Barack Obama made history yesterday by becoming the first African American to be elected president of the United States. The many scientists who had campaigned for the Democratic senator from Illinois reveled in last night’s election returns. “We’re just very thrilled,” says physicist Bernice Durand, who had assembled a grassroots coalition of researchers supporting Obama (Science, 31 October, p. 658). The election brought mostly good news for research as well. Here’s a roundup of other developments that could have an impact on science:
Arguably the result most directly affecting researchers was in Michigan, where voters passed a measure that will free scientists from state restrictions on stem cell research. Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment that will go into effect next month, allows researchers to derive new human embryonic stem cell lines from embryos that would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics. The measure supersedes a 1978 state law prohibiting the use of embryos in research. It was opposed on ethical grounds by right-to-life groups and the Catholic Church, which also raised the specter of science gone wild. Opponents even suggested that “we might try to clone cow-people,” says stem cell researcher Sean Morrison of the University of Michigan (UM) Medical School in Ann Arbor. In fact, all cloning, including somatic cell nuclear transfer for research, is still banned.
Each side reportedly spent more than $5 million in the public battle over the measure, with supporters receiving a big financial boost from Michigan developer A. Alfred Taubman. Scientists were particularly active, participating in public debates and visiting newspaper editors to lobby for the measure.