Windsor Humanist Society

January 26, 2008

Ebola Virus Modified To Speed Drug Development

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U.S. researchers have devised a way to genetically disarm the deadly Ebola virus in a development that could speed research into a vaccine against the bug or drugs to treat people who have been infected with it, a study released said.

The investigators discovered that by removing a single gene from the virus, they can prevent it from Ebola Virusreplicating or multiplying, effectively neutralizing the virus and making it much safer to study.

The virus has eight genes. One of those, VP30, makes a protein that enables it to replicate in host cells.

Without VP30, the virus cannot grow.

“The altered virus does not grow in any normal cells,” said Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor of pathobiological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.

The Ebola virus first emerged in 1976, with outbreaks in Zaïre and Sudan. Subsequent, sporadic outbreaks have occurred in Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Uganda.

Humans infected with one of three strains of the bug can develop Ebola hemorrhagic fever, an illness characterized by fever, diarrhea, vomiting and in some cases internal and external bleeding.

There is no cure and mortality rates are high — anywhere from 50 to 90 per cent of those infected die from the disease.

The latest development will enable many more laboratories to study the exotic virus, and explore options for vaccine development and screening for antiviral compounds, the paper said.

“This is an emerging virus and it’s highly lethal, but because (of the biocontainment protocols) knowledge of this virus is limited,” said Dr. Kawaoka.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a January 26, 2008 article by in The Windsor Star

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January 25, 2008

Looming Water Shortage a Top Priority: UN

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the world on Thursday to put the looming crisis over water shortages at the top of the global agenda this year and take action to prevent conflicts over scarce supplies.

He reminded business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum that the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan was touched off by drought — Water Shortage Imageand he said shortages of water contribute to poverty and social hardship in Somalia, Chad, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Colombia and Kazakhstan.

“Too often, where we need water we find guns instead,” Secretary-General Ban said. “Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon.”

He said a recent report identified 46 countries with 2.7 billion people where climate change and water-related crises create “a high risk of violent conflict” and a further 56 countries, with 1.2 billion people “are at high risk of violent conflict.” The report was by International Alert, an independent peacebuilding organization based in London.

Secretary-General Ban told the VIP audience that he spent 2007 “banging my drum on climate change,” an issue the Forum also had as one of its main themes last year. He welcomed the focus on water this year saying the session should be named: “Water is running out.”

“We need to adapt to this reality, just as we do to climate change,” he said. “There is still enough water for all of us — but only so long as we can keep it clean, use it more wisely, and share it fairly.”

Secretary-General Ban said he will invite world leaders to “a critical high-level meeting” in September to focus on meeting UN development goals — including cutting by half the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015 — particularly in Africa.

Secretary-General Ban’s call for global action on water got strong support from several top business executives.

“Water is today’s issue,” said Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical Co., the world’s second largest chemical company. “It is the oil of this century, not a question.”

E. Neville Isdell, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Co., said “this is an issue which ranks next to climate change. … However, water has got lost as part of the climate change debate.”

Mr. Isdell urged the world to “raise the issue of water to the level that we have managed to raise the issue of climate change.

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman and CEO of Nestlé SA, the world’s biggest food and drink company, said “time is still on our side but time is running out, just like water is running out.”

Secretary-General Ban urged top business executives to join a UN project to help poor people gain access to clean water — and he praised Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical and Nestlé for their programmes and their efforts to be part of the water solution.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, JimmyMac, after a January 25, 2008 article  over The Associated Press wires

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January 24, 2008

Scientists Create Bacterium DNA – Artificial Life One Step Closer After Bacteria Genome Synthesis

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Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute, a controversial research group dedicated to creating artificial life, moved one step closer to their goal by synthesizing a genome of a bacterium, a new study reports.

The researchers built the longest artificial genome ever made using four chemicals that make up DNA, adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine, according to the study published today DNAby the journal Science. Scientists compare the sequences of those bases to identify genome differences among living creatures, from bacteria to humans.

Scientists hope to use artificial genomes to create bacteria designed to take on specific jobs, such as producing methane. Previously, the same scientists inserted the genomes of one bacterium into the cells of another. If they can use that method to insert the artificial genome into a cell, they’ll have created the first new life form controlled by a man-made genome.

A genome is the operating system of the cell,” said Hamilton Smith, a researcher at the Rockville, Maryland institute and study author, in an audio interview published by the journal. “I like the analogy with the computer. You have an operating system which by itself doesn’t do anything, but when you install it on a computer, then you have a working computer system. It’s the same with the genome. The two together make a living, reproducing cell.”

The latest research uses a new technique that may help scientist construct even bigger DNA molecules from chemically created pieces, according to the report. The scientists designed fragments of DNA to build 101 segments of 5,000 to 7,000 base pairs, the molecules that form the rungs of the DNA ladder. They connected the segments into four strands, which they inserted into yeast for the final connections.

The final chromosome was then checked against the sequence of the natural DNA to confirm that it was an accurate replica. The bacterial genome uses 582,970 base pairs. The longest previous stretch of artificial DNA was 32,000 base pairs, according to the institute.

Dr. Venter, 61, founded the lab to research ways to use artificial genes to build new organisms that could turn sunlight into fuel, clean up industrial waste, or monitor patients for the first signs of disease. The institute has made virus genomes, which are much smaller, in previous studies.

“It’s a wonderful breakthrough that could change the way we think about gene therapy,” said David Magnus, co-director of Stanford university’s Center for Biomedical Ethics. “It would it allow us potentially to create chromosomes exactly the same as a patient’s chromosome but with genes that have been corrected. This could be a future treatment for disease.”

Creating so-called designer organisms like this, and the potential to profit from them, are sparking both excitement and debate among scientists and venture capital investors.

“Venter is claiming bragging rights to the world’s longest length of synthetic DNA, but size isn’t everything,” said Jim Thomas, a program manager at ETC Group, an environmental advocacy group in Ottawa, in an e-mail. “The important question isn’t ‘how long?’ but ‘how wise?’ Regulatory oversight is stalled and there has been no meaningful or inclusive discussion on how to govern synthetic biology in a safe and just way.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a January 24, 2008 article by Tom Randall and Bob Drummond in Bloomberg News

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January 6, 2008

Windsor Muslims Return From “Life-Changing” Religious Trip to Mecca – “Pray for Windsor” While There

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Mohammed Nazzali spent months getting ready for his first hajj pilgrimage, but nothing could have prepared him for the rare spiritual experience he shared with hundreds of thousands of other Muslims.

Local Muslims Back From Mecca“It’s something that you can’t describe,” the Windsor resident said of his recent trip to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. “You have to be there.”

Mr. Nazzali estimated that about 60 local Muslims attended the hajj, the fifth pillar of Islamic faith, which began Dec. 18. He travelled to Mecca with a Windsor Mosque group of more than 20 people, led by Abdelkader Tayebi and Fowzi Chams. Another group from Windsor attended as well, while other local Muslims travelled with groups from Toronto and elsewhere.

Between two and three million Muslims from around the world gather in Mecca for the hajj every year.

All able-bodied Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime if they can afford to.

The hajj involves a series of rituals, including walking counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba, a large cube-shaped structure in Mecca toward which Muslims pray. Pilgrims also drink from the holy Zam Zam well and perform a symbolic stoning of the devil.

“It’s a beautiful experience that brings you a feeling of belonging to the human kind,”
said Mr. Tayebi, a Windsor Muslim community leader. “And that is manifested in the most awesome way.”

During the hajj, men are required to wear the ihram, two white unstitched sheets that symbolize equality.

“You couldn’t tell who was rich and who was poor,” Mr. Nazzali said. “We were all the same.

“There were Muslims from all over — Australia, U.S., Canada, China…”

Despite language barriers, the Windsorites managed to communicate with fellow pilgrims and carry out the rituals together.

They made connections with strangers but also encountered familiar faces in the sea of worshippers.

Mr. Tayebi said he and other members of the Windsor Mosque group were commonly asked about the Muslim experience in Canada. But most conversations didn’t focus on the difficulties Muslims face in the post 9-11 Western world, said Mr. Nazzali.

“Because you’re happy, excited … in a comfortable zone and you want to focus on that,” he said. “(The hajj) softens you.”

The four-week trip was the eighth pilgrimage in a row for Chams.

“This year was the best,” he said. “Saudi Arabia did a really good job of organizing everything.”

Crowd control is a main concern during the hajj because hundreds of people get trampled and hurt, sometimes fatally, every year. Mr. Nazzali said his group did not witness any serious incidents, but admitted the trip was physically demanding, especially on older people.

Mr. Tayebi said he was pleased to see a large number of young Muslims during the hajj.

“It was extremely rewarding and encouraging,” he said, adding that more and more local youth are expressing a desire to go to Mecca.

“Another important thing is that we came back with a stronger group bond. And we prayed for Windsor. We prayed for everybody here.”
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a January 6, 2008 article by Sonja Puzic in The Windsor Star

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