Complete Genome Map of Rice

May Help Feed World's Hungry

Scientists have completed a genetic map of the rice plant, a scientific milestone that they hope will accelerate efforts to feed the hungry by improving the world's most important food.

Rice is the first crop plant whose complete genetic sequence, or genome, has been compiled and placed in computer data banks around the world. It will be a key tool for researchers working on improved strains of rice and other grains as they struggle to stay ahead of human population growth. A paper describing the genome was published in the journal Nature, and the sequence will be available to researchers worldwide.

The new map will make it possible, in theory, to perform sophisticated genetic manipulations of the rice plant, including introducing genes from other species to create desirable traits.

More important in the short term, completion of the rice genome is expected to speed conventional breeding programs, allowing researchers to produce rice strains that resist drought and disease and that grow in colder climates and at higher elevations. Those are critical needs as Asia's rapid urbanization reduces the land available for rice cultivation.

-- Justin Gillis

U.S. Drafts First War Plans

To Counter Terrorist Attacks

The U.S. military has devised its first-ever war plans for guarding against and responding to terrorist attacks in the United States, envisioning 15 potential crisis scenarios and anticipating several simultaneous strikes around the country, according to officers who drafted the plans.

The classified plans -- developed at Northern Command headquarters in Colorado Springs -- outline a variety of possible roles for quick-reaction forces estimated at as many as 3,000 ground troops per attack, a number that could easily grow depending on the extent of the damage and the abilities of civilian response teams.

The possible scenarios range from "low end," relatively modest crowd-control missions to "high-end," full-scale disaster management after catastrophic attacks such as the release of a deadly biological agent or the explosion of a radiological device, several officers said.

Some of the worst-case scenarios involve three attacks at the same time, in keeping with a Pentagon directive earlier this year ordering Northcom, as the command is called, to plan for multiple simultaneous attacks.

The new plans provide for what several senior officers acknowledged is the likelihood that the military will have to take charge in some situations, especially when dealing with mass-casualty attacks that could quickly overwhelm civilian resources.

-- Bradley Graham

Trial Vaccine Offers Hope

Against Bird Flu Pandemic

An experimental vaccine appears to be effective against a strain of flu virus that experts fear could spark a devastating pandemic, offering the first evidence that any inoculation could provide a powerful weapon against the deadly microbe, according to Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Two doses of the vaccine produced an immune system response potent enough to neutralize the virus in tests on 113 volunteers who were injected as part of a federally sponsored study being conducted at three U.S. universities.

Public health authorities are alarmed by a strain of flu virus known as H5N1, which has been spreading primarily in birds across Asia and in Russia. It also has infected more than 100 humans in the past 18 months, killing about half of them. If the virus starts to spread efficiently among humans, experts fear it could trigger a global pandemic that could kill millions.

In response, millions of birds throughout Asia have been slaughtered to try to stem the spread of the virus, governments and the World Health Organization have been stockpiling antiviral drugs, and scientists have been scrambling to produce an effective vaccine.

Much more testing will be needed to determine exactly how the vaccine could be used, and other hurdles remain, including being able to produce and distribute large quantities of vaccine in the event of a pandemic, Fauci said. But he said the results represent a crucial milestone.

-- Rob Stein

U.N. Official Pleads Guilty

In Bribery Investigation

A federal prosecutor investigating corruption in the $64 billion oil-for-food program issued the case's first criminal charges against a U.N. official, accusing a former Russian procurement officer of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from companies doing business with the United Nations.

Alexander Yakovlev, 52, pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, said David N. Kelley, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. The charges could carry a penalty of up to 60 years in prison.

The case against Yakovlev grew out of the United Nations' own investigation of its oil-for-food program, and it came on a day when a U.N.-appointed panel accused Benon V. Sevan, the program's former director, of receiving nearly $150,000 in kickbacks from a company run by relatives of former U.N. secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

The criminal charges represent a turning point in the scandal, which until now had yielded no public evidence that U.N. officials had broken any laws. Even so, the allegations of corruption have damaged Secretary General Kofi Annan's standing and have shaken confidence in the organization.

Monday's events also signaled that U.N. investigators and prosecutors have expanded their probes beyond the oil program to include allegations of corruption in other parts of the U.N. bureaucracy.

-- Colum Lynch

Lobbyist Abramoff, Associate

Are Indicted on Fraud Charges

Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a business partner were indicted by federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, charged with five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy in their purchase of a fleet of Florida gambling boats from a businessman who was later killed in a gangland-style hit.

Abramoff, 46, was indicted along with Adam Kidan, the former owner of the Dial-A-Mattress franchise in Washington.

Five years ago, Abramoff, with Kidan and former Reagan administration official Ben Waldman, of Springfield, Va., took over SunCruz Casinos. The company operated a fleet of gambling boats from as many as 11 ports in Florida. While not detailed in the indictment, Abramoff leveraged his connections with members of Congress to advance the SunCruz deal, according to interviews and thousands of documents, court records and e-mails filed in related bankruptcy cases.

Abramoff's spokesman in New York, Andrew Blum, declined to comment, referring calls to Abramoff's Miami attorney, Neal Sonnett, who did not return calls. Kidan said in a statement he had cooperated with investigators and said, "I did nothing wrong and these allegations are totally unfounded."

Each of the six counts in the indictment could be punished by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Federal authorities also are seeking $60 million from Abramoff and Kidan, the money lost by a lender they sought out to help finance the cruise ships purchase.

The indictment marks the first charges against Abramoff in a series of investigations that have swirled around the well-known lobbyist.

-- James V. Grimaldi