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Vest Makes Case for Open Research

The Boston Globe -- Leading a discussion at Kresge Auditorium last month, Charles M. Vest, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, looked every bit the engineer: tall and lean, measured in tone, understated. Few would peg him as an alarmist, or a political wrangler. Yet when he decried the “fuzziness” of language creeping into federal research contracts over the past two years, he sounded like a political activist, giving voice to an uneasiness that is spreading on U.S. campuses.

The discomfort is with new government barriers to open research and international collaboration. And it has thrust Vest, in his 13th year at the helm of one of the nation’s top research universities, into the maelstrom of public policy.

Over the past six months, Vest, a member of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, has met twice with Bush administration officials seeking to strike a balance between the needs of university research and national security in the post-Sept. 11 world. He and his MIT colleagues were instrumental in preparing a white paper for Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge last spring recommending continued openness in research, timely decisions on visa applications, and ongoing dialogue between university and government leaders. And Vest has sought to rally his colleagues at other US research universities to present a united front on these issues.

Vest, a native of Morgantown, W.Va., and a former University of Michigan mechanical engineering professor, might prefer to talk about lasers and optics. But he has emerged as a high-profile, if somewhat unlikely, spokesman for academic researchers seeking to preserve a culture of scientific openness in an age of terror.

Pregnant Mouse’s Diet Leads Geneticists to Look at Nutrition

The New York Times

With the help of some fat yellow mice, scientists have discovered exactly how a mother’s diet can permanently alter the functioning of genes in her offspring without changing the genes themselves.

The unusual strain of mouse carries a kind of trigger near the gene that determines not only the color of its coat but also its predisposition to obesity, diabetes and cancer. When pregnant mice were fed extra vitamins and supplements, the supplements interacted with the trigger in the fetal mice and shut down the gene. As a result, obese yellow mothers gave birth to standard brown baby mice that grew up lean and healthy.

Scientists have long known that what pregnant mothers eat -- whether they are mice, fruit flies or humans -- can profoundly affect the susceptibility of their offspring to disease. But until now they have not understood why, said Dr. Randy Jirtle, a professor of radiation oncology at Duke and senior investigator of the study, which was reported in the Aug. 1 issue of Molecular and Cellular Biology.