Science News This Week:
1) Enormous cosmic lens magnifies supernova:
Galaxy warps light of distant exploding star, greatly increasing its brightness. An immense cosmic magnifying glass has given astronomers an unprecedented view of a distant exploding star. The discovery demonstrates that astronomers can spot supernovas that are seemingly too far away to be detected.
The supernova PS1-10afx, located more than 9 billion light-years away, first appeared in 2010 images from the Pan-STARRS1 sky survey. It shined about 30 times as brightly as a typical supernova at that distance. Last April, a team including astronomer Robert Kirshner from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics published a study that classified PS1-10afx as a new type of ultrabright supernova.But Robert Quimby, an astronomer at the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe near Tokyo, was skeptical. He found that nearly every measurable characteristic of the supernova — including its color, temperature and duration of peak brightness — matched the profile of the most commonly found supernova, called type Ia. The only thing that set PS1-10afx apart was its extreme brightness.
Quimby wondered if something had made the supernova appear brighter than it actually was. He knew that the intense gravity of galaxies and other massive objects causes light to bend around them. If such a galaxy is positioned directly between a distant object and Earth, this light-bending effect can make the faraway object appear much brighter, analogous to the way a magnifying glass bends light to enlarge a faint object. This effect is called gravitational lensing.To test his hypothesis, Quimby used the Keck I telescope in Hawaii to take a closer look at the region where PS1-10afx once shined. The telescope detected a large reservoir of gas about 8.5 billion light-years away. The gas suggested the presence of a galaxy lying between PS1-10afx and Earth that probably served as a gravitational lens. Quimby shared his findings January 8 at the American Astronomical Society meeting.Kirshner said the Keck findings are convincing but not definitive. He would like to see more-detailed observations that demonstrate that the galaxy is massive enough and lined up properly to act as a lens.Nonetheless, Kirshner is excited about the potential significance of Quimby’s work. Astronomers already use gravitational lenses to identify objects that would otherwise be too far or too faint to detect; a new Hubble Space Telescope survey is using the technique to find galaxies that formed a mere several hundred million years after the Big Bang. The opportunity to also spot distant supernovas with this technique is enticing, Kirshner said.Quimby said that finding other distant stellar explosions could help astronomers measure the expanding universe. Type Ia supernovas shine with almost exactly the same brightness, allowing astronomers to pin a precise distance to each one. But a gravitationally lensed supernova’s light will travel slightly different distances depending on the path it takes as it bends around the lensing galaxy and thus will get stretched different amounts by the universe’s expansion.
2) Mother lode:
Superhero sugars in breast milk make the newborn gut safe for beneficial bacteria A bonanza of potent disease-fighting compounds has been discovered in a surprisingly common source the breasts of every nursing mother on the planet. Human milk, the only substance that evolved to feed and protect us, seems to contain a trove of medicines just now being unlocked by scientists.“We go down to the bottom of the ocean to find new compounds and test them out against diseases,” says nutritional scientist Lars Bode of the University of California, San Diego. “But if we just look at the natural compounds in human milk, we’ll be surprised at what we find.”At the forefront of breast milk’s potential lies a diverse set of sugar molecules called human milk oligosaccharides. Although sculpted by 200 million years of mammalian evolution, the sugars don’t feed infants at all. Instead, they play the role of microbial managers, acting as liaisons between the infant’s newly available intestinal real estate and the throngs of microbes that seek to call it home.These oligosaccharides serve as sustenance for an elite class of microbes known to promote a healthy gut, while less desirable bacteria lack the machinery needed to digest them. And recent research has shown that the sugars act as discerning bouncers as well: The molecules prevent pathogens from latching onto healthy cells, routing troublemakers into a dirty diaper instead. The oligosaccharides also defuse bombs by calming an infant’s emerging immune system so it doesn’t overreact against friendly bacteria.Feeding the troops Many oligosaccharides provide ready-to-eat meals for favorable microbes, giving beneficial species a leg up over less appealing ones. Newborns with healthy microbes are apt to thrive.Oligosaccharides found in human milk might even hold keys to staving off disease in vulnerable children, a notion that keeps Boston College biochemist David Newburg toiling in the lab late at night. In some scenarios, he suggests, the sugars might even supplant the use of antibiotics.
Newburg and others hope to extract knowledge from breast milk components to thwart disease in babies not receiving this superfood. High on the list are premature infants clinging to life in neonatal intensive care units without access to breast milk and toddlers in developing countries who are susceptible to deadly diarrheal diseases after weaning. Even adults undergoing gut-stripping chemotherapy or antibiotic treatments might stand to benefit from the protective sugars.
But extracting or producing human milk oligosaccharides on an affordable, industrial scale won’t be easy. Synthesizing the sugars is an expensive headache because the molecules about 200 of which have been identified so fa are put together in a dizzying array of configurations. Some scientists are placing their bets on pulling oligosaccharides out of cow’s milk, although the sugars found there are less abundant and qualitatively different from their human counterparts. Others are turning to genetic engineering with hopes of designing microbes that can mass-produce the most useful oligosaccharides.Along with major players such as the Gates Foundation and the formula and dairy industries, researchers and clinicians are striving to understand and in some ways re-create the health-promoting powers of a tailor-made substance that nature has had millennia to perfect. They have big shoes to fill.
Complex sugar supercrew
The train of milk oligosaccharide discovery started rolling in 1900, when microbiologists noticed that the feces of breast-fed infants contained different amounts of some bacterial species than those of bottle-fed infants. Around the same time, chemists discovered a novel carbohydrate component in human milk, later revealed as the oligosaccharides. By 1954, scientists had dubbed these sugars the “bifidus factor,” as they fueled the growth of Bifidobacterium species abundant in the feces of breast-fed infants.Fast-forward to 2013, and researchers are still trying to identify the sugars and unravel all their capabilities. The collection of different oligosaccharides in human milk is a ball-and-stick modeler’s dream (or nightmare), but the ingredient list for the oligosaccharides’ recipe is deceptively simple: Only five simple sugars (called monosaccharides) serve as building blocks.
When two of these monosaccharides glucose and galactose get together, they form lactose, which people can digest and use for energy. From there, more and more monosaccharides jump on, forming a conga line of sugars. But the real complexity comes into play when new branches diverge from the line, producing a dazzling array of chemical structures.Unlike the linear, orderly synthesis of DNA or protein molecules, oligosaccharides assemble Wild West–style. “For all we know, the linkages could be totally random,” says milk biochemist Daniela Barile of the University of California, Davis. “They’re very unpredictable and there are hundreds of possible structures.”
Although a smorgasbord of oligosaccharides have already been spotted using an ultrasensitive detection technique called mass spectrometry, Bode expects newer techniques to uncover still more. Harder will be figuring out all of the sugars’ roles and which are most important for health.
The growing list of jobs the oligosaccharides perform mirrors the burgeoning diversity of their structures. At UC Davis, researchers focus on the sugars’ primary function — feeding and nurturing the beneficial bacteria that live in the infant gut.To sniff out which oligosaccharides the various species of bacteria consume, microbiologist David Mills’ team extracts Bifidobacterium from infant feces and feeds the bacteria different oligosaccharides.Healthy, full-term, breast-fed infants tend to have a gut microbiota dominated by various species of the oligosaccharide-consumer Bifidobacterium. But premature infants typically harbor fewer bifidobacteriaand more potentially pathogenic microbes such as Escherichia coli and Clostridium difficile. Of preterm infants, 3 to 7 percent will develop a potentially life-threatening illness called necrotizing enterocolitis, an inflammatory disease that destroys the intestinal lining and exposes the infant bloodstream to hordes of bacteria normally cordoned off in the gut. Ten to 50 percent of babies with NEC ultimately succumb to the disease, with the lowest birth weight infants at most risk.
Breast-feeding halves an infant’s chances of getting NEC. While scientists don’t yet know whether a preemie’s distorted microbiota causes NEC, observational studies have shown that changes in the microbiota precede disease onset.UC Davis neonatologist Mark Underwood recently teamed up with Mills to conduct a small clinical trial in premature infants in the neonatal ICU that were being fed either their mother’s milk or infant formula (a decision made independently of the trial). The researchers spiked the formula or the breast milk with one of two Bifidobacterium strains: one that consumes oligosaccharides and one that does not.Fecal analysis revealed that the babies who were fed breast milk plus an oligosaccharide-consuming strain of bacteria, Bifidobacterium longum ssp. infantis, had more beneficial microbes. “When you put in the breast milk and the B. infantis together, then you get B. infantis colonization,” says Underwood. But when B. infantis don’t get nourished by the oligosaccharides in breast milk, Underwood hypothesizes, “they fade away quickly and don’t get established.”While the study wasn’t large enough to establish protection against NEC, Underwood hopes that the trial will pave the way for larger tests. Especially in infants whose mothers produce little or no breast milk, bolstering formula with a combination of oligosaccharides and probiotics could help prevent NEC in the most vulnerable infants.Depending on blood type, the stage of lactation and other factors, the milk oligosaccharide profile varies from woman to woman. This could explain why some infants develop NEC in spite of being breast-fed, Bode says. Reporting in Gut in 2012, his team showed that a specific human milk oligosaccharide helps prevent NEC in rats. In the study, only one oligosaccharide, a branched beauty called disialyllacto-N-tetraose, dampened the disease. And research by Mills and Underwood showed that the milk oligosaccharide content from women delivering at preterm differed from those giving birth at full term. Bode envisions one day mixing NEC-busting oligosaccharides into the breast milk of mothers who lack them and boosting premature infants’ chances of getting out of the neonatal ICU alive.
Beyond feeding bacteria in the gut, the milk oligosaccharides might cultivate a healthy microbiota by dialing down the immune system. Bode argues that a toned-down immune response is crucial for successful colonization of the gut by microbes. The sugars were discovered as “food for bugs,” Bode says, “but I believe they’re so much more than that.”A tiny fraction of the sugars appear to find their way into a newborn’s bloodstream. Bode and others have detected oligosaccharides in the urine of infants, suggesting that the sugars and their influence could extend well beyond the gut. “Milk oligosaccharides may be able to reduce inflammation throughout the body,” he says. In one study, oligosaccharides reduced interactions between inflammatory immune cells and cells that line blood vessels. “The oligosaccharides,” Bode says, “are able to keep the immune system in check.”Bode’s team has also produced a slew of studies that demonstrate human milk oligosaccharides’ most provocative power — flushing pathogens out of an infant’s body before they get a chance to wreak havoc. The researchers reported on September 16 in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition that the sugars block the attachment of a nasty strain of E. coli to the cells that line the intestine, thwarting the pathogen’s ability to infect neonatal mice. The microbe is responsible for deadly diarrheal diseases that plague infants and children, especially in developing countries where access to clean food and water is lacking.
Milk oligosaccharides that reach the bloodstream may even usher bladder-infecting E. coli right out of the urinary tract, the research team has also found.
For more than two decades, Newburg’s group has been compiling a hit list of pathogens that fall prey to milk oligosaccharides, starting with the discovery that the sugars could disarm a toxin secreted by some forms of E. coli. “Then we tested the oligosaccharides against various pathogen models and this is my favorite story it worked against all of them,” Newburg recalls. “We thought we’d made a mistake.” He and others have since discovered, mostly through cell culture studies, that the sugars may dash the diarrhea pipe dreams of such microbial villains as salmonella, cholera, rotavirus, norovirus, a campylobacter-caused gastroenteritis and multiple strains of E. coli.
Newburg envisions one day giving toddlers oligosaccharide supplements to stave off diseases that tend to creep in following weaning, especially in poor countries where diarrheal diseases abound. But the hunt for potential sources of the sugars has proved challenging.
3) Researchers Pursuing Arthritis Protein:
Chronic inflammation poses something of a mystery for researchers. If we become infected, the body immediately takes steps to repair and tidy it up. This process manifests itself as inflammation, which stems from a high level of activity in the immune cells, the body's defence against bacteria and viruses. But it does not always go according to plan. Every so often, the body's immune system over-reacts, and the inflammation develops into a chronic condition, resulting in diseases such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis. However, researchers are now a step closer to understanding what happens when the immune system over-reacts and causes chronic inflammation"Through analysing blood cells, we have observed that a particular protein called TL1A can get healthy cells to behave like those we see in chronic inflammation. This is bringing us closer to unlocking the mystery of inflammation," says Kirsten Reichwald, PhD student at the Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen. The results have been published in PLOS ONE.
Biological treatment fights arthritis
Today, doctors can use so-called biological medicines for treating arthritis, which has radically changed the outlook for patients. Biological treatment works by impeding the harmful substances that are partly responsible for advancing the chronic inflammation in the body. Almost 40 per cent of arthritis patients experience a positive effect when taking biological medicines."Existing biological treatment means that doctors today can halt the diseases instead of just relieving the symptoms," explains Kirsten Reichwald.
However, in order to block the right substances, doctors need detailed information about the processes that cause chronic inflammation. The researchers therefore studied cells from 50 blood donors from the blood bank at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, and concluded that the protein TL1A has a key role in the development of the inflammation.
"Our latest findings tell us, that the TL1A protein takes part in driving the inflammation, and therefore it makes sense to try and block the protein with biological medicines," says Kirsten Reichwald, who hopes that her future research will help to provide even more specific knowledge about inflammation.
4) Research Demonstrates 'Guided Missile' Strategy to Kill Hidden HIV:
Researchers at the UNC School of Medicine have deployed a potential new weapon against HIV -- a combination therapy that targets HIV-infected cells that standard therapies cannot kill. Using mouse models that have immune systems composed of human cells, researchers led by J. Victor Garcia, PhD, found that an antibody combined with a bacterial toxin can penetrate HIV-infected cells and kill them even though standard antiretroviral therapy, also known as ART, had no effect. Killing these persistent, HIV-infected cells is a major impediment to curing patients of HIV.
"Our work provides evidence that HIV-infected cells can be tracked down and destroyed throughout the body," said Garcia, professor of medicine and senior author of the study published January 9 in the journal PloS Pathogens.For people with HIV, ART is life-saving treatment that can reduce the amount of virus in the body to undetectable levels. But as soon as treatment is stopped, the virus begins to replicate again. This means that people with HIV must be on medications for life. For some people, therapies are not without serious side effects.In patients on ART, the virus either remains dormant or it multiplies very slowly -- it persists, hidden, even though a cocktail of drugs is aligned against it.
Garcia's findings advance the so-called "kick-and-kill" strategy for HIV eradication -- if the persistent virus is exposed, it can be targeted and killed with a new therapy.
To attack persistent HIV-infected cells, Garcia and colleagues used humanized bone marrow/liver/thymus mice -- or BLT mice -- with entire immune systems composed of human cells. This allows his team to study the distribution of persistent HIV-infected cells throughout the body and test strategies to eliminate those cells.
For the PloS Pathogens study, the researchers first treated the mice with an ART cocktail of three different drugs. Despite using strong concentrations of all three drugs, the researchers found that the virus managed to survive in immune cells in all tissues they analyzed, including the bone marrow, spleen, liver, lung, and gut.
Then they used a compound developed by co-authors Edward Berger, PhD, and Ira Pastan, PhD, from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health). The compound is an antibody called 3B3 combined with a bacterial toxin called PE38. The researchers hypothesized that the antibody would first recognize cells expressing a specific HIV protein on the surface of infected cells. The antibody would attach to the protein and allow the toxin to enter and kill the infected cells.
When Garcia's team treated humanized HIV-infected and ART-treated mice with the 3B3-PE38 compound and then looked for infected cells in tissues, they found that the molecular missile had killed the vast majority of persistent HIV-infected cells that had been actively producing the virus despite traditional therapy, resulting in a six-fold drop in the number of infected cells throughout the immune systems.
While this reduction fell short of complete eradication, the finding offers a new route of investigation as part of the multi-pronged "kick-and-kill" strategy.
"The BLT model represents a platform in which virtually any novel approach to HIV eradication can be tested," Garcia said. "It helps us prioritize which therapeutic approaches should be advanced to clinical implementation in humans. This study shows that it's possible to attack and kill hidden HIV-infected cells that standard therapy can't touch."
5) Study Dispels Theories of Y Chromosome's Demise: Stripped-Down Chromosome Retains Key Genes for Fertility:
A comparison of Y chromosomes in eight African and eight European men dispels the common notion that the Y's genes are mostly unimportant and that the chromosome is destined to dwindle and disappear."The Y chromosome has lost 90 percent of the genes it once shared with the X chromosome, and some scientists have speculated that the Y chromosome will disappear in less than 5 million years," said evolutionary biologist Melissa A. Wilson Sayres, a Miller Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of the new analysis.Some mammals have already lost their Y chromosome, though they still have males and females and reproduce normally. And last month, researchers reported shuffling some genes in mice to create Y-less males that could produce normal offspring, leading some commentators to wonder whether the chromosome is superfluous.
"Our study demonstrates that the genes that have been maintained, and those that migrated from the X to the Y, are important, and the human Y is going to stick around for a long while," she said.Wilson Sayres and coauthor Rasmus Nielsen, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, show in a paper published online today (Jan. 9, 2014) in PLOS Genetics that patterns of variation on the Y chromosome among the 16 men are consistent with natural selection acting to maintain the gene content there, much of which has been shown to play a role in male fertility. The Y chromosome's puny size -- it contains 27 unique genes versus thousands on the other chromosomes -- is a sign it is lean and stripped down to essentials.
"Melissa's results are quite stunning. They show that because there is so much natural selection working on the Y chromosome, there has to be a lot more function on the chromosome than people previously thought," Nielsen said.Variations in Y chromosomes are used to track how human populations moved around the globe, and according to Nielsen, the new research will help improve estimates of humans' evolutionary history."Melissa has shown that this strong negative selection -- natural selection to remove deleterious genes -- tends to make us think the dates are older than they actually are, which gives quite different estimates of our ancestors' history," Nielsen said.
Y has degraded over past 200 million
Before about 200 million years ago, when mammals were relatively new on Earth, early versions of the sex chromosomes, X and Y, were just like other pairs of chromosomes: with each generation, they swapped a few genes so that offspring were a mix of their parents' genes. Fertilized eggs that got two proto-Xs became females and eggs with a proto-X and proto-Y became males.But for some reason, Wilson Sayres said, the gene that triggers the cascade of events that result in male features became fixed on the Y chromosome and attracted other male-specific genes, such as those that control development of the testes, sperm and semen. Many of these turned out to be harmful for females, so the X and Y stopped swapping genes and the two chromosomes began to evolve separately.
"Now the X and Y do not swap DNA over most of their lengths, which means that the Y cannot efficiently fix mistakes, so it has degraded over time," she said. "In XX females, the X still has a partner to swap with and fix mistakes, which is why we think the X hasn't also degraded."Wilson Sayres was fascinated by the strange history of the sex chromosomes and in particular the lack of genetic variation worldwide on the Y chromosome compared to the variety seen in DNA on the non-sex chromosomes. This variation, though used to chart human history, was poorly characterized across the entire Y chromosome."Y chromosomes are more similar to each other than we expect," said Wilson Sayres. "There has been some debate about whether this is because there are fewer males contributing to the next generation, or whether natural selection is acting to remove variation."
Did fewer males contribute genes to Y chromosome?
The UC Berkeley researchers demonstrated that if fewer males were the only cause of the low variability, it would mean that fewer than 1 in 4 males throughout history had passed on their Y chromosome each generation. Variations in other human chromosomes, including the X chromosome, make this an unlikely scenario. Instead, they showed that the low variation can be explained by intense natural selection, that is, a strong evolutionary pressure to weed out bad mutations that ended up trimming the chromosome down to its essentials."We show that a model of purifying selection acting on the Y chromosome to remove harmful mutations, in combination with a moderate reduction in the number of males that are passing on their Y chromosomes, can explain low Y diversity," Wilson Sayres said.The researchers also found that all 27 genes on the Y chromosome -- the 17 that humans retain after 200 million years, and 10 more recently acquired but poorly understood genes -- are likely affected by natural selection. Most of the newer genes, called ampliconic genes, are present in multiple copies on the chromosome and loss of one or more copies has been linked to male infertility.
"These ampliconic regions that we haven't really understood until now are evidently very important and probably should be investigated and studied for fertility," she said.
Wilson Sayres was able to precisely measure Y variability because for the first time she compared variation on a person's Y chromosome with variation on that person's other 22 chromosomes (called autosomes), the X chromosome and the mitochondrial DNA. She used whole genome data from 16 men whose DNA had been sequenced by the Mountain View-based company Complete Genomics Inc., which has the most accurate sequences of the Y chromosome. The company was recently acquired by BGI, the Bejing Genome Institute.Cross-population studies of variation in the Y chromosome are in their infancy, she said, noting that of the more than 36 mammalian genomes sequenced to date, complete Y chromosomes are only available for three. Most of the 1,000+ human genomes already sequenced do not have sufficiently accurate coverage of the Y to make this type of comparison among individuals, but advances in technology to better characterize DNA will facilitate future analyses of the Y chromosome, she said.
6) Stem Cell Replacement for Frequent Age-Related Blindness:
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most frequent cause of blindness. Scientists at the Department of Ophthalmology at the Bonn University Hospital and from the Neural Stem Cell Institute in New York (USA) have developed a method for using stem cells to replace cells in the eye destroyed by AMD. The implants survived in rabbit eyes for several weeks. Additional research is needed for clinical application. The results are now presented in the journal "Stem Cell Reports."
About four and a half million people in Germany suffer from age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It is associated with a gradual loss of visual acuity and the ability to read or drive a car can be lost. The center of the field of vision is blurry, as if covered by a veil. This is caused by damage to a cell layer under the retina, known as the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). It coordinates the metabolism and function of the sensory cells in the eye. Inflammatory processes in this layer are associated with AMD and "metabolic waste" is less efficiently recycled. To date, there is no cure for AMD; treatments can only relieve the symptoms.
Scientists from the Bonn University Department of Ophthalmology, together with researchers in New York (USA), have now tested a new method in rabbits by which the damaged RPE cells in AMD may be replaced. The researchers implanted different RPEs which were obtained, among others, from stem cells from adult human donors. "These cells have now been used for the first time in research for transplantation purposes," says lead author Dr. Boris V. Stanzel from the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Bonn. The discovery and characterization of the adult RPE stem cells was performed in the group of Prof. Sally Temple and Dr. Jeffrey Stern from the Neural Stem Cell Institute (NSCI) in New York, USA. Dr. Timothy Blenkinsop at NSCI pioneered methods to grow them to closely resemble true RPE.
Researchers in Bonn developed the implantation techniquesThe implantation techniques for the new method were developed by researchers working with Dr. Stanzel from the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Bonn. They allowed the stem cell derived RPE to grow on small polyester discs, thus yielding a thin cell layer. The researchers implanted this human RPE monolayer in rabbits under the retina. "Our research group developed special instruments to implant the replacement cells can under the retina," reports Dr. Stanzel. After four days, the researchers used tomographic methods to check whether the replacement cells had integrated into the surrounding cell layers. "The implanted cells were alive," reports the researcher at the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Bonn. "That is a clear indication that they have joined with the surrounding cells." After one week, the implanted cell layer was still stable. Even after four weeks, tissue examinations showed that the transplant was intact.
A new approach for possible treatment of AMD
"The results from the experiments prove that retinal pigment epithelial cells obtained from adult stem cells have the potential to replace cells destroyed by age-related macular degeneration," summarizes Dr. Stanzel. Moreover, using the newly developed basic method, it will be possible in the future to test which stem cell lines are suitable for transplantation in the eye. "However, clinical application is still far away," says Dr. Stanzel. More research is needed.
7) Elephant shark genome small and slow to evolve
Elephant sharks' DNA hasn't changed much in the 420 million years that bony fishes have been in existence, suggests a new analysis of the animal's genome.
Callorhinchus milii is the first cartilaginous fish to have its genome fully sequenced. At 1 billion base pairs, the elephant shark has the smallest genetic code among sharks, rays and other similar fishes. A closer look at the animal's genome suggests that the fish do not have many bones because they lack genes that switch on calcium-binding proteins, researchers report January 8 in Nature.
Elephant sharks also lack a major component of the immune system called helper T cells. The discovery suggests that acquired immunity evolved in two steps — not one, as previously thought.
Movie Release This Week:
In the epic origin story, Kellan Lutz stars as the mythical Greek hero - the son of Zeus, a half-god, half-man blessed with extraordinary strength. Betrayed by his stepfather, the King, and exiled and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love, Hercules must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his rightful kingdom. Through harrowing battles and gladiator-arena death matches, Hercules embarks on a legendary odyssey to overthrow the King and restore peace to the land.
Ancient mysteries. Powerful evil. And a fearless hero’s quest through a fantastical realm of steam-powered wonders and sinister magic… In THE ADVENTURER: THE CURSE OF THE MIDAS BOX, seventeen-year-old Mariah Mundi’s life is turned upside down when his parents vanish and his younger brother is kidnapped. Following a trail of clues to the darkly majestic Prince Regent Hotel, Mariah discovers a hidden realm of child-stealing monsters, deadly secrets and a long-lost artifact that grants limitless wealth – but also devastating supernatural power. With the fate of his world, and his family at stake, Mariah will risk everything to unravel the Curse of the Midas Box!
The story follows two abducted women and 50 other women who are forced to fight each other using their bare hands. After Sabrina (Bell) is abducted, she finds herself in an underground lair, forced to do battle with other innocent women for the amusement of unseen spectators. Each of these reluctant warriors has something to lose, but only one will remain when the game is done. Violent and relentless, “Raze” takes its video game aesthetic to the deepest and darkest places, rarely surfacing for air. “Raze” is produced by Cinipix and written by Robert Beaucage.
Dumbbells follows Chris Long (Drolet), an ex-NCAA star turned trainer who finds new purpose when his gym’s shallow new owner, Jack (Richards), unleashes a lucrative plan to turn the neglected business into a reality show. When Chris’ complacent peers resist this new direction, he and Jack form an unlikely alliance that allows them to face the demons of their pasts (Jaleel White plays the leader of an evil cult) and ultimately, save their gym’s future.
More money flows through the family courts, and into the hands of courthouse insiders, than in all other court systems in America combined – over $50 billion a year and growing. Through extensive research and interviews with the nation’s top divorce lawyers, mediators, judges, politicians, litigants and journalists, DIVORCE CORP. uncovers how children are torn from their homes, unlicensed custody evaluators extort money, and abusive judges play god with people’s lives while enriching their friends. This explosive documentary reveals the family courts as unregulated, extra-constitutional fiefdoms. Rather than assist victims of domestic crimes, these courts often precipitate them. And rather than help parents and children move on, as they are mandated to do, these courts - and their associates - drag out cases for years, sometimes decades, ultimately resulting in a rash of social ills, including home foreclosure, bankruptcy, suicide and violence.
Political News This Week:
1) Scam rocks Indian Military Academy; 3 Lt Colonels booked:
Unearthing a major recruitment scam in the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, the Central Bureau of Investigation has booked three serving Lieutenant Colonels in connection with the case.Lieutenant Colonels Akhilesh Mishra, Jagdish Bishnoi and Ambarish Tiwari have been accused of issuing fake experience certificates to candidates in recruitments to group C and D cadres of the prestigious institute in 2011-2012, CBI sources said on Saturday. A regular case was filed by the apex investigating agency against the trio earlier this week, they said
The accused, charged with forgery, conspiracy and issuing fake certificates to candidates, are likely to be interrogated soon, they said, adding some arrests in connection with the case may also be made.The accused officers had allegedly issued forged documents to pave the way for recruitment of 34 candidates and helped in replacing the original answer sheets of 16 others to help them clear the written test, they said.
2) Yes, we are in a hurry: Kejriwal on 'darbar' debacle:
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kerjriwal on Saturday rejected criticism of his 'janta darbar' and said though the exercise had turned chaotic due to "mismanagement", the party had learnt its lesson.
The CM, who had to leave the venue of the public hearing midway as hundreds jostled with each other to register their grievances, said that he had not expected the massive turnout, which reflected the "faith" of the people in his government.Kejriwal said he had left the venue to avoid a stampede-like situation.He admitted to the ‘mismanagement’ and claimed that he has apologised to the people and collected complaint letters from them.
"If listening to people's grievances this way is anarchy, then I think we have forgotten the meaning of democracy. We have become used to decisions being taken behind closed doors," he said while reacting to allegations made by opposition parties about anarchy prevailing at the venue today."I agree that there were loopholes in the crowd management. I have apologised to the public," he said.
He said that the public hearing, which was to be held by each of the six ministers on week days and by the entire Cabinet on Saturday outside the Delhi Secretariat building, has been suspended for the next three-four days."Next time, we will hold a public hearing at a stadium or a bigger place and we will put all the proper arrangements in place," Kejriwal told reporters."We had made arrangement for just 700 to 1000 people, but more than 7,000 people came. We were not expecting such a huge crowd,” he said."We want to go to public to listen to their problems. Our government wants to work for the people. When we sat on the road today, we came to know how many people want to meet us," Kejriwal said.Responding to an accusation by the Bharatiya Janata Party -- that he was taking decisions in a hurry -- Kejriwal said, "Yes we are in hurry. If people do not take steps at the earliest, then this country will not survive."
3) Devyani Khobragade BARRED from entering United States"
Expelled Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, in effect, has been barred entry into the United States.The State Department has said that her name would be placed in visa and immigration lookout systems to prevent the routine issuance of visa.Khobragade's departure from the US, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, does not alter the charges against the 39-year-old diplomat.
"Her name would be placed in visa and immigration lookout systems to prevent the routine issuance of any future visa and upon her departure a warrant may be issued for her arrest," she said.From the comments made by the State Department spokesperson, it is clear that Khobragade is being virtually treated as a 'persona non grata' and she may be permitted to visit the US only to subject herself to the jurisdiction of an American court.Khobragade, married to an Indian-origin American national, has two daughters, aged 6 and 3, who are now likely to shift to India.The US has said that Khobragade, who has returned to New Delhi, no longer enjoys immunity and an arrest warrant might be issued against her.
"Prior to her departure, it was conveyed to her and to the government of India that she is not permitted to return to the United States except to submit to the jurisdiction of the court," said Psaki.On Thursday, Khobragade was indicted in a New York court on two counts of visa fraud and misrepresentation of facts."The charges remain in place. There are processes that are standard processes in each of these cases, which we were abiding by throughout this process," the State Department spokesperson insisted.
Arrested on December 12, Khobragade was strip-searched and held with criminals, triggering a row between the two sides.India had retaliated by downgrading privileges of a certain category of US diplomats, among other steps.
4) Expressed support for Modi as an independent citizen: Bedi:
A day after she indicated that Bharatiya Janata Party's Narendra Modi was her preferred choice for the prime minister's post, former IPS officer and anti-corruption activist Kiran Bedi on Friday said she had not "joined any political party" but had only spoken for herself.
"I am speaking as a very strong, clear, independent citizen's voice. I am not a member of any political party, but that's what I did even during the 'India Against Corruption' movement," Bedi said.
She had last night tweeted that, "For me it is India First! Stable, Well Governed, Administered, Accountable and Inclusive. As an independent voter, my vote is for NaMo."
Referring to Aam Aadmi Party and her former Team Anna comrades Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, Bedi, meanwhile, said today that it was them that had decided to form a political party with a limited programme.
"I spoke up as an individual and we were a group of individuals who came together. Now, they have formed a party. They had their own limited programme, I have none.
"They have opened their account, let them learn some experience," Bedi said.
Interestingly, when asked about his reaction to Bedi's 'NaMo' tweet, Kejriwal, the Delhi chief minister, sought to downplay the matter.
"(Bedi is) a free citizen and can have her own views," he said.
5) No respite from cold wave in North India, 3 die in UP:
Three persons died due to severe cold in north India where icy winds swept through most parts and mercury plummeted by several notches.Delhiites also witnessed a cold and chilly day with the mercury settling at 5 degree Celsius, two notches below normal and the maximum temperature also showed a similar trend settling at 20.4 degrees Celcius.Three persons died due to severe cold in Uttar Pradesh, including two in Ghazipur district and one in Barabanki district, as night temperatures fell in different parts of the state, MeT officials said.The Srinagar-Jammu national highway, all-weather road connecting Kashmir with rest of the country, was opened on Friday for traffic after remaining closed for two days even as intermittent snowfall continued for the third day.
Meanwhile, the ongoing cold wave intensified in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh with mercury plummeting to up to four notches even as a thick fog blanket continued to play havoc with normal life in the region.Cold conditions further gripped Rajasthan as the night temperature plummeted one to five degrees at most places in the state and icy winds swept the region.Due to fog and mist in neighbouring states of Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, departure of Ajmer- Jabalpur Express train was rescheduled, while eleven other trains were running late from 25 minutes to about ten hours, a NWR spokesperson said.Himachal Pradesh also remained under the grip of cold wave with icy winds lashing the low areas and mercury dipped by few notches hovering around sub-zero temperatures in some parts of the state.According to the MET department, Nazibabad was the coldest in Uttar Pradesh at 0.5 degree Celsius while Lucknow recorded a minimum temperature of 5.2 degrees Celsius, two degrees below normal.
In Himachal Pradesh, the sky was heavily overcast in Shimla and surrounding areas received light snowfall, while the weather remained mainly dry in rest of the state.
The higher reaches and tribal areas shivered as mercury dropped by few notches after mild snowfall with Bharmaur in tribal areas of Chamba recorded a low of minus 13.1 degrees Celsius, Keylong and Kalpa in Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur also remained at sub-zero temperatures.
Lakes, springs, rivulets and tributaries were frozen in the region, causing sharp fall in discharge of water in snow-fed rivers of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej in the state.Rajasthan's sole hill station Mount Abu was the coldest place in the state at 0.6 degree Celsius. While Sriganganagar recorded a minimum temperature of 2 degrees C, followed by Churu 3.2 degree Celsius, Jaipur at 6 degree Celsius and Jodhpur at 9.7 degree Celsius.The minimum temperatures in most parts of Punjab and Haryana hovered between one to four degrees Celsius below normal, the MeT office here said.
In the plains of Punjab and Haryana, Amritsar was the coldest with a low of 0.4 degree Celsius, which was three notches below normal.The minimum temperature at Hisar was 0.7 degree Celsius, four notches below normal, while Narnaul reeled under a low of 2.1 degrees Celsius, three notches below normal.
The most effected parts of Punjab and Haryana due to dense fog included Amritsar, Ambala, Karnal, Hisar, Bhiwani, Ludhiana and Patiala, the MeT office said.The arterial roads in Jammu and Kashmir also remained closed on Wednesday due to snowfall across the Valley which continued intermittently till this afternoon, leading to an increase in minimum temperatures in most parts.Srinagar recorded a low of minus 0.7 degree Celsius, over one degree up as compared to the previous night's low of minus 1.9 degrees C, a MET Department official said.Leh, in the frontier region of Ladakh, was the coldest recorded place in the state with a low of minus 17.2 degrees C while the famous ski resort of Gulmarg registered a low of minus 10.8 degrees C last night.Pahalgam hill resort in south Kashmir recorded a low of minus 6.8 degrees C and Kargil, also in Ladakh, registered a minimum of minus 8.6 degrees Celsius against minus 9.2 degrees Celsius the previous night.
6) Polar vortex eases grip on frozen US:
The United States is warming up from the polar vortex.As it continued its northward retreat, the arctic blast still held sway over the upper Midwest, where it bore down with below-zero lows early Friday.This should be its last stand in the United States, as temperatures bump up day by day, the National Weather Service said.
However, the bone-chilling cold, snow and ice that gripped much of the country -- affecting about 200 million people -- brought about the biggest economic disruption delivered by the weather since superstorm Sandy in 2012.The crippling cold has left at least 21 people dead, including seven in Illinois and six in Indiana.
A commuter ferry navigates through the ice flow in the Hudson River between New Jersey and lower Manhattan in New York.
The frozen US side of the Niagara Falls is pictured in Ontario
Kids climb into a car to be driven to school in sub-zero temperatures in Minneapolis. Schools in Minneapolis reopened after being closed for two days due to dangerously low temperatures and wind chills
Ice flows jam the Delaware River in Trenton, New Jersey
The US side of the Niagara Falls is pictured in Ontario.
The frigid air and "polar vortex" that affected about 240 million people in the US and southern Canada will depart during the second half of this week, and a far-reaching January thaw will begin,
7) UK storms 'worst in 20 years', and more on the way:
Weather experts predict more flooding, with 96 warnings for England and Wales on Sunday and another storm dueThe UK is enduring the worst series of winter storms in more than 20 years, weather experts have said, as the country prepares for even more flooding.The Environment Agency has issued 96 flood warnings throughout England and Wales urging people to take immediate action, while a further 244 areas are on flood alert.Coastal areas – particularly in southern England – are most at risk as they cope with a combination of unusually high tides and another Atlantic storm on Sunday.
Forecaster Matt Dobson for MeteoGroup said the rain "simply has nowhere to go" after weeks of severe weather has saturated the ground and swelled rivers."It's very unusual to have so many powerful storms come in one after the other in such a short space of time, he said. "We haven't seen anything like this since about 1991."The nasty weather of the last few days is going to continue across the UK, with the combination of high tides and a powerful storm putting coastal areas particularly at risk.
"Any rain will mean more flooding as the ground is saturated and swollen rivers are coming up against strong waves. The water simply has nowhere to go."The Met Office has issued yellow weather warnings of ice and rain, predicting river and surface flooding as well as travel disruption mainly in south Wales and the south west and south east of England. Up to 40mm of rain could fall in higher ground.Inland rainfall will put pressure on rivers, particularly the Medway in Kent, the Thames in Oxford and Osney and the Severn Estuary in Gloucestershire.The Thames barrier will remain closed to protect land near the river.Strong winds, persistent rain and tidal waves are predicted for at least another two days, as emergency services attempt to cope with the trail of devastation already created by the severe weather.
More than 200 homes have been flooded from Cornwall to Scotland, with miles of coastline battered and roads and fields across the country left under water.
The prime minister, David Cameron, praised the "great work" of the emergency services and Environment Agency in responding to the latest floods and defended the government's flooding policy in protecting 200,000 homes.Meanwhile, searches resumed in south Devon for missing 18-year-old university student Harry Martin who was last seen leaving his home to take photographs of the weather, with more than 100 people volunteering to look for him.Officials around the country have pleaded with people to keep away as dozens put their life at risk by going to coastal areas to watch as the storm brought waves up to 40ft high crashing on to land.A man and child were almost swept away by a huge wave at Mullion Cove in Cornwall as they peered over the sea wall to watch the raging sea, and elsewhere in Cornwall vehicles driving on a coastal road were swamped and almost washed away by a tidal surge.Elsewhere in Cornwall, Sergeant Regie Butler pulled a man who had been drinking from the sea at Towan Beach, Newquay, after he had ignored police warnings.In Aberystwyth, Dyfed a man was rescued by lifeboat after he defied police warnings and became trapped when photographing waves from a harbour jetty.In the town debris was strewn across the promenade, rail lines in north Wales were left buckled by the power of the sea and a road collapsed in Amroth, Pembrokeshire.
The strong tides were said to be the worst to hit the Welsh coast in 15 years.Aberystwyth University has deferred the start of exams by a week and was advising students not to travel to the coastal town until the middle of next week.Emergency services rescued four people from a flooded farm in Llanbedr near Barmouth, north-west Wales, the Severn burst its banks in Gloucestershire for the second day running and a pregnant woman was rescued after 30 properties were flooded in Cardigan, mid-Wales. Part of the sea wall behind the Landmark Theatre in Ilfracombe collapsed because of the storms.The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, said: "The worst of the bad weather is not yet over so I've chaired an emergency meeting of all departments involved to make sure that preparations to respond are in hand."Our flood defences have worked very well and have protected 205,000 homes at risk."
Sports News This Week:
1) Bopanna-Qureshi end runners-up at Sydney International:
Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi had to be content with a runners-up finish at the ATP Sydney International after losing the fiercely fought final, in which there was no break of serve, against Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic.
The second-seeded Indo-Pak pair lost 6-7 (3) 6-7(3) to unseeded but very formidable Canadian-Serbian combination in one hour and 35 minutes.
Bopanna and Qureshi saved all five break chances on their serves but could not convert even one of the seven chances they got in summit clash of the USD 511,825 hard court tournament.
Bopanna and Qureshi split $13,100 between them as prize money and earned 150 points each while winners took home a combined prize purse of USD 24920 and 250 points each. They Indo-Pak Express now head to Australian Open with some good match practice under their belt as they aim to win their first Grand Slam. They had ended finalists at the 2010 US Open.
2) Inane India lose to efficient England in HWL opener:
India paid the price for not doing their basics right and lost to England 2-0 in their opening match of the Hero Hockey World League on Friday.
The Indians looked pretty ordinary and elementary mistakes while taking penalty corners made them look even worse. One such mistake cost them a goal, that too at a crucial time.
England were leading 2-0 with just 10 minutes for the final hooter when India fought back and earned their fourth penalty corner. Rupinderpal Singh 'scored' from the penalty corner but the 'goal' was disallowed after the video umpire found out that the player who had received the push had stopped the ball inside the circle before Rupinderpal flicked it home. As per hockey rules, the ball should have been stopped outside the 'D' before the attempt on the goal was made.
India struggled all through the first half as England set the pace, buoyed by the return of two of their top players from an injury layoff - midfielder Ashley Jackson and striker Mark Gleghorne.
The hosts found it hard to test the rival defence but still managed to get back-to-back penalty corners in the 15th minute. Both resulted in nothing.
England forced the Indians to make errors in the defence which resulted in three penalty corners in the space of six minutes. They hit the first one wide while the second one was smartly stopped by PR Sreejesh. But Adam Dixon made the third count, scoring from a variation to put England ahead in the 28th minute.
The loss will have no bearing on India's fortunes in the tournament since the pool matches will only determine who plays whom in the quarterfinals in the eight-team event.
Even if India lose all their matches and finish at the bottom on their pool, they will still play the table toppers of the other pool in the quarterfinals.oEarlier, World No.1 Germany did not let the absence of some of their star players affect their performance as they routed New Zealand 6-1. Germany have came to the tournament without their key striker Christopher Zeller (exams), ace defender Max Muller (injury) and 2012 FIH Player of the Year Moritz Furste (family reasons).
But that had no bearing on the result as the Olympic champions scored three goals in each half to cruise.The biggest upset of the day came when Argentina, the lowest ranked team in the tournament at No. 11, beat the more fancied Netherlands 5-2. Argentina maintained a 2-1 lead till the 50th minute when the world No. 3 team equalized. But three goals in the last 14 minutes earned Argentina a well-deserved win.
"The result is the outcome of hard work, dedication and collective group effort of the boys. We are here to win against the best and today's start was what we had planned," Argentina's coach Carlos Retegui said.Belgium fought hard but could not stop Australia from taking home full points in the tournament opener. The Australians took the lead twice but the Belgians bounced back to level the scores. When it looked headed towards a draw, Jacob Whetton spoiled Belgium's party with the winner in the last minute of the match.
Leaders Barcelona have yet to decide if Lionel Messi will play from the start in Saturday's top of the table La Liga clash at Atletico Madrid.The brilliant Argentine forward made an instant impact when he came on for the last 30 minutes of the midweek King's Cup tie against Getafe after being out for almost two months with a hamstring injury.Messi grabbed two goals in the 4-0 win but coach Gerardo Martino is not sure if second-placed Atletico will represent too tough a 90-minute test.
"He looks fine and had a phenomenal 30 minutes in the Cup but he returned after a long time out and the question is whether he is now ready to play a full game at this level," Martino told reporters on Friday."We will make a decision tomorrow. It's not really a case of asking a player how he feels as they will usually say 'fine'.
"I have to go by my sensations and look at different aspects to make a decision which people will judge me on. I am the Barcelona coach and pick my XI and then afterwards a decision will be made on how well I do," added Martino.The coach said he might have been prepared to risk Messi if the Atletico game was later in the season.
"With injuries I usually think about the player first and then about the opposition," he said."We are not at a decisive moment like in April...we are in January and the priority at the moment is the players and not the result."