Science  22 Jun 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5832, pp. 1681

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  1. NIH Mapmakers Stalk Terra Incognita

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    Two hot biological research areas—epigenetics and the microbes our bodies host—will lead Roadmap 1.5, the second round of research initiatives that cut across all 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Alan Krensky, incoming director of NIH's new planning office, says solicitations for these two 5-year programs will go out this fall. Epigenetics will catalog genetic changes that affect gene expression but don't involve a change in DNA sequence. The Human Microbiome Project will examine the body's microbial communities and their relation to disease. Two more projects to start as pilots include work on human phenotyping and protein probes. NIH projects spending $30 million next year and $80 million for each of the next 4 years.

  2. Patent Office Goes MySpace

    1. Eli Kintisch

    The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has begun a pilot program (Science, 19 May 2006, p. 982) to solicit outside input on computer technology patent applications. IBM, Intel, General Electric, Red Hat, and Hewlett-Packard have each given permission for one patent application to receive public scrutiny, and some 550 lawyers, programmers, and laypeople have signed up to participate. The patent office is hoping that the additional reviewers will help it spot proposed inventions that are not new.

  3. Settlement Reached in Data Case

    1. Eliot Marshall

    Leaders of the world's largest genetic biobank for children's health research say they're in the clear after settling a big lawsuit filed by deCODE Genetics in Reykjavik, Iceland.

    The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) disclosed last week that it has paid an undisclosed sum to deCODE to end a suit in which deCODE accused several former employees of plotting to “steal” deCODE's computer programs and data (Science, 6 October 2006, p. 30). CHOP denied the allegations and countersued. In the settlement, deCODE and CHOP agree to withdraw allegations, and CHOP promises not to use deCODE's proprietary material. Philip Johnson, CHOP's scientific director, says that the hospital never used, nor intended to use, anything from deCODE, and that several research papers now in press are proof of progress despite the dispute. In a statement, deCODE's chair, Kári Stefánsson, says he's pleased to have reached an agreement with “a noble institution.”

  4. Report Backs Interspecies Lines

    1. Constance Holden

    A report by Britain's Academy of Medical Sciences has bolstered the political case for allowing the creation of so-called cybrids, in which human DNA is inserted into animal eggs to generate human embryonic stem cells. The U.K. Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is currently conducting a public consultation on the practice, with a fall decision expected.

    The report asserts that research involving interspecies embryos raises “no substantive ethical or moral reasons not to proceed” provided that the usual regulations are followed, panel chair Martin Bobrow of the University of Cambridge said in a statement. Most nations, including the United Kingdom, require that no human research embryos be allowed to survive beyond 14 days.

    Cybrids could allow nuclear transfer without tapping the limited supply of human eggs. The issue came to a head last year when two groups applied to HFEA for permission to work with cow eggs instead. Critics find distasteful the idea of mixing animal and human material, and the practice has been banned in Australia and several other nations. The British government has proposed legislation that would ban the practice but allow exceptions.

  5. What's That Smell?

    1. Erik Stokstad

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week launched the first national study of air pollutants from dairy cow, swine, and poultry farms. For 2.5 years, researchers from eight universities will measure emissions of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and other gases from livestock farms in nine states across the country. EPA will then create a model to enable individual operations to check whether they need an agency permit.

    Environmentalists say the study is not comprehensive enough and may underestimate emissions. EPA has the authority to order farms to do their own monitoring, but it chose instead to study just 24 sites as part of a 2001 deal with industry. In exchange for not being regulated, more than 2600 operations with 14,000 farms agreed to contribute a total of $14.6 million for the study. “Without a better study, I'm not sure this will lead to anything but more lawsuits and delay,” says Karla Raettig of the Environmental Integrity Project in Washington, D.C. The D.C. Court of Appeals heard arguments this year on a case activists brought challenging EPA's voluntary approach. It's unclear how that case, which is pending, could affect the research.

  6. Bioenergy Centers Are Not Corny

    1. Eli Kintisch

    The Department of Energy (DOE) has named the winners in a competition to run three $125 million bioenergy research centers. The 5-year awards go to teams led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee to manage the facilities, set to open in 2009.

    The centers, intended to be as flexible as start-up companies, are a new departure for DOE. Officials had originally proposed large-scale bioenergy institutes focused on themes such as proteomics or genomics. But last year, heeding advice from the National Research Council, DOE created more nimble centers focused directly on natural microbes that could break down lignin, a protein that blocks access to cellulose from grasses, waste, or woody plants, which DOE wants to tap to make biofuels instead of corn, the standard current feedstock. The Oak Ridge team, for example, includes two national labs, four universities, and three biotech companies coordinating work at ORNL on plant genomics, cell imaging, entomology, and molecular biology. Researchers have focused on many of these problems before, says center director Martin Keller, but not “integrated at this level.”