Short items

NIH funds chemical biology network
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) will spend $280 million (?160 million) over four years developing a national network across nine academic institutes, in which researchers will screen its library of over 300 000 small compounds for drug leads or molecular probes. The programme is the second phase of the NIH’s molecular libraries initiative and has been criticised for its cost at a time when budgets are tight.    

Lasker prizes  
The 2008 Lasker awards for medical research, each worth $300 000, went (for basic research) to Victor Ambros, David Baulcombe, and Gary Ruvkun for their roles in the discovery of microRNAs; and (for clinical research) to Akira Endo, for his 1979 development of mevastatin, the first of the cholesterol-lowering statins. Stanley Falkow, for his studies on microbes and antibiotic resistance, won the lifetime achievement award.    

US, Europe and Japan-based scientists have teamed up to form the International alliance for nanoEHS [environment, health and safety] harmonisation (IANH), to develop standard protocols for testing the safety of nanomaterials. See website.

Go Figure  

15 per cent
The minimum proportion of oxygen that air must contain in order to sustain combustion, upgraded from 12 per cent by Dublin-based scientists (DOI: 10.1126/science.1160978). Their study suggests that the wildfire-strewn Mesozoic (250-65 million years ago) did not have atmospheric oxygen levels below 15 per cent, one hypothesis for the mass extinction events in that period.