The week in science: French research escapes cuts; fusion facility fails to ignite; and habitat for great apes is under threat.
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Trials monitor In an announcement on 26 September, the US Department of Health and Human Services charged the Food and Drug Administration with monitoring whether data for clinical trials of drugs and medical devices are incomplete, false or misleading, and notifying the companies responsible. It is unclear, however, what the penalties will be for companies that fail to comply. See go.nature.com/tv24eb for more.
Ancient stream on Mars NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has discovered evidence that water flowed at the bottom of Gale Crater billions of years ago. Although scientists have found many hints of water on Mars before this discovery, rounded gravel pieces photographed by Curiosity (left) are similar to rocky outcrops on Earth (right). These suggest that the stream coursed at speeds of around one metre per second and was at least ankle-deep. See go.nature.com/fyogfs for more.
French science safe France’s research and higher-education ministry received a 2.2% boost in the government’s 2013 austerity budget on 28 September, escaping the cuts imposed on many other ministries. The increase will pay for 1,000 new university posts. Funding for research grants will also rise by 1.2% to €7.86 billion (US$10.1 billion) — a cut in real terms if inflation averages above 1.75% as expected. See go.nature.com/7ialrr for more.
Campuses struggle State funding for US public research universities has been insufficient to keep pace with rising student enrolment over the past decade, according to a report by the National Science Board. Between 2002 and 2010, state funding per student dropped in 43 of the 50 states, with cuts as high as 48%. The board warns that the trend threatens to severely hinder research and development at the nation’s 101 major public institutions, which train the majority of US scientists and engineers.
Spanish pain Spain’s research and development budget will be cut for a fourth year if the draft budget for 2013 is approved. Presented to parliament on 29 September, the draft budget reduces science spending to €5.9 billion (US$7.6 billion) — €461 million or 7.2% less than in 2012. See go.nature.com/msiepf for more.
US cuts loom Federal research and development funds in the United States could be slashed by US$57.5 billion over the next five years under an across-the-board budget cut that is due to come into effect on 2 January 2013, according to an analysis released on 27 September. The analysis, by the American Association for the Advancement of Science based in Washington DC, predicts that the National Institutes of Health stands to lose US$11.3 billion, or 7.6%, from its R&D budget as a result of the ‘sequester’ unless Congress can agree on an alternative budget plan to lower the federal deficit. See go.nature.com/jjr1y8 for more.
Nuclear concerns Plans to build a controversial type of uranium enrichment plant were given the green light by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission on 25 September. Critics fear that the technology to be used at the facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, proposed by General Electric–Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment, could lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. See page 5 for more.
Fusion failure The National Ignition Facility, a US$3.5-billion laser fusion facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, did not meet a 30 September congressional deadline for ‘ignition’ (see Nature 483, 133–134; 2012). That is the point at which the energy produced by the fusion process surpasses that put into the laser shot to trigger fusion.
Mars mission plan NASA’s Mars programme should retain a focus on searching for evidence of past life, rather than on looking for life today, according to a study released on 25 September. The report, by NASA’s Mars Program Planning Group, comes in the wake of the agency’s withdrawal from international missions in 2016 and 2018. NASA’s next Mars mission is likely to be either an orbiter in 2018 or a rover in 2020, the study suggests. See go.nature.com/wldhnw for more.
Saved species list At its conference in Jeju, South Korea, earlier this month, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) agreed to produce a ‘green list’ of fully conserved species. The news was announced last week by the Wildlife Conservation Society, based in New York, who co-sponsored the motion. The list will serve as a counterpoint to the IUCN’s ‘red list’ of endangered species. See go.nature.com/tqhvdb for more.
Bas-Congo virus A virus that causes fever and bleeding and that killed two teenagers and infected a nurse in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009 has been identified as a new form of rhabdovirus (pictured). According to a paper published on 27 September, Bas-Congo virus is from the same family as rabies, and antibody tests suggest that it could be transmissible between humans (G. Grard et al. PLoS Pathog. 8, e1002924; 2012).
Coronavirus cases Scientists in the Netherlands have deposited the full sequence of a new coronavirus that is thought to have caused a respiratory illness in a person from Saudi Arabia who died from the infection in June (GenBank accession number JX869059; see go.nature.com/g343qd). The sequence matches the partial sequence of a virus from another patient with similar symptoms who was transferred from intensive care in Qatar to London in early September. See page 20 for more.
Ape habitat shrinks The first continent-wide survey of African great-ape habitat has reported a massive decline between 1995 and 2010. A paper published on 23 September (J. Junkeret al.Divers.Distrib.http://doi.org/jfv;2012) shows that Cross River gorillas (Gorilla gorilla diehli) have experienced a 59% loss in their habitat during this period; bonobos (Pan paniscus) 29%; and central chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) 17%. See go.nature.com/brilxf for more.
Comet discovery The discovery of comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) was announced by the International Astronomical Union’s Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 24 September. The comet is named after the International Scientific Optical Network, which includes the Russia-based telescope that spotted it. Some astronomers suggest that the comet might be bright enough to be seen during the day at around the time it brushes past the Sun in November 2013; however, such early predictions often prove unreliable.
Element 113 Researchers in Japan have made their third atom of element 113 — a feat that could give them the right to name it. Russian and US researchers may already have created atoms of the element in earlier experiments, but their attempts failed to satisfy the body of experts responsible for deciding on the matter. The experts, drawn from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, have yet to report on the Japanese claim. See go.nature.com/cxj91x for more.
Ecologist dies Pioneering environmentalist, ecologist and one time US presidential candidate Barry Commoner died on 30 September, aged 95. The scientist rallied against poverty, pollution and nuclear testing and had a key role in the first Earth Day in 1970. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1980, garnering 234,000 votes.
Chemist accused A Russian chemist accused of aiding attempted drug trafficking is reportedly facing fresh charges. Olga Zelenina, a narcotics expert at the Penza Agricultural Institute, was released on 25 September from pre-trial detention. But according to Russian news reports, she has since been accused by the Russian Federal Drug Control Service of having produced her report on the amount of opiates in a seized shipment of Spanish opium poppy seeds without the necessary permission from her institute — even though the report bears the signature of her institute director, Alexander Smirnov. Smirnov has not responded to Nature’s request for clarification.
Polar expert cleared Charles Monnett, a researcher at the US interior department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, headquartered in Washington DC, has been cleared of scientific misconduct after a government investigation. Monnett had been accused of publishing false data in a paper that suggested four drowned polar bears had died while swimming in search of sea ice (C. Monnett and J. S. Gleason Polar Biol. 29, 681–687; 2006). He was, however, reprimanded for leaking government documents that later helped environmental groups to sue the government. See go.nature.com/dfio5o for more.
Pharmaceutical companies paid a record amount in malpractice fines in the United States in the first half of 2012. A report by Public Citizen, a consumer group based in Washington DC, found that by 18 July, US$5 billion in federal settlements and $1.6 billion in state settlements had been made for activities such as illegal marketing and overcharging of government medical programmes. Settlements with individual states have steadily increased since 2009.
7 October Private spaceflight firm SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California, is hoping to launch its first NASA-contracted cargo-resupply mission to the International Space Station. www.spacex.com
8–10 October The winners of the 2012 Nobel prizes in physiology or medicine, physics and chemistry are announced in Stockholm. www.nobelprize.org