China baby gene editing claim ‘dubious’

Significant doubts have emerged about claims from a Chinese scientist that he has helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies.

Prof He Jiankui says the twin girls, born a few weeks ago, had their DNA altered as embryos to prevent them from contracting HIV.

His claims, filmed by Associated Press, are unverified and have sparked outrage from other scientists, who have called the idea monstrous.

Such work is banned in most countries.

Future generations

Gene editing could potentially help avoid heritable diseases by deleting or changing troublesome coding in embryos.

But experts worry meddling with the genome of an embryo could cause harm not only to the individual but also future generations that inherit these same changes.

And many countries, including the UK, have laws that prevent the use of genome editing in embryos for assisted reproduction in humans.

Scientists can do gene editing research on discarded IVF embryos, as long as they are destroyed immediately afterwards and not used to make a baby.

‘Designer babies’

But Prof He, who was educated at Stanford in the US and works from a lab in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, says he used gene-editing tools to make two twin baby girls, known as “Lulu” and “Nana”.

In a video, he claims to have eliminated a gene called CCR5 to make the girls resistant to HIV should they ever come into contact with the virus.

He says his work is about creating children who would not suffer from diseases, rather than making designer babies with bespoke eye colour or a high IQ.

“I understand my work will be controversial – but I believe families need this technology and I’m willing to take the criticism for them,” he says in the video.

‘Highly treatable’

However, several organisations, including a hospital, linked to the claim have denied any involvement.

The Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen said it had been unaware of the research project and will now launch an investigation.

Media captionFergus Walsh: “CRISPR gene editing …. uses molecular scissors to cut both strands of DNA”

And other scientists say if the reports are true, Prof He has gone too far, experimenting on healthy embryos without justification.

Prof Robert Winston, Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies and Professor of Science and Society at Imperial College London, said: “If this is a false report, it is scientific misconduct and deeply irresponsible.

“If true, it is still scientific misconduct.”

Dr Dusko Ilic, an expert in stem cell science at King’s College London, said: “If this can be called ethical, then their perception of ethics is very different to the rest of the world’s.”

He argues that HIV is highly treatable and that if the infection is kept under control with drugs, then there is almost no risk of the parents passing it on to the baby anyway.

Too risky

Prof Julian Savulescu, an expert in ethics at the University of Oxford, said: “If true, this experiment is monstrous. The embryos were healthy – no known diseases.

“Gene editing itself is experimental and is still associated with off-target mutations, capable of causing genetic problems early and later in life, including the development of cancer.

“This experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit.”

Scientists say baby gene editing may one day be justifiable, but that more checks and measures are needed before allowing it.

Dr Yalda Jamshidi, an expert in human genetics at St George’s, University of London, said: “We know very little about the long term effects, and most people would agree that experimentation on humans for an avoidable condition just to improve our knowledge is morally and ethically unacceptable.

“Whether the results stand up to scrutiny or not we need as a society to think hard and fast about when and where we are willing to take the risks that come with any new therapeutic treatment, particularly ones that could affect future generations.”

 

Source : BBC

Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee: ‘I see a revolution. Starting right now’

Officially, Sir Tim Berners-Lee doesn’t have a favourite website. When you’re the creator of the World Wide Web, he says, “You can’t.”

“‘What’s your favourite website?’ was the first question everybody asked,” he says. “Sorry, I don’t have one.”

But, even if he’s too honourable to show even a hint of favouritism, Sir Tim does occasionally have preferences.

One app he especially liked was an activity tracker called Moves, which he used to see what he’d been doing in his journeys round from his home in Massachusetts, where he is a professor of computer science.

Then, in 2014, Moves was bought by Facebook – meaning Sir Tim’s data now potentially belonged to the world’s biggest social network.

And then, earlier this year, Facebook shut down Moves. There was no appeal. Facebook simply announced that it was “moving on”.

For Sir Tim, it was a personal taste of a bigger problem. The web he built was broken – and the big companies that dominated it were the flaw.

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The awakening for him, as for so many people, came in 2016, with the twin shocks of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

“What happened there was a tipping point,” he says.

He knew that social media could be used to manipulate people, but for the first time he saw it operating at massive scale.

“I thought that my responsibility as a web user was to go and find the stuff which I appreciated, which I trusted, but now I think that everyone involved in the web realises the problem is that other people are reading stuff which is complete garbage and they’re believing it, and they vote.”

He mentions voting. Does that, I ask, mean democracy itself is under threat?

“Science tells us what to believe are facts,” he says. “And democracy relies on facts. So democracy relies on science.”

English scientist Tim Berners-Lee from the Web Foundation addresses the opening ceremony of the 2018 edition of the annual Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon on November 5, 2018. (Photo by FRANCISCO LEONG / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Image:Sir Tim sees the core of the problem as the massive centralisation of his originally decentralised web

Sir Tim sees the core of the problem as the massive centralisation of his originally decentralised web.

“Instead of going from website to website, everyone’s on one website, so the structure of people making great links to other blogs which we had after 10 years of the web is more broken.

“People don’t follow links from one website to another, they sit on one website, and what they see is determined by the people who code that social network.”

Sir Tim is too polite to name the network, but there can’t be more than a few candidates. Between them, four or five giant corporations dominate everything we do online.

It’s with those sites – and governments – in mind that, last week, Sir Tim launched a charter for the web: a Magna Carta of digital rights.

Facebook and Google have already signed up, as has the government of France; although whether they abide by its terms remains to be seen.

He’s also launched a new project: Solid. It’s effectively a new web; only this time he’s going to get it right.

The key change is to do with data. On Sir Tim’s original web, users’ data was – and is – stored by the owner of the website or the app.

On Solid, the choice of where you put your data is separate from your choice of service.

Your data – from your selfies to the money you send – is hived off into a separate area, called a pod, which can be linked to, just like the pages on a website. That gives people genuine control over where and how their data is deployed.

If it comes off, it would be a seismic change in the digital landscape.

“Some people are calling it Web 3.0,” Sir Tim says.

And whereas previous attempts at what’s known as re-decentralisation have foundered on public disinterest, this time Sir Tim feels the time is ripe.

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“A big backlash [is coming] against the mistreatment of personal data, a realisation that people should control their data,” he says.

“That’s what I see, a revolution. Starting right now.”

Source : Sky News EN

New Ideas to Fight the Flu

Researchers spooked by the recent brutal flu season and fearful of a pandemic are looking for something more effective than a seasonal shot to prevent the virus. Ideas include germ-killing lamps and a turbo-charged “universal vaccine” that would be effective for years and would fight all strains of flu, not just a few.

NYC Health + Hospitals, the nation’s largest public health system, recently convened experts to brainstorm how to handle a flu pandemic, in which millions would be stricken.

“It is not a matter of if it will happen, it is a matter of when it will happen,” Syra Madad, senior director of the system’s Special Pathogens Program, told the gathering of more than 100 hospital and government officials and researchers. “We have all the ingredients for a pandemic,” she said, recalling the 1918 flu that killed 50 million people across the world.

Since then, there have been major advances in science and infection control. But there are also more lethal bugs floating around in an incredibly mobile society, Dr. Madad said. In the 2017-2018 flu season, nearly 80,000 Americans died and more than 900,000 were hospitalized. Experts advise getting the seasonal shot; this week, they couldn’t predict this flu season’s severity or how effective the flu shot will be.

Long ShotFlu shots lower the risk of illness but don’teliminate it. For example, a 40% vaccine-effectiveness rate means someone who wasvaccinated is 40% less likely to get sick withthe flu.Vaccine-effectiveness ratesSource: Centers for Disease Control and PreventionNote: Dates are for the end of flu season
%2011’12’13’14’15’16’17’1810203040506070

One weapon unavailable in 1918 is the flu shot, which Dr. Madad and other experts say is still a must, no matter its shortcomings.

A new drug to relieve flu symptoms was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the first in nearly 20 years, the agency said. Xofluza is supposed to shorten the flu’s duration by a day or more and requires only one dose.

But preventing flu is the goal, and most experts agree that more effective vaccines are urgently needed. Typically, the seasonal shot has an effectiveness rate between 40% and 60%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the most recent season, it reduced a person’s likelihood of getting sick with the flu by 40%. Getting the vaccine significantly reduces hospitalization among adults and children, says Dan Jernigan, director of CDC’s influenza division.

Every year, flu vaccines are planned months in advance. Predicting which strains the vaccine should cover “is a guessing game,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an associate professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is spearheading the federal effort for a universal vaccine. A leader during the AIDS epidemic, he sees that fight as a template for taking on the flu. He hopes to replicate the “passion” that went into AIDS research, with “young as well as experienced investigators from different fields” mobilized to seek a cure.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified before Congress in March about the recent flu season. Dr. Fauci is challenging researchers to work together on a universal vaccine against flu. PHOTO: TOYA JORDAN SARNO/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Dr. Fauci aims to assemble a dream team of scientists with different areas of expertise—such as virology, immunology and drug development—to work together on a universal vaccine. For seven years, his project, the Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers, will dole out $30 million a year in grants. The deadline for proposals is Nov. 29. Dr. Fauci said he welcomes researchers who aren’t flu experts to join the effort.

Among those researching a different tack is David Brenner, a professor of radiation biophysics at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons. Dr. Brenner wants to fight the spread of flu with a form of ultraviolet light that can destroy germs but is safe for humans.

“Our approach is let us try and kill the virus before they get to you,” Dr. Brenner said. He sees his lamps as a supplement to a vaccine, not a substitute for one.

David Brenner, at microscope, and Manuela Buonanno, right, and David Welch study human skin tissue to see if it is damaged by exposure to a type of ultraviolet light that kills the flu virus.
David Brenner, at microscope, and Manuela Buonanno, right, and David Welch study human skin tissue to see if it is damaged by exposure to a type of ultraviolet light that kills the flu virus. PHOTO: ANNIE TRITT FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Hospitals already zap equipment with ultraviolet light to sanitize it, but the lamps are off-limits to people, because of health hazards. Dr. Brenner’s lamps emit “far UVC” light—a wavelength he said is safe for humans. These would be beamed “anywhere people congregate,” he said, such as doctors’ offices or airplanes.

Most experts said a long-term and more effective universal vaccine should be the priority.

“I am a firm believer that the best solution is an appropriate vaccine,” said Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, noting that smallpox was eradicated by vaccine.

“The ultimate dream is the universal [vaccine], but even one that works better” than the seasonal flu shot would be welcome, Dr. Garcia-Sastre said.

A universal vaccine is ‘the ultimate dream,’ said Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, right, at work with Guojun Wang.
A universal vaccine is ‘the ultimate dream,’ said Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, right, at work with Guojun Wang. PHOTO:MONIKA GRAFF

He and his colleagues teamed up with other scientists, including some from the pharmaceuticals industry, and are seeking funding from Dr. Fauci’s effort to research a vaccine they say works differently from the seasonal shot. The flu virus is covered in proteins shaped like mushrooms, said Florian Krammer, one of the Sinai researchers and a professor of microbiology. The seasonal vaccine targets the mushroom’s “cap” to produce antibodies that fight back, Dr. Krammer said, but this cap changes, prompting the need to change the vaccine constantly.

The Sinai team’s vaccine focuses on the “stalk” of the virus, which doesn’t change, so a person would need, ideally, no more than two or three shots during his lifetime. A trial of the shot’s safety and immune response is under way on about 65 patients.

Dr. Fauci’s agency already is funding research into other universal vaccines, such as one byBiondVax Pharmaceuticals , an Israeli company. The vaccine, known as M-001, was designed to keep the “vast majority of flu strains” at bay, BiondVax said, and is being tested in the U.S.

A universal vaccine is probably years off, experts warned, and likely to be reached through incremental stages.

Robert Atmar at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the principal investigator of the M-001 trial, said more studies are needed. A universal vaccine, he said, “is a high bar to attain.”

PREVENTING A PANDEMIC

As flu season begins, researchers are working on ways to manage the virus, now and in the future.

FOR NOW

Seasonal flu shot:Still the best bet for avoiding the flu, it helps reduce dangers of hospitalization and death if you do get sick.

Xofluza:A new drug that recently received FDA approval. Like Tamiflu, it promises to shorten the misery of the flu by a day or more but requires only one dose.

FOR LATER

UVC lamps:A Columbia University researcher proposes using a special ultraviolet light to kill airborne flu germs.

Universal vaccine:The holy grail if achievable: a vaccine needed just once or twice in a lifetime that would protect against all strains of the flu.

Source :The wall street journal

Facebook drawn into violent Sri Lankan political row

Facebook has found itself drawn into an escalating political row in Sri Lanka as opposition MPs accuse the ruling party of using data to launch a crackdown.

In a letter to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, the United National Party (UNP) said information gleaned from the social media site could be used against party members who use the site “in ways which are legally prohibited.”

It urged Facebook to hide the identity of its supporters to protect them.

It came amid growing acrimony between members of the UNP and other parties due to a deadlock in the country’s parliament.

The speaker of the country’s parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, had books and chairs hurled at him in the chamber on Friday after he allowed a no-confidence vote against the prime minister to go ahead.

Sri Lanka MP's fight in Parliament as political turmoil continues.0:54

Video:Mass brawl at Sri Lankan parliament

The no-confidence motion was passed, but Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa refused to accept the result of the vote and insisted the speaker had no authority to remove him from his position.

The UNP letter, sent on Thursday, said: “It is very likely that officials from the current illegal administration… may ask Facebook for information on selected Sri Lankan users of Facebook that should rightfully be private.

“Such requests may include information on named individuals, geo locations and other identification details of users who view and post on these pages,” the letter said.

“It is vital this information be safeguarded as the current illegal administration will most likely use these in ways which are legally prohibited.”

Fight in Sri Lankan parliament0:12

Video:Chairs hurled in Sri Lankan parliament

UNP party spokesman Piyasena Dissanayaka said on Sunday that Facebook blocked its official page ahead of a public rally on Thursday but restored it on Saturday.

He said Facebook officials had not yet responded to the letter.

Facebook officials have also not yet responded to a request for comment by The Associated Press.

The UNP’s Mr Jayasuriya had to get a police escort to get into the parliamentary chamber on Friday, with several officers among those injured as the unorthodox missiles were launched in his direction.

Opposition MPs were also among those hurt before proceedings got under way.

Sri Lanka's former president Mahinda Rajapakse
Image:Sri Lanka’s former president Mahinda Rajapakse

Mr Rajapaksa has only been in the job since 26 October after his predecessor Ranil Wickremesinghe was sacked by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisenadue due to a disagreement over economic reforms.

The row has left the country without an official government, although Mr Rajapaksa has refused to stand down.

Mr Wickremesinghe also insists he is still prime minister.

On Sunday, Mr Sirisenadue summoned political leaders for talks in a bid to end the power struggle.

Sri Lanka's ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
Image:Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

After the no-confidence vote against Mr Rajapakse on Friday, the second against him, Mr Wickremesinghe demanded his government be restored, but there has been no response from Mr Sirisenadue yet.

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Both sides have warned that a prolonged period of instability could lead to violence, in a country that has not long emerged from civil war.

Source : Sky News

Barnard’s star b: Frozen super-Earth found six light years away could support life, experts say

A frozen “super-Earth” discovered six light years from Earth could be capable of harbouring life, scientists have said.

The rocky planet, at least 3.2 times the size of Earth, is orbiting Barnard’s Star, one of the closest and most well studied red dwarf stars in the Galaxy and the sun’s nearest neighbouring single star.

Known as Barnard’s star b, its surface temperatures are estimated at minus 150C. Despite this, scientists believe pockets of liquid water, warmed by geothermal activity, could lie beneath the ice capable of harbouring life.

As a red dwarf, Barnard’s star is smaller, older and much cooler than the sun. Although the planet is much closer to it than the Earth is to the sun, it’s surface remains locked in a blanket of ice.

Image:Artist’s impression of Barnard’s star b under the orange tinted light from its star Pic: ESO – M. Kornmesser

Professor Carole Haswell, head of astronomy at the Open University and a member of the international team that announced the discovery in the journal Nature, said: “While the starlight from Barnard’s Star is too feeble for Barnard’s Star b to have liquid water on its surface, Barnard’s Star b probably has a similar temperature to Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“Famously, Europa has a sub-surface ocean which has been considered as a potential habitat for life. It is possible Barnard’s Star b may offer similar niches for life.

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“Tantalisingly, super-Earths like Barnard’s Star b probably sustain geothermal activity for longer than their lower mass counterparts.

“This could be helpful to life by providing sustained heat and the chemicals needed to build complex organic molecules.

“This new discovery offers exciting prospects to learn more about the galaxy’s diversity of planetary systems, starting with our own solar system’s near neighbours.”

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The existence of Barnard’s star b was confirmed after two decades of observations by the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain using the radial velocity technique.

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This involves looking for light frequency variations that betray the “wobble” an orbiting planet imparts on a star.

From these measurements astronomers are able to estimate a planet’s mass and orbital period.

source: sky news English