Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8130 on: Mar 7th, 2013, 09:49am »
Real Estate Locusts: Developers Cash in on Europe's Poorest
By Özlem Gezer and Andreas Wassermann 7 March 2013
Their offices are in places where a lot of money is turned into even more money: in Luxembourg, the City of London and on Lake Geneva. They deal in shares of companies in Asia and Africa, and in real estate in Europe. They own more than 6,000 apartments in Berlin. Narghita lives in one of them.
Narghita, 27, is from Romania, a member of the Roma ethnic group. She has never met the owners of her apartment. There is no heat, and she has covered the mold on the walls with mint-green paint. The toilet hasn't been working for weeks, and her three children urinate in the bathtub. She found her furniture in the garbage and poisoned the rats in the apartment she occupies on the ground floor of Scharnweberstrasse 111 in Reinickendorf, a northwestern district of Berlin.
For a long time, Narghita believed that Marcus Harstel owned her apartment. He is the chairman of an association called "Anker e.V. - Berlin in 2010." According to its bylaws, the association doesn't aim to make money. "We make people strong," reads Anker's motto -- strong, so that they'll have better opportunities.
Anker brokers run-down property owned by international investors to the poor: ex-convicts, the homeless and immigrants. The association, founded in Berlin in 2010, devotes special attention to the Roma and Sinti ethnic groups, which as Anker officials say, "were living in public parks under completely grim hygienic conditions." According to the bylaws, Harstel and his colleagues aim to "improve" living conditions for these people and place them into "adequate" living spaces.
These are nice words and noble objectives. In reality, however, they are nothing but an inhumane form of cynicism. Anker, the association that is supposedly devoted to the well-being of the weak, was actually providing real estate speculators with undemanding tenants until recently -- and, in the process, its chairman was apparently funneling hefty sums into his own pockets. This ruthless business model is widespread in Berlin, one of many cities in Europe where poor immigrants go.
One reason the model works is that Romania's accession to the European Union in 2007 has almost tripled the number of Romanians in Germany, bringing it to 205,000 today. The poverty-stricken immigrants among new EU citizens work for €3 ($4) an hour, have no health insurance and usually don't speak German. And since German municipalities are overwhelmed by the onslaught and usually have no political plans for countering this migration of tens of thousands of people, immigrants like Narghita fall in the clutches of people like Marcus Harstel and of real estate companies headquartered in tax havens.
Exploiting the Helpless
Narghita arrived in Berlin in the fall of 2011. She lived with relatives for the first few weeks, and then she began looking for her own apartment. But she isn't registered, has no proof of income and no credit history -- all the things that are normally required by a housing agency in Germany. Harstel, the head of Anker, doesn't need these things. All he cares about is that Narghita pays her rent: €705 ($915) for a one-room, 33-square-meter (355-square-foot) apartment, heat excluded.
Harstel collects the rent at the door. Like the other Roma families living in the building in a back courtyard at Scharnweberstrasse 111, Narghita pays her rent in cash. And when someone is unable to pay, say Narghita and her neighbors, Harstel threatens them with his "dogs" -- broad-shouldered Turkish and Arab thugs.
Those who still don't pay after an encounter with these men are evicted. Harstel then removes the belongings from the apartment and places them in one of his basement storage rooms, as one of the tenants who helped Harstel empty out an apartment recalls. Harstel is essentially hoarding toasters and washing machines, and even empty deposit bottles, from the apartments of insolvent tenants.
On his current Xing profile on the Internet, Harstel, a former scrap car dealer, described himself as a "manager" who works "on a voluntary basis." But the employment agency in Berlin's Mitte district takes a different view. It suspects Harstel, a recipient of Hartz IV welfare benefits for the long-term unemployed, of social security benefit fraud.
For most tenants at Scharnweberstrasse 111, Harstel is a familiar sight in his Adidas jacket and athletic shoes, and with a heavy key ring hanging from his jeans. His association has rented 73 Berlin apartments from Helvetica, the financial investors' property management firm, to sublet them to other tenants. They are apartments that their owners have been unable to rent in the regular rental market.
But they are good enough for the Roma, at least according to the way Harstel thinks and acts, because Roma from Romania are patient tenants. They wait, sometimes for months, when their toilets are broken, their windows aren't properly sealed or they have no hot water. They rarely complain about having to live in apartments without heat in the winter. Harstel, the man who is supposedly helping them, provides them with electric heaters. As a result, some families run up electricity bills of up to €3,000.
The conditions on some of the floors at Scharnweberstrasse 111 are like those in a refugee camp, with multiple parties sharing the few intact bathrooms. When they move in, Harstel promises them a different apartment, renovations and help with their moves. But when the Roma ask him about his promises, he puts them off. The women have hung heads of garlic on their doors, a custom intended to protect against evil eyes. They paint their walls pink and glue together bits of wallpaper to make leopard-skin patterns, hoping to improve their squalid surroundings with cosmetic repairs. But the Roma families are not angry with Harstel. In fact, they are grateful.
They invite him into their apartments, pour him glasses of vodka at birthday parties, show him family videos and cook Romanian specialties for him. They want their patron to be happy, which is important in the archaic social structures they are used to at home.
But what choice do they have? A number of the Roma living at Scharnweberstrasse 111 get their money from the government employment office, or they earn it through begging and prostitution. Roma families stand almost no chance at all in Berlin's regular apartment market. The alternative would be a tiny garden house on the outskirts of the city for €500, or subletting rooms from Hartz-IV recipients, both of which are common practices in dealing with poor immigrants.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8131 on: Mar 8th, 2013, 09:39am »
Police are investigating after 18 workers at the top secret GCHQ base in Cheltenham, Glos, had their cars damaged.
By Telegraph Reporters 2:39PM GMT 08 Mar 2013
The cars were all parked in Fiddlers Green Lane, close to the eavesdropping HQ, and it is thought frustrated locals may be responsible for the attacks.
Police believe there could be more victims of the vandalism who have not yet come forward.
Community leaders suggested the keying of the vehicles could be linked to residents angry they can't find parking spaces outside their own homes because of the number of GCHQ staff who park there.
A member of the public called the police shortly before 3pm on Wednesday and reported that a large number of cars parked in the street had been scratched.
Liberal Democrat councillor for the area, Simon Wheeler, said he had heard of similar incidents taking place before.
He said that if the attack was a parking-related protest it was misguided because "vandalism is never the right way forward".
"If there are about 6,500 people working at the GCHQ 'Donut' a lot of the parked cars will belong to staff there," he said.
"I have had a number of reports from people who may know someone who has had their car vandalised by keying, breaking a wing mirror or spraying WD40 onto a windscreen, which for me is the most dangerous of the lot.
"This is something that is happening. I have no sympathy for the people who feel that this is the best way to sort out this problem.
"Whoever it is that has vandalised these cars, I have no sympathy for their cause if they think this is the way to stop people parking there.
"This is not the way to do it. Vandalism is never the right way forward.
"I think the people that are doing it may feel frustrated that nothing is being done, but this is not the way to do it."
Anyone who has discovered their car has been damaged and who has not yet spoken to officers about the vandalism is being urged to speak to detectives.
They would also like to speak to anybody who may have more information about the incident.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8132 on: Mar 8th, 2013, 09:43am »
Originally published March 7, 2013 at 9:36 AM Page modified March 8, 2013 at 5:39 AM
NTSB report shows Boeing’s battery analysis fell short
The safety agency’s interim report shows Boeing mistakenly ruled out any potential causes of a battery fire other than an overcharge and failed to predict the battery’s erratic behavior on the day of the fire.
By Dominic Gates Seattle Times aerospace reporter
The most detailed report yet on the lithium-ion battery fire on a 787 Dreamliner in January provides no answers on the root cause, but sheds new light on the safety analysis done by Boeing and its subcontractors to win Federal Aviation Administration certification and how that analysis fell short.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a voluminous set of documents Thursday from its investigation into the intense and persistent fire on the Japan Airlines jet parked at Boston’s Logan Airport.
Among the findings are Boeing mistakenly ruled out any potential causes of a battery fire other than an overcharge and failed to predict the battery’s erratic behavior on the day of the fire.
Still, the interim report lacks clear answers, and that increases the pressure on the FAA as the aviation regulator weighs whether to approve Boeing’s proposed battery fix, with an initial ruling expected next week.
That pressure will continue. The NTSB said Thursday it plans two public hearings next month, one to explore lithium-ion battery technology in general, and another to discuss the design and certification of the Boeing 787 battery system.
Boeing’s safety analysis
After the Jan. 7 fire, the FAA announced it would review the plane’s electrical system and its own certification process. A week later, it grounded the fleet after another 787 battery overheated and smoldered in flight in Japan.
For the 787 to win FAA certification, the safety of the battery system had to be analyzed and tested in advance, with assessments of what failures could possibly happen and the potential impact of each.
The assessment was done at two levels. The subcontractors — Thales of France, battery maker GS Yuasa of Japan, and Securaplane of Tucson, Ariz., which designed and built the battery charging unit (BCU) system — focused on potential failures of their pieces of the system.
Boeing reviewed the supplier assessments, but it also took a more integrated look from the airplane level, including a safety assessment of the entire electrical- power system and with a specific look at “lithium-ion battery cell failure modes.”
The NTSB report seems to question the thoroughness of the testing done by Thales and Securaplane.
The report notes there doesn’t seem to have been any testing of the charging system and battery together as an integrated system inside the airplane.
“None of the Thales documents described a complete life-cycle of tests,” the report states. “No records have been seen that documented the performance of the individual Li-ion battery cells in testing that involved a battery/BCU set or in a complete Model 787 airplane.”
Given that finding, the NTSB said that last month it began integrated-system tests at a Boeing lab in Seattle. It is still doing data review and analysis.
Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said Thursday that “suppliers are in many cases responsible for design, build and testing of the parts they deliver to Boeing. Boeing is often involved in key tests and typically provides in-person support during those test activities.
“Regardless of who performs analysis or testing, Boeing ensures certification compliance,” Birtel said.
According to the NTSB, Boeing’s own analysis determined “overcharging was the only known failure mode” that could result in fire.
Boeing therefore built safeguards into the system to “to ensure that the likelihood of occurrence of an overcharge event” was less than one in a billion — the usual FAA standard in providing for potentially catastrophic events.
However, there is no indication in the NTSB documents that the battery that caught fire was overcharged.
Investigators inspected a hefty electrical contactor — a relay switch — that is part of the battery management system and was designed to open the electrical points and disconnect the cells in the event of an overcharge.
The heavily blackened contactor was found to be “in the de-energized closed orientation,” meaning that no overcharge had registered with the system and the contactor had not disconnected the cells.
The NTSB a month ago established that the fire instead started with an internal short circuit of a single cell in the eight-cell battery.
Boeing’s pre-certification testing did try to evaluate the effect of an internal short-circuit. In this test, a cell was punctured with a nail to induce a short-circuit.
“This test resulted in venting with smoke but no fire,” the NTSB reported.
Boeing also consulted with other companies about their experience with the use of similar lithium-battery cells and “based on this information, Boeing assessed that the likelihood of occurrence of cell venting would be about one in ten million flight hours.”
Yet all of this analysis badly missed the mark. The probabilities proved to be off by a factor of 200.
The 787 that caught fire in Boston had logged just 169 flight hours.
And the entire operational fleet of 787s had logged a total 51,662 in-service hours, plus about 6,000 flight-test hours.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8133 on: Mar 8th, 2013, 09:47am »
Ron Moore Drama 'Helix' Lands Series Order at Syfy
4:38 PM PST 3/7/2013 by Lesley Goldberg
Syfy is looking for a Walking Dead of its own.
The cable network announced Thursday that it has given a straight-to-series order to Ron Moore's drama Helix.
The 13-episode series, which bypassed the pilot stage, is described as a thriller about a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control who travel to a high-tech research facility in the Arctic to investigate a possible disease outbreak. There, they find themselves in a terrifying life-and-death struggle that holds the key to mankind's salvation or total annihilation.
Moore (Battlestar Galactica) will executive produce the drama alongside Lynda Obst (Contact), Steven Maeda (Lost, The X-Files) and Cameron Porsandeh, who penned the pilot of the Sony Pictures Television entry.
“With its well-drawn characters, taut drama and incredible production team, we couldn’t be more excited to see this intense thrill ride of a series come to life,” said Mark Stern, Syfy president of original content and co-head of original content at cable arm Universal Cable Productions.
Casting and production will begin soon for a debut later this year.
The series comes two months after Syfy axed David Strathairn drama Alphas after two seasons. The network also is developing a scripted drama from M. Night Shyamalan (Proof) and Bryan Fuller (High Moon) as it looks to bulk up its scripted offerings, which include Being Human, Continuum and Lost Girl. Syfy will roll out Defiance in April.
For its part, AMC's ratings juggernaut The Walking Dead centers on a zombie-filled world post-apocalypse.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8137 on: Mar 10th, 2013, 10:08am »
F-35’s ability to evade budget cuts illustrates challenge of paring defense spending
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Published: March 9
At EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — With an ear-ringing roar, the matte-gray fighter jet streaked down Runway 12 and sliced into a cloudless afternoon sky over the Florida Panhandle. To those watching on the ground, the sleek, bat-winged fuselage soon shrank into a speck, and then nothing at all, as Marine Capt. Brendan Walsh arced northward in America’s newest warplane, the F-35 Lightning II.
The F-35 has features that make pilots drool. It is shaped to avoid detection by enemy radar. It can accelerate to supersonic speeds. One model can take off and land vertically. Onboard electronic sensors and computers provide a 360-degree view of the battlefield on flat-panel screens, allowing pilots to quickly identify targets and threats.
But its greatest strength has nothing to do with those attributes. The Defense Department and Lockheed Martin, the giant contractor hired to design and build the plane, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, have constructed what amounts to a budgetary force field around the nearly $400 billion program.
Although it is the costliest weapons system in U.S. history and the single most expensive item in the 2013 Pentagon budget, it will face only a glancing blow from the sequester this year. And as the White House and Congress contemplate future budgets, those pushing for additional cuts may find it difficult to trim more than a fraction of the Pentagon’s proposed fleet, even though the program is years behind schedule and 70 percent over its initial price tag.
The reasons for the F-35’s relative immunity are a stark illustration of why it is so difficult to cut the country’s defense spending. Lockheed Martin has spread the work across 45 states — critics call it “political engineering” — which in turn has generated broad bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Any reduction in the planned U.S. purchase risks antagonizing the eight other nations that have committed to buying the aircraft by increasing their per-plane costs. And senior military leaders warn that the stealthy, technologically sophisticated F-35 is essential to confront Iran, China and other potential adversaries that may employ advanced anti-aircraft defenses.
The biggest barrier to cutting the F-35 program, however, is rooted in the way in which it was developed: The fighter jet is being mass-produced and placed in the hands of military aviators such as Walsh, who are not test pilots, while the aircraft remains a work in progress. Millions more lines of software code have to be written, vital parts need to be redesigned, and the plane has yet to complete 80 percent of its required flight tests. By the time all that is finished — in 2017, by the Pentagon’s estimates — it will be too late to pull the plug. The military will own 365 of them.
By then, “we’re already pregnant,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, who oversees F-35 development for the Pentagon.
When the F-35 finishes testing, “there will be no yes-or-no, up-or-down decision point,” said Pierre Sprey, who was a chief architect of the Air Force’s F-16 Fighting Falcon. “That’s totally deliberate. It was all in the name of ensuring it couldn’t be canceled.”
The Pentagon has long permitted equipment to be produced while it is still being tested, with the intent of getting cutting-edge gear to warriors more quickly, but senior military officials said the F-35 takes the approach to new extremes. Doing so has served as more than a hedge against cuts — it has also driven up the overall price. The 65 aircraft that already have been built, and those that will be assembled over the next few years, will require substantial retrofits that could cost as much as $4 billion as problems are uncovered during testing, the officials said.
Initial tests already have yielded serious problems that are forcing significant engineering modifications. The entire fleet was grounded earlier this year because of a crack in the fan blade in one jet’s engine. The Marine Corps’ version has been prohibited from its signature maneuver — taking off and landing vertically — because of a design flaw. And the Navy model has not been able to land on an aircraft carrier because its tailhook, an essential feature to alight aboard a ship, needs to be redesigned. The Pentagon’s top weapons tester issued a scathing report on the F-35 this year that questioned the plane’s reliability and warned of a “lack of maturity” in performance.
When the F-35 program was first approved by the Pentagon, Lockheed Martin said it could develop and manufacture 2,852 planes for $233 billion. The Pentagon now estimates the total price tag at $397.1 billion. And that is for 409 fewer planes.
The overall program is almost four times more costly than any other weapons system under development. Taxpayers have already spent $84 billion on the plane’s design and initial production. By contrast, the production of 18,000 B-24 bombers during World War II cost less than $60 billion, in inflation-adjusted dollars.
To the plane’s backers, including senior leaders of the Air Force and Marine Corps, the benefit is worth the cost. Unlike the infantry, which still accepts battlefield casualties as part of war, military aviators have grown accustomed to a different risk calculus since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when U.S. warplanes quickly established air superiority over Iraq with minimal losses: They want to ensure that, whatever the future conflict, their planes are packed with enough offensive and defensive measures to accomplish the mission and avoid getting shot down.
“This aircraft reinforces the way Americans go to war. . . .We don’t want to win 51-49. We want to win 99 to nothing,” said Lt. Gen. Frank Gornec, the assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force. He said he is convinced the F-35 “will become a superstar in the arsenal of the United States.”
Many independent defense analysts do not share that conviction. To them, the plane’s political engineering and buy-before-you-fly procurement mask deep problems with performance and affordability.
“It was a bait-and-switch operation; we were overpromised benefits and under-promised costs,” said Chuck Spinney, a former Pentagon analyst who gained widespread attention in the 1980s for issuing pointed warnings about the military’s pursuit of unaffordable weapons. “But by the time you realize the numbers don’t add up, you can’t get out of the program.”
A turbulent takeoff
The F-35 program, which commenced 12 years ago, was intended to be a model of how to build a modern fighter. The same airframe would be used to produce planes for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, with only modest modifications to address service-specific needs, hence the name Joint Strike Fighter. The commonality, proponents argued, would allow the three services to mount more coordinated wartime missions, and, perhaps more important, it would drive down development, assembly and maintenance costs.
That was essential because the Pentagon needs a lot of F-35s. It is supposed to replace thousands of legacy aircraft including the F-16, a workhorse of the Air Force fleet, and every fighter jet owned by the Marine Corps. The F-35 was pitched as the answer because it was supposed to be affordable — in the relative terms of fighter jets — and could be acquired in larger quantities than the F-22 Raptor, the Air Force’s new high-performance fighter.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8138 on: Mar 10th, 2013, 10:13am »
Grant Cameron's Research On UFOs and U.S. Presidents Gets Recognized By International UFO Congress
by Lee Speigel Posted: 03/09/2013 10:04 am EST Updated: 03/10/2013 4:25 am EDT
After almost 40 years of investigating the shrouded history of UFOs throughout North America, Grant Cameron is getting some recognition.
Ever since his own reported UFO sightings in Manitoba, Canada, in 1975, Cameron has doggedly researched the subject. Using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents and information, and traveling to many presidential libraries, Cameron became focused on the relationship of American presidents and UFOs.
At the recent 22nd annual International UFO Congress in Arizona, Cameron -- co-author of "UFOs, Area 51, and Government Informants" -- was honored with the researcher of the year award for his outstanding achievement in the field of UFO studies.
Cameron's websites, presidentialufo.com and hillaryclintonufo.net, offer insight about past leaders' interest in the UFO subject. If you're looking for a one-stop place for UFO records, Cameron has a trove to sift through:
•On Eleanor Roosevelt's 1950 weekend television talkshow, "Today With Mrs. Roosevelt," the outspoken former first lady showed great interest during her interview with an airline captain about a rapidly moving circular UFO with windows that crossed the path of his plane.
•Video testimony from a former New Hampshire state legislator who claimed to have seen an official briefing document to Dwight Eisenhower informing the president of an alleged continued presence of extraterrestrials in America and suggesting Eisenhower could meet with them.
•Before becoming president, Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford called for "a full-blown investigation of these mysterious flying objects" after many UFO sightings in his home state.
•Jimmy Carter described his 1969 Georgia UFO sighting and said he wasn't sure how much UFO information hadn't been released to the public.
•Ronald Reagan had two UFO sightings while he was governor of California and later, as president, told the United Nations how an alien invasion would bring the countries of the world together.
•Bill Clinton attempted to learn more about UFOs and speculated that top secret documents may have been kept from him.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of UFO material that Cameron compiled.
"I'm not trying to prove anything, one way or the other. I'm just trying to show the associations about the presidents and UFOs, and that the presidents are ordinary people like you and I and are interested in the subject."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8139 on: Mar 10th, 2013, 10:17am »
Wired photo of the day
Located 9,000 light-years away, NGC 3576 is a gigantic region of glowing gas about 100 light-years across, where stars are currently forming. The intense radiation and winds from the massive stars are shredding the clouds from which they form, creating dramatic scenery. The black area in the right middle part of the image is dark because of the presence of very dense, opaque clouds of gas and dust. The data used to make this colour-composite images were taken with ISAAC on the VLT, in the framework of observing proposal 079.C-0203(A). The image processing was done by Yuri Beletsky (ESO) and Hännes Heyer (ESO). It is based on data taken through 4 different narrow-band filters centred around 1.21, 1.71, 2.09 and 3.28 microns.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8140 on: Mar 10th, 2013, 10:20am »
New Study Validates Longevity Pathway: Findings Identify Universal Mechanism for Activating Anti-Aging Pathway
Mar. 7, 2013
— A new study demonstrates what researchers consider conclusive evidence that the red wine compound resveratrol directly activates a protein that promotes health and longevity in animal models. What's more, the researchers have uncovered the molecular mechanism for this interaction, and show that a class of more potent drugs currently in clinical trials act in a similar fashion. Pharmaceutical compounds similar to resveratrol may potentially treat and prevent diseases related to aging in people, the authors contend.
These findings are published in the March 8 issue of Science.
For the last decade, the science of aging has increasingly focused on sirtuins, a group of genes that are believed to protect many organisms, including mammals, against diseases of aging. Mounting evidence has demonstrated that resveratrol, a compound found in the skin of grapes as well as in peanuts and berries, increases the activity of a specific sirtuin,SIRT1, that protects the body from diseases by revving up the mitochondria, a kind of cellular battery that slowly runs down as we age. By recharging the batteries, SIRT1 can have profound effects on health.
Mice on resveratrol have twice the endurance and are relatively immune from effects of obesity and aging. In experiments with yeast, nematodes, bees, flies and mice, lifespan has been extended.
"In the history of pharmaceuticals, there has never been a drug that binds to a protein to make it run faster in the way that resveratrol activates SIRT1," said David Sinclair, Harvard Medical School professor of genetics and senior author on the paper. "Almost all drugs either slow or block them."
In 2006, Sinclair's group published a study showing that resveratrol could extend the lifespan of mice, and the company Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which was started by HMS researchers, was founded to make drugs more potent than resveratrol. (Sinclair is a co-founder of Sirtris, a GlaxoSmithKline company, and remains a scientific advisor. Sirtris currently has a number of sirtuin-activating compounds in clinical trials.)
But while numerous studies, from Sinclair's lab and elsewhere, underscored a direct causal link between resveratrol and SIRT1, some scientists claimed the studies were flawed.
The contention lay in the way SIRT1 was studied in vitro, using a specific chemical group attached to the targets of SIRT1 that fluoresces more brightly as SIRT1 activity increases. This chemical group, however, is synthetic and does not exist in cells or in nature, and without it the experiments did not work. As a response to this, a paper published in 2010 surmised that resveratrol's activation of SIRT1 was an experimental artifact, one that existed in the lab, but not in an actual animal. SIRT1 activity in mice was, the paper claimed, at best an indirect result of resveratrol, and perhaps even a sheer coincidence.
As a result, a debate erupted over the particular pathway that resveratrol and similar compounds affected. Does resveratrol directly activate SIRT1 or is the effect indirect? "We had six years of work telling us that this was most definitely not an artifact," said Sinclair. "Still, we needed to figure out precisely how resveratrol works. The answer was extremely elegant."
Sinclair and Basil Hubbard, then a doctoral student in the lab, teamed up with a group of researchers from both the National Institutes of Health and Sirtris Pharmaceuticals to address this question.
First, the team addressed the problem of the fluorescent chemical group. Why was it required for resveratrol to rev up SIRT1 in the test tube? Instead of dismissing the result as an artifact, the researchers surmised that the chemical might be mimicking molecules found naturally in the cell. These turned out to be a specific class of amino acid, the building blocks of proteins. In nature, there are three amino acids that resemble the fluorescent chemical group, one of which is tryptophan, a molecule abundant in turkey and notable for inducing drowsiness. When researchers repeated the experiment, swapping the fluorescing chemical group on the substrate with a tryptophan residue, resveratrol and similar molecules were once again able to activate SIRT1.
"We discovered a signature for activation that is in fact found in the cell and doesn't require these other synthetic groups," said Hubbard, first author of the study. "This was a critical result, which allowed us to bridge the gap between our biochemical and physiological findings.
"Next, we needed to identify precisely how resveratrol presses on SIRT1's accelerator," said Sinclair. The team tested approximately 2,000 mutants of the SIRT1 gene, eventually identifying one mutant that completely blocked resveratrol's effect. The particular mutation resulted in the substitution of a single amino acid residue, out of the 747 that make up SIRT1. The researchers also tested hundreds of other molecules from the Sirtris library, many of which are far more powerful than resveratrol, against this mutant SIRT1. All failed to activate it.
The authors propose a model for how resveratrol works: When the molecule binds, a hinge flips, and SIRT1 becomes hyperactive.
Although these experiments occurred in a test tube, once the researchers identified the precise location of the accelerator pedal on SIRT1 -- and how to break it -- they could test their ideas in a cell. They replaced the normal SIRT1 gene in muscle and skin cells with the accelerator-dead mutant. Now they could test precisely whether resveratrol and the drugs in development work by tweaking SIRT1 (in which case they would not work) or one of the thousands of other proteins in a cell (in which they would work). While resveratrol and the drugs tested revved up mitochondria in normal cells (an effect caused activating by SIRT1), the mutant cells were completely immune.
"This was the killer experiment," said Sinclair. "There is no rational alternative explanation other than resveratrol directly activates SIRT1 in cells. Now that we know the exact location on SIRT1 where and how resveratrol works, we can engineer even better molecules that more precisely and effectively trigger the effects of resveratrol."
The researchers plan on continuing academic-industry collaborations with the goal of bringing to fruition drugs that treat diseases associated with aging.
This research was funded by the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, the Ellison Medical Foundation, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, NIH and NIAID grants (RO1AG028730, PO1AG027211; RO1 AG019719), an NSERC fellowship, the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation, the Intramural Research Program, and NIH/NHLBI.
Sinclair is a consultant and inventor on patents licensed to Sirtris, a GSK company.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8142 on: Mar 11th, 2013, 10:05am »
Will Cloning Ever Save Endangered Animals?
Right now, cloning is not a viable conservation strategy. But some researchers remain optimistic that it will help threatened species in the future
By Ferris Jabr
In 2009 the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corp. (Embrapa) and the Brasilia Zoological Garden began scavenging and freezing blood, sperm and umbilical cord cells from roadkill and other wild animals that had died, mostly in the Cerrado savanna—an incredibly diverse collection of tropical forest and grassland ecosystems home to at least 10,000 plant species and more than 800 species of birds and mammals, some of which live nowhere else in the world. Specimens were collected from the bush dog, collared anteater, bison and gray brocket deer, among other species.
The idea was to preserve the genetic information of Brazil's endangered wildlife. One day, the organizations reasoned, they might be able to use the collected DNA to clone endangered animals and bolster dwindling populations. So far the two institutions have collected at least 420 tissue samples. Now they are collaborating on a related project that will use the DNA in these specimens to improve breeding and cloning techniques. Current cloning techniques have an average success rate of less than 5 percent, even when working with familiar species; cloning wild animals is usually less than 1 percent successful.
Any animals born during Brazil's new undertaking will live in the Brasilia Zoo, says Embrapa researcher Carlos Martins. Expanding captive populations of wild animals, he and his team hope, will discourage zoos and researchers from taking even more wild animals out of their native habitats. Martins and his colleagues have not yet decided which species they will attempt to clone but the maned wolf and jaguar are strong candidates. The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies both animals as "near threatened" on its Red List of Threatened Species, two levels below "endangered."
Many researchers agree that, at present, cloning is not a feasible or effective conservation strategy. First of all, some conservationists point out, cloning does not address the reasons that many animals become endangered in the first place—namely, hunting and habitat destruction. Even if cloning could theoretically help in truly desperate situations, current cloning techniques are simply too ineffective to make much of a difference. Compared with cloning domestic species—particularly cattle, which have been successfully cloned for years to duplicate desirable traits—cloning endangered species is far more difficult for a number of reasons.
Successful cloning generally involves at least three essential components: DNA from the animal to be cloned; a viable egg to receive that DNA; and a mother to gestate the resulting embryo. Often, hundreds of embryos and attempted pregnancies are needed to produce even a few clones. Scientists usually have a poor understanding of endangered animals' reproductive physiology, which makes it too risky to extract a sufficient number of eggs from that species or rely on females of that species to give birth to clones. Legal protections sometimes preclude threatened species from such procedures as well. To compensate, researchers fuse the DNA of an endangered species with eggs from a closely related species and select mothers from the latter. Such hybrid embryos often fail to develop properly.
Although they are keenly aware of these problems, Martins and his colleagues, as well as a few other scientists around the world, think that efforts to archive the genetic information of endangered wildlife are worthwhile. Some researchers remain optimistic that cloning will become a useful tool for conservation in the future. Optimists point to recent successes cloning wild mammals using closely related domestic species, improved techniques for preventing developmental abnormalities in a cloned embryo, better neonatal care for newborn clones and in vitro fertilization made possible by stem cells derived from frozen tissue.
The first clones
In the early 1950s, at the Lankenau Hospital Research Institute in Philadelphia, Robert Briggs and Thomas King successfully cloned 27 northern leopard frogs through a process known as nuclear transfer. The nucleus, often called the command center of the cell, contains most of a vertebrate's DNA—except for the DNA within bean-shaped, energy-generating organelles named mitochondria. Briggs and King emptied frog eggs of their nuclei, sucked nuclei out of cells in frog embryos and injected those nuclei into the empty eggs. Many of the eggs developed into tadpoles that were genetically identical to the embryos that had donated their nuclear DNA.
In 1958 John Gurdon, then at the University of Oxford, and colleagues cloned frogs with nuclear DNA extracted from the cells of fully formed tadpoles. Unlike embryonic cells, which are genetically flexible enough to become a variety of different tissues, a tadpole's cells are "differentiated"—that is, the patterns of genes they express have changed to fit the profile of a specific cell type: a skin, eye or heart cell, for example. Gurdon demonstrated that, when transplanted into an egg, nuclear DNA from a mature cell reverts to the more versatile state characteristic of DNA in an embryo's cells. This breakthrough encouraged scientists to try cloning far larger animals using DNA from adult cells.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8143 on: Mar 11th, 2013, 10:07am »
Vision Quest: Futuristic Fixes That Could Help the Blind See Again
By Greg Miller 03.11.13
Last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the first time approved a device capable of restoring sight to the blind. The Argus II (named after the 100-eyed giant of Greek mythology) uses a small electrode array surgically implanted in the eye to stimulate neurons in the retina. It's a far cry from restoring 20-20 vision, but the device allows users to see areas of high contrast, such as curbs and crosswalks. That's a huge deal for people trying to live more independent lives.
As remarkable as this is, it's just the beginning. Scientists are working on innovative new ways to restore sight to the blind using tools borrowed from materials science, chemistry, genetic engineering, and stem-cell biology. In this gallery we take a look at five more strategies that in the not-so-distant future could make blindness a thing of the past.
The first and only retinal implant approved for human use, the Argus II was developed over nearly 25 years by biomedical engineer and ophthalmologist Mark Humayun of the University of Southern California. A tiny camera in a pair of goggles worn by the user transmits the visual scene to a small video-processing unit worn on the belt. The processor sends signals back up to the goggles, which beam them wirelessly to the retinal implant. The implant's 60 electrodes stimulate neurons in the retina in a pattern that roughly matches the visual scene.
The current version enables a blind user to recognize a doorway, follow a sidewalk, or find a dropped set of keys, Humayun says. The next step will be a software upgrade that adds digital zoom capabilities to allow users to see nearby objects better. With 8x zoom, Humayun says, plates and silverware at the dinner table would become recognizable and wearers could begin to read large text.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8144 on: Mar 11th, 2013, 10:12am »
Originally published Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 11:01 PM
2 years after disaster, work resumes on nuclear plant in Japan
Japan’s utility companies put nuclear-related projects on hold after the 2011 meltdowns in Fukushima, but two of the existing reactors are back in action, and construction of another has resumed.
By Chico Harlan The Washington Post
OMA, Japan — At the remote northwestern tip of a snowy peninsula, beyond a small road of fishing shacks and empty one-story homes, 600 construction workers and engineers are building a new nuclear plant for a country still recovering from the most severe atomic accident since Chernobyl.
The main reactor building is already at its full height, though draped in heavy fabric to protect it from the wind and freezing temperatures. A 500-foot crane swivels overhead. A completed power line stretches along a nearby ridge, where it might one day carry electricity down the peninsula and back toward the Japanese mainland — a place still fiercely divided over the long-term role of nuclear power.
In the aftermath of March 2011 meltdowns in Fukushima that contaminated 700 square miles with radiation and forced 150,000 to flee their homes, most never to return, Japan’s utility companies paused nearly all nuclear-related projects. The accident sparked a global debate about nuclear power, but it was especially fierce in Japan, where all 50 operable reactors were taken offline and work was halted on three new plants where building had been under way.
But two of the existing reactors are back in action, and the resumption of construction at the Oma Nuclear Power Plant here — a project that broke ground in 2008 and was halted by the operator, J-Power, after the accident — marks the clearest sign yet that the stalemate is breaking.
The green light for the new plan was, at its root, a bet by the energy company that Japan will come to again support nuclear power, which provided some one-third of Japan’s electricity before the Fukushima crisis.
Analysts say that predicting the direction of Japan’s atomic future is difficult and that J-Power’s decision is a risky one — even with a pro-nuclear party back in power — because a majority here opposes long-term nuclear dependence.
Still, experts see modest evidence of nuclear power’s resiliency. Japan has traditionally built its nuclear plants in far-flung towns that depend on the facilities for the subsidies and tax dollars — as well as the jobs — they bring. Consumers and big businesses fear the long-term economic pain of a nuclear phaseout — increased dependence on imported fossil fuels, annual trade deficits, higher energy bills.
At the national level, Japan has cycled through three prime ministers since Fukushima — the first fiercely anti-nuclear, the next moderately anti-nuclear, the current one cautiously pro-nuclear. The previous ruling party tried last fall to plot a nuclear phaseout by the 2030s, but anti-nuclear advocates say the pledge was watered down to the point of being meaningless.
The new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, plans this month to convene the latest in a series of expert panels to help overwrite the phaseout plan, and its makeup suggests he prefers a role for nuclear power.
Japan’s anti-nuclear movement, which swelled after the Fukushima accident, could still play a role, but it is politically disorganized and has grown quieter. Individual activists cite the resumption at Oma as controversial but note that the move did not prompt mass-scale protests.
“Right now, the trend is not going in the right direction,” said Misao “Redwolf” Shinoto, a leader of the anti-nuclear movement.
By March 2011, construction at Oma was more than one-third complete, with a 2014 target date for commercial operation. But J-Power voluntarily halted the project after Fukushima. Contractors were sent home or told to find new work. Twenty-three cranes were disassembled and shipped out. Only a skeleton staff stayed behind in Oma.
And for the next 18 months, J-Power waited to see whether Japan’s central government would reconsider its long-term commitment to nuclear power.
Gradually the country’s 50 working reactors were shuttered, because of safety concerns or for routine maintenance checks. Two reactors in western Japan restarted in July, but others remain in limbo, requiring major reinforcement against earthquakes, tsunamis and other disasters.
For some anti-nuclear activists and politicians, the construction of a new reactor is particularly worrying because it gives Japan the potential to operate plants into the late 2050s, far beyond the 40-year life span of already completed reactors. Two other reactors were under construction at the time of the Fukushima accident, and at neither has building resumed.
“We should give up building new nuclear plants,” Naoto Kan, prime minister during the disaster, said during an interview in his office, a photo of a wind farm hanging on the wall. “If we cannot get rid of the risk [of an accident], the safest alternative would be a society without nuclear energy.”
J-Power’s decision came as polls showed growing support for the traditionally pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which claimed a landslide victory in December parliamentary elections and installed Abe as its prime minister. Abe on Feb. 28 said he would seek to restart existing reactors once the country fosters a “new culture of safety” with new measures enforced by a beefed-up regulatory agency.