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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Subhaditya News Channel Presents Science,Movie, Political,Sports And Book News This Week (76)

Science News This Week:

Science News

1) Kleptoplast:

A cellular part such as a light-harvesting chloroplast that an organism takes from algae it has eaten. Some sea slugs hold on to these stolen chloroplasts for months. Scientists thought the slugs might get extra food from the photosynthetic organelles 

But now it appears that two of the four species known to steal chloroplasts don’t use them. The slugs lack genes needed to help chloroplasts function, and without food they starve at the same rate in the light as in the dark, where the chloroplasts can’t work, researchers report November 20 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

2) Subsituting Bone With Synthetic Materials:

When Lucia Téllez Jurado and her research team at the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) were working in the synthesis of diverse materials, they realized that the Hydroxylapatite, medullar component of the bone, when obtained synthetically and "giving" it some characteristics, could be used as a bone substitute. "We are in an early stage of research where we design materials and test compounds, for example the Hydroxylapatite, when obtained synthetically it conserves its properties and could work as a bone substitute because, according to our studies, doesn't cause toxicity in the human body."Téllez Jurado, from the Laboratory of Heavy Materials of Metallurgic Engineer at the Superior School of Chemical Engineering and Extractive Industries (ESIQUE) of the IPN, indicates that the material has been synthetized and small powder has been obtained (nanometrics); with it molds would be made that could turn out fragile, for which it would be necessary to add other substances giving them mechanical resistance.
Hydroxylapatite obtained synthetically is a fragile "ceramic." Collagen and organic matter are what give resistance to bones. That is why the polytechnic research aims to process this material along with others to give it strength.

The work at IPN is looking for a material with optimal properties that could be applied on a large bone like the femur or fingers. However, the materials -depending on their properties- can be destined to other body parts."We are interested in obtaining a material that complies with mechanical characteristics so it can be implanted or used as a substitute for a broken bone when no other option is available."The proposal of the IPN is to create a material than could be reabsorbed, generates bone and the rest could be degraded by the human body.Is important to highlight that Hydroxylapatite is a widely studied material, employed as a biomaterial and can be obtained from animal skeletons or synthetically. Another of its applications is as a filter for heavy metals.Téllez Jurado concludes with the idea of finding the best material to substitute or cover broken bone. "We are going to test several materials, checking their mechanical compositions so it has the required characteristics and works in humans. If someone has a fracture the technology must be applied without causing further damage."

3) Microscopic menagerie:

New view of microbes forces rethinking of what it means to be an organism. What is a wasp?” might seem like an overly simple question for a Ph.D. biologist to be asking. “What is a human?” Even more so.But these are strange times in the life sciences. Seth Bordenstein of Vanderbilt University in Nashville now embraces the notion that each wasp he studies, each squirrel darting around campus — not to mention himself, every reader of science magazines and every other representative of see-it-without-a-microscope life on Earth — is really a blend of one big organism and a lot of little ones.In recent years, research has shown that what people commonly think of as “their” bodies contain roughly 10 microbial cells for each genetically human one. The microbial mass in and on a person may amount to just a few pounds, but in terms of genetic diversity these fellow travelers overwhelm their hosts, with 400 genes for every human one. And a decent share of the metabolites sluicing through human veins originates from some microbe. By these measures, humanity is microbial.

But numbers are just the beginning.GUT BUSTER Tsetse flies must be infected during gestation with a particular bacterium in order to develop a normal gut lining (top). Lab-raised larvae that were bacteria-free developed faulty guts (bottom) and weak immune systems that made them much more vulnerable to infection by the parasite that causes sleeping sickness.the evolutionary impact of animals’ microbial denizens can be substantial. Adult wasps of the genus Nasonia are only about 30 percent microbial, Bordenstein estimates. But those microbes keep two species apart that could otherwise interbreed.Some researchers think of these microbes as just another part of a plant or animal’s environment, like a mountain range that keeps two related species separate. But, with a squint and a slap to the worldview, researchers like Bordenstein are exploring whether a body’s microbes are so intimate that they’re part of the organism itself. Or, if you prefer, the metaorganism.

“Ecosystem” is the word that 26 scientists used in a call for new thinking about animal-bacteria interactions that was published in February by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The recent accumulation of knowledge about bacteria vis à vis their animal hosts “is fundamentally altering our understanding of animal biology,” the group declared.Why would biologists get so excited about teeming microorganisms now? Even someone who missed the earliest fiddling with magnifying lenses has had 330 years to catch up on volume 14 of the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions, wherein merchant microscopist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek reported “to my great surprise,” that watered-down scrapings from his teeth revealed “very many small living Animals, which moved themselves very extravagantly.”For more than three centuries after van Leeuwenhoek’s discovery, anyone interested in studying the microbial world was limited by the frustrations of “growing fuzzy things in Petri dishes,” as Corrie Moreau of the Field Museum in Chicago puts it. A fascinating microorganism might thrive in the gills of deep-ocean clams, in groundwater seeping through porous rock or in the gonads of mosquitoes. But if you couldn’t culture it in a lab dish you had no way of knowing about it. Even with clever technical advances, an estimated 99 percent of microbial life can’t be cultured, Moreau says. And what does grow may be misleading. A marginal freak may look like the dominant member of a community only because it’s the one that flourishes in the lab.Recent genomic innovations have changed all that. In the last few years, automated systems have been developed to quickly and affordably determine the genetic signatures of thousands of individual microbes in a sample.What a world the new technology reveals: In just 19 samples from four colonies of turtle ants, Moreau says, 445 kinds of bacteria showed up that cultures and clunkier genetic techniques had missed. Eight kinds of bacteria consistently show up in the guts of honeybees and a few other bees, but so far, nowhere else. Bedbugs need Wolbachia bacteria inside their cells to survive.And bacteria may at last explain how the giant panda, a bamboo-eating member of the mammalian order Carnivora without a grass-grazer’s capacious fermenting gut or specialist digestive enzymes, can live on 12.5 kilograms of highly fibrous plant material a day. The bear’s puzzling digestive system turns out to gurgle with bacteria that apparently belong to groups that include competent digesters of cellulose.

Born with it
Bacteria start shaping their hosts’ lives right from the beginning. In tsetse flies, for example, inheriting genes from mom isn’t enough; larvae that don’t also inherit the right kind of bacteria don’t grow properly.The way tsetse flies start their lives “is eerily similar to what happens in mammals,” says Brian L. Weiss of Yale University. In most insects, “the female will just lay a bunch of eggs and fly away.” Tsetse females, however, gestate one fertilized egg at a time inside what amounts to a uterus. Glands inside the uterus produce a white milklike liquid rich in fats and proteins. After suckling for its first three larval stages, the youngster weighs about as much as its mother. Then she gives birth.

Gorging on mother’s milk doses the infant with a Wigglesworthia bacterium, which Weiss describes as looking like a hot dog. Wigglesworthia can live only inside a tsetse fly, and flies deprived of it don’t give birth.Weiss was able to deduce what Wigglesworthia does in development by dosing moms with B vitamins to artificially keep their bacteria-free larvae alive. The larvae grew up but never formed a decent immune system. Flies deprived of bacteria as larvae also failed to form a real gut lining, Weiss and his colleagues reported in April in PLOS Pathogens.A faulty gut lining in a tsetse fly is a serious problem, and not just for the flies. Even though they’re famous for spreading the trypanosome parasite that causes sleeping sickness, only 1 to 5 percent of normal tsetse flies become carriers when feeding on infected blood. With faulty guts, though, more than 50 percent of bacterially starved, skimpy-gut flies turn into carriers.Other studies have turned up similar examples of microbial power in animal development. Females of the parasitic wasp Asobara tabida need a Wolbachia bacterial strain in order to form wasp eggs. Developing mice can’t form normal capillaries in their guts without a standard set of microbes being present. And young lab mice may even need their gut bacteria for proper brain development, a research team in Sweden reported in 2011. Mice raised without normal gut microbes were unusually active and bold in tests, as if their brains weren’t wired the same way as those of regular shadow-loving, skittish mice. Returning gut bacteria to germfree mice re-created normal caution in their offspring. But it failed in adults with brains that were already mature.

Moms of a variety of species appear to microbially prep their young, says Bordenstein. Vesicomyid clams that need microbial help to survive at deep-sea vents, some sponges and cockroaches release eggs already loaded with bacteria. When stinkbugs lay eggs, the capsules get smeared with mom’s bacteria-rich excrement. When the youngsters hatch, they gobble the egg case, smear and all.Reports of mother-to-child bacterial transmission appear to be so widespread among animals, Bordenstein argues, that it’s time to consider them the norm. He and Vanderbilt colleague Lisa Funkhouser published a manifesto in August in PLOS Biology calling for an end to “the sterile-womb paradigm.”

Bacterial billboards
Other paradigms are drawing strength from microbiologists’ recently developed ability to genetically probe bacterial communities. Since the mid-1970s, biologists have suspected that in many mammals a microbial community ferments various sweats, oozes and excretions into distinctive scents that reveal age, health and much more to knowing noses in a select social circle.The notion sounds plausible, but attempts to test it have stalled for years. Culturing bacteria from various mammal scent glands has generally yielded only one or two, or sometimes five, kinds. This paltry haul seemed too limited to convey all the information that biologists think is wafting around.
With modern genetic tools to identify bacteria, Kevin Theis of Michigan State University in East Lansing and his colleagues are revisiting the classic hypothesis of messaging by fermentation. His scent-marking research subjects are spotted and striped hyenas.

“Pretty robust,” is how Theis rates the funk wafting off hyena scent marks. Both species evert a pouch just under the tail and dab a pungent paste produced by sebaceous glands onto a grass stem or other convenient landmark. The paste smells to Theis like pine mulch fermenting after a rain. It could encode territorial information as well as olfactory gossip such as who’s growing eager for a mate, already pregnant or perhaps ill.Hyenas have a lot to smear and sniff about. Spotted hyenas live in hierarchical clans of dozens of animals. “It’s like watching a soap opera,” says Theis. Striped hyenas spend more time alone and form smaller groups, but still need to keep up with their kind while they forage, rest and travel.So far, Theis says, he’s found more bacterial genera just in the scent paste of adult female spotted hyenas than researchers had discovered in 15 earlier studies of any mammalian scent gland.The blends of stinky volatile compounds that striped and spotted hyenas use to communicate are distinct enough that biologists can distinguish the two species by their scent marks. And, as would be predicted if microbes were making the scents, the two species likewise have distinctive microbial communities that align with those scent differences, Theis and his colleagues report November 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The link between odor difference and community difference supports a main pillar of the hypothesis that the microbes are the message.The researchers also detected some patterns within species suggesting that the communities shifted with events such as pregnancy. This paper marks the closest anyone has come to demonstrating the whole fermented-message idea, Theis says.

Choice microbes
Microbial residents do more than broadcast scented status updates. Bacteria also appear to steer their hosts away from some mates.One startling example, described in 2010, grew out of a peculiar side effect of rearing fruit flies on different diets. In earlier experiments, researchers had noticed that lineages of fruit flies fed for 25 generations on different diets became less likely to mate with each other.Follow-up tests at Tel Aviv University found that Drosophila melanogaster flies rejected opposite-diet flies as potential mates after just one generation of eating molasses rather than starch. At Tel Aviv, Eugene Rosenberg and Ilana Zilber­Rosenberg had been formulating ideas on the importance of what they called the holo­genome, the sum of genetic information in a host species and its microbial residents. To test this comprehensive view of the fruit fly, researchers fed the flies antibiotics to kill the insects’ microbial communities. Without microbial influence, the lineages took to mating with each other again.Inoculating reconciled fly lineages with different microbial communities resurrected the mating barrier. What made the difference, researchers proposed, were diet-based shifts in gut microbes that in turn influenced sex pheromones.

Observing a microbial effect on mate choice makes it sensible to ask a very big question: Could these teeming microscopic masses control the evolutionary fate of whole species?

In jewel wasps, for example, a genetic barrier that keeps two species apart turns out to have a previously overlooked microbial aspect Bordenstein and Vanderbilt colleague Robert Brucker reported in the Aug. 9 Science.

Two kinds of jewel wasp, Nasonia giraulti and Nasonia vitripennis, split off from a common ancestor about a million years ago. If the two species happen to mate now, the second-generation male larvae develop a dark splotch and die. Geneticists have traced this lethal incompatibility in detail, finding genetic differences between the species that appear to influence hybrid survival.To test for a possible missing microbial something, Brucker dosed doomed hybrids with an antibiotic. Their resident microbes died, but many of the hybrid wasps lived. A mismatch between their parents’ differing microbes and their genes seemed to be killing hybrids.As a further test, Brucker gave the unexpectedly alive germfree hybrids some of the gut bacteria that hybrids normally have. No longer germ-free, the hybrids died.The experiment supports Bordenstein’s view that evolutionary forces act not just on an animal’s DNA but on the sum of its own genome and those of its microbial residents. Of course microbes matter, says Tadashi Fukami of Stanford University. But he isn’t ready to declare them and their hosts a single evolutionary entity. He studies the microbial communities living in flowers’ nectar, and applauds increased attention to microbial influences. Yet he says that he would expect the hologenome theory of evolution to apply only in specialized, albeit interesting, cases. The discussion reminds him of debates over what’s called group selection. The idea that evolution acts on groups of organisms caused excitement and controversy when first proposed. But now Fukami and a fair number of other evolutionary biologists don’t find many cases in which it applies.

Still, appreciating microbes’ evolutionary significance could upend some fundamental ideas taught in introductory biology, says developmental biologist Scott Gilbert of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Learning that a normal set of mouse genes isn’t sufficient to grow a healthy mouse body “set off all kinds of gongs and whistles,” he remembers. “All this stuff about ‘you are who you are depending on your nuclear genes’ was demonstrably not true,” he says, if microbes living symbiotically in the body amount to a second mode of inheritance.He’s embracing the idea of animals as composite beings. On occasion he finishes scientific presentations with a closing PowerPoint slide that credits the talk not to him alone, but to “Team Scott Gilbert.”

4) New Species of Marine Algae Identified:

The species that historically was quoted as the most abundant of coral algae that forms rodoliths at the Gulf of California in Mexico, is in reality a compound of five different species. This finding was made by Jazmín Hernández Kantun, marine biologist at the Autonomous University of South Baja California (UABCS), resulting in a change of paradigm in the study of the species known as Lithophyllum margaritae.

In fact, this Mexican research has reached Europe, where Hernández Kantun continues the project and her studies at Ireland's National University with the support of the Mexican National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt).According with the Mexican researcher, the objective now is to determine the number of species of coral algae in Europe and Mexico trough molecular tests."Coral algae in Mexico and through out the world are usually identified only by their shape and color. However, is necessary to investigate the species in depth, given that bigger biodiversity exists in this organism than previously thought" said the researcher.
About the importance of her discoveries, the researcher exposed that since 1992 the Habitats Directive of the European Union protects two rodoliths forming species: Lithothamnion corallioides and Phymatolithon calcareum; considering them the most abundant and important, giving them relevance as a marine ecosystem and using them as rich mineral fertilizers.

The specialist found that at least other two species: L. glaciale and L. tophiforme, should be considered in the protected group having the same characteristics.
The environmental value of coral algae lies in the fact that when detached during tides and accumulate in specific areas, they form mantles of rodoliths which are rich in calcium and used by corals, clams, larvae and mollusks as "foundation" to start their development.
However, global warming is changing the natural chemistry of ocean ecosystems, increasing the absorption of carbon dioxide and modifying its acidification levels (pH).
Hernández Kantun warned that the acidification could remove the mantles of rodoliths from the ecosystem, directly affecting the mollusks, corals and any other organism found in them.The marine biologist insisted that the coral's biological diversity must be considered. She assured that the negative effects of climate change and the level of repercussion that come with them are different for each species."A lot of research is missing in this field, we haven't quite understood the diversity of this algae, is like saying that all dogs are alike when each breed has different genetics and response to environmental factors. Is not the same to protect one than five different species!" she highlighted.After four years of studying for her PhD in Ireland and collaborating with researchers from the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Italy, Jazmín Hernández Kantun is waiting for her grade exam to return to Mexico where she plans to found a laboratory to continue with her research and use it for the conservation of this marine organisms.

5) Building a Better Malaria Vaccine: Mixing the Right Cocktail:

A safe and effective malaria vaccine is high on the wish list of most people concerned with global health. Results published on December 26 in PLOS Pathogens suggest how a leading vaccine candidate could be vastly improved. The study, led by Sheetij Dutta, from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, USA, and colleagues, focused on a protein called AMA1 needed by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite to invade blood cells and cause disease. Study results suggest that a cocktail of AMA1 proteins from only a few different strains can overcome major limitations of an earlier designed version of AMA1-based vaccines.

The challenge with the malaria parasite in general and its AMA1 surface protein in particular is that both exist as multiple strains. Using AMA1 in a vaccine readies the human immune system for subsequent encounters with the parasite, but when such a vaccine was previously tested in humans, it was effective mostly against one particular P. falciparum strain. To explore the potential for a more broadly protective vaccine, the scientists tested different cocktails of AMA1 from different parasite strains for their ability to elicit a diverse range of antibodies that are active in parasite inhibition assays. They confirmed that a cocktail of AMA1 proteins from three different parasite strains was better than one or two, and one they call Quadvax, which contained AMA1 proteins derived from four different strains, led to an antibody response that was broader than the sum of strain-specific antibodies elicited by the four individual strains. Moreover, Quadvax-elicited antibodies inhibited a range of parasites, including many strains that were different from those in the Quadvax mix. In different laboratory tests, Quadvax-induced antibodies inhibited the growth of 26 different parasite strains, and the scientists suggest that "the combination of four AMA1 variants in Quadvax may be sufficient to overcome global AMA1 diversity."Besides varying a lot from strain to strain, AMA1 also contains less variable (conserved) exposed parts (so-called epitopes) on its surface. The researchers found that vaccination with Quadvax yielded not only antibodies against the variable epitopes, but also against more conserved epitopes of the AMA1 protein. Such antibodies were not seen when using individual strains for immunization, but Quadvax appeared to enhance the immunogenicity -- the ability to provoke an antibody response -- of these conserved parts of the protein. Since the epitopes are identical across strains, the resulting antibodies are broadly active rather than strain-specific.The scientists conclude "we had set out to study broadening of antibody responses achieved by mixing AMA1 proteins and were surprised and delighted to find not only greater variety of strain-specific antibodies but also increased antibodies against conserved epitopes were induced by the Quadvax. Perhaps even more exciting, when mixed, combinations of these antibodies were synergistic in their broad inhibition of many parasite strains. Novel conserved epitopes described here can be targets for further improvement of the vaccine. Most importantly, our data strongly supports continued efforts to develop a blood stage vaccine against malaria."In spite of the extreme variability, a vaccine containing only a few diverse AMA1 strains, the scientists hope, could provide universal coverage by redirecting the immune response towards conserved epitopes. The next steps will be to test human-use formulations of Quadvax in primate models and in a human blood-stage challenge model.

6) How Emotions Are Mapped in the Body:

Researchers found that the most common emotions trigger strong bodily sensations, and the bodily maps of these sensations were topographically different for different emotions. The sensation patterns were, however, consistent across different West European and East Asian cultures, highlighting that emotions and their corresponding bodily sensation patterns have a biological basis."Emotions adjust not only our mental, but also our bodily states. This way the prepare us to react swiftly to the dangers, but also to the opportunities such as pleasurable social interactions present in the environment. Awareness of the corresponding bodily changes may subsequently trigger the conscious emotional sensations, such as the feeling of happiness," tells assistant professor Lauri Nummenmaa from Aalto University."The findings have major implications for our understanding of the functions of emotions and their bodily basis. On the other hand, the results help us to understand different emotional disorders and provide novel tools for their diagnosis."The research was carried out on line, and over 700 individuals from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan took part in the study. The researchers induced different emotional states in their Finnish and Taiwanese participants. Subsequently the participants were shown with pictures of human bodies on a computer, and asked to colour the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing.The research was funded by European Research Council (ERC), The Academy of Finland and the Aalto University (aivoAALTO project)

Political News This Week:

Political News 

1) Khaleda Zia will face trial for violence, warns Hasina:

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has criticised opposition's ongoing agitation to thwart the January 5 polls and warned that Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Khaleda Zia would be held responsible for the deaths and violence.

"Those who are killing people, unleashing violence in the name of demonstrations, will be tried on this soil. She (Khaleda) will be held responsible for orchestrating (the violence)," Hasina said.She accused the opposition of shielding war criminals, killing people, unleashing torching and arson attacks."They understand nothing but violence. They (the opposition) do not understand democracy," she said.She also directed her party activists to thwart any attempt to foil the polls.The Awami League chief said Zia would have to face trial for violence during the BNP-led 18-Party alliance's agitation.

She said that the elections would be held as per schedule and asked people to go to the polling centres to vote."Don't think we've won and so there is no need for voting," quoted Hasina as saying.Zia has demanded the January 5 polls plan be scrapped as over half of the candidates in the 300-seat parliament were set to be declared unopposed in the absence of rivals from her party and called for the blockade for indefinite period.But, Hasina came down heavily on those who are advocating to defer the polls."Their job is to destroy democracy," she said, questioning the opposition's movement for restoration of the caretaker-government system where unelected people are tasked with running the country and organising the polls."Bangladesh has not forgotten the 1/11," Hasina said, referring to the January 11, 2007 takeover by a military-backed caretaker government which stayed in power for around two years."None was spared from its torture," she said.

"The caretaker government had sent Khaleda Zia's sons abroad after torturing them. The opposition leader has apparently forgotten the tortures inflicted upon the general people," the prime minister said, adding the people did not want that form of government any more.

2) Kolkata teen who was gang-raped, set on fire, was pregnant:

A murder case has been filed by the Kolkata police against the two main accused in the gang rape of the 16-year-old girl, who died because of burn injuries, even as doctors treating the teenager said she was pregnant at the time of her death.

The death of the girl has sparked outrage in the metropolis with the family of the victim alleging that they have been threatened to leave the state by the city police.

"We have filed a murder case against the two main accused on the basis of the final statement of the girl in which she had said that she was set on fire," Additional Commissioner of Police (Bidhannagar police) Anant told PTI on Thursday.

"The doctor who was treating the girl also told us that the girl was pregnant at the time of the death. We have send the foetus to the forensic science laboratory for determination of the age of the foetus," he said.

The victim, who was gangraped twice in October had died on December 31, following burn injuries. Her family members had claimed that she was burnt alive by the culprits. They met West Bengal Governor M K Narayanan on Wednesday and demanded death penalty for the rapists and security for the family.

The family had also alleged that they have been threatened to leave the state by the city police along with the body of their daughter.

According to reports, the girl was first gangraped on October 25 at Madhyamgram in the northern fringes of the city and found lying in a field near her house. She was forcibly taken away by the same gang and gangraped again when she was returning home with her parents after lodging a complaint with the local police station.

The severely injured girl was later found lying unconscious near the railway track at Madhyamgram the same day. Her family thereafter changed their residence from Madhyamgram to Dum Dum in the city.

Six people were arrested after local residents demanded immediate action against the gang, but the victim's family members alleged that on December 23, a close associate of the gang leader Chottu had visited their Dum Dum residence and threatened them with dire consequences if the girl did not withdraw her complaint. The girl received the fatal burn injuries the same day at her home.

3) 26 dead as bus falls into ravine in Maharashtra:

Twenty persons were killed and 12 injured when a bus collided with a truck and fell into a ravine in Thane district of Maharashtra. 

The bus carrying a total of 38 passengers was on its way from Thane to Ahmednagar when it fell into the 400-feet Malshej ravines near Tokawade in the morning, an officer in the disaster control management room said.

"As per initial information available with me, a truck collided with the Maharashtra State Road Transport bus, knocking it down the valley," Maharashtra State Road Transport General Manager (Traffic) Suryakant Ambawdekar said. 

20 bodies are kept at Ottur village while six bodies are in a hospital at Junnar.

Twelve injured have been admitted to hospitals in and around Thane and Pune, control room sources said. 

District Disaster Control Officer Jaideep Visave said "the district headquarters got the message around at 10.30 am and a team comprising police personnel, medical attendants and rescue workers was rushed to the spot.

Murbad Tehsildar Prashant Joshi said many of the injured comprised women and help had been sought from trekkers to retrieve injured people from the valley.

Malshej Ghat is a famous picnic spot located in the Sahyadri mountain ranges, located on the border of Thane and Ahmednagar districts.

4)  Former UN envoy Hardeep Puri joins the BJP:

Career diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri, who recently retired as India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on Thursday joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Welcoming him to the party fold, BJP President Rajnath Singh said, "We look forward to utilising his experience in the areas of foreign, security and trade policies."

Puri, a 1974-batch Indian Foreign Service Officer, held several senior positions in the ministry of external affairs and defence during his 39 years of service.

He also held ambassadorial assignments in London and Brasilia.

In 2011 and 2012, as Permanent Representative at the United Nations in New York, he led the Indian delegation to the Security Council. He also chaired the UNSC’s Counter-Terrorism Committee.

Puri said he was delighted to formally join the BJP which he had long admired for its strong sense of nationalism.

He said he looked forward to doing party work and was ready to contribute in whatever manner the party president and its senior leadership asked him to.

5) Arvind Kejriwal's AAP wins trust vote:

The minority Aam Aadmi Party government on Thursday crossed the first hurdle in the Delhi assembly when its confidence motion sailed through easily with the backing of the members of Congress, Janata Dal-United and an independent.

The motion moved by PWD minister Manish Sisodia was carried after a four-and-a-half-hour debate at the end of which Chief Minster Arvind Kejriwal appealed to the members to decide "on which side they are".

"I want to present three issues. Delhi's aam aadmi (common man) has taken the lead in telling the country as to which direction the national politics should go.

"They should also decide as to which side they are in the fight between truth and honesty in politics and whether they want to participate in it," the chief minister said, in his 25-minute speech winding up the debate.

Promising to take stringent action against anyone corrupt whether in the previous Congress government, MCDs controlled by the BJP and his government, he said he was not seeking support of the members for his party or the government but for the issues facing Delhi.

At the end of the debate, pro-tem Speaker Matin Ahmad asked those in favour to stand up followed by those against. Later, he declared the motion as passed and congratulated the chief minister before adjourning the house.

6) Two recent terrorist attacks in Russia's Volgograd linked - Investigation committee:

The Investigative Committee has announced it established a link between the explosions at the Volgograd train station and on the trolleybus. The explosion that killed 15 people and injured more than 20 people was apparently set off by a suicide bomber, spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, confirmed. The bomb may have been planted in the central part of the trolley bus rather than brought in by a suicide bomber, said the National Antiterrorist Committee.

15 people died, 23 injured in Russia's Volgograd trolleybus blast

The death toll from the blast has risen to 15 people, with a further 23 receiving injuries, the Volgograd Region's vice-governor Vasiliy Galushin told Interfax. "The emergency services have reacted very swiftly. All those injured have been taken to hospitals, as their identities are being determined," he said. Follow VoR's live updates here.
Tentative reports say that ten people have been killed and fifteen hurt in an explosion on a trolleybus in Volgograd on Monday morning, Russian health minister’s spokesman Oleg Salagai has said, confirming the estimates of the country’s Investigative Committee. Other reports say that up to 15 people died and more than 20 injured in the deadly trolleybus blast in Russia’s southern city Volgograd.The blast rocked trolleybus No15 when it was close to a market in the city’s Dzerzhinsky district. The shockwave blew out windows in houses nearby. The national Anti-terror Committee has said the bomb was apparently planted on the vehicle.
"According to preliminary data, ten people were killed and 15 injured," Salagai said.

Russia’s Healthcare Minister Verokina Skvortsova has been spotted at the site of the bombing. She told reporters the victims had suffered burns and traumas, adding some of them might be airlifted to Moscow to get better treatment. The blast on the trolleybus comes a day after a deadly explosion at a central train station in Volgograd, which killed 17 people and wounded over 40."We are terrified. Everyone disembarked from buses and trams to walk on foot. I live 200 meters away from that place, I was just passing it on my way to work," Sergey Stukalov, an eyewitness, told RIA Novosti. Sergey also said that the blast occurred on the No.15 trolley route, connecting a suburb to Volgograd's downtown area.The trolleybus' driver has survived. He is now in hospital. Eyewitnesses say he was a trainee.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that the President has been alerted to the second Volgograd explosion. "Corresponding reports have been handed in to the President by security services. The head of state has made all provisions," Peskov said.President Vladimir Putin has met Federal Security Service (FSB) head Alexander Bortnikov who informed him about the Monday morning trolley-bus explosion in Volgograd, presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov has announced. "The president is receiving corresponding reports along the lines of other special services too. The head of state has given all due instructions," Peskov said.

Sports news this week:

Sports news

1) Michael Schumacher stable, but remains in critical condition:

Formula One legend Michael Schumacher remained "stable" after spending a third night in hospital with severe brain injuries sustained while skiing off-piste in the French Alps.

The German racing great entered the new year in an induced coma and a critical condition, with his family at his bedside in the French Alpine city of Grenoble and doctors unsure of his future.

The 44-year-old's fight for survival after he fell and slammed his head on a rock Sunday has shocked legions of fans used to seeing him brave death on the racing tracks. "At the moment, he is stable," the seven-time world champion's manager Sabine Kehm told reporters massed outside the hospital in Grenoble on Wednesday, in a brief update before heading back inside.

Initially described as serious but not life-threatening after the accident in the upmarket resort of Meribel, Schumacher's condition rapidly deteriorated and by Sunday evening, doctors said he was in critical condition and had undergone an emergency operation. On Tuesday, they said a slight improvement in his condition had allowed them to perform a second nearly two-hour long procedure to remove bleeding in the brain, but warned he was "not out of danger" yet. "We cannot speculate on the future," said Jean-Francois Payen, head of the intensive care unit at the hospital. "We cannot say he is out of danger but we have gained some time."

Doctors have so far ruled out any transfer from the hospital, which they say would be "dangerous". But they have pointed out that Schumacher, due to turn 45 on January 3, has age and physical fitness on his side. He has been put in a medically induced coma to spur recovery, and his temperature has been reduced to around 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) to reduce swelling.

2) BCCI moves Supreme Court to stall Lalit Modi's shot at RCA:

Days after the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) declared that it cannot bar Lalit Modi from contesting its election, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) moved the Supreme Court Thursday to stall Modi's shot at the president's post.

Pursuant to the decision by its working committee last week, BCCI has intervened in a matter already pending before the court wherein the Rajasthan Sports Act 2005 has been challenged. Former RCA secretary Kishore Rungta had filed this petition, specifically challenging the provision that abolished voting rights for individual members.

This petition has been slated to be heard next on January 6 when the court is also expected to take a call on declaring the result of the RCA election held on December 19.

BCCI's petition claimed that any sort of association of Modi, who has been placed under life ban by the BCCI, with the RCA's affairs will badly affect the image of the cricket Board. The BCCI had in September 2013 slapped a life-ban on Modi for financial irregularities when he was Indian Premier League commissioner from 2008 to 2010.

BCCI's petition also contended that Modi's nomination was not right since RCA had imprudently rejected Board's objections to the former IPL commissioner's candidature. The Rajasthan elections were conducted under the court order. The court had appointed Justice NM Kasliwal, former judge Supreme Court, and Justice SP Pathak, former judge Rajasthan High Court, as observers for ensuring free and fair election in the RCA. Both observers had rejected all objections and allowed Modi to contest for the president's post of the RCA.

After Modi was allowed to contest, BCCI's secretary Sanjay Patel had also threatened RCA with expulsion if Modi was to represent a district in the state unit's election. However, responding to Patel's letter, RCA officiating secretary KK Sharma had said that objections to Modi's candidature was "wholly misconceived" since the RCA was governed by the provisions of Rajasthan Sports Act and not by the BCCI rules.

3) Maria Sharapova sets up semis date with Serena Williams:

Maria Sharapova rallied to beat Kaia Kanepi on Thursday and next faces Serena Williams in the Brisbane International semi-finals knowing she must dramatically improve to end a run of 13 straight defeats against her nemesis.

World number one Williams comfortably ousted Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova 6-3 6-3 in 61 minutes, winning the first set without losing a point on serve - a feat the American had not achieved since she was a junior.Sharapova was involved in an error-strewn battle, coming from a set down to defeat Estonia's Kanepi 4-6 6-3 6-2 in two hours.

The pattern was set at the start as the match began with four successive breaks of serve.Had 2012 champion Kanepi been in better form, the Sharapova-Williams showdown that the tournament organisers hoped for would have been scuppered.The Russian improved as the match went on and in the third set her service accuracy improved to 84 percent, nearly double her efforts in the first two sets."You're going up against a great champion that's playing great tennis at the moment," Sharapova told reporters of her clash with Williams. "You know that you have to raise your level in order to beat her."I think the intensity level of our matches are always high. I think she goes up and wants to play the best tennis against me."

Frosty relationship

When asked about her frosty off-court relationship with Williams, the Russian replied: "I have said everything I have to say about it".The American played down the animosity between the pair, saying: "I don't have anything against her".Elsewhere, second seed Victoria Azarenka let slip nine match points before finally beating Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland 6-4 6-7 (7-9) 6-1.The Belarusian next plays fourth-seeded Serb Jelena Jankovic who defeated German Angelique Kerber 6-7 (8-10) 6-3 6-1.

4) The Ashes: Australia look to apply final coat:

It's a fair bet Michael Clarke won't be booed at the Sydney Cricket Ground this week when he sets out to become just the third Australia captain to achieve a 5-0 sweep over England in an Ashes series. Three years ago, Australian frustrations at their team's humiliation by a rampant England boiled over with some vociferous catcalling when Clarke, standing in for the injured Ricky Ponting, came out to bat in the fifth Test.

Australia lost that series 3-1 with Clarke assuming the captaincy permanently not long afterwards and, although it has not always been a smooth path since, his team look more settled and confident than at any time in his reign.

Victories by 381 runs, 218 runs, 150 runs and eight wickets are testimony to crushing Australian superiority in the first four Ashes Tests and Clarke's men will be going all out to drive home their advantage when the fifth gets underway on Friday. "We want to win this match, we know we've got to do all the hard work and we're looking at this like a final," said pace bowler Mitchell Johnson, whose 31 wickets at an average 14.32 have been a key factor in Australia's charge. "We know they are going to come out fighting hard. They're not going to want to lose 5-0."

That fight back from a team that was No.1 in the world as recently as August 2012 has long been anticipated.

The 3-0 home Ashes series triumph earlier this year and the two that preceded it in 2009 and 2010-11 are now distant memories and nothing in the performances in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne suggests England can turn things around in Sydney.

Two key players are no longer with the touring party with batsman Jonathan Trott having returned home to deal with some psychological issues and spinner Graeme Swann retiring after the Ashes were relinquished in Perth.

5) Ranji Trophy: Lahiri spins Bengal to stunning win over Tamil Nadu

Offspinner Saurasish Lahiri, bowling unchanged on the final morning, triggered a stunning Tamil Nadu collapse to give Bengal a thrilling four-run win in a low-scoring game at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai and most likely propel them to the knock-outs at the expense of the host side. Only a Baroda win over Rajasthan would keep Bengal from the next round. Tamil Nadu, chasing 184 to win, appeared to be in control at 110 for 1 with Dinesh Karthik and S Badrinath at the crease. Then their innings turned in to a slow-motion car wreck as 8 wickets fell for 48 runs over the course of 30 overs. That left the last wicket pair of Malolan Rangarajan and Aushik Srinivas needing 26 for victory. They managed 22 before Writtick Chatterjee, Bengal’s other offie, trapped Rangarajan leg-before for 11 to seal a triumph that looked improbable after Bengal were bowled out for 130 in their first innings.

The 32-year-old Lahiri, who finished with figures of 33-11-62-7, began the slide with the dismissal of Badrinath, who was given out lbw for 21. Karthik followed 15 runs and the slow drip-drip-drip of wickets had begun. Baba Aparajith stuck around to make 33 and but his wicket – the seventh of the innings – set off a mini-collapse of three wickets for two runs and suddenly Bengal was odds-on to win the game. The 22-run partnership for the 10th wicket was TN’s third largest of the innings and one more twist in the tail, but the Bengal bowlers held their nerve to come out on top. With both sides needing a win to have a chance of moving on, Bengal looked to have made a mistake by choosing to bat first after they were skittled for 130, with Rangarajan taking 6 for 30. Shockingly, Tamil Nadu promptly folded for 85 in their first-innings, with only two batsmen getting to double figures. The bowlers kept TN in the game by knocking over Bengal for 134 in their second innings – not one Bengal batsmen managed a fifty in either innings. Karthik then took on the responsibility of opening and the tactic seemed to have worked as he added 72 with Abhinav Mukund and became the first batsman to go past the half-century mark. Lahiri, though, would end up having the final word.

6) Smith hails incredible win over India

South African captain Graeme Smith hailed “an incredible win” for his team after they clinched an emphatic ten-wicket victory on the fifth day of the second and final Test against India at Kingsmead on Monday. The win, in Jacques Kallis’ final Test match, clinched the two-match series for South Africa after the first Test in Johannesburg was drawn. It also confirmed South Africa’s ranking as the world’s number one Test team and increased their gap over second-ranked India. Smith said South Africa had to fight their way out of some tough situations. “We were behind the game for 90 per cent of the time at the Wanderers,” he admitted. “We fought our way out of that and we knew we had to play well in Durban.”

There was not much for South Africa to cheer at the start of the second Test as India moved to 181 for one with bad light and rain cutting short the first day and delaying the start on the second day. “We wanted the win as a fitting tribute to Jacques but the weather and the pitch made life a little more difficult,” said Smith. “We had to work hard after we lost so much time in the game. India played so well on day one, so to have the ability to turn it around like we did was a huge achievement. It was an incredible win.” Smith said the century by Kallis in his last Test innings was a crucial component of the win.

“We needed to make sure we got a lead in the first innings. It wasn’t easy with the ball spinning and a bit of reverse swing. We needed to grind out a score and set up the game. Jacques’s hundred allowed us to do that.” Man of the match Dale Steyn, who had match figures of nine for 147, produced what Smith described as a “special spell”, dismissing overnight batsmen Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara — the men most likely to have played long innings — inside his first two overs of the day. Steyn followed up with a third wicket — his 350th in Tests — with the second new ball and finished with three for 47 as India were dismissed for 223, leaving South Africa a target of 58, which Smith and Alviro Petersen knocked off in 11.4 overs. Steyn said Kallis had inspired the bowlers.

“After day one he sat us down and said he didn’t want this match to fizzle out in a draw. He asked the bowlers to step up and I think everyone did.” Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said India had lost the match in an extended final morning’s play, during which they lost five wickets for 105 runs. “There were a couple of bad decisions, tough decisions, and a couple of bad shots.” But he said he believed India’s young players had taken a big step forward during the series. “Not many of our batsmen had played in more than five Tests outside India. It was very good experience for them playing against a top side.” Dhoni said that although the young batsmen had done well they had learned some valuable lessons.

“They learned that Test matches are all about the whole five days of good cricket. If you play badly in one of those sessions it can have a big impact on the game.” He said the bowlers had worked hard, although they needed to improve their skills on dry pitches outside the Indian sub-continent. “We were also not able to capitalise when we had the upper hand,” he said. Ajinkya Rahane provided the only sustained resistance for India in their second innings, making 96 before he was last man out. Playing in only his third Test, he dealt competently with South Africa’s pace barrage. He had been unbeaten on 51 in the first innings and was mainly responsible for forcing South Africa to bat again.

He played some aggressive shots as he ran out of partners and square-cut Philander for six before falling in the same over.
Rahane batted for 219 minutes, faced 157 balls and hit 11 fours and two sixes. Steyn’s new ball partner Vernon Philander took three for 43, while left-arm spinner Robin Peterson claimed four for 74. Kallis was chaired on to the field by his team-mates after the match and they accompanied him on a farewell lap of the field. He did not need to bat again after his first innings of 115 built the platform for South Africa to take a crucial 166-run first innings lead

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