Science  26 Sep 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5897, pp. 1751


    DIGGING FOR CLUES. Virologist John Oxford of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry in the United Kingdom hopes that exhuming the body of a British politician felled by the Spanish flu after World War I will yield important clues to dangerous modern-day strains.

    Although tens of millions died in the 1918–19 epidemic, Oxford (inset) homed in on Mark Sykes, who helped draw up national boundaries after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, because he assumed his lead-lined coffin—pricey and rare for its time—would have kept the body from decomposing completely. Although the Sykes family readily gave its consent, Oxford spent 3 years on the paperwork to get the excavation approved. When he finally unearthed Sykes at the East Yorkshire gravesite last week, the body was, as Oxford had hoped, well enough preserved to obtain useful tissue samples. It will take another 4 months of biosafety-level-4 lab procedures before any data emerge.



    A SPECIAL LASKER. A half-century spent as a microbe hunter has earned Stanley Falkow the 2008 Lasker-Koshland Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science. The award, renamed this year to honor Daniel E. Koshland Jr., recognizes Falkow's discovery of the molecular nature of antibiotic resistance, his work on new methods to untangle the details by which bacteria survive and spread, and his mentoring of more than 100 students.


    BEETLE SOUP. A field trip to collect beetles from the Himalayan foothills has turned into a legal nightmare for Czech entomologist Petr Ŝvácha and his assistant Emil Kučera.

    The two men spent a month in an Indian jail and were found guilty of collecting biological specimens without a permit. On 10 September, a judge let Ŝvácha off with a $500 fine. But his ordeal is not over yet. Indian forestry officials have said that they may appeal to a higher court to send him to prison. Kučera, whose personal Web site included an offer to provide insect specimens to interested parties, was sentenced at the same time to 3 years in prison and fined $1500. He is appealing the verdict.

    Hoping to collect specimens while avoiding the notorious Indian bureaucracy, the duo went to India as tourists in June and assumed they would be fine as long as they avoided protected areas such as national parks. But they ran afoul of a 2002 law that requires permits for collecting natural specimens anywhere in the country and were arrested 22 June. Indian researchers have also complained about that law. “Biologists should start defending themselves against the attacks of bureaucrats and attempts to enclose biology in political borders,” Ŝvácha says.



    WORKPLACE ACCIDENT. A German physicist in charge of a gamma-ray telescope that was to have been inaugurated last week fell to his death from 8 meters while calibrating the instrument. Florian Goebel, 35, had been the project manager for MAGIC II—built on a La Palma mountaintop in the Canary Islands—since 2005.

    Officials from the 17 institutes across Europe and the United States that are part of the MAGIC (Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov Telescope) collaboration are investigating the circumstances of his death on the night of 10 September. “Goebel was an expert and knew all [safety] rules and procedures,” says Masahiro Teshima, spokesperson for the collaboration. “We don't understand how this could happen.”

    Goebel had worked at the German DESY research center for particle physics before joining the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich, the main German partner. “He was a very talented and cheerful person and an extremely good scientist,” says Teshima. “Everybody loved him.”

    Together with an almost identical telescope completed 5 years ago, MAGIC II will study atmospheric particle showers created by high-energy cosmic gamma rays. Its inauguration has been postponed until next year.



    David Korn, a former Stanford University medical school dean who has been a prominent voice in Washington, D.C., for the biomedical research community, will become Harvard University's first vice provost for research. Korn has served since 1997 as senior vice president for biomedical and health sciences research at the Association of American Medical Colleges, weighing in on everything from research funding to financial conflicts of interest. Starting in November, he will develop research policies for Harvard's schools and affiliated hospitals as part of efforts to promote collaboration. At 75, Korn could have hung up his boots, but he says he was looking forward to another challenge. “Everything I've done in my career has been engrossing and stimulating. This position could be a splendid, probably last, stage,” he says.

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