Thursday, June 29, 2000,
Chandigarh, India






THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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Labs making progress on human genetic code
WASHINGTON, June 28 — It will take decades, perhaps the entire 21st century, to fulfil the grand promises made at the unveiling of the complete human blueprint. But researchers already are taking impressive strides with human genetic data since it began flowing in a torrent about a year ago.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II opens a new wing of London 's Science Museum on Tuesday
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II opens a new wing of London 's Science Museum on Tuesday, with Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, (left) and Phan Thi Kim Phuc, (seen at top and bottom photos at the centre) Ut famously photographed Phuc running from a napalm strike during the Vietnam War in Trang Bang village, 25 miles west of Saigon, Ho-Chi Minh City in 1972. The photo won Ut, and the Associated Press the Pulitzer prize for News. —AP/PTI photo

Deciphering the genome - the book of human life
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?



EARLIER STORIES
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  Tibetan children ‘tortured’
LOS ANGELES, June 28 — Tibetan children as young as six are being detained and tortured for political and religious offences by Chinese authorities fighting Tibet’s quest for autonomy, an American lawyers’ group has said in a report.

India, Russia for joint panel
MOSCOW, June 28 — 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.

Russia warns Pak on Kashmir
MOSCOW, June 28 — Moscow Radio has warned that Pakistan is fishing in troubled waters by extending material and logistical support to terrorists in the Kashmir valley.

Kiwi minister fired
WELLINGTON, June 28 — 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.

US House okays food sale to Cuba
WASHINGTON, June 28 — 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 Castro’s government.

 


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Labs making progress on human genetic code

WASHINGTON, June 28 (AP) — It will take decades, perhaps the entire 21st century, to fulfil the grand promises made at the unveiling of the complete human blueprint. But researchers already are taking impressive strides with human genetic data since it began flowing in a torrent about a year ago.

“Whole new fields of biology are opening up right now, as we speak, and we don’t even know what they are yet,” said Richard Young, a researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

At the Whitehead Institute yesterday, David Altshuler was chasing down diabetes genes at such a rate that what once took researchers years can now be finished before lunch. Todd Golub was studying how identical-looking cancer tumours can be very different genetically — vital clues for doctors trying to decide on the proper treatment.

And Young was using human genome data to chronicle the battle between human immune system and its most potent foes.

“What we want to capture is the beginnings of the war between us and the infectious disease as it’s infecting us,” Young said. “I think there’s a lot of information that the genome has to tell us.”

In the long run, the genetic information announced on Monday could be used to cure some diseases, give patients valuable knowledge of their susceptibility to others, and reveal how a human being arises from a single cell, functions through a lifetime and dies.

“We have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book,” Human Genome Project Director Francis Collins said on Monday.

For example, every gene contains the codes for a protein. It is those proteins that do the work of the body. So to truly understand and take advantage of the genetic code, biophysicists like Stephen Burley of Rockefeller University in New York City will have to do the same thing with proteins that geneticists are doing with genes — exhaustively cataloguing and characterising them.

“You can think of this book of life that people have been talking about as a starting point,” Burley said. Humans also must be compared to mice, fruit flies, yeast and other organisms.

Highlights of humangenetic code

The following are some of the findings of a decade-long endeavour by scientists in the US, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and China to decipher the genetic instructions that make us who we are:

* There are three billion letters in the DNA code in most of the 100 trillion cells in the human body.

* If all of the DNA in the human body were put end to end, it would reach to the sun and back more than 600 times.

* The information would fill a stack of paperback books 61 metres high or 200 500-page telephone directories.

* The four letter of the DNA alphabet (A.C.G and T) carry the instructions for making all organisms, with each set of three letters corresponding to a single amino acid.

* There are 20 different building blocks (amino acids) used in an array of combinations to produce proteins as different as keratin in hair and haemoglobin in blood.

* The vast majority (97 per cent) of the DNA in human genome has no known function.

* Between humans, DNA differs by only 0.2 per cent (1 in 500 letters), which takes into account that human cells have two copies of the genome.

* Human DNA is 98 per cent identical to that of chimpanzees.

* Estimated number of genes: Humans and mice (60,000 to 100,000), roundworm (around 19,000), yeast (around 6,000), the microbe responsible for tuberculosis (around 4,000).

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.

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Deciphering the genome - the book of human life
From James Meek in London

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.

How?

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 Alzheimer’s 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 child’s 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 Service
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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 Tibet’s quest for autonomy, an American lawyers’ group has said in a report.

The California-based International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet quoted refugee children’s 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 Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The committee’s 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 Tibet’s 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.”

“Particularly in the Taiwan case, and in any other case, you should have a very unique, close relation with mainland China,” he added.
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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.

Mr Fernandes, who is leading the delegation, is scheduled to return home on June 30.
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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.

Russia’s 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.
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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 Clark’s 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. “I’m 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 Clark’s seven-month-old government, as its popularity slides in opinion polls and business confidence in its centre-left policies plummets.
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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 Castro’s 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.

The administration “does not oppose the sale as long as it goes directly to the benefit of the Cuban people and not to the Castro government,” White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart told reporters.
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GLOBAL MONITOR

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 Wednesday’s 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 we’re taught in medical school. This isn’t 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

Laden’s 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 operation. — AFP
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