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The Selfish Gene turns 40

via Prof Sugata Mitra

Richard Dawkins biologist, athiest
Richard Dawkins today: he has regretted the title of his book, since many failed to see ‘selfish’ was being used metaphorically. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Observer

In 1976 Richard Dawkins’s study of evolutionary theory became the first popular science bestseller. How do its ideas stand up today?

It’s 40 years since Richard Dawkins suggested, in the opening words of The Selfish Gene, that, were an alien to visit Earth, the question it would pose to judge our intellectual maturity was: “Have they discovered evolution yet?” We had, of course, by the grace of Charles Darwin and a century of evolutionary biologists who had been trying to figure out how natural selection actually worked. In 1976, The Selfish Gene became the first real blockbuster popular science book, a poetic mark in the sand to the public and scientists alike: this idea had to enter our thinking, our research and our culture.

The Selfish Gene - illustrated by Desmond Morris.
The original book cover, illustrated by Desmond Morris.

The idea was this: genes strive for immortality, and individuals, families, and species are merely vehicles in that quest. The behaviour of all living things is in service of their genes hence, metaphorically, they are selfish. Before this, it had been proposed that natural selection was honing the behaviour of living things to promote the continuance through time of the individual creature, or family, or group or species. But in fact, Dawkins said, it was the gene itself that was trying to survive, and it just so happened that the best way for it to survive was in concert with other genes in the impermanent husk of an individual.

Continue reading “The Selfish Gene turns 40”

South Africa testing anti-HIV vaccine

by Katharine Child

Researchers are not expecting the vaccine to offer 100% protection from HIV. A similar trial of the vaccine in Thailand resulted in various degrees of protection.

The only HIV vaccine that currently has the potential to be licensed and used for treatment is being tested in South Africa.

Scientists will know in May if they can test it on 7000 people, said investigator Professor Glenda Gray, president of the SA Medical Research Council.

The vaccine – the only one shown to be reasonably effective against HIV after 30 years of research – is being tested on 100 people in this country. It is designed to activate the immune system to fight the virus.

The results of the test will be known in May. If the vaccine proves to be effective, regulators will give the go-ahead for a large phase-three trial involving about 7000 subjects. If that trial is successful the drug can be licensed and sold.

Researchers are not expecting the vaccine to offer 100% protection from HIV. A similar trial of the vaccine in Thailand resulted in varying degrees of protection.

South African scientists have modified the vaccine to make it more potent and trial participants will get an extra injection in the hope that its effects will last longer, said Professor Gray.

“I wish we had done this vaccine trial in South Africa nine years ago, when it went to Thailand.”

This is just one of a range of HIV trials in South Africa.

Next month researchers will give 1700 women in sub-Saharan Africa a drip containing antibodies against HIV. Scientists want to know if giving antibodies regularly confers protection against HIV.

Only a small percentage of patients create this antibody, which protects against multiple strains of HIV. The trial participants will be given a drip once every two months for nearly two years. South African women have been recruited.

source: Times Live

Robert De Niro screens anti-vaccination documentary at Tribeca Film Festival

Acot Robert De Niro is known as a man who values his privacy.

Rober De Niro crying

But the double Oscar winner opened up about his family in a rare personal statement on Friday – as he defended his decision to screen a controversial anti-vaccination documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival.

‘Grace and I have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined,’ he said, referencing his wife of 18 years Grace Hightower.

De Niro went on: ‘In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming.

‘However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED.

‘I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.’

The actor’s son Elliot, who just turned 18, is thought to be the child the father-of-six is referring to. De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festical, giving him the opportunity to insist upon adding Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe to its schedule.

source: Daily Mail

Mercury in canned tuna still a concern

New tests reinforce a need for some people to limit consumption.

Canned Tuna MercuryCanned tuna, Americans’ favorite fish, is the most common source of mercury in our diet. New tests of 42 samples from cans and pouches of tuna bought primarily in the New York metropolitan area and online confirm that white (albacore) tuna usually contains far more mercury than light tuna.

Children and women of childbearing age can easily consume more mercury than the Environmental Protection Agency considers advisable simply by eating one serving of canned white tuna or two servings of light tuna per week. A serving is about 2.5 ounces. Expect a 5-ounce can to contain about 4 ounces of tuna plus liquid.

The heavy metal accumulates in tuna and other fish in an especially toxic form, methylmercury, which comes from mercury released by coal-fired power plants and other industrial or natural sources, such as volcanoes.

Fortunately, it’s easy to choose lowermercury fish that are also rich in healthful omega-3 fatty acids. That’s especially important for women who are pregnant or might become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children, because fetuses and youngsters seem to face the most risk from methylmercury’s neurotoxic effects.

Results from our tuna tests, conducted at an outside lab, underscore the longheld concern for those people. We found:

  • Every sample contained measurable levels of mercury, ranging from 0.018 to 0.774 parts per million. The Food and Drug Administration can take legal action to pull products containing 1 ppm or more from the market. (It never has, according to an FDA spokesman.) The EPA compiles fish advisories when state and local governments have found high contaminant levels in certain locally caught fish.
  • Samples of white tuna had 0.217 to 0.774 ppm of mercury and averaged 0.427 ppm. By eating 2.5 ounces of any of the tested samples, a woman of childbearing age would exceed the daily mercury intake that the EPA considers safe.
  • Samples of light tuna had 0.018 to 0.176 ppm and averaged 0.071 ppm. At that average, a woman of childbearing age eating 2.5 ounces would get less than the EPA’s limit, but for about half the tested samples, eating 5 ounces would exceed the limit.

In 2006 we scrutinized the results of the FDA’s tests in 2002 to 2004 of mercury levels in hundreds of samples of canned tuna. The agency’s white-tuna samples averaged 0.353 ppm; light tuna, 0.118 ppm. But we found that as much as 6 percent of the FDA’s light-tuna samples had at least as much mercury as the average in white tuna—in some cases more than twice as much.

Given the uncertainties about the impact of occasional fetal exposure to such high levels, we urged the FDA to warn consumers about occasional spikes in mercury levels in canned light tuna. More than four years later, the FDA still hasn’t issued such a warning. When we asked why, an FDA spokesman indicated that the agency had already taken the spikes into account when formulating its mercury advice.

Bottom line

Canned tuna, especially white, tends to be high in mercury, and younger women and children should limit how much they eat. As a precaution, pregnant women should avoid tuna entirely. Our answers to the questions in Fish Q & A can help you get the nutritional benefits of fish and minimize exposure to mercury.

source: Consumer Reports