ScienceInsider

Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • As lab-grown meat advances, U.S. lawmakers call for regulation

    Fried chicken on plate.

    Fried “chicken” from cells grown in culture by Memphis Meats.

    Memphis Meats

    Lab-grown chicken, beef, and duck products are edging toward the U.S. market—despite enduring confusion about how they’ll be regulated. But language buried in a draft spending bill released by a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations panel this week suggests some lawmakers are eager to get rules in place. A one-sentence proposal in the bill would put the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in charge of regulating products made from the cells of livestock or poultry, and instructs the agency to issue rules about how it will oversee their manufacture and labeling.

    Unlike plant-based meat imitations already on the market, lab-grown meat—sometimes called clean meat—starts with an animal. Though production methods vary by company, these futuristic foods start with cells extracted from an animal and cultured to develop into strands of muscle tissue fit for frying in a nugget or pressing into a burger patty.

    Since the theatrical unveiling of the first lab-grown beef patty in 2013, several companies have waded into the field of “cellular agriculture,” crafting their own meaty prototypes. San Francisco, California–based Memphis Meats has beef, duck, and chicken under development—with investment from (conventional) meat giant Tyson Foods. JUST, also based in San Francisco, has a chicken product based on cells originally isolated from the feather of a chicken (named Ian). Its CEO has announced hopes of having some of its meat products restaurant-ready later this year.

  • Australian scientists welcome boosts in new federal budget

    Turquoise Waters at Hardy Reef

    The new budget provides $399 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef, an amount scientists call “a small step” toward what is needed.

    Ingo Oeland/Alamy Stock Photo

    Scientific infrastructure and health research in Australia will both gain in the new federal budget, unveiled yesterday evening in Canberra. “This is a good budget for science,” says Andrew Holmes, president of the Australian Academy of Science and a chemist at the University of Melbourne.

    Holmes particularly points to a 12-year, AU$1.9 billion (US$1.4 billion) National Research Infrastructure Investment Plan. Details are yet to be worked out, but priorities were outlined in a road map produced by an expert group last year. The road map recommended supporting the development of advanced microscopes, new types of instrumentation, and device fabrication techniques to support research in materials science, biology, medicine, and the environment. For astronomy, the investment plan will likely cover continuing support for Australian institutions to participate in international consortia operating large optical and radio telescopes.

    The road map pointed to the need to modernize the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong for its research supporting the livestock industry and for studies of emerging diseases that affect humans. Following a road map recommendation to upgrade computing facilities, the budget announcement specifically provides AU$140 million for upgrades to two existing national high-performance computing centers.

  • Release of three Americans by North Korea bolsters hopes for academic diplomacy

    Chan-Mo Park

    Chan-Mo Park, chancellor of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, is hoping the United States will lift a ban on travel to North Korea.

    Emily Petersen

    The release of three Americans by North Korea is being welcomed in the United States. Leaders of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) in North Korea also see the move as good news, and are hoping it might ultimately lead to the end of a travel ban that has prevented its U.S. instructors from teaching classes.

    Two of the detainees were on the PUST faculty. Agricultural expert Hak-song Kim managed an experimental farm for PUST while Sang-duk "Tony" Kim taught accounting. Both were arrested in the spring of 2017, apparently for what were deemed “hostile acts” toward North Korea. The third detainee, Dong-chul Kim, who is not associated with PUST, has been imprisoned since October 2015.

    Opened in 2010 as North Korea's first privately funded university (and largely supported by evangelical Christians), PUST has endeavored to contribute to North Korean society while easing tensions between North Korea and the rest of the world. The arrest of the two PUST faculty members was just the start of a bad year for the university. In response to North Korea's missile tests and threats, last September the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump banned travel to North Korea by all U.S. citizens. That left the 40 or so PUST faculty and lecturers who are U.S. citizens scrambling to leave the country or unable to return to Pyongyang after the summer break.

  • Public health scientist hopes to take his activism to Congress

    Eric Ding in a meeting

    Eric Ding often cites his public health research in wooing voters in Pennsylvania’s 10th congressional district.

    Committee to Elect Eric Ding

    Pennsylvania is a key battleground in the fight for control of the next Congress, and scientists are in the middle of that fight. In February, the state’s highest court threw out a Republican-drawn map of the state’s 18 congressional districts and installed one that, for the most part, eliminates partisan gerrymandering. Those new districts helped push some Republican incumbents into retirement, while at the same time prompting many first-time Democratic candidates to run for seats that now appear winnable.

    The result is a political free-for-all in which veteran campaign watchers are hedging their bets on who the winners might be. “I haven’t seen a single poll, and without a poll, you can’t begin to make a guess,” says political scientist Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College (F&M) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he directs the Center for Politics and Public Affairs and runs the F&M Poll. A crowded field, he says, simply adds to the confusion.

    This story is the last in a three-part series on candidates with considerable scientific training who are running as Democrats for the U.S. House of Representatives in Pennsylvania. Their first test is the 15 May primary.

  • Rat begone: Record eradication effort rids sub-Antarctic island of invasive rodents

    terriers on an island

    A sniffer dog team helps survey the island of South Georgia, which has been declared rodent-free.

    Oli Prince

    The island of South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean is free of rats and mice after the world’s largest rodent eradication effort to date. A monitoring survey found no evidence that any rodents remained on the island, the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) in Dundee, U.K., announced at a press conference in London today.

    The charity had dropped about 300 metric tons of poisoned bait on the island over the course of several years to kill the pests, which threatened native birds. Conservationists have applauded the results, and say that ongoing vigilance will be necessary to ensure that the work is not undone. 

    “It’s really exciting to have it official that South Georgia is rodent-free,” says Clare Stringer in Sandy, U.K., head of international species recovery at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who was not involved in the project. “It’s what we were all hoping for.”

  • Animal tests surge under new U.S. chemical safety law

    person examining a rabbit’s eye

    One common chemical safety test involves placing compounds in a rabbit’s eye.

    Jose Luis Mendez Fernandez/Alamy Stock Photo

    Two years ago, when the U.S. Congress approved a major rewrite of the nation’s chemical safety law, lawmakers ordered federal regulators to take steps to reduce the number of animals that companies use to test compounds for safety. But a recent analysis by two animal welfare groups found that the number of animal tests requested or required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jumped dramatically last year, from just a few dozen tests involving fewer than 7000 animals in 2016, to more than 300 tests involving some 75,000 rats, rabbits, and other vertebrates.

    The cause of the increase isn’t clear. But the new law imposes stricter requirements on a broader array of chemicals than its predecessor, including both new products and ones already on the market, and experts say EPA staff may be trying to comply by gathering more test data from companies. Both industry and animal welfare groups are alarmed by the trend, and are asking agency officials to clarify why they are requesting the tests—and how they plan to reduce the number in the future.

    In a 27 March letter to EPA officials, the two Washington, D.C.–based groups that produced the analysis—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)—wrote that the “appalling” number of animals being used in tests “indicates EPA is failing to balance” its responsibility to evaluate chemicals’ risks against its obligation to pursue alternatives to animal testing.

  • EPA’s ‘secret science’ rule could undermine agency’s ‘war on lead’

    Green paint peels off a wall.

    U.S. regulators are considering new rules on exposure to lead in dust, water, and paints.

    Derek/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    Originally published by E&E News

    Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has declared a "war on lead," and is also leading an assault on so-called "secret science."

    His critics say the two initiatives are at war with each other.

  • Explainer: How will Trump’s withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal affect research?

    Donald Trump standing behind a lectern

    President Donald Trump

    Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

    U.S. President Donald Trump today announced that he is pulling the United States out of a 2015 agreement with Iran and other nations to limit Iran’s nuclear program.

    “At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction,” Trump said, that “a murderous regime” could have a civilian nuclear program without pursuing nuclear weapons.

    The Iran deal was intended to slow and delay Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. It lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for a number of moves to shut down its uranium enrichment efforts and related programs.

  • Updated: Australia creates nation’s first space agency

     a satellite built at the University of New South Wales in Australia

    UNSW-EC0, a satellite built at the University of New South Wales in Australia, had to hitch a ride to space on a U.S. rocket in 2017.

    University of New South Wales

    Update: On 8 May, the Australian government unveiled a budget that provides the new space agency with $19 million (AU$26 million) in seed money over 4 years. The plan emphasizes the commercial uses of space, and includes $11 million (AU$15 million) over three years to support applied projects.

    Here is our original story from 3 May:

    Australia is set to announce the country’s first space agency. Although the emphasis will apparently be on the commercial utilization of space, researchers are hoping there will be purely scientific efforts as well.

    The government plans to provide $38 million in “seed money” to get the agency up and running, Australian media reported today. Officials are expected to formally announce the move on 8 May.

    Geologist Megan Clark will lead the new agency, according to reports. She was formerly chief executive of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Canberra, the country’s network of laboratories. She also led an expert panel that the government created last year to explore the idea of establishing a space agency.

  • How a Pennsylvania industrial engineer became the odds-on favorite to win a seat in Congress

    Chrissy Houlahan at a campaign event

    Chrissy Houlahan makes her pitch to voters in Pennsylvania’s sixth congressional district.

    Kelly Schulz

    Pennsylvania is a key battleground in the fight for control of the next Congress, and scientists are in the middle of that fight. In February, the state’s highest court threw out a Republican-drawn map of the state’s 18 congressional districts and installed one that, for the most part, eliminates partisan gerrymandering. Those new districts helped push some Republican incumbents into retirement, while at the same time prompting many first-time Democratic candidates to run for seats that now appear winnable.

    The result is a political free-for-all in which veteran campaign watchers are hedging their bets on who the winners might be. “I haven’t seen a single poll, and without a poll, you can’t begin to make a guess,” says political scientist Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College (F&M) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he directs the Center for Politics and Public Affairs and runs the F&M Poll. A crowded field, he says, simply adds to the confusion.

    This story is the second in a three-part series on candidates with considerable scientific training who are running as Democrats for the U.S. House of Representatives in Pennsylvania. Their first test is the 15 May primary.

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