Letters from the November 13, 2004, issue of Science News

The direct approach

“An Exploitable Mutation: Defect might make some lung cancers treatable” (SN: 9/11/04, p. 164: An Exploitable Mutation: Defect might make some lung cancers treatable) may have missed a “magic bullet” that would be effective against many forms of cancer. The researchers concentrate on a drug that blocks a mutated form of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor, which may benefit 5 percent of lung cancer patients. Yet the article states that “if normal cell growth runs amok, the [normal] EGF receptor follows its cell-division signals with a self-destruct message.” Why not in effect implant normal EGF receptors onto the surface of tumor cells?

Stephen Munson
El Segundo, Calif

Near cited

There is an error in “A really cool map” (SN: 9/11/04, p. 166: A really cool map). These Cassini results are based on thermal-infrared, not near-infrared data. The measurements were taken by the Composite Infrared Spectrometer and covered the spectral range from 100 to 450 inverse centimeters (100 to 22 micrometers).

John Pearl
Greenbelt, Md

The Cassini craft also looks at near-infrared wavelengths, but not in this case. The word near should have been omitted.—R. Cowen

Seed of a dispute

I am wondering why the subject of genetically modified crops didn’t enter the discussion of diminishing plant diversity in “The Ultimate Crop Insurance” (SN: 9/11/04, p. 170: The Ultimate Crop Insurance). When genes from bacteria, insects, and other totally unrelated organisms are inserted into the genome of a plant, we have no idea what effect this will have on plant diversity and survival. The effect on other organisms, such as pollinators, is even less well known. Why should we take these risks if, as stated in your article, “synthetic bread wheats” produced by crossing existing banked seeds produce offspring that are “about as diverse as the original landraces” and give “yields similar to the best commercial yields today”? Another subject that was not touched on in this article, but that demands closer scrutiny, is the “planned sterility” of food crops that will not produce viable seed.

Steven L. Lagos
San Diego, Calif

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