Thursday, January 27, 2011

Orangutan DNA Enhances Survival Chances

Orangutans are far more genetically varied than thought, a finding that could help their survival, say scientists bringing their first full DNA analysis of the critically-endangered ape. The study, published Thursday in the science journal Nature, also reveals that the orangutan -- "the man of the forest" has hardly evolved over the last 15 million years, in sharp difference to Homo sapiens and his closest cousin, the chimpanzee.

Once widely dispersed across Southeast Asia, only two populations of the intelligent, tree-dwelling ape remain in the wild, both on islands in Indonesia. Some 40,000 to 50,000 individuals live in Borneo, while in Sumatra deforestation and hunting has abridged a once robust community to about 7,000 individuals, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

These two groups split genetically about 400,000 years ago, significantly later than once thought, and today comprise separate albeit closely related species, Pongo abelii (Sumatra) and Pongo pygmaeus (Borneo), the study showed. An international group of more than 30 scientists decoded the full genomic sequence of a female Sumatran orangutan, nicknamed Susie.

They then completed précis sequences of 10 more adults, five from each population. "We found that the average orangutan is more varied genetically speaking -- than the average human," said lead author Devin Locke, an evolutionary geneticist at Washington University in Missouri.

Human and orangutan genomes partly cover by about 97 percent, compared to 99 percent for humans and chimps, he said. But the big surprise was that the far smaller Sumatran population showed more difference in its DNA than its close cousin in Borneo.

While confusing, scientists said this could help boost the species' chances of survival. "Their genetic difference is good news because, in the long run, it enables them to maintain a healthy population" and will help shape conservation labors, said co-author Jeffrey Rogers, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

Ultimately, however, the fate of this great ape whose behavior and unenergetic expressions can be eerily human at times will depend on our stewardship of the environment, he said. "If the forest disappears, then the genetic variation won't matter -- home is absolutely essential," he said. "If things continue as they have for the next 30 years, we won't have orangutans in the wild."

The researchers were also struck by the unrelenting stability of the orangutan genome, which appears to have changed very little since branching off on a separate evolutionary path. This means the species is hereditarily closer to the common ancestor from which all the great apes are presumed to have originated, some 14 to 16 million years ago.

One likely clue to the lack of structural changes in the orangutan's DNA is the relative absence, compared to humans, of telltale bits of genetic code known as an "Alu". These short stretches of DNA make up about 10 percent of the human genome figuring about 5,000 and can pop up in unpredictable places to create new mutations, some of which persist.

"In the orangutan genome, we found only 250 new Alu copies over a 15-million year time span," Locke said. Orangutans are the only great apes to dwell first and foremost in trees. In the wild, they can live 35 to 45 years, and in captivity an additional 10 years. Females give birth, on average, every eight years, and the longest interbirth interval among mammals.

Earlier research has shown that the great apes are not only adept at making and using tools, but are capable of cultural learning, long thought to be an exclusively human trait.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Self immolation reports spread through north Africa

The popular gripes in Tunisia that have caused disturbance in the government were sparked by Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old unemployed college mark off, who set himself on fire in protest. He later died. Now, reports are coming in from other countries in the region Egypt, Algeria, and Mauritania that other protesters are turning to self-immolation.

In Egypt, Abdo Abelmonem Gafr, a baker from a town outside Cairo, set himself on fire outside the parliament building in the capital on Monday, an Interior Ministry official said. Gafr has burns to his face but is living and not badly hurt, ministry spokesman Alla Mahmood said. A police officer put the fire out. Gafr's motives and his age were not immediately known.

In Algeria, security officials said Sunday that three people set themselves on fire in protest. Riots and demonstrations have exploded in Algeria in recent days. Much like in Tunisia, Algerians are aggravated over the economy, rising food prices and what they feel is a government that's not reacted to their needs.

News reports out of Mauritania say a man set himself on fire Monday in front of the presidential palace. Reports recognize the man as Yacoub Dahoud, who posted a Facebook message praising Bouazizi and vowing, "We will never forget you."

"The Arab world's terrible new trend: self-immolation," wrote Blake Hounshell of the blog on Monday. "There is something terrible and, in a way, moving about these suicide attempts. It's a shocking, desperate method that instantly attracts attention, revulsion, but also sympathy," Hounshell, Foreign Policy's organization editor, wrote.

Throughout the Tunisia protests, experts have been saying similar expression could spread to other nations in the region.

In a country with a long-time president and a young, underemployed population, the incident became a symbol for millions. Other Arab nations face similar conditions large populations of young people, anger over the economy, and a government that many feel fails to stand for them.

A 2008 study by doctors in Iran, titled "Self-immolation in Iran" and published in the Journal of Burn Care and Research, says, "On purpose self-inflicted burn is rare in high-income countries, but is reported more often in low- and middle-income countries, especially in Asia and Africa."

The study, which has a theoretical on, adds, "Unemployment was a risk factor for self-immolation, while mental disorder and lack of access to health and treatment facilities did not play an important role for increasing the rate of self-immolation."

At Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 2001, five people lit themselves on fire in front. One died. A police report recognized them as members of the banned Falun Gong movement. But Falun Gong denied any connection to that incident, saying what became known had "nothing to do with Falun Gong practitioners."

It is too soon to know whether the reports coming in of self-immolations are connected, and whether those lighting themselves on fire are eager to spark protests in their countries.

But as the events in Tunisia show, leaders of other nations in the region who face anger from a young, aggravated, underemployed population have reason to be on guard.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

White Lioness Bears 3 Cubs in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina Zookeepers in Buenos Aires showed off triplets Wednesday three white cubs born to a pair of white lions brought in from South Africa.

Zoo bureaucrats say the two females and a male were born Nov. 16 and are the first white lions to be born in South America. Children who visit the zoo this Argentine summer can take part in a challenge to name them.

"We're very swollen with pride. There aren't many white lions born in zoos," veterinarian Miguel Rivolta told AP Television News.

Since both parents are white, their cubs each have the recessive genes that make them pure white, he explained.

Zoo visitors loved their debut on Wednesday. The cubs' mother, not so much. She growled at the crowd and carried one of the cubs off in her mouth.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Pentagon faces $78 billion expenditure cut

The Pentagon will have to cut expenditure by $78 billion over the next five years, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday, forcing the Army and the Marine Corps to get smaller the number of troops on active duty and finally imposing the first freeze on military spending since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The shock announcement from Gates was a reminder for the military establishment, which has benefited from a gusher of new money over the past decade that it will not remain excused from painful austerity measures.

In a news conference to proclaim what he described as efficiency measures, Gates said he hopes that "what had been a culture of endless money . . . will become a culture of savings and restraint" at the Defense Department. At a time of "extreme fiscal duress," he said, "every dollar spent on excess overhead or unneeded programs . . . is a dollar not obtainable to support our troops" or to deal with future threats.

"We must come to understand that not every defense program is necessary, not every defense dollar is sacred or well-spent, and more of everything is simply not sustainable," Gates said.

In response to questions, he highlighted that the $78-billion reduction over the next five years actually represents a "decline in the rate of growth," since the Pentagon budget will grow "in absolute dollars" every year. "The focus here is on a reduction in the rate of growth, as opposed to total cuts," he said.

Gates also harassed that, even after the reductions in troop strength, both the Army and the Marine Corps both will still be larger than they were when he became defense secretary four years ago. The Army will be bigger by about 40,000 soldiers, and the Marines will motionless have 7,000 to 12,000 more troops, he said.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Baby born in car all through snowstorm in New Brunswick

Moncton - One couple thought they had plenty of time to get to the hospital during Monday morning’s snowstorm, but things occured so quickly that they had to pull over on the side of the highway for their baby to be born.

Ashley Hicks, her mother, and Joseph Gautreau were compulsory to pull over on the Trans-Canada Highway, near the Casino New Brunswick and Magnetic Hill exit shortly before 8 am. They called for help but the baby arrived before emergency workers could get there.

“With my daughter she was six-and-a-half hours and they say it gets easier”, said her mother. “But then with my son it was 14-and-a-half hours, and then this one was, like, three minutes.” She said that she felt ill during the pregnancy so she had been eager for an easy labour, but didn't think it would be as easy as it was.

Gautreau had by then tied the umbilical cord with a lace from his shoe when the firefighters arrived.

“We just sort of helped out,” Jamie Richford, one of the firefighter. “We made sure the umbilical cord was set to be cut and we in fact let the husband, or boyfriend, cut the cord so he wasn’t besieged by all the people there.

An ambulance then arrived and took them to Moncton Hospital, which was less than 10 kilometres away.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Plagiarism line over 2016 Olympic logo

Organizers of the Rio Olympics are on the suspicious after similarities between the logo for the 2016 Games and a Colorado-based charity foundation were discovered.

The logo, which was released on New Year's Eve at a huge celebration at Copacabana beach, depicts figures acceptance in a circular motion. It was soon noticed that the design resembles the logo for The Telluride
Foundation, a Colorado charity chaired by Norman Schwarzkopf. 

Take away the legs and the red dancer from the Telluride logo and you have Rio's. It's unquestionably similar. But is it plagiarism?

The director of the Brazilian agency that created the logo says no. Fred Gelli admits that there are similarities between the two, but guaranteed that his design was original. "For some reason, we missed that one," he said.

I posed the plagiarism query to Dan Levy, a graphic designer who also hosts a popular sports podcast. He said it's common for the logos of small businesses to partly cover but that it's unforgivable for a major international sporting event to come up with such an unoriginal design. If the Brazilian press could discover the resemblance between Rio 2016 and Telluride, then surely a research and development team could have done the same.

"These logos are way too close for my liking," Levy wrote in an e-mail. "Even the color dispersal is nearly identical. Somebody got ripped off."

The Telluride Foundation, which has yet to comment on the matter, may not be able to protest too loudly though. It seems that the generous organization did some design-borrowing of its own when it made its logo.

Some have noticed its similarity to "The Dancer" by Henri Matisse.

If simulation is the sincerest form of flattery, Matisse would be satisfied.

My biggest problem with the Rio logo isn't the similarity to Telluride's or the similarity between Telluride's and Matisse, but that the logo itself is dead and boring. Organizers say the design is supposed to stand for "contagious energy, harmonious diversity, exuberant nature and Olympic spirit." I must be missing something.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Triplets Born after 11 Years Apart

Ever wonder what you were like when you were rising up? Two 11-year-old sisters in England will have just that possibility, thanks to the amazing birth of their newborn triplet who had been on ice since she was conceived more than a decade ago.

When Adrian and Lisa Shepherd decided to start a family in 1998, they underwent in vitro fertilization at the Midland Fertility Clinic because Lisa undergo from fertility issues that made traditional conception hard.

Doctors obtained 24 eggs from the mother, 14 of which were productively fertilized. Two of those embryos were then entrenched in Lisa, who gave birth to twins Megan and Bethany in 1999.

The other 12 embryos were placed in cryogenic storage space until the Walsall family in progress talking about having another child last year.

"We didn't know if it would work, and we decided that we would just have one go with one embryo and if it didn't work, we wouldn't try again," Lisa, 37, told the Daily Mail. "It was one last chance, and if it was meant to be, then it would occur."

The Shepherds returned to the clinic, where doctors implanted a third embryo in Lisa that had been conceive on the same day as Megan and Bethany.

"It seemed odd to think that we were using embryos that we had stored all those years ago, that were conceived at the same time as the girls," Lisa said. "We knew that if we had another baby it would in effect be the girls' triplet as they were all conceived at the same time."

Ryleigh was born last month at 7 pounds 10 ounces -- 11 years after her sisters. Experts told the paper it could be the longest age gap between siblings conceived during the same fertility treatment.

"When Ryleigh arrived, she looked like both the girls did when they were born 11 years before," Lisa said. "It was uncanny."

Stem Cell Therapy To Monkey

A once paralyzed monkey has become the first case in which a small monkey recovered from a spinal injury.

Japanese researchers said Wednesday they had used stem cells to restore incomplete mobility in a small monkey that had been paralyzed from the neck down by a spinal injury. "It is the world's first case in which a small-size monkey recovered from a spinal injury using stem cells," Professor Hideyuki Okano of Tokyo's Keio University told AFP.

Okano's research team, which earlier helped a mouse get well its mobility in a similar treatment, injected so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into a paralyzed marmoset, he said.

The team placed four types of genes into human skin cells to create the iPS cells, according to Kyodo News. The injection was given on the ninth day after the injury, considered the most effectual timing, and the monkey started to move its limbs again within two to three weeks, Okano said.

"After six weeks, the animal had recovered to the level where it was jumping around," he told AFP. "It was very close to the normal level."

Scientists say the use of human developing stem cells as a treatment for cancer and other diseases holds great promise, but the process has drawn fire from religious conservatives and others who be in opposition to it.

Embryonic stem cell research is contentious because human embryos are destroyed in order to obtain the cells capable of developing into almost every tissue of the body.