News in a nutshell

MacArthur Fellows announced
Last week, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation named 23 new MacArthur Fellows for 2010. Among the winners of the nicknamed “genius” awards: Drew Berry, a biomedical animator at Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, who illustrates cellular and molecular processes (see his animation of DNA packaging accompanying a recent article published in The Scientist); population geneticist Carlos D. Bustamante of Stanford University School of Medicine, who studies evolution, genetic diversity, and population migration; and Marla Spivak, an entomologist working to protect honey bees from disease. Recipients will receive $500,000 over five years in “no strings attached” funding (i.e., no stipulations or reporting requirements).

End of NIH ethics committee
This week will mark the last meeting of the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health, and Society (SACGHS), raising concerns about who will weigh in on ongoing regulatory issues in human genetics, such as gene patents and direct-to-consumer testing. In the announcement of the committee’s disbanding, it says it “has addressed all the major topics delineated in its charter.” But many regulatory issues related to human genetics have not been resolved, argued Pete Shanks on Biopolitical Times, the Center for Genetics and Society’s blog. The reason for the committee’s disbanding “deserves a better explanation,” Shanks wrote.

Grad school rankings

Wikimedia commons

The National Research Council released the results of its 6-year study to assess US graduate research programs last week. It provides information on more than 5,000 doctoral programs in 62 fields at 212 universities, but because each program is assessed on five different scales, the findings are hard to interpret, according to ScienceInsider. The Chronicle of Higher Education now provides a navigation tool to easily explore the 21 features of a given program, and compare it to the other programs assessed by the NRC.

Justice sells stock, eliminates conflicts of interest
Chief Justice John Roberts sold his shares in Pfizer, worth $15,000 or less at the end of last year, so that he can rule on two cases involving the drug maker on the Supreme Court’s docket, according to the Wall Street Journal. Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself on these cases, leaving 8 justices to rule, meaning there is the possibility of a tie.

New stem cell hearing after Nov. 4
An appeals court announced last week that it would allow federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, at least temporarily, while the court hashes out the legal arguments against the controversial research, according to ScienceInsider. The court also provided a timeline for both sides to prepare their briefs, and scheduled oral arguments for after the 4th of November, according to a Nature blog.

Burrard-Lucas Photography

Pink hippo spotted
Wildlife photographers Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas, inventors of the BeetleCam, spot a rare pink hippo on the banks of the Mara River in Kenya.

Related Stories:

·  Stem cell ruling lamented, appealed
[25th August 2010]

·  Four biologists win “genius” prize

[23rd September 2008]

·  Conflicts of interest at Federal agencies

[24th July 2006]

Correction: The original version of this article mistakenly wrote that wildlife photographers Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas spotted a pink elephant. It was, in fact, a hippopotamus. The Scientist regrets the error.

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