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This Week in Science: Dec 19, 2008

The ScienceInsider blog say that John Holden is President-elect Obama's pick for the next science adviser. Holden is a trained fluid dynamics and plasma physicist and now is a professor of environmental policy and directs Harvard's Kennedy School of Government's program on science, technology, and public policy. Scientific American's blog notes that Holdren wrote in their October issue that "the ongoing disruption of the earth's climate by man-made greenhouse gases is already well beyond dangerous and is careening toward completely unmanageable." And at the Boston Globe, a colleague of Holden's, Sheila Jasanoff, says, "I think if he is appointed he will send a signal to the scientific community, which has been disenchanted in the current administration, that science is very important and will be listened to."

In the news section, Science reports from the Materials Research Society meeting that Caltech chemist James Heath and his team have made microfluidic chips that can analyze a drop of blood in 10 minutes and detect and quantify dozens of proteins found in the blood plasma.

The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the US House of Representatives influenced where NIH extramural funds were awarded. In 2002 and 2003, authors Deepak Hegde and David Mowery of the University of California Berkeley say that $1.7 billion of the $37.4 billion awarded was influenced by who was on the subcommittee -- institutions in the home state of representatives received more funds. "Political oversight of NIH funding decisions provides an important mechanism for public input into scientific judgments concerning health-research needs. Nevertheless, the exercise of such influence clearly mediates the effects of rigorous peer review," the authors write. The Chronicle of Higher Education says that senior NIH officials "flatly disagreed with the paper's findings." At Ars Technica, Jonathan Gitlin says this is a case of correlation, not causation. He points out that California, then New York, have the most members on the subcommittee and that both states have biomedical research institutes. "It would not be surprising, therefore, that states with more researchers at respected institutions would receive more grants," Gitlin writes.

Boston researchers followed up on BCL11A gene variants identified through genetic association studies associated with fetal hemoglobin levels, levels of which affect how severe sickle cell disease and the β-thalassemia syndromes are. They saw that high HbF is associated with lower BCL11A expression and that high BCL11A expression is only found in adult erythroid cells. Also, BCL11A, they report, binds several sites in the β-globin gene cluster. A related Perspective piece notes, "The inverse correlation between BCL11A and HbF expression, combined with the known ameliorative effect of HbF on the pathophysiology of sickle cell disease and β-thalassemia, suggests that inhibition of BCL11A expression or function could be an effective treatment for these disorders."

Finally, Science notes its "Breakthrough of the Year." That honor goes to cellular reprogramming, due to a series of papers that reported making iPS cell lines. "The results are surprising because in living creatures, specialized cells almost never change course, changing, say, from a muscle cell into a lung cell," the article says.


The Scan

Tens of Millions Saved

The Associated Press writes that vaccines against COVID-19 saved an estimated 20 million lives in their first year.

Supersized Bacterium

NPR reports that researchers have found and characterized a bacterium that is visible to the naked eye.

Also Subvariants

Moderna says its bivalent SARS-CoV-2 vaccine leads to a strong immune response against Omicron subvariants, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Science Papers Present Gene-Edited Mouse Models of Liver Cancer, Hürthle Cell Carcinoma Analysis

In Science this week: a collection of mouse models of primary liver cancer, and more.