Chinese restaurants shut down after seasoning food with opium to ‘hook’ customers

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

Head transplant has been successfully done on a monkey, neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero claims

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.

New progress in understanding what may give animals a magnetic sense: a protein that acts as a compass

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.

This man is about to reach the top of Mt Everest and only has one finger

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

Chinese researchers report first-ever gene editing of human embryos

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.

$5 Insanity’: 5 Crazy Facts About Flakka

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

Mummified monk revealed inside 1,000-year-old Buddha statue

Scientific tests have revealed that an ancient Buddhist statue contains the perfectly preserved remains of a 1,000-year-old mummified monk, in what is believed to be the only such example in the world.

The monk, who is sitting in the lotus position, is thought to have starved himself to death in an act of extreme spiritual devotion in China or Tibet in the 10th century. His preserved remains were displayed in his monastery.

Some 200 years later, perhaps after his remains started to deteriorate, his mummified body was placed inside the elaborate, lacquered statue of Buddha.

The unusual contents of the statue were discovered in the 1990s when the statue underwent restoration. Experts were unable to remove the mummy due to the risk of disintegration, so they could do little more than peer into the darkened cavity of the Buddha.

Now, an international team of German, Dutch and Italian scientists has conducted a CAT scan which revealed the monk’s skeleton in perfect detail.

“It was not uncommon for monks to practise self-mummification but to find a mummified monk inside a statue is really extraordinary,” said Wilfrid Rosendahl, a German palaeontologist who led the research. “It’s the only known example in the world.

“Using a CAT scan, we saw that there was a perfectly preserved body with skin and muscles inside the statue. It’s a complete mummy, not just a skeleton. He was aged between 30 and 50.”

The mummy has been studied by an interdisciplinary team of experts, including radio carbon dating specialists and textile analysts, at the Meander Medical Centre in Amersfoort, the Netherlands.

Using an endoscope, experts took samples from inside the mummy’s thoracic and abdominal cavities and discovered that the monk’s organs had been removed and replaced with ancient wads of paper printed with Chinese characters.

Samples of bone were also taken for DNA testing.

The Buddha statue was bought several decades ago on the art market by a Dutch private collector, who had no idea that the mummy was hidden inside.

It will go on display in museums around Europe, and is currently in the Natural History Museum in Budapest.

“The monk died in a process of self-mummification,” said Dr Rosendahl.

“During the last weeks he would have started eating less food and drinking only water. Eventually he would have gone into a trance, stopped breathing and died. He basically starved himself to death.

“The other monks would have put him close to a fire to dry him out and put him on display in the monastery, we think somewhere in China or Tibet.

“He was probably sitting for 200 years in the monastery and the monks then realised that he needed a bit of support and preservation so they put him inside the statue.”

Mummified monks were not only the focus of religious devotion, but important for the economy of the monastery because they attracted pilgrims who would offer donations.

Mummified-monk-revealed-inside-1000-year-old-Buddha-statue

Thanks to Steven Weihing for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Subway passenger dubbed the ‘watermelon brother’ is scaring commuters in China

A man who likes to put a watermelon on his head before his daily commute has caused a stir in China.

The man has been nicknamed the ‘watermelon brother’ by web sleuths who are trying to figure out the mystery man’s identity.

One commuter told the Beijing Morning Post he was freaked out by the man who loves to put on the hollowed-out fruit helmet and reported him to police.

“It was so scary last night when I was on the metro,” he said.

“This guy was just hanging around on the train wearing a watermelon mask with a beer bottle … apparently he was totally drunk.”

“I was scared by this watermelon brother too,” said another passenger. “I posted some pictures of him on Weibo.”

Beijing Metro Police questioned the man after being alerted to his location by passengers and subway staff.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/11362787/Riding-the-tube-with-a-watermelon-on-your-head-could-land-you-in-trouble.html

Man experiencing headaches, seizures, memory flashbacks and strange smells discovered to have had tapeworm living in his brain for 4 years


Parasitic worm normally found in amphibians and crustaceans in China may have scavenged nutrients from patient’s brain

A man who went to see his doctor after suffering headaches and experiencing strange smells was found to have been living for more than four years with a rare parasitic worm in his brain.

In the first case of its kind in Britain, the ribbon-shaped tapeworm was found to have burrowed from one side of the 50-year-old man’s brain to the other.

Doctors were left baffled after spotting strange ring-like patterns moving 5cm through his brain tissue in a series of scans taken over four years.

Surgeons only discovered the 1cm worm while carrying out a biopsy at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge and took it to parasite experts to be identified.

Geneticists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge found the creature was a rare species of tapeworm known as Spirometra erinaceieuropaei.

Only 300 cases of infection by this parasite in humans have been reported since 1953, with only two previous cases identified in Europe.

The worm is normally found in amphibians and crustaceans in China and as it goes through its life cycle it later infects the guts of cats and dogs, where it can grow into 1.5-metre adult worms. Even in China, where the parasite is normally found, there have only been 1,000 cases reported in humans since 1882.

The unfortunate patient, who was of Chinese descent but lived in East Anglia, is thought to have picked up the parasite while on a visit to China, where he visited regularly. However, exactly how he came to be infected is not known, but he could have picked it up from infected meat or water and the worm then burrowed through his body to his brain.

Now scientists believe they have been able to learn new information about this rare parasite after studying its DNA.

Rather than living on the brain tissue of its unknowing victim, the parasite is thought to have simply absorbed nutrients from the man’s brain through its body as the worm has no mouth.

Dr Hayley Bennett said they hoped to use the result of the study to help diagnose infections in humans more quickly in the future and even find ways of treating it.

She said: “This worm is quite mysterious and we don’t know everything about what species it can infect or how. Humans are a rare and accidental host. for this particular worm. It remains as a larva throughout the infection. We know from the genome that the worm has fatty acid binding proteins that might help it scavenge fatty acids and energy from its environment, which may be one the mechanisms for how it gets its food.

“This genome will act as a reference, so that when new treatments are developed for the more common tapeworms, scientists can cross-check whether they are also likely to be effective against this very rare infection.” The research is published in the journal Genome Biology.

The patient first noticed something was wrong in 2008 when he began suffering headaches, seizures, memory flashbacks and strange smells.

After visiting his doctor, an MRI scan revealed a cluster of rings in the right medial temporal lobe.

He was given tests for a wide range of other diseases including syphilis, HIV and tuberculosis but tested negative for them all. Later scans showed the rings moving through his brain.

After undergoing two biopsies, surgeons found the worm moving around in his brain and removed it in 2012. The man was then given drugs to help treat the infection but he continues to suffer from problems associated with having had the worm living in his brain.

It is not known how he first became infected, but one source of infection is the use of frog poultice, a traditional Chinese remedy where raw frog meat is used to calm sore eyes.

“We did not expect to see an infection of this kind in the UK, but global travel means that unfamiliar parasites do sometimes appear,” said Dr Effrossyni Gkrania-Klotsas, one of the clinicians involved in the man’s treatment at Addenbrooke’s NHS Trust.

“We can now diagnose sparganosis using MRI scans, but this does not give us the information we need to identify the exact tapeworm species and its vulnerabilities.

“Our work shows that, even with only tiny amounts of DNA from clinical samples, we can find out all we need to identify and characterise the parasite.”

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/nov/21/tapeworm-parasite-mans-brain-four-years-china

Inside an internet addiction treatment centre in China

IN CHINA, if you are a kid who spends a long time online, you had better watch out. Your parents may send you off for “treatment”.

At the Internet Addiction Treatment Centre in Beijing, children must take part in military-style activities, including exercise drills and the singing of patriotic songs. They are denied access to the internet. One of the first experiences internees undergo is brain monitoring through electroencephalography (EEG). The programme is run by psychologist Tao Ran, who claims the brains of internet and heroin addicts display similarities.

The rise of such centres has, in some cases, been coupled with reports of brutality. One camp in Henan province was recently criticised after it was alleged that a 19-year-old girl died following corporal punishment doled out by officers.

“We had heard stories about electroshocks, physical torture and confinement, but we found none of those,” says Aldama.

“The children usually get angry when they know that they’ll be locked in the centre, where parents put them without prior notice. They deny suffering an addiction. But as time goes by, I believe they are more sociable and calm. They get in better physical shape thanks to the sports training,” Aldama says.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22429990.100-inside-an-internet-addiction-treatment-centre-in-china.html