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Coral Protein Can Fight HIV

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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)

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Crucifix Crushes Man

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A 21-year old man has died after being crushed by a crucifix erected in honour of Pope John Paul II in northern Italy.

Marco Gusmini was killed instantly and one other man taken to hospital, Italian media reported.

Part of the 30m-high (100ft) sculpture collapsed at a ceremony ahead of the Pope’s canonisation. John Paul II and his predecessor, Pope John XXIII, are due to be declared saints on Sunday.

The crucifix commemorates the Pope’s visit to the area in 1998.

The installation, near the town of Cevo, was designed as a large curved cross with a statue of Jesus Christ, weighing 600kg (1,320lb), fixed to the top.

A group of children was reported to be in attendance at the time.

The cross was designed by sculptor Enrico Job and was created for John Paul II’s visit to nearby Brescia.

The two popes will be declared saints at the Vatican on Sunday.

It is not the first death caused by a falling crucifix in Italy.

In 2004, the Associated Press reported that a 72-year old woman had been crushed to death by a 7ft-tall metal crucifix in the town of Sant’Onofrio in the south of the country. (BBC.com)

 

Tech Industry Can Fight Climate Change

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The Internet can help fight climate change, says eco-group Greenpeace leader Kumi Naidoo. The current technology we are using have made high speed communication between continents possible. It has definitely made the delivery of breaking much faster than traditional media. It has helped advocacy groups pressure government to be more transparent. It has enabled countries like Egypt to facilitate social revolutions. Therefore, says Naidoo, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it can help solve the problem of climate change.

Each time someone posts a Facebook status, streams a favorite video on YouTube, and types a Twitter message, the information is contained in massive data centers which uses up a lot of electricity. Data centers are a major part of the online cloud system, and one can consume as much electricity as a medium-sized city.

If cloud computing were a country, according to Naidoo,who hails from South Africa and has been the group’s International Executive Director since 2009, it would rank sixth in the world on based on how much power it consumes.The amount of data going to and fro around the world is forecasted by experts to triple in the next few years, as more and more people use the Internet to connect with the rest of the world.

Naidoo, who is also known as a human rights activist, acknowledges that the internet has changed the world for the better. It has mobilized groups of people toask for more freedom, transparency & democracy from their governments. The Greenpeace director says it is only natural that it moves the world to a clean energy revolution that will last for generations to come.

Naidoo reminds people that the Internet that everyone finds useful, and the companies that run it, are at a crossroads in terms of where their energy comes from.  Several online-based companies are nowaiming for a green Internet and a sustainable future. Companies like Facebook, Apple and Google have committed to 100 percent renewable energy.They did this in response to advocates around the world who have asked them for a greener Internet. Other fast-growing technology companies, like Salesforce, Rackspace and Box, have joined the rest in making the same commitment, proving that 100 percent renewable energy is 100 percent possible for any company that has the will to implement it.

Naidoo adds, “In contrast, some popular online companies, including social media sites that people use every day like Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr, still power their platforms with fossil fuels and nuclear energy.” At the moment, the largest cloud-based company is Amazon Web Services, a division of Amazon.com. It is the data host for some of the most popular Internet brands in the world. Unlike major online brands like Google and Apple, Amazon’s main source of power for its servers comes frompollution-causing sources of energy that threaten nearby communities and the climate. “Of course, Amazon doesn’t have to remain stuck in the energy sources of the 1800s. Energy sources like wind and solar made up for more than half of all the new electricity in the United States in 2012,” says Naidoo.

The Greenpeace director assures the public, though, that digital pioneers are making moves toward eco-friendly measures, both online and offline. For one, Apple is now operating the largest privately-owned solar installation in the U.S. at one of its data centers. Facebook persuaded a U.S. power company to supply its data center with 100 percent wind energy. Google followed suit by pioneering the use of clean power purchases, buying wind energy to provide electricity for its services like Gmail and YouTube, as well as the rest of the power grid.

Naidoo further comments, “If Amazon and others want to stay innovative and relevant, it’s high time they made the switch to the abundant, sustainable, renewable energy of today.Simply put, we need a greener online to preserve a greener offline.”

Indeed, the Internet has helped influence world policies in the direction of freedom, transparency and democracy. Naidoo is optimistic that the world’s move to a clean energy revolution will last for generations to come. He advises, “These companies can make that happen, but only if they hear from you.” Naidoo is actively inviting the public to join him in convincing Internet companies to commit to 100 percent renewable energy for their data centers.

In The Future, People Will Bring Pot To Dinner Parties Instead Of Wine

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If the support for marijuana legalization continues to rise, in the near future you might bring a bag of your favorite cannabis to a dinner party, rather than a bottle of wine.

That’s according to a new study from online legal resource Avvo, which found that 70 percent of the more than 2,000 consumers surveyed in Colorado and Washington — where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use — believe that marijuana consumption will become such a routine part of their lives that they’ll bring it along to something as regular as a dinner party.

The survey — which only included people who used Avvo.com in the past year — found that a strong majority of residents in Colorado and Washington are in support of legal weed businesses opening up in their neighborhoods. Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed in Colorado and 71 percent of those in Washington said they were in favor, with 43 percent planning on making a marijuana purchase in the future.

There was some concern from residents in both states that legalization could increase access to marijuana for kids, with 43 percent saying they were “very worried” about this notion. Forty-two percent of those surveyed where “very concerned” about the possibility of more people driving under the influence of marijuana.

The poll echoes similar positive sentiments from a recent survey from Public Policy Polling, which showed that Colorado voters are even happier about marijuana legalization after the first few months of sales.

Marijuana enthusiasts bought a lot of pot in the first month that recreational weed was legal in Colorado — several dozen recreational marijuana dispensaries collectively generated more than $14 million in January.

Just this month, Washington state regulators issued the first legal marijuana business license in the state. The first Washington shops selling retail weed are expected to open later this year.

“As the growing number of states with marijuana-legalization ballot initiatives indicates, pot is gaining social acceptance across a wide swath of demographics, even with shared concerns about kids having great access to the drug,” Leigh McMillan, vice president of marketing and research at Avvo, said in a statement. “Somewhat akin to the social movement after the end of prohibition, legalized marijuana will likely follow a similar trajectory as cannabis becomes socially accepted and new businesses emerge.”

Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form, with about a dozen other states expected to join their ranks in the coming years. (Matt Ferner/Huffpost)

“Virtue is stronger when united”

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By Dong Maraya

On April 4 the National Peace Day of Angola is celebrated. We take this opportunity to greet all Angolans for this momentous day.

The Republic of Angola is a country in Southern Africa. Luanda is its capital city. Angola as a Portuguese colony encompassing the present territory was not established before the end of the 19th century. Independence was achieved in 1975, after a protracted liberation war. After independence, Angola was the scene of an intense civil war from 1975 to 2002. The executive branch of the government is composed of the President, the Vice-Presidents and the Council of Ministers. For decades, political power has been concentrated in the Presidency.

José Eduardo dos Santos is an Angolan politician who has been President of Angola since 1979. As President, José Eduardo dos Santos is also the commander in chief of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) and president of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the party that has ruled Angola since it gained independence in 1975. He was born on 28 August 1942. At the age of 19 he joined the MPLA’s guerrilla army fighting for independence from Portugal.

After the death of Angola’s first president, Agostinho Neto on 10 September 1979, José Eduardo dos Santos was elected as President of the MPLA on 20 September 1979, and he took office as President of Angola, President of the MPLA, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces on 21 September. He was also elected as President of the People’s Assembly on 9 November 1980.

In power for 33 years, despite having never been formally elected, Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is Africa’s second-longest serving head of state – trailing Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo by just one month.

On 29 and 30 September 1992, elections were held in Angola. José Eduardo dos Santos won the election. In 2001, dos Santos announced that he would step down at the next presidential election. However, in December 2003 he was reelected as head of the MPLA and no further presidential election took place, despite these being announced for 2006, then 2007 and finally announced that the next presidential election would be held in 2009. After legislative election in 2008 in which the ruling MPLA won a landslide victory, the party started working on a new constitution that was introduced early in 2010. In terms of the new constitution, the leader of the party with the most seats in Parliament automatically becomes the president of the country.

In the 2012 general election, his party, the MPLA, won more than 2/3 of the votes. As dos Santos had been the top candidate of the party, he automatically became the President of the Republic, in line with the constitution adopted in 2010, and therefore found himself for the first time in the position of a legally elected President.

The 70 year old is never criticized by the country’s state media organs, and the remaining few private newspapers that have not been bought up by government ministers and which dare challenge his actions are hit with lawsuits.

He is now hoping to win a new five-year mandate when his country holds parliamentary elections under a new constitution that elects the president from the top of the winning party list. Analysts say, the election is as much a referendum on Mr. dos Santos, who celebrated his birthday on the campaign trail, and his record as president as it is about appointing a new National Assembly.

Under his leadership Angola has risen from the ashes of war to become sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest economy, after South Africa and Nigeria, and a magnet for foreign investment.

Mr. dos Santos’s  long stay in office represents stability to his trading partners, one of the largest of which is now China. Against all odds, he has remained in power since 1979, overcoming challenges of war, elections and at the same time displaying a highly refined political craftsmanship. Analysts say Mr dos Santos’ avoidance of the limelight is key to his success because he has been able to keep his enemies guessing and he has carefully kept internal rivals at bay. While criticism of Mr. dos Santos is growing among small sections of urban Angolans, who are increasingly turning to the internet and social media as an alternative to the heavily censored mainstream media, he still has plenty of support.

After the end of the Civil War, the regime came under pressure from within as well as from the international environment, to become more democratic and less authoritarian. Its reaction was to operate a number of changes without substantially changing its character. The new constitution, adopted in 2010, further sharpened the authoritarian character of the regime. In the future, there will be no presidential elections: the president and the vice-president of the political party which comes out strongest in the parliamentary elections become automatically president and vice-president of Angola.

Angola has a rich subsoil heritage, from diamonds, oil, gold, copper, and a rich wildlife, forest, and fossils. Since independence, oil and diamonds have been the most important economic resource. Smallholder and plantation agriculture have dramatically dropped because of the Angolan Civil War, but have begun to recover after 2002. The transformation industry that had come into existence in the late colonial period collapsed at independence, because of the exodus of most of the ethnic Portuguese population, but has begun to reemerge, partly because of the influx of new Portuguese entrepreneurs.

Angola’s economy has undergone a period of transformation in recent years, moving from the disarray caused by a quarter century of civil war to being the fastest growing economy in Africa and one of the fastest in the world. In 2004, China’s Eximbank approved a $2 billion line of credit to Angola. The loan is being used to rebuild Angola’s infrastructure, and has also limited the influence of the International Monetary Fund in the country.

The country has vast mineral and petroleum reserves, and its economy has on average grown at a double-digit pace since the 1990s, especially since the end of the civil war. In spite of this, standards of living remain low for the majority of the population, and life expectancy and infant mortality rates in Angola are among the worst in the world. Angola is considered to be economically disparate, with the majority of the nation’s wealth concentrated in a disproportionately small sector of the population.

In 2002, the country’s economy has developed significantly since achieving political stability, but still Angola faces huge social and economic problems. These are in part a result of the almost continual state of conflict from 1961 onwards, although the highest level of destruction and socio-economic damage took place after the 1975 independence, during the long years of civil war.

Although by law education in Angola is compulsory and free for eight years, the government reports that a percentage of students are not attending due to a lack of school buildings and teachers. Students are often responsible for paying additional school-related expenses, including fees for books and supplies. The Ministry of Education hired 20,000 new teachers in 2005 and continued to implement teacher trainings. Teachers tend to be underpaid, inadequately trained, and overworked. Although budgetary allocations for education were increased in 2004, the education system in Angola continues to be extremely under-funded.

Angola is gradually rebuilding its infrastructure, retrieving weapons from its heavily-armed civilian population and resettling tens of thousands of refugees who fled the fighting. Landmines and impassable roads have cut off large parts of the country. But oil exports and foreign loans have spurred economic growth and have fuelled a reconstruction boom.

Entrepreneurship in Relation to ASEAN 2015

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ONE more year and the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are gearing towards freer and wider market in its Economic Integration pushing for the realization of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Such countries are Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia;  with China, Japan, and South Korea in the ASEAN Plus.

To those who are not so familiar with the ASEAN Economic Integration, let me put it in simple terms – “free-flow”. With it, people would be allowed to purchase, sell products and services, work and invest in any of the member countries of the ASEAN with lesser restrictions unlike what we are used to – strict protectionism. Instead of having to spend so much in terms of tariffs and complying with bloody requirements, strict procedures and other trade burdens, trading would be a lot easier, because the aim of the ASEAN is to have zero or near zero trade barriers. This would be enjoyed by all ASEAN member countries.  In addition, Southeast Asians wanting to work overseas (in ASEAN countries) would experience easier processes. Free-flow of work-force would happen.  Investors could capitalize their resources freely as they expand from one nation to another nation in the ASEAN.

Entrepreneurs would directly benefit from the ASEAN Economic Integration. There is a lot to be excited about for them.

The Philippines would be able to compete in the global setting through the one market and production base of the ASEAN. In this sense, there would be unity and more productivity among the member countries. Ironically, as member countries compete in terms of the ability to offer lower prices to consumers brought by removing or lessening trade barriers, the whole of ASEAN could benefit as a group – bonded together in creating economic progress. The free-flow would give reason for entrepreneurs to be able to cut costs for their production materials, equipment and manpower, because they would be able to get it at significantly cheaper amounts. They could have the needed edge to compete with the other larger companies in the whole world.

At a regional scale, the lending and borrowing from banks would be easier as it would have to adjust with the changes and accompany the needs for capitalization of entrepreneurs. I believe that bank transactions between and among ASEAN countries would be a lot busier compared before and it would mean significant money coming in and out of the country.

The country’s local government units (LGUs) are being improved to become business-friendly and competitive. LGUs have programs that streamline Business Permits and Licensing System (BPLS) and develop the economy through the Local Economic Development (LED) programs. In this way, the country’s budding entrepreneurs who would like to take the opportunity to do business in the ASEAN would have better access to acquire the necessary documents they need to possess in order to establish legitimate enterprises.

Free-flow could not flourish if not for state-of-the-art infrastructure as well.  Entrepreneurs know the hassle of transporting precious goods from one point to another.  Even though we already have some notable infrastructure, there is still so much that need to be improved. With the ASEAN Economic Integration, lagging behind would not be an option. The budget and plans in developing infrastructure would have to be applied, so that the country would be able to connect with the member nations internally and externally – roads, bridges and ports would have to be made.   Entrepreneurs would be able to transport their products in the country more safely and accessibly, in all of its provinces and cities and of course out of the country to all other ASEAN countries. Consequently, entrepreneurs that focus on the tourism sector would benefit from the ease of travel. Good news for all businesses in our tourist spots.

The ASEAN Economic Integration would also mean more opportunities for the country to develop its communications and information technology facilities. In this age of high technology, entrepreneurs could benefit even more from the World Wide Web when they try to compete with the tigers and reach their customers in the global setting. We know of it as entrepreneurs have established their on-line stores which are gaining more and more attention from customers who would rather remain in the comforts of their homes and order the latest products at best deals!  Entrepreneurs who are home-based and who are mostly just starting up do business on-line. Why not?  Communications brought by the internet has proven to be very effective and efficient.

With free-flow, the market is even wider and tougher and we could expect even greater – tons of exportation and importation dealings happening from one corner of the world to another with the use of the internet. Imagine how else entrepreneurs could speed up the increase of their sales, but with the use of the continually developing communications and information technology! Almost everything could be just one click away from happening.  In order to “go with the flow”, the free-flow would have to be accompanied with improved communications and information technology.

Investors coming in the country for expansion would provide entrepreneurs that sub-contract for more opportunities to do business. Entrepreneurs who would like to invest in another ASEAN country would be encouraged and would enjoy none, if not fewer restrictions.

The Philippines would have to adjust and better its competitiveness as it would need to keep up with the requirements of the AEC and integrate with all member countries.                  There would be no other sensible way, but to improve. Sink or swim they say, but I am confident, our country’s entrepreneurs would have what it takes to take advantage of the free-flow and run with the tigers.

 

Reference:

“Rising as one: The Filipino Nation Towards The ASEAN Economic Integration” by Local Government Academy

Boon or Bane?

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Editorial

The Philippines is not ready for the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) in 2015. The Initiative for ASEAN Integration refers to reducing various forms of disparities among and within member States where some pockets of underdevelopment persist, which could narrow the development gap in the region.

With the integration, people would be allowed to purchase, sell products and services, work and invest in any of the member countries of the ASEAN with lesser restrictions unlike strict protectionism. This would be enjoyed by all ASEAN member countries.

But according to Asian Development Bank, the economic integration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will likely not be attained by 2015. Although various reasons were cited for the continued difficulties of attaining the AEC targets, what stands out is the unawareness of the private sector.

Since 2010 when this integration was first hatched, the Philippine government failed to prepare for it. In trade relations alone, where products are supposed to be exported to a less-restricted environment, the recipient chooses which products to accept or to reject.   Naturally the more superior product in terms of quality and price are allowed into the member country. How can we export cheaper products when the cost of production is high? Electricity and labor costs, which are factors to production, are high.

Also, promoting greater mobility of skilled workers and better regulation and management of unskilled labor movements are to be addressed. In the Philippines, unemployment and underemployment are pervasive. Skills do not commensurate with job requirements. Can we compete with our ASEAN neighbors in the labor market?

What about our infrastructure?

There are so many things that we have to prepare for in order to be competitive. If we are not competitive, what benefit can the Initiative for ASEAN Integration do for us? Nada.