Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • House spending panel drops U.S. ban on gene-edited babies

    Lawmakers have dropped language in a draft spending bill that bars embryo editing to create a baby.

    Claude Cortier/Science Source

    A Democrat-led spending panel in the U.S. House of Representatives has dropped a provision that banned embryo editing with the intention of creating a baby. The draft bill is still moving through the legislative process, however, and Republicans will likely push to restore the language.

    The ban was first added to the law that funded the U.S. government in 2016. It bars the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from considering any clinical trial application “in which a human embryo is intentionally created or modified to include a heritable genetic modification.” Although a different “rider” bars the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from funding human germline editing—or the genetic modification of sperm, eggs, or embryos—such work is permissible with private funding. However, researchers would need FDA approval for a clinical trial.

    A 2020 draft spending bill approved on 23 May by the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the FDA does not contain the rider, as CQ first reported yesterday. A Democratic aide speaking on background told ScienceInsider: “The provision was dropped because it was inserted in private 3 years ago and has never been subject to public debate. We believe this provision could limit important scientific research and, if Congress chooses to prohibit such research, that should be done in the light of day.”

  • Terminated Emory researcher disputes university’s allegations about China ties

    Li Xiao-Jiang (left) and Li Shihua (right).

    courtesy of Li Xiao-Jiang

    A researcher terminated by Emory University for allegedly not disclosing funding and ties to institutions in China is forcefully disputing the charges. And neuroscientist Li Xiao-Jiang says the Atlanta-based university dismissed him and neuroscientist Li Shihua, his wife and lab co-leader, “simultaneously without any notice or opportunity for us to respond to unverified accusations.”

    The two researchers, known for their studies of Huntington disease in mouse and pig models, both are U.S. citizens and have worked at Emory for 23 years. Li Xiao-Jiang says he was traveling in China on 16 May when both researchers were informed they had been terminated. The university has also closed their joint laboratory, which is part of the medical school, and their websites are no longer accessible. Four postdoctoral students working in the lab, who are Chinese nationals, have been told to leave the United States within 30 days, he told ScienceInsider today. None, he says, were given reasons for their terminations.

    “I was shocked that Emory University would terminate a tenured professor in such an unusual and abrupt fashion and close our combined lab consisting of a number of graduates and postdoctoral trainees without giving me specific details for the reasons behind my termination,” he said in a statement.

  • Scientists want to help restore Notre Dame, hoping to make new discoveries in the process

    The Notre Dame Cathedral's altar after the April fire. Scientists have started an association to help with the restoration process.

    Philippe Lopez/Pool via REUTERS

    A month after the fire that ravaged the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, scientists and research bodies are getting organized to help restore the building—and advance scientific knowledge.

    At a public hearing held yesterday by France’s Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Options (OPECST), academics explained how they can contribute to the government’s efforts to restore the cathedral, which was partly destroyed on 15 April.

    “This catastrophe is, in the end, a privileged moment for research, because we’ll have access to materials that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to access,” said Martine Regert, deputy scientific director of the Institute of Ecology and Environment at the French national research agency CNRS. For example, analyzing certain isotopes in the cathedral’s timber frame could provide insights about the medieval climate, said Philippe Dillmann, a research leader at CNRS’s Institute for Research on Archeomaterials.

  • Update: Mount Sinai board says it will launch probe of discrimination claims

    Mt. Sinai Medical Center

    A lawsuit targets a global health institute and the dean of the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, which is part of the Mount Sinai Health System.

    Homieg340/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA)

    *Update, 23 May, 4:23 p.m.: The co-chairs of the Board of Trustees at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai yesterday told the medical school’s faculty that the board is forming a “special committee to review matters related to the allegations of discrimination,” as well as any other related issues. “We appreciate that this matter has generated concern,” Richard Friedman and James Tisch wrote in an email to faculty. They promised the board’s special committee “will act consistently with the values that shape this institution.”

    *Update, 21 May, 4:30 p.m.: On 16 May, hundreds of faculty and staff at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the affiliated Mount Sinai Health System wrote to the organization’s board of trustees, demanding an external investigation of the lawsuit’s allegations. As of today, 369 faculty and staff have signed the letter, which calls the lawsuit’s allegations “profoundly disturbing” and urges the board to implement a policy of “zero tolerance” for harassment.

    The faculty and staff letter follows a similar letter to the board sent on 6 May by more than 300 Mount Sinai medical students. “We are compelled to speak out by the shocking acts of discrimination on the basis of gender, age, and race described in the lawsuit,” the students wrote.

    Here is our original story from 2 May:

  • Emory ousts two Chinese-American researchers after investigation into foreign ties

    The entrance to Emory University in Atlanta.


    Emory University has ousted two veteran biomedical researchers and shuttered their laboratory after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) expressed concern about their foreign ties. The researchers “had failed to fully disclose foreign sources of research funding and the extent of their work for research institutions and universities in China,” the Atlanta-based university said in a statement first reported today by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    Emory has not identified the researchers, but according to a story posted on uschinapress.com (in Chinese), they are geneticists Li Xiao-Jiang and Li Shihua. The two researchers, who are married to each other, are Chinese-Americans who have both worked at Emory for more than 2 decades, according to biographical information posted online. Both are American citizens. They have been involved in efforts to use CRISPR gene editing to create engineered pigs and monkeys used to study human diseases. NIH Director Francis Collins highlighted their work in a June 2017 blog posting. In March 2018, the pair were co-authors of a paper in Cell that described the creation of a genetically modified pig that could be used to study Huntington disease and received press attention.

    The move marks the second publicly known case in which an institution has moved to sever ties with NIH-funded researchers because of the funding agency’s concerns about undisclosed foreign sources of support for their work. Last month, Science and the Houston Chronicle revealed that the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, ousted three senior researchers after receiving letters from the Bethesda, Maryland-based NIH declaring that the scientists had committed potentially “serious” violations of agency rules involving confidentiality of peer review and the disclosure of foreign ties. Those researchers are among five MD Anderson scientists that NIH cited in its letters to the Texas cancer center.

  • U.S. lawmakers move to protect historic Chaco Canyon from mining and drilling

    chaco National Park

    Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico


    Originally published by Greenwire

    Appropriators in the U.S. House of Representatives would ensure federal lands around Chaco Canyon in New Mexico are protected from new energy and mineral development.

    The House Appropriations Committee released a report to accompany its Interior-EPA bill up for markup tomorrow (E&E News PM, 14 May).

  • EPA plan to end funding for children’s health research leaves scientists scrambling

    The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.

    Rob Crandall/Alamy Stock Photo

    Originally published by E&E News

    Despite repeatedly expressing public support for children’s health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is ending funding for a network of research centers focused on environmental threats to kids, imperiling several long-running studies of pollutants’ effects on child development.

    The move, critics say, is part of a broader effort by President Donald Trump’s administration to downplay science that could lead to stricter regulations on polluting industries.

  • NSF, NASA, NIST would get funding boosts under House spending bill

    the US capitol

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) would get a 7% budget increase, and NASA a 3.8% bump, under a 2020 spending bill approved today by an appropriations panel of the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill rejects cuts to those and other federal research agencies proposed by President Donald Trump’s administration.

    The bill includes $73.9 billion in funding for the departments of commerce and justice, as well as independent agencies such as NSF, for the 2020 fiscal year that begins 1 October. It includes “robust funding to address climate change and support scientific research,” said Representative José Serrano (D–NY), chair of the House appropriations subcommittee handling the bill.

    Some highlights:

  • U.S. cancer institute cancels nanotech research centers

    The U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, will halt funding next year for its long-running Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNEs), which are focused on steering advances in nanotechnology to detect and treat cancer. The shift marks nanotechnology’s “natural transition” from an emerging field requiring dedicated support to a more mature enterprise able to compete head to head with other types of cancer research, says Piotr Grodzinski, who heads NCI’s Nanodelivery Systems and Devices Branch, which oversees the CCNEs. “This doesn’t mean NCI’s interest in nanotechnology is decreasing.”

    Nevertheless, cancer nanotechnology experts see the decision as a blow. “It’s disappointing and very shortsighted given the emergence of nanotechnology and medicine,” says Chad Mirkin, who directs a CCNE at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. CCNEs have spawned dozens of clinical trials for new drugs and drug delivery devices, as well as novel technologies for diagnosing disease, he says. “Cancer research needs new ways of making new types of medicines. Nanotechnology represents a way to do that,” he says.

  • Q&A: On a Bering Sea island, disappearing ice threatens a way of life

    Opik Ahkinga on a cellphone

    Opik Ahkinga

    Brendan Smith/North Pacific Research Board

    Over the past two winters, ice cover in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia has fallen to the lowest levels seen in at least 4 decades. Now, scientists are trying to figure out whether this is a statistical fluke, or another sign of climate change. A lasting shift could dramatically transform a region that is home to indigenous communities whose way of life relies on ice. Some communities cut holes in the sea ice for crabbing, for example, or use the ice to travel to fishing and hunting areas.

    One native community that has had a close-up view of the recent changes in the Bering Sea is the village of Diomede, which sits on Little Diomede Island in the Bering Strait. Opik Ahkinga is the village’s environmental coordinator. ScienceInsider recently interviewed her about how the changing winter ice has affected life on Little Diomede Island and nearby Big Diomede Island.

    This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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