Posts Tagged ‘China’

By EDWARD WONG

The Chinese government is relocating thousands of villagers to complete construction by September of the world’s biggest radio telescope, whose intended purpose is to detect signs of extraterrestrial life.

The telescope would be 500 meters, or 1,640 feet, in diameter, by far the largest of its kind in the world. It is called FAST, for Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, and costs an estimated 1.2 billion renminbi, or $184 million.

The mass relocation was announced on Tuesday in a report by Xinhua, the state news agency. The report said officials were relocating 2,029 families, a total of 9,110 people, living within a three-mile radius of the telescope in the area of Pingtang and Luodian Counties in the southwestern province of Guizhou.

Officials plan to give each person the equivalent of $1,800 for housing compensation, the report said. Guizhou is one of China’s poorest provinces.

Forced relocations for infrastructure projects are common across China, and the people being moved by officials often complain both of the eviction from their homes and inadequate compensation. The Three Gorges Dam displaced more than one million people along the Yangtze River, and the middle route of the gargantuan South-North Water Diversion Project has resulted in the relocation of 350,000 people to make way for a series of canals.

The Chinese government has announced ambitious plans for its space program, at a time when the American one is in retreat. China aims to put an astronaut on the moon and a space station in orbit. The FAST project is another important element in the larger plan.

The telescope is being built in a wide depression among karst hills. The depression is far from cities and ideal for picking up radio transmissions, the Xinhua report said. Scientists began looking for a site in 1994 and finally settled on the Dawodang depression.

If the truth is out there, then some Chinese scientists are confident that the giant telescope will find it. The current largest operational radio telescope is the 300-meter-diameter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, but FAST in Guizhou will far surpass that.

Li Di, a chief scientist with the National Astronomical Observatories under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told China Daily last year that “with a larger signal receiving area and more flexibility, FAST will be able to scan two times more sky area than Arecibo, with three to five times higher sensitivity.”

Last November, scientists successfully tested the telescope’s “retina,” which weighs 33 tons and is suspended 460 to 525 feet above the reflector dish, which was half-finished at the time, China Daily reported.

The telescope has 4,500 panels that are mostly triangular and whose sides measure 36 feet, the report said. Those create a parabolic shape. The panels move and, by doing so, alter the shape of the antenna, which is supposed to pick up radio signals from distant corners of the universe. Those signals would then be reflected to a focal point.

Mr. Li told China Daily that engineers were aiming to install all the panels by this June and complete debugging by September.

“Ultimately, exploring the unknown is the nature of mankind,” he said, adding that it was “as visceral as feeding and clothing ourselves.”

“It drives us to a greater future,” he said.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/world/asia/china-fast-telescope-guizhou-relocation.html

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35 restaurants across China have been found illegally using opium as seasoning in their food, state officials say.

Five restaurants are being prosecuted over the findings, whilst 30 more are under investigation, according to the China Food and Drug Administration.

The eateries include a popular chain of hot pot restaurants in Beijing.

It is unclear how the opium came to enter the food, however, previous cases in China have seen chefs try to ‘hook’ customers on their food through use of the narcotic which can cause serious addiction.

In 2014, a failed drugs test led Shaanxi provincial police to uncover a noodle seller deliberately lacing meals with opium.

In 2004, a string of 215 restaurants in the Guizhou region were closed down following similar charges.

According to the official news agency Xinhau, poppy powder is available to buy in China at $60 or approximately £42 per kilogram.

It is commonly mixed with chilli oil and powders, which make it difficult for authorities to detect.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/chinese-restaurants-shut-for-seasoning-food-with-opium-a6826971.html

by Andrew Griffin

The scientist who claims to be about to carry out the first human head transplant says that he has successfully done the procedure on a monkey.

Maverick neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero has tested the procedure in experiments on monkeys and human cadavers, he told New Scientist.

Dr Canavero says that the success shows that his plan to transplant a human’s head onto a donor body is in place. He says that the procedure will be ready before the end of 2017 and could eventually become a way of treating complete paralysis.

“I would say we have plenty of data to go on,” Canavero told New Scientist. “It’s important that people stop thinking this is impossible. This is absolutely possible and we’re working towards it.”

The team behind the work has published videos and images showing a monkey with a transplanted head, as well as mice that are able to move their legs after having their spinal cords severed and then stuck back together.

Fusing the spinal cord of a person is going to be key to successfully transplanting a human head onto a donor body. The scientists claim that they have been able to do so by cleanly cutting the cord and using polyethylene glycol (PEG), which can be used to preserve cell membranes and helps the connection recover.

The monkey head transplant was carried out at Harbin Medical University in China, according to Dr Canavero. The monkey survived the procedure “without any neurological injury of whatever kind,” the surgeon said, but that it was killed 20 hours after the procedure for ethical reasons.

It isn’t the first time that a successful transplant has been carried out on a monkey. Head transplant pioneer Robert J White successfully carried out the procedure in 1970, on a monkey that initially responded well but died after nine days when the body rejected the head.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_J._White

The newly-revealed success is likely to be an attempt to help generate funds for the ultimate aim of giving a head transplant to Valery Spriridonov, the Russian patient who has been chosen to be the first to undergo the procedure. Dr Canavero has said that he will need a huge amount of money to fund the team of surgeons and scientists involved, and that he intends to ask Mark Zuckerberg to help fund it.

While the scientists behind the procedure have published the pictures and the videos, they haven’t yet made any of their work available for critique from fellow scientists. That has led some to criticise the claims, arguing that it is instead “science through PR”, and an attempt to drum up publicity and distract people from “good science”.

Peers have criticised the maverick scientist for making the claims without allowing them to be reviewed or checked out. But Dr Canavero claims that he will be publishing details from the study in journals in the coming months.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/head-transplant-has-been-successfully-done-on-a-monkey-maverick-neurosurgeon-sergio-canavero-claims-a6822361.html

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

Quick – can you tell where north is? Animals as diverse as sea turtles, birds, worms, butterflies and wolves can, thanks to sensing Earth’s magnetic field.

But the magnet-sensing structures inside their cells that allow them to do this have evaded scientists – until now.

A team led by Can Xie’s at Peking University in China has now found a protein in fruit flies, butterflies and pigeons that they believe to be responsible for this magnetic sense.

“It’s provocative and potentially groundbreaking,” says neurobiologist Steven Reppert of the University of Massachusetts who was not involved in the work. “It took my breath away.”

There used to be two competing theories about magnetic sense: some thought it came from iron-binding molecules, others thought it came from a protein called cryptochrome, which senses light and has been linked to magnetic sense in birds.

Xie’s group was the first to guess these two were part of the same system, and has now figured out how they fit together.

“This was a very creative approach,” says Reppert. “Everyone thought they were two separate systems.”

Xie’s team first screened the fruit fly genome for a protein that would fit a very specific bill.

The molecule had to bind iron, it had to be expressed inside a cell instead of on the cell membrane and do so in the animal’s head – where animals tend to sense magnetic fields – and it also had to interact with cryptochrome.

“We found one [gene] fit all of our predictions,” says Xie. They called it MagR and then used techniques including electron microscopy and computer modelling to figure out the protein’s structure.

They found that MagR and cryptochrome proteins formed a cylinder, with an inside filling of 20 MagR molecules surrounded by 10 cryptochromes.

The researchers then identified and isolated this protein complex from pigeons and monarch butterflies.

In the lab, the proteins snapped into alignment in response to a magnetic field. They were so strongly magnetic that they flew up and stuck to the researchers’ tools, which contained iron. So the team had to use custom tools made of plastic.

The team hasn’t yet tried to remove the MagR protein from an animal like a fruit fly to see if it loses its magnetic sense, but Xie believes the proteins work the same way in a living animal.

Although this protein complex seems to form the basis of magnetic sense, the exact mechanism is still to be figured out.

One idea is that when an animal changes direction, the proteins may swing around to point north, “just like a compass needle,” says Xie. Perhaps the proteins’ movement could trigger a connected molecule, which would send a signal to the nervous system.

Journal reference: Nature Materials, DOI: 10.1038/nmat4484

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn28494-animal-magnetic-sense-comes-from-protein-that-acts-as-a-compass

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

by Ema O’Connor

Japanese mountaineer Nobukazu Kuriki, 33, neared Mount Everest’s summit Saturday. This is his fifth attempt to reach Mount Everest’s highest peak in the past six years. He has been forced to turn back four times with the summit in sight due to dangerous conditions.

He is the first person to attempt the climb since Nepal’s catastrophic earthquake in April, which killed 9,000 people in Nepal, and 18 people at Everest’s base camp.

“I am climbing the mountain to stand by Nepal during this difficult time, and to spread the message that it is safe for tourism,” Kuriki told reporters when he first arrived in Nepal in July to acclimate before his climb.

He told Reuters that he felt nervous and afraid upon arriving in Nepal, but that this was “only natural before attempting the challenge of climbing Everest, particularly after the earthquake and at this time of year.

In 2012, Kuriki lost nine fingers after spending two days in a hole he dug in the snow at 27,000 feet in temperatures lower than -4F.

Kuriki will rest at the South Col for around eight hours before taking off on the last leg of the journey, the BBC reported. Taking on the final stretch overnight is a common tactic, president of the Nepalese Mountaineering Association Ang Tsering said. It allows them to descend the mountain in daylight, he said, and lower temperatures at night mean fewer winds.

The mountaineer originally planned to climb Everest beginning in Tibet, but China closed all mountains to expeditions for the fall season. Kuriki is the only person scheduled to climb Everest during the fall, a season known to be particularly dangerous for climbing expeditions.

Just 33% of climbers scale Mt. Everest successfully in the fall months, according to the Himalayan Database, compared to 66% in spring. Over the past 15 years only three expeditions have reached the summit successfully in the fall.

Mount Everest is known as the most dangerous mountain to climb in the world. There have been over 250 recorded casualties of the climb.

Kuriki has said in past interviews he prefers to climb alone, with minimal gear, and most of all, in the winter. “This is the purest form of climbing and it is worth the extra danger,” he said.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/emaoconnor/this-man-is-about-to-reach-the-top-of-mt-everest-and-only-ha#.dcOvg2G58

In an ethically charged first, Chinese researchers have used gene editing to modify human embryos obtained from an in-vitro fertilization clinic.

The 16-person scientific team, based at the Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, set out to see whether it could correct the gene defect that causes beta-thalassemia, a blood disease, by editing the DNA of fertilized eggs.

The team’s report showed the method is not yet very accurate, confirming scientific doubts around whether gene editing could be practical in human embryos, and whether genetically engineered people are going to be born anytime soon.

The authors’ report appeared on April 18 in a low-profile scientific journal called Protein & Cell. The authors, led by Junjiu Huang, say there is a “pressing need” to improve the accuracy of gene editing before it can be applied clinically, for instance to produce children with repaired genes.

The team did not try to establish a pregnancy and say for ethical reasons they did their tests only in embryos that were abnormal.

“These authors did a very good job pointing out the challenges,” says Dieter Egli, a researcher at the New York Stem Cell Foundation in Manhattan. “They say themselves this type of technology is not ready for any kind of application.”

The paper had previously circulated among researchers and had provoked concern by highlighting how close medical science may be to tinkering with the human gene pool.

n March, an industry group called for a complete moratorium on experiments of the kind being reported from China, citing risks and the chance they would open the door to eugenics, or changing nonmedical traits in embryos, such as stature or intelligence.

Other scientists recommended high-level meetings of experts, regulators, and ethicists to debate if there are acceptable uses for such engineering.

The Chinese team reported editing the genes of more than 80 embryos using a technology called CRISPR-Cas9. While in some cases they were successful, in others the CRISPR technology didn’t work or introduced unexpected mutations. Some of the embryos ended up being mosaics, with a repaired gene in some cells, but not in others.

Parents who are carriers of beta-thalassemia could choose to test their IVF embryos, selecting those that have not inherited the disease-causing mutation. However, gene editing opens the possibility of germline modification, or permanently repairing the gene in an embryo, egg, or sperm in a way that is passed onto the offspring and to future generations.

That idea is the subject of intense debate, since some think the human gene pool is sacrosanct and should never be the subject of technological alteration, even for medical reasons. Others allow that germline engineering might one day be useful, but needs much more testing. “You can’t discount it,” says Egli. “It’s very interesting.”

The Chinese team performed the gene editing in eggs that had been fertilized in an IVF clinic but were abnormal because they had been fertilized by two sperm, not one. “Ethical reasons precluded studies of gene editing in normal embryos,” they said.

Abnormal embryos are widely available for research, both in China and the U.S. At least one U.S. genetics center is also using CRISPR in abnormal embryos rejected by IVF clinics. That group described aspects of its work on the condition that it would not be identified, since the procedure remains controversial.

Making repairs using CRISPR harnesses a cell’s own DNA repair machinery to correct genes. The technology guides a cutting protein to a particular site on the DNA molecule, chopping it open. If a DNA “repair template” is provided—in this case a correct version of the beta-globin gene—the DNA will mend itself using the healthy sequence.

The Chinese group says that among the problems they encountered, the embryo sometimes ignored the template, and instead repaired itself using similar genes from its own genome, “leading to untoward mutations.”

Huang said he stopped the research after the poor results. “If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100 percent,” Huang told Nature News. “That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/536971/chinese-team-reports-gene-editing-human-embryo/

Thanks to Michael Moore for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

A new drug that gives people superhuman strength, but leads to violent delusions, is gaining attention.

The drug, which has the street name of Flakka, is a synthetic stimulant that is chemically similar to bath salts. Flakka is fast developing a reputation for what seem to be its nasty side effects, including a tendency to give people enormous rage and strength, along with intense hallucinations.”

Even though addicted, users tell us they are literally afraid of this drug,” said James Hall, an epidemiologist at the Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. “As one user recently reported, it’s $5 insanity.”

From what it is to how it may work, here are five facts about Flakka.

1. What is it?

Flakka, which is also called gravel in some parts of the country, is the street name for a chemical called alpha-PVP, or alpha-pyrrolidinovalerophenone. The chemical is a synthetic cathinone, a category that includes the mild natural stimulant khat, which people in Somalia and the Middle East have chewed for centuries. Chemically, Flakka is a next-generation, more powerful version of bath salts. Flakka was banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration in early 2014.

2. What are its effects?

At low doses, Flakka is a stimulant with mild hallucinatory effects.

Like cocaine and methamphetamine, Flakka stimulates the release of feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine, Hall said. The drug also prevents neurons, or brain cells, from reabsorbing these brain chemicals, meaning the effects of the drug may linger in the system longer than people anticipate.

3. What are the dangers?

The danger comes from the drug’s incredible potency. A typical dose is just 0.003 ounces (0.1 grams), but “just a little bit more will trigger very severe adverse effects,” Hall told Live Science. “Even a mild overdose can cause heart-related problems, or agitation, or severe aggression and psychosis.”

Because of the drug’s addictive properties, users may take the drug again shortly after taking their first dose, but that can lead to an overdose, Hall said. Then, users report, “they can’t think,” and will experience what’s known as the excited delirium syndrome: Their bodies overheat, often reaching 105 degrees Fahrenheit, they will strip off their clothes and become violent and delusional, he said. The drug also triggers the adrenaline-fueled fight-or-flight response, leading to the extreme strength described in news reports.

“Police are generally called, but it might take four or five or six officers to restrain the individual,” Hall said.

At that point, emergency responders will try to counteract the effects of the drug in the person’s system by injecting a sedative such as the benzodiazepine Ativan, and if they can’t, the person can die, Hall said.

In the last several months, 10 people have died from Flakka overdoses, he said. (Users of PCP, Ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine can also experience the excited delirium syndrome.)

4. How is it sold?

According to Hall’s research, alpha-PVP is often purchased online in bulk from locations such as China, typically at $1,500 per kilogram. Doses typically sell on the street for $4 or $5, and because each dose is so tiny, that means dealers can net about $50,000 from their initial investment, as long as they have the networks to distribute the drug.

5. Why are we only hearing about it now?

Evidence suggests the illegal drug has only recently come on the scene. Crime lab reports from seized drugs reveal that seizures of alpha-PVP have soared, from 699 samples testing positive for the drug in 2010, to 16,500 in 2013, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Forensic Laboratory Information System.

About 22 percent of the drug seizures that tested positive for alpha-PVP came from South Florida, according to the data.

http://www.livescience.com/50502-what-is-flakka.html