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The Future of Biodiversity

By | May 27, 2002

A group of speakers selected to embody the past, present, and future of plant science portrayed life's diversity as being in a precarious situation. Half the species on the planet could be wiped out by the end of the century, some say. "We are playing the endgame," said Edward O. Wilson, Pellegrino University professor and curator of entomology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University. The inauguration of a multimillion-dollar plant science center at the New York Botanical Garden

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African Sleeping Sickness: A Recurring Epidemic

By | May 13, 2002

African trypanosomiasis is making an unwelcome comeback. But unlike other returning diseases, this one has a drug treatment—eflornithine—that disappeared from the market when it failed to cure cancer. Yet like Viagra's origin from a curious side effect in a clinical trial, so too was eflornithine reborn. "When it was discovered that it removes mustaches in women, it suddenly had a market: western women with mustaches," says Morten Rostrup, president of the international council for M

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Aging, in Theory: A Personal Pursuit

By | May 13, 2002

Every human being has asked at least once, "Why do we have to age and die?" Leonid Gavrilov and Natalia Tuchnina (now Gavrilova), decide to really pursue the answer. They first met at a conference in 1975 when they were both fourth-year chemistry students at Moscow State University. Then, seven days after their first date, a smitten Gavrilov proposed, promising he would discover how to stop aging if she would marry him. The couple went on a quest to find a general theory that could explain what

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Cloning at the Capitol

By | May 13, 2002

The US Senate will likely vote on human cloning before Congress breaks for recess in late May. Supporters have rallied around the bill by Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that would ban human cloning for reproductive purposes and therapeutic cloning from embryonic stem cell lines. Legislators hold the power to make a day in the lab a felony, and most people hope that these senators at least know what they are talking about. "I don't expect Congress to understand everything,

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Fighting the 10/90 Gap

By | May 13, 2002

While wealthy nations pursue drugs to treat baldness and obesity, depression in dogs, and erectile dysfunction, elsewhere millions are sick or dying from preventable or treatable infectious and parasitic diseases.1 It's called the 10/90 gap. "Less than 10% of the worldwide expenditure on health research and development is devoted to the major health problems of 90% of the population," explains Els Torreele, co-chair of a working group that provided background recently for an initiative announced

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Frontlines

By | May 13, 2002

CuresNow, a coalition of scientists, patient groups, and entertainment executives recently launched an ad campaign to rally opposition to the Brownback-Landrieu bill that would criminalize all forms of research cloning ("Popular ad couple Harry and Louise are back, opposing Bush cloning ban," Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2002). The characters were featured in commercials that helped sink Bill Clinton's health care reform plan. In the current effort, the fictitious Louise refers to a bill that

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Lawmakers Plan Curbs to Patent Power

By | May 13, 2002

Continuing public concern over gene patenting and its impact on medical research and discovery has prompted several US and European initiatives challenging the power of patents. None pose an immediate threat to the biotechnology industry, but lawyers and industry advocates say a groundswell of political support for limits on patent protections, as has occurred in Europe, could eventually undermine biotech companies. "The mere discussion of this type of legislation—whether it goes anywher

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The Molecular Face of Aging

By | May 13, 2002

Consider a human baby, so young she cannot distinguish herself from the world. Her parents, beset by the fears and longings of adulthood, gaze anxiously upon their daughter's knitted brow. Her serious expression, at once reminiscent of her mother and comical on an infant's face, causes the parents to fret: When will the crease become a wrinkle? When will the physical assault of being alive begin? Their concern might seem absurdly premature, but the fleeting nature of life has long prompted peopl

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Are Science and Technology Governable?

By | April 29, 2002

A small group of scientists and scholars sat around a coffee table recently, balancing lunches on laps while discussing the prospects of greatly extending human life using new genetics tools and nanotechnologies. The group included a Johns Hopkins University cancer biologist, a Yale University philosopher, the executive director of an Oakland, Calif.-based advocacy group focusing on genetics and society, a Washington lobbyist, and various others. The talk, about the societal implications of lif

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Corn Goes Pop, Then Kaboom

By | April 29, 2002

On April 4, Nature sent ripples through the scientific community and the popular press by admitting it made a mistake. In an unprecedented action, editor Philip Campbell concluded in the journal's online version that "evidence available is not sufficient to justify publication" of a paper that appeared in the Nov. 29, 2001 issue. It wasn't exactly a retraction, but it was close. Along with its statement, Nature published two rebuttals to the original paper, plus a response from authors David Qui

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