National Cancer Institute researchers have discovered a new class of protein found in sea coral that appears able to prevent HIV from entering T cells. If the proteins can be adapted for use in sexual lubricants and gels, they could offer a new form of barrier against HIV infection.
The study findings featured at the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting in San Diego on 29 April.
Senior investigator Dr. Barry O’Keefe, deputy chief of the Molecular Targets Laboratory at the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), says:
“It’s always thrilling when you find a brand-new protein that nobody else has ever seen before. And the fact that this protein appears to block HIV infection – and to do it in a completely new way – makes this truly exciting.”
The team discovered the proteins while screening thousands of natural product extracts in an NCI biological repository. Belonging to a class called cnidarins, the proteins were found in feathery corals collected from the sea off the north coast of Australia.
Co-investigator Dr. Koreen Ramessar, an NCI research fellow, says the cnidarins can block HIV without making the virus resistant to other HIV drugs, making them ideal for inclusion in anti-HIV microbicides, for which there is a pressing need. Women can use anti-HIV gels and lubricants without having to rely on a man being willing to use a condom.
Dr. O’Keefe says, “even if the virus became resistant to these proteins, it would likely still be sensitive to all of the therapeutic options that are currently available.”
After purifying the proteins, the team tested them on lab strains of HIV. They found them to be remarkably potent. Even at concentrations as low as a billionth of a gram, the proteins could block HIV and prevent the first step in the virus’ transmission where it penetrates T cells in the immune system.
The cnidarins appear to bind to the virus and stop it fusing with the membrane of the T cell. Dr. Ramessar says this is “completely different from what we’ve seen with other proteins, so we think the cnidarin proteins have a unique mechanism of action.”
Belonging to a class called cnidarins, the proteins were found in corals collected off the north coast of Australia.
The team now plans to improve ways to produce the proteins in larger quantities so they can be tested more extensively, for instance to find any side effects or if they might work against other viruses.
Dr. O’Keefe says this will be an important step, commenting that “you can’t strip the Earth of this coral trying to harvest this protein.”
The team found the proteins in the NCI’s large repository of natural product extracts, which collects natural specimens from around the world with the consent of their countries of origin. The repository is available to scientists across the US.
Dr. O’Keefe describes the NCI repository as a “national treasure,” where “you never know what you might find.”
He says he hopes news of discoveries like this one will encourage more scientists to use the repository.
In November 2013, Medical News Today learned how another study led by Swansea University in the UK and reported in the journal Nature Materials suggested bone grafts may be better with new sea coral material. The small trial in 16 patients found refining sea coral into coralline hydroxyapatite/calcium carbonate made it more compatible and degradable for use in bone grafts than a currently used derivative.
(Catharine Paddock, PhD/Medical News Today)
The rebirth of a Philippine world-class product
By Allysa Faye Greganda
By 2020, the world’s need for cacao beans is projected to increase by 30%, yet the country’s production has yet to meet the demand. If our cacao industry can do so, then there is hope for the Philippine agricultural sector.
While Filipinos crave for imported chocolates, better think again: first-rate quality cocoa can be grownin your backyard. It is the same reason why the Department of Agriculture keeps an eye on this delectable opportunity for the country’s agri-production.
This month, DA just handed an initial P14M for cacaoagri-business zones (CABZs) in Davao City.
Being endowed with such perfect soil composition and sun temperature, the Philippine’s cacao industry is a potential big exporter—only if more farmers would invest into it.
The truth is, cacao seeds do not grow in thewestern countries known to produce these mouth-watering chocolates, including Japan. Raising cacao trees haveclimatic requirements.
Rainfall should range from 1250 to 3000 mm per annum while 1500-2000 mm during dry season of not more than 3 months. Maximum temperature is 32°C and the minimum is 18°C. Altitude of the area must lie between 300-1200 meters above sea level.
Cacao thrives best in areas with evenly distributed rainfall throughout the year. As of now, cacao plantations can be found in the areas of Mindanao specially Davao and CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) in Luzon.
The cacao industry has never grown into its full potential. Moreover, we even import 20,000 metric tons of cocoa beans from Africa last 2008 up to this date, costing $42 million a year.
During 1980s, Philippines has shared 20% of the world’s need for cocoa. The industry declinedaltogether with the rise of CARP.
Discovering these lost chances, the DA and Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) made partnerships with different companies to help boost cacao farming in the country.
BAR also collaborated with Cocoaphil for the Sustainable Cacao Program. The target now is to be able to produce 100,000 metric tons by 2020 from our usual production of 25,000 metric tons yearly.
As for the initial funding, P1.75 million has been allotted for the distribution of seedlings.
P2.5 million goes for production equipment’s and machinery. Post-harvest facilities and other infrastructure costs P6.22 million, marketing development services amounts to P200,000, while P615,000 budget allotted in training for new and current cacao industry players.
Made in the Philippines
“Dry like a full bodied well-aged red wine,” these were the words Shawn Askinosie of the world’s famous Zingerman’s Deli said to describe the Philippine Tablea (chocolate).
So far, there had been few who attempts in making it into the exporting world—all by themselves. Rob Crisostomo started as a simple farmer then eventually founded the Seed Core Enterprises in Davao.
He now exports container load of Philippine cacao to Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest supplier of high quality chocolate and cacao products. It just proves that cacao made in the Philippines is globally competitive.
This will not only give glory to the country but also provide livelihood for many families.
The secret of Philippine cacao beans is in how our farmers carefully process the seedlings from planting, harvesting and even in quality control phase. Filipino women are the usual laborers in cacao plantations. DA said that this type of farming is gender-sensitive, that is why women are the preferred laborers.
As of now, there are 20,000 hectares of cacao trees in Davao, and 70% of the annual production of the crop come from the same province. The industry has helped 16,000 farmers and 340 cooperatives, according to Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines.
Indeed, this industry has becoming a good source of livelihood for most Filipinos in the South.
It is a wise decision for DA to finally revive the cacao industry. This can even lift the country into poverty. We should focus more into utilizing our lands because the Philippines’climate and environment has the perfect set up for growing such crops.
Our true wealth is our agriculture because not all countries are capable of producing crops such as cacao beans. Our government has to realize that prosperity in our country does not merely relyon just ICT, business empires and technology.
It will be beneficial for the country’s economy if the budget allocation for this industry is increased.
(Ms. Greganda is a graduating student of AB Communication in the University of Perpetual Help System Laguna. She is currently working in OpinYon as an intern. She also loves sweets, including chocolate.)
BINDER: Many companies have already thrown in their support to the proposed Broadband Interconnection for National Development and Emergency Response. This might sound like the National Broadband Network (NBN), but it is not. NBN is technically just a Value Added Network (VAN), but it does not have Value Added Services (VAS). As I proposed it, BINDER will be not only be a VAN, it will be the backbone upon which an infinite number of VAS could be attached to it, so that these could function and operate.
VAN-VAS ARCHITECTURE: As it was supposed to be (but it did not happen), the government was supposed to build the VANs, and that would have enabled the private sector to attach their own VAS, without spending too much on their own infrastructure. This would have lowered the cost of services, because the private sector would not have too much investment to recover. This is similar to what happened in the case of the network of roads and highways that were built by the government. With these in place, the private sector was able to provide the land transportation services that are now running on these networks.
PRIVATE TOLL WAYS: We pay our taxes and in doing that, we expect the government to build infrastructure like roads and highways. As it happened however, the government was not able to build the superhighways as it was supposed to do, and that is why private companies had to build and operate the private toll ways, and that is why we have to pay money as we pass through. In a way, this is like double taxation, but that is what is happening, because what was supposed to happen did not happen.
INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAYS: Since the government was not able to build the national broadband networks as it was supposed to do, the bigger companies decided to build their own information superhighways. As it was supposed to be, these private information superhighways were supposed to operate only as VANs, because the original intention was to give the smaller companies the opportunity to provide the VAS components. As it happened, the bigger companies monopolized the business by running their own VAS components in their own VANs, thus leaving out the smaller companies.
INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS (ISPs): As it originally happened, the smaller companies were buying bandwidth from the VANs of the bigger companies, so that they could provide services to the general public as the ISPs as we knew them before. As it eventually happened however, the bigger companies started providing internet services on their own, thus breaking the ethical rule that the producers of goods and services should not compete with their own wholesalers and retailers. As it happened, the ISPs went out of business, leading to the monopoly of the VAN-VAS businesses by the bigger companies.
PATCHWORK CAN WORK: Since the bigger companies have already built their own VANs (they all have their own separate networks), it is now possible to build a nationwide (as in national, if you get the drift) broadband based interconnection, by simply patching (as in interconnecting them) together, to the extent that they would allow it. For many years now, I always find myself in the company of government planners who would always want to build a “brand new” national broadband network, instead of a patchwork. They would be in the right place if they were working for a superpower, but there is really nothing wrong if a developing country would choose instead to patch together what is already there.
FOUR MAJOR TRENDS IN COMPUTERIZATION: The four major trends in computerization are (1) cloud computing, (2) big data, (3) server virtualization and (4) storage scalability. As it used to be, private companies and government agencies had to invest a lot of money in building their own data centers, thus incurring too much costs in servers, storage and facilities management. As it is now however, they have the option of getting (acquiring) these services from “the cloud” (meaning from remote offsite locations). As it used to be, it was very difficult to manage and mine huge data assets in an economical and efficient manner. As it is now however, there are newer technologies to manage and mine the “big data” robustly, no matter how big and diverse it is. As it used to be, hundreds of servers were needed to run big data centers. As it is now however, servers could already be “virtualized”, thus needing lesser servers and smaller space. As it used to be, servers and storage devices were “married” as one. As it is now however, these are now “divorced” and the storage spaces are now scalable.
THE BETTER SIDE OF BUSINESS: I worked for San Miguel Corporation (SMC) when its corporate motto was still “Profit with Honor”. The motto is long gone, but SMC along with many other companies are now practising “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR for short). As it used to be, corporate philanthropy was a one way street, meaning that corporations gave money to worthy causes without expecting anything back, except perhaps a good image and goodwill. As it is now however, corporations have the option to get back something from their donations, in the form of tax credits that they could deduct from their net taxable incomes. It does not really matter whether corporations would give donations in exchange for something or for nothing, as long as they give to worthy causes.
SYSTEMS INTEGRATOR AND PROJECT MANAGER: Many companies in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector have their own CSR programs in pursuit of their own corporate objectives. Since I know many of the officers from these companies, I volunteered to become the “Systems Integrator” (SI) and “Project Manager” (PM) of a shared network that would be built from a patchwork of donated hardware, software and services, combining whatever surpluses they could donate. This is now the BINDER project.
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Good news for photography enthusiasts: Samsung finally launched the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom.
Along with its unusual camera lens, it offers a 10x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization that can go from a focal length of 24mm to 240mm in just a snap.
It is pretty versatile for those who love to capture selfies, food, landscapes, concerts and other events.
K Zoom runs with the latest 4.4.2 KitKat version of Android OS and TouchWiz interface. There are several new enhancements on this device,including GoogleNow,an application that actively listens to voice commands.
It is also power-driven by a hexa-core processor made up of two 1.7GHz ARM A15 cores paired with four 1.3 GHz ARM A7 cores.
That means this smartphone has improved performance and will use power more efficiently,while being easy on battery life.
Techies will probablyraise their expectationsfor smartphone technology done by other big-name manufacturers, because Samsung has raised the bar with this new product line. (Niks Aguila)
[By Erick A. Fabian]
The Philippines has the best call center agents in the world. We shouldn’t be surprised when they are pirated by companies in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand come ASEAN 2015.
All the foreign firms have to do is offer them better salaries and security of tenure.
There is one thing the government can’t stop — the continuous brain-drain of Filipino professionals which has been happening for several decades.
It started with our scientists. Then the doctors, nurses, teachers, and information technology professionals followed.
For a country relying on manpower as a major source of revenue, we will soon find ourselves empty-handed.
There is no question as to the competence of Filipino business processing operations (BPO) or call center employees. Being a former American colony for 50 years, the Philippines has produced a large pool of fluent English speakers.
Ability to mimic
Even India conceded when its BPO companies moved 70 percent of their operations here recently. Companies worldwide have attested to the Filipino’s natural ability to mimic a neutral, easy-to-understand Western accent.
With most of our industries outflanked by their counterparts in other Asian countries, the BPO industry is one of the most promising saviors of the Philippine economy.
Offshore business processing is expected to double its multi-billion dollar earnings in 2015, due to rising demand in the global economy.
As ASEAN 2015 looms, the emerging economies of Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam will be joining the BPO bandwagon.
International investors keep complaining about the corruption, infrastructure, and the difficulty of setting up a business here, seen as a major bottleneck for would-be BPOs.
We cannot blame Filipino call center employees if they eventually move abroad. There is nothing wrong with prioritizing your family’s needs, and a better offer is always tempting.
Fresh graduates of electronics communications engineering from provincial colleges are already getting offers of double compensation abroad. BPO agents will soon follow suit, because investors will find fertile ground in other Asian countries.
In fact, even military junta-ruled Myanmar is loosening up policies so foreign investors will be attracted to come and stay. The current regime at least had the sensibility to admit that they need a lot of foreign investor money to sustain their country’s economy.
US-based BPOs are here simply because the costs are much lower, and the return on investment more than makes up for the initial capital of setting up a new operation.
But more and more Filipino professionals are slowly trickling into Thailand and Vietnam, buoyed by their innate English language proficiency.
A 2013 ZDNET.com report by finance analyst Ryan Huang confirms that the Thai call center industry is pulling up its sleeves to challenge BPO heavyweights Philippines and India.
Internet speed is the lifeblood of the BPO industry, and yet the Philippines has one of the slowest Internet speeds in Asia. This is what they call the digital divide: the one who gets the information first wins.
The country has supplied the initial amount of exceptional BPO employees, but it is now becoming more obvious that we cannot respond to the skyrocketing demand.
The availability of foreign BPO companies here is a drop in the bucket. There are more than three million eligible but unemployed Filipinos. The call center industry can only employ around 600,000.
There are recent reports of Filipino professionals doing well in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. A quick sweep of online job listings shows random lists of companies in Asian countries recruiting Filipino call center agents with offers of better salaries and working conditions.
One gray area is that law enforcement can’t even ensure the safety of BPO workers in Makati and Ortigas who mostly work at night. Recent accounts of mugging and other crimes against call center workers abound.
Whether the government and the BPO industry can get their acts together is another story.
If you believe you have been abducted by aliens – don’t worry, you are not alone.
The UK’s first support group for people who believe they have experienced alien abduction or other associated anomalous phenomena is holding its annual conference next month.
The Anomalous Mind Management, Abductee, Contactee Helpline (Ammach) is arranging the “Exposure Through Disclosure” event to provide a platform for people to share their extra-terrestrial experiences without the fear of being judged or ridiculed.
“It is not uncommon for people to report being taken onto a craft and given a medical examination”
The helpline has received approximately 1,500 calls since it began three years ago, from people who claim to be an “abductee” or “contactee”, also known as “experiencers”. Contactees are those who have made conscious contact with extra-terrestrials and abductees are those who are taken to an alien craft.
Founder and director Joanne Summerscales, told IBTimes UK: “It is not uncommon for people to report being taken onto a craft and given a medical examination, when on occasion sperm or ovum are taken, or implants inserted.
“Abductees are generally aware something is happening. Sometimes they remember being taken and have reported symptoms like being unable to move. Clearly, our space friends have full control over time and matter, as some people also not only feel, but are aware that they have been taken and returned through solid objects such as walls, doors, windscreens and windows.
“One of the experiencers told me they had interaction with a being who looked like the praying mantis insect, except this being was seven to nine feet tall, bipedal, and of high intelligence.”
She said some experiencers have said there are around 60 different types of species interacting with humanity and the earth, with one group of extra-terrestrials known as “Nordics” because of their Scandinavian looks, with blond hair.
Summerscales believes that as more people develop confidence to come forward to share their experiences the more people will learn about the greater, wider truth of the “our true history”, and “what our place is in this galaxy”.
“The main drive behind Ammach is to widen the knowledge base, to explore and research it, and bring it into the public domain to inspire dialogue,” she added.
“We are in a state our planet, and If any of this is true, once it is accepted as such, it will be revolutionary for humanity, and our development.”
The conference at the White Rock Theatre in Hastings, East Sussex on May 31 from 9.30am to 6.30pm will be featuring six speakers who have been in touch with aliens including ex-soldier Mike Smith, and other researchers specialising in the field. (ibtimes.co.uk)
Advances in information technology changed not only the way we think of businesses, but also of the way we run them. With the rise of companies run by minimal office staff, there is a need for assistance in doing the nitty-gritty aspects of the business. The challenge is to do it without garnering additional costs and manpower. This is where Afortiva Virtual Solutions comes in.
Afortiva supplies ‘virtual assistants’, people who can do the kind of work that office secretaries and personal assistants used to do. The only difference is that you can access your VA anytime and anywhere there is an Internet connection. Founded by Gregory and Vanessa Misaghi, the company uses a very simple but highly beneficial concept.
While Gregory handles CEO duties, Vanessa, as Operations Director, oversees the daily operations and manages their working teams. Their VA teams provide administrative support and other specialized services to businesses, entrepreneurs, executives, business professionals, and others who have more work to do than the time to do it.
Vanessa explains, “Many clients realize that they are spending too much time taking care of busy-work that they can’t bill clients for, but still needs to be done, such as scheduling trips, planning meetings, researching the Internet for information, tracking expenses, paying bills and taxes, balancing the books, maintaining files, screening calls, and answering e-mails. A virtual assistant can save you time because you’ll be spending less time doing that work and more time growing your business, having quality time with the family, or just plain relaxing.”
Afortiva’s service is all about helping their clients, mostly business owners and managers, to concentrate on what they do best. Their clients have realized the importance of having someone outside the office handle all routine office tasks.
Gregory, or Greg as he’d like to be called, acknowledges that the VA concept is not that new. What makes their services different is that they have created their unique spin on the what a VA can do for their clients. He emphasizes that it is all about knowing what your clients need on a personal level.
He shares, “Afortiva is more of a ‘Mom and Pop’ shop. A small business for small businesses. In this model, we don’t want you to keep ‘returning products to the store’ if unhappy. We don’t want you to waste the time. Time that we have promised to give you. Have a business problem and need consulting? You need a service that you don’t see on our list? Let us solve that for you by finding solutions for your problems as if it were ours. We will constantly update you and call you instead of sending a generic email. Unlike big firms, we won’t let bureaucratic or arbitrary procedures limit us from helping you. You won’t have to talk to five people to solve one simple task. You don’t have to take two steps forward and one step back. These value added services are free and are included with the rate we charge you.”
In a Facebook conversation with Vanessa, she shares that just like a lot of businesses, they went through several transitions before becoming successful.
“I was into business development for six years. Greg was into training for three years. We met at a call center. When we became a couple, we realized our tandem is a good combo to start something out. I was contacted by one of my former clients from the US, and he asked if I can do projects for him. I took the job as a part-time thing. Greg became interested in it. And we both agreed, why not do this for good?”, she said.
At first, Vanessamade contact with all of the people she networked with from the US and found a way to secure clients. Most of the jobs theyreceived weretelemarketing-oriented.
She recalls, “We have only had two computers at home then. We did it ourselves. Andwe were able to hire oneyoung person to help us out. All of a sudden the number of clients increased instantly. They mostly came from referrals by my other contacts and current clients. Soon we had to move operations to Bacolod to accommodate those clients. Greg’s dad has an office there with six desktop computers. We borrowed their office at night.”
Sadly, the Bacolod move didnot work out well for the couple’s first venture together. Vanessa admits that labor costs are cheaper there but they had a hard time finding competent people to work for them. The telemarketing accounts also demanded too much from them and became too difficult to work with.
The couple flew back to Manila and resolved to reshape their business model and we discarded their telemarketing accounts. They eventually decided to focus more on the ‘virtual assistant’ market. This decision positively shaped Afortiva into what it is now.
One thing they learned from their previous work experiences is to identify what made both of them leave in the first place. “When we put up Afortiva, we made sure to recall whatever things we didn’t like from our previous companies, and ensure that we won’t do those things in our own company. We now operate in a culture and work atmosphere that our employees enjoy. They havethe freedom to be creative. They have discipline, and most importantly, they can learn alot from the online marketing industry, ” remarks Vanessa.
Come May 1, the nation will mark Labor Day, but is it worth celebrating?
For as long as labor remains mired in a state of deprivation, no significance – either real or imagined – can be attached to what is supposed to be a day of tributes to the workers.
That the workers are exploited with impunity can hardly be disputed, given the rampant practice by big businesses such as SM of tycoon Henry Sy to resort to contractualization.
Bluntly, contractualization – other than the businesses’ subtle way to rake in more profits — appears to be the hidden cost underlying a struggling economy.
While providing relief to the ranks of the jobless, such measure is but only temporary, exposing indeed the government’s lack of long-term solutions to the nation’s job woes.
Broadly, the malpractice is not only revolting, but also immoral because it deprives workers of their human right to a life of respect and dignity.
Without any moment’s notice, those who entered into such lopsided arrangement can be terminated even in the absence of any justifiable cause.
How and why contractualization continued to thrive under the noses of labor officials defies logic.
The economy, as the government says, has been on a growth track over the past years, creating opportunities for employment.
And yet, based on official statistics, there’s still a growing number of Filipinos who are jobless.
It only buttressed the fact that while growth is welcome news, it can’t be equated by any stretch of imagination with the uplift of the workers’ quality of life. Understandably, we can’t find fault with those who opt to look for greener pastures abroad.
Desperation is just overwhelming, leaving them with no choice but to take their chances in faraway lands.
AS the world celebrated Earth Day last April 22, Senator Loren Legarda renewed her call to protect marine biodiversity and preserve the country’s ecosystems.
Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, said that the country’s natural resources, especially those within our seas, are crucial to the survival of Filipinos, especially that the Philippines is an archipelago.
“We are fortunate to have been blessed with abundant natural resources. In fact, we are one of the 17 megadiverse countries, home to majority of Earth’s species. Unfortunately, we are also one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots, with a large number of species that are endangered or threatened with extinction,” she lamented.
“The Philippines also has one of the world’s richest marine ecosystems, characterized by extensive coral reefs, sea-grass beds and dense mangroves. But despite this richness in marine resources, about 3.9 million families still experienced hunger in the last quarter of 2013 and many of those living in coastal communities remain poor with 4 of 10 coastal residents living under poverty line,” she added.
“We must all work, in our own and simple yet big and determined steps, to help resuscitate our ailing environment. Let us turn away from extractive and consumptive way of living and strive to make a positive impact on our natural resources—may it be by saving on fuel, energy and water consumption, recycling, proper solid waste management or growing trees,” Legarda said.
“We must put an end to the exploitation and exportation of corals as well as the fishing and taking of any rare, threatened and endangered species. Our fishermen should stop the use of fine mesh net, explosives and other poisonous substance in our seas,” she added.
Last April 22, the Senator launched a video documentary on Philippine marine biodiversity to raise awareness on the current condition of the country’s marine life and underwater resources.
The project is a collaboration with award-winning director Brillante Mendoza, in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Philippine Information Agency.
The documentary features marine videos from underwater videographer Robert “Bobbit” Suntay and his fellow videographers Jan Acosta, Boogs Rosales and Wowie Wong from the Network of Underwater Digital Imagers (NUDI).
“We celebrate Earth Day every year on April 22 and we are reminded to nurture our planet which abundantly provides us with the resources we need to survive. We are encouraged to strengthen our commitment to save the Earth and contribute to the sustainability of our nation,” Legarda said, in concluding her speech.
The senator also warned that neglecting our marine resources can result to hunger and poverty for millions of Filipinos. “Its (marine ecosystem) destruction affects the livelihood of coastal communities, our food supply, our tourism and our economy.”