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Health and medicine/Human health

The American public likes scientists almost as much as it likes firefighters and teachers. And, economists say that investments in basic research have offered tremendous returns over the past 50 years. Why, then, do researchers in the United States find themselves on the precipice of a devastating financial cliff, facing $54 billion in across-the-board funding cuts by 1 March unless the U.S. Congress can agree on a budget fix?

The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education approved the draft spending bill that provides funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and other agencies last week.

President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget request includes modest increases in R&D funding for several agencies but as a share of the total federal budget, R&D investment would fall to its lowest level in more than 50 years, AAAS’s chief budget analyst told a Capitol Hill briefing.

In a recent discussion with AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows, several young women said that animal anatomy had turned them off to science. “I didn’t like the pig dissection,” said Xena Issifi, an eighth-grader from Paul Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.

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Laboratory-made “biosynthetic” corneas can spur damaged tissue and broken nerves to regenerate, restoring vision in human eyes just as well as donor corneas, according to a two-year study of 10 patients reported in Science Translational Medicine.

A worldwide shortage of donated corneas leaves millions of people likely to go blind each year. Now, researchers in Sweden show that these biosynthetic corneas made with human collagen may allow patients who need corneal transplants but do not have donors to regain normal sight.

Successful farming has long depended upon the right mixture of plants, seeds, soil, water, weather, and luck. Facing a future of growing population and diminishing resources, the prospect of sustainable agriculture and secure food supplies will require the added ingredients of compromise and cooperation, according to international agricultural specialists.

When Anil Dash needed a new mobile phone, he asked his Twitter followers and Facebook friends for suggestions. He received several recommendations, but he was surprised by a response that included a link to a paper listing popular mobile phones and how much radiation they emit.

That experience showed Dash how social networks can help people not only answer questions but also consider issues related to their questions that may not have occurred to them otherwise.