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The Dish: Sampling Today’s News – February 1, 2008

petridishThe list of funding victims, many in physics research, continues to grow in the aftermath of Congress squashing a requested budget boost for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. According to the Science, the DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences program, which could have potentially funded applied work in areas like nuclear reactor efficiency, has dashed the research hopes of scientists like Malcolm Stocks, whose efforts to conjure up funding for his work “is now an enormous waste of time.” Congress approved a 2 percent funding boost for the BES program; the request was 20 percent. If the BES situation does not improve in the 2009 budget, scientists like Dr. Stocks may be forced to seek out overseas research facilities, undercutting the United States’ ability to continue trailblazing scientific discoveries in the future.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush championed recent discoveries allowing researchers to “reprogram” adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells. “This breakthrough has the potential to move us beyond the divisive debates of the past,” he said. Not so fast, say some researchers, who do acknowledge the potential of induced pluripotent stem cells, but believe it is to still to early to close up shop on hES research. Science offers in-depth coverage of the state of play and quotes stem cell researcher George Daley, who says that, “Right now, we’re not certain that iPS cells are the absolute equivalent” of hES cells. There’s still a lot of work to be done with iPS cells; that process will likely take a long time; and for the time being, hES cells are the gold standard for understanding pluipotency. Science also mentions alternative methods of creating iPS cells and exposes the premature political clamoring for a hES cell research ban.

Finally in Science: perspectives on a report finding that continued climate change will likely lead to greater food insecurity around the world. The researchers, using crop models, found that increased temperatures, coupled with decreasing precipitation in semiarid regions will lead to reduced agricultural production and higher prices for food. The issue becomes increasingly complex when considering the potential for continued rising oil prices, the globalization of grain markets, increases in biofuel production, and changes in farming technology. Climate change will have a far more dramatic impact on poor farmers in tropical regions who may not have the agricultural technology to make up for changes in the ecosystem. Crop subsidies in developed nations that make competition difficult won’t help matters either.

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