Sunday, 23 June 2013 20:00

Science Sequestered, Hope Delayed

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Two months ago, Professor Frederick Sachs from SUNY Buffalo came to visit me. We talked about the science going on in our labs and what we hoped to accomplish. Then he told me about his own funding problems, problems caused entirely by the sequester, which now threatened his lab's incredibly promising work. I have been thinking ever since about Fred, his lab's work, and the lost opportunities they represent.

DORA or to give its full name, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, continues to make friends and stir up dust. In an editorial in Cell entitled "June is the Cruelest Month," Emilie Marcus, the Executive Editor of Cell Press, gave a chilly reception to the arrival of the latest edition of the "two-year JIF," the journal citation algorithm from Thomson Reuters that rates scholarly publications for "impact." Marcus said that the JIF's flaws and its widespread abuse were well known in the scientific community and was ample justification for the DORA rebellion. Alas, Cell Press could not sign DORA, Marcus continued, "Because there were specific calls to action that we did not feel we could endorse as constructive and appropriate measures." Without specifying what was unconstructive or inappropriate, Marcus did continue, "We support the goals of DORA and add our voices and actions to bringing about change in how individual scientists are assessed for hiring, promotion, and tenure."

In a rare unanimous decision last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "natural" genes cannot be patented in the closely watched case of Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. The outcome of the Myriad case will certainly improve the accessibility of genetic testing for BRCA mutations, which have been identified as significant risk factors for breast and ovarian cancers, but the Court also ruled that cDNA is eligible for patents because it is "not naturally occurring." A quick survey of researchers saw a mixture of good news/no news reactions in the Myriad case.

Elizabeth Iorns is on a mission to kill mutant sperm. She hopes to prevent transmission of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer by eradicating sperm carrying a specific gene mutation. Frustrated with traditional grants and private funders, Iorns raised $10,242 from 53 individuals through crowd-funding on Microryza. In return, she promised to share the chronicles of her research with her online supporters.

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