Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Posted by gjblass at 3:57 PM
Posted by gjblass at 3:55 PM
The roots for tattoos go back to ancient times as a highly popular art form — some simply to adorn oneself for the beauty alone, while for others it’s to represent rank and authority, and for some cultures to tell a story of a person’s life and achievements.
read more | digg story
Posted by gjblass at 3:53 PM
Sure, a couple of these fall into the "Draw Tippy the Turtle" art instruction school category, but some of these aren't bad at all. Considering the consequences, it's too bad his art school didn't give him half a chance.
read more | digg story
Posted by gjblass at 3:47 PM
Not all economy seats are created equal. Can you get a good seat experience for decent shut-eye? By doing a little bit of digging you’ll find out enough info to help you make a flight in economy a pleasant flight, instead of an unbearable one.
read more | digg story
Posted by gjblass at 3:45 PM
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
A Vietnamese girl with a 16-pound facial tumor is in Miami awaiting surgery that will restore her ability to eat and speak.
Fifteen-year-old Lai Thi Dao suffers from a Schwannoma tumor that has been growing since she was 3. The tumor has severely disfigured her face and kept her from ever attending school.
Doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital say the tumor threatens to suffocate Lai. They will remove the tumor in a 10-hour surgery on April 29.
Schwannoma tumors are usually benign. Lai's doctors say the size of her tumor is extremely rare, but it probably won't return once it's removed.
The teen hopes to finally attend school once she recovers and returns to Vietnam.
The International Kids Fund is seeking donations to fund Lai's surgery.
Posted by gjblass at 3:03 PM
Posted by gjblass at 12:13 PM
Apr 17th 2008
From The Economist print edition
Food prices are causing misery and strife around the world. Radical solutions are needed
PICTURES of hunger usually show passive eyes and swollen bellies. The harvest fails because of war or strife; the onset of crisis is sudden and localised. Its burden falls on those already at the margin.
Today's pictures are different. “This is a silent tsunami,” says Josette Sheeran of the World Food Programme, a United Nations agency. A wave of food-price inflation is moving through the world, leaving riots and shaken governments in its wake. For the first time in 30 years, food protests are erupting in many places at once. Bangladesh is in turmoil (see article); even China is worried (see article). Elsewhere, the food crisis of 2008 will test the assertion of Amartya Sen, an Indian economist, that famines do not happen in democracies.
Famine traditionally means mass starvation. The measures of today's crisis are misery and malnutrition. The middle classes in poor countries are giving up health care and cutting out meat so they can eat three meals a day. The middling poor, those on $2 a day, are pulling children from school and cutting back on vegetables so they can still afford rice. Those on $1 a day are cutting back on meat, vegetables and one or two meals, so they can afford one bowl. The desperate—those on 50 cents a day—face disaster.
Roughly a billion people live on $1 a day. If, on a conservative estimate, the cost of their food rises 20% (and in some places, it has risen a lot more), 100m people could be forced back to this level, the common measure of absolute poverty. In some countries, that would undo all the gains in poverty reduction they have made during the past decade of growth. Because food markets are in turmoil, civil strife is growing; and because trade and openness itself could be undermined, the food crisis of 2008 may become a challenge to globalisation.
Rich countries need to take the food problems as seriously as they take the credit crunch. Already bigwigs at the World Bank and the United Nations are calling for a “new deal” for food. Their clamour is justified. But getting the right kind of help is not so easy, partly because food is not a one-solution-fits-all problem and partly because some of the help needed now risks making matters worse in the long run.
The starting-point should be that rising food prices bear more heavily on some places than others. Food exporters, and countries where farmers are self-sufficient, or net sellers, benefit. Some countries—those in West Africa which import their staples, or Bangladesh, with its huge numbers of landless labourers—risk ruin and civil strife. Because of the severity there, the first step must be to mend the holes in the world's safety net. That means financing the World Food Programme properly. The WFP is the world's largest distributor of food aid and its most important barrier between hungry people and starvation. Like a $1-a-day family in a developing country, its purchasing power has been slashed by the rising cost of grain. Merely to distribute the same amount of food as last year, the WFP needs—and should get—an extra $700m.
And because the problems in many places are not like those of a traditional famine, the WFP should be allowed to broaden what it does. At the moment, it mostly buys grain and doles it out in areas where there is little or no food. That is necessary in famine-ravaged places, but it damages local markets. In most places there are no absolute shortages and the task is to lower domestic prices without doing too much harm to farmers. That is best done by distributing cash, not food—by supporting (sometimes inventing) social-protection programmes and food-for-work schemes for the poor. The agency can help here, though the main burden—tens of billions of dollars' worth—will be borne by developing-country governments and lending institutions in the West.
Such actions are palliatives. But the food crisis of 2008 has revealed market failures at every link of the food chain (see article). Any “new deal” ought to try to address the long-term problems that are holding poor farmers back.
Then stop the distortions
In general, governments ought to liberalise markets, not intervene in them further. Food is riddled with state intervention at every turn, from subsidies to millers for cheap bread to bribes for farmers to leave land fallow. The upshot of such quotas, subsidies and controls is to dump all the imbalances that in another business might be smoothed out through small adjustments onto the one unregulated part of the food chain: the international market.
For decades, this produced low world prices and disincentives to poor farmers. Now, the opposite is happening. As a result of yet another government distortion—this time subsidies to biofuels in the rich world—prices have gone through the roof. Governments have further exaggerated the problem by imposing export quotas and trade restrictions, raising prices again. In the past, the main argument for liberalising farming was that it would raise food prices and boost returns to farmers. Now that prices have massively overshot, the argument stands for the opposite reason: liberalisation would reduce prices, while leaving farmers with a decent living.
There is an occasional exception to the rule that governments should keep out of agriculture. They can provide basic technology: executing capital-intensive irrigation projects too large for poor individual farmers to undertake, or paying for basic science that helps produce higher-yielding seeds. But be careful. Too often—as in Europe, where superstitious distrust of genetic modification is slowing take-up of the technology—governments hinder rather than help such advances. Since the way to feed the world is not to bring more land under cultivation, but to increase yields, science is crucial.
Agriculture is now in limbo. The world of cheap food has gone. With luck and good policy, there will be a new equilibrium. The transition from one to the other is proving more costly and painful than anyone had expected. But the change is desirable, and governments should be seeking to ease the pain of transition, not to stop the process itself.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 11:38 AM
An overview of 300 films which you must see. According to Maxim at least. Which films do you feel must be seen?
Posted by gjblass at 11:10 AM
A genetic fingerprint that reveals the breast cancer patients who are at high risk of the deadly spread of the disease has been found, a discovery that also reveals a new target for treatments.
read more | digg story
Posted by gjblass at 10:41 AM
by Donald Melanson, posted Apr 22nd 2008 at 10:53AM
Gallery: Gold-plated MacBook Air
Posted by gjblass at 10:38 AM
Absinthe: The Guide to Getting, Preparing, and Drinking Absinthe
April 20, 2008 · Print This Article
Not too long ago, I passed through U.S. Customs with a nice little bottle of magic from Israel. It was green, it was bitter, it was something that’s supposed to get you really messed up. But low and behold, after a night of merely 3 shots of alcohol, I wake up to see pictures of me without any pants for majority of the night.
While this can easily be described as “the night my girlfriend dumped me because of the amount of nudity on facebook,” it’s actually “the night that absinthe kicked my ass.” And absinthe baby, I got only one thing to say to you: welcome to the U.S. of A.
Absinthe is Legal
For those of you that don’t know already, absinthe has been legalized in this beautiful nation for the first time since 1912. No more do you have to empty shampoo bottles to import the highest concentrated alcoholic beverage into the States. No. If you want to grab a bottle, just find a store that carries it. Boing!
Yes, you’ve all probably heard from your friend that his cousin went to France and had absinthe and was so fucked up he started hallucinating. But most of the time your friend’s cousin is full of shit. But don’t worry weary public, I’m here to hold your hand and walk you through that mystical place that is le truth, de la absinthe.
But what is absinthe?
The first thing you need to pop into your head when you hear the word absinthe is alcohol by volume (ABV). To put this all into perspective for you, beer has an ABV of 12%, wine 15%, vodka, whiskey or rum 60%, and absinthe…89.5%. That’s 180 proof. Take that Bud Light!
Unless you break out a bathtub and have your g-ma dust off her old recipe for grain alcohol from 1930, this is the crème de le crème. You can’t get more alcohol than this without sipping rubbing alcohol. So if you’re looking to really party hardy hardy, you can’t go wrong with these numbers.
But wait, I’ve seen that absinthe poster with the sort of hot chick on it. Isn’t she adding all these crazy things to the absinthe and drinking it out of some strange glass? And for that I would give you a cookie because you just saved your ass.
I have tried absinthe straight up and it was a bad idea man. Don’t do it! Chugging an entire coke after a non-prepared shot doesn’t even cut it. Think of the bitterest thing imaginable, and that is the pure taste of absinthe.
There are two ways to prepare absinthe to cut the edge: The Kosher Way and The Poor Man’s Way. The Kosher Way is a little more complicated. You pour your shot of absinthe into a glass and then hold a slotted spoon over it. You place a sugar cube on the spoon and then pour water over the sugar and into your glass. This will distill the harshness of the 90% alcohol you’re about to consume and also cut the bitter taste. Prepared this way is more like a cocktail you nurse.
If you’re looking to fully get a college experience of absinthe, you need to follow The Poor Man’s Way. You need a shot glass, a normal glass, sugar, a spoon, and a lighter. Poor out a shot’s worth of absinthe and pour it into your glass. Then take your spoon and dip it in a little bit of the absinthe. Poor sugar on the spoon, and then light the spoon on fire. You read that correctly, free-base your sugar (also known as caramelization). Once all the sugar is a golden brown (and you’ve blown out the flame), quickly dip the spoon in the cup of absinthe and stir quickly. The sugar will mix directly with the liquid, making your shot lose its bitter edge.
A disclaimer on the Poor Man’s Way: because you don’t distill the alcohol content, you will fully feel the power of 90% ABV. Chasers work just fine but be prepared to feel the burn.
Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Can absinthe make you hallucinate? The answer is, sort of.
When shopping for absinthe you need to read the fine print. Absinthe is made from a mixture of flowers that when mixed around creates a different type of absinthe. The one you want to look for contains wormwood.
Say it with me, “wormwood.” Now that is what will make you “hallucinate.” Wormwood as a drug is used to help alleviate extreme pain. It’s most common use was for pregnant women in labor. So if you take back enough shots (usually 2-3, but hey, go crazy if you want) you will feel a sense of euphoria accompanied by your body getting drunker faster than ever before.
About this time is when you should hallucinate. But in all honesty, you won’t. The “hallucinations” you’ll experience are really things you might see if you were just really drunk. During my experience I saw a floating, fuzzy dot about 10 feet in front of me that I was chasing around. While that is out of the norm, it’s not like dropping acid or smoking salvia. Maybe you’ll see something when you’re out of your brain on absinthe, but most likely you’ll experience a very loose, high-type drunk that’s just plain fun.
Getting Your Own
A final piece of advice as you go off to the nearest liquor store carrying absinthe. Don’t rely on the bottle you’ll by there. While absinthe has become legalized, the U.S. is only producing and selling a few brands of absinthe. Most of these start at an ABV of 45% as opposed to the typical 90%. If you want the real good shit, you can personally import it from out of the States. As time goes on though, the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau will allow more types of absinthe be produced and sold through U.S. liquor stores.
And when you get a bottle of the good stuff, happy trails.
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Posted by gjblass at 10:31 AM
Honda develops walking assist device to aid elderly/disabled
Posted Apr 22nd 2008 2:55PM by Jeremy Korzeniewski
Click on the image to see more pics of Honda's Walking Assist Device
While Honda is known primarily for its cars and motorcycles, the company's engineering prowess extends into many other areas, as well. You may be aware that Honda also makes a jet and the ridiculously advanced robot known as Asimo. It appears that after reliably getting Asimo to walk on its own, Honda is phasing some of its robotics technology into other worthwhile endeavors, namely an experimental walking assist device for disabled individuals. Honda's Fundamental Technology Research Center will be showcasing the device at the International Trade Fair on Barrier Free Equipments & Rehabilitation for the Elderly & the Disabled, which will be held at Intex Osaka, Friday, April 25 through Sunday, April 27, 2008. Available in three sizes, the device uses brushless DC motors powered by lithium ion batteries that allow up to two hours of walking assistance per charge. I'm just glad that my grandmother will soon be able to throw her old fashioned walker in the air, and wave it like she just don't care.
Gallery: Honda Walking Assist Device
Honda to Showcase Experimental Walking Assist Device at BARRIER FREE 2008
TOKYO, Japan, April 22, 2008– Honda Motor Co., Ltd. will showcase an experimental model of a walking assist device which could support walking for the elderly and other people with weakened leg muscles(*), at the International Trade Fair on Barrier Free Equipments & Rehabilitation for the Elderly & the Disabled (BARRIER FREE 2008) which will be held at Intex Osaka, Friday, April 25 through Sunday, April 27, 2008 (Organizers: Osaka Prefecture Council of Social Welfare and Television Osaka Inc.)
Honda began research of a walking assist device in 1999 with a goal to provide more people with the joy of mobility. Currently, the device has entered into the feasibility stage.
The cooperative control technology utilized for this device is a unique Honda innovation achieved through the cumulative study of human walking just as the research and development of technologies was conducted for Honda's advanced humanoid robot, ASIMO. Applying cooperative control based on the information obtained from hip angle sensors, the motors provide optimal assistance based on a command from the control CPU. With this assist, the user's stride will be lengthened compared to the user's normal stride without the device and therefore the ease of walking is achieved.
The compact design of the device was achieved with flat brushless motors and a control system developed by Honda. In addition, a simple design to be worn with a belt around the hip and thigh was employed to help achieve overall weight as light as approximately 2.8kg. As a result, the device reduces the user's load and can be fit to different body shapes.
The research of this device is being conducted by the Fundamental Technology Research Center of Honda R&D Co., Ltd. in Wako, Saitama.
Honda is planning to offer interested attendees an opportunity to wear and experience this walking assist device at the Honda booth at BARRIER FREE 2008.
(*) This device is designed for people who are still capable of walking on their own.
Posted by gjblass at 10:22 AM
Posted by gjblass at 10:20 AM
April 23, 2008
Lotus gets on the meths
From their quiet shed in Hethel, the boys from Lotus might just be saving the world. The dinky British manufacturer has revealed its Trifuel Exige 270E, a methanol-powered concept that, aside from being the most powerful road-going Exige ever, previews some seriously impressive green technology.
The 270E uses the Exige's standard supercharged Toyota engine, but has been modified to run on three different fuels: methanol, ethanol or petrol. Unlike other multifuel engines, the 270E can run on any combination of the three, so it only needs a single tank.
Methanol is the exciting bit here. Unlike hydrogen, it's liquid at room temperature, so doesn't need expensive high pressure tanks - and it combusts more efficiently than diesel.
Best of all, it can be synthesised from hydrogen and carbon dioxide. That's carbon dioxide, one of the nasty gases that cause global warming. Beginning to see why this is all good?
Unfortunately, there's no easy way to recover CO2 from the atmosphere yet, but Lotus says that when technology catches up, methanol-fuelled cars could be environmentally neutral.
You won't be able to buy the 270E, which is simply being used to show how easily an engine can be converted to run on methanol. Lotus says it can convert a standard car for about £40. Sounds like a bargain.
Even more so when you consider that you get extra power for free. Because methanol has a higher octane rating than petrol, the output of the Toyota engine jumps from 237bhp to 267bhp, allowing the Exige to hit 60mph in 3.88 seconds.
We're beginning to rather like the sound of this green revolution.
Posted by MacDaddy at 10:14 AM
Police issue zero tickets during annual marijuana celebration
Here are some comments overheard during the University of Colorado's massive 4/20 smoke-out Sunday:
"People are getting out their best pot and hippie clothes today." -- CU freshman Emily Benson, 19
"I'm not smoking this year. My boss told me not to come back stoned." -- An employee for Bova's Pantry and Ice Cream, who didn't want to be named, but said he took his hour break to join the celebration
"This is impressive. I'm a little intimidated." -- Ricardo Franklin, 19, a freshman at Colorado State University who came to Boulder for the day
"I need to go higher." -- A student who was climbing a tree while smoking a joint
"It's 4:33. It took me 13 minutes to get rid of them. Wow." -- CU junior Max Lichtenstein, 21, said about the 126 Rice Krispies Treats he passed out at Sunday's event
"Go to the sidewalk. The left one. That one. Not that left. Go right." -- A woman on her cell phone trying to meet a friend in a crowd of thousands
"Peanut butter and jelly! Help pay for my breathalyzer tests!" -- CU sophomore Barrett Betz, 20, who couldn't smoke pot at this year's 4/20 event because of previous legal trouble and instead decided to sell snacks
"You can call him, but he's probably really high and won't be able to find his phone." -- One man said to his friend while leaving the Norlin Quadrangle.
"Nine, eight, seven ..."
A crowd of about 10,000 people collectively began counting down on the University of Colorado's Norlin Quadrangle just before 4:20 p.m. Sunday.
Yet the massive puff of pot smoke that hovers over CU's Boulder campus every April 20 -- the date of an annual, internationally recognized celebration of marijuana -- began rising over the sea of heads earlier than normal this year.
"Oh forget it," one student said, aborting the countdown to 4:20 p.m. and lighting his pipe early. He closed his eyes, taking a deep, long drag.
Although it's become an annual and renowned event at CU, this year's 4/20 celebration was different in some ways than in many previous years: The crowd was so large it migrated from the long-traditional site of Farrand Field to the larger Norlin Quad; festivities kicked off earlier than normal with daytime concerts; and CU police handed out zero citations.
“At this point, none are anticipated,” said CU police Cmdr. Brad Wiesley.
Officers in the past have gone to great lengths to catch people in the illegal act of smoking pot on 4/20.
In 2006, CU police dispatched undercover photographers to snap pictures of smokers. Photos of 150 alleged offenders then were posted on the department’s Web site, and witnesses were offered $50 to positively identify the suspects — who then were ticketed. Another year, smokers on Farrand were doused with sprinklers.
“We can’t do the same thing year after year,” Wiesley said hours before Sunday’s smoking began. “So I doubt we’ll do anything like the pictures. ... There’s no way our 12 to 15 officers are going to be able to deal with a crowd of 10,000. We just can’t do strong enforcement when we’re outnumbered 700 or 800 to one.”
About 15 CU officers and a half-dozen deputies with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office had a presence Sunday among the mass of pot smokers, who bounced giant balls and tossed Frisbees through the haze. CU police did handle four medical-related calls for health issues including dehydration; two people were taken to Boulder Community Hospital.
Closer to downtown, a more “adult” 4/20 gathering also took place at Boulder’s Central Park for non-students looking to avoid the CU foot traffic. But that event had a much smaller turnout and was mostly uneventful.
The crowd size at last year’s CU gathering was rumored to have topped 5,000, Wiesley said, meaning this year’s gathering drew about double.
“I guess it’s not like they had to cut a 4 p.m. class to go do it,” Wiesley said, speculating as to why so many more people showed up. “People are not all that busy at 4:20 p.m. in the afternoon on a Sunday.”
From the steps of Norlin Library, some of the thousands present said the turnout appeared comparable to that of a peace march or protest.
“You guys need to go stand on those stairs,” one girl shouted to her friends, who were seated in a circle on the quadrangle grass. “You don’t even understand.”
Smoke-out participants — thousands of whom wore green or T-shirts promoting pot — climbed trees, played the bongos, snapped pictures and had miniature picnics.
That, of course, after they sparked the weed they had come to smoke.
CU freshman Emily Benson, 19, of Kansas City, said she thinks the decriminalization of marijuana will become a hot topic in the upcoming political season and said she felt part of something bigger than just a smoke-out on Sunday.
“We’re at the starting point of a movement,” she said. “This is a big part of the reason I applied here — for the weed atmosphere.”
Although CU junior Max Lichtenstein, 21, isn’t into marijuana or smoking, he also felt Sunday’s event was a chance to do something “bigger” than himself. He passed out 126 Rice Krispies treats with messages attached asking that they act out against the injustices in Darfur.
“Tomorrow, when you’re sober ... call the White House at 202-456-1414,” the note read.
“I just like being generous and doing nice things,” he said. “I’m like a good Samaritan.”
CU senior Tyler Molvig, 24, said that rather than condemning the smoke-out, CU and the city should embrace it as a money-making opportunity.
“I mean, it’s gonna happen regardless,” he said.
Entrepreneur Barrett Betz, 20, conceived of the potential financial benefit 4/20 holds earlier this year, and sold peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Hostess snack cakes and bottled water for a $1.
“Peanut butter and jelly!” he screamed to passers-by who were parched and eager to satisfy their munchies. “I’m doing very well.”
One woman was hopeful Betz’s treats were charged with some special ingredients.
“Are these magical?” she asked, only to be disappointed. “Why aren’t you selling magical ones? I mean, it’s cool — but c’mon."
Posted by gjblass at 10:14 AM
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Craigslist is firing back at its rival and minority owner eBay, scolding the online auctioneer's actions as unethical and smelling of a hostile takeover.
In a move that pits two of the Internet's most popular sites against each other, EBay Inc. sued the online classifieds company Tuesday, alleging it unfairly tried to dilute eBay's stake in it.
EBay purchased a 28% stake in privately held Craigslist in 2004.
But in January, eBay says, Craigslist's board, consisting of founder Craig Newmark and Chief Executive Jim Buckmaster, unilaterally acted to dilute eBay's economic interest in Craigslist by more than 10%.
In an entry titled "Tainted Love" that Craigslist posted on its blog Tuesday night, the company said the allegations are unfounded and the lawsuit came from out of the blue.
"Coming from a company that views Craigslist as a prime competitor, filing suit without so much as mentioning these assertions to us beforehand seems unethical, and suggests ulterior motives. ... Ebay has absolutely no reason to feel threatened unless a hostile takeover of Craigslist, or the sale of Ebay's stake in Craigslist to an unfriendly party, is their ultimate goal," the post said.
EBay, the world's largest online auctioneer, was an unsolicited suitor to quirky Craigslist in 2004. An unnamed former Craigslist shareholder sought out eBay and sealed a deal whose financial terms were never disclosed.
At the time, Newmark said the companies had similar philosophies, but a company spokeswoman said, "Craigslist has never sought any outside money, and that's not going to change."
EBay said at the time of the deal that it was interested in learning about the classifieds business, a portion of its own site that's been growing rapidly in recent years.
San Jose-based eBay made $7.7 billion in revenue in 2007 and has 279 million registered users. It is the 17th most popular English-language site, according to traffic ranking site Alexa, while Craigslist ranks 45th.
Craigslist, based in San Francisco, has never disclosed revenue figures. It charges for job ads and apartment listings only in select cities.
Newmark, a former IBM programmer, founded Craigslist in 1995 as a roundup of local events in San Francisco, but the bare-bones site fast became a popular online destination and has branched out to 450 cities worldwide. Although it has always used a ".org" domain name usually associated with nonprofits, Craigslist incorporated as a for-profit company in 1999.
With 25 employees working out of Victorian houses in San Francisco's Inner Sunset neighborhood, the site has grown from 1 billion page views per month in 2004 to 9 billion per month now, according to Craigslist. It hosts 30 million new classifieds a month, most posted for free.
EBay spokeswoman Kim Rubey declined to quantify eBay's current stake in Craigslist.
Much larger eBay, which has 15,000 employees, is asking Delaware's Court of Chancery to negate Craigslist's board's actions.
The complaint is under seal because of confidentiality restrictions, according to a company statement. Craigslist may ask the court to make the complaint publicly available, eBay said.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 10:08 AM
The macro photo contest was our fiercest competition yet, with almost every entry making our eyes boggle. After two weeks of steady battle, these 10 photos have emerged victorious. Alan M won the contest with his photo "Eye of a Tokay Gecko" at left. Mr. M will be receiving a subscription to Wired magazine and a digital picture frame for his desk.
Since we had so many great photos that we thought should've received more votes, we've also compiled a Wired.com Editor's Choice Macro Photo Gallery.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 10:03 AM
| A telltale triplet: The cell above originally belonged to a fetus, but it leaked through the placenta into its mother's bloodstream, where it was picked up by a simple blood draw. Using sophisticated microfluidic technology and sticky antibodies, a new technology developed by Biocept plucked out this single fetal cell from among millions of maternal cells. Next, fluorescent molecular tags were used to stain the most important chromosomes: two copies of the X chromosome (light blue) mean that the fetus is female, and three copies of chromosome 21 (pink) mean that it suffers from Down syndrome. If this noninvasive test stands up to clinical validation over the next few months, it could revolutionize prenatal testing for Down syndrome. |
Amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling remain the gold standard for detecting genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome in a developing fetus. But because these procedures are invasive and can cause miscarriage, their use is normally only advised for women with known risk factors. Now a handful of emerging tests suggest that in the near future, it may be possible to detect genetic defects with a simple blood draw from the mother.
"The holy grail all along is to give women a diagnosis without having an invasive procedure," says Joe Leigh Simpson, executive associate dean for academic affairs at the Florida International University College of Medicine and a pioneer in the field of noninvasive prenatal testing.
While the placenta serves to separate the fetus's circulatory system from the mother's, a minuscule amount of free-floating fetal nucleic acid and a small number of fetal cells can be found circulating in the mother's bloodstream. For decades, scientists have been searching for ways to isolate and characterize these potential clues to the genetic status of a developing fetus.
It's relatively straightforward to purify circulating snippets of DNA and RNA and analyze their sequences, but distinguishing fetal nucleic acids from those of the mother remains a challenge. Particularly in the case of Down syndrome, in which the defining feature is an extra copy of chromosome 21, it's tough to tally how many copies the fetus has without an intact fetal cell.
To get around this roadblock, Dennis Lo, professor of chemical pathology and medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, takes advantage of SNPs--commonly occurring single-letter differences in a given gene. A normal fetus with two copies of chromosome 21 might have two different spellings of a particular gene on that chromosome, expressed in a one-to-one ratio. A Down syndrome fetus would have an extra copy of one version, yielding a two-to-one ratio.
By analyzing the ratios of RNA produced by SNP-containing genes, researchers can indirectly count fetal copies of chromosome 21. The more SNPs included in the analysis, the more accurate the outcome. Sequenom, a molecular diagnostics company based in San Diego, is currently working to adapt Lo's work into a clinical test for Down syndrome.
Other genetic disorders, such as Rh incompatibility syndrome, are more readily amenable to an analysis of fetal nucleic acids from the maternal bloodstream. Rh is a protein found sticking out of the red blood cells of individuals with Rh-positive blood. If a mother is Rh-negative, her immune system may react violently to an Rh-positive fetus. In this case, scanning the mother's bloodstream for the presence of the Rh-encoding gene or its corresponding RNA provides a simple way to determine whether preventative treatment will be necessary. Traditionally, all Rh-negative pregnant women are treated--unless the father is known to be Rh-negative as well--even though only a fraction of them carry an Rh-positive baby.
Although Rh tests based on this approach have been in use in Europe for years, the first U.S. version, developed by Lo in conjunction with Sequenom and implemented by Lenetix Medical Screening Laboratory, just hit the market last December.
Diana Bianchi, a professor of pediatrics, obstetrics, and gynecology at the Tufts University School of Medicine, says that Sequenom's Rh test is promising but not perfect. "It will be interesting to see whether obstetricians in the United States are willing to take the risk of a false negative," she says.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 10:00 AM