Thursday, November 20, 2008

Did an asteroid kill Mars' magnetic field?

Image: Mars
Around 4.2 billion years ago, Mars was bombarded with dozens of massive asteroids. One of those impacts, say scientists, may have been responsible for the destruction of the planet's magnetic field.
Deep in Mars' past, an asteroid struck the planet with such titanic force that it could've killed off the planet's entire magnetic field, according to a new study.

When the Red Planet formed, it is thought to have been much like a young Earth — hot, full of water, and roaring with a molten, churning core and mantle. The liquid rock and metal formed a magnetic dynamo that helped protect its surface and thick atmosphere from cosmic radiation.

Then, beginning around 4.2 billion years ago, it was suddenly pummeled with at least 20 asteroids between 124 and 311 miles in diameter, each leaving a crater. By contrast, the object thought to have killed of the dinosaurs on Earth is estimated to have been five to six miles wide.

"These things were enormous," James Roberts of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said. "You would not want to be around when one of these hit."

One of the last giant meteors blew a hole 1,864 miles wide in the planet, creating Utopia basin in the planet's northern hemisphere. At about 4.1 billion years old, Utopia is the oldest crust on the planet that doesn't show signs of magnetism, meaning the rocks must have cooled at a time when there was no magnetic field.

Roberts and a team of researchers calculate that the Utopia impact could have done in the magnetic dynamo, which was already flagging as the planet cooled. It injected approximately one trillion megatons of energy into the Martian mantle, or close to 10 trillion times the explosive energy of the nuclear bomb used at Hiroshima.

The heat spread in an instant as a supersonic shockwave rippled through the planet. Then, over the next 30 million years, the overheated mantle acted as a blanket for the core, preventing it from circulating enough to maintain a magnetic field.

"The core has to have organized convection to form a dynamo," Mario Acuna of NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland, said. "If you disturb it with an impact, it will shut off."

As the mantle cooled form the impact, there wasn't enough energy in the core to restart a dynamo from scratch, Roberts reasons, and so the magnetic field was gone forever.

"Earth probably took the same kind of punishment," Roberts said. "But it's primarily a function of size. Earth has more than 10 times more heat than Mars, and much more vigorous convection."

© 2008 Discovery Channel

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NASA tests 'interplanetary internet'

NASA has successfuly conducted a first test of a deep space communications network modelled on the internet.

"This is the first step in creating a totally new space communications capability, an interplanetary internet,'' Adrian Hooke, NASA's manager of space-networking architecture, technology and standards, said.

The US space agency said Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers used software called Disruption-Tolerant Networking, or DTN, to transmit dozens of space images to and from a NASA spacecraft some 32.4 million kilometers from Earth.

NASA said the software protocol, which must be able to withstand delays, disruptions and disconnections in space, was designed in partnership with Vint Cerf, a vice president at search giant Google.

DTN sends information using a method that differs from the normal Internet's Transmission-Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP, communication suite, which Cerf co-designed, NASA said.

Unlike TCP/IP, DTN does not assume a continuous end-to-end connection, NASA said, noting that glitches can happen when a spacecraft moves behind a planet, or when solar storms and long communication delays occur.

It said the delay, for example, in sending or receiving data from Mars takes between three-and-a-half minutes and 20 minutes at the speed of light.

NASA said that if a destination path cannot be found, data packets are not discarded but kept by each network node until it can communicate safely with another node.

Eventually, it said, the information is delivered to the end user.

"In space today, an operations team must manually schedule each link and generate all the commands to specify which data to send, when to send it, and where to send it," said Leigh Torgerson, manager of the DTN Experiment Operations Center at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"With standardised DTN, this can all be done automatically."

NASA said engineers had begun a month-long series of DTN demonstrations in October using NASA's Epoxi spacecraft, which is on a mission to encounter Comet Hartley 2 in two years, as a Mars data-relay orbiter.

It said there are 10 nodes in the early interplanetary network - the Epoxi spacecraft itself and nine on the ground at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory simulating Mars landers, orbiters and ground mission-operations centres.

NASA said a test of DTN software loaded on board the International Space Station would begin next summer.

It said an "interplanetary internet" could enable many new types of space missions including complex flights involving multiple spacecraft and ensure reliable communications for astronauts on the the moon.

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Big cat fossil found in North Sea

By Paul Rincon

Sabre tooth reconstruction (Dick Mol)
Sabre-tooths roamed an ancient landscape now subsumed by the North Sea

The partial leg bone of a sabre-toothed cat has been dredged from the seabed by a trawler in the North Sea.

The rare fossil, which is between one and two million years old and was found near the UK coast, is from a type of sabre-tooth called a scimitar cat.

According to palaeontologist Dick Mol, it belonged to an animal that was as heavy as a small horse.

It is the furthest north this species has ever been found, and the first time remains have come from the North Sea.

The dry steppe landscape, criss-crossed by rivers, where animals such as the scimitar cat once roamed was flooded at the end of the last Ice Age.

It was like the Serengeti, but in our back garden
Dick Mol, Natural History Museum in Rotterdam
The fossil remains of more common extinct beasts such as the mammoth are routinely recovered from the sea by trawlers.

Beam trawlers use special gear to touch the sea bed, capturing flatfish lying in the sand. But this also stirs up shallow, buried fossil remains which can end up in the nets.

In the Netherlands, trawlermen are paid up to 100 euros for such discoveries.

Mr Mol, who is based at the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam, said the partial humerus belonged to a "huge" (probably male) cat that weighed about 400kg (881lbs).

Homotherium fossil (Natural History Museum Rotterdam)
Two views of the fossil, netted by a trawler in the North Sea

The fossil, which was encrusted with tiny, coral-like sea creatures called bryozoans, was brought ashore by the owner of the Dutch trawler TX 1.

He then handed it to a collector, who passed it on to Mr Mol for identification.

It had been netted in the southern bend of the North Sea, an area known to yield fossils from every period of the Pleistocene. This epoch lasted either from 2.6 or 1.8 million years ago (depending on which expert you ask) until 10,000 years ago.

Warm spell

Dick Mol said the weight of the bone was an immediate indication that much of its organic matter had been converted to minerals.

Mammoth bone (Hans (J.J.) Wildschut)
The remains of Ice Age animals are routinely netted by Dutch trawlers
The heavy mineralisation suggested it dated to the early part of the Pleistocene.

Other Early Pleistocene animals recovered from this part of the North Sea include elephant-like mastodon, southern mammoth, hippopotamus, horses, bears and giant deer.

Mr Mol and his colleague Wilrie van Logchem compared the big cat with specimens from the site of Untermassfeld in Germany, where a very similar complement of Early Pleistocene animals has been found.

They identified the find as a fragment of front leg from the scimitar cat Homotherium crenatidens.

The Rotterdam-based researcher said the sabre-tooth could have inhabited this part of North-West Europe during a warm spell between glaciations.

Top predator

"The fauna we are dealing with - the southern mammoth, the hippo, the giant deer and this sabre-toothed cat - were adapted to a savannah-like environment," Mr Mol told BBC News.

"[The cat] was probably living in the forest that bordered on the river banks."

He added: "It was like the Serengeti, but in our back garden."

Homotherium fossil (Natural History Museum Rotterdam)
The researchers compared the fossil with others from the Early Pleistocene
Analysis of the North Sea fossil suggested it was probably bigger than other H. crenatidens specimens known from Untermassfeld and from the Massif Central in southern France.

Mr Mol explained: "If we look at the bone, we can see that it was a huge animal - probably a male individual."

"We have to understand that sabre-toothed cats are specialised hunters at the top of the food chain. So they are already very rare."

The remains of only one other sabre-toothed cat - a much younger species called Homotherium latidens - have previously been recovered from the North Sea.

Scientists think the huge canines that characterise these cats were remarkably fragile. So the animals probably sank their "sabre-teeth" into the fleshy necks of their prey, avoiding bones that might crack these delicate mouth ornaments.

The big cats would then wait for the unlucky animal to die from blood loss.

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New excavations strengthen identification of Herod’s grave at Herodium

Analysis of newly revealed items found at the site of the mausoleum of King Herod at Herodium (Herodion in Greek) have provided Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeological researchers with further assurances that this was indeed the site of the famed ruler’s 1st century BCE grave.

Herod was the Roman-appointed king of Judea from 37 to 4 BCE, who was renowned for his many monumental building projects, including the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the palace at Masada, the harbor and city of Caesarea, as well as the palatial complex at Herodium, 15 kilometers south of Jerusalem.

Cover of the white decorated sarcophagus (photo: Gabi Laron)
Cover of the white decorated sarcophagus (photo: Gabi Laron)
On the basis of a study of the architectural elements uncovered at the site, the researchers have been able to determine that the mausoleum, among the remains of which Herod’s sarcophagus was found, was a lavish two-story structure with a concave-conical roof, about 25 meters high — a structure fully appropriate to Herod’s status and taste. The excavations there have also yielded many fragments of two additional sarcophagi, which the researchers estimate to have been members of Herod’s family.

The mausoleum, says Prof. Ehud Netzer, director of the excavations, was deliberately destroyed by the Jewish rebels who occupied the site during the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans which started in about 66 CE.

Prof. Netzer admires painted window of the theater's loggia
Prof. Netzer admires painted window of the theater's loggia
Also found in the latest excavations are the remains of an intimate theater just below and to the west of the mausoleum, with seats for some 650-750 spectators, and a loggia (a kind of VIP viewing and hospitality room) located at the top of the theater seats and decorated with wall paintings and plaster moldings in a style that has not been seen thus far in Israel. The style is known to have existed in Rome and Campania in Italy and is dateable between 15 and 10 BCE. Thus far only one wall painting scene has been found intact, though there are traces of others in the room.

The dating of the wall paintings makes it reasonable to assume, says Prof. Netzer, that the construction of the theater might be linked to Roman general and politician Marcus Agrippa’s visit to Herodium in 15 BCE. The theater and its lavish loggia were deliberately destroyed for the creation of the conical artificial mount that constitutes the widely known popular image of the Herodium site and that apparently was built at the very end of Herod's reign.

Prof. Netzer is convinced that Herodium would never have been built had it not been for Herod’s known determination, made at the beginning of his career, to be buried in this isolated, arid area. He undoubtedly personally chose the exact location for his mausoleum since it overlooks Jerusalem and its surroundings. This led to his decision to make the entire complex the “crowning glory” of his outstanding building career and to name it after himself.

The extensive site, which probably will not be fully excavated for many years to come, if ever, includes a huge palatial complex, the theater, and a “country club” of sorts, including a large pool, baths and gardens, in addition to Herod’s burial installations and mausoleum. The palace was the largest of its kind in the Roman world of that time and must have attracted yearly hundreds, if not thousands, of guests, says Prof. Netzer.

A description of Herodium, as well as of Herod’s funeral procession there, can be found in the writings of the ancient Roman-era historian, Flavius Josephus. The excavations, on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have been conducted with the assistance of the Israel Exploration Society, with contributions by individuals and the Yad Hanadiv Foundation. There also has been financial aid from the National Geographic Society. Also collaborating in the excavations are the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Gush Etzion Regional Council. In 2010, the Israel Museum will launch an exhibition of the findings.

Working with Prof. Netzer at the site have been Yaakov Kalman, Roi Porath and Rachel Chachy-Laureys of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology. Restoration work of the coffins was carried out by Orna Cohen, and the laboratory of the Israel Museum helped with the consolidation of the wall paintings.

Prof. Netzer is hopeful that with the further findings at Herodium, there will be increased visits to the site by Israelis and tourists, and that the overall area might be converted into a national park.

Shaul Goldstein, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, said that “the Gush Etzion Regional Council views the Herodium National Park as an important historic site worthy of great investment in order to assure its preservation. In recent years, the council has worked diligently in order to preserve and develop the site through the investment of millions of shekels, half of which has been devoted to the excavations by Prof. Netzer, and half in the development of the visitor facilities there. Additionally, the council also allocates significant sums every year in publicizing the site, along with the Nature and Parks Authority.”

Dr. Netzer's work is the cover story of the December issue of National Geographic magazine, published in English and 31 local-language editions. In addition, a documentary film on the subject, "Herod’s Lost Tomb," will premiere on Sunday, Nov. 23, at 9 p.m. (Eastern U.S. Time and Pacific Time) on the National Geographic Channel-US and internationally at various times in 166 countries, beginning in late November.

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Local Church Starts “Embryo Adoption” Service

By Nina Shapiro

Six years ago, Maria Lancaster took her first step to becoming pregnant by having a frozen embryo FedExed to a Bellevue clinic. Having been through three miscarriages, the Snoqualmie resident had contacted a Christian group that matches infertile couples with those who have surplus embryos left over from in vitro fertilization. The embryo destined for Lancaster had sat in the freezer of a North Carolina lab for four years. Her Bellevue clinic thawed it out in a dish, watched it grow from two to six cells, and then implanted it into her womb. The result: her 5-year-old daughter, Elisha, who likes ponies and ballet.

Lancaster, who owns a small business that supplies fishing vessels with groceries, had always believed that life begins at conception. "Now I had another level of revelation," she says.

On Nov. 9, Lancaster launched a partnership with Cedar Park Church in Bothell to start an embryo adoption service, one of only a handful in the country. "Embryos are not simply human material to be used for medical experimentation, vaccine cultivation, or trash to be discarded," says Pastor Joe Fuiten, a prominent evangelical conservative.

Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, counters that embryo adoption will never solve the problem of what to do with the approximately 400,000 embryos sitting in freezers nationwide (at a cost per couple of more than $500 a year; clinics typically give couples the choice of freezing, destroying, or donating excess embryos). "It's just not going to get that many customers," he says, adding that many embryos won't survive the freezing and thawing-out process, and the ones that do may not be that healthy to begin with.

Angela Thyer, a doctor at Seattle Reproductive Medicine, a long-standing fertility clinic with offices in Bellevue and Seattle, estimates that the chance of pregnancy using frozen embryos is about half that of "fresh" ones. Still, she says it might be a good option for some infertile couples, and her organization has told Lancaster it is willing to take patients she refers.

Lee Hickok, a doctor at Pacific Northwest Fertility, a private facility located at Swedish Medical Center, also believes donated embryos are worth trying. In fact, since its inception three years ago, his clinic has accepted donated embryos and offered them to patients who have failed other treatments. An added benefit, he says, is that "it's cheap"—$5,000 as opposed to the tens of thousands it can cost to adopt an infant.

Only days into the program, Embryo Adoption Services of Cedar Park enlisted its first donor: Lisa Maritz, an Everett mom who had twins through in vitro fertilization before conceiving a third child naturally.

"We knew this was a gift," she says—and now she wants to give a gift in return.

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God and Evolution Can Co-exist, Scientist Says

By Robin Lloyd, Senior Editor

NEW YORK — A scientist is going public with his Christian belief in God and acceptance of evolution, in the wake of the Dover trial and recent, high-profile scholarly writings that have highlighted the contradictions between religiosity and science.

Karl W. Giberson, a physics professor at Eastern Nazarene College in Massachusetts, is hardly alone in holding both views (Francis Collins, who headed up federal Human Genome Project, is one widely-known example of a Christian scientist), but the nation's current cultural climate allows such a person to easily make a splash.

Giberson has rejected fundamentalism, but remains a believer as well as a scientist. He has staked out a middle ground when it comes to the battle between Christians and Darwinists, stating that they can be reconciled with one another. He is sympathetic toward the motivations of creationists and scientists alike, though he is fed up with much of intelligent design as well as hard-core atheists.

The often acrimonious debate between science and religion came to a major head around the time of the Dover trial, which ended in 2005 when Judge John E. Jones III barred intelligent design (ID) from being taught in a Pennsylvania public school district's science classes. The debate simmers on today as other school districts and legislators continue to try to get ID and creationism into the classroom, while Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and other atheists and agnostics have written recent books, blogged and spoken publicly about the logical inconsistencies and irrationality of religious, or at least Christian, beliefs.

For Giberson, his contribution is his book, "Saving Darwin" (HarperOne, 2008), which he discussed here Monday night at the Harvard Club with Michael Shermer, an agnostic and the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine. The event was sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation.

Giberson's journey involves being raised fundamentalist and then beginning to doubt, during his training for his Ph.D. in physics, that science was as thoroughly wrong about the origins of life and Earth as creationists claim.

Obviously, he thinks one can be a Christian and accept evolution, but these two sets of knowledge "don’t make as much contact with each other as people think," he said. Many fundamentalists "elevate Genesis beyond what is appropriate."

Fundamentalists' spin on the creation story in Genesis "robs it of everything that is interesting," he said. Instead, readers should recall that the Bible repeats the refrain that God found what he made "good" and looks at the world as good.

Shermer pushed on, asking Giberson to comment on the following definitional statement from Carl Sagan's "Cosmos:"

"For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins ... Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we sprung."

"What’s wrong with that?" Shermer asked Giberson, with a smile.

This kind of thinking is "hardly going to inspire ordinary people" to be passionate about spirituality, Giberson replied. "I just don’t think it would be a functional religion."

Shermer followed up, asking Giberson, then why believe in God at all?

"It makes the world so much more interesting," Giberson said. "The mystery of God’s existence is a more satisfying mystery than the mystery of how can all this arise out of a particle."

But what is your evidence, Shermer said, for belief in God?

"I was raised believing in God, so for me, the onus would be on someone to stop me from believing," Giberson said, adding that "there is a certain momentum that is already there."

Shermer said, so "you’re stepping off the page of science."

"Absolutely," Giberson said, but added that he thinks science will soon nail down a definition of consciousness that will make God's intentions more clear.

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‘Missing link’ turtle was swimming with dinosaurs

Terrapin hot-spot

A previously unknown species of primitive turtle made the move from land to water 164 million years ago, fossils found on the Isle of Skye indicate.

Excavations on the island have yielded the remains of at least six turtles that learnt to swim during the age of the dinosaurs.

Eileanchelys waldmani, the species that started swimming in the island’s lakes and lagoons, represents the missing link in the evolution of turtles that palaeontologists have long sought.

Its limbs were similar to those of modern freshwater turtles rather than the flippers of sea-going species, but are likely to have had webbing between the claws.

Scientists concluded that the newly discovered species was aquatic because the fossils were found in rock that once formed the bottom of a lake or lagoon, and because unlike the remains of contemporary land animals, which were fragmented having been washed into a pool, the turtles were relatively complete and articulated.

“Eileanchelys waldmani can be plausibly interpreted as the earliest known aquatic turtle,” researchers concluded in their report published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Although Skye is swept by often ferocious Atlantic storms today, the conditions were markedly different during the Middle Jurassic, when the turtle evolved. Then, the island was part of a coastal region of a much bigger land mass, dotted with low salinity lagoons and freshwater lakes and ponds.

The weather was much warmer than today, and other fossil remains have shown that the turtle lived alongside creatures such as salamanders, sharks and crocodiles.

Jérémy Anquetin, of the Natural History Museum and one of the researchers who analysed the fossilised turtles, said: “Although the majority of modern turtles are aquatic forms, it has been convincingly demonstrated that the most primitive turtles from the Triassic, about 210 million years ago, were exclusively terrestrial.

“Until the discovery of Eileanchelys, we thought that adaptation to an aquatic habitat might have appeared among primitive turtles but we had no fossil evidence of that.

“Now we know for sure that there were aquatic turtles around 164 million years ago. This discovery also demonstrates that turtles were more ecologically diverse early in their history than had been suspected before.”

The turtle fossils were recovered from a slab of rock cut out in 2004. Each was encased in the slab and it took months to release them. They were analysed by researchers from the Natural History Museum and University College London, and the fossils are now in the collection of National Museums Scotland.

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Mother's life transformed as doctors unveil first ever whole organ stem cell transplant in new dawn for medical science

By Daniel Martin

Claudia Castillo

Landmark operation: Claudia Castillo has an artificial airway created entirely from her own stem cells

A mother of two has become the first person in the world to undergo a whole organ transplant grown from her own stem cells.

From being virtually bedridden after her windpipe became blocked, 30-year-old Claudia Castillo, above, is now able to resume the active life she once had.

The breakthrough is thanks to the pioneering work of British scientists, who are hailing a new dawn in transplant surgery which they believe could revolutionise the lives of millions.

They have won an international race to be the first to use adult stem cells to grow an entire organ and implant it successfully.

They believe the technique could be extended to allow surgeons to replace organs such as the heart and the lung, and are confident it will be the normal way of carrying out transplants in just two decades.

And because the technique makes use of adult stem cells donated by the patient, it sidesteps the ethical issues around the use of embryonic stem cells.

One of the researchers, Martin Birchall, professor of surgery at the University of Bristol, said: ‘What we’re seeing today is just the beginning.

'I reckon in 20 years’ time it will be the commonest operation surgeons will be doing. It will completely transform the way we think about surgery, health and disease.

‘We believe this success has proved that we are on the verge of a new age in surgical care.’

At present, patients having organ transplants must spend the rest of their lives on powerful drugs to suppress their immune systems, but this can leave them vulnerable to other infections and complications.

Mother-of-two Claudia Castillo

Restored: Mother-of-two Claudia Castillo can now resume the active life she had before her windpipe became blocked and left her bed-ridden

The new technique ends the need for immuno-suppressant drugs. It uses part of a donated organ as a skeleton to grow stem cells on, but because these parts can be stored for longer than full organs, the method could save many more people and have an impact on lengthy waiting lists.

The revolutionary operation was carried out in Barcelona on Miss Castillo’s windpipe, or trachea. Scientists say up to 300 British people whose windpipes become blocked after cancer or infection could benefit every year.

They are already planning to extend the technique to the voicebox. They say this could help around 3,000 people in the UK every year whose voiceboxes are damaged through cancer and other diseases.

Claudia Castillo and Paolo Macchiarini

Claudia Castillo talks to her surgeon Paolo Macchiarini before the ground-breaking operation

After that, stem cell-grown hollow organs such as bladders and bowels could be transplanted.

Scientists hope that within 20 years all organs – including heart, liver and lung – could be grown in the lab, helping millions.

Single mother Miss Castillo had TB which had almost blocked one of her bronchi, the twin tubes leading from the windpipe to the lungs, meaning she was permanently breathless.

Part of a windpipe from a 51-year-old woman who had died from a brain haemorrhage was used in the procedure.

The whole windpipe could not simply be transplanted as it would have been rejected by the patient’s immune system.

Instead, it was repeatedly ‘washed’ to remove all the dead person’s cells, leaving only a collagen ‘scaffold’.

Then stem cells were taken from Miss Castillo’s bone marrow. Stem cells can be prompted to grow into almost any type of cell, and in theory can be used to reconstruct entire organs.


British scientists are hailing a new dawn in transplant surgery

The stem cells were sent to Britain and grown in a lab at the University of Bristol to produce around six million cartilage cells - the material of trachea walls.

The cartilage cells were taken to Milan where, using a machine developed for the purpose, they were grown on to the trachea skeleton, effectively making a windpipe in the lab.

The windpipe was cut to the right length and bent into shape, before being grafted into Miss Castillo in June by Professor Paolo Macchiarini of Barcelona University.

She is now able to walk up two flights of stairs, walk 500 yards without stopping, and care for her two children. Her body is showing no signs of rejecting the organ.

Professor Macchiarini said: ‘We are terribly excited by these results. Just four days after transplantation the graft was almost indistinguishable from adjacent normal bronchi.

Stem cell windpipe

Revolutionary: The new piece of windpipe that has been grown entirely from Claudia Castillo's own stem cells

‘We think that this first experience represents a milestone in medicine and hope that it will unlock the door for a safe and recipient-tailored transplantation of the airway in adults and children. We hope that these future patients will no longer suffer the trauma of speech loss, severe shortness of breath and other limited clinical and social activities.’

Details of the transplant were described in an early online edition of The Lancet medical journal.

The remarkable results have been hailed as providing crucial new evidence that adult stem cells can offer genuine solutions to serious illnesses.

Many scientists argue that taking stem cells from embryos holds more promise, because they can be triggered to create more types of body cell than adult stem cells. They are usually taken from embryos left over from IVF procedures.But pro-life campaigners say it is morally wrong to harvest stem cells from embryos because the technique kills them.

The campaigners will use the latest breakthrough to bolster their arguments that scientists should look only at adult stem cells.

Another of the researchers, Anthony Hollander, professor of tissue engineering at the University of Bristol, said: ‘This successful treatment manifestly demonstrates the potential of adult stem cells to save lives.

‘This is an example of stem cell science becoming stem cell medicine.’


Virtually bed-ridden and unable to care for her children or perform the simplest tasks, Claudia Castillo faced a bleak existence.

Claudia Castillo

Claudia Castillo faced a bleak existence before her surgery

Diagnosed with TB in 2004, by March this year her condition had deteriorated so much that doctors told her if she didn’t have the stem cell treatment, they would have to cut one of her lungs out, turning her into an invalid.

That was a year after Miss Castillo, 30, left, moved from Columbia to live in Barcelona with her children, Johan, 15, and Isabella, four.

The tuberculosis had made the tube connecting her windpipe to one of her lungs collapse almost completely.

Miss Castillo said yesterday: ‘The possibility of avoiding the removal of my lung represented a unique chance for me to return to a normal life that I am now enjoying with my children and family.

‘I was scared because I was the first patient but now I am enjoying life and happy that my illness has been cured.

‘I wanted to feel completely well and able to do normal things like going to work and being with my children.

Miss Castillo left hospital ten days after the operation and has remained well.

Praising the doctors, she added: ‘Thanks to their dedication this disease can be treated and people can be made well. I feel great.

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2,900-Year-Old Gravestone Reveals Ancient Belief System

By Annalee Newitz

A 2,900-year-old gravestone from the ancient kingdom of Sam'al, located in what is today southeastern Turkey, has shed light on an ancient religious belief heretofore unknown. The gravestone, called a stele, is in nearly pristine condition and archaeologists were able to translate all the writing on it. Now they've gained new insight into what people of the Iron Age believed about souls and death.

A team of archaeologists from the University of Chicago will discuss their findings at a conference this weekend. The man who created the stele was named Kuttamuwa, and he describes himself as a "servant" of King Panamuwa. Kuttamuwa's stele, in pristine condition, was found in a suburb of the walled city, far from the palace - archeologists speculate it was probably the man's own house. Though the city of Sam'al was influenced by local Semitic cultures in many ways - including their language - Kuttamuwa and Panamuwa are names that show the Indo-European cultural influence. Also, Kuttamuwa was cremated, a practice shunned by Semitic tribes of that era.

Apparently Kuttamuwa had his stele made while he was still alive, and last summer the archeological team found it, translating its inscription like this (there are question marks for translations they aren't sure of yet):

I, Kuttamuwa, servant of Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber(?) and established a feast at this chamber(?): a bull for [the storm-god] Hadad, ... a ram for [the sun-god] Shamash, ... and a ram for my soul that is in this stele.

Written in an alphabet derived from Phoenician, the language is a West Semitic dialect similar to Aramaic and Hebrew. The stone depicts Kuttamuwa himself, eating at a table laden with food and drink.

What this reveals, according to research lead David Schloen, is that Kuttamuwa's people believed in a split between body and soul. This was a relatively novel belief at the time, and many neighboring peoples like the Israelites believed the body and soul were one. Kuttamuwa, however, planned for his soul to remain in the stele while his body was cremated. That's why he requested a "feast" in the chamber to feed his soul. Researchers found remains of food offerings in ancient bowls around the stele.

According to archeologist Schloen:

Kuttumuwa's inscription shows a fascinating mixture of non-Semitic and Semitic cultural elements, including a belief in the enduring human soul—which did not inhabit the bones of the deceased, as in traditional Semitic thought, but inhabited his stone monument, possibly because the remains of the deceased were cremated. Cremation was considered to be abhorrent in the Old Testament and in traditional West Semitic culture, but there is archaeological evidence for Indo-European-style cremation in neighboring Iron Age sites.

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Nike, Starbucks Demand Congress To Act On Climate Change

Cocaine users are destroying the rainforest - at 4m squared a gram

Sandra Laville, crime correspondent

Four square metres of rainforest are destroyed for every gram of cocaine snorted in the UK, a conference of senior police officers as told yesterday.

Francisco Santos Calderón, the vice-president of Colombia, appealed to British users of the class A drug to consider the impact on the environment. He said that while the green agenda would not persuade addicts to give up, the middle-class social user who drove a hybrid car and was concerned about the environment might not take the drug if they knew its impact.

Santos said 300,000 hectares of rainforest were destroyed each year in Colombia to clear land for coca plant cultivation, predominantly controlled by illegal groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as Farc.

Officers were told cocaine and heroin use cost the British economy around £15bn a year in health and crime bills.

Santos outlined to the Association of Chief Police Officers how lives were lost in the illegal cocaine trade in Colombia. He said landmines that were used to protect crops and processing labs killed almost 900 civilians this year.

Farc and other groups funded by narcotics production were also involved in kidnapping. The Colombian-French politician Ingrid Betancourt was held for more than six years before her release earlier this year, and Santos himself was kidnapped and held by a cocaine gang for 18 months in the 1990s.

He told the Belfast conference: "If you snort a gram of cocaine, you are destroying 4m square of rainforest and that rainforest is not just Colombian - it belongs to all of us who live on this planet, so we should all be worried about it. Not only that, the money that you use to buy the cocaine goes into the hands of Farc, of illegal groups that plant mines, that kidnap, that kill, that use terrorism to protect their business."

Santos said many middle-class Britons who used cocaine were unaware of its environmental impact. "For somebody who drives a hybrid, who recycles, who is worried about global warming - to tell him that that night of partying will destroy 4m square of rainforest might lead him to make another decision."

Santos said Europe was experiencing a boom in cocaine use among more affluent people that was comparable with that seen in the USA 25 years ago. Everyone, he said, had a duty to change their behaviour to halt a rise in demand that was destroying his country. "We call it shared responsibility, We can't do it on our own. We need everybody's action; police here, police in Colombia, the authorities in both countries and the consumers too. If there is no consumption, there will be no production.

"There is a sense of frustration, because here drug use is seen as a personal choice and to some extent cocaine is seen as the champagne of drugs which causes no effect and is a victimless crime. It is not victimless."

Bill Hughes, the director general of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, told the conference that the UK was a very attractive market for drug traffickers. "There is still a lot of disposable income; the risk compared to the US if you are caught is felt to be much less," he said.

The £15bn cost to the economy reduced the amount of money available for schools, teachers and police officers. He said traffickers moved their drugs from South America to west Africa, and then to the EU and Britain, often operating through insecure countries with poor law enforcement. Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands were major staging posts on the trafficking routes and much of the synthetic drug market was supplied from the Netherlands. Hughes said the proceeds of crime were undermining or corrupting governments globally, with the trade worth £4bn-£6.6bn in the UK.

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WiFi goes green: solar-powered outdoor nodes coming soon

By Glenn Fleishman

Mesh WiFi firm Meraki released an addition to its hardware family of routers today with a wall-plug adapter ($179). The Meraki Wall Plug, which features a hole to screw the unit to an outlet, complements the existing Indoor ($149) and Outdoor ($199) nodes. Meraki's hardware includes access to (and requires use of) a hosted back-end management console.

The Wall Plug is part of Meraki's push for apartment buildings and complexes (multiple dwelling units or MDUs, in real-estate parlance). The company said it will offer a $5,000 bundle aimed at MDUs that will cover 100 to 150 apartments or other units.

The company also said that their long-awaited Meraki Solar would ship December 4. A worldwide run on solar power equipment when oil prices spiked increased the price of the panel required for the unit. The price of the Solar model runs from $749 for a bring-your-own-panel model up to $1,499 for areas with shorter days or less light.

Company cofounder Sanjit Biswas said that Meraki also decided to change the battery type after receiving feedback from beta users, which is part of what led to the 1-year delay. In winter or monsoon season, the beta product "would run out of juice in a couple of days with no sun." Customers said that they needed guaranteed 24-hour performance, and Meraki switched from sealed lead-acid to lithium iron-phosphate for greater capacity. Biswas said this dropped the weight, too, which reduces shipping costs for the many remote areas that the Solar unit has been tested in and will likely be used.

Meraki Solar is available with different
panel options, including bring your own

Biswas said that Solar was used in a lot of places the firm didn't expect–anywhere that power wasn't available, such as parks, but also where even though an electrical outlet would be installed, there were ancillary costs.

Some customers would say, Biswas noted, "A union electrician is going to cost me a couple of thousand dollars." He said that many Meraki customers were "choosing to do Wi-Fi because it was a relatively low-impact amenity to offer," so the higher initial price of Solar was easily canceled out by lower installation and recurring costs.

Biswas said that Meraki continues to extend its market into areas it didn't predict, such as small enterprises: firms of 50 to 200 employees that cover large areas, such as doctors' offices or shopping malls, and that outsource their information technology services. "That's a surprise for us: it's not just about public access, sometimes it's just about plain Wi-Fi access, even internally," Biswas said.

The centralized management console is a plus for this segment because Meraki customers can manage accounts and operations themselves after a system is set up, or use an integrator for remote help. Biswas noted that the console and hardware now support enterprise features, including WPA2 Enterprise (802.1X plus WPA2), quality of service (for VoIP and streaming), and multiple SSIDs (for running several virtual networks with different access privileges). The system has scaled to manage thousands of devices on a single network, as well.

Meraki sticks a pin worldwide on where networks are operating.

Meraki highlighted a customer installation in Chile, which they only found out about after the network lit up on their map showing active installations. In Lebu, a fishing village 300 km from Santiago, residents had no real Internet access, although there was both a satellite feed and an E1 (similar to a T1) leased line. A local integrator lit up the town for about $20,000 in less than a week, and the network now has over 1,000 regular users. Biswas said, "They're using all the same sites that you and I would use."

The city isn't charging for service, because it found "the collection costs would be too high," Biswas said. He noted, "We've seen this model replicated elsewhere in Latin America," where a feed is spread throughout a town, taking residents from no Internet access to low-end broadband. (Meraki allows bandwidth shaping for shared access.)

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