Daily Archives: December 15, 2010

Spanish Researchers Want to Tag Human Embryos With Bar Codes


Photo: Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

FoxNews.com | Dec 13, 2010

By Loren Grush

In futuristic movies like “Aliens 2” and “12 Monkeys,” prisoners are bar coded for easy identification. But today’s reality is even wilder: Scientists have proposed bar-coding embryos.

Researchers from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain have just finished testing a method for imprinting microscopic bar codes on mouse embryos — a procedure they plan to test soon on humans. The venture is meant to avoid mismatches during in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer procedures. But privacy experts and children’s rights advocates were instantly concerned by the concept of “direct labeling” of embryos, calling for transparency in the process.

“An embryo is a human life, so we have to move forward with this very, very cautiously,” Pam Dixon, executive director for the World Privacy Forum, told FoxNews.com. “Obviously we can’t ask the embryo what it wants, so the individual making the donation must consent to this as well as the individual receiving the donation. There’s got to be a lot of public discussion.”

The researchers insist that their technique is perfectly safe, claiming that the bar codes simply evaporate as the embryo develops into a fetus. Dr. Arthur Caplan, the director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said that as long as development is not affected, any improvement on embryo transfer would be extremely beneficial — since mistakes can be heartbreaking.

“When you’re talking about mismatch, those kinds of errors are psychologically and emotionally devastating,” Caplan told FoxNews.com. “You have parents who want to reject the child saying that the child clearly isn’t the same race as they are. There’s also a danger that the donor may change their mind and want to get involved in parenting. People really want that biological connection. So I think this is a terrific idea to reduce those difficulties.”

The bar codes aren’t hidden or concealed — in fact, they’re easily observed through a standard microscope, and the research team hopes to develop an automatic code reading system when they perfect their technique for labeling mouse embryos.

And once that’s done, testing on human embryos will begin.

“We’re very enthusiastic about it,” said Elena Ibáñez, one of the researchers for the project — a collaboration with researchers from the Institute of Microelectronics of Barcelona and the Spanish National Research Council. “It’s something that if it works out, it could be extremely helpful for embryologists. Right now, fertility clinics are simply labeling the Petri dish. We’re just making an improvement on that system,” she told FoxNews.com.

The process involves injecting the bar codes, made from silicon, in the perivitelline space of embryos, the space between an embryo’s cell membrane and its protective outer cover, known as the zona pellucida. When the embryo attaches to the uterine wall, it frees itself from the zona pellucida, and the codes are meant to disappear right along with it, the researchers say.

This final stage has proven to be the most difficult for the researchers to polish, however; they’d like to find a more efficient means of “stamping” the embryos.

“We see in the mice that some of the codes get attached to the embryo itself,” said Ibáñez. “So one of the things we’re trying next is to implant the code directly on the outside cover rather than inside of it. That way we’ll be 100 percent sure that the code doesn’t remain.”

If the research team wants to be able to make the leap from mice to humans, they’ll need to be certain that the code detaches. Dixon says that it would be a definite invasion of privacy if there were any indication that that the bar code would remain. She urged researchers to explore alternative means of identification before moving forward with this technique.

“The outcome of this isn’t necessarily going to be positive,” Dixon told FoxNews.com. “Just because it’s an advanced technology doesn’t mean it’s going to make things mistake-proof. I think there are other alternatives that are less invasive that can provide the same function. Plus I can see many women who would not wanted to be implanted with a bar-coded embryo.”

But Ibáñez assures that the procedure is perfectly safe and that no one should feel apprehensive about utilizing the new system.

“If there’s any concern that this could harm the embryo, remember that the silicon we use is completely harmless,” said Ibáñez. “The embryos develop normally and once we’ve perfected everything, they will lose the code after implantation,” she told FoxNews.com.

“So you won’t be producing a baby with code on it,” she said.

UK in for at least another month of the most bitterly cold freeze since the 1960s


Traffic chaos: Motorists on the M8 in Scotland were left stranded in their cars overnight last week. More snow and ice is forecast for this week and the Met Office has issued several severe weather warnings

Will it be even colder than the winter of 1962-3? Big freeze returns tomorrow… and it’s going to last for a MONTH

Daily Mail | Dec 15, 2010

By Paul Bentley, Becky Barrow and Sophie Freeman

Temperatures will plummet tomorrow and will stay bitterly cold for the next month, forecasters have warned.

Severe weather warnings have been issued as the second Big Freeze of the season puts the country on course for a winter even colder than the notoriously treacherous 1962-63.

North-westerly parts of the country got a sneak preview today of the freezing weather to come. At 9am, West Scotland was still shivering at -7c while the mercury stood at -3c in north-west England.

Large swathes of the country were today issued with severe weather warnings, with ice and snow expected to make driving conditions treacherous from Thursday onwards.

A spokesman for the Met Office said: ‘A band of rain and snow will move southwards across Scotland and Northern Ireland during the early hours of Thursday with widespread icy surfaces then rapidly developing, potentially around the morning rush-hour period.

‘This risk will also extend into northern England. Heavy snow showers will then spread to areas exposed to the strong northerly wind.’

Temperatures on Thursday night will drop to between -3c and -6c, according to MeteoGroup.

Forecaster Aisling Creevey said: ‘We’ve had a little bit of a reprieve over the last few days – pretty much everywhere is at risk from snow and icy conditions as the temperature drops on Thursday.

‘And temperatures could be down to -10c in Scotland and to -4c and -5c across the country overnight on Friday.’

Snow is set to feature throughout the weekend.

David Price, a forecaster for the Met Office, said there would be 5cm-10cm of snow over much of the country, with some higher areas of Scotland facing as much as 20cm.

Looking further ahead Jonathan Powell, a forecaster with Positive Weather Solutions, said: ‘Our models are showing we will see a white Christmas. The most likely places to have one are Scotland, north-east England, the east coast, the South East and London. It’s going to happen.’

Scotland’s Transport Minister resigned at the weekend after heavy snow caused transport chaos across the country last week.

Stewart Stevenson was blasted for not doing more to prevent hundreds of people being left stranded in their cars overnight in sub-zero temperatures.

Today’s forecasts came as rail company Southeastern, which runs some of the country’s busiest commuter routes, admitted it would ‘always be a challenge’ to run good services in snowy conditions.

The firm, whose season ticket-holders face the biggest fare increases in the new year, faced criticism about the way it dealt with the wintry weather earlier this month.

Managing director Charles Horton said: ‘The South East of England was very, very badly hit by snow and ice and we were always going to struggle.

‘If there is very, very heavy snow, we are always going to find it a struggle to provide a good service.’

Royal Mail meanwhile announced it was spending £20 million on extra measures to handle the severe weather as it deals with the busiest posting day of the year.

The postal group said it expects to handle 130 million Christmas cards, letters and packets today ahead of the final posting dates of Saturday for second class and December 21 for first-class mail.

“Ruthlessly efficient” Germany brought to near standstill by 12 hours of solid snowfall


No way through: Huge snowfall obscures the view of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

Daily Mail | Dec 14, 2010

The myth of ruthlessly efficient Germany always battling the elements so much better than Britain has been smashed by a new cold weather front.

Not a single train ran without delays in the whole of the country.

In the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in the west there were some 700 accidents on the autobahns during 12 hours of snowfall. And even international airports like Dusseldorf had to shut down on Monday night as the snow blew in.

Jack-knifed trucks littered the motorway network across the country.

Many fellow truckers trying to pull lorries free of snowdrifts found themselves suddenly trapped.

Rising temperatures at the weekend following by a plunging thermometer on Monday created black ice across the country. The S-Bahn network in Berlin that carries most commuters to work was severely delayed due to frozen points.

Hamburg saw 400 road accidents within 12 hours and in the former British army garrison town of Osnabrueck all public transport was suspended because of the state of the roads.

“It is absolute chaos here,“ an Osnabrueck police spokesman said.

On the A9 autobahn leading into Munich the traffic jam into the city reached 18 miles long. In Nuremberg a sports hall and stadium were closed due to the build up of ice and snow on the roof.

Usually Germany is held up as the model to follow when it comes to combating winter. Teams of snowploughs are deployed on autobahns and trunk roads within minutes of the first flakes of snow dropping from the skies.

“But this front came in hard and fast and caught everyone on the hop,“ said a weather service spokesman.

Several people were killed in the accidents and dozens more hospitalised with injuries. The damages bill is already in the double digit millions.

Record freeze: Extreme weather battering East Coast

Winter is getting off to an early start this year as the bitter cold continues after this past weekend’s storm.

CNN | Dec 14, 2010

Strong northerly winds are ushering in an arctic blast that is setting records across the eastern half of the U.S.

Record lows were set Tuesday morning from Virginia to Florida. High temperatures are 30 degrees below average for this time of year. And to make matters worse, snow and ice are in the forecast, making even day-to-day commutes difficult and dangerous.

Florida farmers continue to take protective measures against freezing temperatures this week. And although it hasn’t been a catastrophic event, long stretches with lows below freezing could have a detrimental impact on strawberries and citrus.

Related

Numerous record lows were set in Florida on Tuesday morning, including 32 degrees in West Palm Beach and 20 degrees in Jacksonville. These temps might not seem extreme to the cold-weather veterans of the Midwest and Northeast, but in West Palm Beach, an average low Monday night would have been around 60.

Farther north, in the Midwest, freezing temperatures are the least of concerns. The lake effect snow machines have been raging since Sunday night and are expected to continue through at least Wednesday.

CNN’s Rob Marciano has been braving the elements in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, which received 12 inches overnight in a heavy lake effect snow band. Farther east, into New York, some locations have seen up to 20 inches in the Lake Erie and Lake Ontario snow belts. Winter storm warnings and lake effect snow warnings continue for these regions into Wednesday.

If that’s not enough of a winter blast for you, there’s a wintry mix – including freezing rain – on the way for parts of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys. Winter storm watches and winter weather advisories have been posted for frozen and freezing precipitation that is expected to start Wednesday afternoon.

The Weather Service says the freezing precipitation will start as snow and then gradually change into sleet and freezing rain by Wednesday morning. Ice is expected to accumulate up to a quarter of an inch across Kentucky and Tennessee, and possibly into northern Mississippi and Alabama. These accumulations will make travel extremely dangerous, and authorities have suggested that residents stay off the roads during the storm.

Arctic air likely to shatter 50-year-old records in South Florida

Wind Chill, Freeze Warnings In Effect Through Wednesday

wpbf.com | Dec 13, 2010

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Hard freeze warnings and wind chill advisories have been issued in South Florida ahead of a mass of arctic air that is already affecting the northern part of the state.

WPBF First Alert meteorologist Eric Burris said temperatures would dip into the 30s and upper 20s in some places overnight Tuesday.

Related

Dangerous Cold and Snow Grip Western North Carolina

Burris said the freezing temperatures Tuesday morning could shatter nearly 50-year-old records. He said the coldest temperature on record in Vero Beach was 28 degrees, set Dec. 14, 1962. In West Palm Beach, the record low that day was 30 degrees.

Temperatures could dip below both those marks.

A wind chill advisory was in effect for most of the area until 10 a.m. Monday. The National Weather Service issued another wind chill advisory beginning Monday evening and lasting through Tuesday morning.

A freeze watch was issued for most of South Florida overnight Tuesday and overnight Wednesday.

A hard freeze warning was also issued for the Treasure Coast beginning at midnight and ending at 8 a.m. Tuesday.