NIH to End Research on Chimpanzees

Citing declining demand for biomedical research involving chimpanzees, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will immediately terminate a program that maintains a colony of 50 chimpanzees for research purposes. The animals will be retired and sent to sanctuaries.

“As a result of these numerous changes over the last few years and the significantly reduced demand for chimpanzees in NIH-supported biomedical research, it is clear that we’ve reached a tipping point,” said Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of NIH.

No new biomedical research projects involving chimpanzees have been approved since June 2013. This may be partly attributable to new restrictions implemented this year when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated captive members of the species as endangered.

NIH began to scale back the research program several years ago. In 2013, the agency retired more than 300 research chimps.

The agency’s decision does not impact the use of other non-human primates in biomedical research.

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Federal Funding to Universities Continues to Decline

According to data from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Higher Education Research and Development Survey, federal funding for research and development at universities has continued to decline over the past three years.

Federal funding for higher education research and development (R&D) fell by 5.1 percent between fiscal year (FY) 2013 and FY 2014—the most recent years for which data is available. Since FY 2011, the decrease is 11 percent. According to the report, this is “the longest multiyear decline in federal funding for academic R&D” since this data series collection began in FY 1972.

Nearly two-thirds of higher education R&D funding is directed to medical sciences, biological sciences, and engineering. There was a substantial increase in funding for all three fields between FY 1994 and FY 2011. In recent years, however, funding for medical and non-medical life sciences research has not kept up with inflation.

The funding data were collected by NSF’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics from a survey of 895 universities and colleges that spent at least $150,000 in R&D in FY 2014.

A statistical report of the survey is available at:

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Upcoming Briefing on Digitization of Natural History Collections

The Natural Science Collections Alliance will hold a science policy briefing on Monday, 14 December 2015 on “Digitization: New Tools for Increasing the Use of Natural History Collections for Research, Education, and Informed Decisionmaking.” The event is free and open to the public. It will be held at 2:30 pm in room SVC-212 at the Capitol Visitor Center, in Washington, DC.

This briefing will explore recent efforts to digitally capture images of scientific specimens and their associated data. Speakers will address how digitization is making collections more accessible and how citizen scientists are engaging in the effort.

Presentations will be made by:

  • Dr. Larry Page
    President, Natural Science Collections Alliance
    Director, iDigBio
    Curator of Fishes, Florida Museum of Natural History
    A National Campaign to Mobilize Natural History Collections Data

  • Dr. Barbara M. Thiers
    Vice President for Science Administration
    Patricia K. Holmgren Director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium New York Botanical Garden
    Natural History Collections: Understanding our Past to Inform our Future

  • Dr. Austin Mast
    Director of the Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium, Florida State University
    Associate Director of the Institute for Digital Information & Scientific Communication, Florida State University
    Associate Professor, Department of Biological Science, Florida State University
    Crowdsourcing Collection Digitization: Solving a Science Problem and Improving STEM Literacy

An RSVP is required if you do not have a congressional staff ID:

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Comments Sought on USDA's Public Access Plans

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking public comment on the development of policies to increase access to the results of federally funded agricultural research.

The Department released a draft policy on public access for scholarly publications resulting from USDA funds in 2014 and is currently developing a policy for scientific data. A new system, called Ag Data Commons, will be released to handle storage and dissemination of digital datasets.

Public comments on either policy can be submitted via email at by 9 January 2016. A teleconference on policy impacts related to scientific data will be held on 4 December 2015 at 2:00pm EST at

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FDA Approves First Genetically Modified Animal for Human Consumption

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a landmark announcement on 19 November, when it issued an approval of genetically modified (GM) salmon for sale and human consumption. AquAdvantage salmon will be the first GM animal to be sold for human consumption in the United States. GM plants already constitute a significant portion of U.S. agricultural output.

The GM salmon is an Atlantic salmon that produces higher levels of growth hormones as a result of an inserted Chinook salmon gene, which is controlled by a gene derived from another fish, the ocean pout. The purpose of the modification is to increase growth rate, making land-based farming of the salmon economically viable.

As part of the agreement with the FDA, the salmon will only be raised in Canada and Panama in land-based facilities with built-in measures to prevent escape of the fish. In order to further reduce risk of crossbreeding with wild salmon populations, the farmed fish are all female and sterile.

An FAQ regarding the announcement and the salmon can be found here.

To learn more about GM salmon, listen to the BioScience Talks podcast. The July episode features an interview with Dr. Robert Devlin, who authored a paper in BioScience on risk assessment of the ecological threats posed by GM fish.

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Report Highlights Federal Opportunities in Microbiome Research

A new report from the National Science and Technology Council emphasizes the need for future funding of research about communities of microorganisms. One major challenge in studying microbiomes has been dealing with large amounts of data and a shortage of bioinformaticians to interpret the data. Other issues cited in the report include a lack of standards and the need for reference materials.

The Council recommends federal support to incentivize development of standards, references, and database tools. “The right tools and an interdisciplinary focus on the fundamental questions of microbiome science can help lead scientists to new, technologically sophisticated and precise methods to treat diseases, produce clean energy, grow food sustainably, and protect environmental health,” according to a blog post on the Office of Science and Technology Policy website written by Elizabeth Stulberg, Senior Policy Advisor for Food and Life Sciences, and Jo Handelsman, Associate Director for Science.

Over the past three years, federal agencies supported $922 million in research on microbiomes. More than half of that funding was supported by or performed at the National Institutes of Health.

The report is available at

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Graduate Student Leaders Sought to Shape Science Policy

Are you a science graduate student looking to make a difference in science policy and funding? Applications are being accepted for the 2016 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. Recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

Winners receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held in spring 2016. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process and trends in federal science funding.
  • Meetings with congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A one-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”

The 2016 award is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.

Applications are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on Sunday, 10 January 2016. The application can be downloaded at

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to to get started.

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