Breakthrough on salt-tolerant wheat from CSIRO in Australia

A team of Australian scientists…has bred salt tolerance into a variety of durum wheat that shows improved grain yield by 25% on salty soils.

Using ‘non-GM’ crop breeding techniques, scientists from CSIRO Plant Industry have introduced a salt-tolerant gene into a commercial durum wheat, with spectacular results shown in field tests. Researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Research Institute have led the effort to understand how the gene delivers salinity tolerance to the plants.

The research is the first of its kind in the world to fully describe the improvement in salt tolerance of an agricultural crop – from understanding the function of the salt-tolerant genes in the lab, to demonstrating increased grain yields in the field…

Dr Gilliham says: “Salinity is a particular issue in the prime wheat-growing areas of Australia, the world’s second-largest wheat exporter after the United States. With global population estimated to reach nine billion by 2050, and the demand for food expected to rise by 100% in this time, salt-tolerant crops will be an important tool to ensure future food security…”

The authors of this study realised that wild relatives of modern-day wheat remain a significant source of genes for a range of traits, including salinity tolerance. They discovered the new salt-tolerant gene in an ancestral cousin of modern-day wheat, Triticum monococcum…

Field trials were conducted at a variety of sites across Australia, including a commercial farm in northern New South Wales…

“Under standard conditions, the wheat containing the salt-tolerance gene performed the same in the field as durum that did not have the gene. But under salty conditions, it outperformed its durum wheat parent, with increased yields of up to 25%.

This is very important for farmers, because it means they would only need to plant one type of seed in a paddock that may have some salty sections,” Dr James says…

“Although we have used molecular techniques to characterise and understand the salt-tolerant gene, the gene was introduced into the durum wheat through ‘non-GM’ breeding processes. This means we have produced a novel durum wheat that is not classified as transgenic, or ‘GM’, and can therefore be planted without restriction,” she says.

First, this is an important achievement. Increased salt in soil is as much the result from crappy irrigation techniques as anything else – including climate change. The problem is on the increase everywhere in the world where flooding irrigation is the accepted practice.

Second, the manipulation of breeding techniques to qualify as non-genetically-modified is hilarious. Luddite fears are absurd, anyway. But, playing games with the approach to gene-splicing won’t mean anything except to lawmakers – because the paranoid types who fear their sandwich eating their face will still be just as paranoid. They will stamp their feet and do their best to screw farmers trying to produce food in less than perfect conditions around the world — to defend the purity of their bodily fluids.

Mike Bloomberg and Barack Obama had a private chat last month – about the future of the United States, stuff like that

They traded thoughts about education, ruminated on the state of immigration and discussed the federal deficit. But most intriguingly, they talked about the future. Over a long private lunch at the White House, President Obama posed a question to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg: what are you interested in doing next?

Mr. Bloomberg’s precise response is unknown. But their meeting a few weeks ago, confirmed by aides to both leaders and previously undisclosed, was potentially significant for both men, as Mr. Obama seeks support for his presidential campaign and Mr. Bloomberg ponders his post-mayoral career…

The lunch invitation is striking because Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Obama are thought not to be particularly close — nor to have an especially warm relationship. But the White House seems intent on courting Mr. Bloomberg.

Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said…“They speak from time to time…”

A spokesman for the mayor, Stu Loeser, offered a similar assessment…

This year, Mr. Bloomberg has not endorsed a presidential candidate, although aides said he had not ruled out doing so. The value of his endorsement is uncertain — because New York is viewed with skepticism among parts of the electorate, some say it is unlikely that the mayor’s endorsement would sway many voters in the battleground states where the election could turn.

But Mr. Obama’s leading Republican rival, Mitt Romney, has sought to depict the president as an economic naïf and an enemy of business, making Mr. Bloomberg, one of the nation’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, a potentially potent White House ally…

…The possibility of Mr. Bloomberg’s becoming a member of the Obama administration did not come up during the lunch, according to people close to the mayor and the president.

The mayor, who has not had a boss in decades, stressed that he had little interest in joining the Obama cabinet. “I am not an adviser,” he told The New York Times in 2010, adding, “You know, I am a doer.”

OTOH Barack Obama could use someone advising him from outside the Democrat Party on getting things done. Obviously, relying on resident hacks – especially during the first 2 years of his term – didn’t achieve a whole boatload of satisfaction among supporters.

Certainly, the economic disaster he inherited from the Free Market Fumblers that preceded him in the White House didn’t help. But, the kind of Democrats that preceded the Gingrich era of corporate lobbyists owning everyone inside the Beltway knew how to fight that kind of fight even while juggling the economy and civil issues.

Fad of tightly swaddling babies places newborns in harm’s way

Mothers who tightly swaddle their babies to prevent colic are causing a rise in a hip problem that disappeared 25 years ago, a doctor said today.

The practice – eradicated in the 1980s after educational programmes – is now back in fashion with some websites selling tight ”swaddlers” to keep babies warm, help them sleep and avoid the crying associated with colic. But Professor Nicholas Clarke, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, said the unsafe form of swaddling is leading to more cases of hip dysplasia.

The condition is where the hips are loosened by mothers’ hormones to relax ligaments during birth, but the swaddling is forcibly straightening the legs within the first three to four months of life.

This means babies who would otherwise recover naturally are unable to freely flex and strengthen weakened joints, making surgery essential. ”This form of swaddling used to be very commonly used across the world but, with the help of major educational programmes such as the one used to eliminate the problem in Japan in the 1980s, it was all but eradicated and cases reduced drastically,” said Prof Clarke, who spoke out as part of the STEPS charity’s Baby Hip Health Week 2012.

”Now, I and my colleagues across the UK and in America are witnessing its revival, with swaddlers being advertised on the internet that tightly wrap babies. For the hips, that is exactly what you don’t want to happen…

Up to 100 babies are screened at Southampton General Hospital’s hip clinic every week with around one in every 20 full-term babies has some level of instability and swaddling-related incidences are increasing.

Although treatment, which involves fitting a harness to keep the legs bent up day and night for six weeks, is successful in 85% of babies, some will suffer permanent damage…

”I advocate swaddling in the right and safe way, which means ensuring babies are not rigidly wrapped but have enough room to bend their legs – they don’t need to have their legs straightened as there is plenty of time to stretch before they start to walk,” he explained. ”But, and this is worrying the orthopaedic community, it seems to be increasingly fashionable among parents to follow the re-emerging trend of tight swaddling…”

”We need to focus on ensuring the years of hard work and effort made by thousands of clinicians across the world to drive out tight swaddling is not unravelled in a matter of months and that means stepping in immediately,” he added.

Spooky rumors, “remedies” passed along through gossip sites – and even dumber, via hustlers trying to make a buck from mothers’ fears – are the last thing clinicians and pediatricians need to have reversing decades of education and effort.

It’s natural for anyone under the stress of a newborn to look for quick solutions to some of the problems attendant upon newborn care. Reaching out to superstition and quackery is the last thing you and your child are in need of. Especially your child. Placing an infant in danger of needing surgery at a tender age because your favorite granny’s advice website recommended tight swaddling to quiet colic symptoms – is more than absurd. It’s backwards and primitive.

German version of NRA bans gays with guns from awards ceremonies

Germany’s conservative shooting association has banned gay “king” marksmen appearing with their partners at official ceremonies.

Each year local fraternities belonging to the association proclaim the best shooter as king, but last summer Dirk Winter, winner of the accolade in Munster, ruffled the conservative feathers of the shooting organisation by appearing with his male partner Oliver, who was crowned “queen”.

To avoid a repetition of this, kings will now have to have a female consort.

“The public appearance of same-sex couples is not compatible with the Christian traditions of the fraternities,” the Association of Shooting Fraternities said in a statement after 450 out of 500 delegates voted for the ban.

With many dating back to the nineteenth century and with a combined membership of some 400,000, the fraternities mix target shooting with a strong adherence to tradition and Catholic mores…

In a statement Germany’s Gay and Lesbian Association described the affair “as a provincial farce” that had made the shooting association appear “ridiculous”.

The association, however, defended its position, stressing that partners of gay kings could attend formal events but could not appear beside them and have to march behind the king when he enters the room.

Well – at least the new rules are consistent with conservative attitudes towards women. BTW – anyone ask the NRA for their position on gay members – much less gay award winners?

“Family values” newspapers won’t publish Doonesbury strip on Texas abortion law – cartoon strip starts today

Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau has defended his cartoon strip about abortion, which several US newspapers are refusing to run, saying he felt compelled to respond to the way Republicans across America are undermining women’s healthcare rights.

The strip, published on Monday and scheduled to run all week, has been rejected by several papers, while others said they were switching it from the comic section to the editorial page.

In an email exchange with the Guardian, Trudeau expressed dismay over the papers’ decision but was unrepentant, describing as “appalling” and “insane” Republican state moves on women’s healthcare.

About 1,400 newspapers, including the Guardian, take the Doonesbury cartoon. The Guardian is running the cartoon as normal on Monday.

The strip deals specifically with a law introduced in Texas and other states requiring a woman who wants to have an abortion to have an ultrasound scan, or sonogram, which will show an image of the foetus and other details, in an attempt to make her reconsider…

The Kansas City Star is among the papers not running the cartoon in its normal slot. “We felt the content was too much for many of the readers of our family-friendly comic page,” an editor told Associated Press. The Star will use a replacement strip offered by the organisation that syndicates Doonesbury, Universal Uclick, and move the abortion one to its editorial pages…

Abortion, contraception and other social issues have resurfaced in politics in recent weeks, partly because they have been highlighted by the Republican candidates in the presidential race. Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh referred to a student giving evidence to a congressional hearing in support of contraception as “a slut”.

Trudeau told the Guardian he thought the issue of reproductive freedom had been settled while he had still been at school: the Supreme Court 1973 ruling Roe v Wade, which removed restrictions on abortion.

Trudeau wrote: “Ninety-nine percent of American women have or will use contraception during their lifetimes. To see these healthcare rights systematically undermined in state after state by the party of ‘limited government’ is appalling. “In Texas, the sonograms are the least of it. The legislature has also defunded women’s health clinics all over the state, leaving 300,000 women without the contraceptive services that prevent abortions in the first place. Insanity.”

Perhaps not central to the question of why newspapers across America are in decline; but, cowardice in the face of bigotry and corporate churches with big bucks invested in so-called family values certainly plays a role.

A 19th Century outlook often accompanies the 19th Century pride in owning a newspaper even among independent locally-owned newspapers. The rest are simply part of corporate media empires which couldn’t care less about Freedom of the Press.

Routine traffic stop nets one of Ten Most Wanted in USA

A Peabody patrolman on an early morning routine traffic stop netted a federal fugitive on the U.S. Secret Service’s Top 10 wanted list — the department’s highest-profile collar in decades.

Sgt. Vincent Patermo, a 20-year Peabody police veteran, yesterday arrested Miguel Jesurum, 30, of Bronx, N.Y., one of the accused masterminds behind a $250 million cellphone cloning scheme that was used to set up a black market for international phone calls.

“I think it was his only arrest of the night, and he was pretty surprised by it,” said Peabody Police Lt. Bill Cook. “There haven’t been any big Top 10 wanted-list arrests here that I can remember for at least the past 20 years. It was a great pinch.”

The fleeing fugitive originally told Patermo his name was Pedro Berroa after the officer pulled him over about 2:45 a.m. on Route 1 northbound near Interstate 95, Cook said. Jesurum was charged with unlicensed driving and the department’s fingerprinting machine, which connects to an FBI database, revealed Jesurum’s true identity back at the station, Cook said…

Federal prosecutors in New York announced the Secret Service’s investigation into the sophisticated theft network last month. The Secret Service is charged with safeguarding the nation’s financial infrastructure and payment systems in addition to protecting top political leaders…

Jesurum is being held at Essex County House of Corrections. Prosecutors have said Jesurum could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in the black-market scheme.

They take the sidewalks in at 10PM in Peabody. We are all fortunate there was a conscientious copper on duty in the middle of the night. Glad to see the local PD is up-to-speed on digital information management.

I know more than a few places in this timorous nation where Jeserum would have been turned loose with a slap on the wrist. Because it would have been too much work to check him out.