for the researchers with new “unique badging requirements” but also with “segregated work areas” for foreigners (Science, 22 July 2005, p. 544). Academic lobbyists said that a tougher regime would scare off needed foreign expertise and that existing rules were sufficient.

    Now the Pentagon has removed the badging and separate work area requirements, bringing its rules in line with those at the Commerce and State departments. “We're pleased,” says Toby Smith of the Association of American Universities of the plan, for which comments will be accepted until 13 October.

  3. Embryo Law Reconsidered

    Australia's Parliament is expected next month to debate ending its 4-year-old ban on therapeutic cloning. Prime Minister John Howard had long supported the ban and opposed any such debate, but last week, he said he would allow a “conscience” vote on the issue.

    Former health minister Kay Patterson is drafting a bill to allow the work, and Parliament watchers say a vote is likely unless Howard relents. If a vote happens, says backbencher Mal Washer, it has a good chance of passing. “I think we'll have more people vote for this bill than we had for RU-486,” he said in a radio interview, referring to a recent vote that eased restrictions on the use of the abortion drug.

  4. Pounds for Papers

    The American Physical Society (APS), a leading publisher of physics journals, will next month make full-text articles free for all to read online when they're published—for a one-time fee that anyone can pay. Many commercial and nonprofit journals already offer a pay-for-open-access option; some rely entirely on author fees so they can be free to all readers. APS said last week that it will begin by charging a per-article fee of $975 for its Physical Review journals and $1300 for the elite Physical Review Letters. APS Editor-in-Chief Martin Blume calls the move a step toward “possibly being fully open access someday.” At least one institution wants to pay; CERN, the European particle physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland, aims to raise funds to make all particle physics papers freely accessible.

  5. New Vatican Astronomer

    George Coyne, the Vatican astronomer who has been a vocal critic of intelligent design, has been fired. Last week, the Vatican announced that Coyne, 73, is being replaced by Argentinian astronomer and Jesuit priest José Gabriel Funes. Last fall, Coyne had a public conflict with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, a critic of evolution and close adviser to Pope Benedict XVI.

    Coyne, Vatican astronomer since 1978, could not be reached for comment but will remain on the staff of the Vatican Observatory Research group at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, who is involved in the evolution conflict, says the news came as “a shock.”