One-Fifth of Human Genes Have Been Patented

From The National Geographic:

The study, which is reported this week in the journal Science, is the first time that a detailed map has been created to match patents to specific physical locations on the human genome. Researchers can patent genes because they are potentially valuable research tools, useful in diagnostic tests or to discover and produce new drugs. “It might come as a surprise to many people that in the U.S. patent system human DNA is treated like other natural chemical products,” said Fiona Murray, a bDna_1 usiness and science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and a co-author of the study. Gene patents were central to the biotech boom of the 1980s and 1990s. The earliest gene patents were obtained around 1978 on the gene for human growth hormone. The new study reveals that more than 4,000 genes, or 20 percent of the almost 24,000 human genes, have been claimed in U.S. patents. Of the patented genes, about 63 percent are assigned to private firms and 28 percent are assigned to universities. The top patent assignee is Incyte, a Palo Alto, California-based drug company whose patents cover 2,000 human genes.

More here.

A Culture of Rapture

From The New York Times:

16lou1841_1Fascination with the end of days is seemingly everywhere, in popular television ministries (like Pat Robertson’s), on best-seller lists (the “Left Behind” series) and even on bumper stickers (“In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned”).

What could be behind this fascination? Many church leaders and theologians, including evangelicals, give little effort to trying to interpret natural disasters and other events that might portend the end of history. The preoccupation these days stems mainly from the outsized influence of a specific, literalistic approach to biblical prophecy, called dispensationalism, which only came to occupy a dominant place in American evangelicalism relatively recently.

“Dispensationalists have never had the kind of public exposure and the kind of political power that they have now,” Mr. Weber said. As a whole, evangelical Christians are united in their belief that Jesus will come back in human form at some point in history. Where they, as well as members of other Christian groups, have differed is precisely how this will occur, depending on how each interprets a single verse in the 20th chapter of the Book of Revelation and its allusion to a 1,000-year reign by Christ.

More here.

U.S. Losing Its Competitive Edge In Science


A panel of experts convened by the National Academies, the nation’s leading science advisory group, called yesterday for an urgent and wide-ranging effort to strengthen scientific competitiveness.

The 20-member panel, reporting at the request of a bipartisan group in Congress, said that without such an effort the United States “could soon lose its privileged position.” It cited many examples of emerging scientific and industrial power abroad and listed 20 steps the United States should take to maintain its global lead.

“Decisive action is needed now,” the report warned, adding that the nation’s old advantages “are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength.”

More here.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Laura Helmuth and Art Wolfe in Smithsonian Magazine:

Wolfe_lionThe wildlife photographs that make us ooh and aah usually depict dramatic action. A lion digs its teeth into a zebra’s neck, buffaloes stampede through a cloud of dust, a pair of cranes strut out a mating dance—we like our animals highlighted at their most furious, frightened or amorous.

That’s rarely how they appear in nature, of course. Most of the time, they’re just trying to blend in. Photographer Art Wolfe, 53, has more than 60 books and plenty of wildlife action shots to his name, but in a new book, Vanishing Act, he defies conventions to show what he calls “animals’ incredible ability to vanish in plain sight.” In these photographs (taken in Kenya, South Africa, Panama, Malaysia and 21 other nations), the animals typically appear in the corner of the frame rather than the center, and some are partly obscured by plants. He further helps the subjects get lost by making both the foreground and background sharp. “Basically, I’m teasing the audience,” he says.

Wolfe_seal_1Ever since people thousands of years ago noted the uncanny trickery of animal camouflage, nature watchers have taken pains to understand it. Some animals’ color matches their favored habitat: plovers that feed in wet sand and muck have darker-brown backs than plover species that spend their time in dry, lighter-colored sand dunes. Some animals coordinate their look with the seasons, shedding dark fur or molting dark feathers once the snow flies. Certain sea creatures tint their skin with pigments from the corals they’ve eaten to take on the color of their home reef.

More here.

Raise the Red Lantern

Last night I saw the brilliant ballet Raise the Red Lantern at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (thanks Ga). The production was spectacular and so luscious that it made me feel royal just to be able to watch it. Here’s Loren Noveck in

2457The piece’s strength is in its overall visual sense—striking tableaux, gorgeous costumes (by Jerome Kaplan) and sets (by Zeng Li), bold use of color. Moment after moment makes an immediate and vivid impression: In the prologue, the second concubine, dressed like a schoolgirl, is forced into an elaborate palanquin, where she remains for much of the first act, emerging in sophisticated red robes only for her wedding. The majority of the wedding night is played behind screens, so that the second concubine and her master appear as silhouettes, his shadow towering over hers; as she attempts to evade his sexual advance, she continually rips through panels of the screen. The execution at the end is symbolized by a stylized procession of soldiers, each smacking a white screen with a club and leaving a blood-red streak—over and over, until all three bodies are motionless in a heap at center stage, and then are covered by a shimmering snowfall as the curtain falls.

More here.

The aftershocks of Pakistan’s temblor will be felt for years

Russell Seitz in the Wall Street Journal:

K2The exaggerated verticality of northern Pakistan makes it scientifically transparent but politically opaque, with borders hard to define and harder to guard. The chaos in the quake’s aftermath has put the field in motion for fugitives of all stripes. Al Qaeda cadres and Islamist Kashmiri separatists can readily lose themselves among the flux of refugees in a region famed for discreet hospitality. It cannot have escaped Osama Bin Laden’s attention that in the 19th century the Aga Khan spent tranquil years in Hunza while internecine war made him a hunted man elsewhere in the Islamic world. Today, the Raj has evaporated in India, but in Pakistan’s Northern Areas some local notables’ business cards still read “Head of State.” Political parties–some religious, some ethnic–have proliferated in the Punjab and the parts of southern Pakistan that share an Urdu culture with India; but in the North, men owe their first allegiance to where they were born, not to where politicians in Islamabad want borders to be.

The region’s isolation in the months to come could erode Pakistan’s often-resented efforts to integrate the linguistically and ethnically distinct populations of areas like Baltistan, a “Little Tibet” where mountains five miles high enforce local autonomy–and where the central government’s authority fades out of sight of the now-obliterated roads built to enforce it. The temblor’s timing is itself disastrous, for the north helps feed Pakistan, and harvests have been isolated from the urban markets by the wholesale destruction of infrastructure. Far away, in Karachi and Quetta, the political impact is being felt, as food prices soar despite the imposition of price controls.

More here.

‘Saving Fish From Drowning’: Bus of Fools

From The New York Times:Tan

Amy Tan is among our great storytellers. In each of her previous novels, she has seduced readers with the intimate magic of her tale. In “The Joy Luck Club” and “The Bonesetter’s Daughter,” she enthralled us with the painful complexity of human relationships, especially between mothers and daughters. Obscure parts of history became as immediate as the reader’s own experience; she made us breathe the air of other times and places.

Tan_amy Her newest novel, “Saving Fish From Drowning,” half spoof and half fairy tale, is narrated by Bibi Chen, a San Francisco socialite and art dealer who was supposed to lead a group of high-powered friends on a trip down the Burma Road, starting in Lijiang in China and continuing across the border into Myanmar, appreciating cultural sites and natural beauty along the way. Bibi Chen has died under mysterious circumstances, but the group goes off on the trip anyway, and Bibi goes along as a spirit, invisible to the travelers, only sporadically able to influence what is going on, but very much involved with – and frequently rather annoyed by – her friends and their choices. A quirky narrator, alternately omniscient and helpless, she is enthusiastic, colorful and spirited, but also self-important, snobbish and didactic.

More here.

The world’s first biplanes were … dinosaurs?


Dinobiplane_hmed_1p Scientists say dino-chicken used two sets of wings to flit between trees: Like the Wright brothers, the first flying dinosaurs took to the air with two sets of wings. New analysis of the winged Microraptor gui suggests that the first feathered dinos relied on a biplane-like wing configuration to swoop from tree to tree. The result may settle a century-old controversy over how the first feathered creatures achieved flight. “It is intriguing to contemplate that perhaps avian flight, like aircraft evolution, went through a biplane stage before the monoplane was introduced,” said Sankar Chatterjee of Texas Tech University. “It seems likely that Microraptor invented the biplane 125 million years before the Wright 1903 Flyer.”

More here.

Pakistan Earthquake

Dear Readers of 3 Quarks Daily,

Over the last six days I have received various emails and phone calls asking about the welfare of my family and friends in Pakistan. I want to thank you for the concern you have expressed, and tell you that while my family escaped all direct effects of the earthquake, various friends and their families have not been so lucky. The centuries-old house of my friend Yousaf in Wah has collapsed. Other friends from Kashmir are in bad shape. It is an odd coincidence that for our honeymoon last year, my wife and I chose to go sightseeing in two places: the incomparably beautiful beaches of the south of Sri Lanka, and the majestic mountain regions of the north of Pakistan. None of the hotels we stayed at in either place exist any longer. Between the tsunami and the earthquake, all we have left are the pleasant memories and some pictures we took while in these serene, lovely places.

Several people have asked how they can help the victims of the earthquake. After looking into this a bit, I have come to the conclusion that the best way is by donating money to the Human Development Foundation. This is a U.S. based secular group which was started by Pakistani-American doctors more than a decade ago (one of my sisters has been actively involved). They have set up schools and clinics all over Pakistan, and their efforts have been recognized by President Musharraf to the extent that the government of Pakistan asked them for advice and is now following their model of human development to fight poverty and illiteracy in all of Pakistan. The important point is, they already have an infrastructure on the ground in many of the areas affected by the earthquake, and therefore, they assure me that ALL the money which is collected in their earthquake fund will go directly to the victims, and NONE of it will be used for administrative purposes. I know some of the individuals at the HDF, and can personally vouch for their integrity. If you would like to donate to them, please click here.

Tens of thousands are dead. More are injured. Millions are homeless. The Himalayan winter is well on its way. Help if you can. If you like, leave your email in a comment on this post, and I will be sure to write to you personally to thank you.

Gratefully yours,


Here are some pictures of the affected areas from the NY Times:











new space race?


With the successful launch of its second manned spacecraft, Shenzhou VI, China has shown the world that it is moving confidently towards the status of a global leader, one among eight or 10 — or even two or three — world powers that will be at the top in the next few years.

China needed the second successful launch to vindicate its space program. Since 1996, it has launched a total of 46 unmanned craft, including five this year. All of them were put into orbit by the Chinese Long March rocket. The maiden mission by Col. Yang Liwei on Oct. 15, 2003, meant China joined the prestigious club of nations able to send a man into space, joining Russia and the United States. Also important is that Beijing stuck to its launching schedule for the second vehicle with two cosmonauts aboard.

Beijing’s space plans are an established reality now, even if they may occasionally suffer setbacks and delays, as is the case with other countries. These plans include a space walk in 2006, a family of new carrier rockets, including one capable of putting into orbit a research station weighing 20 tons, an unmanned craft to be sent around the Moon in 2007, a lunar landing in 2012, and the return to Earth of another lunar vehicle with soil samples in 2017.

more form UPI here.

Where have Pakistan’s Jews gone?

There was once a small but vibrant community of Jews in what is now Pakistan. Most of them left Pakistan decades ago in circumstances that were not comfortable for them and a matter of some shame for us.

Adil Najam in Pakistan’s Daily Times:

16_9_2005_najam_1The front page of last Friday’s Jerusalem Post featured a boxed item headlined “Surprise! There are still Jews in Pakistan.”

The story in The Jerusalem Post was triggered by an email sent to the newspaper’s online edition in a Reader’s Response section by one Ishaac Moosa Akhir who introduced himself thus: “I am a doctor at a local hospital in Karachi, Pakistan. My family background is Sephardic Jewish and I know approximately 10 Jewish families who have lived in Karachi for 200 years or so. Just last week was the Bar Mitzvah of my son Dawod Akhir.”

I remember seeing the mail when it originally appeared middle of last week and wondering whether the writer was, in fact, who he claimed to be or an over-zealous Pakistani trying to make a point behind the Internet’s obscurity. The Jerusalem Post and the experts it interviewed seem to have harboured similar doubts, I think largely because of the tenor of the debate on that discussion board.

More here.  [Thanks to Atiya Khan for the link.]

God’s Billboard, or is it pop-up?

Hmmm . . . (from the e-printed archives)

Suppose some superior Being or Beings got the universe going. We do not address the issue of whether or not this is likely, but merely proceed with this supposition. Furthermore, suppose that they actually wanted to notify us that the universe was intentionally created. The question we would like to ask is: How would they send us a message? . . .

In the United States, people with certain religious convictions have even imagined that the message might be encoded in the rock formation of the Grand Canyon, as another example. In our opinion, such suggestions are clearly not universal enough, and they seem to require direct intervention by the Creator during the evolution of the universe. Another possibility, that a message might be hidden deep in the digits of pi or the Riemann zeta function, is also appealing, but we have no way of addressing how feasible that might be without some measure over possible realizations of mathematics. . .

We have convinced ourselves that the medium for the message is unique: it could only be the cosmic microwave background. The cosmic microwave background is in effect a giant billboard in the sky, visible to all technologically advanced civilizations. Since different regions of the sky are causally disconnected, only the Being “present at the creation” could place a message there. (There are also cosmic neutrino and gravity wave backgrounds, but given the elusive nature of neutrinos and gravity waves it seems that photons are a better choice for carriers of the message.)

wood on bayley


In their very different ways, the three most prominent Oxford professors of English since the war have all been populist pretenders. John Carey, scourge of Modernist ‘intellectuals’ and reliable dribbler of cold water on all forms of overheated aestheticism, comes across as the last defender of sensible English decency. Terry Eagleton, with his blokeish binarisms and comic’s patter, increasingly presents himself as the sensible Marxist alternative to toothless and ornate theory in America and continental Europe. And John Bayley, with his hospitable style and gift for canonical gossip, again and again attempts to defend the sensible common reader against academic criticism tout court – what he has variously called ‘the higher criticism’, ‘smart academic critics’, ‘the literary lads’, ‘the clever men at Yale and elsewhere’, and ‘the high-tech men’.

more from Mr. James Wood at The London Review of Books here.



When asked to provide details about his life to a curator, the painter Balthus sent the following telegram in reply: “No biographical details. Begin: Balthus is a painter of whom nothing is known. Now let us look at the pictures. Regards. B.” Balthus was rebelling against the modern fondness for viewing an artist’s output through the prism of his public image. He worried that once an artist’s personal life was known, his work would be seen only as a means of diagnosing the artist’s psychological shortcomings and not as an end in itself. With the painter Hans Memling, there can be no such worry. Born early in the 15th century, Memling is truly a painter of whom nothing is known. Only a few hard facts have been collected from occasional mentions of his name in administrative records of the era. We know such titillating details as: He was a citizen of Bruges, Flanders; he was married; he owned a home; and, in 1494, he died.

more from Slate here.

Marijuana may make your brain grow

From Nature:

Marijuana Most addictive drugs inhibit the growth of new brain cells. But injections of a cannabis-like chemical seem to have the opposite effect in mice, according to new research. For several years now, researchers have been interested in how drugs affect a part of the brain known as the hippocampus. This region is unusual in that it can grow new neurons throughout a person’s lifetime. Researchers have theorized that these new cells help to improve memory while combating depression and mood disorders.

Although his findings point to potential benefits of smoking pot, Zhang says that he does not endorse its use. “Marijuana has been used for medicine and recreation for thousands of years,” he says. “But it can also lead to addiction.”

More here.

Burqa ban!


Submission_b203_ap160 Burqa – the Muslim women’s body veil is likely to be soon banned in the Netherlands, says a news report. It will be the first European country to legislate toughest curbs on Muslim clothing.

Netherlands hardliner Integration minister Rita Verdonk, who is called the Iron Lady for her series of anti-immigration measures, announced that she was going to investigate where and when the Burqa should be banned. Sources said the ban would be applicable in shops, public buildings, cinemas, trains, bus stops and airlines, which means almost everywhere except the streets. Anti-immigrant Verdonk appears very determined despite realizing the angry backlash of the Netherlands Muslim community, Human Rights groups and Europe’s Muslims in general. She is reported to have said the “time of cozy tea-drinking” with Muslim group has passed and immigrants should have the courage to criticize each other. She recently cancelled a meeting with Muslim leaders who refused to shake her hand because she was a woman, she said.

More here.

The Gambler

Alma Guillermoprieto in the New York Review of Books feature:

Caracas, cradled though it is in a lush green valley and separated from the Caribbean only by the lovely Monte Avila, is not a beautiful city. The business districts are a monument to mercenary urban development, and in general the capital of Venezuela is so lacking in planning that it can seem as if the very streets were about to collide with each other. The place is jarringly noisy and blatantly divided. The wealthier classes live on the Avila’s slopes, along streets shaded by lush trees, while the poor occupy the steep scarred hills that cup the rest of the Caracas valley, hills that seem to have been stripped clean of the smallest shrub, and are covered instead from base to peak with the tightly packed, bare, graceless dwellings of the poor. The hillsides tend to slump downward or sideways during the rainy season, bringing calamities with them, yet new arrivals set up camp here every day. From their pleasant apartment complexes or their office buildings on the valley floor, delightfully hospitable caraqueños will look fearfully toward the peopled landscape and plead with a visitor not to venture there: thieves, murderers, drug addicts, chavistas swarm in those heights, they warn, shuddering behind their grilled windows.

More here.

Benefits of Diaspora

Eric Hobsbawm in the London Review of Books:

Most work in the field of Jewish history deals with the almost invariably vast impact of the outside world on the Jews, who are almost invariably a small minority of the population. My concern is with the impact of the Jews on the rest of humanity. And, in particular, with the explosive transformation of this impact in the 19th and 20th centuries: that is to say, since the emancipation and self-emancipation of the Jews began in the late 18th century.

Between their expulsion from Palestine in the first century ad and the 19th century, the Jews lived within the wider society of gentiles, whose languages they adopted as their own and whose cuisine they adapted to their ritual requirements; but only rarely and intermittently were they able and, what is equally to the point, willing, to participate in the cultural and intellectual life of these wider societies. Consequently their original contribution to this life was marginal, even in fields in which, since emancipation, their contribution has been enormous. Only as intermediaries between intellectual cultures, notably between the Islamic and Western Christian worlds in the (European) Middle Ages, did they have a significant part to play.

Consider a field of outstanding Jewish achievement: mathematics. So far as I am aware no significant developments in modern mathematics are specifically associated with Jewish names until the 19th century.

More here.

Did Johannes Kepler murder Tycho Brahe?

Mark Mortimer reviews Heavenly Intrigue by Joshua Gilder and Anne-Lee Gilder, in Universe Today:

20051012heavenlyfullGreat scientists don’t necessarily make for great people. One reportedly never took a bath in his long life. Many were so anti-social as to have their mental stability questioned. Sordid character traits often set them well apart from peers and students. Joshua Gilder and Anne-Lee Gilder explore this avenue in their book Heavenly Intrigue. In it, they bring to life the olden times of Europe and two great astronomers, Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe. Then, step by step, they lead the reader onto a great scientific undertaking that might have its roots in a less than great murder…

People come in all stripes and colours. Brilliant scientists might be lousy friends. Fantastic leaders might be so inept with numbers as to be unable to balance their own finances. This potpourri of characteristics bring spice to our lives. However, some spices are not as well liked as others. The murder that Joshua Gilder and Anne-Lee Gilder so boldly proclaim in their book Heavenly Intrigue is one such. Perhaps a golden opportunity brought together Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe, but read this book and see how other opportunities may have prematurely ended their association.

More here.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

From Foreign Policy:

Albert Einstein claimed he never thought of the future. “It comes soon   enough,” he said. Foreign Policy decided to not grant 16 leading thinkers   that luxury. Instead, to mark our 35th anniversary, we asked them to speculate   on the ideas, values, and institutions the world takes for granted that may   disappear in the next 35 years. Their answers range from fields as diverse as   morals and religion to geopolitics and technology. We may be happy to see some   of these “endangered species” make an exit, but others will be mourned.   All of them will leave a mark.

The Sanctity of Life                    Political Parties
By Peter Singer                            By Fernando Henrique Cardos

The Euro                                       Japanese Passivity
By Christopher Hitchens
            By Shintaro Ishihara

Monogamy                                   Religious Hierarchy
By Jacques Attali
                        By Harvey Cox

The Chinese Communist Party     Auto Emissions
By Minxin Pei                                  By John Browne

The Public Domain                     Doctors’ Offices
By Lawrence Lessig                   
By Craig Mundie

The King of England                     The War on Drugs
By Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
      By Peter Schwartz

Laissez-Faire Procreation            Polio
By Lee Kuan Yew
                        By Julie L. Gerberding  

Sovereignty                                   Anonymity
By Richard N. Haass                   
By Esther Dyson

More here.