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17Science CiteTrack: Science News This Week

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  • SharifahNR
    Feb 17, 2011
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      Reader Poll: Data Use and Access
      We'd like to know more about the issues and challenges researchers face with respect to the availability and use of data. Take our poll and see the related 11 February special issue on Dealing with Data.
      SCIENCE News Summaries, Volume 331, Issue 6019
      dated February 18 2011, is now available at:
      A copy of the "SCIENCE News This Week" section has been appended below.

      SCIENCE News This Week
      February 18 2011, 331 (6019)


      This Week's Section

      Follow the links below for a roundup of the week's top stories in science, or download a PDF of the entire section.

      Around the World

      In science news around the world this week, the U.S. president and House of Representatives presented very different budget proposals, an Indian court ignored an appeal to release a physician-activist, seeds of more than 1500 types of Andean potato will be sent to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Nipah virus has struck again in Bangladesh, and Yale has agreed to return Machu Picchu artifacts to Peru.


      This week's Newsmaker is computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton of the University of Toronto, who has carried off Canada's most prestigious science prize—along with a $1 million grant to support his research over the next 5 years.

      Random Sample

      New Stem Cell Lab Designed to Inspire


      A stem cell research building opened 9 February at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), is generating oohs and ahhs from scientists and architecture buffs alike. The $123 million Ray and Dagmar Dolby Regeneration Medicine Building, which will headquarter the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research, snakes along a 65° slope and features four split-level floors with terraced roofs planted with native grasses. Labs with open floor plans, interspersed with offices and lounge areas, are meant to foster interaction among its 300 researchers. It seems to be working, says the center's director, Arnold Kriegstein: "People are already congregating in the lunchrooms and in the hallways and striking up collaborations."

      >>The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office
      of Research Integrity has produced an interactive online movie called The Lab. The choose-your-own-adventure-style film allows viewers to play as one of four characters, including an insecure postdoc and a promising young graduate student, to avert a case of scientific misconduct. http://scim.ag/labmovie

      Art From Produce
      Using the same MRI machines with which he conducts brain scans by day, Andrew Ellison, a technologist at Boston University School of Medicine, spends his evenings scanning fruit and vegetables. The resulting ethereal videos are produced as the scanner passes through the skin, pith, and flesh of everyday edibles.


      MRI scans of peapods, a watermelon, black raspberries, and a persimmon (clockwise, from top left).
      Ellison initially used an orange as a quality control. "A problem with the scanner would show itself with most fruits and veggies," he explains. But, fascinated by the orange's fleshy insides, Ellison began to scour the markets for other fruit and vegetables to scan. Encouraged by his colleagues' enthusiasm for his new art form, he started to post his videos to a blog (http://insideinsides.blogspot.com) that has received more than 500,000 hits since July 2010.
      Ellison has now racked up 36 different scans and is looking for more-exotic produce. "No one seems to be as amazed and moved by the artichoke as I am," he says, "but everyone has a favorite." (See also the Visualization section of this special issue on p. 848.)

      By the Numbers
      The budget for U.S. science got more complicated this week when President Barack Obama submitted his 2012 spending plan. Here are three starting points for the coming debate over how much the country should invest in non-defense research:
      $66.8 billion — The amount President Barack Obama has requested for 2012, a 6.5% increase over current spending levels.
      $62.7 billion — Current spending under a so-called continuing resolution for 2011 that expires on 4 March.
      $58.3 billion — The amount Republicans have budgeted in 2011 as part of a government-wide spending plan being debated this week by the House of Representatives.


      Lymph Node Surgery Unnecessary for Early Breast Cancer

      Fetal Surgery Success

      Probing the Secrets of Prostate Tumors

      Outcast Planets Could Support Life


      Obama's 2012 Vision Clashes With House Cuts in 2011

      Jeffrey Mervis*
      It's a tale of two budgets, and the U.S. science community is applauding one while deploring the other. The twin story lines involve the president's vision for 2012 and a spending plan by House Republicans for the rest of this fiscal year. The latter is needed because Congress still hasn't finished work on the budget for the 2011 fiscal year that began last October. And while budgets are always political statements, this pair goes further by painting starkly contrasting visions of where the country should be headed—and the role of research in helping it to get there. All this is a recipe for confusion and uncertainty.
      * With reporting by the Science News staff.
      * With reporting by the Science News staff.

      High-Priced Recruiting of Talent Abroad Raises Hackles

      Hao Xin
      How much would it take to get you to relocate to China? Would 150 million yuan ($23 million) do the trick? If so, pack your bags—if you are a Nobel laureate, that is. Science has learned that the Chinese government will soon announce a new initiative to lure up to 10 winners of prestigious international science prizes to China each year by offering what may be the heftiest reward ever paid to individual researchers. Some prizewinners may be salivating, but at least one prominent Chinese-American scientist aware of the new program blasts it as a massive waste of resources.

      Science in Ivins Case Not Ironclad, NRC Says

      Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
      The scientific evidence behind the U.S. government's implication of U.S. Army researcher Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks is not as strong as claimed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), according to a long-awaited review by the National Research Council released this week. Although the report agrees with the FBI on most of the conclusions drawn from the analysis of anthrax spores used in the mailings, it cautions that the science by itself does not definitively link the attack material to a flask under Ivins's control at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, as the FBI asserted.

      A Quake May Have Hinted That It Was on the Way

      Richard A. Kerr
      Decades of monitoring have failed to turn up any warning sign of an imminent earthquake, and most seismologists have moved on to other problems. Now, however, a new analysis of decade-old, low-quality data from a large Turkish earthquake, reported on page 877 of this week's issue of Science, has revealed tantalizing signs of a quake precursor. The encouraging development comes from records of the magnitude-7.6 Izmit earthquake that struck just 100 kilometers from Istanbul in 1999.

      Growth Defect Blocks Cancer and Diabetes

      Mitch Leslie
      Life can be treacherous for Ecuadorians with Laron syndrome, a rare type of dwarfism. As children, they are vulnerable infectious diseases. As adults, they are prone to fatal accidents, such as falls on stairs that aren't sized for their short legs. But a new study shows that these people, who carry a genetic defect that prevents them from responding to growth hormone, are almost exempt from cancer and diabetes. The paper solidifies a link researchers have long suspected from animal studies and suggests that dialing down the growth-controlling molecular pathways might protect healthy adults from these diseases.


      Can This DNA Sleuth Help Catch Criminals?

      Martin Enserink
      Forensic geneticist Manfred Kayser's group made headlines around the world last year with a paper showing how the DNA in a blood sample can give away someone's age—albeit with a margin of error of at least 9 years. His group has developed a DNA test to predict someone's eye color; work on hair color, skin color, and other traits is in progress. The genetic clues that Kayser and others are trying to glean from minuscule amounts of blood, semen, saliva, and hair are unlikely to be introduced as evidence in a courtroom. After all, when someone is suspected of a crime, or charged, a conventional DNA fingerprinting test can determine if his or her DNA matches traces found at the crime scene. Instead, forensic DNA phenotyping could be useful during an investigation, when predicting a criminal's looks can help the police focus their search. Forensic DNA phenotyping raises new ethical and legal issues, and the Netherlands has regulated the practice in a new law (see sidebar). But Kayser doesn't anticipate that the concerns will stop the field. This story and the one accompanying it are part of a collection this month reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the publication of the human genome, which are gathered here.

      Emerging Forensics Field May Hit Legal, Ethical Obstacles

      Martin Enserink
      A year after a 16-year-old girl was brutally raped and murdered in the Netherlands in 1999, forensic geneticist Peter de Knijff set out to determine the geographic ancestry of the murderer from DNA in his semen. That was, he later admitted, "completely illegal" under Dutch law, which at the time allowed using DNA for traditional DNA identification but not for determining race, looks, or disease risk. De Knijff's dilemma could arise any day in many countries. In the wake of the murder—still unsolved today—the Dutch parliament adopted a law in 2003 regulating forensic DNA phenotyping, the use of DNA samples to predict a suspect's ancestry or physical characteristics (see main text). But the Netherlands is still the only country to have done so. This story and the one it accompanies are part of a collection this month reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the publication of the human genome, which are gathered here.

      NASA Weighs Asteroids: Cheaper Than Moon, But Still Not Easy

      Richard A. Kerr
      Rather than first returning astronauts to the moon before heading off to Mars, NASA will be aiming for near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) as steppingstones in the human exploration of deep space. The new approach has disappointed lunar scientists, naturally enough, but planetary scientists who study the small bodies of the solar system are delighted. For them, the redirection promises a bonanza of new data that had seemed beyond their reach for decades to come. And astronomers looking for that next catastrophic impacter would get a boost just as their ongoing search gets a lot harder (see sidebar). But the same planetary scientists who would most benefit from an NEA-studded "flexible path" to Mars are warning that the new route looks bumpy. So far, no one knows of even one NEA that would clearly serve as a practical first target for astronauts. And no one knows what the first visitors will find at a tiny, nearly gravity-free body, except that it could be both bizarre and dangerous.

      A Windfall for Defenders of the Planet

      Richard A. Kerr
      If U.S. astronauts hopscotch from one near-Earth asteroid practicing for their trip to Mars (see main text), it will be a big help to astronomers campaigning to find and fend off the rare NEAs that threaten to collide with Earth. NASA-led astronomers have now found about 90% of the estimated 1000 NEAs a kilometer across and larger that could have been on a collision course with Earth. It turns out that none actually are, so the risk in this century of a civilization-ending impact is essentially gone. But that leaves the other part of the threat, the one from objects 140 meters in diameter and larger—so-called city killers. Only about 5% of them have been found under NASA's search program. And at current discovery rates, most of the city killers would remain undetected for many decades.

      Europe's Eager Reformer Takes on Framework Funding Goliath

      Gretchen Vogel
      For Irish teacher-turned-politician Máire Geogheghan-Quinn, landing one of Europe's top political jobs in charge of research has meant a steep learning curve. Having served her country in ministerial roles covering Gaelic culture, justice, and European affairs, she then spent 10 years overseeing European Union finances. But in her first year as E.U. commissioner for research, innovation, and science, she has had to come up with plans to reengineer the European Union's huge {euro}54 billion research-funding program, prepare for a battle over budgets, find extra funding for the troubled ITER fusion reactor project, and has managed to raise the profile of science policy at the European Union's highest levels. She spoke with Science last week in her Brussels office. Her remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity. (You can read more of this interview here.)
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