News in a nutshell

Cell phones = carcinogen; German E. coli epidemic continues; protein required for stem cell-ness

Jun 2, 2011
Cristina Luiggi
This week's news includes a WHO decision to consider cell phones carcinogenic, a mysterious and deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany, an adhesion protein crucial for stem cells being stem cells, Italian scientists accused of manslaughter, biodegradable products could be worse for the environment, and the most detailed map of HIV in the United States.
Fallenangel |
Cell phones cause cancer? After commissioning a review of the literature by a panel of experts, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that electromagnetic fields given off by cell phones may cause brain cancer. The international committee, which relied mostly on epidemiological data comparing mobile use between cancer patients and cancer-free individuals, placed these electromagnetic fields on a par with other carcinogens such as lead and engine exhaust. But even scientists involved with the committee caution that further research is required, linkurl:Nature reports,; adding that results from animal studies have been mixed and that there are flaws with the way the epidemiological data were acquired.E. coli epidemic baffles doctors A highly virulent strain of E. coli that has already killed two people and infected around 800 (most of whom live or had visited northern Germany) has proved an enigma for epidemiologists. In particular, they are at a loss to explain the unusually high number of cases of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a severe kidney illness, that the bacteria has caused. The epidemic has been linked to the consumption of raw cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce and has affected mostly women, linkurl:ScienceInsider reports.; According to linkurl:Nature,; a clinical trial for an experimental antibody called eculizumab (brand names Soliris or Alexion) is currently underway as a treatment for the infection.The essence of stem cells A membrane protein that acts as the glue between cells is also necessary for the ability of embryonic stem cells to differentiate into multiple tissue types, as well as for already-differentiated cells to become pluripotent. In the absence of the cell-adhesion protein E-cadherin, stem cells lose their pluripotency, researchers in Berlin found. Likewise, when differentiated cells that normally don't express E-cadherin are reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), they begin to produce the protein. The discovery could eventually help researchers move toward "using human somatic cells to develop stem cell therapy for diseases such as heart attack, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease or diabetes," said lead researcher Daniel Besser of the Max-Delbruck-Center for Molecular Medicine in a linkurl:press release.; Italian scientists on shaky ground
Building destroyed by 2009 L'Aquila earthquake
Downing Street | Flickr
Six Italian seismologists and a government official will be tried for manslaughter after participating in a committee that announced that an increased seismic activity in the Italian city of L'Aquila posed no risk to the local population just one week before an earthquake struck and killed 309 people two years ago. They are accused of misinforming and falsely assuring the public, which resulted in people not taking proper precautions for the disaster, linkurl:Nature reports.; In their defense, the scientists claim it was not their responsibility to inform the public and therefore they cannot be held responsible for what public officials said.Biodegradables not environmentally friendly The breakdown of biodegradable products in landfills by microorganisms may cause more harm to the environment through the release of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, researchers at North Carolina State University claim. Of main concern, they say, is the fact that more than 30 percent of landfills in the US allow methane to escape into the atmosphere. This is compounded by the federal guidelines that stipulate that biodegradable products must decompose in a short period of time -- which may not allow enough time for landfills to dispose of the methane. Mapping HIV in the US Emory University researchers yesterday launched the most detailed interactive map to date that shows the distribution of people in the United States (down to the county level) who are infected with HIV, linkurl:Wired reports.; The map was created using Google Maps and uses HIV surveillance data compiled by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2008. The launch coincides with the 30-year anniversary of the CDC's first report on the mysterious illness now known as AIDS, which will be celebrated this Sunday.
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