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Plant genome initiative wins $40m support from Congress


    The US Congress has agreed funding for a new $40 million-a-year plant genome sequencing effort to be led by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The initiative was proposed by Senator Christopher Bond (Republican, Missouri) and has strong backing from the agricultural biotechnology industry (see Nature 388, 313; 1997 (Republican, Missouri) and has strong backing from the agricultural biotechnology industry (see). It was fully funded in an appropriations bill that was agreed last week between the House of Representatives and the Senate.

    The bill instructs the agency to spend $40 million on the initiative in the new financial year, which started on 1 October, in addition to the $20 million it had already planned to spend on plant genome research. The bill, which also increases the NSF's total expenditure on research grants by 5 per cent, or $114 million, to more than $2.5 billion, is expected to pass into law later this month.

    Paul quits AIDS office to return to the lab

    [washington] William Paul, director of the Office of AIDS Research (OAR) at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1994, announced last week that he would step down as early as next month, having seen put in place many measures that he felt “passionately” were needed. “I leave the OAR with a true sense of accomplishment,” Paul said. But, he added, “I really felt the need to return to full-time lab work. I want myself to be very much involved in the vaccine effort.” Paul, who is 61, said that he plans to pursue AIDS vaccine research in his laboratory at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

    Harold Varmus, the NIH director, said Paul had provided “exemplary scientific leadership for the NIH AIDS research programs”. Under Paul, the number of AIDS research grants grew by 50 per cent. Plans were laid for a new NIH AIDS vaccine research centre, construction of which will begin next year. But Paul's tenure was dogged by attempts by conservative Republicans in Congress to emasculate the OAR by channelling NIH's $1.5- billion AIDS research budget directly to NIH institutes, rather than through the OAR.

    Russian researchers mount funding protest

    [moscow] About 250 scientists picketed Russia's House of Government last week demanding that funding for science be increased from 2.85 per cent to 4 per cent of total government expenditure, as required under current legislation. They were also protesting against plans to cut by two-thirds the number of employees in the Russian Academy of Sciences. “Ignoring our demands will destroy the nation's science and, as a result, its intellectual potential,” said Vladimir Khlebodarov, chairman of the academy workers' trade union. Protest action was also held or is planned at many Russian scientific centres.

    US academy president goes for second term

    [washington] Bruce Alberts, the president of the US National Academy of Sciences, has decided to put his name forward for a second six-year term. Alberts, who wants to put sustainable development and school education at the top of the academy's agenda (see Nature 388, 819; 1997), told its ruling council late last month that he would like to stand again.

    The council will now form a nominating committee to decide which names to put before the academy's 1,800 members for the presidential election, which will take place late next year. But precedent suggests that there will only be one name — and that it will be that of Alberts.

    CNRS appointments ‘put science first’

    [paris] Sixty per cent of the budget and personnel of France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) has come under new management after three appointments announced last week by Catherine Brechignac, the new director-general of the largest research organization in Europe.

    The new head of life sciences is Jacques Samarut; Marie-Claude Maurel is to take charge of humanities and the social sciences; and the successor to Brechignac herself as head of physical and mathematical sciences is Jean-Paul Pouget. Brechignac says that all three are scientists appointed with the goal of ensuring that science — rather than management or politics — dominates the agenda of their departments. Such an objective, she says, reflects her priorities for CNRS as a whole.

    Monster price paid for Tyrannosaurus Sue

    [london] ‘Sue’, claimed to be the most complete specimen known of Tyrannosaurus rex, fetched US$7.6 million at Sotheby's in New York last week. The money was paid by a consortium made up of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, McDonald's Ronald McDonald House Charities, Walt Disney World Resorts and others. The museum will put Sue on display from 2000, but the public will be able to see her during preparation, says Peter Crane, the director of the museum.

    Sue was discovered in 1990 on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. The Black Hills Institute for Geological Research is said to have paid Maurice Williams, a Sioux Indian who is a ranch owner, US$5,000 to excavate the fossil. But Sue was confiscated by the federal government, which claimed that as Williams held the land in trust he did not have the right to sell fossils found on it. The issue drew attention to the activities of commercial collectors on public land; Peter Larson, president of the institute, was jailed for two years for offences connected with the fossil trade. He is now free.

    Next director lined up for Los Alamos lab

    [washington] The next director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico will be John Browne, a nuclear physicist who is at present director of the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center, a research facility used by both weapons scientists and outside university researchers.

    Credit: JASON LOWE

    The regents of the University of California were expected to confirm Browne as their choice for the position earlier this week. Browne spent 10 years at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California before arriving at Los Alamos in 1979.

    Embryonic inspiration for fashion collection

    [london] A fashion collection inspired by the first 1,000 hours of the development of an embryo is being previewed this week at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London before its catwalk debut later this year. ‘Primitive Streak’ is the work of designer Helen Storey and her sister Kate, who is a developmental biologist at the University of Oxford. Each of the 35 outfits represents a specific stage in the development of the embryo.

    The picture above shows a red and black DNA dress with a silver-plated female spine. It correlates to bone formation at about day 42. The collection grew out of a proposal funded by the Wellcome Trust under its Science and Art initiative.

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    Plant genome initiative wins $40m support from Congress. Nature 389, 536 (1997).

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