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Soya-wheat mix can help protect immunity of HIV patients: Study

Written By kom nampultig on Kamis, 16 April 2015 | 22.10

CHENNAI: Adding a soya-wheat mix fortified with vitamins to the diet of HIV-positive people, along with regular treatment, can safeguard their immunity and general health, a new study has found.

The study by National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis had about 282 patients getting macronutrient supplement at Tuberculosis Research Centre clinics in Chennai and Madurai for six months. It showed not just significant improvement in nutritional parameters, but also that the CD4 cell count of these patients remained stable, indicating their immunity was being maintained. The patients who took part in the study were were not on antiretroviral therapy (ART).

CD4 cells are a type of white blood cells that protect the body from infection. Once infected with HIV, the cells are attacked and destroyed by the virus. However, at the time of the study, the guideline recommended initiation of ART before CD4 cell counts decrease below 250 cells while the recent guidelines suggest 350 cells.

Malnutrition in HIV-positive adults is an issue that requires special attention as it leads to faster disease progression, high mortality rate and suboptimal response to anti-retroviral therapy. And if they are the bread winners, it could affect the whole family.

The nutritional parameters that were observed to have significantly increased among the group that received macronutrient supplement are body weight, body mass index, mid-arm circumference, fat-free mass, and body cell mass. The observation was compared with that of a control group of 79 patients who received only standard care. This group did not show any improvement, and their CD4 count dropped.

While the standard care involved treatment to prevent other diseases and treating common infections, by providing multivitamin tablets, nutritional counselling and psychosocial support. The supplement group, meanwhile, also got a mixture of whole wheat and soya bean flour fortified with vitamins and folic acid, providing a high-calorie, high-protein diet.

NIRT director Dr Soumya Swaminathan said that though an increase in nutrition levels were observed, they may not be statistically significant. That was partly due to the study design and other biological and behaviourial factors.

Scientist C Padmapriyadarsini says that the patients in the 'beneficiary' group were also given interesting recipes to try out new ways to cook and eat. "M Being a catabolic illness, HIV requires high-protein content to build muscle mass," she said. The study also recalled a macronutrient supplementation programme in TN for all HIV-positive patients initiating ART at government centres, which showed weight gain in treated patients. The programme was discontinued after the funding was stopped.

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New blood test predicts breast cancer years ahead

LONDON: A new blood test can predict if a woman would get breast cancer in the next two to five years and could create a "paradigm shift" in early diagnosis of the disease, reports a new study.

"The method is better than mammography, which can only be used when the disease has already occurred," said Rasmus Bro, professor of chemometrics at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

"It is not perfect, but it is truly amazing that we can predict breast cancer years into the future," Bro stressed.

While a mammography can detect newly developed breast cancer with a sensitivity of 75 percent, the new metabolic blood profile is able to predict the likelihood of a woman developing breast cancer within the next two to five years with a sensitivity of 80 percent, the study noted.

The research was based on a population study of 57,000 people followed by the Danish Cancer Society over 20 years.

Inspired by research in food science, the researchers analysed all compounds a blood sample contains instead of - as is often done in health and medical science - examining what a single biomarker means in relation to a specific disease.

"When a huge amount of relevant measurements from many individuals is used to assess health risks - here breast cancer - it creates very high quality information. The more measurements our analyses contain, the better the model handles complex problems," continued professor Bro.

The model does not reveal anything about the importance of the single biomarkers in relation to breast cancer, but it does reveal the importance of a set of biomarkers and their interactions, the researchers said.

"No single part of the pattern is actually necessary nor sufficient. It is the whole pattern that predicts the cancer," noted Lars Ove Dragsted from the University of Copenhagen.

The study was published in the journal Metabolomics.

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NASA reveals first-ever colour image of Pluto

WASHINGTON: NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, set to fly by the Pluto system on July 14, has sent its first colour image of the dwarf planet and its largest moon Charon.

"The image reveals tantalising glimpses of this system," Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said in a statement.

Charon is seen dimmer than Pluto in the image taken from a distance of 115 million km.

"The contrast may be due to a difference in composition of the two bodies or it could even be caused by a previously unseen atmosphere on Charon," Green added.

The uncertainty should clear up this summer when New Horizons gets history's first good look at the two frigid, faraway objects.

"We are going to Pluto because it is the human race's first opportunity to study an entirely new class of world," added William McKinnon, New Horizons co-investigator from the Washington University in St. Louis.

Till date, astronomers knew about only one moon of Pluto called Charon which is nearly 50 percent as wide as the dwarf planet.

Exactly 85 years after Pluto's discovery, New Horizons has now spotted small moons orbiting Pluto.

The moons, Nix and Hydra, are visible in a series of images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft at distances ranging from about 201 to 186 million km.

The long-exposure images offer New Horizons' best view yet of these two small moons circling Pluto which professor Clyde Tombaugh discovered at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona Feb 18, 1930.

Nix and Hydra were discovered by New Horizons team members in Hubble Space Telescope images taken in 2005.

Hydra, Pluto's outermost known moon, orbits Pluto every 38 days at a distance of approximately 64,700 km while Nix orbits every 25 days at a distance of 48,700 km.

Pluto's two other small moons, Styx and Kerberos, are still smaller and too faint to be seen by New Horizons at its current range to Pluto.

There may be yet more moons waiting to be discovered, as well as a ring system or debris fields around Pluto.

Such features could present a collision risk to New Horizons but mission team members are not too concerned, Space.com reported.

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Now, herbal tea that fights malaria

Written By kom nampultig on Rabu, 15 April 2015 | 22.10

WASHINGTON: A new study has revealed about the journey of the antimalarial tea from herbal remedy to licensed phytomedicine.

The herbal remedy derived from the roots of a weed, which was traditionally used to alleviate malarial symptoms, was combined with leaves and aerial portions from two other plants with antimalarial activity, formulated as a tea, and eventually licensed and sold as an antimalarial phytomedicine.

The authors have presented the fascinating story and challenges behind the development of this plant-based treatment.

Merlin Willcox (University of Oxford, UK), Zephirin Dakuyo (Phytofla, Banfora, Burkina Faso) and coauthors discuss the antimalarial and pharmacological properties of the herbal medication derived from Cochlospermum planchonii (a shrubby weed known as N'Dribala), Phyllanthus amarus, and Cassia alata.

The authors provide a unique historical perspective in describing the early evaluation, development, and production of this phytomedicine.

They present the ongoing research and challenges in scaling up cultivation and harvesting of the plants and in production of the final product.

The article also describes other traditional uses of the medication, such as to treat hepatitis.

The study appears in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

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Turn corpses into compost and let life bloom

By: Catrin Einhorn

CULLOWHEE (North Carolina): The body of the tiny 78-year-old woman was brought to a hillside at Western Carolina University still clad in a blue hospital gown. She was laid on a bed of wood chips, and then more were heaped atop her. If all goes as hoped, the body will turn into compost. It is a startling next step in the natural burial movement.

Armed with an environmental fellowship, Katrina Spade, 37, Seattle resident with a degree in architecture, has proposed an alternative: a facility for human composting. The woman laid to rest in wood chips is a first step in testing how it would work. "Composting makes people think of banana peels and coffee grounds," Spade said. But "our bodies have nutrients. What if we could grow new life after we've died?" Scientists agree that human beings can be composted. Already countless farms across the country compost the bodies of dead livestock. "I'm absolutely sure that it can work," said Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a soil scientist at Washington State University who is on the advisory board of the Urban Death Project, a nonprofit that Spade founded.

The process is surprisingly simple: Place nitrogen-rich material, like dead animals, inside a mound of carbon-rich material, like wood chips and sawdust, adding moisture or extra nitrogen and making other adjustments as needed. Microbial activity will start the pile cooking. Bacteria release enzymes that break down tissue into component parts like amino acids, and eventually, the nitrogen-rich molecules bind with the carbon-rich ones, creating a soil-like substance. Temperatures reach around 140 degrees, often higher, and the heat kills common pathogens. Done correctly, there should be no smell. Bones also compost, though they take longer than tissue.

Spade has designed a building for human composting that aims to marry the efficiency of this biological process with the ritual and symbolism that mourners crave. Each Urban Death facility would be centered around a three-storey vault that she calls "the core". Loved ones would carry their deceased, wrapped in a shroud, up a circular ramp to the top.

There, during a "laying in" ceremony, mourners would place the body inside the core, which could hold perhaps 30 corpses at a time. Over the next several weeks, each body would move down the core until the first stage of composting was complete.

In a second stage, material would be screened, along with any remaining bones, and the compost would be cured. Spade estimates that each body, combined with the necessary materials such as wood chips and sawdust, would yield enough compost to fill a cube three feet by three feet.

Weeks or months later, survivors could collect some of the compost to use as they saw fit, perhaps in their garden or to plant a tree. Spade foresees the rest going to nearby parks or conservation lands. Each human composting would cost about $2,500, a fraction of the price of conventional burial, Spade estimates. She hopes to build the first facility in Seattle, then to develop a template that other communities can use for locally designed facilities.

First, though, she and her supporters will have to navigate an array of obstacles. Many Americans find the idea of composting human bodies repulsive. Then there are legal barriers. State laws vary: In the last few years, several have legalized water cremation. But in many other states, bodies must be buried, entombed, cremated or donated to science. Questions remain about how human compost should be used. Certain pathogens can survive composting, and livestock that have died from diseases are banned from composting.

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NASA telescope finds planet deep within our galaxy

WASHINGTON: NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has teamed up with a telescope on the ground to find a remote gas planet about 13,000 light years away, making it one of the most distant planets known.

"We do not know if planets are more common in our galaxy's central bulge or the disk of the galaxy which is why these observations are so important," said Jennifer Yee of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The discovery demonstrates that Spitzer -- from its unique perch in space -- can be used to help solve the puzzle of how planets are distributed throughout our flat, spiral-shaped Milky Way galaxy.

Spitzer circles our Sun and is currently about 207 million km away from Earth. When Spitzer watches a microlensing event simultaneously with a telescope on Earth, it sees the star brighten at a different time, due to the large distance between the two telescopes and their unique vantage points.

A microlensing event occurs when one star happens to pass in front of another and its gravity acts as a lens to magnify and brighten the more distant star's light.

If that foreground star happens to have a planet in orbit around it, the planet might cause a blip in the magnification. This technique is generally referred to as parallax.

"Spitzer is the first space telescope to make a microlens parallax measurement for a planet," Yee added.

In the case of the newfound planet, the duration of the microlensing event happened to be unusually long -- about 150 days. Knowing the distance allowed the scientists to also determine the mass of the planet, which is about half that of Jupiter.

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Killer robots worry United Nations

Written By kom nampultig on Selasa, 14 April 2015 | 22.10

LONDON: Robots which can decide what to kill are all set to change the face of modern warfare but has left the United Nations seriously worried.

A major multilateral meeting on "lethal autonomous weapons systems" (LAWS) is taking place in Geneva at present to discuss the legality and moral issues surrounding killer robots.

Being attended by around 117 members of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), the meeting will discuss the military rationale for pursuing autonomy in specific functions of weapons systems and in what situations are distinctively human traits, such as fear, hate, sense of honour and dignity, compassion and love, desirable in combat. Experts are also deliberating on what situations do machines that lack emotions offer distinct advantages over human combatants?

Britain has already made it clear that it opposes international ban on "killer robots" while Pakistan has vehemently called on the UN to clamp down on killer bots as it would lead to "one-sided killing". Robots that can locate and kill enemies on their own are becoming a reality.

Several nations including the US, UK, South Korea, Russia and Israel are at an advanced stage of developing killer robots.

Pakistan said at the meeting on Tuesday that "In the absence of any human intervention, as is implied by the term 'autonomous', such weapons are by nature unethical - delegating power to machines, which inherently lack any compassion and intuition, to make life and death decisions. LAWS would not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, they lack morality and judgement. The use of LAWS will make war even more inhumane".

The Pakistani delegation said that states employing LAWS would lower the threshold of going to war, resulting in armed conflict no longer being a measure of last resort, but a recurrent "low-cost" affair instead.

Sri Lanka too opposed killer robots by saying they can escalate the "pace of war and undermine existing arms controls and regulations to aggravate dangers of asymmetric warfare The possibility of having access to LAWS by non-state actors and terrorists or their ability to alter the command of the targets could gravely endanger the security of the world".

The meeting is being chaired by a German diplomat Michael Biontino.

Britain said it does not support a ban on LAWS for the time being "as international humanitarian law already provides sufficient regulation for this area".

UK confirmed it isn't developing killer robots with weapons systems being used under constant armed forces supervision.

Earlier, Michael Moller, acting director-general of the UN told countries that bold action was needed "to take pre-emptive action and ensure that the ultimate decision to end life remains firmly under human control".

One of the examples of killer robots is SGR-A 1 - a military robot designed to police the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea. The all-weather robot fitted with a 5.56 mm automatic machine gun is deadly as it tracks multiple moving targets via infrared sensors and can identify and shoot a target automatically from over two miles away.

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'Dwarf planet' Ceres spawns giant mystery

VIENNA: First classified a planet, then an asteroid and then a "dwarf planet" with some traits of a moon -- the more scientists learn about Ceres, the weirder it becomes.

And new observations of the sphere of rock and ice circling our Sun between Mars and Jupiter have added to the mystery, researchers said Monday.

Astrophysicists have been looking to a $473-million (446-million-euro) mission to test theories that Ceres is a water-rich planetary "embryo" -- a relic from the birth of the Solar System some 4.5 billion years ago.

But an early batch of data from NASA's Dawn probe, unveiled at a conference of the European Geosciences Union (EGU), may have made the Ceres riddle even greater.

In orbit around Ceres since March 6 after a seven-and-a-half-year trek, Dawn peered at two bright spots on its surface deemed to be telltales of its chemical and physical ID.

But instead of explaining the spots, analysis found the two seemed to "behave distinctly differently," said Federico Tosi, who works on Dawn's Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIR).

While Spot 1 is colder than its immediate surroundings, Spot 5 is not. The spots are two of a known dozen or so which on photographs taken by Dawn resemble lights shining on a dull grey surface.

Ceres travels at some 414 million kilometres (260 million miles) from the Sun, taking 4.61 Earth years to complete one orbit.

About 950 km (590 miles) wide, it is the biggest object in the asteroid belt -- large enough for gravity to have moulded its shape into a ball.

With VIR, the Dawn team have been able to put together images at different wavelengths of light, Tosi told journalists.

One picture, as seen by the human eye, shows Ceres as a "dark and brownish" ball with both white spots clearly visible.

But in thermal images, Spot 1 becomes a dark spot on a reddish ball, indicating it was cooler than the rest of the surface, said Tosi.

The "biggest surprise", he added, was that Spot 5 simply disappeared on the thermal image.

"For sure, we have bright spots on the surface of Ceres which, at least from a thermal perspective, seem to behave in different ways."

Theories about what the spots are range from ice to "hydrated minerals" -- water not in pure ice form but absorbed by minerals.

Ice would be difficult to explain, though, as Ceres inhabits a zone not quite distant enough from the Sun to allow "stable ice" on the surface, said Tosi of the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome.

Just as intriguing is that Ceres is very unlike its near neighbour Vesta, an asteroid which Dawn studied in 2011 and 2012.

Vesta is bright and reflects much of the Sun's light, while Ceres is dark -- a contrast that says these bodies have experienced very different space odysseys.

The team also found fewer large craters on Ceres than observations of Vesta suggested they should.

"When we compared the size of the craters on Ceres with those on Vesta, we're missing a number of large craters, the number we would expect," said Christopher Russell, Dawn's principal investigator.

Pockmarks on the surface did, however, suggest Ceres had a "violent collisional history," said team member Martin Hoffman from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Goettingen, Germany.

Put together, the case for Ceres as a baby planet that never made it to adulthood remains, for now, in limbo.

More may become clear in the coming months when Dawn, which until now has been on Ceres' dark side, moves closer to probe its surface composition and temperature.

The first object in the main asteroid belt to be discovered, Ceres was observed in 1801 by a Sicilian astronomer, Father Giuseppe Piazzi.

Believing he had seen a planet, Piazzi named his after the Roman goddess of harvests and Sicily's patron saint.

After more, but smaller objects turned up, Ceres was downgraded to an asteroid only to get a status boost in 2006, becoming a "dwarf planet."

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Muscle-building supplements may up testicular cancer risk

WASHINGTON: Men who take muscle-building supplements are at a higher risk of developing testicular cancer, a new study has warned.

Researchers found that men who use muscle-building supplements, such as pills and powders with creatine or androstenedione, are more likely to develop testicular cancer than those who do not, especially if they start before age 25, take more than one supplement, or use the supplements for three or more years.

"The observed relationship was strong," said study senior author Tongzhang Zheng, who led the study at Yale University before joining the Brown University School of Public Health as a professor of epidemiology.

"If you used at earlier age, you had a higher risk. If you used them longer, you had a higher risk. If you used multiple types, you had a higher risk," Zheng said.

The study is the first analytical epidemiological study of the possible link between supplements and testicular cancer, the authors wrote in the British Journal of Cancer.

"Our study found that supplement use was related to a higher risk of developing testicular cancer. These results are important because there are few identified modifiable risk factors for testicular cancer," said Russ Hauser, professor of environmental health science at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

In the study, Zheng's research team conducted detailed interviews of nearly 900 men from Massachusetts and Connecticut - 356 of whom had been diagnosed with testicular germ cell cancer, and 513 who had not.

In the interviews, researchers asked the men not only about their supplement use but also about a wide variety of other possible factors such as smoking, drinking, exercise habits, family history of testicular cancer, and prior injury to their testes or groin.

After tallying their data and accounting for all those possible confounders, as well as age, race, and other demographics, the researchers found that the men who used supplements had a 1.65 odds ratio (65 per cent greater risk) of having developed testicular cancer compared to the men who did not use supplements.

The researchers defined "use" as consuming one or more supplements at least once a week for four consecutive weeks or more.

The odds ratios increased to 2.77 (a 177 per cent greater risk) among men who used more than one kind of supplement, and to 2.56 among men who used supplements three years or longer.

Men who started using supplements at age 25 or younger also had an elevated associated odds ratio of 2.21, the researchers calculated.

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Tail bone reveals dinosaur's sex

Written By kom nampultig on Senin, 13 April 2015 | 22.10

TORONTO: Differences in size and shape of tail bones can differentiate fossils of male dinosaurs from those of females -- at least for some small feathered species, researchers report.

The key differences between the sexes lie in bones near the base of the tail. For the study, the team examined a pair of fossils unearthed in Mongolia in the mid-1990s and first described in 2012.

Because the turkey-sized oviraptorosaurs ("egg-thief lizards") were found mere centimetres from each other in a 75-million-year-old rock layer, some scientists have nicknamed the pair "Romeo and Juliet".

"The joints in the creatures' vertebrae were fused, so we think that the dinosaurs had stopped growing -- meaning they were adults," informed Scott Persons, vertebrate palaeontologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada in the journal called Scientific Reports.

But determining whether the pair were indeed male and female was tricky, because, as with most fossils, no trace of soft tissue remains: only the bones are preserved.

One fossil is a complete skeleton, whereas the other is missing the middle and end of its tail. But that was enough to reveal distinct differences in the length and shape of blade-like bones called "chevrons", which jut down from the vertebrae near the base of the tail and provide attachments for muscles and tendons.

A number of chevrons in one of the fossils were longer and had broader tips than those in the other specimen. The variations are a sign of sex differences. The bones might be shorter in females to ease the process of laying eggs.

"In males, a set of longer, broad-tipped "chevrons" could have offered a better anchor for a penis-retracting muscle that the creatures are presumed to have had," the authors noted.

But the most tantalising explanation might be that males needed larger "chevrons" to anchor the muscles that controlled their flexible, feather-tipped tails.

The researchers suspect that male oviraptorosaurs shook their tail feathers in intricate displays to woo potential mates, akin the the behaviour of modern-day peacocks.

Confirmation of the findings could allow researchers to use chevron comparisons to determine sex in other small dinosaurs that might have used feathers for display.

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