Science: A French law passed in March designed to increase job security may have exactly the opposite effect. Researchers across France have been writing letters, signing petitions, and staging street protests over a new requirement that employers must offer a permanent position to employees working on short-term contracts (CDDs) for more than six years. Although the law may work well in certain areas of the public sector, France’s science funding system does not allocate its research institutions sufficient funds to offer their CDD employees permanent jobs. In response, some science organizations, including CNRS—France’s largest—are trying to limit CDDs to three years. Critics say the new law will hurt young researchers the most, by causing them to lose their jobs early on and not allowing them to gain the necessary job experience to seek longer-term positions. France’s higher education and research ministry is working to give CDD employees hiring preference for civil service jobs, and the protesters are pressuring the government to increase the total number of civil service positions.
New Scientist: The original discovery of DNA’s double helix relied on mathematically deducing what structure had created the diffraction pattern revealed by x-ray crystallography. Now scientists have directly imaged the structure using an electron microscope. A team led by Enzo di Fabrizio of the University of Genoa in Italy stretched “cords” of DNA molecules between nanoscopic silicon pillars and took high-resolution images with electron beams. Because the electron beams are too energetic to interact with a single DNA molecule without breaking it, the cords were composed of multiple strands of DNA wrapped around each other. The team hopes to soon be able to use lower-energy electrons to image individual DNA molecules. The new imaging technique may allow researchers to observe how DNA and other molecules interact.
Nature: A fleet of satellites first launched in 2006 has been providing valuable weather forecast and climate model data by picking up radio signals from GPS satellites. The signals get bent as they pass through Earth’s atmosphere, and the amount of bending indicates atmospheric temperature and moisture levels. But the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate is aging, and its expensive successor, the government-funded Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), which has already exceeded its planned budget, is not due to go up until 2016. To fill the gap, a commercial operation called GeoOptics is proposing the more budget-friendly Community Initiative for Cellular Earth Remote Observation (CICERO), a network of 24 microsatellites. Costing $150 million, compared with $12.9 billion for JPSS, CICERO would be built and launched with private funds; any data gathered would then be licensed to US government agencies and thus made freely available to researchers. “I would like to put the government out of the business of doing routine measurements and observations that could easily be done by a commercial company,” said Conrad Lautenbacher, chief executive of GeoOptics.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Washington has a $270 million shellfish aquaculture industry that employs 3000 people and accounts for 85% of the US West Coast’s sales in the industry. A task force created by Governor Chris Gregoire has released a report saying that ocean acidification as a result of climate change is a direct threat to the sustainability of that industry. In response to the panel’s findings, Gregoire issued an executive order telling the state’s Department of Ecology to coordinate the panel’s recommendations on fighting climate change. The order also announced the creation of a center on ocean acidification at the University of Washington. The task force’s report highlighted the connection between climate change and ocean acidification. The panel found that one quarter of fossil fuel emissions is absorbed by the oceans and that the average acidity of the oceans has increased by about 30% since 1750. The increased acidity is harmful to the development and growth of shellfish, and several of the state’s shellfish companies have already experienced difficulties in their hatcheries.