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This Week in Science: Mar 20, 2009

In Science this week, Harold Varmus has co-written an editorial looking at President Obama's new policies on stem cell research and scientific integrity. In order to protect against misinformation, manipulation, and coercion on the part of the government, scientists must chip in. "The president has taken a large and inspiring step to restore the historically beneficial balance between science and government; we should all now offer to help with the enlightened effort just launched." Jennifer Couzin writes about Obama's nominees to lead the crisis-riddled US FDA and some of the challenges they will face to fix the agency.

A policy forum article looks at ways to regulate "stem cell tourism," or going to another country to get stem-cell based therapies that could be harmful, since many of these treatments have not gone through approved clinical trials. To prevent companies from "going too far in their business practices," says the article, government, media, and patient advocacy groups need to work together to both place restrictions and educate the public.

Scientists have found that methylation changes can be reversed in Arabidopsis in a process combining meiosis and RNAi. By introducing the wild-type ddm1 gene into ddm1 mutants, they showed that about half the sequences they examined regained methylation. "Complete remethylation was observed only after several generations, consistent with the multigenerational nature of transgene silencing known for plants," says a perspective by Steve Jacobsen, who adds that the loci that became remethylated were characterized by the presence of high amounts of siRNAs. "DNA methylation and gene silencing can be much more dynamic than previously thought."

Genentech researchers have designed an antibody that recognizes and binds two antigens with high affinity. By improving on a variant of Herceptin, bH1, which can bind both human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 and vascular endothelial growth factor, they found that the new antibody inhibits both HER2- and VEGF-mediated cell proliferation in vitro and tumor progression in mouse models. "Two-in-one" antibodies could significantly improve combination therapies for cancers and infections, says a related article.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.