Wednesday, December 5, 2001
T h u r s d a y ,  D e c e m b e r  6,  2 0 0 1
T h u r s d a y ,  D e c e m b e r  2 0,  2 0 0 1
Friday, December 21, 2001 to Monday, December 31, 2001

3D Brain Mappers Scan Thousands
Thursday, December 6, 2001

Excerpts from article describing an effort to create a comprehensive atlas of the human brain:

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A group of brain cartographers is creating the most detailed and sophisticated computer atlas of the human brain ever assembled. When the $15m (10.6m) project is completed, the map will display the brain's anatomy and models of how it functions.

... Brain scans of 7,000 healthy individuals from nine different countries, representing a cross section of the global population, are being put together. When finished, scientists and physicians will be able to use the 3D atlas online to compare, or contrast, all sorts of information about the human brain.

Human brains are as
varied as faces

... "The frontal cortex and language cortex were very strongly determined by genetics ... Those areas were almost indistinguishable in identical twins. The frontal cortex is associated with problem solving and IQ, while the language cortex is associated with speech production and language comprehension." ...

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Natural Born Killer of Infections
Friday, December 7, 2001

Excerpts from article describing the possibility that an enzyme may be used as a killer of bacteria:

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Scientists able to use an enzyme
to kill bacteria in test tubes

Scientists have discovered an enzyme which could be a "natural born killer" of infections - and it could be delivered through a nasal spray. It could be the secret weapon scientists have been seeking for decades because of the growth of antibiotic-resistant infections.

Research published in the journal Science suggest the enzyme, which comes from bacteriophage, or phage viruses which attack and kill bacteria, could be used to prevent infection.

The scientists, from Rockefeller University, New York, said the enzyme might also improve treatment if used in combination with antibiotics.

... "A nasal spray containing this enzyme would prevent infection before the start. We would no longer have to wait for an infection to arise in order to treat it."

Tests in mice have shown the enzymes wiped out the streptococcus pneumonia, naturally present on mucous membranes in the nose and throat. They were also shown to kill penicillin-resistant strains of the bacterium, a major cause of infections, in test-tubes. ...

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Humiliating End for Fanatics Who Ruled by Fear
Friday, December 7, 2001

Excerpts from article describing the Taliban's rise and fall:

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Pro-Taliban fighters, captured by
the Northern Alliance, in Sibirgan
prison near Mazar-I-Sharif

The Taliban announced their capture of Kabul in September 1996 by castrating and murdering a former communist president and hanging him from a lamppost.

... Within days of taking Kabul they declared what amounted to an Islamic Year Zero, imposing on Afghanistan the harshest Muslim regime ever known.

... Within days of its fall the capital was rewound hundreds of years: female education and employment were banned; women who refused to wear the all-enveloping burqa were beaten; television sets were smashed; tapes ripped from cassettes and cinemas burned down.

In the only publicity stunt they ever held, the Taliban summoned reporters to witness the destruction of the last alcohol in Kabul.

As its grip tightened, the edicts became more surreal. High heels were prohibited lest their clicking distracted men going to the mosque. Men who trimmed their beards were locked for days on end in freight containers.

White paper bags were outlawed in case they were made of recycled pages of the Koran.

With the eccentricity came barbarity. Homosexuals were sentenced to death by having a wall pushed on them, adulterers were stoned to death.

To the outside world it may have seemed the Taliban were a sick joke. But they were born out of their own conservative cultural environment, Afghans' strong adherence to Islam and the ruins of a society on the verge of disintegration.

The founders all came from the south ... All had studied at fundamentalist seminaries in Pakistan that imbued them with the idea of recreating an Islamic utopia based on the words of the Prophet Mohammed.

... Last night, after two months of rhetorical defiance, Abdul Salam Zaeef, the movement's former ambassador to Pakistan, finally acknowledged that it was all over.

The Taliban, he said were finished as a political movement. "I think we should go home," he said.

Now the storm of the "summer rains" has all but passed, and Afghanistan can, with the world's help, begin again.

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Stem Cell Transplant Boost
Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Excerpts from article describing a type of stem cell resistant to transplant rejection:

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Scientists carrying out
research into stem cells

Scientists have found a particular type of stem cell which may be more suitable for transplantation into humans. Stem cells are the body's "master cells" - and doctors hope to use them to create a wide variety of tissue for transplantation.

However, transplanting stem cells or stem cell derived tissue from one individual to another is problematic because of the likelihood of rejection. However, transplanting this type of cell, to the surprise of the researchers, did not create this effect.

In animal experiments, even transplants between different species did not cause a problem. The findings could mean stem cells could be transplanted between adult humans without the worry of rejection.

The cells involved in the research by Osiris Therapeutics in Baltimore, America, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston are mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which have the potential develop into muscle, cartilage, bone and several other tissues. ...

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Hands-on Sentence in Nigeria
Thursday, December 13, 2001

Complete article describing the hands-on advantage in lying about one's religion when subjected to Islamic Sharia in Nigeria:

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Sharia reveals underbelly
of Islamic anti-humanism

A young man in northern Nigeria is back in prison, but relieved, after being sentenced to nine months in jail and 30 lashes.

Last week, in a bid to stop his hand being amputated, Mohamed Ali told the Islamic court in Sokoto where he was charged with theft, that he had renounced his Muslim faith, was now a Christian and therefore could not be tried under Sharia law.

In recent years, several northern Nigerian states have extended Sharia by incorporating its punishments into their penal codes, but Christians are not directly subject to Sharia laws.

But the young man stunned the court on Thursday when he admitted he had lied. "I am a Muslim, my parents are Muslims. I did it under confusion and I regret it. I pray for forgiveness," he told the court.

The judge said his sentence was not harsher because the value of the kitchen goods he stole was less than $8, or the price of a goat, which is the minimum prescribed for amputation.

After the ruling Mohamed Ali told AFP news agency: "I feel happy about the court's ruling. May God bless him (the judge). I take Islam as a great religion. I regret claiming to be a Christian."

There is unease among many Christians that the imposition of Islamic law in the northern states serves to enforce the political will of Muslim leaders over the substantial minority of non-Muslims living there.

Since the introduction of Sharia criminal punishments two years ago more than 3,000 people have been killed in Christian and Muslim clashes particularly in the north of the country.

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Late Starter Martyr 'knew he was on his way to heaven'
Thursday, December 13, 2001

Excerpts from article describing the suicide / failed murder attempt by a 46-year old Islamic extremist father of 8, yet another in a long list of participants in the "suicide / murder for god" segment of the Islamic faith:

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Daoud Abu Sway seemed an unlikely candidate for death as a suicide bomber.

Forty-six years old, a father of eight living in a house he had built for his family, he seemed to have too many family obligations just to leave them all behind in the thunderous blast that blew him to bits on Wednesday.

Abu Sway left home in this village near Bethlehem at 5.30am, relatives said, and appeared two hours later crossing a street in Jerusalem near a luxury hotel.

Explosives strapped to his body detonated, apparently prematurely, spattering the wall with his blood.

A few people on the street were slightly hurt. No-one else was killed.

Though his mission failed, his widow and children on Thursday praised him as a martyr who gave his life for God and country.

A statement issued by the militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for his attack. ...

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Researchers Find Closest Living Relative of First Land Plants
Friday, December 14, 2001

Order Charales

click for description

Excerpts from article describing the origin of the first land plants and their evolutionary connection to the present day Charales algae:

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Some 470 million years ago, the first land plants emerged from prehistoric waters, put down roots in soil and ended up ruling the plant world. But scientists haven’t been certain about the family history of those pioneer plants.

By studying gene sequences of common fresh water algae, a team of University of Maryland researchers, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) has traced this family tree and identified a group of algae that are the closest living relatives of the first land plants. The scientists have moved a step closer to understanding how land plants evolved and came to dominate the terrestrial biosphere.

... the closest living relative of the first land plants is a group of green algae called the Charales, which survives today in fresh water around the world.

... Although both the Charales and land plants can be traced back in the fossil record over a period of more than 400 million years, their common ancestor has been extinct for even longer and hasn't been identified in the fossil record.

“Our data confirm that land plants and the Charales both evolved from a common ancestor that was a fairly complex organism,” said Delwiche. “We now can make specific inferences about what this organism looked like. It wasn't just some sort of amorphous pond scum. It was made up of branching threads and reproduced with eggs and sperm.”

... “These findings can help us understand what properties allowed land plants to dominate the biosphere,” said Delwiche. “It's really exciting to know that we still have plants that look like the ancestors that were underfoot when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.” ...

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Geophysicist Studies Life in the Early Solar System
Monday, December 17, 2001

Excerpts from article describing the theory that life arose and was either totally destroyed or almost totally destroyed many times due to massive asteroid impacts on earth during its early history:

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Between the cataclysmic impact that created the Moon around 4.5 billion years ago and the first evidence of life 3.8 billion years ago, there may have been long periods during which life repeatedly spread across the globe, only to be nearly annihilated by the impact of large asteroids.

The early Earth, in other words, may have been an interrupted Eden - a planet where life repeatedly evolved and diversified, only to be sent back to square one by asteroids 10 or 20 times wider than the one that hastened the dinosaurs' demise.

When the surface of the Earth finally became inhabitable again, thousands of years after each asteroid impact, the survivors would have emerged from their hiding places and spread across the planet - until another asteroid struck and the whole cycle was repeated.

... "An asteroid a few hundred kilometers in diameter will boil off much of the ocean and leave the rest of the ocean very hot, so all that will survive will be high-temperature organisms living deep in the subsurface," he says. Rock vapor and water would fill the atmosphere, killing off any life on the surface with temperatures upwards of 1,000 C (1,800 F).

The only organisms that could survive such an impact are thermophiles - heat-loving microbes - buried half a mile or more below the Earth`s surface, where the effects of the burning atmosphere would have been muted to a survivable 100 C (212 F). Those organisms may have given rise to much of the life on today`s Earth.

Sleep calls the region where those organisms would have lived the "Goldilocks Zone" - deep enough for microbes to avoid the heat of the burning atmosphere, but not so deep that they ran afoul of the Earth's internal heat.

Since there are no records of life before 3.8 billion years ago, there is no direct proof that Sleep's theory is correct. But several strands of evidence are highly suggestive. ...

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US Build-up in the Middle East
Thursday, December 20, 2001

Excerpts from articles describing increases in US forces in the Middle East:

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A US Marine wriggles to get his heavy
pack on his back before rolling over
and staggering to his feet, at a secret
location in the Middle East

More than 20,000 United States troops have been moved into Qatar and Kuwait amid repeated suggestions that Washington is preparing to move the war on terrorism into Iraq, defence sources said on Wednesday.

The US moved the headquarters of its 3rd Army to the region two weeks ago and defence analysts have reported large numbers of troops being moved there since.

The 3rd Army is the ground component of the US Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan and was in charge of coalition forces during the Gulf War.

The Pentagon has insisted that it is merely rotating troops but defence analysts say that about 24,000 troops have been moved in with barely a brigade, around 4000, moving out.

The Czech Republic inadvertently confirmed the military build-up in the region by suggesting that up to 400 troops it has committed to the US-led war on terrorism might be sent to Kuwait.

The deployment of so many troops may be designed to intimidate Saddam Hussein. US officials acknowledged that a State Department team was surreptitiously sent into northern Iraq recently to meet Kurdish leaders. The visit was intended to make Baghdad jittery and to encourage the Kurdish leaders to unite to provide opposition to Saddam. ...

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Third Genetic 'chapter' Published
Thursday, December 20, 2001

Excerpts from article describing the information available due to the decoding of the human chromosome 20 to the "gold standard" previously achieved for chromosomes 22 and 21:

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Tips of chromosome 20 are
stained red in this photo

Another chapter in the human book of life has been published. Scientists have deciphered the complete genetic instructions of a third chromosome, one of the 24 distinct bundles of DNA that carry our genetic material. The latest to be finished, chromosome 20, is the largest so far.

... The first draft of the entire human genome, the instructions needed to make a human being, was unveiled in the spring. The work was carried out by two groups, the publicly funded International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, and a private US company, Celera Genomics.

Scientists are now trying to fill in some of the gaps in the data to come up with a "gold standard". Two human chromosomes have already been completed to this standard. The sequence of chromosome 22 was revealed two years ago. This was followed, in May 2000, by chromosome 21. ...

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Life's Sweet Start
Thursday, December 20, 2001

Excerpts from articles describing the likelihood that sugars in meteorites are the result of chemical processes in space, processes that may have been key in seeding early life on earth:

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Did life's building blocks
fall from the skies?

Life on Earth may have got off to a sweet start nourished by sugar from space. The suggestion is based on the discovery of sugar in two meteorites that are billions of years old.
Researchers from the American space agency, Nasa, say their study of the two space rocks has revealed a range of organic substances called polyols - the technical name for sugars.

... George Cooper of NASA's Ames Research Center in California and co-workers have found these compounds in the Murchison meteorite, which fell over the Australian town Murchison in 1969, and in the Murray meteorite, that fell to Kentucky in 1950.

Both of these carbon-rich meteorites are thought to be fragments of asteroids, rubble from the building of our Solar System. The Murchison meteorite has been particularly well studied. That it contains amino acids, the molecular building blocks of proteins, helped to establish that these basic components of life's molecules can be formed in extraterrestrial environments.

This implied that life on Earth might have been seeded by organic compounds falling from the skies, rather than having started from scratch on the young planet. The meteorites' sugar molecules hint that another essential building block of life may have come from space.

Sugars form part of the backbone of the molecules DNA and RNA, found in all living organisms. They are also life's primary energy store. Polyols, close chemical relatives of sugars, are used commercially as sugar-free sweeteners such as sorbitol and mannitol.

... The researchers think these cosmic sweeteners might have been formed in reactions between formaldehyde and water on the asteroid parent bodies of the meteorites. Formaldehyde, a very simple organic molecule, forms in interstellar space by reactions of still simpler molecules such as carbon monoxide.

The findings therefore support a growing realization that, even in the frozen depths of space, lifeless chemistry can arrange the elements into molecular forms well along the road to primitive life.

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