News in a nutshell

Skip the postdoc?
The National Institutes of Health has begun a new program that allows PhDs and MDs to become Principal Investigators — without doing a postdoc. The Early Independence Awards (DP5) offer up to $250,000 in annual direct costs for five years for the “pool of talented young scientists who have the intellect, scientific creativity, drive and maturity to flourish independently without the need for traditional post-doctoral training,” according to the NIH’s announcement. The agency plans to give 10 of these awards in FY2011.

Applicants and their institutions must provide a research plan and show how he/she will be integrated into the institution as an “independent scientist,” but it appears this does not have to take the form of an assistant professorship. This has raised concerns, according to DrugMonkey:

“The University has to pony up a non-permanent position that does not have to be at the assistant professorial rank and they have to let the person apply for additional funding. They have to do the usual claim about making space available and that yes, this is an independent position, blah de blah. It’s okay. But c’mon. The NIH is planning on handing out what amounts to an R01 and couldn’t be bothered to hold the University to an Assistant Professor appointment? When they can just deny the person tenure if they don’t like them after the 5yr award interval?”

Bioterror expert dies
William C. Patrick, who grew deadly germ weapons (such as anthrax) for the US military before spending four decades developing treatments to fight them, died this month of bladder cancer at the age of 84, according to the New York Times. (At one point, while trying to develop a weapon out of Q fever, Patrick himself became infected.)

Over the years, Patrick worked with the Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United Nations, and the Central Intelligence Agency. His business card carried a picture of a skull and crossbones; his stationary included a drawing of the Grim Reaper, with a scythe labeled “Biological Warfare” and germs spilling out of an outstretched arm.

Credit: Bksimonb, Wikimedia commons

More buzz over bee culprit
Last week, New York Times article reported on a PLoS ONE paper that found what the paper called a “breakthrough” in the confounding mystery of why honeybees are dying in droves: an interaction between a fungus and a virus.

But the problem appears far from solved. Another story entitled “What a scientist didn’t tell the New York Times about his study on bee deaths” in Fortune reports that the study’s lead author has received funding from Bayer, the leading manufacturer of neonicotinoids, a pesticide that’s been fingered as another potential suspect in the bee deaths.

US biotech drops 25 percent
The number of active, publicly traded biotechs has fallen by 25 percent in the US since 2007, as 100 have been acquired or shut down, Bloomberg reports.

Americans support embryonic research
A new poll shows that nearly three-quarters of Americans believe scientists should be able to do research on embryonic stem cells from leftover embryos created during in vitro fertilization. “There is now overwhelming public support for using embryonic stem cells in biomedical research,” Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll, told HealthDay News. (Harris conducted the survey of 2113 adults ages 18 and up with HealthDay.) “Even among Catholics and born-again Christians, relatively few people believe that stem cell research should be forbidden because it is unethical or immoral.”

Largest genome found
Talk about flower power – a rare Japanese flower, Paris japonica, has the largest genome ever recorded. With 149 billion base pairs, the genome is 50 times the size of the human genome, as revealed by the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society (and reported by Science).

Pass the joint, mom
Pot is bringing families together — adults who hid their marijuana from their parents as teenagers are now buying it for them to use for medicinal purposes, according to the New York Times.

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[May 2010]

Billion-dollar Babies

[May 2010]

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Filed under Funding, News in a Nutshell, Poll.


  1. Bob Hurst says:

    My comment on the new Early Independence Awards is that the last thing our scientific establishment needs is more soft-money positions. As Bruce Alberts correctly pointed out in a recent editorial in “Science,” our current syste is not sustainable because indirect costs are too high and lead to over-building of facilities, which leads to creation of soft-money positions to fill them, and institutions are actually penalized for hard-money positions due to loss of indirect costs on the portion of investigator salaries that they do pay.

  2. Catherine Given says:

    Interesting that the “exclusive” TV report on the bee fungus/bacteria story broke on CBS, whose sponsors include Bayer!

  3. Joe says:

    @ Catherine: Interesting that you don’t seem to know the difference between viruses and bacteria…