Saturday, 29 September 2012

Bioengineers Introduce 'Bi-Fi' -- The Biological 'Internet'

The researchers, Monica Ortiz, a doctoral candidate in bioengineering, and Drew Endy, PhD, an assistant professor of bioengineering, have parasitized the parasite and harnessed M13's key attributes -- its non-lethality and its ability to package and broadcast arbitrary DNA strands -- to create what might be termed the biological Internet, or "Bi-Fi." Their findings were published online Sept. 7 in the Journal of Biological Engineering.
Using the virus, Ortiz and Endy have created a biological mechanism to send genetic messages from cell to cell. The system greatly increases the complexity and amount of data that can be communicated between cells and could lead to greater control of biological functions within cell communities. The advance could prove a boon to bioengineers looking to create complex, multicellular communities that work in concert to accomplish important biological functions.
Medium and message
M13 is a packager of genetic messages. It reproduces within its host, taking strands of DNA -- strands that engineers can control -- wrapping them up one by one and sending them out encapsulated within proteins produced by M13 that can infect other cells. Once inside the new hosts, they release the packaged DNA message.
The M13-based system is essentially a communication channel. It acts like a wireless Internet connection that enables cells to send or receive messages, but it does not care what secrets the transmitted messages contain.
"Effectively, we've separated the message from the channel. We can now send any DNA message we want to specific cells within a complex microbial community," said Ortiz, the first author of the study.
It is well-known that cells naturally use various mechanisms, including chemicals, to communicate, but such messaging can be extremely limited in both complexity and bandwidth. Simple chemical signals are typically both message and messenger -- two functions that cannot be separated.
"If your network connection is based on sugar then your messages are limited to 'more sugar,' 'less sugar,' or 'no sugar'" explained Endy.
Cells engineered with M13 can be programmed to communicate in much more complex, powerful ways than ever before. The possible messages are limited only by what can be encoded in DNA and thus can include any sort of genetic instruction: start growing, stop growing, come closer, swim away, produce insulin and so forth.
Rates and ranges
In harnessing DNA for cell-cell messaging the researchers have also greatly increased the amount of data they can transmit at any one time. In digital terms, they have increased the bit rate of their system. The largest DNA strand M13 is known to have packaged includes more than 40,000 base pairs. Base pairs, like 1s and 0s in digital encoding, are the basic building blocks of genetic data. Most genetic messages of interest in bioengineering range from several hundred to many thousand base pairs.
Ortiz was even able to broadcast her genetic messages between cells separated by a gelatinous medium at a distance of greater than 7 centimeters.
"That's very long-range communication, cellularly speaking," she said.
Down the road, the biological Internet could lead to biosynthetic factories in which huge masses of microbes collaborate to make more complicated fuels, pharmaceuticals and other useful chemicals. With improvements, the engineers say, their cell-cell communication platform might someday allow more complex three-dimensional programming of cellular systems, including the regeneration of tissue or organs.
"The ability to communicate 'arbitrary' messages is a fundamental leap -- from just a signal-and-response relationship to a true language of interaction," said Radhika Nagpal, professor of computer science at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, who was not involved in the research. "Orchestrating the cooperation of cells to form artificial tissues, or even artificial organisms is just one possibility. This opens a door to new biological systems and solving problems that have no direct analog in nature."
Ortiz added: "The biological Internet is in its very earliest stages. When the information Internet was first introduced in the 1970s, it would have been hard to imagine the myriad uses it sees today, so there's no telling all the places this new work might lead."

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Self-driving cars now legal in California

California is the latest state to allow testing of Google's self-driving cars on the roads, though only with a human passenger along as a safety measure.
Gov. Edmund "Jerry" Brown signed the autonomous-vehicles bill into law Tuesday afternoon alongside Google co-founder Sergey Brin and State Sen. Alex Padilla, who authored the bill, at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California. The bill, SB 1298, will set up procedures and requirements for determining when the cars are road-ready.
Brin hopes that self-driving cars will be able to drive on public streets in five years or less.
"Anybody who first gets in the car and finds the car is driving will be a little skittish. But they'll get over it." said Brown when asked if the California Highway Patrol was on board with the plan.
The cars use a combination of technologies, including radar sensors on the front, video cameras aimed at the surrounding area, various other sensors and artificial-intelligence software that helps steer. Google is the most visible company working on these types of vehicles, but similar projects are under way at other organizations, including Caltech.
Google has already been testing the cars on the road in Nevada, which passed a law last year authorizing driverless vehicles. Both Nevada and California require the cars to have a human behind the wheel who can take control of the vehicle at any time.
So far, the cars have have racked up more than 300,000 driving miles, and 50,000 of those miles were without any intervention from the human drivers, Google says.
There have been no accidents while the cars were controlled by the computer. The only documented accident with one of the Google vehicles was a fender bender that took place while a human was in control.
Brin, who sported a pair of Google glasses at the media event without comment, said the cars could address a variety of current transportation issues. First and foremost, he said, the self-driving cars would be safer than human-driven cars. There were just under 33,000 deaths from motor vehicle accidents in the United States in 2010.
They also could ferry around people who are usually unable to to drive, such as blind people.
"Some people have other disabilities, some people are too young, some people are too old, sometimes we're too intoxicated," said Brin.
Ideally, a car that drives itself can minimize traffic by chaining together with other self-driving vehicles and using highways more efficiently. Drivers wouldn't be limited to listening to NPR and honking during their morning commute; instead they could use that time to be productive, like the millions of people who take public transit currently do.
Brin also discussed the many parking lots in urban and suburban areas, calling them "a scar to the surface of the Earth." Self-driving cars would be able to drop you off at work and then pick up another person instead of idling in a parking lot. If you did opt to own your own car, it could park itself in the most efficient way possible.
Consumer Watchdog, a consumer-rights group, has expressed reservations about the cars on privacy grounds, saying they would allow Google to gather personal information about passengers.
Google's fleet of vehicles started with Toyota Prius Hybrids and later added the Lexus RX450h, a crossover SUV, to test on different terrain. The project is directed by Sebastian Thrun, who also co-founded Google Street View.
There are many legal and technical problems still to be worked out before the cars are commonplace. Asked who would get the ticket when a driverless car runs a red light, Brin replied, "Self-driving cars do not run red lights."

Thailand's 'longneck' women, a controversial tourist attraction

Described by many as "human zoos," northern Thailand’s Padaung Karen hill tribe villages are among the country’s most controversial tourist attractions.
Inaccurately referred to as "longneck" women, girls as young as five-years-old are fitted with brass rings around their necks. Longer rings are added as they grow older, in effect deforming the chest and shoulders to give the illusion that their necks are abnormally long.  
For a fee, travel companies take tourists to see these artifical hill tribe villages -- set up purely for tourism purposes -- many of which have been issued friendly-sounding names by government authorities like “hilltribe cultural preservation center."
But while some say the villages give Thailand's hill tribe people a paid opportunity to retain their culture, global rights groups condemn them for exploiting stateless women and children, many of them Burmese refugees who do not have full rights as Thai citizens, in exchange for tourist dollars. 
Documentaries like “Silent Hopes” highlight their plight, reporting that while many of the women choose to wear the rings out of a genuine desire to carry on with the tradition, some of these villages have no access to electricity, roads, healthcare and schools. 
"We believe that tourists should not participate in the exploitation of these or any other people," said a recent opinion piece on Thailand's Chiang Rai Times website. 
"The women receive only a small percentage of the profits that are made, most of the money goes to Thai tour operators. The girls of these tribes will never have the freedom to choose not to participate in this tradition as long as tourists make it profitable."
The Baan Tong Luang hill tribe village, which opened in 2005 in Mae Rim in northern Thailand's Chiang Mai province, is home to six separate Thai hill tribes.
Visitors pay 500 Thai baht (US$16) to get in. Once inside, they can take photos and buy trinkets from the villagers' stalls. The star attraction is, of course, the Padaung women.   

Coal mine cable car plunges, killing 20

'I could only put myself at the mercy of God,' says survivor in hospital
Twenty coal miners died after a cable car plunged into a pit early Tuesday in Northwest China's Gansu province, authorities said.
Coal mine cable car plunges, killing 20
Emergency workers carry bodies of workers out of a coal mine. A total of 20 workers were killed with another 14 rescued after a steel cable pulling two carriages broke at a coal mine in Baiyin, Gansu province, on Tuesday. Tian Xi / for China Daily
The accident occurred just after midnight at a private mine run by Qusheng Coal Mining in Baiyin.
The two-carriage cable car carrying 34 workers slipped backward and overturned after a steel wire pulling it up a 28-degree, 704-meter-long slope broke near the entrance of the pit, according to the city's Pingchuan district government.
Qi Yonggang, deputy mayor of Baiyin, told Xinhua News Agency that the two carriages could each hold 12 people, implying that the cable car was overloaded.
The city government said the cause of the accident is under investigation.
The 14 survivors are receiving treatment in hospital, authorities said, adding that all coal mines in Baiyin have been ordered to suspend operations to eliminate potential hazards.
"I heard the snapping of the steel wire, and the carriage I was sitting in started to slip backward. It accelerated and quickly went out of control," Xie Liqi, a survivor, told China Central Television.
Xie, who was receiving treatment for minor injuries, was lying on a bed with one eye covered with gauze. He also suffered injuries to his legs and waist.
"I heard a roaring sound of the wheels and dared not look around. I was aware the steel wire had broken," he said. "I could only put myself at the mercy of God."
Xie said he was sitting in the first carriage and was stuck in the middle of about a dozen workers and could not move.
The carriages were less than 4 square meters and were traveling 20 cm from the side of the pit.
"It wasn't possible to jump out of the carriages," Xie said. "When they finally stopped, they were in ruins, and all their handrails were destroyed.
"Although my legs were hurt, I was still fully conscious. I called for help in the dark for a while, but nobody answered. So I climbed up myself."
Two miners who were seriously injured were receiving treatment at a hospital affiliated to Jingmei Coal Mine Group, Wu Guolan, the hospital's director, told CCTV.
Baiyin has put aside 6.1 million yuan ($967,000) for a compensation fund for victims. Additional funds will be prepared, an official of the city government said.
In a separate accident on Monday morning, five coal miners from Defeng Coal Mine in Fugu county, Shaanxi province, died in a hospital after suffering a lack of oxygen underground.
Of the seven workers in the shaft, two survived. The cause of the accident is under investigation.
Nineteen workers at a construction site in Wuhan, Hubei province, died on Sept 13 when steel cables pulling an elevator they were using broke at a height of 100 meters.
The elevator was overloaded, according to accident investigators.

Britain urged to investigate toxic waste scandal

Greenpeace and Amnesty International have called for a criminal investigation into Trafigura, the multinational company behind the 2006 dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast.
On the night of August 20, 2006, waste-disposal trucks spread out in the port city of Abidjan, looking for somewhere to dump 500 tons of highly toxic oil waste. The smell of onions and burnt tires wafted up from the trucks as they approached the city dump, prompting locals to block the access route and force the drivers to leave. Instead, the drivers began dumping the waste at random sites around the city.
The black sludge contained a mixture of petrochemical waste and caustic soda, a toxic blend that caused the deaths of at least 15 people, while another 100,000 fell ill. Hospitals in Abidjan reported cases of diarrhea, headaches, vomiting, and nosebleeds, as well as skin and lung burns.
The trucks belonged to a contractor hired by British oil trader Trafigura.
For the past three years, Amnesty International and Greenpeace have been interviewing the victims, the doctors and the original drivers of the waste disposal trucks. They released their findings Tuesday (September 25), and are calling on the British government to open a criminal investigation into Trafigura's actions.
Dumping waste in Africa
The oil waste was originally created at sea, when Trafigura picked up low-grade gasoline and refined it on board a ship. The ship then traveled to the Netherlands for treatment - but Trafigura executives found the costs in Europe to be too high, and pumped the waste back onto the ship. It then left Dutch waters and headed for Ivory Coast, where a company offered to treat the waste for a drastically reduced price.
A tanker at port in Estonia
Carrying Trafigura's toxic load, the Probo Koala left Dutch waters and headed for the Ivory Coast
In 2010, a Dutch court fined Trafigura 1 million euros ($1.28 million) for illegally exporting highly toxic sludge to Ivory Coast. The company has also compensated about a third of the victims, and reached a settlement with the Ivory Coast government. But in their report, entitled "The Toxic Truth," Amnesty International and Greenpeace wrote that the company has never been held accountable for its actual role in the dumping.
Audrey Gaughran, the director of the Africa department at Amnesty International, told DW in an interview that this goes to the heart of one of the big issues in this report. "When you've got human rights and environmental damage caused by actions that cross country jurisdictions, and you've got a multinational company like Trafigura involved, you have to look at opening prosecution in different jurisdictions."
She explained that in this case, the decisions were made in Britain, the waste was exported from the Netherlands and the impacts were felt in Ivory Coast. "All of those countries have signed international laws meant to prevent exactly this kind of thing from happening - toxic waste going from developed countries and being dumped in Africa," Gaughran said.
The campaigners have also called into question a deal signed by Ivory Coast giving Trafigura sweeping legal immunity from prosecution in exchange for a monetary settlement. Gaughran explained that this can happen when poor nations are in crisis, and need the funds being offered.
Demand for court action
In a statement sent to DW, Eric de Turckheim, an executive board member of Trafigura, denied responsibility and said the report "contains significant inaccuracies and misrepresentations." Turckheim accused Amnesty and Greenpeace of oversimplifying difficult legal issues, and of drawing "selective conclusions."
In response to Amnesty's wish to reexamine the immunity deal, Turckheim wrote that courts in five jurisdictions had reviewed different aspects of the incident, along with connected settlements, which he described as evidence that "the right judicial scrutiny" had been applied.
"Many different authorities and countries were involved and there is little doubt that mistakes were made and we believe that everyone involved would have wanted to see things handled differently,"Turckheim said.
Workers in white biohazard suits spray the ground in an attemp to remove toxic chemicals.

Trucks illegally dumped waste in and around Abidjan, including here at Akuedo village
Full disclosure
In their study, Amnesty and Greenpeace wrote none of the states involved have forced Trafigura to disclose information about the contents of the waste and effects of exposure. In their interviews, they discovered this was one of the main concerns of the victims in Abidjan.
"They still have questions about whether there are any long-term impacts for them," said Amnesty's Gaughran. Her group wants to see Ivory Coast set up an ongoing health study, with the help of the Netherlands and Britain.
Gaughran explained that Greenpeace and Amnesty have made recommendations for the future of hazardous waste treatment, calling for full accountability and - if laws have been breached - strong, cooperative action between national governments.
"It will show that governments are serious about preventing the transboundary movement of hazardous waste."

Scotland surfs ahead on marine energy

The idea of harnessing the power of the waves to produce electricity is not new, but now this renewable energy source is finally making a breakthrough. Pioneers are feeding wave power into the grid off Scotland's coast.
Beneath the cliffs at Billia Croo on the Scottish island of Orkney, a number of unusual devices are being tested as energy producers. A yellow object, for example, bobs on the sea and serves as the tip of a hydroelectric wave energy converter. At a depth of fifteen meters (49 feet), a large platform is attached to the seabed, bearing a flap that moves up and down with the waves.

This device pumps water at high pressure to shore, where it produces electricity for the grid with the help of a turbine. It's called the "Oyster" and was developed by Aquamarine Power, a Scottish company headquartered in Edinburgh.

Aquamarine Power's "Oyster" system

Further out at sea, a long, red object undulates with the waves like a giant sea snake. Dubbed "Pelamis," it is a floating, miniature power station, measuring four meters in diameter and 180 metres long - about the size of five carriages on an intercity train, explained Richard Yemm, inventor of the system and head of the company Pelamis Wave Power.
The Pelamis consists of several segments, linked by joints. As they are moved by the waves, generators inside the device produce electricity, which is transferred to shore by a sub-sea cable. At the company's headquarters in Leith, outside of Edinburgh, Yemm's team monitors the output with data transferred by optical fiber cables. For maintenance or repair, the "sea snake" can be unplugged and towed to the coast.
No such thing as bad weather?
The opportunity of testing these different prototypes in the rough waters of Orkney comes thanks to the European Marine Energy Center (EMEC). In nearby Stromness, the Scottish and British governments and the European Commission joined forces in 2003 to set up the world's first facility for testing wave and tidal energy in real sea conditions, but with a direct link to the national grid. Developers who produce electricity from the sea there are able to sell it.
The Pelamis being tested off the coast of Scotland

+++(c) dpa - Report+++
The Pelamis converts wave energy into electricity
But the challenge along the way is to make machinery capable of surviving in a very hostile environment, according to Neil Davidson of Aquamarine Power. Along the Scottish coast, the devices can be tested in stormy weather and with waves up to 17 meters.
The site serves as a kind of laboratory, where different methods are being tested. The tidal power devices each use some form of turbine, said Eileen Linklater, marketing manager at EMEC. Since the devices are being developed for different locations and water depths, it is possible that several different systems will become commercially viable.
EON, Scottish Power Renewables, Vattenfall, ABB, Kawasaki - all of the big international names in the power sector are investing in the promising technologies being tested in Orkney.
By 2020, Scottish leaders want to cover 100 percent of the country's electricity consumption with renewable sources - and to export the excess power.
Money matters
Wave energy is still too expensive to compete with other renewable sources. The costs will have to decrease for the new power source to be competitive with on-shore wind, said Roy Kirk of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), the government agency promoting economic development in the region. But Kirk thinks costs could sink within the next ten years.Research and development for new technologies involve high investment costs. The rapid progress that has been made in Scotland would have been unthinkable without massive support from the government. A combination of grants, loans and feed-in tariffs alongside the provision of well-studied development sites along the coasts provided developers plenty of incentives.
Large international companies are not just investing in wave energy due to green political agendas, the energy expert said, noting that they clearly expect profits in the future. The next step would be for marine energy to bring its price into line with that of off-shore wind, which is still considerably more expensive than on-shore wind.
Island electricity for the mainland
The Tokyo skyline lit up by night

(c) picture-alliance
Wave energy might eventually help power huge cities like Tokyo
One prerequisite for the success of marine power is upgrading the British national grid, which was constructed around fifty or sixty years ago to transport power from coalfields into the industrial heartlands of Scotland and England, said Energy Minister Fergus Ewing.
Orkney is located at Scotland's northernmost point. The country's grid was built with the expectation of providing small, remote communities with electricity. If such areas are now to become large-scale energy providers, the grid will have to be upgraded to transport energy in the opposite direction.
Marine energy is regarded as a reliable, predictable addition to wind and solar energy. In the next few years, arrays of devices will be linked up to form large wave farms. In an ideal scenario for developers, the devices able to survive in the wild conditions off Orkney could be deployed all over the world, providing coastal megacities with an endless source of climate-friendly electricity.
Eileen Linklater from EMEC says the wave generators will undergo quite a few modifications before they become commercially successful. She believes that could be within ten or 15 years, depending on political support and investment. Pelamis Wave Power and Aquamarine Power expect to be producing electricity on a commercial scale between 2020 and 2030.
China and Japan are showing considerable interest in what's happening in Orkney. The idea is to demonstrate the potential of wave power here, says Pelamis inventor Richard Yemm - then replicate that success around the world.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Eat a banana and sit up straight - how the experts beat headaches

Pounding headache? 
The instinct is to pop a painkiller, particularly if you’re one of more than ten million people in Britain who have frequent headaches. 
Yet last week, the watchdog National  Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) warned that taking pain-killers regularly can reduce their effectiveness and make the brain more sensitive to pain and prone to further headaches.
Those who take pills such as aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen for at least ten days a month over three months are said to be at particular risk of ‘medication  over-use headaches’, as they’re called.
NICE expressed concern that doctors are often not diagnosing the type of pain or offering the best treatment. 
So, what is the most effective way to treat a headache? We talked to the experts...


Often a tablet isn’t what people need, says consultant neurologist Dr Nick Silver, of the NHS Walton Centre for Neuroscience and Neurosurgery in Liverpool.
This is because your headache is likely to be a migraine — albeit in a mild form. 
Half of migraine cases are undetected, he says.
To work out if you’re a secret migraine sufferer, he suggests recording how many crystal clear, headache-free days you have each month — without any throbbing, aching, tension, fogginess or dizziness. 
If you have 25 or more, painkillers should help, as you have an occasional problem. 
Paracetamol and ibuprofen are effective, as is soluble aspirin, which is absorbed faster. 
If you have fewer than 25, it’s more likely you’re a migraine sufferer without knowing it and need more focused treatment.
Also be aware that what you think may be a sinusitis headache could be a migraine. 
Sinus problems are hugely over-diagnosed, says Dr Raju Kapoor, consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, and the pain is often caused by migraine. 
The wrong form of treatment is given, such as antibiotics or invasive surgical procedures to clear the sinuses, which will have no effect. 
Frequent sufferers should keep a diary of their headaches and discuss it with their GP. 


Only one in five migraine sufferers has the traditional aura symptom — temporary visual and sensory problems, such as seeing zig-zag lines, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound — which lasts for about an hour before an attack, says Dr Silver. 
Clues to a person’s vulnerability to migraine include a tendency to frequent yawning, travel sickness, a hangover after just one drink and, for women, increased irritability before periods.
Experts regard stress-related headaches (tension headaches) as simply a less florid version of migraine.
Getting a sudden headache from work deadlines, a noisy office or eating sugar is a clue, says Dr Simon Shields, a consultant neurologist at Norfolk and Norwich Hospitals NHS Trust.
If you think it’s a migraine, take a painkiller, then take preventative action against more attacks, such as tackling triggers.


Caffeine is a typical trigger, so try avoiding chocolate, cola and tea. 
Dr Silver says: ‘You may get a bad head for five days due to caffeine withdrawal, but after that you will have fewer headaches.’
Another common trigger is cheese. 
But sometimes a desire for chocolate or cheese may actually be a craving for sugar — which can be a sign of an impending headache, says Dr Andy Dowson, director of headache services at King’s College Hospital, London. 
He suggests eating carbohydrates, such as a banana, which will stave off symptoms by keeping blood sugar levels even. 
Dr Dowson points out that avoiding certain foods isn’t enough to prevent the attacks as trigger factors can build up over time and work in combination to cause a migraine.
So, a glass of wine, which can be a trigger for some, may not be a problem for you, but drinking after a stressful day or sleepless night may cause an attack. 
Other preventative tactics include regular meals to maintain your blood sugar level, and drinking two to three litres of fluid a day to avoid dehydration (which makes brain tissue shrink, causing pain). 
And get up at the same time every day — migraines are often triggered by disruption in routine. 
Migraines used to be referred to as ‘weekend headaches’  because they often hit on weekend mornings. 
Dr Dowson says: ‘Changing your sleep pattern suddenly has a dramatic effect on the hypothalamus, the area in the brain that is responsible for balancing hormones; this triggers a headache.’ 
Dr Silver advises sleeping in a dark room to increase production of the sleep hormone melatonin. 
Avoid watching TV in bed, as it can over-stimulate the brain. If  none of this helps, speak to  your GP about migraine-prevention medication.


If your head is pounding, then slumping in your chair is the worst thing to do, says chartered physio-therapist Sammy Margo. 
When we slump forward in a  C-shape, we kink the head upwards, which can stretch the neck and pinch nerves, causing headaches. 
It is better, Ms Margo says, to sit with your feet flat on the floor and the hips and knees straight, looking ahead.
Avoid surrounding yourself with relaxing scented candles or flowers. 
Strong odours such as perfume may stimulate the nerve system associated with head pain and cause a migraine.


It can trigger migraine — but if you suffer from only occasional headaches then a cup of coffee can improve your painkiller’s effectiveness. 
Caffeine increases the absorption of many pain relievers, which is why it is found in some pills, such as Anadin Extra. 
Studies have shown various over-the-counter drugs are up to 40 per cent more effective when caffeine is added.


The packet may state it is safe to take, for example, up to six paracetamol a day. But if you take more than two or three doses of painkiller a week, there is a chance you will get more headaches — the ones NICE warned about. 
To avoid this, don’t take more than ten doses a month of standard painkillers or 15 a month of the migraine drug triptan.
Also, heavy use of painkillers can over-stimulate the pathways in the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that controls body temperature, hunger, thirst, sleep and other functions, says Dr Dowson. 
It’s better to look at lifestyle  factors, such as lack of sleep and too much caffeine, that may be driving your headaches.


There’s little point in spending extra on fancy-sounding pills, says Dr Andrew Lawson, consultant in pain medicine and senior lecturer at Imperial College, London.
‘There is no advantage in buying a branded, usually more expensive product instead of a generic brand,’ he says. 
‘You can’t beat “value” paracetamol caplets as a general all-round painkiller, and they cost as little as 16p.
For paracetamol to be effective for an adult, you should take two 500mg tablets four times a day. 
Avoid long-term use — more than two weeks — because it raises enzymes in the liver.’ 
Ibuprofen has anti-inflammatory properties and works well for headaches accompanied by high temperature. ‘Again, there is no advantage in buying a branded product,’ he says.


If migraines are caught early, standard painkillers can be as effective as migraine medication. 
Ibuprofen tends to work best, as it acts as an anti-inflammatory. But it won’t treat nausea, a common side-effect, so you may want a painkiller with anti-sickness properties, such as Paramax. 
The trick with all painkillers, says Dr Shields, is to take them early. Don’t wait until the symptoms have kicked in, as the drugs will be less effective. 
At the first sign of an aching head take medication.
If standard drugs don’t work for that attack, try specific migraine treatment known as triptans — and use these the next time you get an attack.
Triptans constrict the blood vessels to stop the pain of migraine attacks. 
They are available as over-the-counter tablets, such as Imigran Recovery, and as nasal sprays.
But if you take triptans regularly, consider being prescribed preventative drugs such as betablockers, says Dr Kapoor. 
Otherwise you may start suffering rebound headaches.
If betablockers help you stay migraine-free for three to six months, you are likely to have far fewer migraine attacks in the future after coming off them. 
For the nausea associated with migraines, you can try prescription anti-sickness medicines. See your GP for advice.

Child's 'tummy ache' that's really a migraine

Abdominal migraine is a form of migraine where pain is felt in the stomach — not the head — and mostly affects children, particularly those with a family history of migraine. 
Dr Simon Shields, consultant neurologist at Norfolk and Norwich Hospitals NHS Trust, says there may not be that much actual pain, but accompanying symptoms can include vomiting, pallor, dark shadows under the eyes and inability to eat. 
The abdominal pain can last anything from an hour to up to three days. 
Medication for children needs to be prescribed by a paediatric specialist. In adults, abdominal migraine is treated in the same way as migraine. 
Keeping a migraine diary can help to identify triggers that may prompt an attack.

'I looked like a monster': Girl, 16, left with head swollen like a 'football' and unable to open one eye after severe allergic reaction to home hair dye kit

A teenager has told how she feared she would be left disfigured for life after suffering a terrifying allergic reaction to hair dye.
Lauren Thomas, 16, said her head inflated like a football and her scalp started oozing puss just hours after using a home hair dying kit. 
Lauren, who has a Saturday job in a hair salon and hopes to become a hairdresser when she leaves school, said she feared she would ‘never look normal again’ after suffering the reaction during the summer holidays.
Teenager Lauren Thomas who suffered a terrifying allergic reaction
Teenager Lauren Thomas who suffered a terrifying allergic reaction
Lauren Thomas pictured before the incident left, said she didn't recognise herself after she suffered an allergic reaction to hair dye. The 16-year-old is pictured right, with a swollen face and her scalp oozing puss
She said: ‘I was terrified. I did not recognise myself and I started crying because I was so scared. 
'I didn’t know what was happening and the more my head swelled the more I feared the worst.  
'I was scared I would die. It took more than a week to go down and even when I knew I was going to be OK I was still worried I would never look the same again.'
Lauren from Trallwn, Llansamlet near Swansea, had dyed her hair at home using the well-known brand ‘Nice n’ Easy’ by Clairol several times already with no adverse affects. 
Because of this she didn’t carry out a test patch as instructed on the box.

Her aunt helped her use the dye as per the instructions on the package as she had before, but within hours of rinsing it off her scalp started itching.
GCSE student Lauren said: ‘At first I didn’t think about the dye. I thought I had nits. I even asked my aunt to check my hair for nits because I was itching so much but she assured me it was clear.
‘I kept washing my hair but the itching just got worse and worse.’ 
Then as she went to bed that night Lauren caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and noticed her eye was swollen.
Clairol Nice n Easy
Feeling a bit better: Lauren pictured after the swelling has gone down
The hair dye left, that caused Lauren to have an allergic reaction. Her eyes are pictured still swollen, right
‘I was staying with my Nan that night so I called her and she agreed it was swollen but said we should wait until the morning to see if it had gone down.'
But at 3am Lauren woke in pain and unable to open one eye. When she looked in the mirror she screamed. ‘I looked like a monster, I was crying and Nan came and cuddled me to calm me down.
She added: ‘That’s when we noticed my head was weeping puss so she gave me a towel to lay on and I just sobbed waiting for the doctors to open.’
Their GP conformed Lauren had suffered an allergic reaction to hair dye and prescribed steroid cream for her scalp and antihystamines to control the swelling.
But it took a full week for the swelling to reside, leaving Lauren, who was self-conscious, trapped in her bedroom.
She said: ‘ I will never dye my hair at home again and even in the salon now I am really careful around dye and always use gloves to handle it.
‘I had used the same dye lots of times before so I’ve no idea why it happened, but I won’t take any chances now. I never want to look like that again.
‘It definitely hadn’t put me off wanting to be a hairdresser. In fact it shows why people should always have their hair dyed in a saloon and not at home. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.’
A spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble, which makes Clairol hair dye, said: 'We are sorry to hear about the situation. Our consumers’ safety and wellbeing is our absolute priority.
'Reactions to hair colourants can occur for a very small number of people, in the same way that some individuals can react to a variety of foods and natural substances.'

Migraine Sufferers Find Relief From Handheld Magnetic Device

Headache specialists at several clinics around the UK, including in Aberdeen, Bath, Exeter, Hull, Liverpool and London, are prescribing the non-invasive single pulse Spring Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) device, made by eNeura Technology in California.

The new data, from a trial involving 60migraine sufferers treated with TMS at UK clinics, was presented at the 3rd European Headache and Migraine Trust International Congress in London on Friday.

The news comes in the wake of a warning by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in England and Wales, thatpainkiller overuse can cause headaches.

The TMS device costs about £500 and is about the size and weight of a portable radio. As soon as he or she senses a migraine coming on, the user holds it to the back of the head and pushes a button. This sends a brief magnetic pulse into the brain.

Scientists believe the magnetic pulse somehow short-circuits the electrical storm that builds up at the start of migraine headaches.

The congress also heard how the TMS improved other symptoms of migraine in 63% of the trial participants: symptoms such as vertigo, nausea, memory problems, and hyper-sensitivity to light and noise.

And over half (53%) reported a reduction in the number of headache days.

Andy Bloor took part in the UK trials. He suffers from chronic migraines and says the TMS device worked for him:

"The key for me was using the device quickly - as soon as the migraine started."

He says when he did that, the migraine stopped.

"The plus of the device is it reduces my reliance on strong drugs like cocodamol," he adds, in a report on the congress by the UK Press Association.

Findings from a trial of the efficacy of the TMS device were published in The Lancet Neurologyin 2010. They say the device offers efficient pain relief for up to 48 hours after treatment in some patients with migraine with aura, and does not cause any serious side-effects. 

Professor and neurologist Peter Goadsby, one of the world's leading headache experts and researchers, was joint chair of the London congress. He told the press:

"For the many migraine sufferers whose medicines just do not do the job, it is exciting to see such an innovative, novel approach to treatment that provides new optimism."

Monday, 24 September 2012

Horticultural Hijacking: The Dark Side of Beneficial Soil Bacteria

According to research reported by a University of Delaware scientific team in the September online edition ofPlant Physiology, the most highly cited plant journal, a power struggle ensues as the plant and the "good" bacteria vie over who will control the plant's immune system.
"For the brief period when the beneficial soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis is associated with the plant, the bacterium hijacks the plant's immune system," says Harsh Bais, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, whose laboratory group led the research at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute.
In studies of microbe-associated molecular patterns (MAMPs), a hot area of plant research, the UD team found that B. subtilis produces a small antimicrobial protein that suppresses the root defense response momentarily in the lab plant Arabidopsis.
"It's the first time we've shown classically how suppression by a benign bacteria works," Bais says. "There are shades of gray -- the bacteria that we view as beneficial don't always work toward helping plants."
In the past, Bais' lab has shown that plants under aerial attack send an SOS message, through secretions of the chemical compound malate, to recruit the beneficial B. subtilis to come help.
In more recent work, Bais and his collaborators showed that MAMP perception of pathogens at the leaf level could trigger a similar response in plants. Through an intraplant, long-distance signaling, from root to shoot, beneficial bacteria are recruited to forge a system-wide defense, boosting the plant's immune system, the team demonstrated. In that study, the Bais team also questioned the overall tradeoffs involved in plants that are associated with so-called beneficial microbes.
In the latest work, involving the testing of more than 1,000 plants, the researchers shed more light on the relationship. They show that B. subtilis uses a secreted peptide to suppress the immune response in plants. It is known that plants synthesize several antimicrobial compounds to ward off bacteria, Bais says.
The team also shows that when plant leaves were treated with a foliar MAMP -- flagellin, a structural protein in the flagellum, the tail-like appendage that bacteria use like a propeller -- it triggered the recruitment of beneficial bacteria to the plant roots.
"The ability of beneficial bacteria to suppress plant immunity may facilitate efficient colonization of rhizobacteria on the roots," Bais says. Rhizobacteria form an important symbiotic relationship with the plant, fostering its growth by converting nitrogen in the air into a nutrient form the plant can use.
"We don't know how long beneficial bacteria could suppress the plant immune response, but we do know there is a very strong warfare under way underground," Bais says, noting that his lab is continuing to explore these interesting questions. "We are just beginning to understand this interaction between plants and beneficial soil bacteria."
The lead author of the research article was Venkatachalam Lakshmanan, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; Sherry Kitto, professor of plant and soil sciences; Jeffrey Caplan, associate director of UD's Bio-Imaging Center; Yu-Sung Wu, director of the Protein Production Facility; Daniel B. Kearns, associate professor in the Department of Biology at Indiana University; and Yi-Huang Hsueh , of the Graduate School of Biotechnology and Bioengineering at Yuan Ze University, Taiwan.
The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation.

Cancer Research Yields Unexpected New Way to Produce Nylon

The finding, described in the Sept. 23, 2012, issue of the journal Nature Chemical Biology, arose from an intriguing notion that some of the genetic and chemical changes in cancer tumors might be harnessed for beneficial uses.
"In our lab, we study genetic changes that cause healthy tissues to go bad and grow into tumors. The goal of this research is to understand how the tumors develop in order to design better treatments," said Zachary J. Reitman, Ph.D., an associate in research at Duke and lead author of the study. "As it turns out, a bit of information we learned in that process paves the way for a better method to produce nylon."
Nylon is a ubiquitous material, used in carpeting, upholstery, auto parts, apparel and other products. A key component for its production is adipic acid, which is one of the most widely used chemicals in the world. Currently, adipic acid is produced from fossil fuel, and the pollution released from the refinement process is a leading contributor to global warming.
Reitman said he and colleagues delved into the adipic acid problem based on similarities between cancer research techniques and biochemical engineering. Both fields rely on enzymes, which are molecules that convert one small chemical to another. Enzymes play a major role in both healthy tissues and in tumors, but they are also used to convert organic matter into synthetic materials such as adipic acid.
One of the most promising approaches being studied today for environmentally friendly adipic acid production uses a series of enzymes as an assembly line to convert cheap sugars into adipic acid. However, one critical enzyme in the series, called a 2-hydroxyadipate dehydrogenase, has never been produced, leaving a missing link in the assembly line.
This is where the cancer research comes in. In 2008 and 2009, Duke researchers, including Hai Yan, M.D., PhD., identified a genetic mutation in glioblastomas and other brain tumors that alters the function of an enzyme known as an isocitrate dehydrogenase.
Reitman and colleagues had a hunch that the genetic mutation seen in cancer might trigger a similar functional change to a closely related enzyme found in yeast and bacteria (homoisocitrate dehydrogenase), which would create the elusive 2-hydroxyadipate dehydrogenase necessary for "green" adipic acid production.
They were right. The functional mutation observed in cancer could be constructively applied to other closely related enzymes, creating a beneficial outcome -- in this case the missing link that could enable adipic acid production from cheap sugars. The next step will be to scale up the overall adipic acid production process, which remains a considerable undertaking.
"It's exciting that sequencing cancer genomes can help us to discover new enzyme activities," Reitman said. "Even genetic changes that occur in only a few patients could reveal useful new enzyme functions that were not obvious before."
Yan, a professor in the Department of Pathology and senior author of the study, said the research demonstrates how an investment in medical research can be applied broadly to solve other significant issues of the day.
"This is the result of a cancer researcher thinking outside the box to produce a new enzyme and create a precursor for nylon production," Yan said. "Not only is this discovery exciting, it reaffirms the commitment we should be making to science and to encouraging young people to pursue science."
In addition to Reitman and Yan, study authors include Bryan D. Choi, Ivan Spasojevic, Darell D. Bigner and John H. Sampson. The work was supported with funds from the National Institutes of Health (R01 CA1403160). The authors are listed on a patent that is pending related to the mutated enzymes