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Gene that lights up under green light could help find cure for HIV

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Glowing kittens with resistance to disease have been created by scientists searching for a cure for Aids.

The domestic cats had their DNA modified with a gene that fights off an HIV-like virus and a second one – from a fluorescent jellyfish – that makes their bodies shine green under ultraviolet light.

The purpose of the study was to show how a natural protein that prevents macaque monkeys developing Aids can do the same in cats.


Way to glow: The eerie looking feline that has been genetically modified with DNA from a fluorescent jellyfish protein

Way to glow: The eerie looking feline that has been genetically modified with DNA from a fluorescent jellyfish protein

Hard to hide: The kitten's fur, claws and whiskers emit an eerie green glow

Hard to hide: The kitten’s fur, claws and whiskers emit an eerie green glow

The two genes are linked and the jellyfish gene is used to track the other one for the protein.

Shining a UV light on the cats produced an eerie green glow, confirming that the protein was being made in their tissues and that the technique had worked.

The genetically modified cats’ creators say the research will speed up the search for vaccines and treatments against HIV, the Aids virus that has claimed more than 30million lives around the world.

With HIV-like viruses also wreaking havoc among felines, from domestic moggies to big cats, the research could improve animal health.

In future, people could buy pets that are resistant to numerous diseases, removing the need for frequent and expensive trips to the vet for vaccination.

Novelty glow-in-the-dark breeds are also a possibility.

Test subject: Under normal lighting the cat's ability to glow remains a secret

Test subject: Under normal lighting the cat’s ability to glow remains a secret

But critics say the technique takes a high toll on animal welfare and that scientists should be reducing the number of animals they experiment on.

The researchers, from the respected Mayo Clinic in the U.S., used harmless viruses to transfer genes into eggs removed from pet cats during routine spaying.

One gene makes a fluorescent protein, the other produces a protein that fights off feline immunodeficiency virus, or FIV, the cat version of HIV. The eggs were then fertilised through IVF and implanted in surrogate mothers.

Sharp thinking: The cat's paws glow too. Scientists say that cats are the best subjects for this kind of research

Sharp thinking: The cat’s paws glow too. Scientists say that cats are the best subjects for this kind of research

Twenty-two attempts led to the birth of five kittens – three of which survived, the journal Nature Methods reports.

Two were healthy but one suffered medical problems, although the researchers do not believe they were linked to the genetic manipulation.

The anti-viral gene was also present and cells taken from the kittens were able to resist infection with FIV better than those from normal cats.

Two of the cats went on to have kittens of their own, all of which carried the new genes.

Via DailyMail

Written by Nokgiir

September 19, 2011 at 3:12 am

Fusion Experiment Faces New Hurdles

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The world’s most-ambitious nuclear experiments have escalated at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Federal researchers there are seeking to fuse some of the lightest atoms in the universe to study — and hopefully harness — the type of energy produced by hydrogen bombs and the sun.

The tests were delayed six months while safety devices were installed to protect workers from radiation at the National Ignition Facility, a stadium-sized laboratory that contains 192 lasers trained on a target the size of a BB. The goal is to generate temperatures of more than 100 million degrees to fuse hydrogen atoms and release nuclear energy.

Scientists describe this process, which they hope to achieve next year, as the creation of a miniature star on earth.

But the $3.5 billion ignition facility, derided by some critics as taxpayer-financed science fiction, is running into new challenges that may further delay and perhaps scuttle its goal.

Among those challenges is the unanticipated presence of particles that clog filters designed to prevent the escape of radioactive material. Officials have proposed bypassing the filters for some experiments and venting radioactive particles directly into the air.

Officials say the radiation risks to people living in the surrounding area and to Lawrence Livermore researchers not involved with the experiments will be negligible. But according to a worst-case scenario outlined in a draft environmental report, an average of one worker involved in the experiments could die every 18 years from cancer caused by radiation exposure.

Tri-Valley CAREs, a watchdog group that monitors Lawrence Livermore, argues that the National Nuclear Security Agency, which financed construction of the facility, should not allow an increase in the amount of radiation produced by the fusion project.

“There is no safe level of exposure,” said Marylia Kelley, the group’s executive director.

The ignition facility was designed to help the United States government monitor the safety of nuclear weapons without having to test them. One of its primary missions is to help improve the United States’ weapons arsenal, but officials also describe the facility as an effort to revolutionize nuclear power.

If researchers can fuse atoms and control the energy that is released, an era of abundant carbon-free power could dawn. The technology would minimize the waste and storage issues faced by fission-based nuclear power plants, which split heavy atoms into smaller ones.

The tipping point for nuclear fusion is “ignition,” the moment when the lasers release the same amount of energy that is required to power them.

But that goal has remained elusive.

“If it was easy, we would have done it 50 years ago,” said Doug Eddy, a senior nuclear security agency operations manager working on the project.

Mr. Eddy said the ignition facility was engaged in a “tuning campaign,” raising the amount of fuel used and the amount of energy generated by the lasers.

“You keep bringing it up a bit more and more and more,” he said. “You don’t want to go big-time straight off the bat.”

Researchers have discovered that more power will be needed for some tests than first thought, Mr. Eddy said. They propose nearly tripling the amount of laser power to 120 megajoules, roughly the equivalent amount of energy produced by 50 pounds of TNT, which will increase radiation levels.

The types of hydrogen that will be fused are called deuterium and tritium. Tritium is radioactive, and fine molecular filters are installed at the facility to prevent it from escaping.

But the tritium is proving difficult to manage. The molecules are so small that other tiny atoms are also captured in the filters. Workers frequently enter the experiment chamber to change the clogged filters.

To solve that problem, officials propose allowing more tritium to accumulate before the filters are removed and sent to Nevada as low-level radioactive waste.

More controversially, the officials have proposed bypassing the filters during some experiments and venting tritium through an exhaust system into the air.

Tritium dissolves in water, persists for decades in the environment and can cause cancer.

“It will bind to DNA, so it gets pretty much everywhere in the body once it’s been absorbed,” said Mark Little, a senior scientist at the National Cancer Institute who has published papers dealing with tritium’s hazards. “With large quantities, damage can be done. As long as the releases are kept within mandatory limits, I would imagine the risks are small.”

Officials at the Department of Energy say the tritium releases at Lawrence Livermore would remain below safety limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency. But Tri-Valley CAREs points to a long list of tritium accidents and airborne releases from Livermore facilities, which have caused radioactive material to accumulate in Livermore’s water, food, honey and wine.

“When tritium gets into the environment and it’s on top of radiation being released from other parts of the laboratory, it potentially increases the dose and potentially increases the risk,” Ms. Kelley said.

And tritium is not her organization’s only concern, she added.

When tritium and deuterium fuse to create helium, a neutron is squeezed out and radiation is released. The neutrons can seep out of the building and rise into the atmosphere, where they cause additional radiation called skyshine to rain back down.

“If it’s high-enough energy, it can scatter and go up to the atmosphere, scatter in the atmosphere and bounce back down,” Mr. Eddy said. “Where it will scatter down is mostly around the site, but there’s no guarantee.”

Officials said that they would determine an area around the Livermore building where radiation might exceed federal safety standards and that Livermore personnel not involved with the research would be evacuated from those areas. Employees will be warned not to enter the area until after the experiment.

Despite several delays, Mr. Eddy said he was confident that ignition would occur next year. But some scientists question whether ignition will ever be possible.

“It’s a tough job, and some of the peer review questioned whether it would work,” said Frank von Hippel, a Princeton University physics professor and former science adviser to President Bill Clinton. “I think there are still skeptics out there.”


Via NYTimes

Fukushima: It’s much worse than you think

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Scientific experts believe Japan’s nuclear disaster to be far worse than governments are revealing to the public.

“Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind,” Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president.

Japan’s 9.0 earthquake on March 11 caused a massive tsunami that crippled the cooling systems at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan. It also led to hydrogen explosions and reactor meltdowns that forced evacuations of those living within a 20km radius of the plant.

Gundersen, a licensed reactor operator with 39 years of nuclear power engineering experience, managing and coordinating projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, says the Fukushima nuclear plant likely has more exposed reactor cores than commonly believed.

“Fukushima has three nuclear reactors exposed and four fuel cores exposed,” he said, “You probably have the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactor cores because of the fuel cores, and they are all in desperate need of being cooled, and there is no means to cool them effectively.”

TEPCO has been spraying water on several of the reactors and fuel cores, but this has led to even greater problems, such as radiation being emitted into the air in steam and evaporated sea water – as well as generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive sea water that has to be disposed of.

“The problem is how to keep it cool,” says Gundersen. “They are pouring in water and the question is what are they going to do with the waste that comes out of that system, because it is going to contain plutonium and uranium. Where do you put the water?”

Even though the plant is now shut down, fission products such as uranium continue to generate heat, and therefore require cooling.

“The fuels are now a molten blob at the bottom of the reactor,” Gundersen added. “TEPCO announced they had a melt through. A melt down is when the fuel collapses to the bottom of the reactor, and a melt through means it has melted through some layers. That blob is incredibly radioactive, and now you have water on top of it. The water picks up enormous amounts of radiation, so you add more water and you are generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive water.”

Independent scientists have been monitoring the locations of radioactive “hot spots” around Japan, and their findings are disconcerting.

“We have 20 nuclear cores exposed, the fuel pools have several cores each, that is 20 times the potential to be released than Chernobyl,” said Gundersen. “The data I’m seeing shows that we are finding hot spots further away than we had from Chernobyl, and the amount of radiation in many of them was the amount that caused areas to be declared no-man’s-land for Chernobyl. We are seeing square kilometres being found 60 to 70 kilometers away from the reactor. You can’t clean all this up. We still have radioactive wild boar in Germany, 30 years after Chernobyl.”

Radiation monitors for children

Japan’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters finally admitted earlier this month that reactors 1, 2, and 3 at the Fukushima plant experienced full meltdowns.

TEPCO announced that the accident probably released more radioactive material into the environment than Chernobyl, making it the worst nuclear accident on record.

Meanwhile, a nuclear waste advisor to the Japanese government reported that about 966 square kilometres near the power station – an area roughly 17 times the size of Manhattan – is now likely uninhabitable.

In the US, physician Janette Sherman MD and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano published an essay shedding light on a 35 per cent spike in infant mortality in northwest cities that occurred after the Fukushima meltdown, and may well be the result of fallout from the stricken nuclear plant.

The eight cities included in the report are San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Portland, Seattle, and Boise, and the time frame of the report included the ten weeks immediately following the disaster.

“There is and should be concern about younger people being exposed, and the Japanese government will be giving out radiation monitors to children,” Dr MV Ramana, a physicist with the Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University who specialises in issues of nuclear safety.

Dr Ramana explained that he believes the primary radiation threat continues to be mostly for residents living within 50km of the plant, but added: “There are going to be areas outside of the Japanese government’s 20km mandatory evacuation zone where radiation is higher. So that could mean evacuation zones in those areas as well.”

Gundersen points out that far more radiation has been released than has been reported.

“They recalculated the amount of radiation released, but the news is really not talking about this,” he said. “The new calculations show that within the first week of the accident, they released 2.3 times as much radiation as they thought they released in the first 80 days.”

According to Gundersen, the exposed reactors and fuel cores are continuing to release microns of caesium, strontium, and plutonium isotopes. These are referred to as “hot particles”.

“We are discovering hot particles everywhere in Japan, even in Tokyo,” he said. “Scientists are finding these everywhere. Over the last 90 days these hot particles have continued to fall and are being deposited in high concentrations. A lot of people are picking these up in car engine air filters.”

Radioactive air filters from cars in Fukushima prefecture and Tokyo are now common, and Gundersen says his sources are finding radioactive air filters in the greater Seattle area of the US as well.

The hot particles on them can eventually lead to cancer.

“These get stuck in your lungs or GI tract, and they are a constant irritant,” he explained, “One cigarette doesn’t get you, but over time they do. These [hot particles] can cause cancer, but you can’t measure them with a Geiger counter. Clearly people in Fukushima prefecture have breathed in a large amount of these particles. Clearly the upper West Coast of the US has people being affected. That area got hit pretty heavy in April.”

Blame the US?

In reaction to the Fukushima catastrophe, Germany is phasing out all of its nuclear reactors over the next decade. In a referendum vote this Monday, 95 per cent of Italians voted in favour of blocking a nuclear power revival in their country. A recent newspaper poll in Japan shows nearly three-quarters of respondents favour a phase-out of nuclear power in Japan.

Why have alarms not been sounded about radiation exposure in the US?

Nuclear operator Exelon Corporation has been among Barack Obama’s biggest campaign donors, and is one of the largest employers in Illinois where Obama was senator. Exelon has donated more than $269,000 to his political campaigns, thus far. Obama also appointed Exelon CEO John Rowe to his Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

Dr Shoji Sawada is a theoretical particle physicist and Professor Emeritus at Nagoya University in Japan.
He is concerned about the types of nuclear plants in his country, and the fact that most of them are of US design.

“Most of the reactors in Japan were designed by US companies who did not care for the effects of earthquakes,” Dr Sawada told Al Jazeera. “I think this problem applies to all nuclear power stations across Japan.”

Using nuclear power to produce electricity in Japan is a product of the nuclear policy of the US, something Dr Sawada feels is also a large component of the problem.

“Most of the Japanese scientists at that time, the mid-1950s, considered that the technology of nuclear energy was under development or not established enough, and that it was too early to be put to practical use,” he explained. “The Japan Scientists Council recommended the Japanese government not use this technology yet, but the government accepted to use enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power stations, and was thus subjected to US government policy.”

As a 13-year-old, Dr Sawada experienced the US nuclear attack against Japan from his home, situated just 1400 metres from the hypocentre of the Hiroshima bomb.

“I think the Fukushima accident has caused the Japanese people to abandon the myth that nuclear power stations are safe,” he said. “Now the opinions of the Japanese people have rapidly changed. Well beyond half the population believes Japan should move towards natural electricity.”

A problem of infinite proportions

Dr Ramana expects the plant reactors and fuel cores to be cooled enough for a shutdown within two years.

“But it is going to take a very long time before the fuel can be removed from the reactor,” he added. “Dealing with the cracking and compromised structure and dealing with radiation in the area will take several years, there’s no question about that.”

Dr Sawada is not as clear about how long a cold shutdown could take, and said the problem will be “the effects from caesium-137 that remains in the soil and the polluted water around the power station and underground. It will take a year, or more time, to deal with this”.

Gundersen pointed out that the units are still leaking radiation.

“They are still emitting radioactive gases and an enormous amount of radioactive liquid,” he said. “It will be at least a year before it stops boiling, and until it stops boiling, it’s going to be cranking out radioactive steam and liquids.”

Gundersen worries about more earthquake aftershocks, as well as how to cool two of the units.

“Unit four is the most dangerous, it could topple,” he said. “After the earthquake in Sumatra there was an 8.6 [aftershock] about 90 days later, so we are not out of the woods yet. And you’re at a point where, if that happens, there is no science for this, no one has ever imagined having hot nuclear fuel lying outside the fuel pool. They’ve not figured out how to cool units three and four.”

Gundersen’s assessment of solving this crisis is grim.

“Units one through three have nuclear waste on the floor, the melted core, that has plutonium in it, and that has to be removed from the environment for hundreds of thousands of years,” he said. “Somehow, robotically, they will have to go in there and manage to put it in a container and store it for infinity, and that technology doesn’t exist. Nobody knows how to pick up the molten core from the floor, there is no solution available now for picking that up from the floor.”

Dr Sawada says that the creation of nuclear fission generates radioactive materials for which there is simply no knowledge informing us how to dispose of the radioactive waste safely.

“Until we know how to safely dispose of the radioactive materials generated by nuclear plants, we should postpone these activities so as not to cause further harm to future generations,” he explained. “To do otherwise is simply an immoral act, and that is my belief, both as a scientist and as a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.”

Gundersen believes it will take experts at least ten years to design and implement the plan.

“So ten to 15 years from now maybe we can say the reactors have been dismantled, and in the meantime you wind up contaminating the water,” Gundersen said. “We are already seeing Strontium [at] 250 times the allowable limits in the water table at Fukushima. Contaminated water tables are incredibly difficult to clean. So I think we will have a contaminated aquifer in the area of the Fukushima site for a long, long time to come.”

Unfortunately, the history of nuclear disasters appears to back Gundersen’s assessment.

“With Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and now with Fukushima, you can pinpoint the exact day and time they started,” he said, “But they never end.”




Forever young drug ? The pill that will keep you youthful by preventing the ills of old age

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Miracle cure? the pill could prevent many of the ills of old age A ‘forever young’ drug that allows people to grow old gracefully could be available in just ten years, a leading scientist said last night.

Professor Linda Partridge, an expert in the genetics of ageing, said that the science is moving so quickly that it will soon be possible to prevent many of the ills of old age.

By taking a pill a day from middle-age, we will grow old free from illnesses of the body and mind such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

People could work for longer – or simply make the most of their retirement. Some research even suggests skin and hair will retain its youthful lustre.

Professor Partridge, of University College London, said: ‘I would be surprised if there weren’t things within ten years. If told you could take a drug that has minimal side-effects and that’s going to keep you healthy for another five or ten years and then you’ll drop off your perch without disability, most people would want it.’

Extraordinary as the professor’s prediction may seem, it is based on a host of promising scientific studies from around the world.

They have discovered key genes linked to longevity and health – and found ways of tinkering with them, at least in animals.

In one of the remarkable examples, a Harvard University doctor made old mice young again, in experiments that mirrored the plot of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, where the lead character played by Brad Pitt ages in reverse.

At the start of the experiment, the animals’ skin, brains, guts and other organs resembled those of an 80-year-old person.


In development: One experiment saw a professor make old mice young again

In development: One experiment saw a professor make old mice young again.

Within just two months of being given a drug that switches on a key enzyme, the creatures had grown so many new cells that they had almost completely rejuvenated.

Remarkably, the male mice went from being infertile to fathering large litters.

Other research has shown that chains of reactions in the body involving insulin and related hormones are key to health and ageing. This means that years of research into diabetes could have yielded medicines that can be reinvented as anti-ageing drugs.

Professor Partridge told the Cheltenham Science Festival that some medicines abandoned by drug companies may soon be dusted off and put to use. She said:

‘There are drugs there already, some of them are just sitting in cupboards. I’d be surprised if people don’t start taking them out.

‘The principle is for drugs that if taken from middle-age will ward off quite a broad array of diseases rather than doing things piece-meal or acting when the diseases appear.’

However, she said any drugs would have to be shown to be extremely safe before they were given to healthy people to combat ageing.



Via DailyMail

Drug makes hearts repair themselves

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Man having heart attackA drug that makes hearts repair themselves has been used in research on mice.

The damage caused by a heart attack had previously been considered permanent.

But a study in the journal Nature showed the drug, thymosin beta 4, if used in advance of a heart attack, was able to “prime” the heart for repair.

The British Heart Foundation described repair as the “holy grail of heart research”, but said any treatment in humans was years away.

Due to advances in health care the number of people dying from coronary heart disease is falling.

But those living with heart failure are on the rise – more than 750,000 people have the condition in the UK alone.

UK Heart statistics

Deaths from coronary heart disease

  • 1961 – 165,216
  • 2001 – 117,743
  • 2009 – 80,223

Estimated people living with heart failure

  • 1961 – 100,000
  • 1971 – 300,000
  • 2010 – 750,000

Source: British Heart Foundation

Wake up

The researchers at University College London looked at a group of cells which are able to transform into different types of heart tissue in an embryo.

In adults epicardium-derived progenitor cells line the heart, but have become dormant.

Scientists used a chemical, thymosin beta 4, to “wake them up”.

Professor Paul Riley, from the University College London, said: “The adult epicardial cells which line the muscle of the heart can be activated, move inward and give rise to new heart muscle.”

“We saw an improvement in the ejection fraction, in the ability of the heart to pump out blood, of 25%.”

As well as pumping more blood, the scar tissue was reduced and the walls of the heart became thicker.

Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said he was “very excited” about the research but warned the scale of improvement seen in animals was rarely seen in humans.

HeartHowever, he argued that even a small improvement would have a dramatic impact on people’s quality of life.

“A normal heart has lots of spare capacity. In patients with heart failure it is working flat out just to sit down [and] it’s like running a marathon,” he said.

“You could turn a patient from somebody who’s gasping while sitting in a chair to somebody who can sit comfortably in a chair.”

Advance therapy

The mice needed to take the drug in advance of a heart attack in order for it to be effective. As the researchers put it, “the priming effect is key”.

If a similar drug could be found to be effective in humans, then the researchers believe it would need to be prescribed in a similar way to statins.

Professor Riley said “I could envisage a patient known to be at risk of a heart attack – either because of family history or warning signs spotted by their GP – taking an oral tablet, which would prime their heart so that if they had a heart attack the damage could be repaired.”

He said this could be available in 10 years.

The British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, said repairing a damaged heart was the “holy grail” of heart research.

The results strengthened the evidence that drugs could be used to prevent the onset of heart failure, it said.



Highest greenhouse gas emissions in history push global warming towards ‘dangerous’ levels

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  • Recession hasn’t slowed down emissions, as was hoped
  • Global temperature will rise by 4C by 2100 if action isn’t taken
  • Thawing plant matter in the Arctic will release billions of tons of greenhouse gases

Global warming is fast heading towards ‘dangerous’ levels owing to the emission of a record amount of greenhouse gases last year, according to new figures.

Estimates from the International Energy Agency show that a whopping 30.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide was pumped into the atmosphere last year – a worrying rise of 1.6Gt on 2009.

The IEA has warned that annual emissions should be no higher than 32Gt by 2020 if the world is to avoid the most damaging effects of global warming.

Last year 30.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide was pumped into the atmosphere - a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009

At the current rate of carbon dioxide production, the threshold of ‘dangerous climate change’ – defined as a global temperature rise of 2C – looks almost impossible to be avoided.

‘It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker,’ said Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA.

It had been hoped that the global recession would have a positive effect on emissions – but the impact so far is negligible.

If we continue the way we’re going, there is a 50 per cent chance that the global average temperature will rise by more than 4C by 2100, according to Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the Stern Report into the economics of climate change in 2006.

‘Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict,’ Stern told the Guardian.

Around two-thirds of the world's permafrost will have melted by 2200, unleashing close to 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere

Meanwhile, the thawing of billions of tons of frozen plant matter in the Arctic could result in an acceleration in climate change as locked away organic carbon is released into the atmosphere, according to scientists.

The ice in the far reaches of the northern hemisphere is melting so quickly that a ‘tipping point’ – where the region no longer becomes a ‘sink’ for carbon dioxide – could occur within 20 years.

By 2200, around two-thirds of the world’s permafrost will have melted, unleashing close to 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere – a process which cannot be reversed.

‘Once the frozen carbon thaws out and decays, there is no way to put it back into the permafrost,’ Kevin Schaefer of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado told the Independent.

World map detailing major polluting nations' efforts to reduce carbon emissions

The recent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant in Japan is also adding to global warming woes as countries turn their back on the ‘cleaner’ power source, according to Dr Birol.

‘People may not like nuclear, but it is one of the major technologies for generating electricity without carbon dioxide,’ he said.

As well as Japan, Germany has halted its nuclear power programme, and a number of other European countries are considering whether or nor to follow suit.

Via DailyMail

Tornado Strikes Missouri Town, Killing 116

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Devastation: Destroyed homes and debris cover the ground as a second storm moves in on Monday in Joplin, Missouri

The deadliest single tornado to strike the United States in nearly 60 years has reduced the Missouri town of Joplin to rubble, ripping buildings apart and killing at least 116 people.

Disaster struck on Sunday evening when, with little warning, the monster twister tore a strip six miles long and more than a 1/2 mile wide through the center of the town.

Carnage: Rescue vehicles line up along northbound Rangeline Road in Joplin, Mo. after a fatal tornado swept through the city

Rescuers worked through the night to try to find people trapped in their homes, relying on torchlight as they listened for terrified cries from survivors piercing through the blackness.

Night fall: An emergency worker searches the same Walmart storelater the same day

Heavy winds and strong rain forced teams to halt the effort on Monday morning and some rescuers took advantage of the brief respite to catch a bit of much-needed sleep inside one badly damaged bank.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency late Sunday and activated the National Guard to help out after one of the worst disasters in the state’s history.

Search: An emergency vehicle drives through a severely damaged neighbourhood in Joplin

President Barack Obama called Nixon and offered his condolences to those affected, assuring the governor that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would provide whatever assistance was needed.

Condolences: President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon during his visit to Dublin, Ireland. The President extended his condolences to all impacted by the deadly tornadoes

“The president has directed FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to travel to Missouri to ensure the state has all the support it needs,” a White House statement said, adding a FEMA team had already been dispatched.

Caring for the injured was made more difficult because the main hospital, Saint John’s Regional Medical Center, had to be evacuated after suffering a direct hit — the tornado ripped off its roof and smashed all its windows.

Media reported that cries could still be heard early Monday from survivors trapped in the wreckage, with the latest tragedy coming less than a month after a horrific tornado outbreak left 354 dead across seven U.S. states.

Authorities estimated that up to 30 percent of Joplin, which lies near the border with Oklahoma and Kansas, had been damaged by the tornado, which experts said carried winds of up to 200 miles per hour.

Eye of the storm: The tornado tore a 6-mile path across southwestern Missouri

It was the deadliest of 46 tornadoes reported to the National Weather Service in seven states on Sunday.

Charts: This National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration image released on May 23, 2011 shows the storm system moments before spawning the tornado

“It’s a war zone,” Scott Meeker of the Joplin Globe newspaper said.

“We’ve got hundreds of wounded being treated at Memorial Hall (hospital), but they were quickly overwhelmed and ran out of supplies, so they’ve opened up a local school as a triage center.”

Obama earlier sent his “deepest condolences” to victims and said the federal government stood ready to help Americans as needed.

“Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the families of all those who lost their lives in the tornadoes and severe weather that struck Joplin, Missouri, as well as communities across the Midwest today,” the president said in a statement sent from Air Force One as he flew to Europe.

“We commend the heroic efforts by those who have responded and who are working to help their friends and neighbors at this very difficult time.”

Re-united: A man carries a young girl who was rescued after being trapped with her mother in their home

People in Joplin clawed through the rubble looking for friends, family and neighbors after the storm tore buildings apart and turned cars into crumpled heaps of metal.

Community spirit: Residents of Joplin help a woman who survived in her basement after a tornado tore a path a mile wide and four miles long destroying homes and businesses

Flames and thick black smoke poured out of the wreckage of shattered homes, and water gushed out of broken pipes as shocked survivors surveyed the damage, early photos showed.

Devastation: Emergency personnel walk through a neighbourhood severely damaged by a tornado near the Joplin hospital. There are are no firm details on the number of dead or injured, as the hospital is out of action

A tangled medical helicopter lay in the rubble outside Saint John’s Regional Medical Center.

Emergency: Extensive damage can be seen at the St John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Missouri. An emergency agency spokesman says fatalities had been reported but was unsure of the exact figure

Jeff Law, 23, was able to take shelter in a storm cellar and was overwhelmed by what he saw when he emerged.

“I’ve lived in this neighborhood my entire life, and I didn’t know where I was,” Law told the Springfield News-Leader. “Everything was unrecognizable, completely unrecognizable. It’s like Armageddon.”

Desolation: A residential neighbourhood in Joplin is seen after it was levelled by the tornado

The emergency manager at the neighboring county of Springfield-Greene was told that at least 24 people were killed before he could rush over to help, a spokeswoman said.

Officials said the last twister to wreak such loss of life occurred in 1953 in Worcester, Massachusetts, when a tornado killed 90 people.

On Saturday, a deadly tornado pummeled the east Kansas town of Reading, killing a man and damaging an estimated 80 percent of Reading’s structures, mostly wood-frame buildings.

Meanwhile, a tornado was also responsible for the death of one person in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Sunday, authorities said. At least 30 others in that city and its suburbs were injured.

Path of destruction: No house escaped the wrath of nature in some of Minneapolis

Soul destroying: Jean Logan surveys the damage to her home in Joplin after the tornado. She had taken refuge in her laundry room with her granddaughter

Soul destroying: Jean Logan surveys the damage to her home in Joplin after the tornado. She had taken refuge in her laundry room with her granddaughter

Levelled: Red Cross representatives say 75% of Joplin is gone – here, vehicles and houses in the vicinity of Twenty-fourth and Main Streets are a jumble of rubble after a the tornado swept through

Levelled: Red Cross representatives say 75% of Joplin is gone - here, vehicles and houses in the vicinity of Twenty-fourth and Main Streets are a jumble of rubble after a the tornado swept through

Homeless: Ted Grabenauer sleeps on his front porch the morning after a tornado ripped off the roof of his home when it hit Joplin, Missouri

Homeless: Ted Grabenauer sleeps on his front porch the morning after a tornado ripped off the roof of his home when it hit Joplin, Missouri

Raised to the ground: Blocks of homes lie in total destruction after the devastating tornado

Raised to the ground: Blocks of homes lie in total destruction after the devastating tornado

Somber: An American flag hangs from a twisted tree limb in Joplin

Somber: An American flag hangs from a twisted tree limb in Joplin

Clean-up begins: ‘There was significant damage caused by large hail, which broke windows and broke tree limbs,’ Ms Watson said. The local post office and volunteer fire department were damaged

Clean-up begins: 'There was significant damage caused by large hail, which broke windows and broke tree limbs,' Ms Watson said. The local post office and volunteer fire department were damaged

Until Saturday, no tornadoes had been reported in May, a month that averages nearly 30. Last May, 127 tornadoes tore through the state.

Governor Sam Brownback declared an emergency for 16 counties, including the one surrounding Reading, Ms Watson said.

The declaration allows state resources to be used in recovery and cleanup and paves the way for federal assistance if needed.

Chopper Footage

More Chopper Footage

Via ScienceDaily 

Supercomputer diagnoses & treats diseases

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IBM’s Watson computer system, best known for defeating the world’s best Jeopardy! players, is now delivering rapid-fire answers to questions about diseases and medicines.

The company says it could be suggesting diagnoses and treatments to doctors right at a patient’s bedside in the next couple of years.

A recent demonstration showed how Watson’s diagnoses evolved as the computer was given more information about a patient, including where the patient lived.

A career in medicine: 'Watson', IBM's supercomputer, is not devouring information from medical history and text books in a bid to know everything

A career in medicine: ‘Watson’, IBM’s supercomputer, is not devouring information from medical history and text books in a bid to know everything

Beaten: Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek with contestants Ken Jennings, Watson's 'avatar' and Brad Rutter - before Watson went on to wipe the floor with them

Beaten: Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek with contestants Ken Jennings, Watson’s ‘avatar’ and Brad Rutter – before Watson went on to wipe the floor with them

When told a patient was pregnant, for example, it altered its treatment suggestion.

Watson is being fed a diet of medical textbooks and journals and taking training questions in plain language from medical students.

A doctor who is helping IBM says its database might soon include entries from blogs.

The imposing Watson first made headlines when it comprehensively beat Jeopardy! champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings.

Medical diagnoses: IBM says Watson will soon be able to help doctors diagnose and treat individual patients, by swiftly analysing personal data

Medical diagnoses: IBM says Watson will soon be able to help doctors diagnose and treat individual patients, by swiftly analysing personal data

Named after IBM’s former president Thomas Watson, the computer’s secret to succes is its ability to understand language and solve problems through complex algorithms.

It makes it even more evolved than Deep Blue, an IBM chess-playing supercomputer that beat world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

The mastermind is actually housed in two units. Each unit contains five racks and each rack has 10 IBM Power 750 servers.

Namesake: Pioneering IBM founder Tom Watson pictured in 1966. The supercomputer is named after him

Namesake: Pioneering IBM founder Tom Watson pictured in 1966 with an early computing machine. The supercomputer is named after him.

When all are linked up they are the equivalent to 2,800 powerful computers with a memory of 15trillion bytes.

Watson is a pretty noisy contraption, but most of the noise comes from two large refrigerated units used to cool the machine down.

IBM researchers have been developing Watson for almost four years.

The company spends around $6billion a year on research and development. An unspecified part of that goes to what it calls ‘grand challenges’, or big, multi-year science projects such as Watson and Deep Blue.

IBM is attempting to create computers that can mimic the human ability to comprehend and answer natural language questions.

Via DailyMail

US approves new HIV drug

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The US Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved a new drug, Edurant, to fight HIV in combination with other antiretrovirals already on the market.

Made by the New Jersey based Tibotec Therapeutics, Edurant helps block the virus from replicating and is part of a class of drugs known as non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor.

The pill is to be taken once daily with food, the FDA said.

“Patients may respond differently to various  or experience varied side effects,” said Edward Cox, director of the office of antimicrobial products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

“FDA’s approval of Edurant provides an additional treatment option for patients who are starting .”

The approval followed phase II and II trials that showed that patients who had not received previous therapy saw an 83 percent lower viral load after they took Edurant along with other antiretroviral drugs.

Side effects included depression, insomnia, headache and rash.

(c) 2011 AFP

Via MedicalXpress

HIV discovery brings vaccine closer

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HIV virusAn investigation into the activity of antibodies in HIV patients has revealed that the HIV virus can mutate in order to ‘escape’ this immune response.

Human ADCC (antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity) antibodies – which are often present in high concentrations in HIV-infected patients – have been strongly implicated in the protection from HIV in several vaccine trials.

However, we still do not how these antibodies really work, and researchers hope that a better understanding of their processes could lead to HIV treatments that work by boosting the antibodies’ defences.

“These results show what a slippery customer the HIV virus is, but also shows that these ADCC antibodies are really forcing the virus into changing, in ways that cause it to be weaker,” said lead author Stephen Kent from the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Pinpointing mutation’s location

The term ADCC describes an immune phenomenon whereby antibodies bind to cells infected with a virus. This process activates ‘natural killer cells’ that then attack virus-infected cells.

These natural killer cells destroy infected cells by releasing cytokines, such as interferon-gamma, which are small cell-signalling protein molecules that are secreted by numerous immune system cells and cells in the nervous system.

To investigate further, the researchers analysed blood samples of HIV patients to find where the ADCC antibodies were attacking the virus. They did this by using a staining technique to detect exactly which parts of the virus – that is, which peptide segments – were stimulating the release of cytokines.

Stopping the virus taking hold

The team sequenced the patient’s own virus and found mutations at sites targeted by these ADCC antibodies. Their technique also allowed them to study how the mutations arose over time.

The assay proved additionally valuable because it can be performed on serum or plasma samples, and not cells, which makes for a much easier and less invasive procedure where patients are concerned.

The results, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencestis month, show that ADCC antibodies force the virus into changing in ways that cause it to be weaker, said Kent.

“They also imply that if good ADCC antibodies were available prior to infection, via a vaccine, we might be able to stop the virus taking hold. This is the holy grail.”

According to co-author Ivan Stratov from the University of Melbourne, “The potential to use ADCC antibodies to kill virus infected cells (rather than just free virions) is a great advance in HIV vaccine research. And harnessing natural killer cells to combat HIV could add great potency to existing vaccine strategies.”

The team is now working on purifying and producing these antibodies in bulk quantities and testing them in a simian (primate) infection model to see if they can prevent infection – by the simian immunodeficiency virus – in monkeys.

Putting pressure on the virus

Over 40 million people around the world have acquired HIV or AIDS, according to the latest toll compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS.

Although the disease was identified over 25 years ago, there is still no vaccine or cure but antiretroviral drugs can be used to manage the condition.

“The work … shows that these types of antibodies are initially quite effective in eliminating virus but eventually they fail because the virus mutates too quickly,” said Marc Pellegrin from the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, who was not involved in the study.

“The implications … are that our immune system, through these antibodies, is able to exert considerable pressure on the virus to the point where it must mutate to persist and survive. The corollary is that if we can boost this type of response and make it more robust and broad we can better control HIV.”

Via CosmoMag