Friday, February 17, 2012

India: Hunger

‘Hunger, a cause for concern in country’

Mysore, February 17 2012, DHNS:
‘Economic progress alone cannot help check problems’
Former minister B K Chandrashekar on Friday said that hunger still remains a cause for concern in urban India.
He was speaking after inaugurating a seminar on ‘India and its goal for development for the millenium’ at SBRR Mahajana first grade college in the city.

Chandrashekar termed the very situation as shameful and it’s the cause of death in most of the places. Apart from hunger, the nation is plagued by unemployment, poverty and also illiteracy. The irony here is hunger still remains an issue to be  addressed even in the developed states like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab. In Madhya Pradesh alone the number of people below poverty line is high and the government in Odisha has failed to arrest the same.

Quoting a report in ‘Prajavani’ on children suffering due to malnutrition, Chandrashekar said the situation at Raichur, Devadurga is serious. Owing to inadequate measures to supply foodgrains to the needy, it is leading to violation of human rights. Progress in economy cannot help mitigate hunger, he said.

Lauding Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Chandrashekar said he (Nitish Kumar) is facing the very situation with all capability, while the government in other states have failed.
 Leave alone dealing with the issues, those States lack proper plans towards progress.

However, Chandrashekar was happy to note that there is considerable improvement in the admission of children to schools. On the flip side, it has become a tough nut to prevent school dropouts below 14 years age group. It has led to fall in quality of education too.

Dr Francis Cheru Neelam from Cochin University said still 21 per cent of the population is below poverty line.

President of Mahajana Education Society R Vasudevamurthy, vice-president Prabhushankar, secretary G S Subramanyam, principal K V Prabhakar and others were present.


USB stick can sequence DNA in seconds
18:29 17 February 2012 
by Duncan Graham-Rowe
For similar stories, visit the Genetics Topic Guide
It may look like an ordinary USB memory stick, but a little gadget that can sequence DNA while plugged into your laptop could have far-reaching effects on medicine and genetic research.

The UK firm Oxford Nanopore built the device, called MinION, and claims it can sequence simple genomes – like those of some viruses and bacteria – in a matter of seconds. More complex genomes would take longer, but MinION could also be useful for obtaining quick results in sequencing DNA from cells in a biopsy to look for cancer, for example, or to determine the genetic identity of bone fragments at an archaeological dig.

The company demonstrated today at the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology (AGBT) conference in Marco Island, Florida, that MinION has sequenced a simple virus called Phi X, which contains 5000 genetic base pairs.
Proof of principle

This is merely a proof of principle – "Phi X was the first DNA genome to be sequenced ever," says Nick Loman, a bioinformatician at the Pallen research group at the University of Birmingham, UK, and author of the blog Pathogens: Genes and Genomes. But it shows for the first time that this technology works, he says. "If you can sequence this genome you should be able to sequence larger genomes."

Oxford Nanopore is also building a larger device, GridION, for lab use. Both GridION and MinION operate using the same technology: DNA is added to a solution containing enzymes that bind to the end of each strand. When a current is applied across the solution these enzymes and DNA are drawn to hundreds of wells in a membrane at the bottom of the solution, each just 10 micrometres in diameter.

Within each well is a modified version of the protein alpha hemolysin (AHL), which has a hollow tube just 10 nanometres wide at its core. As the DNA is drawn to the pore the enzyme attaches itself to the AHL and begins to unzip the DNA, threading one strand of the double helix through the pore. The unique electrical characteristics of each base disrupt the current flowing through each pore, enough to determine which of the four bases is passing through it. Each disruption is read by the device, like a tickertape reader.
Long strands, and simple

This approach has two key advantages over other sequencing techniques: first, the DNA does not need to be amplified - a time-consuming process that replicates the DNA in a sample to make it abundant enough to make a reliable measurement.

Second, the devices can sequence DNA strands as long as 10,000 bases continuously, whereas most other techniques require the DNA to be sheared into smaller fragments of at most a few hundred bases. This means that once they have been read they have to be painstakingly reassembled by software like pieces of a jigsaw. "We just read the entire thing in one go," as with Phi X, says Clive Brown, Oxford Nanopore's chief technology officer.

But Oxford Nanopore will face stiff competition. Jonathan Rothberg, a scientist and entrepreneur who founded rival firm 454 Life Sciences, also announced at the AGBT conference that his start-up company, Ion Torrent, will be launching a desktop sequencing machine. Dubbed the Ion Proton, it identifies bases by using transistors to detect hydrogen ions as they are given off during the polymerisation of DNA.

This device will be capable of sequencing a human genome in 2 hours for around $1000, Rothberg claims. Nanopores are an "elegant" technology, he says, but Ion Torrent already has a foot in the door. "As we saw last summer with the E. coli outbreak in Germany, people are already now using it," he says.
Pocketful of DNA

By contrast, the MinION would take about 6 hours to complete a human genome, Brown claims, though the company plans to market the device for use in shorter sequencing tasks like identifying pathogens, or screening for genetic mutations that can increase risk of certain diseases. Each unit is expected to cost $900 when it goes on sale later this year.

"The biggest strength of nanopore sequencing is that it generates very long reads, which has been a limitation for most other technologies," says Loman. If the costs, quality, ease of use and throughput can be brought in line with other instruments, it will be a "killer technology" for sequencing, he says.

As for clinical applications, David Rasko at the Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, says the MinION could have huge benefits. "It may have serious implications for public health and it could really change the way we do medicine," he says. "You can see every physician walking around the hospital with a pocketful of these things." And it will likely increase the number of scientists generating sequencing data by making the technology cheaper and more accessible, he says.


Vehicle gadget puts the sun's rays to work

Some people see the sun shining its benevolent glow through the car window and smell money. The Solar Window Charger, by XDModo, is a phone/gadget charger that attaches to the car window and uses the power of the sun to juice USB-attached devices. The charger employs a very simple and sleek design and does not draw needless attention. It has a 1,300milliampere-hour battery, and it will connect to your electricity-starved gadgets by way of a standard USB port or a mini-USB port.

A very nice solution for those of us who already occupy the cigarette lighter adapter with another accoutrement and need an alternative source to keep our juice-sucking smartphones powered up to the end of the day, the Solar Window Charger is available in three colours - grey, black or green. Until we figure out a way to destroy the sun, it is going to be shining through your car window, so you may as well use a product such as this to put that ball of fire to good use. $65; visit

Kenwood gets chummy with streaming video: Kenwood's DDX419 is so new it's not even listed on the company website. Launched at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, this double-din 6.1-inch touchscreen DVD player is available from online retailers and contains some innovative features. It has a built-in standard Bluetooth component for handsfree calls and audio streaming.

Your phone's contact directory will automatically transfer over to the stereo, making it easy to start outgoing calls. The stereo's real integrated link to iPhone apps is unique. Users can watch streaming video sources such as Netflix and YouTube with the DDX419, which features on-screen controls to pause, fast forward and rewind these video apps. And, while the device does not feature integrated GPS, users of Garmin's Streetpilot app for iPhone will be pleased to discover the app works very well on the DDX419's screen. A solid operator through and through, Kenwood should nevertheless have opted for a smaller knob and buttons so that more touchscreen real estate could be fit into this worthwhile product. $400; visit kenwood. com.
© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

The love game-changer.

The search engine for love
February 18, 2012
Online dating ... the love game-changer.  

Online dating ... the love game-changer.
It's easy to play Cupid when both parties are motivated to find love, writes Nicky Phillips.

In the winter of 1959, two Stanford University students used the institution's room-size IBM 650 to build a computer program that paired 49 young men, mainly classmates, with 49 local women.

Prospective couples answered 30 questions including their age, religion, hobbies and number of children wished for in marriage.

The results were fed into the computer which, after nine hours of processing, selected pairs based on the similarity of the responses. The first attempt at computer dating was launched.
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An end-of-term house party, replete with an adequate amount of home brew, functioned as a group first date.

The experiment resulted in one marriage and a top grade for its inventors.

The world wide web has since transformed online dating into a billion-dollar industry, and it is now the most common way love seekers meet prospective partners bar introductions by friends.

Gone are the days when parents picked suitors for their sons and daughters or couples met in the smoking room of a seedy nightclub. Cupid's bow now strikes via cyber space.

But have internet dating sites - which have grown from catalogues of singles to algorithm-based match sites - fundamentally changed the way Homo sapiens meets partners? And has this been for the better?

There is no denying that attitudes to internet dating have improved since inception.

People no longer view it as a last resort for the socially isolated and awkward and successful online couples no longer feel the need to concoct a more acceptable story to explain how they met.

A 2011 survey by the Australian online dating website RSVP, owned by Fairfax Media, publisher of the Herald, found 30 per cent of adult Australians had tried online dating, a technology that did not exist here 15 years earlier.

A satisfying relationship is one of the most significant predictors of a person's happiness and emotional health, so measuring the success of online dating was something American psychologist Harry Reis and his colleagues felt was important.

While internet dating has not altered the nature of intimacy, it has fundamentally changed the way people initiate relationships, says Reis, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.

In conventional dating, a couple meet and get to know each other gradually, but online dating works by browsing computer profiles and relationship seekers often know a lot about their date before they meet.

The main benefit of dating websites is the instant access to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of potential partners beyond a person's typical social network, says Reis, whose study reviewed more than 400 psychological studies.

There are also advantages to making first contact via the internet, says co-author Paul Eastwick, as couples can carefully craft their communications and get ''off on the right foot''.

The danger lies when people spend too much time conversing over the internet and expectations for the first face-to-face meeting are not met, says Eastwick, from Texas A&M University.

Online dating clearly has its pitfalls. The study found too many dating options overwhelm love seekers, and they often navigate away from people they would usually find appealing if given less choice.

Computer profiles also prompt people to ''shop'' for dates, focusing more on features such as physical attractiveness that become largely irrelevant once a relationship develops, says Eastwick, whose study is published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

Not surprisingly, they also found ''modest misrepresentation widespread''. Many online dating sites claim to be able to unite a singleton with their perfect match based on sophisticated algorithms that assess compatibility based on everything from genetics to a pair's immune system.

But Reis and his team found no published evidence to support the claims by many websites that their matching capabilities are superior to traditional ''met-them-in-a-bar'' dating.

The main problem with matching, says Eastwick, is that it is based on the false assumption that similarities in personality and attitudes play a major role in whether a relationship will be successful long-term.

Relationship research shows that the way two people communicate, handle conflict and manage stress are of greater significance to a couple's longevity.

''But these things are very hard to assess before two people meet,'' says Eastwick.

The team suggests the perceived success of online dating is partly explained by the fact randomly pairing highly-motivated love seekers is bound to result in at least a few successful partnerships.

And, while they believe many more lonely hearts will continue to find love online, they say online dating sites can be improved markedly by using the large amount of genuine, peer-reviewed relationship science.

Health: Relief to allergies & asthma patients.

New molecule could offer relief to allergies and asthma patients

New Delhi, Fri, 17 Feb 2012NI Wire
Those suffering from allergy and asthma can hope some relief in the near future. Scientists have discovered a new molecule, which seems to play a deterrent to the body's allergic response to house dust mite.
This discovery made at The University of Nottingham reflects on how the body's immune system identifies and responds to allergens. This discovery could pave the way for developing new therapies or treatments for allergies people.
The molecule DC-SIGN was discovered by a team of immunologists headed by Dr Amir Ghaem-Maghami and Professor Farouk Shakib of the University's School of Molecular Medical Sciences. This molecule can be found on the surface of the immune cells, which play a key role in the identifying a major allergen from house dust mites called Der p 1, which is the prime cause of asthma in northern Europe.
"There has been a sharp increase in the prevalence of allergies over the past few decades and allergic asthma among children has reached epidemic proportions in many industrialised countries, including the UK," Dr Amir Ghaem-Maghami was quoted as saying.
"Despite improvements in patient care, mortality and morbidity of allergic asthma has remained high, and most therapies target symptoms rather than curing the condition.
"Many people with asthma are highly sensitive to airborne allergens such as those from house dust mite - in fact, many studies have shown that up to 80 per cent of people with asthma are allergic to house dust mite.
"A better understanding of how the interaction between allergens and the immune system triggers allergy is vital if we are to develop more effective and efficient treatments for this debilitating condition," Dr Amir Ghaem-Maghami stated.
Allergy is body's immune system’s reaction to harmless substances available in the atmosphere. These substances are called allergens. Body’s immune system misreads it as an attack and produces an antibody called IgE. This antibody eventually leads to the release of further chemicals (including histamine) by certain immune cells, which together cause an inflammation and common symptoms of allergy that includes itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose andwheezing.
This study was focused on the role of DC-SIGN, a receptor found on the surface of antigen presenting cells, these cells are first in the immune system to come into contact with allergens.
The researchers found that DC-SIGN binds to major allergen from house dust mite (Der p 1) and dogs (Can f 1) and appears to play a regulatory role in the allergic response when exposed to house dust mite. The binding of allergen to DC-SIGN on antigen presenting cells appears to facilitate a mechanism that could reduce harmful immune responses to allergens.
This is contrary to the role of another allergen reception - the mannose receptor - previously discovered by the Nottingham group.
The research shows that DC-SIGN could potentially play a beneficial role in controlling immune responses to atmospheric allergens.
The Journal of Biological Chemistry has published this study in its current week edition.
--With inputs from ANI

India: Polio-free

India to be declared as polio-free


BANGALORE: Thanks to the sustained fight against the dreaded disease Polio, the country was to be declared in the world as a polio free nation, said Secretary for the department of the Health and Family Welfare, Dr E V Ramana Reddy.
Addressing a press conference here on Friday, Dr Reddy informed that in the last 18 months not even a single case of polio was detected across India.
He added that the country’s being free from fresh polio cases since January 2011 was a ' significant' development since India reported around 32,000 polio cases in 1995.
“If no fresh cases are reported in the next 18 months, the United Nations would declare India as a polio-free country,” he said. He declared Karnataka to be an ‘almost polio free state’ as the last case which was detected at Raichur in 2007, had migrated from other states.
He said that as a part of the continued drive against the disease, another nationwide immunisation will be conducted on February 19 and April 1. He said in the drive around 7,90,000 children between the ages of zero to five would be administered the polio vaccine and Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda would launch the programme at his office on the morning of February 19.
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Video Games Might Improve Eyesight and Even Cure Cataract
Written By: Abby Louise Cruz
Last Updated On: 17 Feb, 2012 - 11:14pm
Is having 20/20 vision a thing of the past for you? Are you tired of wearing glasses or contact lenses, but don’t want to resort to surgery? If that is the case, then you may want to try your hand at setting up a gaming console, and start getting into video games.

A recent study conducted by McMaster University psychologist Dr. Daphne Maurer in Vancouver, Canada shows evidence that playing video games may actually just help improve and reverse failing eyesight in adults who were born with congenital cataracts.

Dr. Maurer, who is globally known for her work on the phenomena of synasthetes, or the ability of certain individuals whose brains enable them to perceive and link different senses together (associating a certain sound with a certain color, for example), presented these findings recently to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The experiment was initially conducted on six adults between the ages of 19 to 31 who had been born with the condition, and were asked to go on a program that tasked them to play first-person shooting games, which involved the use of strategy, vigilance, and attention to detail for a period of 10 hours weekly for four weeks.

Once the prescribed period was over, those who participated in the study showed a marked improvement in terms of being able to detect subtle differences in contrasts, focusing and following small moving objects, and reading fine print. This, Dr. Maurer says, is proof of the adult brain’s continuing malleability, in the sense that it can still be conditioned to work around pre-existing sensory deficiencies.

These results support earlier findings that playing certain kinds of video games can help correct other eye conditions and disorders such as ambylopia, more popularly known as lazy eye. Towards the end of 2011, Dr. Somen Ghosh at the Micro Surgical Eye Clinic in Calcutta, India, published reports that pre-teens and teenagers between the ages of 10 to 18 who had lazy eye have likewise experienced an improvement in their condition after a regimen of video games administered over time.

Meanwhile, in the United States, another study conducted by Dr. Daphne Bavelier at the University of Rochester in New York likewise showed that undergoing a video game program helped people who experienced difficulties in night driving.

These results, Dr. Bavelier said, show that the brain’s pathways for visual processing can still be challenged, “pushing the human visual system to the limits and allowing the brain to adapt to it.”

What the contraception controversy taught us about religion in America
Last week, religious leaders, pundits and politicians alike found themselves tangled in a controversy with an unusual number of moving parts.

Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, gestures during an interview at the North American College in Rome, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012. (Gregorio Borgia - AP)
Opposition led by the American Catholic bishops sparked a wider protest after the Obama administration announced its new requirement that employers provide no-cost birth control to employees through their insurance plans. The White House excused churches and other places of worship from the rule, but refused to grant a similar exemption to religiously affiliated organizations like colleges, hospitals, and social agencies. The ensuing firestorm over whether this was an issue of religious liberty or women’s health resulted in a quicker-than-anticipated compromise. By weeks end, the Obama administration modified the ruling to require insurers rather than objecting religious institutions to pick up the tab, while still upholding the principle of making no-cost birth control available to all women regardless of their employer.
Based on polling from the Public Religion Research Institute, which was widely cited last week in the media, I’ve compiled the four most important insights from the contraceptive debate, which shed light how conflicting interests hung in the balance and what implications the final compromise may have for the election.
1) Americans support the general principle behind the White House’s regulation. A majority (55 percent) of Americans agree that employers should be required to provide their employees with healthcare plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost. Predictably, however, some demographic groups are more enthusiastic about the mandate than others. Roughly 6-in-10 Catholics (58 percent) agree with the requirement, broadly writ, although support is lower among Catholic voters (52 percent) and white Catholics (50 percent). Religiously unaffiliated Americans strongly support requiring employers to provide no-cost birth control (61 percent), while white mainline Protestants (50 percent) are divided. Notably, white evangelical Protestants, not Catholics, are the religious group most opposed to the general principle. Fewer than four-in-ten (38 percent) white evangelicals agree with the principle that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover birth control at no cost.
 2) Americans see churches and other places of worship as distinctly different from other religiously affiliated institutions. It was clear that the Obama administration’s decision to excuse churches and other places of worship from the requirement echoed  public opinion. A solid majority (57 percent) of Americans—and similar majorities of all major religious groups—agree that churches should not be required to provide their employees with no-cost birth control through their insurance plans.
 2) Americans are more divided over whether religiously affiliated institutions such as hospitals and colleges should be exempt from the requirement to offer employees health plans that offer no-cost contraception, and that’s where the debate got messy. The PRRI poll showed that when it came to the more complicated category of religiously affiliated hospitals, universities, and social agencies, Americans (and Catholics) are more divided:
 ·        Nearly half of Americans agree that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should have to provide coverage that includes contraception, compared to 46 percent who disagree.
·        A slim majority (52 percent) of Catholics agree with the requirement for religiously affiliated hospitals and colleges, but 45 percent disagree.
·        Complicating matters more, among two key subgroups of Catholics, opposition runs higher:
o       Among Catholic voters, only 45 percent support the requirement, while 52 percent oppose it.
o       Among white Catholics, only about 4-in-10 (41 percent) support the requirement, and opposition rises to 58 percent.
 3) While Americans overall and Catholics may be divided on whether religious institutions should be required to provide no-cost birth control in their health plans, the strategically important group of younger women strongly support the mandate . Obama’s eventual compromise cannot be understood without acknowledging just how strongly young women, who would most directly benefit from the mandate, stood on the religious exemption issue. Among women age 49 and younger (in other words, women of reproductive age), 61 percent say that religiously affiliated institutions such as colleges and hospitals should be required to provide no-cost birth control to their employees.
 4) Late last week, the White House was caught between a rock and a hard place. But the eventual compromise seems to have upheld a broadly supported principle about the availability of contraception, while creating additional room for exemptions based on religious beliefs.  There is evidence that the compromise may sit comfortably among Catholics in the pews, even if it did not mollify the church hierarchy. The data also suggests that rank-and-file Catholics are not animated because of moral concerns about the underlying issue of contraception itself. Findings from the Pew Research Center this week show that just 15 percent of Catholics say that using contraceptives is morally wrong, while 41 percent say it is morally acceptable and 36 percent say it is not a moral issue. Even among Catholics who attend church weekly, just 27 percent say contraception is morally wrong.
 The Catholic bishops appear to be gearing up for a long fight against the mandate itself, but the Obama administration’s compromise seems likely to satisfy lay Catholics’ concerns, without losing younger women’s support in the process. Obama’ support among Catholics appears to have remained steady as the controversy raged last week, according to the latest numbers from Gallup. In the short term, though, if there is a clear beneficiary from this tumult, it was probably Catholic GOP hopeful Rick Santorum, whose campaign got a much-needed boost from the renewed focus on culture war issues. Thank you, Obama?
By   |  04:11 PM ET, 02/17/2012