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Seven days: 16–22 December 2011

The week in science: Cornell to build US$2-billion science campus in New York; Kepler finds a twin Earth; and Fukushima is declared to be in cold shutdown.

Policy | Events | Research | Business | Trend Watch | Coming up

POLICY

Patient protection Rules to protect people taking part in federally funded research in the United States are adequate but should be made stronger, according to a 15 December report from a panel advising US President Barack Obama on bioethical matters. The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues recommended greater public access to data about studies on human subjects, and called for a system to compensate people who sustain research-related injuries. The report had been requested by Obama in 2010, after the discovery that US government-funded scientists had intentionally infected subjects with syphilis in a study in Guatemala in the 1940s. See go.nature.com/jzyecz for more.

Cold shutdown The three reactors at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant that had meltdowns in early March have now been brought to a state of 'cold shutdown', the government announced on 16 December. The term means that the coolant in the reactors is stable and below its boiling point — and is usually an indication that any immediate crisis is over. But because the reactors are leaking, the milestone means very little in practice: water will still need to be pumped into the reactors to cool their decaying fuel, and residents who once lived near the plant will not be able to return until the land has been decontaminated. See go.nature.com/cdoruh for more.

Forest suspense Final voting on a law that would relax forest protection rules in the Brazilian Amazon was last week delayed until March 2012, giving environmentalists who oppose the changes more time to make their case to the Brazilian Congress. Scientists fear that the altered 'forest code' would weaken rules on tree-clearing that have reduced deforestation in the Amazon. The bill has already been passed by Brazil's Senate. See go.nature.com/bdfot2 for more.

Chimp research Most biomedical research on chimpanzees is “unnecessary”, the US Institute of Medicine found in a report released on 15 December. The report means that research using chimps that is funded by the US government will be sharply curtailed. The report was immediately accepted by the US National Institutes of Health, where director Francis Collins said that “something like 50%” of the agency's roughly 37 projects involving chimps would be phased out because they do not meet the report's criteria. See page 424 for more.

NASA science head John Grunsfeld, an astrophysicist and astronaut who carried out repairs on the Hubble Space Telescope, will head NASA's US$5-billion science mission directorate, the agency confirmed on 19 December. Nature reported the first news of the appointment in November. Starting on 4 January 2012, he replaces Ed Weiler, who retired in September. See go.nature.com/6pg9vv for more.

Australian reshuffle Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard took the nation's science leaders by surprise last week when she demoted her science minister, Kim Carr, to a non-cabinet position. Carr, who was well liked by the science community, had held the innovation, industry, science and research portfolio since 2007. Those areas were split in Gillard's reshuffle: science and research were added to the tertiary-education portfolio under Senator Chris Evans, and climate-change minister Greg Combet was given responsibility for innovation and industry. See go.nature.com/6jaak5 for more.

EVENTS

Credit: CORNELL UNIV.

Cornell wins New York science campus

Look out Boston and San Francisco. New York City has signed off on a US$2-billion science and engineering campus to stimulate high-tech industry and inspire new start-up companies. On 19 December, New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, chose a bid by Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, which he called the “boldest and most ambitious” of seven applications received in a year-long contest. With $450 million in hand, a new campus (artist's impression pictured) is slated to be built on Roosevelt Island by 2017. It will admit 75 full-time faculty members and 300 graduate students; an expansion to 280 faculty and 2,000 students is planned over the next three decades. See go.nature.com/733z3e for more.

RESEARCH

From air to orbit Rockets bound for orbit could one day be fired not from launch pads, but from the underbelly of the largest aeroplane ever built — according to Stratolaunch Systems, a company that was announced on 13 December. Stratolaunch, which is headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama, has influential founders: aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan (who won the Ansari X Prize in 2004 for designing the SpaceShipOne rocket-plane, the first private craft to reach suborbital flight) and Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen. They say that the air-launch-to-orbit system (intended to carry both cargo and human payloads) would be cheaper and more flexible than the conventional launch-pad approach. See go.nature.com/ead2ql for more.

Credit: F. KRAUS

Tiniest frogs This tiny adult female frog (Paedophryne dekot) is the world's smallest tetrapod, according to Fred Kraus at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, who published his finding on 12 December (F. Kraus ZooKeys 154, 71–88; 2011). Just 8.5–9.0 millimetres long from snout to vent — about a millimetre shorter than other tiny frog species — the amphibian was found living in leaf litter in forests in Papua New Guinea. A large number of diminutive frogs live in the region, which Kraus says may be a biological oddity. However, he also points out that miniature frogs are hard to find in the field, so their presence elsewhere could have been overlooked.

A twin Earth NASA's Kepler telescope has reached one of its major mission milestones: discovering another Earth-sized planet. It has also spotted a Venus-sized planet in the same star system, which is about 290 parsecs (946 light years) away from us, researchers reported on 20 December at a press conference and in Nature (F. Fressin et al. Nature http:/dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature10780; 2011). Although scientists were delighted with this feat of detection, both planets orbit far too close to their parent star to be habitable. See go.nature.com/i372nd for more.

Variome project A project to log all the genetic variations that cause disease in humans took a step forward last week with the launch of its Chinese arm at a meeting in Beijing. The Human Variome Project, based in Victoria, Australia, hopes to collect genetic data from laboratories all over the world, and share it in international databases of genes and diseases. China is taking on about a quarter of the project's estimated 20,000 genes, and will set up a genetics institute in Beijing to coordinate activities and give training in genetic counselling and testing. See go.nature.com/intbvt for more.

BUSINESS

Preventing HIV Pharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences wants to sell anti-HIV drugs to healthy people, to reduce their chances of becoming infected with the virus. On 15 December, the company, based in Foster City, California, filed an application to the US Food and Drug Administration to sell its two-in-one antiretroviral medication Truvada (emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate) to people not infected with HIV. Such 'pre-exposure prophylaxis' (PrEP) has been supported by clinical trials (see Nature 476, 260–261; 2011). The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, is currently working on guidelines for administering PrEP and monitoring patients who are taking the therapy.

Amgen shake-up Two top executives at the biotechnology giant Amgen are leaving after more than a decade in charge, the company said on 15 December. Chief executive Kevin Sharer and head of research and development Roger Perlmutter are both retiring, replaced respectively by chief operating officer Robert Bradway and chief medical officer Sean Harper. Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, California, posted US$15.1 billion in sales last year; its products include biological drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and anaemia.

Credit: SOURCE: GTM RES./SEIA

TREND WATCH

US solar-energy installations spiked during the third quarter of 2011, according to a joint report by the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington DC and GTM Research, headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Declining module prices have aided the boom, but the rush was also driven by a federal programme that provides solar-investment tax credits in the form of cash grants. Although the tax credit will continue until 2016, the cash-grant programme is due to expire at the end of this month.

COMING UP

31 Dec–1 Jan

NASA's twin GRAIL spacecraft are due to ease into orbit around the Moon, from where they will start to map lunar gravity in March 2012. go.nature.com/msewft

1 January

Regulation of aviation's greenhouse-gas emissions is set to start in the European Union. All flights to or from Europe will have to buy carbon credits under the region's emissions trading scheme. China and the United States are contesting the plan.

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Seven days: 16–22 December 2011. Nature 480, 418–419 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/480418a

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