Day: August 23, 2017

Study: Few Nations See Beyond Hunger in Fighting Malnutrition

Food alone cannot solve the world’s malnutrition crises but only three countries are looking beyond hunger to the other major driver, according to a global study released Thursday.

Water, sanitation and hygiene, usually treated by governments and NGOs as a separate policy area from food and nutrition, make up the second leading cause of stunted growth in children, after underweight births, said the report.

But only Cambodia, Niger, and Zimbabwe among the 10 countries covered by the report are linking their response to malnutrition and water by bringing together the responsible agencies, according to charity WaterAid.

“Improving child health is a long-term issue. It’s not as simple as giving food and that improves malnutrition — right?” Dan Jones of WaterAid told Reuters.

Jones said governments that treat food and water separately cannot prevent malnutrition. Instead, they must tackle the poor sanitation that causes malnutrition, via infection and disease.

In 2016, 155 million children younger than five were stunted due to a lack of nutrition, according to the United Nations World Health Organization.

Diseases caused by dirty water and lack of sanitation such as gut infections, intestinal worms, and diarrhea prevent young bodies from absorbing the nutrients needed for growth, according to WaterAid, which produced the report with charities Action Against Hunger and SHARE.

Jones said malnutrition can leave children with invisible cognitive, emotional and physical damage.

Yet the effects are clear, and span all areas of development, from economic growth to schooling, said Jones.

“If they have clean water … girls, when they grow up to be mothers, are more likely to give birth to healthy children, and to be able to help them to grow and develop and provide them with clean water and food — and those children can go to school and concentrate in school,” said Jones.

Jones singled out Cambodia for linking up its response.

One in three Cambodian children younger than five is stunted, but Prime Minister Hun Sen has brought together the ministries responsible for nutrition, health, agriculture, and water and sanitation to create a joint response.

“It sounds very obvious, but those ministers really talking to each other can make a huge difference,” Jones said.


Judge: US Erred in Declining Protections for Remote Grizzly Bears

U.S. wildlife managers erred when they declined to list as endangered a small population of grizzly bears in the remote reaches of Idaho and northwest Montana, a federal judge has ruled in what conservationists on Wednesday hailed as a huge victory.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014 determined the fewer than 50 grizzlies that roam the Cabinet Mountains and Yaak River drainage in the Northern Rockies were not in danger of extinction and did not warrant reclassifying as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Montana conservation group Alliance for the Wild Rockies sued, arguing the so-called Cabinet-Yaak population of grizzlies would go extinct unless U.S. wildlife managers tightened restrictions on logging, mining and other activities in bear habitat, all safeguards that would come with endangered status.

On Tuesday a federal judge in Missoula, Montana, sided with the conservation group in a ruling that found that the Fish and Wildlife Service had violated U.S. law in determining that the number of outsized, hump-shouldered bears in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem could reach a targeted recovery goal of 100 without added protections.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen found that the agency had long recognized that population of grizzlies was warranted for listing as an endangered species because of human-caused mortality and other threats.

The Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 reported Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies were declining at an annual rate of about 0.8 percent per year and that the percentage of bears unlawfully or accidentally killed by humans had tripled by 1999-2012 compared with 1982-1998.

Yet the agency in 2014 reversed course, finding the bears did not need additional safeguards because their population trend had changed to stable from declining.

Christensen ruled that reversal was unlawfully arbitrary and capricious and ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to rework any proposal that would downgrade the status of the bears. Alliance head Michael Garrity on Wednesday said the judge’s decision was a victory for the grizzles.

“Now they have a chance at survival,” Garrity said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not respond to a request by Reuters for comment.

Grizzlies in 1975 were listed as threatened in the lower 48 states after they neared extinction.

The Cabinet-Yaak bears are among just a handful of grizzly populations that exist outside Alaska. The grizzlies in and around Yellowstone Park, the second-largest group of bears in the Lower 48 states, were delisted this summer.


Taylor Swift Announces New Album in November

Yes, Taylor Swift fans, Wednesday was a lucky one for you.


The pop star who whipped her army of Swifties into a frenzy with video snippets of slithery snake parts on social media posted the title of her new album, “Reputation,” and announced online it will be out Nov. 10.


The first single, she said in a series of posts, will drop Thursday night. And she threw in the album’s cover art for good measure: a black-and-white photo of herself — head and shoulders, in slouchy sweatshirt, hair swept back — against a backdrop of newsprint reading, simply, “Taylor Swift” over and over again.


Swift, who is followed by millions on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, wiped her feeds clean Friday and replaced the void Monday with the first of three reptilian videos, each offering just a tad more of a snake, from tail to squirmy middle and finally its beady red eyes and ominous fangs lunging briefly at the camera.


The teasers put fans on high alert, and the snake imagery evoked snake emojis used against her in various dis-fests last year, including one with Kim Kardashian West after West claimed Swift knew about hubby Kanye’s reference to Swift in his song “Famous.”


The album would be Swift’s sixth studio effort and the first since the 2014 release of  “1989,” which is the last time she teased fans online, that round with mysterious Polaroid photographs. She scrubbed her feeds Friday of everything from profile pictures to followers. It was three years to the date she dropped the song “Shake It Off” and announced “1989” — and just a few days after her courtroom assault trial victory against a former radio DJ in Denver.


Word of a new album lifted Swift to a top trending topic around the world Wednesday on Twitter ahead of Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards, to be hosted by Katy Perry, a former friend.


Britain Seeks Close EU Relationship on Data Protection After Brexit

Britain will set out a plan to cooperate closely with Europe on data protection rules after it leaves the European Union, hoping to reassure businesses and law enforcement agencies that there will be no disruption to exchanges of information.

Minister for Digital Matt Hancock said Britain was leading the way on data protection laws and had worked closely with its EU partners in developing standards.

“We want the secure flow of data to be unhindered in the future as we leave the EU,” he said. “So a strong future data relationship between the U.K. and EU, based on aligned data protection rules, is in our mutual interest.”

In the latest paper looking at its future relationship with the EU, the British government said it would outline Thursday how it wanted collaboration in data security to continue.

Privacy, flexibility

“Our goal is to combine strong privacy rules with a relationship that allows flexibility, to give consumers and businesses certainty in their use of data,” Hancock said.

Noting that the digital economy in Britain was worth 118.4 billion pounds ($151.5 billion) in 2015, he said any disruption in the free flow of data could be costly both to Britain and to the remaining members of the bloc.

British lawmakers said last month the country could be put at a competitive disadvantage and the police could lose access to intelligence if the government failed to retain unhindered flows of data.

Britain has published a number of papers this month to try to nudge negotiations with the EU on Brexit forward, tackling subjects such as laws, customs and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.


US Federal Spending, Debt Ceiling: What You Need to Know

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was willing to shut down the government to get funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, complicating two must-pass measures Congress will take up in September: a spending package and raising the debt ceiling.

Here is what you need to know about both, and the potential for a shutdown of the U.S. government:

What is a shutdown?

Congress must pass annual spending bills around the end of the federal fiscal year on September 30 to fund much of the U.S. government. When disagreements prevent that, which is frequent, lawmakers often pass a temporary bill extending existing spending levels with no changes for days, weeks or months, while they work on a longer-lasting deal. When they cannot agree on either a new spending plan or a short-term extension, the government shuts down. That has happened many times since the 1970s, usually for a few days, and can rattle markets.

Congress will return from its long summer recess September 5. At that time, it will have only about 12 working days to approve spending measures to keep the government open.

What if Congress fails?

If spending measures are not passed before October 1, portions of the government will begin to shut down and nonessential employees will go without pay until an agreement is reached.

The government most recently shut down for about two weeks in October 2013 over funding for former President Barack Obama’s health care law. There were three shutdowns in the 1990s, the longest lasting 21 days. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were 14 shutdowns, some partial and most lasting only a few days.

What is the debt ceiling?

The debt ceiling is a legislative limit on how much money the federal government can borrow through debt issued by the U.S. Treasury. Once the limit is reached, Congress must raise it or the government cannot continue borrowing money and would default, or be unable to pay its bills.

The Treasury has said it wants Congress to increase the debt ceiling by September 29, although default most likely could be staved off until mid-October, thanks to “extraordinary measures” the Treasury put in place in March to delay a debt reckoning.

Legislation to raise the debt limit will need to be adopted, at the very latest, by early to mid-October.

What if the ceiling is not raised?

If the debt ceiling is not raised, the government would not be able to borrow more money or pay its bills, including payments on its debts, which could hurt the U.S. credit rating.

Political gridlock has never led to the United States reaching its debt ceiling and its bills going unpaid, but there have been close calls. An August 2011 standoff cost the country its top-notch bond rating from the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s and caused the most jarring two weeks in financial markets since the 2007-09 global financial crisis.

How are the budget and debt ceiling related?

The two move on separate tracks, but are likely to get tangled together, with Republican opponents of a debt ceiling increase most likely demanding federal spending cuts. Some analysts say Congress may try to tackle both issues at the same time.

What are the politics?

Both the spending and debt ceiling bills can pass the Republican-led House of Representatives by a simple majority vote, but will need 60 votes to pass the Senate, where Republicans hold 52 of 100 seats, meaning they will need some Democratic support.

Trump made his U.S.-Mexico border wall a central promise of his 2016 presidential campaign. He also promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico has steadfastly refused and Trump has largely stopped talking about that pledge.

Conservative House Republicans agree with the Republican president on the need for a wall and say funding for it should be a priority in any spending legislation. Some of them have already indicated they are willing to shut down the government to get it.

Moderate Republicans have called a shutdown unwise, and Republican leaders are determined to prevent one, fearing it would worsen doubts about the party’s ability to govern.

Democrats are uniformly opposed to Trump’s wall and say the responsibility for a shutdown would rest solely with Republicans.

The Trump administration reversed course earlier this month and said it would back a “clean” raising of the debt ceiling, meaning it would not be tied to other policy measures.

Democrats and moderate Republicans also support a clean debt-ceiling increase. But conservative Republicans, especially in the House, often use debt-ceiling legislation to insist on changes to spending, making them opposed to a clean bill.


Lab-made ‘Mini Organs’ Helping Doctors Treat Cystic Fibrosis

Els van der Heijden, who has cystic fibrosis, was finding it ever harder to breathe as her lungs filled with thick, sticky mucus. Despite taking more than a dozen pills and inhalers a day, the 53-year-old had to stop working and scale back doing the thing she loved best, horseback riding.

Doctors saw no sense in trying an expensive new drug because it hasn’t been proven to work in people with the rare type of cystic fibrosis that van der Heijden had.

Instead, they scraped a few cells from van der Heijden and used them to grow a mini version of her large intestine in a petri dish. When van der Heijden’s “mini gut” responded to treatment, doctors knew it would help her too.

“I really felt, physically, like a different person,” van der Heijden said after taking a drug — and getting back in the saddle.

Someday for transplants?

This experiment to help people with rare forms of cystic fibrosis in the Netherlands aims to grow mini intestines for every Dutch patient with the disease to figure out, in part, what treatment might work for them. It’s an early application of a technique now being worked on in labs all over the world, as researchers learn to grow organs outside of the body for treatment — and maybe someday for transplants.

So far, doctors have grown mini guts — just the size of a pencil point — for 450 of the Netherlands’ roughly 1,500 cystic fibrosis patients.


“The mini guts are small, but they are complete,” said Dr. Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute, who pioneered the technique. Except for muscles and blood vessels, the tiny organs “have everything you would expect to see in a real gut, only on a really small scale.”

These so-called organoids mimic features of full-size organs, but don’t function the same way. Although many of the tiny replicas are closer to undeveloped organs found in an embryo than adult ones, they are helping scientists unravel how organs mature and providing clues on how certain diseases might be treated.

Mini kidneys in Australia

 In Australia, mini kidneys are being grown that could be used to test drugs. Researchers in the U.S. are experimenting with tiny bits of livers that might be used to boost failing organs. At Cambridge University in England, scientists have created hundreds of mini brains to study how neurons form and better understand disorders like autism. During the height of the Zika epidemic last year, mini brains were used to show the virus causes malformed brains in babies.


In the Netherlands, the mini guts are used as a stand-in for cystic fibrosis patients to see if those with rare mutations might benefit from a number of pricey drugs, including Orkambi. Made by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Orkambi costs about 100,000 euros per patient every year in some parts of Europe, and it’s more than double that in the U.S., which approved the drug in 2015. Despite being initially rejected by the Dutch government for being too expensive, negotiations with Vertex were reopened in July.  


Making a single mini gut and testing whether the patient would benefit from certain drugs costs a couple of thousand euros. The program is paid for by groups including health insurance companies, patient foundations and the government. The idea is to find a possible treatment for patients, and avoid putting them on expensive drugs that wouldn’t work for them.


About 50 to 60 patients across the Netherlands have been treated after drugs were tested on organoids using their cells, said Dr. Kors van der Ent, a cystic fibrosis specialist at the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital, who leads the research.

Mutations in single gene


Clevers made a discovery about a decade ago that got researchers on their way. They found pockets of stem cells, which can turn into many types of other cells, in the gut. They then homed in a growing environment in the lab that spurred these cells to reproduce rapidly and develop.  


“To our surprise, the stem cells started building a mini version of the gut,” Clevers recalled.  


Cystic fibrosis is caused by mutations in a single gene that produces a protein called CFTR, responsible for balancing the salt content of cells lining the lungs and other organs.


To see if certain drugs might help cystic fibrosis patients, the medicines are given to their custom-made organoids in the lab. If the mini organs puff up, it’s a sign the cells are now correctly balancing salt and water. That means the drugs are working, and could help the patient from whom the mini gut was made.

Mini organs vs. cancer

Researchers are also using the mini guts to try another approach they hope will someday work in people — using a gene editing technique to repair the faulty cystic fibrosis gene in the organoid cells.


Other experiments are underway in the Netherlands and the U.S. to test whether organoids might help pinpoint treatments for cancers involving lungs, ovaries and pancreas.


While the idea sounds promising, some scientists said there are obstacles to using mini organs to study cancer.


Growing a mini cancer tumor, for example, would be far more challenging because scientists have found it difficult to make tumors in the lab that behave like in real life, said Mathew Garnett of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, who has studied cancer in mini organs but is not connected to Clevers’ research.

Huge hurdles remain


Also, growing the cells and testing them must happen faster for cancer patients who might not have much time to live, he said.


Meanwhile, Clevers wants to one day make organs that are not so mini.


“My dream would be to be able to custom-make organs,” he said, imagining a future where doctors might have a “freezer full of livers” to choose from when sick patients arrive.


Others said while such a vision is theoretically possible, huge hurdles remain.


“There are still enormous challenges in tissue engineering with regards to the size of the structure we’re able to grow,” said Jim Wells, a pediatrics professor at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He said the mini organs are far smaller than what would be needed to transplant into people and it’s unclear if scientists can make a working, life-sized organ in the lab.

Complex interplay

There are other limitations to growing miniature organs in a dish, said Madeline Lancaster at Cambridge University.  


“We can study physical changes and try to generate drugs that could prevent detrimental effects of disease, but we can’t look at the complex interplay between organs and the body,” she said.


For patients like van der Heijden, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a toddler, the research has helped her regain her strength. Vertex agreed to supply her with the drug.


“It was like somebody opened the curtains and said, ‘Sunshine, here I am, please come out and play.’” she said. “It’s strange to think this is all linked to some of my cells in a lab.”


US Defense Department Invests $17M in Laser Technology

The U.S. Defense Department is making another multimillion-dollar investment in high-energy lasers that have the potential to destroy enemy drones and mortars, disrupt communication systems and provide military forces with other portable, less costly options on the battlefield.

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is a longtime supporter of directed-energy research, announced the $17 million investment during a news conference Wednesday inside a Boeing lab where many of the innovations were developed.

The U.S. already has the ability to shoot down enemy rockets and take out other threats with traditional weapons, but Heinrich said it’s expensive.

High-energy lasers and microwave systems represent a shift to weapons with essentially endless ammunition and the ability to wipe out multiple threats in a short amount of time, he said.

“This is ready for prime time,” Heinrich, who has an engineering degree, said of the concept.

Boeing has been working on high-energy laser and microwave weapons systems for years. The effort included a billion-dollar project to outfit a 747 with a laser cannon that could shoot down missiles while airborne. The system was complex and filled the entire back half of the massive plane.

Size of a suitcase

With advancements over the past two decades, high-powered laser weapons systems can now fit into a large suitcase for transport across the battlefield or be mounted to a vehicle for targeting something as small as the device that controls the wings of a military drone.

“Laser technology has moved from science fiction to real life,” said Ron Dauk, head of Boeing’s Albuquerque site.

The company’s compact laser system has undergone testing by the military, and engineers are working on a higher-powered version for testing next year.

While the technology has matured, Dauk and Heinrich said the exciting part is that it’s on the verge of moving from the lab to the battlefield.


Another $200 million has been requested in this year’s defense appropriations bill that would establish a program within the Pentagon for accelerating the transition of directed-energy research to real applications.

Heinrich said continued investment in such projects will help solidify New Mexico’s position as a leading site of directed-energy research and bring more money and high-tech jobs to the state.

Boeing already contributes about $120 million to the state’s economy through its contracts with vendors.


Israeli Archaeologists Find 1,500-year-old Mosaic

A 1,500-year-old mosaic floor with a Greek inscription has been uncovered during works to install communications cables in Jerusalem’s Old City — a rare discovery of an ancient relic and an historic document in one.

The inscription cites sixth-century Roman emperor Justinian as well as Constantine, who served as abbot of a church founded by Justinian in Jerusalem. Archaeologists think it will help them understand Justinian’s building projects in the city.

The full inscription reads: “The most pious Roman emperor Flavius Justinian and the most God-loving priest and abbot, Constantine, erected the building in which [this mosaic] sat during the 14th indiction.”

Indiction is an ancient method of counting years that was used for taxation purposes. Archaeologists said the inscription suggests the mosaic dated to A.D. 550-551.

Justinian was one of the most important rulers of the Byzantine era. In A.D. 543, he established the Nea Church in Jerusalem, one of the biggest Christian churches in the eastern Roman Empire and the largest in Jerusalem at the time.

“The fact that the inscription survived is an archaeological miracle,” David Gellman, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement.

He added that every archaeologist dreams of finding an inscription in excavations, “especially one so well-preserved and almost entirely intact.”

Researchers think the building of which the mosaic was once part, located beside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, was used as a hostel for pilgrims.

The mosaic, which was unveiled to the media Wednesday, was discovered this summer. Conservation experts have removed the mosaic and are treating it in a specialist workshop.


LOCKN’ Festival to Bring Positive Vibes to Charlottesville

Though the LOCKN’ Festival had been in the works for more than six months, the event taking place about 40 minutes from Charlottesville, Virginia, will now serve as an uplifting moment for the city following its racially charged rally that left one dead and others injured.

Festival co-founder Peter Shapiro said the four-day event, which kicks off Thursday in Arrington, will bring positive vibes “to a place that needs to lift the energy.” The Aug. 12 protest by white supremacists in Charlottesville left one counterprotester dead and dozens of others injured.

“I think the energy will be lifted. People want to be lifted right now,” Shapiro said. “They’re going to be open souls and open hearted and ready to be lifted, like a congregation. It’s like a church.”

Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, John Fogerty, the Avett Brothers, Jim James, Gov’t Mule and Margo Price are part of the lineup at the festival, which is in its fifth year. It takes place at Infinity Downs Farms at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“The times lend itself for LOCKN’ to be coming this weekend. … A lot of people are like, `Oh man, you’re the next big event in Charlottesville, aren’t you nervous, scared?’ No, this is why we do what we do,” Shapiro said.

Weir, formerly of the Grateful Dead, said “the times really demand that we embrace each other.”

“The feeling I think we will have is that we will regard everyone with equal love, even the people who caused all that trouble. In that particular instance, our regard for them will be tinged with a bit of pity for their unfortunate views and the circumstances that they bring on themselves,” he said.

The festival will be livestreamed on and is raising funds to support the organization, Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.

LOCKN’, unlike other festivals with multiple stages, features one rotating stage so that fans can watch all of the performers on the bill. Others set to perform include Brandi Carlile, the Revivalists, JJ Grey & Mofro, the Record Company, Blackberry Smoke and Umprey’s McGee.

“I think you going to find that the folks who attend the festival and the folks who play the festival are all of one solid opinion in regard to what happened in Charlottesville,” Weir said. “I would expect there would be some attention given to that issue, but it will probably … come with the song selection.”

Shapiro echoed Weir’s thoughts.

“We’re going to show that there’s many more people on the side of positive energy and get things back on the right road, and there’s many more who want to be on that road,” he said. “There are small ways you can … try to do your own effort to flip the energy. This is our effort.”


Germany Draws Up Rules of the Road for Driverless Cars

Protecting people rather than property or animals will be the priority under pioneering new German legal guidelines for the operation of driverless cars, the transport ministry said on Wednesday.

Germany is home to some of the world’s largest car companies, including Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW, all of which are investing heavily in self-driving technology.

German regulators have been working on rules for how such vehicles should be programmed to deal with a dilemma, such as choosing between hitting a cyclist or accelerating beyond legal speeds to avoid an accident.

Under new ethical guidelines — drawn up by a government-appointed committee comprising experts in ethics, law and technology — the software that controls such cars must be programmed to avoid injury or death of people at all cost.

That means that when an accident is unavoidable, the software must choose whichever action will hurt people the least, even if that means destroying property or hitting animals in the road, a transport ministry statement showed.

The software may not decide on its course of action based on the age, sex or physical condition of any people involved.

“The interactions of humans and machines is throwing up new ethical questions in the age of digitalization and self-learning systems,” German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said in a a statement.

“The ministry’s ethics commission has pioneered the cause and drawn up the world’s first set of guidelines for automated driving,” he added.

Germany earlier this year passed legislation under which a driver must be sitting behind the wheel at all times ready to take back control if prompted to do so by the autonomous vehicle, clearing the way for the development and testing of self-driving cars.