By: Rebecca A. Meseroll, Ph.D.
Refugee scientist relief policy
Program launched to help refugee scientists find opportunities in Europe
Many thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to Europe in recent months, and among those in crisis are scientists who had to leave their research behind. The European Commission has demonstrated its support for these refugees by launching an E.U.-wide program called Science4Refugees, which will allow refugee scientists to be matched with universities and other institutions that have volunteered to be a part of this initiative. The program will provide an online portal where refugees who are interested in jobs, internships, or other training opportunities at the institutions can get more information about available vacancies and upload their CVs. Refugee job seekers will not receive preferential treatment and must compete for available positions with all other applicants, but this approach should at least help increase refugees’ awareness of which institutions have vacancies and provide a centralized online location to apply for these jobs. Science4Refugees joins the ranks of other initiatives that provide relief for displaced scientists in individual countries around the E.U., including established programs such as the UK’s Council for At-Risk Academics, which was instituted in the 1930s to help scientists persecuted by the Nazis and the Scholars at Risk program in the Netherlands, as well new programs in Germany and France. (Tania Rabesandratana, ScienceInsider)
Women in STEM
‘Pretty Curious’ campaign criticized
In an effort to increase the involvement of women in science and technology, a London-based energy company, EDF Energy, recently started a program to foster interest in STEM among girls ages 11-16, but the initiative has garnered some objections because of its name – Pretty Curious. Some critics of the name bristle at the implication that girls place a lot of importance on being pretty and liking pretty things, and thus need to be tempted with prettiness to be interested in STEM. Others object to the use of ‘pretty’ as an adverb, as they believe it suggests the girls will be only fairly interested in STEM topics, rather than truly passionate. EDF Energy states that they chose the name intentionally to “to challenge the stereotypes around personal appearance that are often applied to girls,” as well as to draw attention to their campaign. Pretty Curious plans to hold workshops in the UK to teach girls technological activities and techniques, such as coding and 3D printing, as well as introduce them to various female role models who have succeeded in STEM fields. Whether the program will overcome its early controversy and help increase representation of women in science remains to be seen. (Chris Woolston, Nature)
Animal population control
New vaccine provides hope for single-shot animal birth control
A recent study by Li et al. in Current Biology presents a new method of vaccine sterilization for both male and female mice, which may be a promising technique for cheap, easy, and long-lasting animal population control for pets and wildlife. Pet populations tend to be controlled by spaying or neutering, but these procedures require anesthetization and can be costly. Animal contraceptive vaccines that are currently in use, such as GonaCon, have been used to sterilize deer and other wildlife, and work by eliciting an immune response to gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is required for production of sex hormones. These vaccines often lose their efficacy after several years if administered in a single dose. The new vaccine developed by Li et al. contains an anti-GnRH antibody encased in an inactive viral shell and uses the animal’s muscle cells to generate more antibodies, rather than the immune system. Because muscle cells are long-lived, they continue to produce antibody in over a long period of time without the need for a booster. When injected into muscles of the mice at a high enough dose, the vaccine conferred long-term infertility to the animals, although there is a two-month lag between injection and the onset of infertility, as the muscles ramp up production of the anti-GnRH antibody. Future study will be required to minimize the lag time and test the technique in animals other than mice before it can be used to control captive and wild animal populations. (Sarah C.P. Williams, Science)
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