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World Briefs II

Administration Proposes Increases In Science Funding

The Washington Post

The Clinton administration has proposed substantial, and in some respects unprecedented, increases in federal funding for science and technology research in fiscal 1999. Overall, the budget requests $78.2 billion - a comparatively modest expansion of about $2 billion, or 3 percent above 1998 levels - for military and civilian research programs combined.

But many agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy and National Science Foundation, are slated for sizable increases. The NIH would receive an additional $1.15 billion, or 8.4 percent, the largest dollar increase in its history. That would bring its 1999 budget to $14.8 billion to accommodate new initiatives in cancer, diabetes, brain disorders and genetic medicine, among others. NSF funding would rise 10 percent, to $3.8 billion, to underwrite research on computers, information technology, education and basic research. The Energy Department's research and development programs would increase 11 percent to $7.2 billion, boosting efforts to improve energy efficiency, reduce "greenhouse" gas emissions and pay for shared science facilities.

Researchers Link Gene to Short-Term Memory

The Washington Post

It is hard to think of something more abstract and fragile than a memory. Nevertheless, like all brain functions, memory is ultimately a physical phenomenon, and obviously a fairly durable one.

Although how the machine of memory runs is still a mystery, neuroscientists have located some of its nuts, bolts and moving parts. And now, researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine have found a new one. Michael S. Grotewiel, Ronald L. Davis and their colleagues report in the Jan. 29 Nature that they have discovered a gene they named Volado, or "absent-minded" in the Chilean dialect of Spanish. It appears necessary for short-term memory formation.

The researchers showed that fruit flies with a defective form of the gene are unable to register or retain the memory of odors. Using genetic engineering techniques, the researchers also created flies with a Volado gene that could be temporarily activated if the insects were put in an unusually hot environment for 15 minutes. These flies performed poorly on a memory test before the heat treatment, normally after it, and poorly again 24 hours later. This suggests the protein encoded by Volado has a limited lifespan and needs to be present at the moment of learning for memories to form.

The Volado protein is an "integrin." Integrins regulate the physical contact between cells and help control their chemical signaling. How these activities contribute to memory, however, remains unknown.