Thursday, May 5, 2016

Angela Merkel has warned that Europe risks a “return to nationalism” if it does not secure its external borders, as polls showed support for the far-Right is rising in Germany amid growing fears of Islam

“The future of Europe is at stake,” the German chancellor said in a passionate plea to preserve freedom of movement and the Schengen Agreement on border-free travel within the continent. Even as she spoke, a new poll shows that support for the far-Right Alternative for Germany(AfD) party is at its highest ever. “Europe stretches from the North Pole to the Mediterranean. We must defend the Schengen Treaty and the external borders, or we risk a return to nationalism,” Merkel said. She was speaking at a joint press conference in Rome with Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister. Both leaders spoke out against plans by Austria to close its border with Italy at the Brenner Pass, to prevent migrants entering. The AfD is riding high in the German polls on a wave of public discontent over the migrant crisis, and recorded its highest ever support less than a week after it adopted an anti-Muslim manifesto. It is now in third place on 15%, just five points behind Merkel’s main coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who have slipped to 20%. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) remain in first place in the monthly ARD survey, with 33%. But, perhaps more worryingly for the German chancellor, a second poll found the AfD may be in step with voters with its overtly anti-Muslim stance. Only 22% of Germans believe that Islam belongs in their country, according to the poll for Bild newspaper by the Insa institute. An overwhelming 61% agreed that Islam does not belong in Germany — a central plank of the AfD’s new manifesto. The poll found attitudes had hardened considerably over the past year, which has seen over one million asylum-seekers enter Germany, the majority of them Muslim. A similar survey in Jaunary 2015 found that 37% believed Islam belonged in Germany, while 47% did not. An estimated 4 million Muslims live in Germany as citizens or permanent residents.

Muslim violence: More than a dozen leaders of a small village in northwestern Pakistan have been arrested and charged with burning a teenage girl to death because she helped one of her friends elope, security officials said

The crime, which is renewing attention on Pakistan’s horrific record of protecting women and children from abuse, took place on the outskirts of Abbottabad in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Khurram Rasheed, police chief for the northern district of Abbottabad, said that the body of Ambreen Riasat was found in a burned van in the tourist resort of Donga Gali. Her exact age was in dispute. A graphic photo of the teenager’s charred remains quickly circulated online. It appeared as though the girl’s arms had been bound before she was set on fire. Initially, police suspected that she may have been raped by a scorned boyfriend or as part of a family dispute. But Saeed Wazir, the regional police chief in Abbottabad, said that the killing was a “pre-planned act” involving 14 village leaders. Wazir said that the entire village council had sanctioned the act to send a message to other minors. “They said she must be burnt alive to make a lesson for other girls,” he said. In an act of defiance against Pakistan’s strict Islamic and paternal customs, Wazir said, the victim had helped one of her friends secretly marry her boyfriend. The bride “didn’t obey her father’s will and did a love marriage at court with a guy,” he said. After the bride’s father found out, he requested that village elders investigate. In many parts of Pakistan, women and girls are expected to receive their father’s consent before marrying. According to Wazir, the village elders investigating the marriage quickly discovered that the victim had helped her friend evade her father’s will. The elders decided that the victim needed to be punished for not disclosing her role in the marriage. Several men then dragged the teenager out of her house and tied her into the van, Wazir said. “Despite the requests and pleas from her parents, villagers forcibly brought her out and set her afire while roping her to the seat of the vehicle,” he said. Both the leader of the Jirga and the father of the newlywed girl were arrested, Wazir said. A dozen other men who participated in the Jirga also were charged, he added. The case represents a troublesome expansion of mob-like tactics that women can face in Pakistan when they disobey their parents or extended family members. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 8,694 girls and women have died in so-called honor killings here between 2004 and 2015. Those crimes involved revenge killings for dishonoring a family, village or local custom. About one-fourth of those cases involved the death of a minor. Although most common in remote areas, honor killings still occur in Pakistan even in larger, more progressive cities.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Analyses of ancient DNA from prehistoric humans paint a picture of dramatic population change in Europe from 45,000 to 7,000 years ago, according to a new study led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator David Reich at Harvard Medical School

The new genetic data reveal two big changes in prehistoric human populations that are closely linked to the end of the last Ice Age around 19,000 years ago. As the ice sheet retreated, Europe was repopulated by prehistoric humans from southwest Europe (e.g., Spain). Then, in a second event about 14,000 years ago, populations from the southeast (e.g., Turkey, Greece) spread into Europe, displacing the first group of humans. Archaeological studies have shown that modern humans swept into Europe about 45,000 years ago and caused the demise of the Neanderthals, indicated by the disappearance of Neanderthal tools in the archaeological record, explained Reich. The researchers also knew that during the Ice Age - a long period of time that ended about 12,000 years ago, with its peak intensity between 25,000 and 19,000 years ago - glaciers covered Scandinavia and northern Europe all the way to northern France. As the ice sheets retreated beginning 19,000 years ago, prehistoric humans spread back into northern Europe. But prior to this study, there were only four samples of prehistoric European modern humans 45,000 to 7,000 years old for which genomic data were available, which made it all but impossible to understand how human populations migrated or evolved during this period. "Trying to represent this vast period of European history with just four samples is like trying to summarize a movie with four still images. With 51 samples, everything changes; we can follow the narrative arc; we get a vivid sense of the dynamic changes over time," said Reich. "And what we see is a population history that is no less complicated than that in the last 7,000 years, with multiple episodes of population replacement and immigration on a vast and dramatic scale, at a time when the climate was changing dramatically." The genetic data show that, beginning 37,000 years ago, all Europeans come from a single founding population that persisted through the Ice Age, said Reich. The founding population has some deep branches in different parts of Europe, one of which is represented by a specimen from Belgium. This branch seems to have been displaced in most parts of Europe 33,000 years ago, but around 19,000 years ago, a population related to it re-expanded across Europe, Reich explained. Based on the earliest sample in which this ancestry is observed, it is plausible that this population expanded from the southwest, present-day Spain, after the Ice Age peaked. The second event that the researchers detected happened 14,000 years ago. "We see a new population turnover in Europe, and this time it seems to be from the east, not the west," said Reich. "We see very different genetics spreading across Europe that displaces the people from the southwest who were there before. These people persisted for many thousands of years until the arrival of farming." The researchers also detected some mixture with Neanderthals, around 45,000 years ago, as modern humans spread across Europe. The prehistoric human populations contained 3% to 6% of Neanderthal DNA, but today most humans only have about 2%. "Neanderthal DNA is slightly toxic to modern humans," explained Reich, and this study provides evidence that natural selection is removing Neanderthal ancestry.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Improper functioning of the mitochondria, a cell's source of energy, may help account for the fact that African-American men with prostate cancer respond poorly to the same conventional therapies provided to white American men, according to research led by Dhyan Chandra, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI)

"In an earlier study, we provided the first evidence that African-American men possess reduced levels of mitochondrial genetic material in healthy prostate tissues, compared to Caucasian-American men. This new study highlights the importance of mitochondrial dysfunction as one of the main reasons for prostate cancer health disparities," says Dr. Chandra. "We conclude that the presence of severe mitochondrial dysfunction in African-American men with prostate cancer, compared with Caucasian men with the disease, would be one of the potential reasons for the increased cancer resistance to chemotherapy and the recurrence of disease." Mitochondrial dysfunction is strongly linked to chemotherapeutic resistance leading to relapse of prostate cancer, but its effects can sometimes be overcome by treatment with the small molecule dichloroacetate. In prostate cancer cells from African-American men, dichloroacetate did not restore mitochondrial function to required levels. This mitochondrial dysfunction within prostate cancer cells appears to make African-American men more resistant to current chemotherapy, putting them at greater risk for disease spread. The identification of new anticancer agents that would restore mitochondrial activity may result in better disease control, the researchers emphasize. "These findings may provide an explanation for the higher incidence and mortality rates of prostate cancer among African-American men. African-American patients might get more positive outcomes after major restoration of mitochondrial function, which could improve the anticancer effects of therapy," adds Dr. Chandra.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Muslims and gays: Murders force Bangladeshi gay rights activists underground

Xulhaz Mannan was a rallying figure for Bangladesh's marginalized but increasingly outspoken lesbian, gay and transgender community, but his brutal murder has dealt a huge blow to the movement and forced some of its leaders underground. Mannan, who founded Bangladesh's first magazine for gays and lesbians which he used to launch a vibrant rights movement in the deeply religious, Muslim-majority country, was hacked to death along with a fellow activist. Friends and fellow campaigners this week rushed to remove all trace of their activism from social media sites, fearing they could themselves become targets. A group of unidentified attackers carrying machetes and guns murdered Mannan and Mahbub Tonoy after gaining access to his Dhaka apartment. It was the latest in a series of killings of secular bloggers and liberal activists in Bangladesh that have caused global outrage, and sparked fears that the attackers are expanding their range of targets to include openly gay people. Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has said that it killed the men, accusing them of working to "promote homosexuality" in Bangladesh. The government, however, says that homegrown Islamists were responsible. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has blamed the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist ally, Jamaat-e-Islami.