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Oklahoma lawmaker wants to stop Pepsi from using aborted fetus cells in soda flavoring research
Ethan A. Huff
Thursday, January 26, 2012
In order to simulate various flavors in processed foods, some food manufacturers are actually using aborted fetal cells to test and produce these artificial chemical enhancers that millions of Americans consume every single day. Concerned about the ethical and moral implications of such a process, Oklahoma Senator Ralph Shortey has introduced new legislation to prohibit this practice from occurring in his home state.
Senomyx, a California-based biotechnology company that specializes in developing food flavorings, is one such company that uses aborted embryonic cells to create "isolated human taste receptors," which are used in the production of food chemicals. And this company has partnered with several major food manufacturers, including Kraft, PepsiCo, and Nestle.
"There is a potential that there are companies that are using aborted human babies in their research and development of basically enhancing flavor for artificial flavors," Sen. Shortey is quoted as saying by KRMG News Talk Radio. "What I am saying is that if it does happen then we are not going to allow it to manufacture here."
According to Children of God for Life (CGL), a pro-life watchdog group, Senomyx uses HEK 293 to produce its artificial flavor enhancing chemicals. HEK 293 is code for human embryonic kidney cells that are manipulated to produce taste receptors that express a specific protein known as the G protein. But CGL says the company could also use animal, insect, or other more acceptably-derived cells instead, and still procure the same results.
While aborted fetal cells are not necessarily in the final products made by PepsiCo, Kraft, or Nestle, such cells appear to needlessly play a part in the production of artificial flavor chemicals used by these companies. And since there are viable alternatives to this questionable practice, Sen. Shortey, CGL, and many others are calling for its end.
As we reported previously, the Campbell Soup company used to be a Senomyx partner until CGL contacted them about the fetal cell issue. Shortly thereafter, reports indicate that Campbell's officially cut ties with Senomyx, which in 2003 filed a patent for "recombinant (genetically modified) methods for expressing a functional sweet taste receptor."
Sources for this article include:
Activist Erin Brockovich looking into teens' mystery ailment
Sharon Jayson, and Elizabeth Weise
Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has started her own investigation into the mysterious illness that's caused symptoms of facial tics and verbal outbursts among teenagers in Le Roy, N.Y., in light of new evidence about a toxic chemical spill more than 40 years ago that caused water and ground contamination nearby.
Brockovich gained notoriety with a 2000 movie (Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts) about her efforts to expose a toxic chemical coverup in California.
She told USA TODAY on Thursday that after families of affected teens and other community members asked her to look into the Le Roy case, she has spent the past week studying federal and state reports of a 1970 train derailment that spilled cyanide and an industrial solvent called trichloroethene within 3 miles of the high school attended by the 12 girls who started reporting neurological symptoms last fall. Three other teens, including one boy, are reportedly experiencing similar symptoms.
A statement issued by the school district said "medical and environmental investigations have not uncovered any evidence that would link the neurological symptoms to anything in the environment or of an infectious nature." An indoor-air-quality report and a mold report are posted on the school district's website.
"When I read reports like this that the New York Department of Health and state agencies were well-aware of the spill and you don't do water testing or vapor extraction tests, you don't have an all-clear," says Brockovich, of Los Angeles.
According to a 1999 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, one ton of cyanide crystals spilled to the ground in the derailment, along with 35,000 gallons of trichloroethene. The crystals were removed but the trichloroethene was absorbed into the ground.
Brockovich says she has received about 100 e-mails regarding the girls' symptoms and the diagnosis of stress-related "conversion disorder."
"We don't have all the answers, but we are suspicious," Brockovich says. "They have not ruled everything out yet. The community asked us to help and this is what we do."
The same but different
Study: Sugar & HFCS Not As Identical As Some Would Have You Believe
By Chris Morran on January 27, 2012
While the corn industry waits on the FDA to decide whether or not it can have high fructose corn sugar (HFCS) relabeled with the marketing-friendly "corn sugar" label, it continues to push home its assertion that the human body reacts the same, whether the sweetener is HFCS or table sugar. But a new study claims that just isn't the case.
"Although both sweeteners are often considered the same in terms of their biological effects, this study demonstrates that there are subtle differences," says co-author Dr. Richard Johnson of the University of Colorado. "Soft drinks containing HFCS result in slightly higher blood levels of fructose than sucrose-sweetened drinks."
Their study looked at 40 men and women who each consumed 24 ounces of soft drinks sweetened with either HFCS or sucrose. Those who drank the HFCS beverage demonstrated higher levels of uric acid and increased systolic blood pressure.
From the abstract of the study, published in the appropriately titled journal, Metabolism: "Compared with sucrose, HFCS leads to greater fructose systemic exposure and significantly different acute metabolic effects."
While the study shows that there appears to be an immediate difference in how one's body processes the two sweeteners, researchers say that the next step is to study the long-term differences, if any, between sugar and HFCS.
The "corn sugar" name is a topic of dispute between the corn industry and the sugar refiners of the nation. The two parties are currently involved in a lawsuit over the Corn Refiners Association's ad campaign, which Big Sugar called "false and misleading." Big Corn says the lawsuit is an attempt to "stifle free speech."
Meanwhile, it has been reported that some folks at the FDA are none-too-taken by the Corn Sugar campaign, considering that the regulators have yet to rule on the name and already have "corn sugar" on the books as an acceptable name for dextrose.
Samsung and Apple Now Account for 86% of Smartphone Industry Growth
Samsung and Apple have proven to be the only smartphone makers hanging strong in a highly-competitive market.
Jan 27, 2012
Does a rising tide lift all ships?
In some cases maybe, but in the smartphone-manufacturing world, it's becoming increasingly apparent that two companies are overpowering the competition.
Now, we all know that the two superpowers in smartphone operating systems are Apple's iOS and Google's Android.
Apple's iPhones are obviously the only phones using iOS, and as evidenced by the company's spectacular fiscal first-quarter earnings report, they are selling like crazy. To be exact, Apple sold a whopping 37 million units during the December 2011 quarter, a year-over-year increase of 128%.
Over in Android territory, results for the hardware makers haven't been hot across the board. Motorola Mobility, which is set to be acquired by Google, lowered fourth-quarter guidance in early January as its smartphone sales rose by just 8.2%. And Motorola hasn't been the only Android smartphone maker to disappoint. Former hotshot HTC also saw dramatically slowing sales through the holiday season.
Elsewhere in the industry, Research In Motion remains on the ropes, and Nokia's still losing share.
However, Korea electronics giant Samsung just proved that Apple still has one tough competitor left on the hardware side, and the numbers show that the two companies are dividing the smartphone world up between them.
Samsung just reported its fourth-quarter earnings results, and despite some weakness in areas like LCD panels, Samsung is more than hanging tough within the smartphone world.
Samsung's Android-powered Galaxy phone line appears to have squeezed out much of its Android competition, allowing it to survive the assault of the iPhone 4S, which was the first iPhone to debut in the fourth quarter.
Samsung didn't report unit sales numbers, but the research firm Strategy Analytics estimated that Samsung sold 36.5 million smartphones in Q4, equaling a 241% year-over-year increase. In fact, while Apple sold more units, Samsung's growth rate was actually far greater.
Regardless, Apple's and Samsung's combined fourth-quarter market share was 47.4%, up from 26.7% the year before.
Put another way, as the two titans' sales rose a combined 173%, versus a miserable 10% for the remaining players.
Put a third way, the two companies accounted for an insane 86% of the industry's unit growth in the quarter.
Which of these guys will ultimately win?
It doesn't really matter. Given how fast the rest of the competition is falling off, there's plenty of money for them to split.
Asteroid Threat to Earth Sparks Global 'NEOShield' Project
26 January 2012
They can be mean and nasty, and they can mess up our planet big time.
They are near-Earth objects, dubbed NEOs, celestial flotsam such as asteroids or comets that can, and have, scored direct hits on our humble home planet.
A new international consortium has been launched to address the impact threat to Earth, but, more pointedly, to organize, prepare and implement mitigation measures.
Called NEOShield, the European Commission is providing a significant amount of euros to support the initiative. The undertaking consists of research institutes, universities and industrial partners in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Spain, as well as in the U.S. and Russia.
The primary aim of NEOShield is to investigate in detail the three most promising asteroid threat-reduction techniques: kinetic impactors, gravity tractors, and the explosive blast-deflection method.
That's the crux of the undertaking as spelled out by Alan Harris, a senior scientist and NEOShield project leader at the German Aerospace Center's Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin-Adlershof, Germany.
The DLR is the coordinating partner for the multiyear NEOShield project and is set to roll out the plan this week.
"The scientific side of this will include the analysis of observational data on NEOs and laboratory experiments in which projectiles are fired at asteroid surface analog materials with different compositions, densities, porosities and structures," Harris told SPACE.com. "We need to understand how the momentum transfer from a kinetic impactor to an asteroid depends on the physical characteristics of the asteroid."
In this week's meeting, specialists from Europe, for example, will draw upon their past kinetic impactor work on the European Space Agency's study of a mission tagged as Don Quijote an idea for an asteroid-deflection precursor mission drawn up several years ago.
NEOShield work will employ sophisticated computer modeling and simulations. Those will enable researchers to scale up knowledge and apply that information to a real-case scenario that calls for a spacecraft-deployed impactor slamming into a real asteroid in space...
Pythons have stranglehold on Florida Everglades ecosystem
It sounded like a joke when the news first hit in 2000: Giant Burmese pythons were invading the Everglades. Now scientists have measured the real impact of the arrival of this voracious species, and the news is troubling.
In areas where the pythons have established themselves, marsh rabbits and foxes can no longer be found. Sightings of raccoons are down 99.3%, opossums 98.9% and white-tailed deer 94.1%, according to a paper out Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"What if the stock market had declined that much? Think of the adjectives you'd use for that," says Gordon Rodda, an invasive-species specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) who published research in 2008 showing that Burmese pythons could conceivably expand across the southern portion of the United States.
"Pythons are wreaking havoc on one of America's most beautiful, treasured and naturally bountiful ecosystems," says USGS Director Marcia McNutt.
Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia, but accidental and deliberate release of snakes kept as pets in Florida have allowed them to find a new home there. They can grow up to 16 feet long and weigh up to 150 pounds. The first reports of Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades began in the 1980s; a breeding population wasn't confirmed there until 2000.
Since then, the numbers of pythons sighted and captured in the Everglades have risen dramatically. According to Linda Friar with Everglades National Park, park personnel have captured or killed 1,825 pythons since 2000.
Now researchers have shown that just as python populations established themselves, the native mammals of the regions began to decline severely.
People working in the Everglades knew they were seeing fewer mammals, but only when the hard numbers came in was it clear just how devastating the decline has been.
"These were once very common animals in the Everglades, and now they're gone," says Michael Dorcas, a professor of biology at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., and lead author on the paper.
The pythons aren't a danger to humans. The only known python attacks on humans in Florida have involved snakes kept as at-home pets, says Dorcas, who also authored a recent book, Invasive Pythons in the United States. Now coyotes and Florida panthers are believed to be affected, as well as birds and alligators.
The decrease in mammals is highest where python populations have been established longest, and more mammals are being sighted in areas where the pythons have only recently been documented.
Although scientists can't say conclusively that the decline is a result of python activity, there's good anecdotal evidence. "Last October, we found a 15-foot snake with an 80-pound doe inside it," Dorcas says.
The researchers base their findings on systematic nighttime road surveys done in the Everglades that counted both live and road-killed animals. Ten researchers traveled a total of nearly 39,000 miles from 2003 to 2011 and compared findings with similar surveys conducted in 1996 and 1997.
Mammals in Florida have no natural fear of large snakes because they haven't existed in the area for about 16 million years, when a boa-like snake that used to live there became extinct.
The loss of the mammals is devastating not only to those populations, but to all the animals that rely on them. It's possible that the decline in bobcats, foxes, coyotes and panthers is linked to the disappearance of their typical prey: rabbits, raccoons and opossums.
Pythons also are eating lots of birds. More than 25% of pythons found in the Everglades contain bird remains.
They also happily eat pets, including cats, dogs and some farm animals. Roosters and geese have been found in their stomachs.
And there's not much that can be done. These snakes are "notoriously hard to find and very secretive," Dorcas says. Because much of South Florida is a vast wilderness, the possibility of exterminating or even suppressing them doesn't seem promising, he says. "It's an ecological mess, and exactly what's going to happen down the road remains to be seen."
On Jan. 23, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started the paperwork to ban the importation and interstate transportation of Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons and the yellow anaconda because they threaten the Everglades and other sensitive ecosystems.
These snakes are being listed as injurious species under the Lacey Act. Some reptile breeders and collectors, along with Republican lawmakers, argued the restriction constitutes job-killing red tape.
How far the snakes might expand their range is unknown. Research in 2008 showed they could possibly survive across the entire southern United States.
And research this month showed they could survive in saltwater, which had previously been believed to be a barrier to their expansion.
"All of Florida and much of the coastal plain of the southeastern United States is suitable habitat," Dorcas says.
Mind-reading program translates brain activity into words
Tuesday 31 January 2012
Scientists have picked up fragments of people's thoughts by decoding the brain activity caused by words that they hear.
The remarkable feat has given researchers fresh insight into how the brain processes language, and raises the tantalising prospect of devices that can return speech to the speechless.
Though in its infancy, the work paves the way for brain implants that could monitor a person's thoughts and speak words and sentences as they imagine them.
Such devices could transform the lives of thousands of people who lose the ability to speak as a result of a stroke or other medical conditions.
Experiments on 15 patients in the US showed that a computer could decipher their brain activity and play back words they heard, though at times the words were difficult to recognise.
"This is exciting in terms of the basic science of how the brain decodes what we hear," said Robert Knight, a senior member of the team and director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.
"Potentially, the technique could be used to develop an implantable prosthetic device to aid speaking, and for some patients that would be wonderful. The next step is to test whether we can decode a word when a person imagines it. That might sound spooky, but this could really help patients. Perhaps in 10 years it will be as common as grandmother getting a new hip," Knight said...