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Panel Urges Postdoc Reforms

March 28, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 13


Panel urges postdoc reforms

Concerned that young biomedical researchers are spending too much time working as postdocs, a National Research Council report recommends that NIH foster greater independence of these scientists by giving them more training and resources. The report, prepared by an NRC committee chaired by Thomas R. Cech, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, states that NIH should provide postdocs and early-career investigators with more funding for their own studies and limit the maximum time that they can spend in training under senior NIH-funded scientists to a total of five years. One specific recommendation is that NIH move more funds from its principal investigator R01 grants to training grants and individual awards. This shift would increase the number of awards available to postdocs, enhance oversight of training, facilitate collaborative research, and encourage researchers to play bigger roles in the design and direction of their work, the report states. "Science would benefit from a system that actively encourages new investigators to try out novel ideas and approaches," Cech says. "Now is the time for action." The complete report, "Bridges to Independence: Fostering the Independence of New Investigators in Biomedical Research," will be available soon from the National Academies Press.

Unapproved modified corn wrongly sold

Federal regulatory agencies are trying to figure out how the biotech company Syngenta inadvertently sold an unapproved strain of genetically modified corn seed in the U.S. for four years. The seeds, designated Bt 10, which are modified by the addition of genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, were planted on 37,000 acres from 2001 until last December. The Bt10 proteins produced in the Bt10 plant are identical to those produced by the fully approved Bt11 varieties. According to an EPA statement, Bt10 meets the agency's "current, health-based regulatory safety standards, and the existing food-safety clearance for Bt11 applies to Bt10." Even though there are no safety concerns, the regulatory agencies are nevertheless investigating to what extent Syngenta may have violated laws and regulations by selling the unapproved variety. According to Syngenta, the situation arose because unused research stocks of Bt10 were mixed in with Bt11 seeds. The company revealed the mistake to FDA, EPA, and USDA in December. It could face up to $500,000 in fines, says USDA spokesman Jim D. Rogers.

FDA issues guidelines for personalized medicines

FDA has issued guidelines to speed the advent of more-effective, personalized medicines--pharmaceuticals tailored to individuals based on their genetic makeup. The final guidance, "Pharmacogenomic Data Submissions," tells drug companies how to submit information describing how genetic profiles affect drug response. It outlines what data will be needed during the marketing application review process and the data that will be used during regulatory decision-making. "FDA's efforts will bring us one step closer to personalizing medical treatment," says Janet Woodcock, the agency's acting deputy commissioner for operations. Instead of the standard hit-or-miss approach to treating patients, where it can take multiple attempts to find the right drug and the right dose, doctors will eventually be able to analyze a patient's genetic profile and prescribe the best therapy from the start, FDA says.

U.S. settles major air pollution case

EPA and the Department of Justice have reached a settlement with Ohio Edison Co., a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., to reduce air pollution at the W. H. Sammis coal-fired power plant in Stratton, Ohio. Over the next seven years, the company has agreed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide at Sammis and other power plants by more than 212,000 tons per year. Pollution controls and other measures required by the consent decree will cost approximately $1.1 billion. EPA describes the Sammis plant as one of the largest sources of air pollution in the nation. The settlement is expected to reduce hazardous air emissions from the plant by more than 90%. In addition to installing pollution control equipment, Ohio Edison will spend $25 million on mitigation projects to compensate for past pollution damage and fund $14.4 million for various renewable energy projects. It will also pay an $8.5 million civil fine. The states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, which were coplaintiffs in the lawsuit, will receive a total of $10 million for environmentally beneficial projects to be determined later. This is the ninth settlement that the government has made with power companies for violations of the new source review provisions of the Clean Air Act.


The Army's fourth and final incinerator facility for destroying chemical weapons, at Pine Bluff, Ark., is to begin operating on March 28. Of the eight destruction facilities in the Army's disposal program, the neutralization plants in Newport, Ind.; Pueblo, Colo.; and Richmond, Ky., still have not opened.

Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, has written an open letter to all academy members asking that they speak out against efforts to diminish the teaching of evolution in schools. He calls this issue "a growing threat to the teaching of science" and encourages scientists to face up to the challenge when it arises.

Robert Rosner, chief scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, will be the lab's new director. The 57-year-old Rosner, an astrophysicist, has been at the University of Chicago-operated lab since 1987.

The Patent & Trademark Office has listed the top 10 universities receiving patents in 2004. The University of California leads with 424 patents, followed by California Institute of Technology with 135 and Massachusetts Institute of Technology at 132.



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