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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Human-pig hybrid embryos given go ahead

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 01/07/2008

A licence to create human-pig embryos to study heart disease has been issued by the fertility watchdog.

This marks the third animal-human hybrid embryo licence to be issued by Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the first since the Commons voted in favour of this controversial research last month.

An HFEA spokesman said it had approved an application from the Clinical Sciences Research Institute, University of Warwick, for the creation of hybrid embryos. The centre has been offered a 12 month licence with effect from today, July 1.


The effort at the University of Warwick is led by Professor Justin St John. "This new license allows us to attempt to make human pig clones to produce embryonic stem cells," he said, where embryonic stem cells are able to turn into the 200 plus types in the body.

  • Hybrids: separating hope from the hype
  • Questions answered on animal-human embryos
  • Embryo research: a source of hope or horror?
  • "We will take skin cells from patients who have a mutation for certain kinds of heart disease (cardiomyopathy, which makes the heart lose its pumping strength) and put them into pig eggs after their chromosomes have been removed. We will then make embryos so that we can attempt to derive embryonic stem cells which will allow us to study some of the molecular mechanisms associated with these heart diseases.

    "Ultimately they will help us to understand where some of the problems associated with these diseases arise and they could also provide models for the pharmaceutical industry to test new drugs. We will effectively be creating and studying these diseases in a dish.

    "But it's important to say that we're at the very early stages of this research and it will take a considerable amount of time. There is still a great deal to learn about these techniques and much of our early work will involve understanding how we can make the hybrid cloning process as efficient as possible."

    The study is aimed at understanding the way power-producing structures in cells, called mitochondria, are passed from egg to embryo. In the hybrid, the mitochondria mostly come from the egg, initially making up around half of the DNA by weight, and the team will do experiments in order to ensure that the trace of human mitochondrial DNA takes over, not least because it is designed to work with human nuclear DNA.

    "The key thing we are doing is trying to create stem cells without any animal DNA in them. So even though these hybrid embryos normally have a small percentage of animal DNA , we are hoping to create cells that would have human chromosomes and human mitochondrial DNA." The reason is that, as the team puts it, "mixing of these two diverse populations of mitochondria can be detrimental to cellular function."

    Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat science spokesman, commenting on the HFEA decision to issue a license to the University of Warwick to create hybrid embryos combining human skin cells with enucleated pig eggs, said: "This application is a further indication of the interest in this sort of research by UK scientists, the decision of the HFEA to issue a license following stringent checks demonstrates that it is considered both necessary and ethical."

    "While this approval comes under the existing 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, both houses of Parliament have recently voted by large majorities to allow it into the future," said Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, of the MRC National Institute For Medical Research.

    "It is good news that this license has been issued at a time when parliament has expressed overwhelming support for this research after an excellent public debate. I suspect other similar applications will follow and hopefully this research can now progress without the hype."

    Teams in Newcastle and London are already creating hybrids. The former have already created hybrids with cow eggs to study the basics of how the use of genes changes in early development, the latter a range of species to generate stem cells from people with neurodegenerative disorders.

    Information appearing on is the copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium without licence. For the full copyright statement see Copyright

    Extinct? Think again -- PICS

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    The Biggest Wall of Antlers in the World

    Do you get freaked out when you see a deer on the top of a car, during hunting season? Well, this museum will surely spook you since it contains the highest number of antlers per square meter than any other place in the world. It’s the Vajdahunyad Castle, located in Budapest, Hungary.

    Built between 1896 and 1908, in appearance the castle is a hybrid combination of a castle in Transylvania and of several architectural styles. It was built initially from cardboard to host the Hungarian millennial exhibition but it became so popular that it was rebuilt in brick and stone. As soon as construction was finished, the castle became home to the Hungarian Agricultural Museum, which is still standing.

    As you enter the museum, you will be greeted by an array of hundreds of antlers, horns, hooves, fur and stuffed animals together. In the “Hall of Hunting” you can find basically every piece of furniture that is able to incorporate antlers, including antler chandeliers and antler chairs.

    And the museum would have had more pieces, if it hadn’t been ransacked during the Second World War. Shortly after, in 1958, when the collection was just put back together, the freedom fighters of the Hungarian uprising devastated most of the displays. But with donations and a lot of work, the gloomy collection of dead animals, the dream of every hunter, is back on tourist maps.

    Rest assured, most of the antlers do not come just from hunted animals: a proportion of the antlers come from stags who died natural deaths. One common scenario is when two stags engage in a fight, they run one into the other with their antlers. This clash often ends up with chipped or broken antlers and in certain instances can be fatal, for example when the antlers pierce the jugular.

    And if you weren’t freaked out enough, the next statue will probably do the trick. Displayed in the Castle court, the anonymous figure represents a chronicler in the XII century (probably of King Béla III). He is the author of the first history books in Hungary and legend has it that if you touch his pen, you will receive a dash of good luck.

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    Bon Jovi playing free show in Central Park

    Tue Jul 1, 2008 5:26am EDT

    NEW YORK (Billboard) - New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi will play a free concert in Central Park on July 12, the band announced Monday. The show, billed as an "All-Star Concert in Central Park," will take place in conjunction with the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which is set for July 15 at Yankee Stadium.

    "We've gotten the chance to bookend what is the most successful tour in the world this year with a free concert for anyone in New York," frontman Jon Bon Jovi said at a news conference alongside New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials. "I just traveled the world again, and New York is still the greatest city in the world."

    The concert will take place at 8 p.m. on the park's Great Lawn and will not be televised. Fans will be allowed to enter the area beginning at 2 p.m. Tickets will be available beginning July 2 at baseball parks as well as at events throughout New York.

    No more than 60,000 tickets will be distributed in an attempt to maintain the safety and integrity of the lawn's grass, Bloomberg said. "Our interest is in keeping the park open and making sure at the same time that we protect the investment the public has made," he said.

    The band's "Lost Highway" tour wraps July 14-15 with a pair of Madison Square Garden arena shows in New York.


    A Supercar for Cops

    Future cruiser
    Trash collectors drive trash trucks and ambulance drivers drive ambulances. Police, on the other hand, drive cars primarily designed for civilian use that have been loaded down with bolted-on police equipment.

    Decades ago, that was fine, says Daniel Li, a former Ford Motor Co. executive who now heads an Atlanta-based company called Carbon Motors.

    But today's police cars are jammed full of computer equipment, speed detection equipment, weapons, surveillance equipment and other heavy and complex machinery.

    And that's just on the inside. On the outside, special bumper bars and lights get tacked on and -- in some cases -- special fire suppression equipment.

    Carbon Motors thinks it can offer something better than the retro-fitted Ford Crown Victorias, Chevrolet Impalas and Dodge Magnums most police officers now drive. Li adds that the Carbon E7, the car's working name, will cost police departments no more than the fully equipped cars they now drive.

    On top of all that, the E7 will be stronger, faster, tougher and more fuel-efficient, the company claims. So far, about 650 police departments have expressed interest in the car, Li says, even though production isn't expected to begin before 2012.

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    Mopar Supercharger planned for 2009 Challenger

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    The supercharger will be marketed through Dodge dealers as a Mopar-branded aftermarket item. Along with the blower, the '09 Challenger will get the typical SEMA treatment: a cold-air intake, a high-flow cat-back exhaust system and, of course, a few different sets of rims.

    Speedfactory has already taken the wraps off its Vortech supercharger kit for the Challenger, which ups the 6.1-liter Hemi V8's stock 425 horsepower to 630 hp with the Stage 2 modifications.

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    In-Depth look at the DIY "Bucket Hydroelectric Generator"

    Sam Redfield on Pico-hydro at La Florida

    by Catherine Laine
    June 29th, 2008

    The pico-hydro system we’re working on just got featured on MAKE and Gizmodo so I asked Sam Redfield, the primary developer on the project, to send over some more info on his invention and time with us in Guatemala.

    I recently returned from a 3-month stint with AIDG Guatemala. As part of their program in Central America, they are pursuing an ambitious project to develop cheap, small hydroelectric systems under one kilowatt known as Pico-Hydro. Prior to my arrival in Guatemala I had developed a small hydroelectric system housed in a 5-gallon bucket. Using a Permanent Magnet Alternator as the generator in the system and made almost entirely of PVC, we conducted field tests in the small community of La Florida to determine what the possibilities were for generating power with the device. La Florida had lost its primary source of electricity and was depending on candles and batteries for their energy needs.

    Pico-hydro system test at La Florida, Guatemala
    Pico-hydro system test at La Florida, Guatemala

    Pico-hydro PVC Turbine

    La Florida is a small community based around a coffee plantation on which a group of landless campesinos ceded from ruin after the previous owners abandoned the property. It now runs as a collective producing excellent organic coffee. Set in the foothills below a semi-active volcano near the Pacific coast in the tropical lowlands of western Guatemala, La Florida offered a temperate climate with easy access to water. Our work in la Florida focused around the prospect of charging cellular phones using the Pico-Hydro system that I had developed in the States.

    Charging 10 cell phones off the battery
    Charging 11 cell phones off the battery

    To charge cell phones, members of the community have to take an expensive and time consuming taxi ride an hour each way to pay a service for charging. Cell phones have become increasingly important in small isolated communities as they give these communities access to medicine, the market and family. Our field tests began by identifying a site with access to abundant water and a steep incline for the pipe to feed the generator. After a site was identified, we laid the pipe and tapped into an existing stream. In all we laid 80 meters of 2- inch pipe to achieve a head, or drop in elevation, of just under 30 meters.

    The generator was then installed with a voltage regulator, car battery and inverter. The regulator insured that the battery was not overcharged, the battery stored the energy for use and the inverter bumped up the power to 110 volts. Three power strips were then attached to the inverter. After we determined that the generator was producing electricity, we began gathering cell phones from the community. In all we gathered 18 phones. The generator was producing 60 watts, not a whole lot of power, but enough to charge 10 cell phones at a time without depleting the battery. Because the car battery could remain fully charged with a load of ten cell phone chargers working, we would be able to charge ten cell phones at a time 24 hours a day without depleting the car battery. Alternatively, we could charge considerably more cell phones simultaneously and allow periods for the car battery to recharge. The system produced enough power to charge all the cell phones in the community and potentially could provide a service that would save the people of La Florida considerable time and money.

    Micro-enterprise schemes are being investigated to provide an individual with the generator as a business venture. The owner of the business would charge a small fee for charging cellular phones that would be affordable. The cost of the generator would be paid back over time with the proceeds of the charging service. Another application of the generator being explored is for household lighting. With the emergence of high output super efficient LED’s the prospect of creating small-scale lighting utilities is within reach. Again, people would be charged a reasonable fee to receive four to six high output LED lighting fixtures in their homes. The provider of the service would make a modest profit, and pay for the generator over time.

    Duration: 1min

    Work continues. One of the issues that we face in deploying the system is cost. The Permanent Magnet Alternator that generates the electricity in the system costs more than $300.00 US and has to be imported from the States. As part of my program with AIDG in Guatemala, I investigated the possibility of rebuilding a Toyota alternator to function as a Permanent Magnet Alternator. After investigating several possibilities, I am happy to report that we now have a working prototype, which is being integrated into the system. Other improvements include integrating the voltage regulator into the device and improvements in turbine performance. In the coming months trials will continue and no doubt improvements in economy and performance will be made. My work with AIDG Guatemala was invaluable to me in understanding the energy issues people face in the developing world and provided me an excellent opportunity to develop my technology in an environment that fosters innovation in a setting where peopleÂ’s lives are positively effected. Thanks AIDG!

    -Sam Redfield
    Sam Redfield

    Sam is building a generator for Professor Brian Thomas at Baylor University to be installed in Honduras as a cell phone charging micro business.

    He’s going to try to get me a parts list with general specs to post on the blog in the next few days. Until then if you have pressing questions, you can email him a samredfield [@} earthlink {dot] net

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    100 Great Movies in Two Minutes

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    California to Legalize Weed for Everyone

    Top Shelf Nuggs
    That was an eighth of some $80 weed. 510 Kush. Photo by Anti/LAist

    There is an initiative in the works that could end up on the November ballot that allows for marijuana to be sold to anyone, and anywhere that already sells alcohol. Its being called The Inalienable Rights Enforcement Initiative. From the full text of the measure:
    This initiative will amend the Constitution of California to defend and safeguard the inalienable rights of the People against infringement by governments and corporations, providing for the lawful growth, sale, and possession of marijuana. Marijuana will be taxed through a system of stamps and licenses--a $5 stamp will be required for the sale of an eighth ounce of marijuana and a $50 annual license will be required for the growth of one marijuana plant. To protect participants and encourage participation in the system, such licenses and stamps will be available anonymously in stores where marijuana is sold.

    So instead of getting some quack doctor to give you a prescription for $100 because of your supposed "anxiety" or alleged "insomnia", you will just pay an extra tax each time you buy yourself another 8th.

    Aside from allowing all willing adults to be able to buy weed easily, this initiative will start to generate revenue for California, and stimulate our struggling economy. More weed stores means more jobs for Californians, more taxes to be collected, and more people enjoying better weed. And finally marijuana will be put into the same file as Alcohol and Cigarettes where it belongs, instead of it being equated with crack-cocaine and heroine.

    The initiative goes on to say why they believe this to be a necessary measure:

    We also hold these truths to be self-evident-That, as an intoxicant, marijuana is far less harmful to the health and safety of the People than alcohol--That, as a smoking substance, marijuana is far less addictive or harmful to the health of the People than tobacco--That, even though alcohol is harmful to the health and safety of the People, the prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1933 only increased the harms associated with alcohol use: criminals seized control of the alcohol market, crime and violence increased greatly, and poverty, unemployment, and corruption flourished, while otherwise lawful alcohol drinkers were treated as "criminals" subject to detention, arrest, and incarceration, even though they had not harmed the rights of anyone--That, as with alcohol prohibition, the prohibition of marijuana has only increased the harms associated with the use of marijuana: criminals control a multi-billion dollar market, crime and violence have increased greatly, and poverty, unemployment, and corruption flourish, while otherwise law-abiding marijuana smokers are treated as "criminals" subject to detention, arrest, and incarceration, even though they have not harmed the rights of anyone-That the history of marijuana prohibition is a history of repeated injuries and infringements upon the inalienable rights, powers, and best interests of the People.

    Fuck Yes! Preach on, brothers! They go on to point out that alcohol, tobacco, and big-pharma lobbyists have the politicians that are supposed to represent the People in their back-pockets and serving the interests of the alcohol, tobacco, and big-pharma industries.

    Despite the harms of marijuana prohibition, politicians persist in imposing and upholding marijuana prohibition, because these politicians are not working for the People--they are working for the corporate executives who financed their campaigns, such as corporate executives in the alcohol industry who want to protect their monopoly on intoxication, corporate executives in the tobacco industry who want to protect their monopoly on smoking, corporate executives in the pharmaceutical industry who want to protect their monopoly on expensive medicines, and corporate executives in the many industries threatened by competition with hemp. These corporate executives pull the strings of the government to perpetuate marijuana prohibition despite its harms, because they do not care about the inalienable rights and best interests of the People--they care about taking as much money from the People as possible. These corporate executives also use their control of the mainstream media to make it seem like marijuana prohibition is a failed attempt to serve the interests of the People, censoring the idea that marijuana prohibition is a successful attempt to serve corporate interests at the expense of the People. For these corporate interests, politicians sacrifice the inalienable rights and best interests of the People. This corruption and corporate influence is worse at the national level, where the People can least afford political influence and the media is most effective at manipulating public debate. Because of this corruption, it is futile for the People to turn to the federal government for protection--because the federal government is the source of the harm. The repeated attempts by the People to reduce the harms of marijuana prohibition have been answered only by repeated injury. The harm from marijuana prohibition is ongoing and the need for relief is urgent. Such is the suffering of the People, and such is the necessity that constrains us to alter our former systems of government. A government with a character marked by every act that defines a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. Therefore, appealing to humankind for the rightness of our intentions

    They need 694,354 signatures by September, 5, 2008. I think it's totally do-able. Its been over a decade since Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, was passed with over 5 million votes in favor.

    So 12 years later... are we more or less tolerant of recreational use of marijuana? For now, we'll have to wait and see.

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    "...some methods that will help turn and red light to green."

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    Chismillionaire's second favorite sedan gets a refresh

    Latmqp For 2009, the delectable Maserati Quattroporte luxury sports sedan has received a little freshening up in the looks department. The grille now features vertical slats -- a traditional Maserati design feature and just like the GranTurismo (the super coupe based on the same platform). It also gets LED lights at both ends and the side view mirrors have been re-shaped, connected to the body with more streamlined mountings.

    Inside, a new entertainment and navigation system is part of a revised cabin that offers two new colors of leather upholstery: Marrone Corniola and Sabbia. No idea what they are (although the first one might be a deep red), but they sound great and have the distinction of replacing the beige option.

    The great thing is that this Pininfarina design (one of Italy’s -- nay, the world’s -- top studios) is still uncorrupted by the obligatory mid-life revamp that all manufacturers feel the need to do. The 2009 Maserati Quattroporte is available as, um, the Quattroporte and the Quattroporte S, a slightly sportier model. The former has a 4.2-liter V-8 engine, the latter a 4.7. Both are wonderful, both are Ferrari-sourced.

    Maserati neglected to mention whether the prices will go up, so consider the current starting MSRP of $110,600 as something of a ballpark. The new cars will be delivered from October onwards.

    Volkswagen to Produce Plug-In Hybrid Electric Cars in 2010

    Written by Andrew Williams

    Hot on the heels of the announcement that Mercedes will produce electric cars, comes the news that fellow German manufacturer Volkswagen plans to produce a test fleet of plug-in hybrid electric cars by 2010.

    A few months ago, to much excitement from the automotive press, the company unveiled a diesel-electric Golf but, according to VW chief Martin Winterkorn, “the future belongs to electric cars.” To help in mapping out the road to this electric future, the company have unveiled a plug-in hybrid powertrain, called the Twin-Drive, which will make its first appearance in a Golf kitted out with a 122-horsepower diesel engine, twinned with an 82-horsepower electric motor.

    A key difference between the VW approach and typical hybrids is that instead of the battery providing supplemental power to the combustion engine, the Twin-Drive will work the other way around. According to Winterkorn, “here the diesel or gasoline engine supplements the e-motor.”

    The car will use lithium-ion batteries and have a range of 31 miles on purely electric power. Over the last few months, Volkswagen has invested heavily in li-ion battery technology. In addition to teaming up with Sanyo in a $769 million dollar development project, the company has also formed the Lithium-Ion Battery 2015 Alliance (LIB2015) with Bosch, BASF, Evonik and others, backed up by a €60 million investment from the German government.

    Volkwagen says it will have a test-fleet of twenty Twin-Drive Golf’s on the road in 2010, but there is still no news on plans to ramp-up commercial production. Given the level of investment being ploughed into the technology, I have a hunch that such an announcement won’t be too long in coming.

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