The $328.1 billion US omnibus spending measure, which funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is now in the hands of the Senate, includes a small but unusual $7.5 million appropriation. That amount would be distributed at NIH director Elias Zerhouni's discretion, would be dedicated to research projects whose focuses fall outside traditional interests, and, researchers and advocates say, could help establish how science will be conducted in the future.

The bill's current language says the money was included to “demonstrate whether this funding mechanism would accelerate the research agenda.” A spokesman said the NIH does not normally talk about pending appropriations legislation, and several members of Congress did not return calls seeking comment. The House of Representatives passed the appropriations bill in early December, and the Senate will consider it in January.

The plan's particulars are still being worked out, but...

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