|Thursday, June 29, 2000,
making progress on human genetic code
Deciphering the genome - the book
of human life
LOS ANGELES, June 28 Tibetan children as young as six are being detained and tortured for political and religious offences by Chinese authorities fighting Tibets quest for autonomy, an American lawyers group has said in a report.
Russia for joint panel
Kiwi minister fired
US House okays food sale to Cuba
Biologists have learned that humans bear remarkable genetic similarities to other organisms. The genetic instructions that direct embryonic development of a fruit fly, for example, are identical to those for a human. Finding more similarities between man and beast will help reveal how humans are put together.
Scientists must also probe the genetic diversity of the human race. The mass of information announced on Monday really only represents the few dozen individuals who donated DNA for analysis, not all six billion humans on the planet.
For that reason, a consortium of pharmaceutical companies and research laboratories has embarked on a project to catalogue the genetic variations that make us different.
Scientists estimate that
there are 300,000 spots in the human genetic code where
individual differences can exist. Some of them may have
been found during the genome mapping project, but many
more are yet to be revealed.
Deciphering the genome - the book of
Scientists have just finished deciphering the genome - the book of human life. But what does gene therapy mean and what implications does it have for society?
What is the human genome?
The collective name for the whole set of genes at the centre of most of the trillions of cells in every human on the planet. Genes, made from a chemical called DNA, are the recipes for the substances which create our bodies, so the human genome is like the recipe book for a human being.
Why is there a human genome project?
Governments and the British charity, the Wellcome Trust, were persuaded by scientists that it was desirable to decode the genome to decipher the 3bn bits of DNA containing our genes. This will greatly speed up the identification of individual genes, which should lead to medical breakthroughs.
Most diseases perhaps all diseases - are caused by tiny mutations in our genes, like misprints, which means they give out the wrong instructions in cells. These misprints can be inherited, or caused by environmental factors like pollution or radiation.
A single faulty gene can be enough to cause disease, but some of the biggest killers, like heart disease and cancer, are thought to be the product of environment, lifestyle and a whole series of genes. If the genes involved can be identified, therapies can be developed.
When are we going to feel the benefits?
The first successful gene therapies are already in trials. Treatments for Alzheimers and possibly some forms of cancer are imminent but it could be decades before illnesses like heart disease can be successfully tackled.
What is the downside?
If a new disease gene is discovered, a test can be developed for it. Difficult issues include potential insurance and employment restrictions on healthy people known to be genetically susceptible to disease; pre-natal screening of embryos, which could leave parents facing abortion decisions over events far in their childs future; an increasing healthcare gap between rich and poor countries; and excess control over lifesaving diagnosis and treatment options by private firms which have patented genes.
Whose genes are scientists reading?
The DNA was donated as male sperm and female blood by many donors from all ethnic groups. Six to 12 samples were picked at random and deliberately mixed up.
A follow-up project, studying variations in DNA from person to person, involves 24 anonymous individuals from a range of ethnic groups. It has been rumoured, though never confirmed, that among the samples used by Celera was DNA from the head of the company, Craig Venter.
People are different. How can there be one human genome for all of them? There are thousands of tiny variations between individuals, but the overall variation is no more than 0.2 per cent. In the same way individual human eyes are different, but we can still talk about the working of the human eye in general.
Why announce a draft before the whole thing is finished?
One answer is technical - the unfinished parts of the genome are particularly hard to read. Lots of crosschecking will have to be done to complete it, but the draft is ready for use now.
The other reason has more to do with politics, finance and media pressure: the publicly funded Human Genome Project feared that its thunder was going to be stolen by Celera finishing the genome first. The two sides decided to declare victory together at a fairly arbitrary point.
Is there any link between genetically modified foods and the consequences of the human genome project?
GM plants and animals have artificially altered genes, and some researchers seeking to apply human genome knowledge to medicine seek to alter human genes. But there are two crucial differences.
GM plants and animals are designed to pass their altered characteristics on from generation to generation, whereas gene therapy only affects the patient treated, not their subsequent offspring.
Gene therapy seeks to restore natural, working human genes to people who lack them, rather than to give them special powers borrowed from another species.
How much did the project cost?
Less than expected about £ 200m, less than the cost of a new hospital.
Is there a Nobel Prize in this for anyone?
Possibly, but the huge number of scientists and engineers working on this make it difficult to pick out individuals who deserve the credit.
Where can I read the genome?
On the internet
but it would be heavy going. It consists of a 3bn letter
string of four letters, representing the four amino acids
of DNA A, C, G and T enough letters to fill
200 telephone directories. Guardian News
Tibetan children tortured
LOS ANGELES, June 28 (Reuters) Tibetan children as young as six are being detained and tortured for political and religious offences by Chinese authorities fighting Tibets quest for autonomy, an American lawyers group has said in a report.
The California-based International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet quoted refugee childrens accounts of beatings and electric shocks given to children imprisoned for offences ranging from writing the word independence in a school notebook to posting pictures of Tibets exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The committees report was released yesterday at a star-studded Los Angeles dinner for the Dalai Lama featuring performances by Whoopi Goldberg and singer Richie Havens. The Buddhist leader is on a visit to the USA that included a meeting in Washington last week with President Bill Clinton.
In November, 1999, the group sent three lawyers and two psychologists to interview 57 Tibetan children at a refugee camp in India.
A boy under the age of 11 reported being mauled and having half an ear bitten off by two dogs unleashed by Chinese police who had come to question his older brother about carrying money in a Tibetan flag.
A 17-year-old reported that as punishment for helping another boy escape from jail, he was hung by his knees all night from the ceiling of a cell.
Children reported being detained for demonstrating against Chinese occupation of Tibet, a revenue tax and re-education teams in a nunnery.
AFP adds: The Dalai Lama has called for increased autonomy for Tibet, saying that independence from China was not the solution for Tibets problems.
In a news conference here yesterday the Dalai Lama sought to clarify earlier media reports and distance himself from the position of Taiwan, whose new President favours formal independence for the island.
I made clear on Taiwan soil that as far as the Tibetan issue is concerned, I am not seeking independence, he said.
Regardless if Taiwan is independent, I have the opinion that in modern times complete independence is no longer there in the economic field and in many other fields.
India, Russia for joint panel
MOSCOW, June 28 (PTI) India and Russia have decided to set up a Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation to impart greater impetus to defence ties and accelerate decision making, Defence Minister George Fernandes said today.
The decision to establish the commission was taken at a meeting between Mr Fernandes and his Russian counterpart Marshal Igor Sergeev. It would be co-chaired by Fernandes and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov.
Mr Fernandes, who is on a five-day visit to Russia, said this will impart greater impetus to military cooperation between the two countries and to ensure accelerated decision making.
The Commission will have two working groups one to be headed by the Defence Secretary and his Russian counterpart and the other by Secretary, Defence Production and his counterpart.
During Fernandes meeting with Russian leaders, the two sides voiced concern at the growing menace of international terrorism and religious extremism which have been threatening to destabilise the situation in various parts of Asia.
The two sides reiterated their resolve to continue to draw the attention of the international community to such destabilising developments and the need for assessing them in the right perspective, a senior official said.
Mr Fernandes also discussed with developments in Sierra Leone and Fiji. The two sides agreed to work together on such issues and hoped that the impasse would not continue for long.
New Delhi and Moscow held detailed parleys on all aspects of bilateral relationship while recalling the close ties which existed between the two countries, particularly in various areas of defence.
Mr Fernandes said the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to India in the first 10 days of October would mark an important milestone in Indo-Russian relations. During that visit, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Mr Putin would sign the crucial declaration on strategic partnership.
Russia warns Pak on Kashmir
MOSCOW, June 28 (UNI) Moscow Radio has warned that Pakistan is fishing in troubled waters by extending material and logistical support to terrorists in the Kashmir valley.
Russias state-controlled radio refrained from commenting on the autonomy resolution adopted by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly but pointed out that the entire edifice of religious extremism would collapse like a house of cards, the moment Islamabad ceases to aid and abet the terrorists.
The radio made a special
reference to Osama bin Laden who had issued a fresh call
last week to the militants to liberate the Kashmir
valley from the rule of the non-Muslims. His call
was circulated all over Pakistan through pamphlets.
Kiwi minister fired
WELLINGTON, June 28 (AP) New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark today fired a Cabinet Minister who refused to resign over allegations of sexual misbehaviour and threat to shoot his nephew.
The sacking has no effect on Clarks hold on power. Her Labour-led coalition government retains the support of the leftist Alliance Party and the Greens.
Clark announced the firing of Maori Affairs Minister Dove Samuels, 61, at a news conference, following weeks of escalating allegations which, she said, had overtaken his ability to drive policy.
The police says it is investigating allegations on Samuels which include that he had sex with a minor who became pregnant and had an abortion 14 years ago, that he assaulted a woman during a later relationship; and that he once threatened to shoot his nephew.
Clark had earlier failed to persuade Samuels to resign.
The minister cannot be effective in his job in a flagship government programme while allegations, controversy and public debate swirl around him, Clark said. Im not prepared to see this matter slow the government and its programme any longer.
The move was perceived
by observers to be aimed at limiting damage the scandal
could cause to Clarks seven-month-old government,
as its popularity slides in opinion polls and business
confidence in its centre-left policies plummets.
US House okays food sale to Cuba
WASHINGTON, June 28 (PTI) The US House Republicans have cut a deal to allow direct sales of American food to Cuba for the first time in four decades as hardline anti-Communists yielded to pressure from trade lobbies to ease the sanctions on Fidel Castros government.
The agreement, concluded yesterday, however, would bar both the Federal government and US banks from financing food sales.
Meanwhile, the Clinton administration is receptive to the Congressional initiative that would allow the sale of food and medicine to Cuba.
18 killed in copter crash
BANGKOK: At least 18 Laotians died in a civilian helicopter crash in the mountainous province of Xiang Khoang, Northeast Laos, Lao aviation and government officials said on Wednesday. A rescue team reached the crash site and retrieved the bodies of 15 passengers and three crew members from the wreck of the Soviet-made M18 helicopter, said Somjit Chandrarangsi, Lao Aviation Manager, in a telephone interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur. The crash was caused by bad weather, a combination of heavy rains, strong winds and poor visibility, said a foreign ministry official. DPA
Indian sentenced for manslaughter
DUBAI: A Dubai court has sentenced an Indian to 15 years in jail to be followed by deportation for manslaughter and drinking alcohol. According to local media, the 31-year-old Indian,whose name was not given, after consuming liquor, struck compatriot Kasha Gangaram, 38, with a chair at a labour camp in October last year when the latter refused to help him steal some items from their work site. Gangaram was rushed to hospital where he succumbed to injuries. UNI
Mars may hold twice as much water: study
WASHINGTON: The planet Mars could conceal two or three times more water beneath the surface than previously thought, according to a study appearing in the July issue of Geophysical Research Letters. The theory is based on a comparison of the amount of deuterium, a heavier form of hydrogen, in a martian meteorite discovered in the Antarctic, versus the amount found in the martian atmosphere. In evaporated water in the martian atmosphere, the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen is five times greater than that found in water on Earth. AFP
Painless heart attacks
CHICAGO: Debunking a medical myth, a nationwide study of 434,877 heart attack victims in the USA found that a surprising one-third patients showed up at the hospital without chest pain. Such patients were more than twice as likely to die, in part because they delayed going to the hospital and because doctors failed to diagnose them quickly, according to the study in Wednesdays journal of the American Medical Association. Women, non-Whites, people older than 75 and those with previous heart failure, stroke or diabetes were most likely to have painless heart attacks, as previous research has shown. AP
Russian firm to sell Iraqi oil
UNITED NATIONS: A Russian firm received the first contract to sell Iraqi crude oil under the latest phase of the oil-for-food programme, the UN Sanctions Committee has announced. The contract allows for the sale of three million barrels of Iraqi crude oil to Europe, the USA and Asia, the office of the Iraq programme said on Tuesday. AFP
Liver cells come from bone marrow: study
NEW HAVEN (Connecticut): Liver cells have been found to come from an unlikely source bone marrow raising the possibility that people with hepatitis and other liver diseases could somehow use their own cells to heal themselves, a new study has found. The study also increases the understanding of stem cells: free-agent cells in the body that scientists believe have the capacity to convert into several kinds of organ cells. This breaks all the boundaries were taught in medical school. This isnt supposed to happen, said researcher, Dr Neil Thiese. The study by Thiese, from the New York University School of Medicine, and Dr Diane Krause, from the Yale School of Medicine, was published this month in the journal Hepatology. AP
Ladens suspected French aide held
PARIS: The French police are holding a suspected Islamic militant thought to have links with alleged Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden in connection with an alleged terrorist plot against the USA, a judicial source has said. Abdessalem Boulanwar, 34, was arrested by the French police after arriving on a plane from the Philippines, which expelled him on Saturday. A French national Boulanwar is suspected of being a member of the Philippine separatist group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which the judicial source said is believed to be backed by Bin Laden. AFP
Russia releases suspected CIA spy
MOSCOW: The Russian
intelligence agency FSB has released a Lithuanian it had
earlier accused of working for the US Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA), the news agency Interfax
reported on Tuesday, citing FSB sources. Paul, 25, who
works for the Lithuanian fiscal authorities had been
arrested on Monday on the accusation that he was charged
with recruiting an FSB agent to work for the CIA. He
allegedly planned to fix a meeting with his target in
Poland, give him compromising documents to force him to
work for the CIA. The FSB said its agents had foiled the
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