January 30, 2012
By Ellen Nakashima and Lisa Rein
The Food and Drug Administration secretly monitored the personal e-mail of a group of its own scientists and doctors after they warned Congress that the agency was approving medical devices that they believed posed unacceptable risks to patients, government documents show.
The surveillance — detailed in e-mails and memos unearthed by six of the scientists and doctors, who filed a lawsuit against the FDA in U.S. District Court in Washington last week — took place over two years as the plaintiffs accessed their personal Gmail accounts from government computers.
Information garnered this way eventually contributed to the harassment or dismissal of all six of the FDA employees, the suit alleges. All had worked in an office responsible for reviewing devices for cancer screening and other purposes.
Copies of the e-mails show that, starting in January 2009, the FDA intercepted communications with congressional staffers and draft versions of whistleblower complaints complete with editing notes in the margins. The agency also took electronic snapshots of the computer desktops of the FDA employees and reviewed documents they saved on the hard drives of their government computers.
FDA computers post a warning, visible when users log on, that they should have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” in any data passing through or stored on the system, and that the government may intercept any such data at any time for any lawful government purpose.
But in the suit, the doctors and scientists say the government violated their constitutional privacy rights by gazing into personal e-mail accounts for the purpose of monitoring activity that they say was lawful.
“Who would have thought that they would have the nerve to be monitoring my communications to Congress?” said Robert C. Smith, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, a former radiology professor at Yale and Cornell universities who worked as a device reviewer at the FDA until his contract was not renewed in July 2010. “How dare they?”
An FDA spokeswoman, Erica Jefferson, said the agency does not comment on litigation.
But according to FDA internal documents that the scientists and doctors obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the agency told the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general that they had improperly disclosed confidential business information about the devices. The agency requested that an investigation be opened in May 2010.
July 6th, 2011
Russian scientists expect humanity to encounter alien civilisations within the next two decades, a top Russian astronomer said on Monday.
“The genesis of life is as inevitable as the formation of atoms … Life exists on other planets and we will find it within 20 years,” said Andrei Finkelstein, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Applied Astronomy Institute, according to the Interfax news agency.
Speaking at an international forum dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial life, Finkelstein said 10% of the known planets circling suns in the galaxy resemble Earth.
If water can be found there, then so can life, he said, adding that aliens would most likely resemble humans with two arms, two legs and a head.
“They may have different colour skin, but even we have that,” he said.
Finkelstein’s institute runs a programme launched in the 1960s at the height of the cold war space race to watch for and beam out radio signals to outer space.
“The whole time we have been searching for extraterrestrial civilisations, we have mainly been waiting for messages from space and not the other way,” he said.
In March a Nasa scientist caused controversy after claiming to have found tiny fossils of alien bugs inside meteorites that landed on Earth.
Richard Hoover, an astrobiologist at the US space agency’s Marshall space flight centre in Alabama, said filaments and other structures in rare meteorites appear to be microscopic fossils of extraterrestrial beings that resemble algae known as cyanobacteria.
Writing in the Journal of Cosmology, Hoover claimed that the lack of nitrogen in the samples, which is essential for life on Earth, indicated they are “the remains of extraterrestrial life forms that grew on the parent bodies of the meteorites when liquid water was present, long before the meteorites entered the Earth’s atmosphere.”
May 3, 2011
By Stephen Adams
The genes could lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating hormonal breast cancer, also known as oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer, which is responsible for four out of five cases, or 36,000 a year in Britain.
In particular, they found one gene which appears to drive the growth of tumours.
The scientists, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, said the discovery could in the future help patients whose breast cancers do not respond to drugs like tamoxifen.
They located the genes – named C6ORF96, C6ORF97 and C6ORF211 – in a very well studied part of the human genome, next to the oestrogen receptor gene, which is the main driver of hormonal breast cancer.
Dr Anita Dunbier, lead author of the study, which is published in the journal PLoS Genetics, said: “This is a surprising discovery. We found these genes in a place we thought we knew a lot about – it is like finding gold in Trafalgar Square.
March 14th, 2011
By: Bob Nichols
While the application of scientific knowledge creates technology, sometimes the technology is later redefined by science. Such is the case with terahertz (THz) radiation, the energy waves that drive the technology of the TSA: back scatter airport scanners.
Emerging THz technological applications
THz waves are found between microwaves and infrared on the electromagnetic spectrum. This type of radiation was chosen for security devices because it can penetrate matter such as clothing, wood, paper and other porous material that’s non-conducting.
This type of radiation seems less threatening because it doesn’t penetrate deeply into the body and is believed to be harmless to both people and animals.
THz waves may have applications beyond security devices. Research has been done to determine the feasibility of using the radiation to detect tumors underneath the skin and for analyzing the chemical properties of various materials and compounds. The potential marketplace for THz driven technological applications may generate many billions of dollars in revenue.
Because of the potential profits, intense research on THz waves and applications has mushroomed over the last decade.
The past several years the possible health risks from cumulative exposure to THz waves was mostly dismissed. Experts pointed to THz photons and explained that they are not strong enough to ionize atoms or molecules; nor are they able to break the chains of chemical bonds. They assert—and it is true—that while higher energy photons like ultraviolet rays and X-rays are harmful, the lower energy ones like terahertz waves are basically harmless. [Softpedia.com]
While that is true, there are other biophysics at work. Some studies have shown that THZ can cause great genetic harm, while other similar studies have shown no such evidence of deleterious affects.
Boian Alexandrov at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico recently published an abstract with colleagues, “DNA Breathing Dynamics in the Presence of a Terahertz Field ” that reveals very disturbing—even shocking—evidence that the THz waves generated by TSA scanners is significantly damaging the DNA of the people being directed through the machines, and the TSA workers that are in close proximity to the scanners throughout their workday.
From the abstracts own synopsis:
“We consider the influence of a terahertz field on the breathing dynamics of double-stranded DNA. We model the spontaneous formation of spatially localized openings of a damped and driven DNA chain, and find that linear instabilities lead to dynamic dimerization, while true local strand separations require a threshold amplitude mechanism. Based on our results we argue that a specific terahertz radiation exposure may significantly affect the natural dynamics of DNA, and thereby influence intricate molecular processes involved in gene expression and DNA replication.”
In layman’s terms what Alexandrov and his team discovered is that the resonant effects of the THz waves bombarding humans unzips the double-stranded DNA molecule. This ripping apart of the twisted chain of DNA creates bubbles between the genes that can interfere with the processes of life itself: normal DNA replication and critical gene expression.
Other studies have not discovered this deadly effect on the DNA because the research only investigated ordinary resonant effects.
Nonlinear resonance, however, is capable of such damage and this sheds light on the genotoxic effects inherent in the utilization of THz waves upon living tissue. The team emphasizes in their abstract that the effects are probabilistic rather than deterministic.
Unfortunately, DNA damage is not limited only to THz wave exposure. Other research has been done that reveals lower frequency microwaves used by cell phones and Wi-Fi cause some harm to DNA over time as well. ["Single- and double-strand DNA breaks in rat brain cells after acute exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation."] //Terrance Aym
February 15th, 2011
By: Jonathan Petre
The academic at the centre of the ‘Climategate’ affair, whose raw data is crucial to the theory of climate change, has admitted that he has trouble ‘keeping track’ of the information.
Colleagues say that the reason Professor Phil Jones has refused Freedom of Information requests is that he may have actually lost the relevant papers.
Professor Jones told the BBC yesterday there was truth in the observations of colleagues that he lacked organisational skills, that his office was swamped with piles of paper and that his record keeping is ‘not as good as it should be’.
The data is crucial to the famous ‘hockey stick graph’ used by climate change advocates to support the theory.
Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.
And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.
The admissions will be seized on by sceptics as fresh evidence that there are serious flaws at the heart of the science of climate change and the orthodoxy that recent rises in temperature are largely man-made.
Professor Jones has been in the spotlight since he stepped down as director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit after the leaking of emails that sceptics claim show scientists were manipulating data.
The raw data, collected from hundreds of weather stations around the world and analysed by his unit, has been used for years to bolster efforts by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to press governments to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
Following the leak of the emails, Professor Jones has been accused of ‘scientific fraud’ for allegedly deliberately suppressing information and refusing to share vital data with critics.
Discussing the interview, the BBC’s environmental analyst Roger Harrabin said he had spoken to colleagues of Professor Jones who had told him that his strengths included integrity and doggedness but not record-keeping and office tidying.
Mr Harrabin, who conducted the interview for the BBC’s website, said the professor had been collating tens of thousands of pieces of data from around the world to produce a coherent record of temperature change.
That material has been used to produce the ‘hockey stick graph’ which is relatively flat for centuries before rising steeply in recent decades.
According to Mr Harrabin, colleagues of Professor Jones said ‘his office is piled high with paper, fragments from over the years, tens of thousands of pieces of paper, and they suspect what happened was he took in the raw data to a central database and then let the pieces of paper go because he never realised that 20 years later he would be held to account over them’.
Asked by Mr Harrabin about these issues, Professor Jones admitted the lack of organisation in the system had contributed to his reluctance to share data with critics, which he regretted.
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February 4th, 2011
By: Harriet McLeod
In a small laboratory on an upper floor of the basic science building at the Medical University of South Carolina, Vladimir Mironov, M.D., Ph.D., has been working for a decade to grow meat.
A developmental biologist and tissue engineer, Dr. Mironov, 56, is one of only a few scientists worldwide involved in bioengineering “cultured” meat.
It’s a product he believes could help solve future global food crises resulting from shrinking amounts of land available for growing meat the old-fashioned way … on the hoof.
Growth of “in-vitro” or cultured meat is also under way in the Netherlands, Mironov told Reuters in an interview, but in the United States, it is science in search of funding and demand.
The new National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, won’t fund it, the National Institutes of Health won’t fund it, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration funded it only briefly, Mironov said.
“It’s classic disruptive technology,” Mironov said. “Bringing any new technology on the market, average, costs $1 billion. We don’t even have $1 million.”
Director of the Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Center in the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology at the medical university, Mironov now primarily conducts research on tissue engineering, or growing, of human organs.
“There’s a yuck factor when people find out meat is grown in a lab. They don’t like to associate technology with food,” said Nicholas Genovese, 32, a visiting scholar in cancer cell biology working under a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals three-year grant to run Dr. Mironov’s meat-growing lab.
“But there are a lot of products that we eat today that are considered natural that are produced in a similar manner,” Genovese said.
“There’s yogurt, which is cultured yeast. You have wine production and beer production. These were not produced in laboratories. Society has accepted these products.”
If wine is produced in winery, beer in a brewery and bread in a bakery, where are you going to grow cultured meat?
In a “carnery,” if Mironov has his way. That is the name he has given future production facilities.
He envisions football field-sized buildings filled with large bioreactors, or bioreactors the size of a coffee machine in grocery stores, to manufacture what he calls “charlem” — “Charleston engineered meat.”
January 18th, 2011
By: Lauren Frayer
They’ve been extinct for about 10,000 years, but woolly mammoths could be back on Earth in just five years, according to Japanese scientists who plan to use frozen DNA to resurrect the behemoth.
Last summer, researchers plucked skin and muscle tissue from an ancient mammoth’s carcass that was found preserved under permafrost in Siberia. A nearly complete body of one of the animals was found there and has since been kept in a special freezer in a Russian research lab.
Researchers from Japan’s Kinki University have found a way to isolate DNA from the frozen mammoth’s tissue. Now they plan to insert that DNA into the egg cells of a normal, modern African elephant and then plant the resulting embryo into the elephant’s womb.
Elephants are the closest contemporary relative to ancient woolly mammoths, which are believed to have died out during the last Ice Age. Zoos across Japan were asked to donate their female elephants’ eggs, harvested from the animals when they died.
After a 600-day gestation period, the elephant would give birth to a baby mammoth. That baby would be a clone of that frozen mammoth found in the Siberian tundra and believed to have died more than 10,000 years ago. The baby would not have any genetic relation to the surrogate mother that actually gives birth to it.
The whole process will take about five years to complete. It’ll be about two years before a mammoth embryo is ready to be planted into the surrogate elephant, the lead Japanese researcher, Akira Iritani, told London’s Daily Telegraph.
Russian and American scientists are also assisting on the project, with Russian archaeologists providing the mammoth tissue samples and U.S. in vitro fertilization experts helping to create the mammoth embryo, CNN reported.
Unlike dinosaurs and other extinct animals whose remains have been fossilized, bodies of several mammoths were frozen under ice, preserving their muscle, skin and, most important, their DNA. The massive creatures are believed to have once grazed in large herds across Asia and North America. Whatever caused their species to die out is a huge point of contention among paleontologists. Some believe it was the onset of human hunters or climate change that led to the mammoths’ demise.
In 2008, biologists at another Japanese institute succeeded in cloning a mouse from cells of another mouse that had been kept in a deep freeze for 16 years. It was the first such achievement in the world, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
Iritani told the newspaper that he and his colleagues are still discussing whether to put the baby mammoth on display to the public, if their experiment is successful.
“After the mammoth is born, we’ll examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors,” he said.
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June 10, 2010
By David Gutierrez
(NaturalNews) A former British agricultural government advisor has said that organic farming should embrace genetically modified (GM) crops as a way to make large-scale agriculture more environmentally sustainable.
Gordon Conway, a professor of international development at Imperial College London, told the Times of London that organic agriculture focuses excessively on what is “natural.” Referring to the exclusion of synthetic technologies from the definition of organic as “rigid,” he said that GM technology should be used to increase crop yields while limiting ecological damage.
Conway’s argument, as reported by the Times, did not appear to address the concerns that critics of biotechnology have raised with GM crops. Conway stated that GM agriculture is just as “natural” as conventional plant breeding, disregarding the argument that bypassing evolutionary processes completely is more likely to have unforeseen consequences. He stated that herbicide-resistant crops have lower carbon footprints because they require less tilling of the soil, apparently ignoring evidence that such crops lead to increased use of toxic chemicals.