Sunday, October 26, 2008

Purple tomato 'may boost health'

Purple tomatoes
The tomatoes are full of a beneficial pigment

Scientists have developed purple tomatoes which they hope may be able to keep cancer at bay.

The fruit are rich in an antioxidant pigment called anthocyanin which is thought to have anti-cancer properties.

A team from the John Innes Centre, Norwich, created the tomatoes by incorporating genes from the snapdragon flower, which is high in anthocyanin.

The study, published in Nature Biotechnology, found mice who ate the tomatoes lived longer.

This offers the potential to promote health through diet by reducing the impact of chronic disease
Professor Cathie Martin
John Innes Centre

Anthocyanins, found in particularly high levels in berries such as blackberry, cranberry and chokeberry, have been shown to help significantly slow the growth of colon cancer cells.

They are also thought to offer protection against cardiovascular disease and age-related degenerative diseases.

There is also evidence that the pigments have anti-inflammatory properties, help boost eyesight, and may help stave off obesity and diabetes.

The John Innes team is investigating ways to increase the levels of health-promoting compounds in more commonly eaten fruits and vegetables.

Tomatoes already contain high levels of beneficial antioxidant compounds, such as lycopene and flavonoids.

More benefit

Professor Cathie Martin, from the centre, said: "Most people do not eat five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, but they can get more benefit from those they do eat if common fruit and veg can be developed that are higher in bioactive compounds."

It is too early to say whether anthocyanins obtained through diet could help to reduce the risk of cancer
Dr Lara Bennett
Cancer Research UK

The John Innes team took two genes from snapdragon that induce the production of anthocyanins in snapdragon flowers, and turned them on in tomato fruit.

Anthocyanins accumulated in tomatoes at higher levels than anything previously achieved in both the peel and flesh of the fruit, giving them an intense purple colour.

Tests on mice bred to be susceptible to cancer showed that animals whose diets were supplemented with the purple tomatoes had a significantly longer lifespan compared to those who received only normal red tomatoes.

Professor Martin said: "This is one of the first examples of metabolic engineering that offers the potential to promote health through diet by reducing the impact of chronic disease.

"And certainly the first example of a GMO [genetically modified organism] with a trait that really offers a potential benefit for all consumers."

She said the the next step would be test the tomatoes on human volunteers.


Dr Lara Bennett, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "It is exciting to see new techniques that could potentially make healthy foods even better for us.

"But it is too early to say whether anthocyanins obtained through diet could help to reduce the risk of cancer.

"We do know that eating a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in fibre, fruit and vegetables - and low in red and processed meat - is an important way to reduce your cancer risk."

Dr Paul Kroon, of the Food Research Institute in Norwich, said the research was an "important study".

"The technology offers great scope for altering colours of fruits and vegetables, and their content of potentially health-protective compounds."

However, he said it would be wrong to assume the effects seen in mice would necessarily occur in humans.

Anna Denny, a nutrition scientist for the British Nutrition Foundation, stressed there was no "magic bullet" against diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

"Fruit and veg with higher levels of health-promoting compounds should not been seen as a replacement for eating a healthy balanced diet."

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10 Fun Facts About Pablo Picasso

Guernica by Pablo Picasso (1937) - turned into 3D art by Lena Gieseke in 2008

Today is Pablo Picasso's birthday, and to help celebrate the Cubist movement co-founder, here are Neatorama's quick 10 fun facts about the guy:

1. Picasso's Full Name Has 23 Words

Picasso was baptized Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruíz y Picasso. He was named after various saints and relatives. The "Picasso" is actually from his mother, Maria Picasso y Lopez. His father is named Jose Ruiz Blasco.

2. When He Was Born, The Midwife Thought He Was Stillborn

Picasso had such a difficult birth and was such a weak baby that when he was born, the midwife thought that he was stillborn so she left him on a table to attend his mother. It was his uncle, a doctor named Don Salvador, that saved him:

'Doctors at that time,' he told Antonina Vallentin, 'used to smoke big cigars, and my uncle was no exception. When he saw me lying there he blew smoke into my face. To this I immediately reacted with a grimace and a bellow of fury'" (Source)

3. Picasso's First Word: Pencil

It's like Picasso was born an artist: his first word was "piz," short of lápiz the Spanish word for 'pencil.' His father Ruiz, an artist and art professor, gave him a formal education in art starting from the age of 7. By 13, Ruiz vowed to give up painting as he felt that Pablo had surpassed him. (Photo of Picasso as a 4-year-old-boy: Source)

4. Pablo's First Drawing

Le Picador by Pablo Picasso (1890)

At the tender young age of 9, Picasso completed his first painting: Le picador, a man riding a horse in a bullfight.

La première communion (First Communion) by Pablo Picasso (1896)

His first major painting, an "academic" work is First Communion, featuring a portrait of his father, mother, and younger sister kneeling before an altar. Picasso was 15 when he finished it. (Source)

5. Picasso was a Terrible Student

No doubt about it, Picasso was brilliant: artistically, he was years ahead of his classmates who were all five to six years older than him. But Picasso chafed at being told what to do and he was often thrown into "detention":

"For being a bad student I was banished to the 'calaboose' - a bare cell with whitewashed walls and a bench to sit on. I liked it there, because I took along a sketch pad and drew incessantly ... I could have stayed there forever drawing without stopping" (Source)

6. Picasso's First Job

Picasso signed his first contract in Paris with art dealer Pere Menach, who agreed to pay him 150 francs per month (about US$750 today).

7. Did Picasso Steal the Mona Lisa?

Actually no, but in 1911, when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, the police took in Picasso's friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Apollinaire fingered Picasso as a suspect, so the police hauled him in for questioning. Both were later released. (Source)

8. Cubism: Full of Little Cubes

Le Guitariste (The Guitarist) by Pablo Picasso (1910)

In 1909, Picasso and French artist Georges Braque co-founded an art movement known as cubism. Actually, it was a French art critic Louis Vauxcelles who first called it "bizarre cubiques" or cubism, after noting that Picasso and Braque's paintings are "full of little cubes."

9. Picasso was a Playboy

Being a famous artist certainly helped Picasso get the girl. Girls, in fact - many, many girls. Here's a short list of known wives and lovers of Picasso (Source; Many photos here: Link)

- Fernande Olivier (Picasso's first love, she was 18?; he was 23)
- Marcelle Humbert AKA Eva Gouel (she was 27, Picasso was 31)
- Gaby Lespinasse (he was 34, I don't know how old Gaby was, but she was young, that's for sure!)
- Olga Khokhlova (Picasso's first wife; she was 26 and he was 36 when they met)
- Marie-Thérèse Walter (she was 17, he was 46)
- Dora Maar (she was 29, Picasso was 55)
- Françoise Gilot (she was 21 when she met Picasso, who was 61)
- Geneviève Laporte (one of Picasso's last lovers. She was in her mid-twenties and a French model of Picasso, who was in his seventies when the affair started)
- Jacqueline Roque (who became Picasso's second wife. She was 27 and he was 79)

Le Rêve (The Dream) by Pablo Picasso (1932)

Marie-Thérèse Walter was Picasso's model for Le Rêve. In 2006, casino magnate Steve Wynn agreed to sell the painting for $139 million, but accidentally put his elbow through the canvas the day before the sale was to be completed!

10. Picasso's Car

Okay, it's not exactly his car, but I couldn't resist. Last year, 44-year-old mechanic Andy Saunders of Dorset, England, spent six months converting his old Citroen 2CV into a cubist work inspired by Pablo Picasso!

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Pictured: The white van man who followed his sat-nav too closely and ended up in the middle of a lake

By Daily Mail Reporter

A Polish white van man who was too sure of his sat-nav ended up neck-deep in a lake after ignoring road signs warning of a dead-end ahead, Polish police said today.

The road hasn't been used for a year after it was flooded out when an artificial lake was created.

It was dark and the un-named driver had been drinking, but he still managed to miss three signs warning him there was a lake ahead.

Firemen standing in an artificial lake near the partly submerged van of a Polish driver who drove the vehicle into the water after following the instructions of his GPS

Police said the driver had 'The man took a road that was closed a year ago when the area was flooded to make an artificial lake serving as a water reservoir -- he ignored three road signs warning of a dead-end,' said Piotr Smolen, police spokesman in Glubczyce, southern Poland.

'It was still night time and he didn't notice the road led into the lake. His GPS told him to drive straight ahead and he did.'

Mr Smolen added that the driver had been under the influence of alcohol.

Whoops: The road has been closed for over one year since being flooded by the creation of the lake

The road ran straight downhill into the lake. The Mercedes mini-van was nearly entirely submerged and was unable to back out on its own after being inundated with water.

The driver and two passengers escaped unharmed from the submerged vehicle and waited on its roof for police and fire rescue crews.

The driver placed the first call to emergency services while still inside the sinking van.

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U.S. pledges extra $320 million for bird flu fight

By Alastair Sharp

SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - The United States pledged an additional $320 million to the global fight against bird flu and warned on Saturday against complacency in combating the virus, which could mutate and cause a deadly pandemic.

The figure brings to $949 million Washington's total pledges to fight avian influenza, which has killed 245 people in Asia, Africa, and Europe since late 2003. Countless birds have been culled.

"The United States is pledging an additional $320 million in international assistance for avian and pandemic influenza," said Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

At the opening of a ministerial conference in Egypt, Dobriansky echoed comments from Egyptian ministers and heads of international organizations in warning of "flu fatigue."

"(There is) a growing feeling that the threat of an influenza pandemic has somehow diminished and that scarce resources could be better used elsewhere in the field of public health, in other words flu fatigue," she said.

Official pledges will be made at the end of the conference on Sunday, but the European Commission has indicated it will not promise additional money, saying half of the funds already allocated had not yet been spent.

"We are going to be at this for another year or two with the current commitments that we have," said James Moran, the head of Commission's external relations unit.

Moran said some 140 million euros ($176.2 million) would be available for research into bird flu and other infectious diseases in 2009.

"This is quite a substantial amount of funding but we can't say right now what proportion of it will be spent outside of the EU," he said.

Next year the conference will be held in Vietnam.

European Union member states and the European Commission have previously given a total of 413 million euros toward global efforts to combat avian influenza.

Of the additional U.S. funds, $94 million will go to international organizations for capacity building and pandemic preparation, while $86 million is allocated for bilateral programs, $57 million is for research and $83 million will go into a contingency fund.

The World Bank estimates that a global pandemic resulting from the mutation of bird flu could cost $3 trillion and result in a nearly 5 percent drop in world gross domestic product.

It has said that more than 70 million people could die worldwide in a severe pandemic.

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I See the Failure of the Health-Care System Every Day

By Dena Rifkin, MD

For the past three weeks, each issue of The New England Journal of Medicine has featured viewpoints on the pressing health-care policy issues facing the next administration. These topics (in case you haven’t heard) include health insurance and rising health-care costs, and how to balance them economically, ethically, and politically.

I see the insanity of the current “system” pretty much every day.

For instance: the patient crippled by diabetes at age 60, unable to hold a job, and therefore out of luck when it comes to health insurance—too young for Medicare, slightly too wealthy for Medicaid. The older man with lengthy illnesses who’s “used up” his eligibility for rehabilitation and is forced to pay out of pocket. The transplant patient trying to figure out how to pay for the medications that keep the transplant working. Medicare would pay tens of thousands of dollars for dialysis, should her kidney fail—but it won’t cough up the hundreds of dollars to cover medications that will prevent that from happening in the first place.

These people face unfathomable financial stress in the midst of significant illness.

I’ve asked patients to come to the emergency room because of disturbing symptoms or lab-test results, only to have them tell me that they fear a denial letter and the ensuing insurance fight, should the ER evaluation reveal that nothing is wrong.

I also see patients like those highlighted in this week’s New York Times health section—people deciding not to take some or all of their medications because of the cost. Sure, some of those people will do OK. There are well-documented problems with polypharmacy (when too many medications actually create health problems), particularly in older adults. And not every person at risk for a disease (heart disease and stroke, for instance) will actually get it without being treated.

But many who skimp on their meds to save money will pay the price later, when uncontrolled high blood pressure leads to a stroke, or undertreated diabetes leads to vision loss or heart disease.

It used to be said disparagingly of Britain’s national health system that it ought to be called the “national sickness system.” Well, that’s what we’ve got here in the United States: a sick system. Without extending coverage beyond the employed, the impoverished, and those at the extremes of age, there will be no cure. Massachusetts has made a tremendous step in this direction. The rest of the nation should watch and learn.

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Wanna get your hands on an all-electric Mini?

500 to be leased next year, but only in 3 states and at $850 a month

Image: Electric Mini
Each Mini E will have a large electric plug logo on the roof and its serial number showing on the side front panel.

BMW is jumping into — OK it's actually more like testing — the market for all-electric vehicles with its Mini brand, announcing a pilot project to lease 500 completely electric Minis in California, New Jersey and New York.

"By introducing the Mini E, the BMW Group is underscoring the resolve with which it works towards reducing energy consumption and emissions in road traffic," the company said in a statement ahead of the car's debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Nov. 19-20.

The specs aren't bad: a lithium-ion battery range of 150 miles, a top speed of 95 mph and 0-60 mph in 8.5 seconds.

But there are some downsides. The car will initially be available only as a two-seater because the battery takes up the space that had been a back seat.

And then there's the lease itself: $850 a month. That does include all technical maintenance and the cars themselves will be quite the fashion statement — each decked out with a huge yellow electric plug logo on the roof and a serial number on their front fenders.

Of course, the cost of charging the Mini E will be minimal — pennies per gallon.

The vehicles can be recharged overnight at any standard power outlet. BMW will also install a high-speed "wallbox" charger at a customer's garage that can recharge the battery pack in just 2.5 hours.

BMW also touted the Mini E's ability to decelerate with less braking and while charging the battery.

"As soon as the driver releases the gas pedal, the electric motor acts as a generator," it stated. "This results in braking force, and the power recovered from the kinetic energy is fed back to the battery ... In city traffic, some 75 percent of all deceleration can be done without the brakes. Making substantial use of this energy recuperation feature extends the car's range by up to 20 percent."

BMW didn't promise to mass produce the Mini E specifically but did state that it "aims to start series production of all-electric vehicles over the medium term."

Other major carmakers are also moving towards all-electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids, and several startups, especially California-based Tesla, are trying to carve niches.

BMW, for its part, urged potential Mini E customers to be part of its "pioneering mission."

"Customers will join forces with BMW Group experts to assist in the project's scientific evaluation," the company stated. Aiming to monitor driver behavior and car performance, "Mini E engineers accord high importance to staying in touch with the drivers on a regular basis."

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