Mercury Emission Globally Controlled

Delegation from some 140 countries have agreed to adopt a ground-breaking treaty limiting the use of mercury, said by the Swiss Foreign Ministry.

The world’s first legally binding treaty on mercury, reached after a week of deliberations on January 19. Switzerland along with Norway initiated the process a decade ago. The new treaty aims to reduce global emission levels of the toxic heavy metal also known as Quicksilver, which poses risks to human health and the environment, especially in household products and in industrial processes.

Countries has signed the treaty in Minamata, Japan in October 2014. The Minamata Convention on Mercury which is named after deformities owing to mercury pollution in the mid-20th century, commits countries to banning by 2020 the production, import and export of a large number of products containing mercury.

Mercury is found in:

  • Thermometers
  • Devices Measuring Blood Pressure
  • CFL Light-Bulbs
  • Amalgamation with Dental Filings, Facial Creams, Soaps and Cosmetics.

Large amounts of the heavy metal are released from small scale gold mining, coal-burning power plants, metal smelters and cement production.

Serious mercury poisoning affects the body’s immune system and can lead to problems including psychological disorders, loss of teeth and problems with the digestive, cardiovascular and respiratory tracts. It also affects development of the Brain and nervous system and poses the greatest risk to foetuses and infants.

Ahead of the Geneva conference, the UNEP provided the first global assessment of releases of mercury into rivers and lakes. UNEP also highlighted rising levels of mercury in the Arctic, where 200T of the substances are deposited every year.

World Health Organization has declared that there are no safe limits for the consumption of mercury and its compounds, which can damage the nerves and internal organs. High levels of mercury in seawater can enter the food chain through some varieties of fish.

Research on Stem Cells

Research on Stem Cells

The organs retain a small population of reserve cells or ‘stem cells’ that proliferate, repair, renew and regenerate the organs as and when required.

Adult body is a specialized machine with each part perfected for its intended function. Most cells in the adult body are irreversibly differentiated to form parts, where the myocardial cells form an interconnected bundle that can contract in unison upon receiving instructions from the cardiac pacemaker. Or the brain, which contains millions of neurons connected through synapses designed for this command center to integrate and control all the activities of the organism from digestion to perspiration to locomotion to reproduction to introspection.

Cells that Proliferate, Repair, Renew and Regenerate

The life of every animal starts off from a single cell called Zygote.This single cell divide prolifically to give rise to the embryo, where progressively fell exit cell cycle, specialize for specific function and differentiate. However, there are organs in the body that undergo regular wear and tear and require continuous repair and replacement of lost cells. Examples include skin, gut lining, blood etc. These organs retain small population of reserve cells that do not differentiate. These cells proliferate, repair, renew, and regenerate organs as and when required. These are the ‘stem cells’.

Discovery of the Originator

In 1877, the famous biologist Ernst Haeckel used the term “Stammzelle” (German name for Stem Cell) in his book Anthropogenie to mean the Zygote as the originator of all cells in the organism. Towards the end of the century, scientists studying hematopoiesis arrived upon a cell that they called the ‘Stem Cell’, which was capable of giving rise to all the diverse lineages of blood cells viz. The erythrocytes (red blood cells) leukocytes (T-Cells, B-Cells, macrophages, neutrophils, eosinophiles etc.). This modern concept of stem cells, as a cell that can divide and self-renew indefinitely and that could differentiate into a number of different cell types was introduced and demonstrated by James Till and Ernest Mcculloch in 1960s. Mice irradiated with high dose of X-Ray die rapidly because the radiation kills the blood cells essential for oxygen transport and immunity. Till and McCulloch found that these mice could be rescued by injection of bone marrow from a normal mouse. The bone marrow contained ‘hematopoietic stem cells’ (HSC) that could recolonize the marrow of the irradiated mice and thus provide steady supply of all blood lineages for life.

Stem cells Residence

Adult stem cells thus reside in niches, usually within the tissues that they repair and regenerate. In the stem cell jargon they will be defined as ‘multipotent’ i.e. having the potential to differentiate into a number of different cell types. Usually one stem cell population can replenish losses in a few different cell types e.g. the intestinal stem cells that resides in the crypts of the intestinal villi are multipotent. These stem cells continuously undergo cell division and supply the gut with enterocytes (absorptive cells that absorb nutrients from food), goblet cells (that secrete mucin to form mucus), enteroendocrine cells (that secrete intestinal hormones) and the Paneth cells (that provide defense against microbes). They also replenish the stem cells themselves. However, an adult stem cell does not have ‘pluri’potency; an intestinal stem cell cannot form heart or brain cells.

Creation of Embryonic stem cells

The zygote is a ‘totipotent’ cell; it has the potential to form any tissue or cell type in the animal body, rather the zygote gives rise to the whole animal. Embryonic stem cells are created by growing young embryos in the artificial culture conditions. These cells are ‘pluripotent’ i.e. they have potential to differentiate into almost all cell types in the animal. By controlling their growth conditions they can be made to differentiate into brain, heart, muscle, pancreas and many other cells types. In 1998 James Thomas of the University of Wisconsin created the first embryonic stem cells from human embryo donated by individual after informed consent. These embryos had been created by in vitro fertilization for fertility treatments. Scientists were able to keep these cells dividing in culture conditions for months and became established cell lines, being used by scientist around the world even today.

Option with Genetic Material

The funding and legal problems in working with human embryos and embryonic stem cells had prompted scientists to think about alternatives. In 1960s John Gurdon in Oxford University, U.K., has demonstrated that you could replace the nucleus of a frog oocytes (an immature female reproductive cell) with the genetic material (contained in the nucleus) of an adult frog cell and create a live tadpoles. The tadpole was was thus a clone of the adult frog, which donated the nucleus. Gurdon hypothesized that all the genetic information needed to create a whole organism is contained in the differentiated adult cells of the organism. However, you need the ‘reprogramming’ environment of an egg cell to activate this potential. This was the origin of the cloning of ‘Dolly’, the sheep cloned from the udder cells of a Finn-Dorset ewe in 1996.

Reprogramming Stem Cells

Thus, the hunt was on to define the reprogramming molecules that were needed to make an adult to gain its pluripotency. In 2007 using a combination of just four proteins, the Shinya Yamanaka and James Thomson Labs simultaneously published the successful generation of pluripotent stem cells from the adults human somatic cells that they called the ‘inducible pluripotent stem cells‘ or iPS cells. This has opened the door to patient-specific stem cell therapies for diseases ranging neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and accident damage to tissues such as the spinal cord and many others.

Human Embryo-free Research

The creation of iPS cells frees stem cells research from the dependency on human embryos thus religious and political controversies. However, stem cell therapies will continue to be controversial and will have to be administered with great caution. Stems cells are cells with immense potential for growth, a hallmark of cancer.

South Korea Elect First Female President

Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party won South Korea’s presidential election held on December 19, 2012. She is the daughter of the former military dictator   The win over her Centre-Left rival Moon Jae-in paved the way for Park Geun-hye becoming the country’s first female head of state. The win also marked her return to the presidential palace where she had served as her father’s first lady in the 1970s, after her mother was assassinated by North Korea-backed gunman.

It was one of the most keenly contested elections in recent South Korean history. The voters turnout had reached 75 percent as against the 63 percent in the 2007 election. Park won with 51 percent of the vote. She had appealed to the voters to bring in gender equally by electing the country’s first woman president. South Korea is ranked 108 out of 135 countries by the World Economic Forum in terms of gender equality.

Park is the daughter of the former military dictator Park Chung-hee, one of modern Korea’s most polarizing figures. The late leader is both admired for dragging the country out of poverty and reviled for his ruthless suppression of dissent during 18 years of autocratic rule.

The new president’s major challenge s includes a unintelligent North Korea, a slowing economy and soaring welfare costs in one of the world’s most rapidly age-ing societies. Park has promised strong leadership that would steer the country through the challenges of global economic troubles.    20120221001294_061895-004-1EA77FB7

Shinzo Abe-led LDP Wins Japan General Elections

Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party surged back to power in a major election victory on December 26, 2012. Just three years after it was defeated in 2009, former Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe-led LDP trounced PM Yoshihiko Noda’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). The DJP had come to power in August 2009 with 308 seats, ending an LDP monopoly which had lasted all but 11 months of the previous 53 years.

The general election witnessed one of the biggest landslides in the history of modern Japan. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), with its New Komeito ally, swept to power with control 0f 325 of the 480 seats in the lower house of the Diet.

LDP has ruled Japan for most of the post World War II era till 2009, when Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan came to power. Abe’s win also spells a rightward shift in the government that further signifies a possible increase in tensions with China over the disputed islands in South China Sea.noda2_2346444b

The DPJ won in a landslide in 2009 amid high hopes for change, but won only 57 seats, compared to 230 seats before the election. Among the casualties were eight Cabinet ministers, the most to lose their seats in an election since World War II.

With Japan stuck in a two-decade slump and receding behind China as the voters appeared ready to turn back to the LDP. The LDP wants to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution to strengthen its self-defense forces and, breaching a postwar taboo, designate them as a “military.” It also proposes increasing Japan’s defense budget and allowing Japanese troops to engage in “collective self-defense” operations with allies that are not directly related to Japan’s own defense.

A Step Closer to Palestine

On 29 November 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted to upgrade the status of the Palestinians to that of a “non-member observer state”. The assembly voted 138-9 in favor , with 41 nations abstaining.

It follows  a failed bid to join the international body as a full member state on 2011 because of a lack of support in the UN Security Council.

The votes implies global recognition of the relevant territory as a sovereign state and is a major step towards a two state solutions can now take part in UN debates and potentially join bodies like the International Criminal Court. The new status amounts to less of an achievement than full U.N. membership,which the Security Council declined to consider in September 2011 on the grounds that the members were unable to make a “unanimous recommendation”.

The U.N. resolution could be the harbinger of many momentous changes for West Asia. The Palestinian Authority can now not only seek membership of several U.N. agencies but also can apply to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, with the clear implication that Israel may finally be held accountable for crimes committed against the civilians population of Gaza.

Leveson Inquiry Report

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A major inquiry into the many misdeed of Britain’s diverse, raucous press in the autumn of 2011 has called for legislation to underpin a new system of self-regulation of the press, independent of industry, politicians and governments.

Following nearly nine months of evidence taking, including from over 300 witness in person, the government commissioned inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson outlined in its 1,987 page report its proposals for the creation of a body that would uphold the “highest standards of journalism” as well as protecting the rights of members of the public.

The closely watched inquiry was established in the wake of the public outcry that followed the revelation that the mobile phone of the murdered school had been hacked by journalists at the News of World tabloid, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The remit of the inquiry into the “culture, practices and ethics of the press,” went beyond just examining the press to include its relationship with the public, police and politicians. It is the 7th inquiry to be conducted into the British press in the past 70 years.

Leveson rejected industry proposal for a revamped version of the existing system of self-regulation, arguing that any body with editors was simply not independent enough. “The press needs a regulatory body independent of governments, politicians and industry.”

I am not on a great witch hunt, i am anxious to investigate what has gone wrong in an industry in which there is an enormous amount that goes right.

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Xi Jinping is New Chinese Leader

China’s Vice President Xi Jinping was on November 15, 2012 appointed as the New General Secretary of the ruling communist Party, succeeding President Hu Jintao who retired as the head of the Party and the military after a 10-year stint.

Xi Jinping formally took over the government in March 2013, when the national legislature called the National People’s Congress (NPC) held it annual session.

Rising from a village head to a state leader, Xi carries the tag of a “hereditary”  communist for being the son of a former Deputy Prime Minister from 1959 to 1962, fell out of favor with Mao for his moderate views and relegated to obscurity. He was reportedly imprisoned for sometime. Xi Zhongxun also later publicly condemned the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989 in which thousands of students were killed. He was rarely seen after that.

Besides being the son of the former top Communist leader, Xi became well known in China after he married Peng Liyuan, a famous Chinese folk singer who was widely popular in the 1980s.

Members of the Standing Committee and Politburo are chosen by party’s new Central Committee comprising 205 members and 171 alternate members.

Second Term for Obama

US president Barack Obama won a second term as president in one of the most keenly contested elections in recent times. Obama won 332 of the 538 electoral votes, comfortably more than the 270 he needed to retain the presidency. But the Electoral College lead doesn’t truly reflect the popular votes where Obama had only a slight advantage over his Republican rival Mitt Romney. Obama won the popular vote of the 57th quadrennial presidential election with 60,113,856 votes or 50.3 percent to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney who finished with 57,424,191 votes or 48.1 percent. Obama took the swing states of Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire with Romney only winning North Caroline. The president also won in Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Mexico, states where analysts thought Romney had possibility.

What titled the contest decisively in Obama’s favor was the overwhelming support he enjoyed among the minorities (Hispanic, Asian and Black), women and voters under 30.

In the elections to the House, Republicans maintained overall control after winning 232 seats leaving Democrats with 191. However, the Democrats fared well in the Senate race, clinging on to a slim majority of 51 seats, while Republicans held 45.