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Immune system discoveries earn Nobel in Medicine

Dr. Ralph Steinman has been affiliated with Rockefeller University in New York since 1970, and heads its Center for Immunology and Immune Diseases.

Three scientists won the Nobel Prize in Medicine on Monday for discoveries about the immune system that opened new avenues for the treatment and prevention of infectious illnesses and cancer.

American Bruce Beutler and French scientist Jules Hoffmann shared the 10 million-kronor ($1.5 million) award with Canadian-born Ralph Steinman, the Nobel committee at Stockholm Karolinska Institute said.

Mr. Beutler and Mr. Hoffmann were cited for their discoveries in the 1990s of receptor proteins that can recognise bacteria and other microorganisms as they enter the body, and activate the first line of defence in the immune system, known as innate immunity.

Mr. Steinman, 70, was honoured for the discovery two decades earlier of dendritic cells, which help regulate adaptive immunity, the next stage of the immune system’s response, when the invading microorganisms are purged from the body.

“Their work has opened up new avenues for the development of prevention and therapy against infections, cancer and inflammatory disease,” the citation said.

Mr. Beutler is professor of genetics and immunology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Mr. Hoffmann headed a research laboratory in Strasbourg, France, between 1974 and 2009 and served as president of the French National Academy of Sciences between 2007-2008.

Mr. Steinman has been affiliated with Rockefeller University in New York since 1970, and heads its Center for Immunology and Immune Diseases.

Mr. Hoffmann’s discovery came in 1996 during research on how fruit flies fight infections. Two years later, Mr. Beutler’s research on mice showed that fruit flies and mammals activate innate immunity in similar ways when attacked by pathogenic microorganisms.

Mr. Steinman’s discovery dates back to 1973, when he found a new cell type, the dendritic cell, which has a unique capacity to activate so-called T-cells. Those cells have a key role in adaptive immunity, producing antibodies that destroy infections. Once the infection has been stopped, the immune system maintains a memory that helps it mobilise its defences next time it comes under a similar attack.

The trio’s discoveries have enabled the development of new methods for treating and preventing diseases, including improved vaccines and in attempts to help the immune system to attack tumors, the committee said.

The medicine award kicked off a week of Nobel Prize announcements, and will be followed by the Physics prize on Tuesday, Chemistry on Wednesday, Literature on Thursday and the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. The winners of the Economics award will be announced on October 10.

The coveted prizes were established by wealthy Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, except for the Economics award, which was created by Sweden’s Central Bank in 1968 in Nobel’s memory. The prizes are always handed out on December 10, on the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.

Last year’s Medicine award went to British professor Robert Edwards for fertility research that led to the first test tube baby.


Anna gets social!

A screen shot of Anna Hazare's multi-lingual blog.

The anti-corruption crusader has opened a blog, twitter and facebook accounts to interact with the public.

Entering the cyberworld with a blog, facebook and a twitter account, Anna Hazare on Thursday accused “some government agents” of creating an image that it was due to their “favourite ministers” that he gave up his fast in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan in August.

“It was only when my inner voice permitted me I broke my fast after getting assurance from the government. The reason I am clearing the misconceptions here is I came to understand some government agents tried to propagate and create an image that it was the handiwork of their favourite ministers that I gave up my fast.

“I came across articles of self-praise, interviews published by them. This is a false propaganda,” Mr. Hazare said in his multi—lingual blog

Giving some insight into what transpired before he called off his 12-day-old fast for a strong Lokpal, Mr. Hazare wrote that till the last moment, the government tried to break the movement.

As talks progressed regarding calling off his fast, he said the people, who came to meet his team members, the middle-man, the Minister all of them had “different versions, different assurances.

“It was the responsibility of the government that they scrutinise the people they had sent for negotiations whether they were corrupt or had clean image. That was for the Government to think. I held talks with them considering they were Government representatives! The answers lay with the government,” he said.

After Mr. Harare called off the fast, questions have been raised, particularly in media interviews, over the participation of Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who is facing allegations in Adarsh scam, and Bhayyuji Maharaj in mediation.

Relief for mobile users: no more pesky calls from Tuesday

Finally, mobile subscribers will get the much needed relief from unsolicited telemarketing calls and SMS from Tuesday when the new strict regulations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to check pesky calls come into effect.

Customers are given options to block fully or partially all calls

Finally, mobile subscribers will get the much needed relief from unsolicited telemarketing calls and SMS from Tuesday when the new strict regulations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to check pesky calls come into effect.

Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal along with his Ministers of State Sachin Pilot and Milind Deora will formally introduce ‘The Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulation, 2010′ that paves way for imposing hefty fines on defaulting telemarketing companies as well as operators who fail to comply with the new regulations. The TRAI and mobile operators are likely to come out with a series of advertisements to make people aware about the new regulations.

To start or stop telemarketing calls/SMS, subscribers can call 1909 to choose his preferred option, while this can also be done by sending SMS to their respective operators.

Under the new regime, subscribers can opt for ‘fully blocked’ category where all commercial calls/SMS will be blocked, while there is a ‘partially blocked’ category to receive various promotional SMS.

If a customer wants to exercise the option of ‘fully blocked’, he may send SMS ‘START 0′ and if he wants to exercise the option of ‘partially blocked,’ he may send SMS ‘START’ and give option of his choice. For example, ‘START 1′ for receiving SMS relating to banking/insurance/financial products/credit cards or ‘START 2′ for real estate and so on. There are seven categories to choose from.

The new regulations have provisions of hefty penalty of up to Rs.2.50 lakh on erring telemarketing companies and blacklisting of habitual offenders. The regulations also mandate that no commercial communication, even for unregistered customers, shall be sent between 9.00 p.m. and 9.00 a.m., so that customers are not disturbed at night.

However, one new aspect of the regulations, included earlier this month, is that all subscribers will be restricted from sending more than 100 SMS a day. This has been done to ensure that people engaged in various businesses cannot send promotional SMS from unregistered phone numbers.

For the convenience of subscribers, the TRAI has made it mandatory for all operators to set up a facility for registration of complaints of customers regarding receipt of unsolicited commercial calls either through voice calls or SMS, which will be toll free.

‘Sri Lanka needs a solution that accommodates Tamil hopes’

TNA leader R.Sambandan (Centre) with Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ashok K. Kantha (Right) and Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu, N.Ram, at a lecture organised by the Sri Lanka India Society in Colombo on Sunday.

Sri Lanka needs a solution to the ethnic question, home-grown or otherwise, to accommodate the just demands and aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people within the framework of the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu, said here on Sunday.

“We do not want a solution imposed from outside. But there must be a solution. It does not matter whether it’s a home grown solution or whether you have been influenced by ideas from abroad,” he said. “But you must have a solution when the problem has been of such long standing. This is something we eagerly look forward to in the present situation in Sri Lanka.” While emphasising the need for an enduring political solution, Mr. Ram cited a famous statement attributed to the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is white or black as long as it catches mice.”

Speaking on ‘India and Sri Lanka: The Emerging Future’ at a meeting organised by the Sri Lanka-India Society in Colombo, he asserted that there was a new opportunity to work out a Sinhala political consensus. Mr. Ram said that if a common minimum programme could be worked out by the two big parties – the SLFP and the UNP – on the scope and content of devolution in Tamil areas in the North and the East, then, it would be a genuine breakthrough. “I am personally confident that Sri Lanka will get there,” he said.

Drawing a parallel with the Indian experience in managing the hopes and aspirations of diverse peoples, he said that the Indian Constitution does not mention the word “federal” anywhere. “Today States [in the Indian Union] are extremely strong. With single party rule becoming virtually extinct at the Centre in India, States have become more demanding, more assertive, often irrepressible, and more resourceful. Some kind of rebalancing has taken place and we journalists call it political federalism,” he said.

TNA, a credible and leading force

After the recent local body elections, the Tamil National Alliance has emerged not just as a credible force, but as the leading force, he commented, adding that he looked forward to the structured dialogue mechanism that had been put in place. “The President [of Sri Lanka] and the others did a commendable job, reaching out to the TNA, recognising their credibility and the expectations are very, very high when they resume their talks [with the government]… This is a matter of supreme national importance and anyone who underestimates this will be making a grievous mistake,” he said.

Reviewing India-Sri Lanka relations, Mr. Ram commented that it was a matter of great satisfaction that in both countries post-1993, “the process of building tension-free and contention-free bilateral relations on the basis of close consultation and complete political trust, with a strong economic, cultural, and people-to-people content had won support across political divides and become consistent government policy virtually regardless of the party or leader in power.” He noted that the solidity and strength of the high-level political relationship were tested during the final stage of the military operations in the North and during the end game played out in the Wanni in 2008-2009 but “fringe elements in India advocating the secessionist cause” found that they could not derail the relationship.

Speaking about the India-Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987, Mr. Ram observed that “if that Accord, controversial and divisive in its time, has substantive content, values, and lessons to communicate to us today” and “that conceptual framework for the resolution of Sri Lanka’s principal national question is more or less the working model for those who are seeking to resolve it within the island state’s unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.”

The Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Ashok K. Kantha, said that there is expectation in India that the Sri Lankan leadership, which put an end to the armed conflict, would work towards a genuine political settlement and facilitate national reconciliation. “As we seek a comprehensive all-round engagement with Sri Lanka, as we seek to upgrade our ties with Sri Lanka, in all its dimensions, whether economic, political, security, cultural, intellectual, academic, at the same time, it is important that some of the concerns and apprehensions [expressed during the debate on Sri Lanka in the Indian parliament] must be addressed,” he said. “A strong, united and prosperous Sri Lanka is in India’s interest,” he added

The relationship between the two countries was being strengthened by “robust, multi-dimensional linkages,” he said and cited the examples of economic and security linkages between India and Sri Lanka.

Mr. Kantha said that the security interests of India and Sri Lanka were also intertwined. “We have sought to upgrade our defence engagement in the recent past, especially after the conclusion of the armed conflict,” he added.

CAG on RIL: CBI seeks Ministry’s comments

Petroleum Ministry, DGH “unduly favoured” RIL blocks in K-G basin

In a move that could spell trouble for the Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries Limited, the Central Bureau of Investigation has sought the Petroleum Ministry’s comments on the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s report on a hydrocarbon production sharing contract.

The CAG was critical of the Directorate-General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) as well as the Ministry for shelling out “undue benefits” to the RIL blocks in the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin.

Highly-placed sources in the CBI on Monday said the CAG report was “very much on its radar” but it would wait for the Ministry’s comments before taking a decision to proceed ahead on the basis of the national auditor’s findings. Such cases were “very complicated” and the agency would proceed cautiously, the sources said.

The CAG report, tabled in Parliament earlier this month, was ‘highly critical’ of the government oversight, particularly on high-value procurement decisions, and sought an ‘in-depth review’ of the 10 contracts, including eight awarded to the Aker Group by RIL on a single-bid basis.

“In the case of the KG-DWN-98/3, the Ministry should review in-depth the award of 10 specific contracts on the basis of a single financial bid. We are not even remotely suggesting that the operator should follow government procurement procedures, yet any commercially prudent private acquisition would also attempt to generate competition and thereby obtain the most competitive price. Such concern for a cost-effective acquisition is not perceptible in the aforementioned process.” The CAG said the contractor (RIL) was allowed to enter the second and third exploration phases of the blocks without its giving up 25 per cent of the contract area in each, by treating the entire area as a discovery area.

Coming down heavily on the DGH, the watchdog for oil and gas exploration, the CAG said it should have stopped RIL from proceeding with the next phase of production in the light of the earlier violation of the contract.

The CAG said the Ministry and the DGH were ill-equipped to oversee the production sharing contracts (PSCs) with private players, and the DGH should have stopped RIL from proceeding with Phase-II. This block consists of 7,645 in the Bay of Bengal, after the giant Dhirubhai-1 and 3 gas finds were made in 2001. Interestingly, during this period the Ministry was headed by Murli Deora and the DGH by V. K. Sibal, who is already facing a CBI inquiry.

The CAG questioned the ‘reasonableness of costs incurred’ in the 2007-08 procurement activity in the area and said there was enough ground to revisit the profit-sharing mechanism. Pointing to the RIL KG basin case, the report said the Ministry and RIL ignored the PSC, and the company was allowed to hoard exploitation acreage. During April-May 2005, the DGH did a U-turn on its own rules to favour RIL.

Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai dies

Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. File photo

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, died after a long struggle with cancer, the environmental organisation she founded said Monday. She was 71.

One of Kenya’s most recognizable women, Maathai won the Nobel in 2004 for combining environmentalism and social activism. She was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, where over 30 years she mobilized poor women to plant 30 million trees.

Edward Wageni, that group’s deputy executive director, said Maathai died in a Nairobi hospital late Sunday. Maathai was in and out of the hospital since the beginning of the year, he said.

In recognizing Maathai, the Nobel committee said that she had stood up to a former oppressive regime in Kenya and that her “unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression.”

“Tree a symbol for democratic struggle”

Maathai said during her 2004 acceptance speech that the inspiration for her life work came from her childhood experiences in rural Kenya, where she witnessed forests being cleared and replaced by commercial plantations, which destroyed biodiversity and the capacity of forests to conserve water.

Although the Green Belt Movement’s tree planting campaign did not initially address the issues of peace and democracy, Maathai said it become clear over time that responsible governance of the environment was not possible without democracy.

“Therefore, the tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya. Citizens were mobilized to challenge widespread abuses of power, corruption and environmental mismanagement,” Maathai said.

Tributes pour in

Tributes poured out for Maathai online, including from Kenyans who remember planting trees alongside her as schoolchildren. One popular posting on Twitter noted that Maathai’s knees always seemed to be dirty from showing VIPs how to plant trees. Another poster, noting Nairobi’s cloudy skies Monday, said- “No wonder the sun is not shining today.”

A long time friend and fellow professor at the University of Nairobi, Vertistine Mbaya said that Maathai showed the world how important it is to have and demonstrate courage.

“The values she had for justice and civil liberties and what she believed were the obligations of civil society and government,” Mbaya said. “She also demonstrated the importance of recognizing the contributions that women can make and allowing them the open space to do so.”

A former member of Kenya’s parliament, Maathai was the first woman to earn a doctorate in East Africa in 1971 from the University of Nairobi, where she later was an associate professor in the department of veterinary anatomy. She previously earned degrees from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas and the University of Pittsburgh.

Maathai first latched on to the idea of widespread tree planting while serving as the chairwoman of the National Council of Women in Kenya during the 1980s.

The Green Belt Movement, which was founded in 1977, said on its website that Maathai’s death was a great loss to those who “admired her determination to make the world a more peaceful, healthier and better place.”

Maathai is survived by her three children. Funeral arrangements were to be announced soon, the Green Belt Movement said.

Team Anna to conduct ‘referendum’ in Amethi, Rae Bareli

A file photo of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare. Team Anna would conduct surveys to assess public perception on the Jan Lokpal Bill in Amethi and Rae Bareli, strongholds of the Nehru-Gandhi famil

Stepping up pressure on parliamentarians, Team Anna would conduct surveys to assess public perception on Jan Lokpal Bill in Amethi and Rae Bareli, strongholds of the Nehru-Gandhi family, and other prominent parliamentary constituencies of Uttra Pradesh and Uttarakhand ahead of the winter session of Parliament.

“The time till Parliament’s winter session (November) is important as the Standing Committee considering the Lokpal Bill will hear views of various groups on this issue,” Anna Hazare’s associate and civil society activist Manish Sisodia said in New Delhi.

The first question in the “referendum” will be whether MPs should support the Jan Lokpal Bill proposed by the Team Anna or not and the second question will be on whether people should vote for those MPs who have opposed the Bill, Mr. Sisodiya said.

In U.P., the survey will be conducted in the cities of Rae Bareli, Amethi, Varanasi, Ghaziabad, Lucknow, Ambedkar Nagar and Mainpuri. In Uttarakhand it will be taken up in Dehradun and Haridwar.

While the constituency of Rae Bareli is represented by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi represents Amethi.

In U.P., the referendums will be supervised by Sanjay Singh, who is a member of the NGO India Against Corruption.

Members of Team Anna will not have any direct role to play in these referendums and the entire process will be monitored by people who were associated with Mr. Hazare’s recent movements, he said.

A similar survey was carried out by Team Anna in July in Union Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal’s constituency of Chandi Chowk where it was claimed that an overwhelming 85 per cent of people had favoured the Jan Lokpal Bill.

Favouring a national referendum on the issue, Mr. Hazare had said the government will have to listen to the voices of people.

Mr. Sibal, who was locked in a war of words with the Team Anna, had ridiculed the survey, saying he was surprised why the support was not 100 per cent.

Meanwhile, a group of auditors have been engaged by the Team Anna to audit the funds and donation collected during Mr. Hazare’s fast in New Delhi last month.

Team Anna launches ‘say no to bribes’ campaign

Team Anna members Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi address supporters at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi after their meeting with government representatives.

Members of Team Anna on Friday began a campaign in government offices across the capital to motivate employees against accepting bribes.

“The first event in this series would be held Friday at 2pm. at the District Commissioner’s Office, Daryaganj,” said a

spokesperson of India Against Corruption (IAC) that has been spearheading the anti-graft campaign.

Once a week, an IAC team will visit a government office in the capital as part of the ‘say no to bribes campaign’.

“We have sent messages to people and anyone can join our team. We will visit government offices and talk to employees about corruption and how it hampers the country’s progress,” she said.

India to pitch for comprehensive reform of UNSC

India will make a strong pitch for comprehensive reform of the United Nations Security Council to create an equitable system that is reflective of current realities when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addresses the UN General Assembly on Saturday.

Dr. Singh, who arrived here on Thursday, will participate in the high level segment of the 66th session of the world body when he will also focus on issues like the need for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism to tackle the scourge that India has been suffering for decades.

As Prime Minister of a key emerging economy that is playing a constructive role in contributing to global economic recovery, Dr. Singh is expected to reaffirm India’s commitment at the UN to continue working with other countries on furthering global economic and financial stability as well as to foster, strong sustainable and balanced economic growth.

On UN Security Council reforms, India feels that unless comprehensive reform is undertaken, the process would only be piecemeal and incomplete.

India would, along with members of the G4 (Brazil, Japan and Germany), continue to work pro-actively to maintain the momentum for Security Council reforms.

Briefing reporters on the Prime Minister’s participation at the UNGA proceedings, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Hardeep Singh Puri expressed optimism on the world body coming out with a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) but would not fix a timeline for that.

He said that an agreed text of the CCIT was before a committee of the U.N.

“My expectation is that the text will see action in the near future. I am cautiously optimistic but I am not going to be giving timelines,” he said, adding India has been pushing for such a document as it was a victim of the scourge for several decades now unlike the US which experienced it only on 9/11.

Mr. Puri said a Counter-terrorism committee chaired by India will meet on September 28th, when they will come up with a outcome document that will review the CTC’s work of the last 10 years marking the completion of a decade of the 9/11 attacks as well as work out a vision statement for the next decade.

Against the backdrop of the recent terror attack in Delhi, India will push for an early adoption of the CCIT that will provide a global normative framework against terrorism.

On Friday, he will have bilateral meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Replying to a question on China’s support for India’s quest for membership of the UN Security Council, Mr. Puri said it is only a matter of time before China voices its support for India.

Asked about absence of any meeting with United States President Barack Obama, Mr. Puri said the fact was that Mr. Obama left a day before the Prime Minister arrived here and it was a matter of scheduling.

“It doesn’t cause me any anxiety. They are going to be present at the G-20 Summit in a short while,” he said.

The two leaders will have an occasion to meet on the sidelines of the upcoming G-20 Summit in France in November.

Supreme Court dismisses bail plea of Sadhvi Pragya

Malegaon blast accused, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur being taken to court in Mumbai.

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to grant bail to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, who is facing charges under MCOCA for her alleged involvement in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast case.

Dismissing her bail plea, a bench of justices J M Panchal and H L Gokhale said, “There is no merit in the petition”.

The bench passed the order on a petition filed by Thakur contending that Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) had failed to file the charge sheet against her within the mandatory 90 days of her arrest on October 23, 2008.

Counsel for Thakur had further pleaded with the court to grant her bail, saying she had been subjected to “harassment, physical torture and verbal abuse” by the ATS squad during her “illegal” custody from October 10, 2008 onwards.

The Maharashtra government had, however, told the court that Thakur was arrested on October 23 and produced before a magistrate as required under the law.

The bench had reserved its order on September 1 after hearing all the parties, including Maharashtra government which opposed the bail plea.

Seven people were killed in a bomb blast on September 29, 2008, at Malegaon, a communally-sensitive textile town in Nasik district of Maharashtra. The probe into the blast had brought into focus the alleged involvement of some right-wing Hindu groups.

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