Eating human brains protected a tribe from brain disease

The Fore people, a once-isolated tribe in eastern Papua New Guinea, had a long-standing tradition of mortuary feasts — eating the dead from their own community at funerals. Men consumed the flesh of their deceased relatives, while women and children ate the brain. It was an expression of respect for the lost loved ones, but the practice wreaked havoc on the communities they left behind. That’s because a deadly molecule that lives in brains was spreading to the women who ate them, causing a horrible degenerative illness called “kuru” that at one point killed 2 percent of the population each year.

The practice was outlawed in the 1950s, and the kuru epidemic began to recede. But in its wake it left a curious and irreversible mark on the Fore, one that has implications far beyond Papua New Guinea: After years of eating brains, some Fore have developed a genetic resistance to the molecule that causes several fatal brain diseases, including kuru, mad cow disease and some cases of dementia.

The single, protective gene is identified in a study published…in the journal Nature. Researchers say the finding is a huge step toward understanding these diseases and other degenerative brain problems, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The gene works by protecting people against prions, a strange and sometimes deadly kind of protein. Though prions are naturally manufactured in all mammals, they can be deformed in a way that makes them turn on the body that made them, acting like a virus and attacking tissue. The deformed prion is even capable of infecting the prions that surround it, reshaping them to mimic its structure and its malicious ways…

The study by Collinge and his colleagues offers a critical insight into ways that humans might be protected from the still-little-understood prions. They found it by examining the genetic code of those families at the center of the Fore’s kuru epidemic, people who they knew had been exposed to the disease at multiple feasts, who seemed to have escaped unscathed.

When the researchers looked at the part of the genome that encodes prion-manufacturing proteins, they found something completely unprecedented. Where humans and every other vertebrate animal in the world have an amino acid called glycine, the resistant Fore had a different amino acid, valine…

When the scientists re-created the genetic types observed in humans — giving the mice both the normal protein and the variant in roughly equal amounts — the mice were completely resistant to kuru and to CJD. But when they looked at a second group of mice that had been genetically modified to produce only the variant protein, giving them even stronger protection, the mice were resistant to every prion strain they tested — 18 in all.

“This is a striking example of Darwinian evolution in humans, the epidemic of prion disease selecting a single genetic change that provided complete protection against an invariably fatal dementia,” Collinge told Reuters…

Unintended consequences – one of the best reasons in science for basic research.

Fortunately, for our economy, beaucoup CEOs recognize the importance of that process. Unfortunately, for our economy, damned few of the hacks holding elected office recognize the importance of that process.

Archbishop John Nienstedt quits after archdiocese charged with cover-up

nienstedt

Pope Francis has started making good on his promise to not let even the most senior churchmen get away with sex abuse or cover-up.

On Monday, he accepted the resignation of the embattled archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis and his deputy bishop after prosecutors there charged the archdiocese with having failed to protect children from unspeakable harm from a pedophile priest who was later convicted of molesting two boys.

Separately, the Vatican indicted its own former ambassador to the Dominican Republic with sexually abusing minors in the Caribbean country — the highest-ranking Vatican official ever to stand trial for a sex crime.

The developments came days after Francis approved the creation of a new tribunal inside the Vatican to specifically hear cases of bishops accused of failing to protect minors, answering years of criticism that top-ranked churchmen have long been immune to punishment for ignoring or covering up for priests who rape and molest children

Earlier this month, prosecutors charged the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as a corporation of having “turned a blind eye” to repeated reports of inappropriate behavior by a priest who was later convicted of molesting two boys. No individual was named in the complaint.

The charges came two years after diocesan canon lawyer-turned-whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger alleged widespread cover-up of clergy sex misconduct in the archdiocese, saying archbishops and their top staff lied to the public and ignored the U.S. bishops’ pledge to have no tolerance of priests who abuse…

With Monday’s resignations, there have been 18 bishops who have resigned after being publicly criticized for covering up for abusers, according to Anne Barrett Doyle of the online resource BishopAccountability.org…

The criminal charges against the archdiocese stem from its handling of Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest at Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for molesting two boys and faces prosecution involving a third boy in Wisconsin.

Prosecutors say church leaders failed to respond to “numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct” by Wehmeyer from the time he entered seminary until he was removed from the priesthood in 2015. The criminal complaint says many people — including parishioners, fellow priests and parish staff — reported issues with Wehmeyer, and many of those claims were discounted.

Another one bites the dust.

When the dust settles will the Roman Catholic Church have become a force for good, seeking progress and a better life for all their flock? Or does the opportunity still exist among reactionaries, the self-concerned still in hierarchal positions of trust and power, to outlast the term of this Pope and resume “business as usual”?

Mexico latest Latin nation to pass USA on legalizing same-sex marriage


Hiram Gonzalez married Severiano Chavez in ChihuahuaCheros/AC

His church turned him away, his family discouraged him from a public fight and the government of the state where he lives vowed it would never happen.

But it did. Hiram Gonzalez married his boyfriend, Severiano Chavez, last year in the northern state of Chihuahua, which, like most Mexican states, technically allows marriage only between a man and a woman.

Mr. Gonzalez and dozens of other gay couples in recent months have, however, found a powerful ally: Mexico’s Supreme Court.

In ruling after ruling, the court has said that state laws restricting marriage to heterosexuals are discriminatory. Though the decisions have been made to little public fanfare, they have had the effect of legalizing gay marriage in Mexico without enshrining it in law…

As the United States awaits a landmark decision on gay marriage by the Supreme Court, the Mexican court’s rulings have added the country to a slowly growing list of Latin American nations permitting same-sex unions.

Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil already allow same-sex marriage. Chile plans to recognize same-sex civil unions this year; Ecuador approved civil unions in April; and Colombia grants same-sex couples many of the same rights extended to heterosexual married couples…

The shift in Mexico, the second largest country in Latin America after Brazil, is the product of a legal strategy that advocates used to bypass state legislatures, which have shown little inclination, and often hostility, to legalizing gay marriage.

In 2009, Mexico City, a large liberal island in this socially conservative country, legalized gay marriage — a first in Latin America. There have been 5,297 same-sex weddings there since then, some of them couples coming to the city from other states…

The Supreme Court upheld Mexico City’s law in 2010, adding that other states had to recognize marriages performed there.

Alex Ali Mendez, the lawyer pressing these cases, said the next step in the legal process was compiling enough injunctions in each state to reach a threshold under which the court could formally order state legislatures to rewrite their laws.

But experts said that Mexico had already reached a watershed.

A similar watershed exists among ordinary American citizens. Meaningless to Congress.

There are a fair number of judges in Mexico who hold to the traditions of law aiding the progress of their nation. Completely at odds with the philosophy of American conservatives and their pet judges on the Supreme Court. Progress for our nation, our people, means nothing to their theocratic minds. Preserving a backwards view of the past, as distorted as that may be, is their cardinal waypoint.

With politicians as corrupt as any in the hemisphere, Americans see the only exceptions being political action in blue states and the majority of federal courts. Still, when you get to the ultimate federal court in the nation, progress is held hostage to liars, frauds appointed by reactionary and cowardly hacks under Republican administrations.

Mayfly swarm closes Pennsylvania bridge


 

A dense swarm of mayflies caused motorcycle crashes and the overnight closure of a bridge in the…state of Pennsylvania.

The sheer volume of insects reduced visibility, and turned the road surface of the bridge over the Susquehanna River, in Lancaster County, into a treacherous, slippery mess…

“It was like a blizzard in June, but instead of snow, it was mayflies,” Wrightsville Fire Chief Chad Livelsberger told LancasterOnline.

“They were getting in our mouth. We had to close our eyes. We had to swat them away. Even when we got back, it felt like bugs were crawling in you.”

Spectacular swarms of mayflies are not uncommon – last year one in Wisconsin became so big it appeared on local radar as rain.

Individually, mayflies are pretty insects. Swarms of anything can still be life-threatening.

Imagine being trapped in a room with tons of kruschiki!