Week in Review: January 30–February 3

March for science debate; an RNA vaccine for Zika; responses to Trump’s immigration order; native habitat restoration; views from local March for Science organizers; artificial cells and the Turing test

Feb 3, 2017
Joshua A. Krisch

Laboratory refugees

After President Donald Trump issued an executive order that barred immigrants and visitors from some Muslim-majority countries, hundreds of labs responded by offering to host researchers affected by the temporary US travel ban until it is lifted. More than 100 individuals from Canada, Spain, the U.K., France, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria have already registered on the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)’s website, offering lab space and places to sleep.

“Everyone agrees we must do something,” EMBO Director Maria Leptin told The Scientist. “It’s a feeling a solidarity with people who are stranded and with our colleagues in the U.S.”

To march, or not?

As scientists across the country and around the work plan to march in the name of science, some researchers who’ve had a hand in policy-making efforts are calling for caution. In a New York Times opinion article published this week (January 31), Robert Young, a coastal geologist at Western Carolina University, called the march on Washington, DC, “a terrible idea.”

“I don’t think that scientists standing in Washington, giving speeches and holding signs, is going to convince those people that they need to pay attention to our concerns,” Young told The Scientist. “Somehow, as a community, those of us who care about science need to find a way to communicate with those folks,” he continued. “It has to be direct communication or ways that . . . we have not imagined yet.”

But a co-founding organizer of the March for Science noted that science has always been political. “I don’t think that by having a march we’re creating that connection between science and politics,” Jacqueline Gill, an assistant professor of ecology and biology at the University of Maine, told The Scientist. “That connection has always been there.”

Meet the marchers

The Scientist is speaking with local March for Science organizers, asking how they became involved in science activism and what they hope to accomplish in their communities. This week, organizers from Atlanta, Buffalo, Eugene, and Cleveland have shared their ideas.

Satellite march organizers interested in contributing: please email Tracy Vence: tvence@the-scientist.com.

Another Zika vaccine progresses

Anti-Zika vaccines have rapidly advanced through preclinical trials during the last several months. Now, researchers have reported data on the first vaccine to make use of messenger RNA (mRNA), which has proven effective in preventing infection in mice and rhesus macaques, according to a February 2 study published in Nature.

“It’s a novel vaccine platform,” said Dan Barouch, who directs Harvard Medical School’s Center for Virology and Vaccine Research and was not involved in the study, adding: “It has not been explored in great detail in humans yet.”

Weeding out invasive species

Invasive species can destroy ecosystems, and studies have shown that removing them can help small communities recover. Now, a January 30 study in published Nature has demonstrated that removing non-native plants can restore an entire island habitat, from plants to pollinators. “Many tropical habitats, especially on islands, are similarly degraded so this gives us some hope that we can restore them successfully,” Jeff Ollerton of the University of Northampton, U.K., who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email to The Scientist.

Can FDA evaluations be improved?

Clinical trials can cost up to $4 billion and take 15 years to complete—but fewer than 10 percent of candidate drugs ever make it to market. John Loike of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Jennifer Miller of New York University School of Medicine highlight the problems with existing food and drug regulations and suggest improvements, in an opinion piece for The Scientist.

Other news in life science  

Scientific Societies Respond to Trump Immigration Order

More than 150 scientific societies have objected to the new president’s executive order, arguing that it will hinder international collaboration and make America less competitive

Trump’s Crackdown on Federal Regulations

The President has signed an executive order requiring that federal agencies, including the FDA, to cut two regulations for every new one they adopt.

Top UK Science Advisor to Control Science Funding

Immunologist Mark Walport will shift from his position as chief science advisor to the UK government to head the country’s new science funding agency.

Earliest Deuterostome Fossils Described

These millimeter-size sea creatures lived 540 million years ago.

Artificial Cells Talk to Real Ones

Nonliving cells developed in the lab can communicate chemically with living bacteria, according to a study.

The Genetics of Human Height

Researchers can now explain more than a quarter of the variability in human stature.