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Send in the clones

The year opened with stories of virgin birth. The Raelian cult, which maintains that the first humans were created by aliens, claimed to have produced its own baby clones. Italian fertility specialist Severino Antinori also said he had women volunteers carrying cloned fetuses. But no clone has been brought forth. The United Nations, meanwhile, debated motions to ban human cloning for reproduction and for research. But it was a similar story of build-up without birth — in the end, members agreed to put the decision off for another year.

Physics heavyweights

America's hopes of finding the Higgs boson — a particle that is involved in lending mass to other objects — in the Tevatron collider at Fermilab in Illinois were dashed this summer. Problems with the collider make it unlikely to generate enough collisions between protons and antiprotons to spy the particle. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, near Geneva, which is scheduled to begin operating by 2007, could offer our best chance of snaring the Higgs.

Water, water everywhere

It was the International Year of Freshwater. But the World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan, this spring came up with little to solve the world's problems with this critical natural resource. It did not declare access to clean water a human right; neither did it demand that countries negotiate treaties on sharing rivers. The United Nations' goal of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015 seems a remote prospect.

Off the menu

The prospect of Europeans growing and eating large amounts of genetically modified (GM) food remains as remote as ever. Strict European Union laws on the need to label and trace GM crops were passed this summer, which many observers thought would ease the way for the approval of new transgenic crops. But when member states met in December to discuss approving one such crop for sale, the vote remained split. So an unofficial moratorium on new licences stays in place, at least until ministers meet next spring.

Free for all

Will the scientific literature in future be dominated by journals that do not charge their readers? That is the goal of the 'open-access' movement, which argues that the costs of publishing should be borne up front by those who fund research, rather than those who want to read about it. Open-access journals, which charge publication fees, have been proliferating over the past few years. October saw the launch of the most prominent, Public Library of Science Biology, which is competing for top biology papers with Nature, Science and Cell.

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Watch this space. Nature 426, 755 (2003).

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