Archive by category | Biology & Biotechnology

Contamination created controversial ‘acid-induced’ stem cells

Stem cells that were claimed to be created simply by exposing ordinary cells to stress were probably derived from embryonic stem cells, according to the latest investigation into an ongoing scientific scandal. How that contamination occurred, however, remains an open question.  Read more

US announces rules for potential bioterror agents

A long-awaited US government policy on biological research that could be used for terrorism or other nefarious purposes is little changed from a draft released 19 months ago, despite receiving 38 comments from institutions and researchers concerned that it goes either too far or not far enough. The centrepiece of the policy, released on 24 September, is a set of guidelines for researchers working on 15 specific pathogens or toxins. But the rules do not regulate experiments that engineer pathogens not on the list to make them more deadly – so-called gain-of-function research.  Officials from the White House and US National Institutes of Health (NIH) say the government will be addressing these concerns in coming weeks.  Read more

Balzan prizes honour plant ecologist and mathematician

Plant ecologist G. David Tilman from the University of Minnesota in Saint Paul and mathematician Dennis Sullivan from the City University of New York are among the four winners of this year’s prestigious Balzan Prize. The announcement was made on 8 September.  Read more

Lasker Award goes to breast-cancer researcher

The 2014 Albert Lasker Special Achievement Award has been awarded to the geneticist Mary-Claire King. King, of the University of Washington in Seattle, is the leader of the team that discovered the BRCA genes, mutations of which are linked to breast cancer. King’s team found that the 10% of women affected by such mutations have nearly an 80% chance of developing breast cancer. The rush to develop tests for the mutations triggered a legal dispute in the United States that ended with a US Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the patenting of naturally-occurring genes.  Read more

Australian gene-patent case dismissed

An Australian federal court has thrown out an lawsuit challenging a patent on the cancer-associated gene BRCA1. The decision, issued 5 September, is the latest setback for patient advocates who argue that the patent limits genetic-testing options for Australian cancer patients.  Read more

US government labs plan biohazard-safety sweep

The unexpected discovery of smallpox in a refrigerator at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, on 9 July has apparently sparked some soul searching in the US government. On 27 August, the NIH designated September as “National Biosafety Stewardship Month,” encouraging researchers to inventory their freezers for potentially dangerous agents such as pathogens and toxins, and review their biosafety protocols. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) did the same in a memo released on 28 August, suggesting “a government-wide ‘safety stand‐down,’” and “strongly urging” both federal agencies and independent labs to complete these steps within the month.  Read more