News in a nutshell

This week’s news includes news for the gray wolves of America, a controversial anti-aging pill, a stem cell suggestion for Japanese nuclear workers, bail for an imprisoned Indian doctor, and an interactive map of the brain.

Wolf no longer endangered

For the first time ever, the United States Congress has removed a species from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of endangered species. The gray wolf was listed as endangered in 1973, when only a few hundred remained in the continental US. Today, total estimates put the population of gray wolves in the continental US at 5,000 or more, prompting the inclusion of the provision by U.S. Senator Jon Tester of Montana in the budget bill passed last week by Congress. “Wolves have recovered in the Northern Rockies,” said Tester in a statement. “By untying the hands of the Montana biologists who know how to keep the proper balance, we will restore healthy wildlife populations and we will protect livestock.” Federal judges over the last decade had repeatedly blocked attempts to downgrade the legal status, though most biologists agreed the population was thriving, according to the Washington Post.

Reactions to the de-listing are strong and mixed. Officials in Montana and Ohio are already planning public hunts, which are often used to quell wolf attacks on livestock, while environmentalists are up in arms. The provision “is not only a disaster for wolf recovery, it opens the door for every self-interested politician to try to strip protection away from local endangered species,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. (Hat tip to ScienceInsider.)

Debate over anti-aging pill

Telomere length is considered a marker of aging, with younger organisms having longer telomeres. Now, a new anti-aging compound called TA-65, manufactured in a commercial pill by a New York supplement company, appears to elongate telomeres and lead to health improvements in mice, according to a study published March 22 in Aging Cell. But the findings are not without controversy. “There are a number of questions about the actual claims just in terms of: Is TA-65 really doing what they think it’s doing?” Carol Greider, who jointly won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of telomeres and the enzyme that forms them, told the Daily Beast. “I haven’t seen yet that they actually change telomere length, which is the clear real indicator.”

Japan to bank nuclear worker stem cells?

In a letter to the Lancet, Japanese scientists are recommending that blood should be collected from workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as a future source of their own stem cells. The cells could then be stored and used as a treatment for radiation exposure to restore damaged blood cells by rescuing injured bone marrow, reports Reuters. Using one’s own cells prevents risk of rejection of donor cells and the need to take immunosuppressive drugs.

But the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan has reportedly stated that there is no need to collect and store cells because of the physical and psychological burden for nuclear workers and lack of consensus among international authoritative bodies, the authors of the Lancet letter note.

Indian doctor released

On Friday (April 15), the Indian Supreme Court granted bail to Binayak Sen, a doctor who had been detained in Chhattisgarh, India, since May 2007 and sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of sedition for aiding Maoist rebels by smuggling notes from one of them being held in jail, according to The Hindu and ScienceInsider. In February, 45 Nobel laureates signed a petition for his release, expressing “astonishment and dismay at the unjust life sentence handed down last month in India to a fellow scientist and human rights advocate.”

Atlas of the human brain

Scientists unveiled a $55 million computerized atlas of the human brain on Tuesday (April 12). The atlas combines several imaging techniques into one three-dimensional interactive archive that maps anatomy, nerve structure, cell features and a comprehensive read-out of gene activity, reports The Wall Street Journal. The freely available resource includes a set of computational tools to help scientists analyze the data.

Related News Stories:

  • Opinion: When to hunt the rare
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  • Q&A: Do we need stem cell bank?
    [27th July 2010]
  • The Youth Pill
    [25th June 2010]
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    5 comments

    1. Sitaramam V. says:

      All of us are happy that Binayak got the bail. A minor correction, Binayak who was one year junior to me in the medical school at Vellore did excellent work in public health and is not a scientist but a clinician. Few of us had any doubt that the Indian judicial system will prevail with or without intervention though it was indeed most gracious of many to be so concerned and be supportive.

    2. Mike says:

      Interesting news this week! I hope that everyone had a great weekend,has a great week, had a nice Palm Sunday and have a nice Passover! That goes for last year and all the other years that I’ve missed.

    3. Mike Serfas says:

      The weak evidence for telomerase in TA-65 is something of a distraction from the main point: it is an extract of Astralagus membranaceus (A. propinquus or huáng qí). This recent report joins a string of studies suggesting beneficial effects on glucose homeostasis that might prove useful in preventing or treating diabetes – which might have its own implications for aging and lifespan. Now huáng qí is not a new discovery – it is one of the fifty fundamental herbs of Chinese herbal medicine. This may suggest it is time to take such herbal medicines more seriously, and sponsor more research on them in the public interest.

    4. G. Edwards says:

      I’m puzzled as to why they are planning to hunt wolves in Ohio. Is this referring to the 2-legged variety?

    5. jerry says:

      I don’t understand why the wolf amendment was tacked onto the budget, but Obama signed it. That makes both parties culpable.