World Cup “completely corrupt” – Top MP after reading new dossier

World Cup Completely Corrupt
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That England and South Korea agreed to swap votes the day before the ballot is just one of the claims included in a dossier of files that was handed to a UK government body this weekend. The collection of documents also includes allegations against Russia and Qatar, and prompted UK MP John Whittingdale to conclude that the whole body of evidence against the World Cup was highly damning.

“When it’s taken together with all the other evidence that has already been accumulated, it does paint a picture of a deeply corrupt organisation and that the whole of the bidding process was completely flawed,” said John Whittingdale, chair of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

The dossier was compiled by a team that included a former MI6 operative and several other investigators. The dossier was provided to the UK parliamentary body by the Sunday Times, who published some of the allegations Sunday.

Besides England and South Korea, Russia and Qatar also colluded to swap votes ahead of the ballot. Motives included financial and material incentives, according to the documents.

Read more: Football “Incredibly Vulnerable” to Match Fixing by World’s Organized Gangs–Investigator

“I think what is alleged England to have been doing is mild compared to the allegations made against other nations,” said Whittingdale. “But nevertheless it’s obviously serious and it is a breach of the rules and therefore we will want to know whether it’s true and how the FA justify it.”

However, Whittingdale commented on the unproven nature of the documents.

“A lot of it is reports and hearsay. It isn’t necessarily hard evidence. It isn’t proven,” said Whittingdale.

Read more: FIFA, Non Profit Organization, Will Make $2 Billion Profit From the 2014 World Cup $4 Billion Gross and Pay 36 “Key Management Personnel” Over $1 Million Each

This collection of damning information comes shortly after another report by US lawyer Michael Garcia, the summary of which cleared Russia and Qatar of foul play. However, Garcia commented on the summary of his report saying that it had been written by a senior FIFA ethics committee official and was factually wrong.

In response to the new dossier, Russia’s 2018 bid team issued a statement. “These allegations are not new, but the evidence has only ever indicated that Russia 2018 behaved professionally and fairly throughout the bidding process,” read the Russian teams statement, which “categorically rejected” all of the “entirely unfounded” claims published in the Sunday Times.

By Daniel Jackson

NCU Scientists Identify Specific Ebola-Linked Genes

NCU Scientists Identify Specific Ebola-Linked Genes
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Significant improvements in Ebola research have been made possible by researchers at the University of North Carolina. The researchers have not only bred a mouse that can be used to better investigate the way Ebola symptoms develop in a human host, but have also identified several key genes that account for a variety of Ebola symptoms–in particular one gene, Tek, which accounts for a large amount of the symptom variation in individuals within a species.

“Laboratory mice have traditionally been unable to be infected by wild-type Ebola virus,” Martin Ferris, research assistant professor of genetics at UNC-Chapel Hill and one of the researchers on the project, told The Speaker.

NCU Scientists Identify Specific Ebola-Linked Genes
Dr Martin Ferris

Typical lab mice do not develop Ebola in the way that humans do–mice infected with Ebola don’t develop the fatal symptoms that present in human victims. The team considered, however, that some mice might be more susceptible than others, and bred a new mouse strain that could be infected with an Ebola virus and which displayed symptoms like those displayed by human Ebola victims.

“A mouse adapted strain of Ebola has been used for in vivo studies of Ebola pathogenesis for over 15 years,” said Ferris. “This mouse adapted Ebola virus was used in our studies.” Ferris clarified for us that the team did not infect mice with the active human strain of Ebola that is currently epidemic in West Africa. Nevertheless, strict medical precautions were taken.

“In general, adaptation of viruses to small animal models results in attenuated viruses as measured on human cell types–obviously there are no studies showing primary human infection. Often this is due to viral changes to utilize host-species specific cell receptors. That said, it is not clear whether the mouse adapted Ebola virus used in these studies would cause disease in a human. Therefore, to be safe, this virus was still handled under Biosafety Level 4 conditions, just like other Ebola virus strains.”

Read more: Ebola Genome Sequencing Being Undertaken by Harvard Team to Discover Weaknesses in Virus Genome, Which Has Already Mutated Hundreds of Times

The team bred together eight genetic mouse variants to create the new strain that could be infected and develop symptoms similar to those experienced by humans.

Ferris elaborated on how the process worked.

“Just as host genetic variants can impact disease susceptibility, so too can viral genetic variants. In other words, just as there is no single human from a genetic standpoint, there is no single Ebola virus from a genetic standpoint.

In some cases specific mutations in a virus can be identified and characterized which allow for improved infection of a different species (e.g. mice instead of humans). In other cases, there are only associations of sequence variants in different stages of an epidemic. For example, as viruses that have typically resided in wild animal populations spend more and more time spreading within the human population, and eventually are maintained by human to human contact, we can see genetic variants selected for in the virus population. This is illustrated by the SARS-coronavirus epidemic in 2002-2003, where changes in the virus over the course of the outbreak allowed it to interact more efficiently with its receptor on human cells. This likely allowed the virus to infect humans more efficiently, thereby worsening the outbreak.”

The UNC study will aid researchers in fighting Ebola by providing them with a better tool for understanding how Ebola Ebola infection manifests in the body of a host, and by pointing to a gene that researchers can target in their investigations.

The team found that a combination of genes was involved in producing a range of disease symptoms, and linked genetic variation to symptom variety. Not only that: the researchers were able to identify a single gene that accounted for much of the variation in symptoms–a gene that codes for the protein Tek.

“Our study not only in gives an improved mouse model which recapitulates more of the severe Ebola disease seen in humans,” said Ferris, “but also in pointing to a gene, Tek, which has sequence variants that are strongly associated with disease outcome in these mice. This helps in two ways.

“Therapeutics and vaccines need to be shown to be both effective against viral infection, and also safe for individuals. By developing a mouse model that shows many aspects of severe Ebola disease, we have a better platform for quickly assessing how effective treatments might be.”

“We now have a genetic target (Tek),” continued Ferris, “and its associated pathway of host response genes where we can focus studies on. Having a specific pathway that differentiates resistant and susceptible mouse lines provides us with a good host pathway that can be targeted to develop Ebola virus therapies.”

Of particular importance is the way that a disease, such as Ebola, infects individuals within a species differently, and that means variants in a species genetic code need to be identified in order to combat the disease–exactly what was accomplished in the research.

“Host genes have a major impact on susceptibility to infection, and not just between species,” said Ferris. “The mice we used were related to each other, yet some were resistant to infection and others got hemorrhage in a very controlled experiment. This means variants in their genes played a major role in determining their disease outcomes.”

NCU Scientists Identify Specific Ebola-Linked GenesThe UNC team has been working on the study since before Ebola made headlines earlier this year, and Ferris pointed out that disease, if it is to be successfully fought, must be studied before it becomes a problem.

“I think another critical point is that we cannot wait for a major outbreak to start research on potential human pathogens,” said Ferris. “We have been part of this collaborative study for over 2 years, and therefore started well before the current outbreak. Only by identifying pathogens and studying them before they cause pandemics can we hope to develop the tools needed to combat infection.”

The report, “Host genetic diversity enables Ebola hemorrhagic fever pathogenesis and resistance,” was authored by Angela L. Rasmussen, Atsushi Okumura, Martin T. Ferris, Richard Green, Friederike Feldmann, Sara M. Kelly, Dana P. Scott, David Safronetz, Elaine Haddock, Rachel LaCasse, Matthew J. Thomas, Pavel Sova, Victoria S. Carter, Jeffrey M. Weiss, Darla R. Miller, Ginger D. Shaw, Marcus J. Korth, Mark T. Heise, Ralph S. Baric, Fernando Pardo Manuel de Villena, Heinz Feldmann, and Michael G. Katze, and was published in Science Magazine.

By Dan Jackson

Shipworms Co-opt Digestive Enzymes From Outside Stomach, and It Could Aid the Bio Fuel Revolution

Shipworms Co-opt Digestive Enzymes From Outside Stomach, and It Could Aid the Bio Fuel Revolution
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The same bizarre worm-like clams that create holes in driftwood may be a game-changes for fuel supplies in America, according to a joint research team that has just published their finding that shipworms have a totally unique digestive system–hitherto unknown–and possess the ability to create enzymes that break plant matter down into sugar and other fuel products.

“You don’t hear about the discovery of new diges­tive strate­gies very often,” said Dr Dan Distel, Director at the Ocean Genome Legacy Center of New England Biolabs Marine Science Center, Northeastern University, and a lead researcher on the study. “It just doesn’t happen.”

Breakthrough Discovery of Exterior Digestion Could Aid Bio Fuel Revolution“This is why it’s so impor­tant that we as researchers look at oceans,” Distel said. “It yields so many unex­pected benefits.”

Shipworms aren’t worms–they’re clams that look like worms, and they burrow holes through wood using enzymes made by bacteria. They use the broken down wood matter as nutrition, similar to termites.

How shipworms break down wood is the matter of the teams recent, groundbreaking discovery: the bacteria doesn’t come from shipworms’ guts.

The enzymes that break down wood are made by bacteria that lives inside special cells in the clam’s gills, and are transported to the gut.

No other animal in the world uses bacteria produced outside its digestive system, Distel said. No other intracellular bacterium produces enzymes that function outside of the host.

Shipworms Co-opt Digestive Enzymes From Outside Stomach, and It Could Aid the Bio Fuel Revolution
Dr Dan Distel

“This is really unusual in that the bacteria that produce the enzymes are located in an organ outside the digestive system and in fact appear to be intracellula,” Distel told The Speaker. “The vast majority of animals use extracellular bacteria in the gut to help them digest. The lumen of the gut, if you think about it, is really part of the outside of the animal. There are some examples of animals ingesting enzymes produced by bacteria or fungi in their food, but I have not heard of another animal that has a special organ outside of the gut designed to house enzyme-producing bacteria.”

Because the team could find around 45 genes inside the guts of the shipworms that matched the 1000 genes found in the gills, the team believes they can find the enzymes that could be used in commercial biofuel production.

“This was a key finding,” Distel said, “because we can iden­tify the small number of enzymes that are actu­ally involved in breaking down wood in gut, and that gives us a list of can­di­dates that you can start to look at to find commercially-​​viable enzymes.”

The enzymes convert plant biomass–cellulose–into sugar, and sugar can be used to make ethanol and other biofuels.

Breakthrough Discovery of Exterior Digestion Could Aid Bio Fuel RevolutionBiofuel production is already a matter of US government policy. By 2022 36 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuel should be produced in the country, according to a government mandate, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) expects that one-third of US transportation fuel could be met with cellulosic biomass.

The main obstacle to commercial success in cellulosic ethanol is finding the right enzymes to convert plant matter into sugar.

Distel told us that although it would be an overstatement to say that they had found the key to unlocking commerce in cellulosic ethanol, they had identified a new source of enzymes with potential commercial value.

Next for the research team is to investigate how shipworms’ digestive enzymes move from gills to gut, and to characterize each of the proteins the team found and evaluate their potential applications.

The research was a large cooperative effort undertaken with the help of colleagues at the Joint Genome Institute (DOE), New England Biolabs, and other collaborating institutions.

In addition to collaborative help, advances in science were also credited by Distel in the research.

Breakthrough Discovery of Exterior Digestion Could Aid Bio Fuel Revolution“It has been known that bacteria are present in the gills since the 1970’s and it has been suspected for some time that they contribute to wood digestion by the host,” Distel told us, “but this is the first demonstration. I have been working on these critters for many years, but recently advances in genomics and proteomics have given us the tools to answer many questions that were previously tough to address. ”

Their research paper, “Gill bacteria enable a novel digestive strategy in a wood-feeding mollusk,” was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday afternoon, and was authored by Roberta M. O’Connora of Tufts Medical Center, Jennifer M. Fung at Bolt Threads biotech company, Koty H. Sharp at Eckerd College, Jack S. Bennerd, Colleen McClungd, Shelley Cushing, Elizabeth R. Lamkin, Alexey I. Fomenkov, Bernard Henrissat, Yuri Y. Londer, Matthew B. Scholz, Janos Posfai, Stephanie Malfatt, Susannah G. Tringe, Tanja Woyke, Rex R. Malmstromh, Devin Coleman-Derrh, Marvin A. Altamia, Sandra Dedrick, Stefan T. Kaluziak, Margo G. Haygood, and Daniel L. Distel.

By Dan Jackson

Photos: Dan Distel, Korabel Cherv

East African Nations Warn of Upcoming Intervention in Warring South Sudan

East African Nations Warn of Upcoming Intervention in Warring South Sudan
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Member countries of the East African regional body IGAD have stated that if the warring parties in South Sudan do not maintain the peace, the nations will collectively interfere in South Sudan. IGAD is demanding a complete, immediate and unconditional end to all hostilities.

“Any violation of the cessation of the hostilities by any party will invite the following collective action by the IGAD region against those responsible for such violations, which will include, but are not limited to: the enactment of asset freezes, the enactment of travel bans within the region, denial of the supply of arms and ammunition, and any other material that could be used in war,” read the statement presented at the IGAD summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Friday.

The leaders of the South Sudanese government, President Salva Kiir and Former Vice President Riek Machar, have maintained their willingness to achieve peace since the conflict broke out in late December, but repeatedly the two leaders have been unable to find common ground, and repeatedly the ceasefire agreements between the two warring parties have been broken.

Read more: South Sudan Peace Deal Broken in Two Days, Two Accusations by Two Leaders

While EGAD members were meeting, a protest letter was send to the organization’s chief negotiator by South Sudanese Rebel Chief Negotiator, General Taban Deng Gai, accusing the government of launching another set of attacks in Unity State.

IGAD also called on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and African Union Peace and Security Council to assist it in any measures it found necessary.

The IGAD statement also endorsed a request by the two warring parties that they be granted additional time for consultations. IGAD agreed to permit 15 days to complete the consultations, and demanded immediate and total cessation of all war in South Sudan.

Read more: Uganda War Plans Leaked

IGAD also stated that the two groups should commit to bringing the war in South Sudan to an end and immediately cease recruiting civilians into the fight.

By Dan Jackson
Photo: M Minassie/EyeRadio

“Elephant Poaching Crisis” in Tanzania: Most of the Country’s Elephants Have Been Poached in Past Five Years

"Elephant Poaching Crisis" in Tanzania: Most of the Country's Elephants Have Been Poached in Past Five Years
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A report recently published by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has found that over half of Tanzania’s elephants have been poached in the past five years. The report also investigated the causes of the “elephant poaching crisis” affecting the relatively stable, peaceful country of Tanzania, and identified the countries that were funding the trade.

“The current situation for Tanzania’s elephant population is dire in the extreme,” EIA found. “The country has lost half of its elephants in the past five years and two-thirds since 2006.”

The cause for the crisis affected Tanzania and other African nations is criminal organizations which service Chinese ivory appetites through corrupt Tanzanian channels, EIA found.

“The poaching crisis in Tanzania is due to a toxic mix of criminal syndicates, often led by Chinese nationals, and corruption among some Tanzanian Government officials.

“Both the escalation of elephant poaching and the increase of large-scale ivory shipments indicate the involvement of organised criminal syndicates in the burgeoning illicit ivory trade, abetted by corruption at key stages in the smuggling chain.

The ivory is mainly leaving Africa from three countries–Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda–and is bound mainly for one Asian nation.

"Elephant Poaching Crisis" in Tanzania: Most of the Country's Elephants Have Been Poached in Past Five Years“Seizure data also confirms China’s position as by far the largest single destination for illicit ivory, with Hong Kong, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia as the main transit countries for shipments from Africa,” EIA reported.

The EIA report implicated high-level Chinese government officials and even the Chinese presidency in the trade.

The EIA cited a 2013 visit by a Chinese naval task force to the capital of Tanzania, which resulted in a boon for ivory traders in the country. One dealer boasted of making $50,000 from sales to Chinese navy personnel, and another Chinese national was detained by police after trying to enter the port with 81 elephant tusks–weighing 303 kilograms and worth half a million dollars–hidden in his truck.

In another case cited by the report, a Chinese delegation accompanying Chinese President Xi Jinping was used to ship tonnes of ivory to China.

“The large Chinese Government and business delegation on the visit used the opportunity to procure such a large amount of ivory that local prices increased,” IEA reported. “Two traders claimed that a fortnight before the state visit, Chinese buyers began purchasing thousands of kilograms of ivory, later sent to China in diplomatic bags on the presidential plane.”

The EIA also noted that while much high level poaching takes place in conflict zones, Tanzania is relatively stable and free of conflict. Armed groups and terrorist organizations are mostly absent in Tanzania. Instead, Tanzania’s ivory gangs are business people, and are aided by corrupt national politicians

“This business involves rich people and politicians who have formed a very sophisticated network,” EIA found.

The level of poaching currently taking place in the region has not been seen since the 1980s, according to EIA. The wave of poaching across Africa in the 80s led in 1989 to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangers Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The poaching trade recovered, however, beginning in 1997 when elephants were downlisted in the CITES Appendix, and has remained strong. Tanzania currently loses around 10,000 elephants per year–around 30 per day–although at this point the market itself is in danger. For example, in Tanzania’s Selous Reserve, elephant populations have plummeted from 50,000 to 13,000 in four years.

"Elephant Poaching Crisis" in Tanzania: Most of the Country's Elephants Have Been Poached in Past Five YearsEIA concluded that a solution lied with national authorities both within Tanzania and in China.

“Overall, East Africa is losing the highest number of elephants as criminal gangs ruthlessly target the remaining herds to feed the seemingly insatiable markets of Asia and, especially, China. If this is allowed to continue at the current rate, only a few significant elephant populations will remain in Africa in the next decade.”

The report, “Vanishing Point–Criminality, Corruption and the Devastation of Tanzania’s Elephants,” was published this month on the EIA website.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is an independent campaigning organisation committed to bringing about change that protects the natural world from environmental crime and abuse.

By Daniel Jackson

Photos: Peter Steward, Philip Morton, and EIA

Japan to Invest in Robots, Not Immigrants, to Provide Healthcare for Aging Population

Japan to Invest in Robots, Not Immigrants, to Provide Health Care for Aging Population
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Japan’s aging population will be cared for by robots–not immigrant laborers, according to the plans of the Japanese government. The Abe government is increasing investments in healthcare robots to meet the nation’s needs, and recently announced subsidies that will cover up to two-thirds of the research and design costs for the development of various healthcare robots.

One quarter of Japan’s 127 million population age 65 and older, and that percentage is expected to rise to approximately 35 percent by 2025. In 2010, according to the Health Labor and Welfare Ministry of Japan, the nation needed around 2 million nursing care workers, but this need went unmet–only 1.33 million workers were employed in 2010. That need will rise to 4 million by 2025, the ministry predicted, and require 1 million mostly foreign elderly care workers.

That is why the Japanese government is planning to extend financial subsidies in order to help firms develop inexpensive nursing care robots. The goal is to produce care robots that will be ready for the market by fiscal 2016, and that will cost around $1,000 per unit.

Instead of increasing immigrant workers, Japan will invest in an expanding robotics market that is expected to reach $13.6 billion in 2018, and around $90 billion by Japan to Invest in Robots, Not Immigrants, to Provide Health Care for Aging Population2025. The Japanese government, which is already funding healthcare robot production, is extending research subsidies in order to develop more inexpensive robots for hospital and home use. Beginning this fiscal year, the government will provide subsidies that will cover one-half to two-thirds of research and development costs for care robots–valued at over $20 million.

These robots will  be covered by nursing care insurance, and will be available for rent at approximately 10 percent of their purchase price.

There are several main areas of healthcare robot development that robotics firms are focusing on. One goal is to create a robot that could carry a patient to a toilet. A robotic suit has already been created that can help care staff more easily lift patients.

There is also demand for robots that could monitor a patient’s use of medication, robots that could help the elderly to walk, portable, motorized, self-cleaning toilet robots, and robots that could track the location of dementia patients.

Special concerns faced by the elderly during emergency situations are also being considered as robot care services. Robots will be programmed to ask patients if they are dizzy and to nag them to stay well hydrated and cool during heat waves.

Another area of development is companionship. Already, Japanese robots like SoftBank’s cloud-based Pepper can read and react to facial expressions, gestures and voice commands. Pepper will be sold to Japanese consumers next year for around $2,000.

By Dan Jackson

Photo: Héctor García

Israel Reopens Mosque Shortly After “Declaration of War” Statement

Israel Reopens Mosque Shortly After Declaration of War Statement
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Al-Aqsa complex, a site holy to Muslims and Jews and the location of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque, was reopened hours after the site was closed due to security fears after the shooting of a Jewish activist–during which interval Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had announced that the closure was a “declaration of war.”

“This dangerous Israeli escalation is a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its sacred places and on the Arab and Islamic nation,” said Abbas, responding to the closure of the third-holiest site in Islam.

“We hold the Israeli government responsible for this dangerous escalation in Jerusalem that has reached its peak through the closure of the Al-Aqsa mosque this morning.

“This decision is a dangerous act and a blatant challenge that will lead to more tension and instability and will create a negative and dangerous atmosphere.

“The state of Palestine will take all legal measures to hold Israel accountable and to stop these ongoing attacks.”

Hours after the closure, the site was reopened, with restrictions.

“It was decided to restore [the compound] to normal… effective immediately,” stated police spokeswoman Luba Samri.

Entry was still restricted for men. Only men over 50 were admitted because of fears of unrest at Friday’s midday prayers. There were no restrictions on female Muslims.

After Abbas’ statements, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu increased police numbers, saying, “I have ordered a significant increase in forces as well as in means (available to them) so we can both ensure security in Jerusalem and also maintain the status quo in the holy places.”

Thursday, American-born ultranationalist activist Yehuda Glick was shot by a gunman on a motorbike as he was leaving a conference. Glick has been an advocate for greater Jewish access to the Al-Aqsa complex.

Glick is currently in hospital in serious condition. The suspect of the shooting died after opening fire on police who had surrounded his home later Thursday.

By Daniel Jackson

UK “Under Siege” From Immigration – UK Defense Secretary

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Britain is “under siege” from immigration, according to UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon. The cause is EU migrants coming to the UK from other parts of the EU, competing for jobs and claiming benefits.

“In some areas of the UK, down the east coast, towns do feel under siege, (with) large numbers of migrant workers and people claiming benefits,” Fallon said in an interview.

“We are looking at changing that to make sure there is some control. We are fully entitled to say this is making a difference to us, that now needs to be dealt with.”

The immigration issue has risen to the fore of UK politics recently. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, feeling mounting electoral pressure from the anti-EU UK Independence Party in the face of next year’s general election, has promised the UK public a referendum by 2017 on whether to maintain EU membership.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Cameron, however, not to “tamper with the fundamental principles of free movement in the EU.” Such interference would not be tolerated by Britain’s EU partners, Merkel said.

“The Germans haven’t seen our proposals yet and we haven’t seen our proposals yet, and that’s still being worked on at the moment to see what we can do to prevent whole towns and communities being swamped by huge numbers of migrants,” Fallon said.

Currently, under EU regulations, citizens of most EU countries are guaranteed the right to live and work in any EU country.

By Dan Jackson

Brain Cells Created From Skin Cells in Landmark Study

Brain Cells Created From Skin Cells in Landmark Study
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A team of researchers from Washington University School of Medicine has converted human skin cells directly into brain cells. This breakthrough research is complimented by other landmark findings within the study–including that the cells were able to form neurological connections, both axonal and dendritic. The research holds promise for sufferers of neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease.

“Our study shows that the transplanted human cells derived by direct conversion of skin cells could actually behave like normal neurons,” Dr Andrew Yoo, assistant professor of developmental biology at the Washington University School of Medicine and lead researcher on the study, told The Speaker.

Brain Cells Created From Skin Cells in Landmark Study
Dr Andrew Yoo

“We have evidence for both dendritic and axon growth,” Yoo told us.

“For dendritic growth, we found the transplanted cells could elicit spontaneous postsynaptic potentials, meaning that the cell were wired into the existing neural circuit and receive inputs from neighboring cells.”

The transplanted cells also formed axonal projections from the transplanted skin cells. “These cells are known to extend projections into certain brain regions. And we found the human transplanted cells also connected to these distant targets in the brain. That’s a landmark point about this paper,” said Yoo.

The team used a particular combination of microRNAs and transcription factors to reprogram the skin cells to become a particular type of brain cell known as medium spiny neurons.

Brain Cells Created From Skin Cells in Landmark Study
Human skin cells (top) can be converted into medium spiny neurons (bottom) with exposure to a combination of microRNAs and transcription factors

Yoo’s team had found in previous research that exposing skin cells to two small RNA molecules–miR-9 and miR-124–could transform the cells into different types of brain cells.

The team is not certain how the transformation takes place, but has hypothesized that the two small RNA molecules open up the DNA inside the cells. That DNA holds the instructions for making brain cells. The team achieved transformation of a skin cell into a particular type of brain cell by adding molecules called transcription factors that the team knew were present in the region of the brain where medium spiny neurons are abundant.

“They are priming the skin cells to become neurons,” said co-author Matheus B. Victor of the small RNA molecules. “The transcription factors we add then guide the skin cells to become a specific subtype, in this case medium spiny neurons. We think we could produce different types of neurons by switching out different transcription factors.”

The spiny neurons produced by the team are the main type affected by the neurodegenerative disease Huntington’s disease, an inherited disease that causes a gradual decline of mental ability, accompanied by involuntary movement.

The team plans to achieve further understanding of how their results could help people suffering from Huntington’s disease.

Yoo lab
Yoo lab

“We are currently doing experiments to figure out how these transplanted cells send out axons to proper sites,” Yoo told us.

Next for the team is research that will use cells from patients with Huntington’s disease. Whereas the current research transformed human skin cells into mouse brain cells, the next step will aim to convert skin cells from humans with Huntington’s into mice with the same disease, again trying to create medium spiny neurons.

“For any future implications of using reprogrammed cells for cell replacement-based therapeutic approaches, it is imperative to show that the human neurons directly converted from fibroblasts could integrate into the brain circuit,” Yoo told us.

The report, “Generation of Human Striatal Neurons by MicroRNA-Dependent Direct Conversion of Fibroblasts,” was authored by Matheus B. Victor, Michelle Richner, Tracey O. Hermanstyne, Joseph L. Ransdell, Courtney Sobieski, Pan-Yue Deng, Vitaly A. Klyachko, Jeanne M. Nerbonne, and Dr Yoo, was published in Neuron Magazine, and was funded by various bodies including the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

By Daniel Jackson
Photos: Yoo Lab, Dierk Schaefer


Antares Rocket, Which Exploded Tuesday, Was Set to Fly Monday but Was Delayed by Stray Boater

Antares Rocket, Which Exploded Tuesday, Was Set to Fly Monday But Was Delayed by Stray Boater
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The third Orbital Sciences cargo mission to the International Space Station was set to launch Monday, but was prevented by a stray boat which had entered restricted waters southeast of the launch pad in Wallops Island, Virginia. The launch was postponed until Tuesday due to public safety concerns, according to officials.

The Monday launch window was just 10 minutes long, restricted by the orbit of the space station.

The sailboat carried a single passenger without a radio, reportedly.

The Antares exploded seconds after launch Tuesday.

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The Antares carried over 5,000 pounds of supplies for the space station, including 32 mini research satellites, a meteor tracker, crew provisions, and a tank of high-pressure nitrogen to replace that used by astronauts during spacewalks. It also carried, according to the launch director, some high-priority “classified crypto equipment” thought to be for secure communications.

The Antares suffered “a catastrophic anomaly” a short distance above the launch platform, lost power, fell back to the earth and exploded on contact with the ground.

“Parts were sent flying everywhere, and then the vehicle fell back to the pad, exploding in an even larger fireball, setting the entire area on fire,” commented eye-witness Robert Pearlman, editor of the space history news website

The cause of the explosion is not known, according to NASA officials.

By Daniel Jackson

Slideshow (NASA images):

China to Send 100,000 Troops to Xinjiang – Rights Group

China to Send 100,000 Troops to Xinjiang
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China is expected to send 100,000 troops into its restless western province of Xinjiang to reinforce the People’s Armed Police force already there, according to a Hong Kong based rights group. Hundreds of people have died in recent months in Xinjiang’s ethnic unrest.

The Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Congress discussed a number of problems facing the government in its ongoing Fourth Plenary Session. The problems were both internal and external, and included the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, problems associated with the ouster of former security chief Zhou Yongkang, and the recent ethnic violence in the western province of Xinjiang.

Several bomb attacks and riots have left hundreds dead in Xinjiang over recent months.

According to Hong-Kong based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, the Chinese government is to deploy 100,000 troops to Xinjiang to assist local police already there.

The decision to send the troops is expected to be made at the ongoing Forth Plenary Session.

By Daniel Jackson

Photo: Andrew An

China: Experimental Spacecraft Successfully Launched for Moon Mission [Video of Launch and Deployment]

China Experimental Spacecraft Successfully Launched for Moon Mission (1)
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China launched an experimental unmanned spacecraft Friday–the country’s first return moon mission. The craft, which had a successful launch atop an advanced Long March-3C rocket and is currently travelling along its planned trajectory, will spend eight days in space before returning to Earth.

China Experimental Spacecraft Successfully Launched for Moon Mission  (1)The craft successfully entered its expected orbit shortly after launch, according to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, the developers of the craft.

The lunar orbiter was launched from the Xichang Satellite Center in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, atop a Long March-3C rocket, according to Xinhua news.

The flight is expected to take eight days, during which time it will half orbit the moon before returning to Earth and landing in Inner Mongolia.

The purpose of the mission is to test technologies that will be used on a future space vessel, Chang’e-5, which will be sent to collect samples on the moon in 2017. Chang’e-5 will be the final of three phases in China’s moon probe project. Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 were completed in 2007 and 2010. Chang’e-3–China’s first moon rover, called Yutu–completed a soft landing on the moon in December 2013. Chang’e-4 is a backup probe for Chang’e-3.

The experimental craft launched Friday will gather data and validate re-entry technologies such as guidance, navigation and control, heat shield and trajectory design.

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By Daniel Jackson