Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Mammal power

Dolphins wave weed to attract a mate

While men might try flowers, smart clothes or cars to impress the opposite sex, male Amazon river dolphins carry weed.

Object-carrying has been reported throughout the dolphin's range in Brazil, Venezuela and Bolivia, but what had been thought to be play behaviour now appears - exceptionally among mammals - to have a sexual function.

Tony Martin of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK, and Vera da Silva of the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Amazonas, Brazil, have studied the dolphins for three years in the Brazilian Amazon and are now convinced it is a sexual display. Only humans and chimps do anything remotely similar, says Martin. "It's so unusual that many of my colleagues were sceptical when I first suggested the idea, but now I think the evidence is overwhelming," he says.


My comment: Isn't it weird to hear human, chimp and dolphin in one sentence. Ok, not weird, interesting. I think we're finally starting to understand the complexity of other species and that could make us understand, we really are not the only intelligent ones around.

Chimps outperform humans at memory task

Young chimps can beat adult humans in a task involving remembering numbers, reveals a new study. It is the first time chimps – and young ones, at that – have outperformed humans at a cognitive task.

And the finding may add weight to a theory about the evolution of language in humans, say the researchers.

Three adult female chimps, their three 5-year-old offspring, and university student volunteers were tested on their ability to memorise the numbers 1 to 9 appearing at random locations on a touchscreen monitor.

The chimps had previously been taught the ascending order of the numbers. Using an ability akin to photographic memory, the young chimps were able to memorise the location of the numerals with better accuracy than humans performing the same task.

During the test, the numerals appeared on the screen for 650, 430 or 210 milliseconds, and were then replaced by blank white squares.

While the adult chimps were able to remember the location of the numbers in the correct order with the same or worse ability as the humans, the three adolescent chimps outperformed the humans.

The youngsters easily remembered the locations, even at the shortest duration, which does not leave enough time for the eye to move and scan the screen. This suggests that they use a kind of eidetic or photographic memory.

In rare cases, human children have a kind of photographic memory like that shown by the young chimps, but it disappears with age, says Tetsuro Matsuzawa, at the primate research institute at Kyoto University, Japan, who led the study. (See a video library of chimp cognition.)

He suggests that early humans lost the skill as we acquired other memory-related skills such as representation and hierarchical organisation. “In the course of evolution we humans lost it, but acquired a new skill of symbolisation – in other words, language,” he says. “We had to lose some function to get a new function.”

The finding challenges human assumptions about our uniqueness, and should make us think harder about ourselves in relation to other animals, says anthropologist Jill Pruetz of Iowa State University, Ames, US.

“Observing that other species can outperform us on tasks that we assume we excel at is a bit humbling,” she says. “Rather than taking such findings as a rare example or a fluke, we should incorporate this knowledge into a mindset that acknowledges that chimpanzees – and probably other species – share aspects of what we think of as uniquely human intelligence.”

Matsuzawa emphasises that the chimps in the study are by no means special – all chimps can perform like this, he says. “We underestimate chimpanzee intelligence,” he says. “We are 98.77% chimpanzee. We are their evolutionary neighbours.”


My comment: Continuing the point of the previous comment, maybe those discoveries are just preparing us for the real finding-a specie that is smarter than us. We all know that would be quite shocking, especially for some religious fanatics, but not only to them-we all assume we're unique in one way or another. What happens when another unique someone claims its place in our Universe? Can we accept it and admit it in our World, or we're likely to feel threatened and try to kill it? Now, those are pretty far-fetched of course, but for me, it is important not only to study the Nature, but also to study ourselves and adapt to what Nature shows us. Who are we to decide whether language and symbols are more important than other forms of intelligence? Yeah, for sure they are more useful for us, but it could be different for other specie- for example, if there is natural telepathy and collective memory, why would that specie need a language? Nothing. But that wouldn't make it less intelligent than us. Just different.

Picture-sorting dogs show human-like thought

Next time you sort through your holiday photos, maybe your dog could lend a hand. It seems dogs can place photographs into categories the same way humans do, an ability previously identified only in birds and primates.

Friederike Range at the University of Vienna, Austria, and colleagues trained dogs to distinguish photographs that depicted dogs from those that did not. "We know they can categorise 'food' or 'enemies' from experience," says Range, "but this is the first time we've taught them an abstract concept - 'a dog' - and shown they can transfer this knowledge to a new situation."

In the training phase, four dogs were simultaneously shown photographs of a landscape and of a dog, and were rewarded if they selected the latter using a paw-operated computer touch-screen. When the computer-savvy dogs were shown unfamiliar landscape and dog photos they continued to identify those containing dogs. And when shown an unfamiliar dog superimposed on a landscape used in the training phase, they were still able to pick it out in preference to an image of just a landscape, showing that they could distinguish a dog by its features (Animal Cognition, DOI: 10.1007/s10071-007-0123-2).

"We are starting to see that dogs have some good reasoning abilities," says Range. "I hope this might impact how we treat them at home."


My comment:As a dog-owner I can easily tell you dogs are VERY intelligent. We would like to underestimate them, but we're wrong. I spend a lot of time with my dog and I simply can see the way he things in many occasions. He does think and he does understand very often what's going on and why it's going on. Of course, I often have no idea what he makes of an event, but in any case, we have much to learn about the capacity and capability of dogs' brains.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Norway's carbon storage plans hinge on EU

Norway's carbon storage plans hinge on EU

The oil-rich Scandinavian kingdom is hoping to build on a decade of experience at its Sleipner offshore platform in the North Sea to launch a test plant that would bury CO2 emissions from a gas-fired power station inland. But EU state aid rules are frustrating its ambitions.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a method whereby CO2 released during extraction (pre-combustion) or burning (post-combustion) of fossil fuels is captured and stored in underground geological formations.
The technology is seen as crucial to reducing the global warming impact of fossil fuels such as coal and gas, on which the International Energy Agency says the world will continue to rely for decades.
But CCS is expensive and faces public scepticism concerning the possible leakage of CO2 stored over a long period of time. In addition, all projections show that it will not become commercially viable in time to contribute significantly to the EU's CO2 emissions reduction target for 2020.
For Norway, CCS is a technology that holds many promises. Awash with petrodollars since North Sea oil was first discovered off the Norwegian coast in 1971, it now hopes to lead the world into making fossil fuels cleaner for the 21st century.
"It is our vision that within seven years we will have put in place capture and storage technology," Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said in January this year, officially launching a major new CCS pilot project at the Mongstad oil refinery, near Bergen. "This is a major project for our country. It is our moon landing," he said in reference to the US space programme launched in the 1960s.

The test facility currently under construction at Mongstad has the ambition to make Norway "a world leader in carbon management." "If we succeed, costs and risk for large-scale capture elsewhere could be greatly reduced," says Egil Sael, vice-president for business development at StatoilHydro, Norway's state-owned oil and gas company.
With emissions of carbon dioxide shooting up in Asia, where China builds new coal-fired plants nearly every week to fuel its booming economy, the return on investment could indeed be huge.
As a first step, the launch of a test facility, the European Carbon Dioxide Test Centre (TCM), is planned for 2008. If successful, the facility could then be deployed to full-scale in 2014 as a second step.
The Mongstad TCM is a small gas-fired power station generating heat and electricity simultaneously, a process which is already more energy-efficient than conventional gas-fired plants. The new technology to be tested there involves separating the CO2 from the other fumes emitted when burning the gas, using a process called Chilled Ammonia.
Lowering the cost of CO2 capture
But while it is more promising, the technique is considered riskier than an existing method using an amine solution to capture the CO2 after the gas is burned. "The risk lies in the fact that chilled ammonia is new and untested. On the other hand, the benefit could be very substantial if we succeed," Sael says. "This method has the potential to capture carbon dioxide with a considerably lower consumption of energy. That would reduce costs sharply."
The Norwegian energy ministry has invited a number of other companies to join the government and StatoilHydro in sharing the costs of the plant. Shell and Vattenfall will be among the six participants to share the facilities and intellectual property generated from the test centre.
Carbon storage pioneered at Sleipner since 1996
The reasons behind Norway's optimism on CCS lie in part on experience gained at the Sleipner gas platform off the Norwegian coast. Since 1996, StatoilHydro says it has already buried about 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in a sandstone formation 1,000 metres beneath the seabed. And it claims to add about 1 million tonnes to this volume every year, or the equivalent of CO2 emissions from 300,000 cars. It may be a drop in the ocean but the United Nations and the EU believe it can make a significant contribution to mitigating global warming in the future.
The roll-out of CCS at Sleipner was inspired by two things: a prohibitive carbon tax on offshore activities, introduced by Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in 1991, and for commercial reasons as well - the natural gas at Sleipner West field contains 9% CO2 when clients required 2.5% maximum.

What Norway is now hoping for is official recognition of the Mongstad plant as one of the 12 large-scale demonstration projects that the EU plans to showcase by 2015.
But construction has been hampered because it is not yet clear whether the European Commission will allow government funding for the plant under its strict state aid rules. As a member of the European Economic Area, it is obliged to follow EU regulations.
"We are in the process of checking whether the project complies with EU state aid rules," says Ann-Kristin Hanssen, EU competition advisor for the Norway Mission to the EU in Brussels. She says environmental state aid guidelines provided by the Commission currently do not qualify CCS as an environmental project but an industrial one.
"The latest development gives us concern - that the EU's lack of environmental legislation and their regulations for state support will delay Mongstad," Minister of Petroleum and Energy Åslaug Haga told Aftenposten, a Norwegian newspaper. "At the moment there is considerable disagreement within the EU Commission about whether [CCS] is a good environmental measure. Time will tell."

My comment: I think they should have a go, but only if a proper monitoring system is provided for a third party to make sure there are no leaks.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Electricity grid could become a type of internet

Electricity grid could become a type of internet

The electricity grid could become a type of internet, in that everyone who is connected will be able to "upload and download packages of electricity" to and from the network, according to Dutch researcher Jos Meeuwsen from Eindhoven Technical University.

Meeuwsen says that growing demand for energy means that all possible energy options must be considered, because total network capacity must be increased. He identifies network and system integration and the development and implementation of new technology as the main challenges ahead.

The author foresees the step-by-step integration of energy technology, ICT and power electronics that might result in an electricity system that is similar in many ways to the internet. In such a scenario, "everyone connected to the system could […] upload and download packages of 'electrical energy' whenever they want".

The researcher identifies the technical feasibility of the centralised and/or decentralised storage of large amounts of electricity as the main obstacle to this process.

Starting from the basis that 50% of consumption originates from sustainable sources in 2007, Meeuwsen has developed three scenarios for the evolution of the Dutch electricity supply in the year 2050:

  • 'Super networks', involving large-scale production locations, transportation via high voltages, a considerable import of sustainable energy from biomass, and energy from offshore wind farms.
  • 'Hybrid networks' also involves large plants with high voltages that originate from offshore wind farms and large biomass stations, as well as small-scale generation from wind, biomass and solar sources near cities and villages.
  • The 'local scenario', dominated by local generators for small consumers (including micro-generation units, solar energy panels, small-scale neighbourhood biomass plants and land-based wind turbines), allowing large-scale production resources to be targeted at large industrial processes.
My comment: Well, that sounds fantstic, indeed. Right?

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Truths and lies about GMo

The following article got me infuriated! It's so subtly leading to a place I hate, I couldn't believe I read it! It's unbelievable what money can buy. Really unbelievable. To the author- guess what? I'll never support GMo crops, mostly because it's US selling them. I won't become a dependent of this giant parasite called Food And Drugs Regulation. I know what's good and bad for me and Monsanto is NOT! I hope every reader of my blog can pledge his/her allegiance too. Because we can fight that giant enemy only if we're united.

Now that biologists in Oregon have reported using cloning to produce a monkey embryo and extract stem cells, it looks more plausible than before that a human embryo will be cloned and that, some day, a cloned human will be born. But not necessarily on this side of the Pacific.
American and European researchers have made most of the progress so far in biotechnology. Yet they still face one very large obstacle — God, as defined by some Western religions.

While critics on the right and the left fret about the morality of stem-cell research and genetic engineering, prominent Western scientists have been going to Asia, like the geneticists Nancy Jenkins and Neal Copeland, who left the National Cancer Institute and moved last year to Singapore.

Asia offers researchers new labs, fewer restrictions and a different view of divinity and the afterlife. In South Korea, when Hwang Woo Suk reported creating human embryonic stem cells through cloning, he did not apologize for offending religious taboos. He justified cloning by citing his Buddhist belief in recycling life through reincarnation.
/Yeah, it has all to do with Buddhism and absolutely nothing-with the money and the conditions they offer them or the never ending rantings of Bush and some idiotic creationists/
When Dr. Hwang’s claim was exposed as a fraud, his research was supported by the head of South Korea’s largest Buddhist order, the Rev. Ji Kwan. The monk said research with embryos was in accord with Buddha’s precepts and urged Korean scientists not to be guided by Western ethics.
/I wanna know where exactly Buddha said cell research is fine with him. Buddhism states life is sacred and thus we have to preserve it in any way possible. What's the connection with embryos? Of Buddhism is against abortion in any stage but is fine with destroying human embryos? I so doubt that/

“Asian religions worry less than Western religions that biotechnology is about ‘playing God,’” says Cynthia Fox, the author of “Cell of Cells,” a book about the global race among stem-cell researchers. “Therapeutic cloning in particular jibes well with the Buddhist and Hindu ideas of reincarnation.”

Most of southern and eastern Asia displays relatively little opposition to either cloned embryonic stem-cell research or genetically modified crops. China, India, Singapore and other countries have enacted laws supporting embryo cloning for medical research (sometimes called therapeutic cloning, as opposed to reproductive cloning intended to recreate an entire human being). Genetically modified crops are grown in China, India and elsewhere./Which may have something to do with the political regimes in those countries or the little care they show for preserving the Nature or living healthy or with the general poverty level in those counties/

In Europe, though, genetically modified crops are taboo. Cloning human embryos for research has been legally supported in England and several other countries, but it is banned in more than a dozen others, including France and Germany. /Yeah, and it's for a reason. Because GMo crops are DANGEROUS! Because we don't want genetic contamination on our territory. Because we respect our health and our environment. And because we don't want to buy our food from USA/

In North and South America, genetically altered crops are widely used. But embryo cloning for research has been banned in most countries, including Brazil, Canada and Mexico. It has not been banned nationally in the United States, but the research is ineligible for federal financing, and some states have outlawed it./Well, South America will buy whatever USA sells it and USA, I won't even discuss it from that point of view/

Dr. Silver explains these patterns by dividing spiritual believers into three broad categories. The first, traditional Christians, predominate in the Western Hemisphere and some European countries. The second, which he calls post-Christians, are concentrated in other European countries and parts of North America, especially along the coasts. The third group are followers of Eastern religions./I don't understand one thing. Is creationism Post-Christian? Cuz if it is, oh well. Funny thing. In Europe people are moderately christian, in USA, they are majorly conservative, and you claim US is post-Christian? It's weird. I don't want to offend anyone, I know many US open-souls, I'm discussing the majority as seen in elections and decisions./

“Most people in Hindu and Buddhist countries,” Dr. Silver says, “have a root tradition in which there is no single creator God. Instead, there may be no gods or many gods, and there is no master plan for the universe. Instead, spirits are eternal and individual virtue — karma — determines what happens to your spirit in your next life. With some exceptions, this view generally allows the acceptance of both embryo research to support life and genetically modified crops.”

By contrast, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, God is the master creator who gives out new souls to each individual human being and gives humans “dominion” over soul-less plants and animals. To traditional Christians who consider an embryo to be a human being with a soul, it is wrong for scientists to use cloning to create human embryos or to destroy embryos in the course of research.

But there is no such taboo against humans’ applying cloning and genetic engineering to “lower” animals and plants. As a result, Dr. Silver says, cloned animals and genetically modified crops have not become a source of major controversy for traditional Christians. Post-Christians are more worried about the flora and fauna.

“Many Europeans, as well as leftists in America,” Dr. Silver says, “have rejected the traditional Christian God and replaced it with a post-Christian goddess of Mother Nature and a modified Christian eschatology. It isn’t a coherent belief system. It might or might not incorporate New Age thinking. But deep down, there’s a view that humans shouldn’t be tampering with the natural world.” /Um, no, it's a view that we shouldn't permit something to mess with Mother Nature before we're absolutely sure it's safe for EVERYONE AND ANYTHING. We don't think the money are enough reason to screw our own world. Or that we should eat GMo crops and bye them and seed them just because Monsanto and WTO told us so/

Hence the opposition to genetically modified food.
Because post-Christians do not necessarily share the biblical view of an omnipotent deity with the sole power to create souls, Dr. Silver says, they are less worried about scientists “playing God” in the laboratory with embryos. In places like California, residents have voted not only to allow embryo cloning for research, but also to finance it.
But sometimes the reverence for the natural world extends to embryos, leading to unlikely alliances. When conservative intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama campaigned for Congress to ban embryo cloning, some environmental activists like Jeremy Rifkin joined them. A Green Party leader in Germany, Voker Beck, referred to cloned embryonic stem-cell research as “veiled cannibalism.”

Of course, many critics of biotechnology do not explicitly use religious dogma to justify their opposition. Countries like the United States, after all, are supposed to be guided by secular constitutions, not sectarian creeds./Hahah/ So opponents of genetically modified foods focus on the possible dangers to ecosystems and human health, and committees of scientists try to resolve the debate by conducting risk analysis.

The outcome hinges more on beliefs than on scientific data. A study finding that genetically modified foods are safe might reassure traditional Christians in Kansas, but it won’t stop post-Christians in Stockholm from worrying about “Frankenfood.”/Now that's absolutely wrong. There are enough evidence to see something's wrong with GMo foods. And even if there weren't, it's not us that should prove they are dangerous, but the producers-that they are safe. This is something unnatural and new to our world. We can't know how the ecosystems will react to it. And we have to be sure. Because if something goes wrong, no one and I mean NO ONE will help us fix it. And we have nowhere else to go!/

Similarly, some leading opponents of embryo research for cloning, like Leon Kass, say they are defending not Judeo-Christian beliefs, but “human dignity.” Dr. Kass, former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, says the special status of humans described in the Book of Genesis should be heeded not because of the Bible’s authority, but because the message reflects a “cosmological truth.” /ok, I don't care about biblical arguments, so I agree on this one, it's stupid/

It is not so easy, though, to defend supposedly self-evident truths about human nature that are not evident to a large portion of humanity. Conservatives in the House of Representatives managed to pass a bill banning Americans from going overseas for stem-cell treatments derived through embryo cloning. But the bill didn’t pass the Senate.

It is by no means certain that this type of stem-cell research will ever yield treatments for diseases like Parkinson’s, but should that happen, it is hard to see how any Congress — or any law — could stop people from seeking cures.

The prospect of cloning children is much more distant, particularly now that researchers are becoming optimistic about obtaining stem cells without using embryos. For now, scientists throughout the world say they do not even want to contemplate reproductive cloning because of the risks to the child. And public-opinion polls do not show much support for it anywhere.

Even if human cloning becomes safe, there may never be much demand for it, because most people will prefer having children the old-fashioned way.

But some people may desperately want a cloned child — perhaps to replace one who died or to provide lifesaving bone marrow for a sibling — and won’t be dissuaded, no matter how many Christians or post-Christians try to stop them. To reach this frontier, they may just go east.
Source:NY Times

My comment: I'm not against gen. modifications at all. I really think this is the future. But here, it's not only about faith. I don't think GMo foods are safe for the moment. I don't think the technology is on the level for that kind of things to be let out safely in the whole world. Because there's no back up. We really have to be sure about what we're doing. And fact is-we're not. At all. Some people claim it's safe, some- it's not. But there is no clear evidence of either. Then I think we have to wait and see more tests and results. We have to be as sure as we ca n get. And in the battle with GMo it's not all about technology. It's a battle of the markets- if you seed them once, you polluted your land for ever (or at least measurable ever) and there's no going back. You can't just reverse to natural. Because you can't control genes as they are transferred in natural pollination or wind or whatever. They are our of your reach. And those companies knows it. Not to mention the funny fact that you can't create something to resist all the natural screw-ups in few years when the Nature took millions of years to find the best balance. That's why I'm against anything that could harm this balance in unpredicted and probably undesired way. As for embryos-i'm pro. It sounds nasty, but it's much more sterile in the lab. No feelings involved. It's not something alive, it's just a possibility for life. And on religion- I don't think there are many scientists that share the common beliefs and live but the common rules. Science requires more generous view on life. So all those arguments go to the societies, not scientists. And societies care about what you tell them to. That's it.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Modifying genetically trees

Aiming to turn trees into new energy sources, scientists are using a controversial genetic engineering process to change the composition of the wood. A major goal is to reduce the amount of lignin, a chemical compound that interferes with efforts to turn the tree’s cellulose into biofuels like ethanol.

Vincent L. Chiang, co-director of the forest biotechnology group at North Carolina State University, has developed transgenic trees with as little as half the lignin of their natural counterparts. “I think the transgenic tree with low lignin will contribute significantly to energy needs,” he said.

Environmentalists say such work can be risky, because lignin provides trees with structural stiffness and resistance to pests. Even some scientists working on altering wood composition acknowledge that reducing lignin too much could lead to wobbly, vulnerable trees.
People working in the field also acknowledge that they will face resistance from others who see trees as majestic symbols of pristine nature that should not be genetically altered like corn and soybeans.

Ethanol is mainly made from the starch in corn kernels. To increase the supply to make a dent in the nation’s energy picture, scientists are looking at using cellulose, a component of the cell wall in plants.

Proponents of using trees for this say they are good sources of cellulose and are also good at absorbing carbon dioxide, helping to fight global warming. Also, trees can be cut as needed rather than having to be harvested at a given time each year like a crop.

But the cellulose is covered by lignin, another component of the cell wall, making it difficult for enzymes to reach the cellulose and break it down into simple sugars that can be converted to ethanol. Pulp and paper companies break down lignin using acids and steam. Ethanol producers would have to do the same.

Trees that have less lignin might reduce or eliminate these steps. That could save at least 10 cents a gallon in ethanol costs, said Michael Ladisch, director of the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering at Purdue.

Genetically modifying forest trees raises questions beyond those of crops. Trees can establish themselves in the wild, while corn would have trouble surviving without a farmer’s tender care.

A biologist, Claire Williams, said the wind could carry pollen from some trees like pines hundreds of miles, making it difficult to prevent a trait like reduced lignin from spreading to wild trees.

Dr. Williams, who works for the State Department but was interviewed while she was working at Duke, said the long life spans of trees made it “almost impossible to evaluate the long-term consequences of transgenic trees.”
source:NY TIMES
My comment: Guess what! I'm from the tree-lovers. From those that respect their beauty and strength. From those that consider them a bridge to our Mother Earth. And I hate that article. Yeah, let's modify anything that could produce money, to make even more money. To hell with the Nature. Why not pollute any organism on Earth if we'll have enough money to have an island and to populate it with the purest and nicest flora and fauna. Are you fucking crazy??? Leave the trees alone! You can't even modify corn properly, don't touch the trees!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Long live the gene research

Scientists Bypass Need for Embryo to Get Stem Cells

Two teams of scientists reported yesterday that they had turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo — a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.

All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone. Until now, the only way to get such human universal cells was to pluck them from a human embryo several days after fertilization, destroying the embryo in the process.

The need to destroy embryos has made stem cell research one of the most divisive issues in American politics.

The reprogrammed skin cells may yet prove to have subtle differences from embryonic stem cells that come directly from human embryos, and the new method includes potentially risky steps, like introducing a cancer gene. But stem cell researchers say they are confident that it will not take long to perfect the method and that today’s drawbacks will prove to be temporary.

Researchers and ethicists not involved in the findings say the work, conducted by independent teams from Japan and Wisconsin, should reshape the stem cell field.

The new method sidesteps other ethical quandaries, creating stem cells that genetically match the donor without having to resort to cloning or the requisite donation of women’s eggs. Genetically matched cells would not be rejected by the immune system if used as replacement tissues for patients. Even more important, scientists say, is that genetically matched cells from patients would enable them to study complex diseases, like Alzheimer’s, in the laboratory.

Until now, the only way most scientists thought such patient-specific stem cells could be made would be to create embryos that were clones of that person and extract their stem cells.

With the new method, human cloning for stem cell research, like the creation of human embryos to extract stem cells, may be unnecessary. The new cells in theory might be turned into an embryo, but not by simply implanting them in a womb.

For all the hopes invested in it over the last decade, embryonic stem cell research has moved slowly, with no cures or major therapeutic discoveries in sight.

The new work could allow the field to vault significant problems, including the shortage of human embryonic stem cells and restrictions on federal financing for such research. Even when scientists have other sources of financing, they report that it is expensive and difficult to find women who will provide eggs for such research.

The new discovery is being published online today in Cell, in a paper by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, and in Science, in a paper by James A. Thomson and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin.

While both groups used just four genes to reprogram human skin cells, two of the genes used differed from group to group. All the genes in question, though, act in a similar way — they are master regulator genes whose role is to turn other genes on or off.

The reprogrammed cells, the scientists report, appear to behave very much like human embryonic stem cells but were called “induced pluripotent stem cells,” meaning cells that can change into many different types.

“By any means we test them they are the same as embryonic stem cells,” Dr. Thomson says.

He and Dr. Yamanaka caution, though, that they still must confirm that the reprogrammed human skin cells really are the same as stem cells they get from embryos. And while those studies are under way, Dr. Thomson and others say, it would be premature to abandon research with stem cells taken from human embryos.

Another caveat is that, so far, scientists use a type of virus, a retrovirus, to insert the genes into the cells’ chromosomes. Retroviruses slip genes into chromosomes at random, sometimes causing mutations that can make normal cells turn into cancers.
One gene used by the Japanese scientists actually is a cancer gene.

The cancer risk means that the resulting stem cells would not be suitable for replacement cells or tissues for patients with diseases, like diabetes, in which their own cells die. But they would be ideal for the sort of studies that many researchers say are the real promise of this endeavor — studying the causes and treatments of complex diseases.

But even the retrovirus drawback may be temporary, scientists say. Dr. Yamanaka and several other researchers are trying to get the same effect by adding chemicals or using more benign viruses to get the genes into cells. They say they are starting to see success.

The new discovery was preceded by work in mice. Last year, Dr. Yamanaka published a paper showing that he could add four genes to mouse cells and turn them into mouse embryonic stem cells.

He even completed the ultimate test to show that the resulting stem cells could become any type of mouse cell. He used them to create new mice. Twenty percent of those mice, though, developed cancer, illustrating the risk of using retroviruses and a cancer gene to make cells for replacement parts.

With cloning, researchers put an adult cell’s chromosomes into an unfertilized egg whose genetic material was removed. The egg, by some mysterious process, then does all the work. It reprograms the adult cell’s chromosomes, bringing them back to the state they were in just after the egg was fertilized. A few days later, a ball of stem cells emerges in the embryo, and every cell of the embryo, including its stem cells, is an exact genetic match of the adult.

The abiding questions, though, were: How did the egg reprogram the adult cell’s chromosomes? Would it be possible to reprogram an adult cell without using an egg?

About four years ago, Dr. Yamanaka and Dr. Thomson independently hit upon the same idea. They would search for genes that are being used in an embryonic stem cell that are not being used in an adult cell. Then they would see if those genes would reprogram an adult cell.
source:NY Times

My comment:
I think it's great they finally found a way around embryos. Not that I had anything against the work with them. I don't consider something that couldn't even be seen with my eye and has no brain or heart a human being. But all that fuss around the work was very disarming. Science need social support or it gets in the wrong direction. Ethics in science is a wrong question-anything that doesn't directly harm a human being should be fine. A scientist can't bear the burden of the consequences of his/her discovery or nobody will every publish or work on controversial subjects. So it's wrong to bring in that question.

But this new discovery is very optimistic, because scientists finally managed to work with genes in a effective way, they're getting into the core of the cell reproduction. And this is extremely important! The more understanding we can get, the sooner we'll be able to see the real, life-changing results. And that was the point, right?

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

The human genome promise to earn some people some money

Again, thanks to NY Times, please read the following article I'll be quoting as it's extremely fun and interesting.
An infant industry is capitalizing on the plunging cost of genetic testing technology to offer any individual unprecedented — and unmediated — entree to their own DNA.
For as little as $1,000 and a saliva sample, customers will be able to learn what is known so far about how the billions of bits in their biological code shape who they are. Three companies have already announced plans to market such services, one yesterday.

Offered the chance to be among the early testers, I agreed, but not without reservations. What if I learned I was likely to die young? Or that I might have passed on a rogue gene to my daughter? And more pragmatically, what if an insurance company or an employer used such information against me in the future?

But three weeks later, I was already somewhat addicted to the daily communion with my genes. (Recurring note to self: was this addiction genetic?)

For example, my hands hurt the other day. So naturally, I checked my DNA.

Was this the first sign that I had inherited the arthritis that gnarled my paternal grandmother’s hard-working fingers? Logging onto my account at 23andMe, the start-up company that is now my genetic custodian, I typed my search into the “Genome Explorer” and hit return. I was, in essence, Googling my own DNA.

I had spent hours every day doing just that as new studies linking bits of DNA to diseases and aspects of appearance, temperament and behavior came out on an almost daily basis. At times, surfing my genome induced the same shock of recognition that comes when accidentally catching a glimpse of oneself in the mirror.

I had refused to drink milk growing up. Now, it turns out my DNA is devoid of the mutation that eases the digestion of milk after infancy, which became common in Europeans after the domestication of cows.

But it could also make me question my presumptions about myself. Apparently I lack the predisposition for good verbal memory, although I had always prided myself on my ability to recall quotations. Should I be recording more of my interviews? No, I decided; I remember what people say. DNA is not definitive.

I don’t like brussels sprouts. Who knew it was genetic? But I have the snippet of DNA that gives me the ability to taste a compound that makes many vegetables taste bitter. I differ from people who are blind to bitter taste — who actually like brussels sprouts — by a single spelling change in our four-letter genetic alphabet: somewhere on human chromosome 7, I have a G where they have a C.

It is one of roughly 10 million tiny differences, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced “snips”) scattered across the 23 pairs of human chromosomes from which 23andMe takes its name. The company generated a list of my “genotypes” — AC’s, CC’s, CT’s and so forth, based on which versions of every SNP I have on my collection of chromosome pairs.

For instance, I tragically lack the predisposition to eat fatty foods and not gain weight. But people who, like me, are GG at the SNP known to geneticists as rs3751812 are 6.3 pounds lighter, on average, than the AA’s. Thanks, rs3751812!

And if an early finding is to be believed, my GG at rs6602024 mean that I am an additional 10 pounds lighter than those whose genetic Boggle served up a different spelling. Good news, except that now I have only my slothful ways to blame for my inability to fit into my old jeans.

And although there is great controversy about the role that genes play in shaping intelligence, it was hard to resist looking up the SNPs that have been linked — however tenuously — to I.Q. Three went in my favor, three against. But I found hope in a study that appeared last week describing a SNP strongly linked with an increase in the I.Q. of breast-fed babies.

Babies with the CC or CG form of the SNP apparently benefit from a fatty acid found only in breast milk, while those with the GG form do not. My CC genotype meant that I had been eligible for the 6-point I.Q. boost when my mother breast-fed me. And because, by the laws of genetics, my daughter had to have inherited one of my C’s, she, too, would see the benefit of my having nursed her. Now where did I put those preschool applications?

I was not always so comfortable in my own genome. Before I spit into the vial, I called several major insurance companies to see if I was hurting my chances of getting coverage. They said no, but that is now, when almost no one has such information about their genetic make-up. In five years, if companies like 23andMe are at all successful, many more people presumably would. And isn’t an individual’s relative risk of disease precisely what insurance companies want to know?

Last month, alone in a room at 23andMe’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., with my password for the first time, I wavered (genetic?) and walked down the hall to get lunch.

Once I looked at my results, I could never turn back. I had prepared for the worst of what I could learn this day. But what if something even worse came along tomorrow?

Some health care providers argue that the public is unprepared for such information and that it is irresponsible to provide it without an expert to help put it in context. And at times, as I worked up the courage to check on my risks of breast cancer and Alzheimer’s, I could see their point.
One of the companies that plans to market personal DNA information, Navigenics, intends to provide a phone consultation with a genetic counselor along with the results. Its service would cost $2,500 and would initially provide data on 20 health conditions.
DeCODE Genetics and 23andMe will offer referrals. Although what they can tell you is limited right now, all three companies are hoping that people will be drawn by the prospect of instant updates on what is expected to be a flood of new findings.

My comment: Isn't this great? I mean utterly great? I absolutely don't believe in the dominance of genes, I think it's our awareness that chooses and decides and nothing else. But still, great many good effects may come from here- knowing your genetically weak sides you can work out a way to minimize any health-risk or to iron our the effects of different neuro-chemistry leading to more explosive or passive character. We'll be able to explore to the maximum our life! Isn't it enough to make you dream? To see the world without body-hair or without major diseases or without premature death. A life that doesn't have to be over at 65! A life that can continue as long as we like. It sounds so sci-fie I simply couldn't not post it here.