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Science News This Week:
1) New Vaccine-Design Approach Targets Viruses Such as HIV:
|New Vaccine-Design Approach Targets Viruses Such as HIV|
A team led by scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) has unveiled a new technique for vaccine design that could be particularly useful against HIV and other fast-changing viruses.
The report, which appears March 28, 2013, in Science Express, the early online edition of the journal Science, offers a step toward solving what has been one of the central problems of modern vaccine design: how to stimulate the immune system to produce the right kind of antibody response to protect against a wide range of viral strains. The researchers demonstrated their new technique by engineering an immunogen (substance that induces immunity) that has promise to reliably initiate an otherwise rare response effective against many types of HIV."We're hoping to test this immunogen soon in mice engineered to produce human antibodies, and eventually in humans," said team leader William R. Schief, who is an associate professor of immunology and member of the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center at TSRI.
Seeking a Better Way
For highly variable viruses such as HIV and influenza, vaccine researchers want to elicit antibodies that protect against most or all viral strains -- not just a few strains, as seasonal flu vaccines currently on the market. Vaccine researchers have identified several of these broadly neutralizing antibodies from long-term HIV-positive survivors, harvesting antibody-producing B cells from blood samples and then sifting through them to identify those that produce antibodies capable of neutralizing multiple strains of HIV. Such broadly neutralizing antibodies typically work by blocking crucial functional sites on a virus that are conserved among different strains despite high mutation elsewhere.However, even with these powerful broadly neutralizing antibodies in hand, scientists need to find a way to elicit their production in the body through a vaccine. "For example, to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies called VRC01-class antibodies that neutralize 90 percent of known HIV strains, you could try using the HIV envelope protein as your immunogen," said Schief, "but you run into the problem that the envelope protein doesn't bind with any detectable affinity to the B cells needed to launch a broadly neutralizing antibody response."To reliably initiate that VRC01-class antibody response, Schief and his colleagues therefore sought to develop a new method for designing vaccine immunogens.
From Weak to Strong
Joseph Jardine, a TSRI graduate student in the Schief laboratory, evaluated the genes of VRC01-producing B cells in order to deduce the identities of the less mature B cells -- known as germline B cells -- from which they originate. Germline B cells are major targets of modern viral vaccines, because it is the initial stimulation of these B cells and their antibodies that leads to a long-term antibody response.In response to vaccination, germline B cells could, in principle, mature into the desired VRC01-producing B cells -- but natural HIV proteins fail to bind or stimulate these germline B cells so they cannot get the process started. The team thus set out to design an artificial immunogen that would be successful at achieving this.Jardine used a protein modeling software suite called Rosetta to improve the binding of VRC01 germline B cell antibodies to HIV's envelope protein. "We asked Rosetta to look for mutations on the side of the HIV envelope protein that would help it bind tightly to our germline antibodies," he said.
Rosetta identified dozens of mutations that could help improve binding to germline antibodies. Jardine then generated libraries that contained all possible combinations of beneficial mutations, resulting in millions of mutants, and screened them using techniques called yeast surface display and FACS. This combination of computational prediction and directed evolution successfully produced a few mutant envelope proteins with high affinity for germline VRC01-class antibodies.Jardine then focused on making a minimal immunogen -- much smaller than HIV envelope -- and so continued development using the "engineered outer domain (eOD)" previously developed by Po-Ssu Huang in the Schief lab while Schief was at the University of Washington. Several iterative rounds of design and selection using a panel of germline antibodies produced a final, optimized immunogen -- a construct they called eOD-GT6.
A Closer Look
To get a better look at eOD-GT6 and its interaction with germline antibodies, the team turned to the laboratory of Ian A. Wilson, chair of the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology and a member of the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center at TSRI.
Jean-Philippe Julien, a senior research associate in the Wilson laboratory, determined the 3D atomic structure of the designed immunogen using X-ray crystallography -- and, in an unusual feat, also determined the crystal structure of a germline VRC01 antibody, plus the structure of the immunogen and antibody bound together."We wanted to know whether eOD-GT6 looked the way we anticipated and whether it bound to the antibody in the way that we predicted -- and in both cases the answer was 'yes'," said Julien. "We also were able to identify the key mutations that conferred its reactivity with germline VRC01 antibodies."
Mimicking a VirusVaccine researchers know that such an immunogen typically does better at stimulating an antibody response when it is presented not as a single copy but in a closely spaced cluster of multiple copies, and with only its antibody-binding end exposed. "We wanted it to look like a virus," said Sergey Menis, a visiting graduate student in the Schief laboratory.
Menis therefore devised a tiny virus-mimicking particle made from 60 copies of an obscure bacterial enzyme and coated it with 60 copies of eOD-GT6. The particle worked well at activating VRC01 germline B cells and even mature B cells in the lab dish, whereas single-copy eOD-GT6 did not.
"Essentially it's a self-assembling nanoparticle that presents the immunogen in a properly oriented way," Menis said. "We're hoping that this approach can be used not just for an HIV vaccine but for many other vaccines, too."The next step for the eOD-GT6 immunogen project, said Schief, is to test its ability to stimulate an antibody response in lab animals that are themselves engineered to produce human germline antibodies. The difficulty with testing immunogens that target human germline antibodies is that animals typically used for vaccine testing cannot make those same antibodies. So the team is collaborating with other researchers who are engineering mice to produce human germline antibodies. After that, he hopes to learn how to drive the response, from the activation of the germline B cells all the way to the production of mature, broadly neutralizing VRC01-class antibodies, using a series of designed immunogens.
Schief also hopes they will be able to test their germline-targeting approach in humans sooner rather than later, noting "it will be really important to find out if this works in a human being."The first authors of the paper, "Rational HIV immunogen design to target specific germline B cell receptors," were Jardine, Julien and Menis. Co-authors were Takayuki Ota and Devin Sok of the Nemazee and Burton laboratories at TSRI, respectively; Travis Nieusma of the Ward laboratory at TSRI; John Mathison of the Ulevitch laboratory at TSRI; Oleksandr Kalyuzhniy and Skye MacPherson, researchers in the Schief laboratory from IAVI and TSRI, respectively; Po-Ssu Huang and David Baker of the University of Washington, Seattle; Andrew McGuire and Leonidas Stamatatos of the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute; and TSRI principal investigators Andrew B. Ward, David Nemazee, Ian A. Wilson, and Dennis R. Burton, who is also head of the IAVI Neutralizing Center at TSRI.
2) Robotic Ants Successfully Mimic Real Colony Behavior:
|Robotic Ants Successfully Mimic Real Colony Behavior:|
Scientists have successfully replicated the behaviour of a colony of ants on the move with the use of miniature robots, as reported in the journal PLOS Computational Biology. The researchers, based at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (Newark, USA) and at the Research Centre on Animal Cognition (Toulouse, France), aimed to discover how individual ants, when part of a moving colony, orient themselves in the labyrinthine pathways that stretch from their nest to various food sources.
The study focused mainly on how Argentine ants behave and coordinate themselves in both symmetrical and asymmetrical pathways. In nature, ants do this by leaving chemical pheromone trails. This was reproduced by a swarm of sugar cube size robots, called "Alices," leaving light trails that they can detect with two light sensors mimicking the role of the ants' antennae.In the beginning of the experiment, where branches of the maze had no light trail, the robots adopted an "exploratory behaviour" modelled on the regular insect movement pattern of moving randomly but in the same general direction. This led the robots to choose the path that deviated least from their trajectory at each bifurcation of the network. If the robots detected a light trail, they would turn to follow that path.
One outcome of the robotic model was the discovery that the robots did not need to be programmed to identify and compute the geometry of the network bifurcations. They managed to navigate the maze using only the pheromone light trail and the programmed directional random walk, which directed them to the more direct route between their starting area and a target area on the periphery of the maze. Individual Argentine ants have poor eyesight and move too quickly to make a calculated decision about their direction. Therefore the fact that the robots managed to orient themselves in the maze in a similar fashion than the one observed in real ants suggests that a complex cognitive process is not necessary for colonies of ants to navigate efficiently in their complex network of foraging trails."This research suggests that efficient navigation and foraging can be achieved with minimal cognitive abilities in ants," says lead author Simon Garnier. "It also shows that the geometry of transport networks plays a critical role in the flow of information and material in ant as well as in human societies."
3) Brain's 'Molecular Memory Switch' Identified:
|Brain's 'Molecular Memory Switch' Identified|
Scientists have identified a key molecule responsible for triggering the chemical processes in our brain linked to our formation of memories. The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Neural Circuits, reveal a new target for therapeutic interventions to reverse the devastating effects of memory loss.
The BBSRC-funded research, led by scientists at the University of Bristol, aimed to better understand the mechanisms that enable us to form memories by studying the molecular changes in the hippocampus -- the part of the brain involved in learning.
Previous studies have shown that our ability to learn and form memories is due to an increase in synaptic communication called Long Term Potentiation [LTP]. This communication is initiated through a chemical process triggered by calcium entering brain cells and activating a key enzyme called 'Ca2+ responsive kinase' [CaMKII]. Once this protein is activated by calcium it triggers a switch in its own activity enabling it to remain active even after the calcium has gone. This special ability of CaMKII to maintain its own activity has been termed 'the molecular memory switch'.
Until now, the question still remained as to what triggers this chemical process in our brain that allows us to learn and form long-term memories. The research team, comprising scientists from the University's School of Physiology and Pharmacology, conducted experiments using the common fruit fly [Drosophila] to analyse and identify the molecular mechanisms behind this switch. Using advanced molecular genetic techniques that allowed them to temporarily inhibit the flies' memory the team were able to identify a gene called CASK as the synaptic molecule regulating this 'memory switch'.
Dr James Hodge, the study's lead author, said: "Fruit flies are remarkably compatible for this type of study as they possess similar neuronal function and neural responses to humans. Although small they are very smart, for instance, they can land on the ceiling and detect that the fruit in your fruit bowl has gone off before you can.""In experiments whereby we tested the flies' learning and memory ability, involving two odours presented to the flies with one associated with a mild shock, we found that around 90 per cent were able to learn the correct choice remembering to avoid the odour associated with the shock. Five lessons of the odour with punishment made the fly remember to avoid that odour for between 24 hours and a week, which is a long time for an insect that only lives a couple of months."
By localising the function of the key molecules CASK and CaMKII to the flies' equivalent brain area to the human hippocampus, the team found that the flies lacking these genes showed disrupted memory formation. In repeat memory tests those lacking these key genes were shown to have no ability to remember at three hours (mid-term memory) and 24 hours (long-term memory) although their initial learning or short-term memory wasn't affected.
Finally, the team introduced a copy of the human CASK gene -- it is 80 per cent identical to the fly CASK gene -- into the genome of a fly that completely lacked its own CASK gene and was therefore not usually able to remember. The researchers found that flies which had a copy of the human CASK gene could remember like a normal wildtype fly.Dr Hodge, from the University's School of Physiology and Pharmacology, said: "Research into memory is particularly important as it gives us our sense of identity, and deficits in learning and memory occur in many diseases, injuries and during aging.""CASK's control of CaMKII 'molecular memory switch' is clearly a critical step in how memories are written into neurons in the brain. These findings not only pave the way for to developing new therapies which reverse the effects of memory loss but also prove the compatibility of Drosophila to model these diseases in the lab and screen for new drugs to treat these diseases. Furthermore, this work provides an important insight into how brains have evolved their huge capacity to acquire and store information."
These findings clearly demonstrate that neuronal function of CASK is conserved between flies and human, validating the use of Drosophila to understand CASK function in both the healthy and diseased brain. Mutations in human CASK gene have been associated with neurological and cognitive defects including severe learning difficulties.
4) Large Robotic Jellyfish Could One Day Patrol Oceans:
|Large Robotic Jellyfish Could One Day Patrol Oceans|
Virginia Tech College of Engineering researchers have unveiled a life-like, autonomous robotic jellyfish the size and weight of a grown man, 5 foot 7 inches in length and weighing 170 pounds.
The prototype robot, nicknamed Cyro, is a larger model of a robotic jellyfish the same team -- headed by Shashank Priya of Blacksburg, Va., and professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech -- unveiled in 2012. The earlier robot, dubbed RoboJelly, is roughly the size of a man's hand, and typical of jellyfish found along beaches."A larger vehicle will allow for more payload, longer duration and longer range of operation," said Alex Villanueva of St-Jacques, New-Brunswick, Canada, and a doctoral student in mechanical engineering working under Priya. "Biological and engineering results show that larger vehicles have a lower cost of transport, which is a metric used to determine how much energy is spent for traveling.
Both robots are part of a multi-university, nationwide $5 million project funded by U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Office of Naval Research. The goal is to place self-powering, autonomous machines in waters for the purposes of surveillance and monitoring the environment, in addition to other uses such as studying aquatic life, mapping ocean floors, and monitoring ocean currents.Jellyfish are attractive candidates to mimic because of their ability to consume little energy owing to a lower metabolic rate than other marine species. Additionally, they appear in wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors, allowing for several designs. They also inhabit every major oceanic area of the world and are capable of withstanding a wide range of temperatures in both fresh and salt waters. Most species are found in shallow coastal waters, but some have been found in depths 7,000 meters below sea level.
Partner universities in the project are Providence College in Rhode Island, the University of California Los Angeles, the University of Texas at Dallas, and Stanford University. Priya's team is building the jellyfish body models, integrating fluid mechanics and developing control systems.
Cyro is modeled and named after the jellyfish cyanea capillata, Latin for Llion's Manemain jellyfishJellyfish, with "Cyro" derived from "cyanea" and "robot." As with its predecessor, this robot is in the prototype stage, years away from use in waters. A new prototype model already is under construction at Virginia Tech's Durham Hall, where Priya's Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems is based."We hope to improve on this robot and reduce power consumption and improve swimming performance as well as better mimic the morphology of the natural jellyfish," Villanueva said, adding that the project also allows researchers such as himself to better understand aquatic creatures live. "Our hopes for Cyro's future is that it will help understand how the propulsion mechanism of such animal scales with size."A stark difference exists between the larger and smaller robots. Cyro is powered by a rechargeable nickel metal hydride battery, whereas the smaller models were tethered, Priya said. Experiments have also been conducted on powering jellyfish with hydrogen but there is still much research to be done in that area.In both cases, the jellyfish must operate on their own for months or longer at a time as engineers likely won't be able to capture and repair the robots, or replace power sources. "Cyro showed its ability to swim autonomously while maintaining a similar physical appearance and kinematics as the natural species," Priya said, adding that the robot is simultaneously able to collect, store, analyze, and communicate sensory data. This autonomous operation in shallow water conditions is already a big step towards demonstrating the use of these creatures."
How does the robot swim? Its body consists of a rigid support structure with direct current electric motors which control the mechanical arms that are used in conjunction with an artificial mesoglea, or jelly-based pulp of the fish's body, creating hydrodynamic movement.
With no central nervous system, jellyfish instead use a diffused nerve net to control movement and can complete complex functions. A parallel study on a bio-inspired control system is in progress which will eventually replace the current simplified controller. As with the smaller models, Cyro's skin is composed of a thick layer of silicone, squishy in one's hand. It mimics the sleek jellyfish skin and is placed over a bowl-shaped device containing the electronic guts of the robot. When moving, the skin floats and moves with the robot, looking weirdly alive.
5) Saturn Is Like an Antiques Shop, Cassini Suggests; Moons and Rings Date Back to Solar System's Birth:
Saturn Is Like an Antiques Shop, Cassini Suggests; Moons and Rings Date Back to Solar System's Birth:
A new analysis of data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft suggests that Saturn's moons and rings are gently worn vintage goods from around the time of our solar system's birth.
Though they are tinted on the surface from recent "pollution," these bodies date back more than 4 billion years. They are from around the time that the planetary bodies in our neighborhood began to form out of the protoplanetary nebula, the cloud of material still orbiting the sun after its ignition as a star. The paper, led by Gianrico Filacchione, a Cassini participating scientist at Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics, Rome, has just been published online by The Astrophysical Journal."Studying the Saturnian system helps us understand the chemical and physical evolution of our entire solar system," said Filacchione. "We know now that understanding this evolution requires not just studying a single moon or ring, but piecing together the relationships intertwining these bodies."
Data from Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) have revealed how water ice and also colors -- which are the signs of non-water and organic materials --are distributed throughout the Saturnian system. The spectrometer's data in the visible part of the light spectrum show that coloring on the rings and moons generally is only skin-deep.Using its infrared range, VIMS also detected abundant water ice -- too much to have been deposited by comets or other recent means. So the authors deduce that the water ices must have formed around the time of the birth of the solar system, because Saturn orbits the sun beyond the so-called "snow line." Out beyond the snow line, in the outer solar system where Saturn resides, the environment is conducive to preserving water ice, like a deep freezer. Inside the solar system's "snow line," the environment is much closer to the sun's warm glow, and ices and other volatiles dissipate more easily.
The colored patina on the ring particles and moons roughly corresponds to their location in the Saturn system. For Saturn's inner ring particles and moons, water-ice spray from the geyser moon Enceladus has a whitewashing effect.
Farther out, the scientists found that the surfaces of Saturn's moons generally were redder the farther they orbited from Saturn. Phoebe, one of Saturn's outer moons and an object thought to originate in the far-off Kuiper Belt, seems to be shedding reddish dust that eventually rouges the surface of nearby moons, such as Hyperion and Iapetus.A rain of meteoroids from outside the system appears to have turned some parts of the main ring system -- notably the part of the main rings known as the B ring -- a subtle reddish hue. Scientists think the reddish color could be oxidized iron -- rust -- or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which could be progenitors of more complex organic molecules.One of the big surprises from this research was the similar reddish coloring of the potato-shaped moon Prometheus and nearby ring particles. Other moons in the area were more whitish."The similar reddish tint suggests that Prometheus is constructed from material in Saturn's rings," said co-author Bonnie Buratti, a VIMS team member based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Scientists had been wondering whether ring particles could have stuck together to form moons -- since the dominant theory was that the rings basically came from satellites being broken up. The coloring gives us some solid proof that it can work the other way around, too."
"Observing the rings and moons with Cassini gives us an amazing bird's-eye view of the intricate processes at work in the Saturn system, and perhaps in the evolution of planetary systems as well," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, based at JPL. "What an object looks like and how it evolves depends a lot on location, location, location."
6) Pinning Down the Pain: Schwann Cell Protein Plays Major Role in Neuropathic Pain:
|Pinning Down the Pain: Schwann Cell Protein Plays Major Role in Neuropathic Pain:|
An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, says a key protein in Schwann cells performs a critical, perhaps overarching, role in regulating the recovery of peripheral nerves after injury. The discovery has implications for improving the treatment of neuropathic pain, a complex and largely mysterious form of chronic pain that afflicts over 100 million Americans.
The findings are published in the March 27, 2013 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.Neuropathic pain occurs when peripheral nerve fibers (those outside of the brain and spinal cord) are damaged or dysfunctional, resulting in incorrect signals sent to the brain. Perceived pain sensations are frequently likened to ongoing burning, coldness or "pins and needles." The phenomenon also involves changes to nerve function at both the injury site and surrounding tissues.Not surprisingly, much of the effort to explain the causes and mechanisms of neuropathic pain has focused upon peripheral nerve cells themselves. The new study by principal investigator Wendy Campana, PhD, associate professor in UC San Diego's Department of Anesthesiology, with colleagues at UC San Diego and in Japan, Italy and New York, points to a surprisingly critical role for Schwann cells -- a type of glial support cell.Schwann cells promote the growth and survival of neurons by releasing molecules called trophic factors, and by supplying the myelin used to sheathe neuronal axons. Myelination of axons helps increase the speed and efficacy of neural impulses, much as plastic insulation does with electrical wiring."When Schwann cells are deficient they can't perform these functions," said Campana. "Impaired neurons remain impaired and acute damage may transition to become chronic damage, which can mean lasting neuropathic pain for which there is currently no effective treatment."
Specifically, the scientists investigated a protein called LRP1, which Campana and colleagues had first identified in 2008 as a potential basis for new pain-relieving drugs due to its signal-blocking, anti-inflammatory effects.The researchers found that mice genetically engineered to lack the gene that produces LRP1 in Schwann cells suffered from abnormalities in axon myelination and in Remak bundles -- multiple non-myelinated pain transmitting axons grouped together by Schwann cells. In both cases, one result was neuropathic pain, even in the absence of an actual injury.Moreover, injured mice lacking the LRP1 gene showed accelerated cell death and poor neural repair compared to controls, again resulting in significantly increased and sustained neuropathic pain and loss of motor function."LRP1 helps mediate normal interactions between Schwann cells and axons and, when peripheral nerves have been injured, plays a critical role in regulating the steps that lead to eventual nerve regeneration," said Campana. "When LRP1 is deficient, defects and problems become worse. They may go from acute to chronic, with increasing levels of pain."Campana and others are now pursuing development of a small molecule drug that can mimic LRP1, binding to receptors in Schwann cells to improve their health and ability to repair damaged nerve cells. "By targeting Schwann cells and LRP1, I think we can improve cells' response to injury, including reducing or eliminating chronic neuropathic pain.
Movies Release This Week:
1) G.I. Joe Retaliation:
|G.I. Joe Retaliation|
The G.I. Joes are not only fighting their mortal enemy Cobra; they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardize their very existence.
2) The Place Beyond the Pines:
|The Place Beyond the Pines|
The daring new movie from the director of Blue Valentine, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is a sweeping emotional drama powerfully exploring the unbreakable bond between fathers and sons.
Luke (Academy Award nominee Ryan Gosling) is in constant motion, a high-wire motorcycle stunt performer who travels from town to town with the carnival. Passing through Schenectady in upstate New York, he tries to reconnect with a former lover, Romina (Eva Mendes), only to learn that she has in his absence given birth to their son Jason. Luke resolves to forsake life on the road and to provide for his newfound family, taking a job as car mechanic with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). Robin soon discovers Luke's special talents, and proposes to partner with him in a string of spectacular bank robberies. But it is only a matter of time before Luke will run up against the law - which comes in the form of Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
Avery is an ambitious rookie cop navigating a local police department ruled by the menacingly corrupt detective Deluca (Ray Liotta). When Avery, just beginning to balance his profession and his family life with wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne) and their infant son AJ, confronts Luke, the full consequences will reverberate into the next generation. It is then that the two sons, Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen), must face their fateful, shared legacy.
3) The Host:
A riveting story about the survival of love and the human spirit in a time of war. Our world has been invaded by an unseen enemy. Humans become hosts for these invaders, their minds taken over while their bodies remain intact. Most of humanity has succumbed.
4) Family Weekend:
Follows 16-year-old Emily Smith-Dungy (Olesya Rulin) an incredibly motivated, overachiever, who has grown increasingly frustrated with her parents’ lack of support and guidance. Her mom, Samantha (Kristen Chenoweth), is a career-focused, no-nonsense high powered business executive. Her dad, Duncan (Matthew Modine), is a happy go-lucky artist who can’t be bothered to earn a paycheck. When they missed their daughter’s big jump-roping competition, Emily hits her breaking point and takes it upon herself to restore order in the home. With the help of her siblings, they unite and take their parents hostage in hopes to become a “family” again.
5) The Revolutionary Optimists:
|The Revolutionary Optimists|
Children are saving lives in the slums of Kolkata. Amlan Ganguly doesn't rescue slum children; he empowers them to become change agents, battling poverty and transforming their neighborhoods with dramatic results. Filmed over the course of three years, The Revolutionary Optimists follows Amlan and three of the children he works with on an intimate journey through adolescence, as they challenge the idea that marginalization is written into their destiny.
6) The Secret Village:
|The Secret Village|
"The Secret Village" is a psychological thriller that follows Greg, (Jonathan Bennett) an unsuccessful screenwriter and Rachel, (Ali Faulkner) a beautiful journalist as they research an outbreak of mass hysteria in a small village. They rent a house together and start to uncover a secret about ergot poisoning that has affected this village for years. But the cult activity has been kept a secret by the locals (Stelio Savante and Richard Riehle) and when Greg disappears, Rachel is left alone to unravel the mystery and save their lives.
Political News This Week:
1) BSP leader Deepak Bhardwaj's killers identified, say Delhi Police
|BSP leader Deepak Bhardwaj's killers identified, say Delhi Police|
Delhi Police on Friday said that they have identified the two men involved in the murder of realtor and former Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Deepak Bharadwaj.
The shooters were Sunil and Purushottam alias Monu, police said."We recovered a Skoda car which was used by the duo during the incident. It was recovered from outer Delhi yesterday (Thursday)," a police officer told IANS.He added that the car owner, Rakesh, has been taken into police custody. The car has been impounded.
"During interrogation Rakesh said that he got Rs.8 lakh from Sunil to buy a car. Rakesh also identified both the shooters from the CCTV footage," police said."No arrests have been made so far," the officer added.Bharadwaj, the richest candidate in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls from Delhi with declared assets of over Rs.600 crore, was shot dead March 26 around 9 am by unidentified men in his south Delhi's 35-acre farmhouse in Rajokri.
The two suspected killers and an accomplice fled in a Skoda that sported a fake registration number.A post-mortem examination report revealed Bharadwaj had been shot in his head and chest.The killers entered the farmhouse on the pretext of meeting Bharadwaj to book a marriage venue in the farmhouse complex.
2) Chidambaram, Akhilesh talk business over coffee and idli:
|Chidambaram, Akhilesh talk business over coffee and idli:|
Over cups of steaming coffee, idli and sambhar, union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav Friday talked business as speculation mounted over the future of the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress equation.The meeting comes amid speculation that the SP and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) are headed for a split.Officials privy to the meeting told IANS that Chidambaram headed here after a brief break in New Delhi on way back from Sharjah, and that the two discussed "everything but politics" over the carefully chosen snacks, ordered specially to tickle the south Indian taste buds of the visiting union minister.The meeting started at 8.50 a.m. and went on till 9.30 a.m. with officials from both sides discussing ways to develop the state and assist in the progress of Uttar Pradesh.
While the chief minister apprised the finance minister of the delay in releasing funds for a number of centrally aided projects, Chidambaram assured Akhilesh Yadav that he would go back to Delhi and revert within a fortnight on the issues raised."The FM was very reassuring on our demands and underlined that the union government was committed to development of the state," said a senior official present at the meeting.Uttar Pradesh has large financial needs, Chidambaram is believed to have told chief minister, who put forth several demands. "I will look into them and get back within a few weeks," the official quoted Chidambaram as telling Akhilesh Yadav.Chidambaram also lauded the chief minister for "starting his tenure well".
Akhilesh Yadav, it is learnt, asked the finance minister to expedite release of pending payments on central aided projects and sought the "speeding up of procedural clearances on the $3.5 billion assistance the state has sought from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other external agencies".There are 24 central aided projects of more than Rs.150 crore investment in Uttar Pradesh in sectors like petroleum, power, telecom and road transport. The annual plan outlay of the state, the finance minister told chief minister, had been growing steadily - from Rs.39,000 crore in 2009 to Rs.57,800 crore in 2012.The finance minister also complimented the officials of the state for succeeding in opening up 300 branches in the state in just three months.
Later, inaugurating 300 new bank branches in the state at a function, Chidambaram used the occasion to assure "SP president Netaji (Mulayam Singh Yadav)" that the UPA was committed to the development of the state.While referring to backward states in the country, he said he did not favour any special status to any particular state and wanted all of India to grow. But he also said that "without development of UP, progress and development of India was not possible".
The finance minister was later closeted with senior Congress leader Pramod Tiwari and select Congress leaders at his suite in the hotel.Sources said the state Congress leadership apprised Chidambaram of "political developments" related to the growing demand in the SP to sever its ties with the UPA.
SP general secretary Ram Asrey Kushwaha Friday said the Lok Sabha polls could be held in 2013.Party chief Mulayam Singh and his son Akhilesh Yadav have already dropped ample signals that their nine-year relationship with the Congress had touched rock bottom, indicating that they were ready for snapping of ties.
The SP's 22-MP support is crucial for the survival of the Manmohan Singh-led government that has seen the Trinamool Congress and the DMK withdrawing support.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hinted that the SP might pull the rug from under the feet of the UPA but asserted that his government would complete its term.
3) Early polls inevitable, says BJP:
|Early polls inevitable, says BJP:|
Early polls are inevitable, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said Friday, dismissing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's assertion that the government would complete its five-year tenure."...The government will not last its full term and and mid-term elections seem to be inevitable," BJP leader Balbir Punj said Friday.
"Irrespective of what Dr. Manmohan Singh says, there is an atmosphere of instability around the government... That is why you have this speculation about mid-term elections," Punj told reporters."This government has lost its mandate to rule the people long back and now its numbers in Lok Sabha are also low. The country is passing through a phase of social and political instability," he said.
The BJP's comment comes a day after Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said at a party meeting that the Lok Sabha polls were likely around November.However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday night said he was confident that the government would complete its term, which comes to an end next year around May.Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi reiterated the prime minister's statement to reporters on his way back from Durban.
"Our government is very stable," Alvi told IANS, adding that elections would be held on time in 2014.
Asked about Mulayam Singh's comments, he said: "It may be his own opinion but it is our considered opinion that elections will be held at the right time."
The government has been in a tight spot after Trinamool Congress pulled out of the United Progressive Alliance and withdrew support to government last year. The trouble only increased when the DMK announced it withdrawal from the UPA over the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils.The government is at present dependent on outside support of the Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj Party for its survival.The government has also dismissed the idea of formation of a Third Front. Congress leader Manish Tewari Thursday called the idea of Third Front an "enduring mirage" of Indian politics.
4) All India Motor Transport Congress calls off nationwide strike:
|All India Motor Transport Congress calls off nationwide strike|
The All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) has called off the proposed strike after its representatives met the Secretary, Road Transport and Highways here today.All India Motor Transport Congress has given call to suspend operations of goods transport and transportation services with effect from the midnight of April 1 demanding that various issues affecting transport community are resolved by March 30.Road Transport and Highways Secretary Vijay Chhibber during the meeting assured that ministry appreciates the requests of AIMTC and will take steps to facilitate resolution of issues.
All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), an apex body of transporters (both cargo and passenger) represent approximately 75 lac truckers and transporters and about 40 lac buses and tour operators.AIMTC claims that whole transport industry is hit by high input costs and deep recession resulting in huge economic viability gap. AIMTC has forwarded list of demands to the RTH Ministry for immediate redressal.The demands of AIMTC include -Immediate withdrawal of unilateral hike of Third Party Insurance Premium (TPP) for Goods Vehicles with effect from April 1, Reconstitution of Committee for any TPP tariff revision, with AIMTC as its member; Immediate implementation of Toll Permit in line with the National Permit; Replacement of the monthly increase of Diesel prices with half yearly increase; demand for uniformity of diesel prices across the country; Fixation of minimum freight rates for Road Transport Sector; National Permit for buses on lines of Goods Vehicles; Action against States indulging in illegal Entry Tax/Mechanical Tax; Sales Tax/Commercial Tax issues, onus of any Sales Tax issues to be on consignor /trader, trucks not to be detained anywhere in the country; Centralisation of RC books; Standardisation of documents to be done across country; Removal of Anti-Dumping Duty on import of tyres; The reservation of the Road Transport Sector on Carriage by Road Act/Rules to be addressed immediately and Industry status for Road Transport Sector
5) Ruckus in Himachal assembly over Congress leader's arrest:
|Ruckus in Himachal assembly over Congress leader's arrest:|
The Himachal Pradesh assembly Friday witnessed a ruckus over the arrest of a loyalist of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, with the opposition BJP demanding his removal from the chairmanship of a state-run board.As the house assembled in the morning, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Ravinder Ravi inquired about the party's calling attention notice over the arrest of HP Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board chairman Hardeep Bawa under the Arms Act.
Ravi said it was a serious matter that a chairman of a board was in judicial custody of the Haryana Police for over 48 hours now and the government has not taken any action against him.
He demanded that the government should remove Bawa from the post immediately.The chief minister, who gave a statement after Question Hour, said the government had still not received any official information from Haryana Police about Bawa."We have sought a report from the Haryana Police. We will wait and see," he added."It's an old case. Bawa received summons recently and then surrendered before the first class judicial magistrate in Kalka March 26. He is in judicial custody as per court orders," he said.Virbhadra Singh said media reports mentioning that Bawa was enjoying the status of a state minister were wrong.
Sports News This Week:
|IPL pulls Sri Lanka players out of Chennai|
1) IPL pulls Sri Lanka players out of Chennai:
The IPL 2013 matches in Chennai will not feature any Sri Lankan cricketers or match officials, the league's governing council said after a meeting on Tuesday. It said the decision was taken keeping in mind security concerns in Chennai.
"The security of all involved in the IPL, whether players, spectators or those working in the stadiums, is of paramount importance to the BCCI," the statement said. "The governing council decided that Sri Lankan players will not participate in the IPL 2013 league matches in Chennai and will advise the nine franchises accordingly."The decision followed growing political tensions, stemming from the treatment of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka and capped by a letter written on Tuesday by the Tamil Nadu state government to the prime minister asking for a ban on Sri Lankan involvement in the Chennai leg of the IPL.
The letter, written by the chief minister J Jayalalitha, was unequivocal in its stand. "In such a hostile and tense environment, we apprehend that the participation of Sri Lankan players in the IPL tournament, with many games to be played in Chennai, will aggravate an already surcharged atmosphere and further offend the sentiments of the people."Earlier this month the DMK, the main opposition party in Tamil Nadu and a key ally of the federal government, pulled out of the ruling coalition at the centre asking for sterner measures to redress alleged atrocities towards Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) said it was monitoring the developments in India closely and was waiting for a travel advisory from the Sri Lankan government. "If there is a secondary threat to a player in a particular area then we will wait for the government's advice," Nishantha Ranatunga, the SLC secretary, told ESPNcricinfo. "We have written to Ministry of Foreign Affairs through our Minister of Sport to get feedback on our players' safety."
The "ban" will affect Chennai Super Kings, who play all their eight home matches in Chennai; however, their Sri Lankan contingent consists of only two fringe players, Nuwan Kulasekara and Akila Dananjaya. Franchises that will be significantly hit, at least for the lone game they play in Chennai in the league phase, include Mumbai Indians (Lasith Malinga), Delhi Daredevils (Mahela Jayawardene), Sunrisers Hyderabad (Kumar Sangakkara) and Pune Warriors (Angelo Mathews). Chennai also hosts some of the knockout matches, where these players would be crucial if their teams make it that far.
"We were first told by the IPL authorities about the problem in Tamil Nadu around a fortnight ago," a franchise official said. "And after due consultations, almost all the franchises are happy losing one or two of their players for one game rather than the whole tournament."It is not yet clear whether Super Kings will decide to withdraw their Sri Lankan players for the season but if so, the players will be compensated with their contract fees for the entire season.
2) India complete 4-0 whitewash of Australia with six-wicket win on day four:
|India complete 4-0 whitewash of Australia with six-wicket win on day four|
India 272 & 158/4 (31.2 ov) bt Australia 262 & 164 by 6 wickets. India wrapped up a series whitewash over Australia by securing a six-wicket win on day three of the fourth Test in Delhi.Cheteshwar Pujara's unbeaten 82 saw the hosts comfortably home with 158 for four after skittling their beleaguered opponents for 164 in their second innings.Ravindra Jadeja took five for 58 to do most of the damage, with only tail-ender Peter Siddle offering any resistance with 50 - his first Test half-century - as Australia's batsmen undid all the good work achieved yesterday and first thing this morning by Nathan Lyon.
The chase always looked well within India's grasp and was achieved with room to spare, despite two more wickets for Lyon, who finished with nine for the match.
That was all after things had looked to be going Australia's way at the start of the day as India added only six runs to their overnight total.
A brilliant spell of spin bowling from Lyon yesterday dragged Australia back into contention and the 25-year-old off-spinner did not take long to re-find his rhythm.
Resuming on 266 for eight - having bowled out the tourists for 262 - the Indian tail had hardly settled before Lyon completed a career-best haul of seven for 94 by snaring the final two wickets with the first two balls of his first full over.He first drew Ishant Sharma into a shot with a good delivery from around the wicket that found the gap between bat and pad and hit leg stump, and then trapped Pragyan Ojha plumb lbw with one which straightened after pitching on middle.
The renewed hope Australia may have harboured heading into the second innings with only a 10-run deficit swiftly diminished soon after they went out to bat again, however.Glenn Maxwell opened the batting in place of Ed Cowan, but perished in the fifth over. The Victorian outside-edged a good-length delivery from Jadeja on to his off stump and departed for eight.
Opening partner David Warner followed suit - also for eight - from the first ball of Jadeja's next over, trapped plumb in front of his middle stump.Phil Hughes (six) also succumbed to spin, coming forward to defend one from Ravichandran Ashwin and being undone by the turn.Captain Shane Watson, leading the side in the absence of the injured Michael Clarke, contributed five before having his middle stump dislodged by Ojha, and the departure of Cowan (24) - batting at number three - lbw playing across the line to Jadeja next over left Australia reeling on 53 for five.
Steve Smith and Matthew Wade set about steadying the ship for the visitors and reached lunch on 89 for five.
Neither man managed to get to 20, though.Smith was bowled between bat and pad by Jadeja, with Mitchell Johnson following for a duck with his very next ball.
Australia were now 94 for seven, but pace bowler Siddle proved an unlikely source of resistance.Ojha did for Wade for 19 and Sharma for James Pattinson for 11, but Siddle battled his way to a 45-ball 50 before he was stumped by Mahendra Singh Dhoni as he came down the track to Ashwin.Australia needed their attack to fire to have any chance to rescuing the situation and, although Maxwell bowled Murali Vijay for 11, Pujara and Virat Kohli put India brought India to the verge of victory.
Kohli fell lbw to Lyon for 41 and the spinner also trapped Sachin Tendulkar for one, but Pujara continued to add runs at the other end and, partnered by Dhoni, guided his side home.