teacher training in U.S. elementary and
secondary schools. In a 25 September
memorandum, Trump directed the U.S.
Department of Education to set a goal of
investing $200 million a year in a range of
activities, including helping school districts
train teachers, “focusing in particular on
computer science.” At least 10 states and a
number of cities have adopted standards
that call for exposing students to some type
of computer science instruction. But finding
teachers is tough. “There is a need to get
at least one [computer science] teacher in
every school in this country, [but] right now
there’s usually only one in a district,” says
Cameron Wilson, president of the Code.org
Advocacy Coalition in Seattle, Washington.
Wilson sees the memorandum as a move in
the right direction, but others note that it
was not accompanied by any new funding.
Shooting for the moon—and Mars
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA | The moon and
Mars dominated the docket at the 68th
International Astronautical Congress in
Adelaide, Australia. On 29 September,
SpaceX’s Elon Musk explained how his
“BFR,” a 106-meter-tall reusable rocket
with a spacecraft nearly half its height,
could be financed by pooling the compa-
ny’s existing launch programs for the U.S.
government. The BFR spacecraft, which
SpaceX could begin building as soon as
next year, could carry 100 people to Mars—
or to the moon, he said. NASA disclosed
lunar plans of its own, agreeing with
Russia to study the possibility of a space
station orbiting around or near the moon.
The U.S. space agency has floated the concept, called the Deep Space Gateway, for
several years as a near-term destination for
its astronauts on the way to Mars.
Price quits over travel scandal
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human
The scandal angered President Donald
Services Tom Price resigned 29 September
after a scandal over his use of private
planes. Since May, Price and his staff made
at least 26 trips on chartered aircraft
at a cost of at least $400,000, though
cheaper commercial flights were available,
Politico reported last month. Following
mounting criticism, Price apologized and
pledged to write a check for $51,887 to
cover the cost of his seats, but to no avail.
Trump and prompted Congress to launch
an investigation into the agency’s use of
government-owned planes and private jets.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health Don
Wright will serve as acting secretary.
Russian academy gets new head
After months of uncertainty, the Russian
Academy of Sciences (RAS) finally has a
new leader. Last week, Russian President
Vladimir Putin approved physicist
Alexander Sergeyev as the academy’s
president for the next 5 years. The position had been vacant since March, when
all three scientists vying for it withdrew
their candidacies. Sergeyev, director of the
RAS Institute of Applied Physics in Nizhny
Novgorod, may be best known abroad
as head of the Russian team involved
in the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer
Gravitational-Wave Observatory. He has
vowed to secure more money for Russian
A single mutation
in budgies’ DNA can
turn them blue.
6 OCTOBER 2017 • VOL 358 ISSUE 6359 15
How budgies got their sky-blue hue
Blue budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) may be common in pet stores today, but when they first appeared in Europe in the second half of the 19th century, they were a rarity: In the wild, these birds usually have a green chest and a yellow head.
Now, researchers have discovered that one small
change in the birds’ DNA turns them blue. Most budgies
are green thanks to a yellow pigment, psittacofulvin,
mixing with a blue hue created by light bouncing off
tiny structures on the birds’ feathers. Birds without the
pigment end up with a blue chest and a white head.
By sequencing the DNA from 234 pet budgies, 105 of
them blue, researchers found that blue birds have a
single mutation in a gene for a psittacofulvin-producing
enzyme. The discovery, reported this week in Cell, will
help map the evolution of parrots, the only birds that use
psittacofulvins to color their feathers.