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Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • The 5-minute journal submission

    New journal aims to make paper submissions simpler and faster.

    New journal aims to make paper submissions simpler and faster.

    Pathogens & Immunity

    There’s no shortage of places to publish original research papers about pathogens and immunity, but a new peer-reviewed journal on those topics has a unique author-friendly mandate: to reduce the submission process to a matter of minutes, and initial reviews to just a few days.

    In related news, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York also announced today a similar attempt to simplify submissions to nine peer-reviewed journals.

  • WHO declares Ebola outbreak over

    The first time Liberia was declared free of Ebola in May 2015,  people celebrated in the streets. Now, all of West Africa is free of  Ebola, but the virus may come back yet again, WHO warns.

    The first time Liberia was declared free of Ebola in May 2015, people celebrated in the streets. Now, all of West Africa is free of Ebola, but the virus may come back yet again, WHO warns.

    EPA/Ahmed Jallanzo

    The World Health Organization (WHO) today declared Liberia free of Ebola, marking the end of the outbreak in West Africa. “Today is a good day,” Rick Brennan, director of emergency risk management and humanitarian action at WHO, said at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland. But he also urged continued vigilance, warning that there was a significant risk of flare-ups.

  • Health panel: Pump new billions into disease outbreaks—or else

    In 2004, before anti-HIV drugs were widely available in India, an AIDS ward in Chennai was filled with patients.

    In 2004, before anti-HIV drugs were widely available in India, an AIDS ward in Chennai was filled with patients.

    Malcolm Linton

    A new report written by a high-profile commission urges the world to learn from the many mistakes made during the Ebola epidemic and revamp how it collectively responds to infectious disease crises.

    The report by the Commission on Creating a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future (GHRF) recommends that the world spend about $4.5 billion more each year to bolster the ability of countries to respond to pandemics. “The reality is we have neglected this dimension of human security,” says commission chairman Peter Sands, who spoke at a well-attended launch of the report held this morning in New York City at the Rockefeller Foundation, one of eight sponsors.

  • U.K. researcher details proposal for CRISPR editing of human embryos

    A developing human embryo.

    The study's use of CRISPR/Cas9 on human embryos is a "justified technical approach," HFEA says.

    Duncan Hull/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

    LONDON—The hottest technique in gene editing, called CRISPR, could soon be used to study human embryos. On 14 January, a regulatory committee in the United Kingdom will evaluate a request to knock out development genes in day-old embryos. In a press conference today, Kathy Niakan, a researcher at the Francis Crick Institute here, discussed the rationale behind her proposed project and the hope that this line of inquiry might one day improve treatments for infertility.

    Niakan studies how the single cell of a fertilized egg turns into a blastocyst, the approximately 5-day-old structure that subsequently implants in the mother’s uterus. The blastocyst contains several types of cells. Those destined to become the fetus are called epiblast progenitor cells. They are surrounded by two other types of cells, which become the placenta and another structure, the yolk sac. Niakan’s research uses human embryos, created in fertility clinics, that are left over from in vitro fertilization (IVF) attempts and donated for research. After being studied, the embryos are destroyed when they are 7 days old.

  • What Vice President Biden’s moonshot may mean for cancer research

    Vice President Joe Biden in 2012.

    Vice President Joe Biden in 2012.

    Marc Nozell/Flicker (CC BY 2.0)

    Cancer researchers are welcoming but eagerly awaiting more details on Vice President Joe Biden’s newly announced plan to lead “a moonshot” to cure cancer. They have tossed out some of their own thoughts on what the plan should entail, while tempering expectations for a single cancer cure. Their overall hope, they say, is that it will mean steady funding increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

    Biden, whose son Beau died of brain cancer last year, first announced his cancer moonshot in October 2015. President Obama discussed the plan last night in his State of the Union address, saying, “For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”

  • Rumor of gravitational wave discovery is just that, source says

    Lawrence Krauss

    Lawrence Krauss

    Courtesy of Lawrence M. Krauss

    If you follow physics, you have likely heard the rumor by now: Physicists working with a pair of gigantic detectors have finally discovered gravitational waves—ripples in space and time set off when, say, two massive neutron stars spiral into each other—and have only to announce it. It would be a sure-fire Nobel Prize–winning discovery and the rumor sounds plausible.

  • Brazil’s scientist-entrepreneurs unfettered

    Rousseff unveiling the law in Brasília.

    Rousseff unveiling the law in Brasília.

    Ichiro Guerra/PR

    SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL—Full-time professors at public universities in Brazil will now be allowed to carry out research in the private sector—and get paid for it, without having to drop their academic jobs. The change is the result of a new law, signed yesterday by President Dilma Rousseff, designed to bring science and industry closer together.

    The law authorizes universities and public research institutions to collaborate more freely with companies, including a mechanism for giving companies access to public research facilities. The changes are meant to put Brazil “on a new path to innovation,” says biologist Helena Nader, head of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science here, who helped draft the legislation.

  • Caltech suspends professor for harassment

    Christian Ott and other Caltech astronomers are housed in the Cahill Center on campus.

    Christian Ott and other Caltech astronomers are housed in the Cahill Center on campus.

    Lance Hayashida/Caltech Strategic Communications

    For what is believed to be the first time in its history, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena has suspended a faculty member for gender-based harassment. The researcher has been stripped of his university salary and barred from campus for 1 year, is undergoing personalized coaching to become a better mentor, and will need to prove that he has been rehabilitated before he can resume advising students without supervision. Caltech has not curtailed his research activities.

    The university has not disclosed the name of the faculty member, but Science has learned that it is Christian Ott, a professor of theoretical astrophysics who studies gravitational waves and other signals from some of the most violent events in the cosmos. Born and educated in Germany, Ott joined the Caltech faculty in 2009 and was awarded tenure in early 2014.

  • Biosecurity board grapples with how to rein in risky flu studies

    A worker in a biosafety level 3 lab.

    A worker in a biosafety level 3 lab.

    Maggie Bartlett/NHGRI

    BETHESDA, MARYLAND—Fuzzy definitions, deep disagreement about risks and benefits, and an unfortunate acronym: All bedeviled an expert panel as it met here last week to examine whether the United States should fund certain risky pathogen experiments. Researchers largely praised a massive, recently released risk assessment of so-called gain-of-function (GOF) research, and a draft plan for reviewing the riskiest studies. Many had concerns about the details, however, and the meeting provided little clarity on one key issue: if and when the U.S. government will decide whether to lift a now 15-month-old moratorium on a handful of U.S.-funded virology experiments.

    To some, the deepest flaw in a draft proposal on GOF studies from a working group of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) was its imprecise effort to define those studies that are so dangerous that they should not be allowed. Wording such as “potentially” risky and “a pathogen that is highly transmissible, significantly virulent, and likely to be resistant” to public health controls leaves too much to interpretation, many said. “The real question is: What are those studies?” said Stanford University in Palo Alto, California’s David Relman, a critic of GOF studies.

  • Singapore lavishes big money on its scientists

    Singapore lavishes big money on its scientists

    JeCCo/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

    SINGAPORE—Even as China’s economic woes cast a shadow on Asia, Singapore’s scientists are hoping for smooth sailing over the next 5 years. On 8 January, the government announced that it will spend 19 billion Singapore dollars ($13.2 billion) on R&D from 2016 to 2020. The Research Innovation Enterprise 2020 Plan, or RIE2020, is an 18% increase over the previous 5-year cycle.   

    “The impact of RIE2020 overall will be very positive,” says Chorh Chuan Tan, president of the National University of Singapore and deputy chairman of the government-backed Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). “This is an assurance of sustained support for research in Singapore.”

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