Tag Archives: Genes

News Ireland daily BLOG as told by Donie

Tuesday 23rd May 2017

The shredding of documents played a key role in downfall of FitzPatrick inquiry

Legal adviser ‘taken aback’ by Garda Commissioner’s note about witness statements

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The former chairman and chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, has been acquitted on all charges against him at the Circuit Criminal Court.

The spectacular ending of the trial of the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, has come about in part because documents relevant to the case were shredded by a solicitor investigating the alleged offences.

The extraordinary shredding of documents led to a collapse of an earlier trial and contributed to the decision by the judge on Tuesday that he would direct the jury to acquit in this trial.

Kevin O’Connell, a legal adviser with the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, took on a lead role in the investigation but, according to evidence he gave in the absence of the jury, shredded documents during a “panic attack” in his office in May 2015.

He informed the Director of Public Prosecutions as to what he had done, then sought psychiatric help. The first trial of FitzPatrick, then ongoing, collapsed as a result.

The collapse of one of the most significant white-collar crime cases to come before the courts in the wake of the Irish banking crisis is a huge blow to the reputation of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), the agency established to investigate corporate crime. It led the inquiry. It is also a blow to the reputation of An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

FitzPatrick (68), of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow, had pleaded not guilty to 27 charges under the Companies Acts relating to giving false or misleading information to Anglo’s auditors Ernst & Young (now EY).

In announcing his decision on Tuesday, Judge John Aylmer referred to O’Connell’s evidence that the documents he shredded were notes of phone conversations similar to other such notes he had discovered to the DPP.

However, the judge said the fact was we didn’t know what was in them and there must be a doubt about why they were singled out.

O’Connell had given evidence to the first trial of FitzPatrick, over six days, in the absence of the jury, as it was becoming evident that the investigation had been mishandled in relation to the taking of statements from two key witnesses.

In evidence heard by the court in the absence of the jury it emerged that O’Connell feared last year, at the time of the shredding, that he was going to be “hung out to dry” if the case collapsed.

Garda correspondence.

More recently, internal Garda correspondence, released to the trial by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, showed senior Garda officers being advised in the wake of the shredding that no members of the force were connected with the destruction of documents or with the taking of witness statements from two key witnesses.

O’Connell, in the witness box in the absence of the jury, said he was “taken aback” by the latter claim, given that Garda colleagues in the ODCE had been involved in the inquiry alongside him and had been copied in email correspondence and had attended meetings concerned with the taking of statements from the two witnesses.

Defence counsel Bernard Condon SC commented to the court that the Garda were “attempting to find a bus to put him [O’Connell] under.” An assistant Garda commissioner, the correspondence revealed, had been warned that the case might produce “adverse publicity” for the force.

Extended legal argument heard in the absence of the jury outlined how the inquiry was handled as if it was a civil case before the High Court rather than a criminal case. The process of taking witness statements from two key witnesses, the court heard, was “lawyer led”.

The two key witnesses, EY partners Kieran Kelly and Vincent Bergin, were “coached” and their witness statements contaminated, with some of the wording in both statements having been actually written by the former Director of Corporate Enforcement, Paul Appleby, the court was told. The interference included the suggested changing of key phrases in the statements. The taking of statements occurred as if they were affidavits being prepared for a civil case.

The two key witnesses, both former auditors of Anglo’s books, signed witness statements that were the product of a long engagement involving a number of individuals in the ODCE, as well as lawyers in EY and in the law firm that acts for EY, A&L Goodbody.

It was “statement by committee”, Condon told the judge, during the extended legal argument.

Potential conflict?

There was also an issue of potential conflict. Some of the lawyers acting for EY in the drafting of the statements were also acting for EY in a €50 million damages claim from the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation(IBRC). The State-owned body’s case includes matters relevant to the FitzPatrick trial.

The lawyers were also acting for EY in relation to an inquiry by the firm’s regulatory body, the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board (Carb), which is investigating the adequacy of the audit work done by EY on Anglo’s books. Condon said the Carb inquiry could potentially lead to EY losing its licence.

One of the complaints from FitzPatrick’s defence team was that the ODCE did not seek out information that went to their client’s potential innocence as well as his potential guilt, a point that has now been accepted by the judge. The ODCE had been trying to “build” a case, the judge said.

FitzPatrick walks away an innocent man. It is the second time he has faced charges that came to trial and from which he has emerged with his innocence intact. In 2014 a jury found him innocent of charges of providing unlawful financial assistance to 10 individuals known as the Maple 10, in July 2008, so that they could buy shares in Anglo Irish Bank.

During that trial, Judge Martin Nolan directed that FitzPatrick be found not guilty of other charges relating to loans issued to members of the family of the businessman Seán Quinn.

The charges on which FitzPatrick is now to be acquitted related to the treatment of loans from the bank which were transferred each year end to the Irish Nationwide Building Society, before being transferred back to the bank. This meant they did not have to be disclosed in Anglo’s end of year accounts.

The so-called “warehousing” of the loans led to FitzPatrick’s resignation when it emerged in December 2008, and contributed to the loss in confidence in the bank that in turn led to it being nationalised in January 2009. The ODCE began investigating the matter in December 2008.

O’Connell said the documents he shredded had been overlooked when disclosure was being made to the FitzPatrick defence, and when he discovered them on a tray on the floor of his office, he realised he was going to have to go back to the witness box and give more evidence. After he informed the State legal team of what he had done, he sought psychiatric help.

Bizarre and dramatic development.

The bizarre and dramatic development turned a crisis caused by how the investigation had been conducted, into a full-blown catastrophe. Although O’Connell said he wasn’t sure what the documents he shredded were, he said he believed they were notes taken in meetings or during phone calls associated with the case. Complaints about disclosure had featured during his giving of evidence in 2015, and when he returned to the office and found more documents that had not been disclosed, he panicked, he said.

In 2015 he referred to eight or nine pages of notes, while this year he said he thought about three or four pages may have been involved. He refused to let the court have access to reports concerning his mental health.

O’Connell had played a key role in gathering evidence against FitzPatrick even though he had never played a role in investigating an indictable offence before.

The court heard that, as problems with the investigation emerged during the trial, the new Director of Corporate Enforcement, Ian Drennan, who had taken over from Appleby in August 2012, informed his staff that only Garda officers were to henceforth take witness statements.

He also said that when the details of what had happened in the FitzPatrick case emerged, it was likely that the agency would suffer “very severe reputational damage” as well as “parliamentary scrutiny”.

All of the interviews with the EY partners occurred in the presence of the solicitors from A&L Goodbody, including partner Liam Kennedy, with whom O’Connell was in regular contact.

There were up to 40 versions of the Kelly and Bergin statements in the huge discovery of documents released to the defence last year. It was after the multiple drafts were received that the defence learned of the flaws it argued existed in relation to how the investigation had been conducted.

Some of the drafts had been going “back and forth” between the ODCE and A&L Goodbody, some within the ODCE, and some within A&L Goodbody. It was “statement by committee”, Condon said. “Conspicuous by their absence were the guards.” He said standards in investigating a suspected crime could not be lowered just because it was an alleged white-collar crime. “Everyone goes to the same prison.”

The FG leadership battle & the candidates Simon Coveney v Leo Varadkar

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Simon CoveneyPersonal: Aged 44. Son of former Fine Gael TD and minister Hugh Coveney, who died in an accident in 1998.

As well as being a politician, his father was a successful surveyor and wealthy farmer. Married to Ruth Furney, an IDA executive in Cork. They have three young daughters.

Education: Clongowes Wood College. UCC, Gurteen Agricultural College, Tipperary, Royal Agriculture College, Gloucestershire, England. Holds a BSc in agriculture and land management.

Political: First elected a Fine Gael TD for Cork South Central in 1998 by-election caused by his father’s death. Was an MEP 2000-2007 but gave up Euro seat for Dáil politics. Appointed agriculture minister in 2011, took on additional defence portfolio in 2014. Housing Minister since May 2016.

Career trajectory: Began in the shadow of his late father’s reputation and later for a time dubbed “light weight”. But seen as a potential Fine Gael leader for almost a decade. Viewed as earnest and policy-driven – he has been cultivating personal support in recent years.

Strengths: Unfailingly polite, extremely hard-working and pays keen attention to policy details. A dealmaker, capable of standing his ground as well as compromising. Did heavy-lifting on Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil deal to underpin this Government.

Weaknesses: More focused on policy than people. Knockabout politics does not come naturally to him.

Lucky general? In his first job as agriculture minister in 2011, he presided over the only Irish sector doing well. Sided against Enda Kenny in 2010 ‘botched heave’ and still made cabinet.

Unlucky general? He landed the toughest Cabinet job in May 2016, leaving him a housing and homelessness crisis and the future of water charges. These just as he was trying to become taoiseach.

To be expected: From Cork’s wealthy section of society, he sails and played rugby.

A surprise: Was expelled from the elite Clongowes Wood secondary boarding school for partying and drinking, much to the anger of his parents. Specialised in human rights as an MEP.

Soundbite winner: “Whatever ministry I have, whether it’s defence, whether it’s marine, whether it’s agriculture, I’ve tried to make as big a mark as I can in taking on some big challenges and trying to overcome them. I’ve got some very big challenges at the moment to take on and overcome, and there’s a lot of people relying on me to do it,” in December 2016 on facing up to challenge of being the Housing Minister.

Soundbite gaffe: On March 1, 2016, he “dropped the ball” by suggesting abolition of Irish Water could be part of Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil government-making talks. “We need to take on board within reason, what they are looking for,” he said on RTÉ.

Unique Selling Point: Total commitment to policy achievements in whatever job he takes on.

Politician, living or dead, he most admires: Aung San Suu Kyi.

Stated hobbies: Sailing, rugby, GAA and following all sports.

Coveney’s policies

TAXATION: He would change Fine Gael’s current stance on scrapping USC. Also wants to raise bands so workers don’t hit the 40pc rate at €33,800.

INFRASTRUCTURE: A long-term strategic infrastructure plan as part of ‘Ireland 2040’. Ring-fence up to €20bn for infrastructure, mostly focused on transport.

BREXIT: With his experience as an MEP and agriculture minister, says he is best-placed to represent Ireland in talks.

HOUSING: Sticking to his ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ plan. Has committed more than 20,000 new homes a year being built.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: From a policy point of view, says he agrees with Varadkar.

ABORTION: The Citizens’ Assembly recommendations go “too far” but the current laws need to be changed to recognise crisis pregnancies.

EDUCATION: ‘Action Plan for Education’ and produce specific annual targets.

HEALTH: Also cites the Oireachtas committee as an important process and plans “to substantially reduce health inequalities in Ireland”.

UNITED IRELAND: Committed to immediately drafting a white paper on possible reunification.

Leo Varadkar

Personal: Aged 38 and a qualified medical doctor. His father, Ashok, is an Indian-born medical doctor and his mother, Miriam, a nurse originally from Co Waterford. His parents met while working in England. He has two sisters – Sophia is a doctor in the neurology department of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London, while Sonia is a nurse at the Coombe in Dublin. Lived most of his life in the prosperous west Dublin suburb of Castleknock. Is unmarried and in January 2015 became Ireland’s first openly gay government minister.

Education: The King’s Hospital, Dublin, and Trinity College Dublin.

Political: Schoolboy and student Fine Gael activist. Unsuccessfully contested 1999 local elections, elected to Fingal County Council in 2004. TD for Dublin West since 2007. Minister for transport and tourism 2011-2014; health 2014-2016; Social Protection 2016 to date.

Career trajectory: Has been talked about as a potential Fine Gael leader since his arrival at Leinster House in June 2007. One of the party’s young Turks, once dubbed “Tory Boy” in his youth – has been busy dumping the right-wing rhetoric and gravitating to the middle.

Strengths: Quick-thinking and dynamic. Does a refreshingly candid “honesty-in-dishonesty line” and usually gets away with it. Very hard-working.

Weaknesses: More style than substance. For all his talk, was a “manager rather than a doer” as transport, health and finally Social Protection Minister.

Lucky general? His two full winters as health minister, 2014/15 and 2015/16, were mild and did not have a full-blown “trolley crisis”. Sided against Enda Kenny in 2010 ‘botched heave’ and still made cabinet in 2011.

Unlucky general? As tourism and transport minister, his two junior ministers were Michael Ring and Alan Kelly, two of the Dáil’s toughest characters. Had fretful two years in health when he faced high expectations as a doctor.

To be expected: As a medical student in TCD, social life was all about Young Fine Gael.

A surprise: Has been busy brushing up on his Gaeilge – came to this week’s decisive Fine Gael meeting directly after sitting a civil service Irish exam.

Soundbite winner: “It’s not something that defines me. I’m not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician, or a gay politician for that matter. It’s just part of who I am, it doesn’t define me,” his summation as he announced he was gay in January 2015.

Best howler: “I really can’t wait to get the keys to one of those government jets. My bowels aren’t feeling the Mae West today.” An over-sharing blog, as an opposition TD in 2009, recounting a marathon journey home from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, involving long waits in Moscow and Heathrow.

Unique Selling Point: Can still claim to be “an outsider” carrying a certain air of mystery and intrigue.

Politician, living or dead, he most admires: Michael Collins.

Stated hobbies: Fitness, good food and wine, and good company.

Varadkar’s policies

TAXATION: Cut high marginal income tax rates.Tax equality for self-employed. Merge USC and PRSI.

INFRASTRUCTURE: Increase capital spending over 10 years, focusing on the Dublin Metro, the M20 between Cork and Limerick and motorway access to the west and north-west.

BREXIT: Five Brexit principles, including trying to keep Northern Ireland in the single market.

HOUSING: Scrap the ‘Help-To-Buy’ scheme if it is inflating prices, and spend on ‘Housing with Care’ for older people.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: Essentially strikes will be banned after a Labour Court judgment has been made.

ABORTION: Would support access to a termination in cases of rape but not on demand.

EDUCATION: Increase the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance. He will also provide subsidised school books/tablets to all children.

HEALTH: “The health service of the future needs to be patient centred and about better access and outcomes”.

UNITED IRELAND: Prepare that it might happen in our lifetime but won’t agitate for it.

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.

That makes each of the 73 members’ votes worth 0.9% of the total ballot.

Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10%, while the remaining 25% is rank and file members.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney
Total: 45
Total: 19
Ministers: 17
Ministers: 5
TDs: 16
TDs: 5
Senators: 11
Senators: 8
MEPs: 1
MEPs: 1
Richard Bruton -Minister
Simon Harris – Minister
Frances Fitzgerald – Minister
Damien English – Minister
Michael Ring – Minister
Dara Murphy – Minister
Eoghan Murphy – Minister
David Stanton – Minister
Sean Kyne – Minister
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy – Minister
Joe McHugh – Minister
Kate O’Connell – TD
Helen McEntee – Minister
Maria Bailey – TD
Charlie Flanagan – Minister
Sean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -Minister
Hildegard Naughton – TD
Patrick O’Donovan – Minister
Peter Fitzpatrick – TD
Regina Doherty – Minister
Tim Lombard – Senator
Mary Mitchell O’Connor – Minister
Jerry Buttimer – Senator
Paschal Donohoe – Minister
Paudie Coffey – Senator
Heather Humphreys – Minister
James Reilly – Senator
Pat Breen – Minister
Colm Burke – Senator
Catherine Byrne – Minister
John O’Mahony – Senator
Andrew Doyle – Minister
Paul Coghlan – Senator
John Paul Phelan – TD
Gabrielle McFadden – Senator
Noel Rock – TD
Deirdre Clune – MEP
Tony McLoughlin – TD
Alan Farrell – TD
Michael D’Arcy – TD
Tom Neville – TD
Josepha Madigan – TD
Pat Deering – TD
Jim Daly – TD
Brendan Griffin – TD
Ciaran Cannon – TD
Colm Brophy – TD
Peter Burke – TD
Fergus O’Dowd – TD
John Deasy – TD
Joe Carey – TD
Neale Richmond – Senator
Catherine Noone – Senator
Paddy Burke – Senator
Martin Conway – Senator
Michelle Mulherin – Senator
Maura Hopkins – Senator
Ray Butler – Senator
Frank Feighan – Senator
Maria Byrne – Senator
Joe O’Reilly – Senator
Kieran O’Donnell – Senator
Brian Hayes – MEP


Enda Kenny – Outgoing Party Leader *

Martin Heydon – Party Chairman *

Michael Noonan – Minister  Michael Creed – Minister
Bernard Durkan – TD Sean Kelly – MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP  
* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement  

Irish unemployment hits nine-year low as full-time jobs up 84,000 in first quarter

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said full-time employment had increased by more than 84,000 in the first quarter

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Ireland’s unemployment figures has fallen to levels not seen since the recession and economic collapse hit the country in early 2008.

Official figures released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed 33,200 fewer people out of work at the start of this year, compared with the same time last year.

The unemployment rate is now down to 6.4%, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said, with 148,800 people classed as out of work, the lowest number in nine years.

“The labour market has begun the year in a very positive manner and I welcome the very strong employment growth that was recorded in the first quarter,” Mr Noonan said.

“Employment gains of 68,600 (3.5%) clearly demonstrate that economic growth is generating significant dividends in the labour market. Indeed, it is noteworthy that full-time employment increased by over 84,000 in the first quarter and I particularly welcome this development.

“The policies that have been implemented by the Government continue to bear fruit. The objective in the months and years ahead is to enhance the resilience of the economy in order to protect these gains and generate more jobs in the future.”

A breakdown of the labour market figures recorded in the CSO’s Quarterly National Household Survey showed an 18.5% fall in the number of unemployed people in the year to the end of March.

It said that people who are classed as long- term unemployed after being out of work for a year or more now account for just over half the total number of jobless.

The CSO also said there are 2,191,400 people in the labour market.

As many as 460,000 may be exposed to unsafe radon levels in Ireland

Irish householders urged to test their homes?

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As many as 460,000 people in Ireland may be exposed to radon levels that are deemed to be unsafe, new research has found.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas present in all rocks and soils. When it surfaces in the open air, it is quickly diluted to harmless concentrations. However when it enters an enclosed space, such as a house, it can sometimes build up to high concentrations, leading to an potentially dangerous health risk.

Globally, radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer, coming after smoking. The gas is linked to around 250 cancer deaths in Ireland every year.

A research team led by geologists from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has produced a new ‘risk map’ using indoor radon concentration measurements and relevant geological information.

They found that including more geological data, such as bedrock and glacial geology, provided a more detailed picture of the risks posed by radon.

According to this map, around 10% of Ireland’s population is exposed to radon levels that exceed the references safe level – that is around 460,000 people who may currently be at risk.

This new analysis divides the country into three risk categories – high, medium and low. This is based on the probability of having an indoor radon concentration level above the reference level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre.

The map shows that the probability of living in a home with a concentration above this is calculated to be 19% in high risk areas (around 265,000 people), 8% in medium risk areas (160,000) and 3% in low risk areas (35,000).

This map now needs to be validated using new annually available indoor radon data.

“EU member states need to translate European radiation protection legislation into national law, and this requires an accurate definition of radon-prone areas. Our research provides one example of how national-scale radon risk maps can be produced, which is especially relevant to countries developing their national radon programmes,” explained Quentin Crowley, assistant professor in isotopes and the environment at TCD’s School of Natural Sciences.

The researchers emphasised that according to the map, even some homes in the low risk category ‘will have elevated radon levels’.

“No model, no matter how sophisticated, can substitute for having indoor radon levels tested. For this reason we advise all householders to test their homes for radon and, if high levels are found, to have their houses fixed. Further information is available on radon.ie,” commented Barbara Rafferty of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Large study uncovers genes are linked to our intelligence

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Exactly what constitutes intelligence, and to what extent it is genetic, are some of the most controversial questions in science. But now a new study of nearly 80,000 people, published in Nature Genetics, has managed to identify a number of genes that seem to be involved in intelligence.

According to a dictionary definition, intelligence is “the ability to learn, understand or deal with new situations” or “the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly”.

This is obviously quite broad. Indeed, even animals display a number of different forms of intelligence, typically critical for survival. These range from reaching or gathering sources of food and escaping predators to the sharing of duties within a group (such as in ant communities). Elephants or monkeys also possess forms of empathy and care, which strengthen their relationships and chances to survive.

Human intelligence started out as “reactive”, enabling us to find solutions to the challenges of nature. But it later became “proactive”, so that we could use the resources of nature to develop preventive measures aimed at solving problems. Ultimately, what makes human intelligence different from that of other animals is our ability to shape the environment, for example through farming. This became possible as we developed communities and started delegating tasks on the basis of talents. When the acute problem of survival was controlled, we could dedicate our intelligence to the development of arts or other higher skills.

There are many factors that enable us to shape and nurture our intelligence – ranging from access to resources and information to skills acquired through experience and repetition. But, like with most human traits, there is also a genetic basis.

The experiment?

The method used to measure intelligence in the new study was the so-called “g-factor” – a measure of analytical intelligence. Although it might appear reductive to catalogue all types of intelligence through a single test, the g-factor is often used in scientific research as being among the most unbiased methods. The authors looked at such scores in 78,000 people of European descent to search for genetic factors and genes that potentially influence human intelligence.

They carried out a genome-wide association study (GWAS). This assesses connections between a trait and a multitude of DNA markers called single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, which might determine an individual’s likelihood to develop a specific trait. The test enabled the researchers to identify 336 significant SNPs.

Generally, the vast majority of significant SNPs that result in this way fall in non-coding regions of the DNA. In other words, they indicate portions of the DNA that may regulate gene expression even though the actual regulated gene is unknown. This makes the SNPs from GWAS hard to interpret. So the authors then complemented their analysis with a so called genome-wide gene association analysis (or GWGAS), which calculates the effect of multiple SNPs within genes and can identify actual associated genes. They then combined both kinds of study to strengthen their confidence in naming the genes associated with intelligence.

This work led to isolating 52 candidate genes linked to intelligence. Although 12 of these had been previously associated with “intelligence”, the study needs to be replicated in future studies.

What do we gather?

The researchers discovered that the genes that were the strongest linked to intelligence are ones involved in pathways that play a part in the regulation of the nervous system’s development and apoptosis (a normal form of cell death that is needed in development). The most significant SNP was found within FOXO3, a gene involved in insulin signalling that might trigger apoptosis. The strongest associated gene was CSE1L, a gene involved in apoptosis and cell proliferation.

Does this all mean that intelligence in humans depends on the molecular mechanisms that support the development and preservation of the nervous system throughout an person’s lifespan? It’s possible.

And is it possible to explain intelligence through genetics? This paper suggests it is. Nevertheless, it might be warranted to consider that intelligence is a very complex trait and even if genetics did play a role, environmental factors such as education, healthy living, access to higher education, exposure to stimulating circumstances or environments might play an equally or even stronger role in nurturing and shaping intelligence.

It is also worth considering that the meaning of “intelligence” rather falls within a grey area. There might be different types of intelligence or even intelligence might be interpreted differently: in which category would for example a genius physicist – unable to remember their way home (Albert Einstein) – fall? Selective intelligence? Mozart nearly failed his admission tests to Philharmonic Academy in Bologna because his genius was too wide and innovative to be assessed by rigid tests. Is that another form of selective intelligence? And if so, what’s the genetic basis of this kind of intelligence?

Studies like this are extremely interesting and they do show we are starting to scratch the surface of what the biological basis of intelligence really is.

Europe was the birthplace of mankind, and not Africa, scientists now say?

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An artist’s reconstruction of Graecopithecus freybergi, left, with the jawbone and tooth found in Bulgaria and Greece.

The history of human evolution has been rewritten after scientists discovered that Europe was the birthplace of mankind, not Africa.

Currently, most experts believe that our human lineage split from apes around seven million years ago in central Africa, where hominids remained for the next five million years before venturing further afield.

But two fossils of an ape-like creature which had human-like teeth have been found in Bulgaria and Greece, dating to 7.2 million years ago.

The discovery of the creature, named Graecopithecus freybergi, and nicknameded ‘El Graeco’ by scientists, proves our ancestors were already starting to evolve in Europe 200,000 years before the earliest African hominid.

An international team of researchers say the findings entirely change the beginning of human history and place the last common ancestor of both chimpanzees and humans – the so-called Missing Link – in the Mediterranean region.

At that time climate change had turned Eastern Europe into an open savannah which forced apes to find new food sources, sparking a shift towards bipedalism, the researchers believe.

“This study changes the ideas related to the knowledge about the time and the place of the first steps of the humankind,” said Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

“Graecopithecus is not an ape. He is a member of the tribe of hominins and the direct ancestor of homo.

“The food of the Graecopithecus was related to the rather dry and hard savannah vegetation, unlike that of the recent great apes which are living in forests.  Therefore, like humans, he has wide molars and thick enamel.

The species could be the first hominid ever to exist?

“To some extent this is a newly discovered missing link. But missing links will always exist , because evolution is infinite chain of subsequent forms. Probably  El Graeco’s face will resemble a great ape, with shorter canines.”

The team analysed the two known specimens of Graecopithecus freybergi: a lower jaw from Greece and an upper premolar tooth from Bulgaria.

Using computer tomography, they were able to visualise the internal structures of the fossils and show that the roots of premolars are widely fused.

“While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused – a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans,”, said lead researcher Professor Madelaine Böhme of the University of Tübingen.

The lower jaw, has additional dental root features, suggesting that the species was a hominid.

The tooth of Graecopithecus. Image result for Europe was the birthplace of mankind, and not Africa, scientists now say?

The species was also found to be several hundred thousand years older than the oldest African hominid, Sahelanthropus tchadensis which was found in Chad.

“We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa,” said doctoral student Jochen Fuss, a Tübingen PhD student who conducted this part of the study.

Professor David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of this study, added: “This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area.”

During the period the Mediterranean Sea went through frequent periods of drying up completely, forming a land bridge between Europe and Africa and allowing apes and early hominids to pass between the continents.

The jawbone of Graecopithecus.  

The team believe that evolution of hominids may have been driven by dramatic environmental changes which sparked the formation of the North African Sahara more than seven million years ago and pushed species further North.

They found large amounts of Saharan sand in layers dating from the period, suggesting that it lay much further North than today.

Professor Böhme added: “Our findings may eventually change our ideas about the origin of humanity. I personally don’t think that the descendants of Graecopithecus die out, they may have spread to Africa later. The split of chimps and humans was a single event. Our data support the view that this split was happening in the eastern Mediterranean – not in Africa.

“If accepted, this theory will indeed alter the very beginning of human history.” However some experts were more skeptical about the findings.

Retired anthropologist and author Dr Peter Andrews, formerly at the Natural History Museum in London, said: “It is possible that the human lineage originated in Europe, but very substantial fossil evidence places the origin in Africa, including several partial skeletons and skulls.

“I would be hesitant about using a single character from an isolated fossil to set against the evidence from Africa.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by DONIE

Thursday 19th May 2016

The numbers paying Irish water bills fall in wake of election pledge

Cash from January-February bills down by almost €10m on the previous billing cycle


Irish Water could not provide the exact percentage of customers who had paid their bills so far this year.

The amount of money collected by Irish Water in water charges has dropped substantially following recent political controversies and the impending suspension of charges.

Irish Water released details on Thursday of the amount of money it collected for its fourth billing cycle, which covered the last three months of 2015.

The bills were sent out in January and February and the amount of money collected dropped by almost €10 million on the previous billing cycle – down to €33.4 million from €42.3 million.

Irish Water could not provide the exact percentage of customers who had paid their bills so far this year, but sources said the drop in revenue effectively brought the level of money collected back to where it was when water charges began.

Balances due for customers

A statement from the semi-State said 64% of “of customers paid water charges in first year of billing”.

“Following the recent government announcement of a suspension of domestic water charges with effect from the end of March 2016, charges for services provided apply up to that time and Irish Water is currently issuing bills to customers for services provided in January, February and March of this year,” the statemend added.

“Irish Water customers remain liable for balances due on any bills issued and Irish Water continues to accept payment and to deal with any billing queries in relation to outstanding balances. Legislation suspending water charges is due before the Dáil in June. Once this legislation is passed, we will update our customers.”

Water charges are to be suspended as a result of the recent minority government deal struck between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Right2Water reaction

Meanwhile, The Right2Water campaign said on Thursday said that Irish Water’s payment figures further illustrate the failure of the Government’s water policy. It called for a referendum to enshrine ownership of our water in public hands.

The group said that the utility’s figures reveal the level of non-payment for the first full year of its existence and show:

Brendan Ogle, Right2Water spokesperson said: “This meagre income should take account of the €80m spent on the so-called conservation grant, which was effectively a bribe to become a customer, leaving a net income of a mere €65 million in a full year.”

He added, “When the massive expenditure on the installation of water meters, consultants, advertising, legal costs and the billing process is considered, more than €1 billion has been spent on this failed project. This Government now needs to stop throwing good money after bad and scrap the whole project, saving taxpayers from more wastage.”

Pharmacy fees for medical card holders are costing the Irish State some €380 million

New figures seen by RTÉ show that pharmacy fees cost much more than the medicines themselves.


The cost to the State for pharmacies to dispense drugs to medical card holders was €380 million in 2014, according to new figures.

The new figures, seen by RTÉ Prime Time, show the cost of dispensing some drugs that are prescribed under the general medical services (GMS) scheme can be in some cases nearly five times higher than the actual costs of the drugs themselves.

In 2014, the State paid €3.3 million for Aspirin – the most commonly prescribed medicine under the GMS scheme.

On top of this cost, it paid pharmacists €14 million in dispensary fees to five out the drug – nearly four times the cost of the medication.

The second most commonly prescribed drug to medical card holders is the cholesterol medication Atorvastatin. In 2014, the total expenditure on the drug by the State was €22.3 million.

€11.3 million of this was the actual cost of the drug, while a further €11 million had to do with pharmacy fees.

The third most commonly prescribed drug, Eltroxin, cost the State €10.8 million in 2014 – with pharmacy fees making up €8.3 million of this amount.

In this case the pharmacy fees cost almost five times more than the actual medicine.

In 2014, 59 million drugs were dispensed under the GMS scheme. RTÉ found that pharmacists are paid a dispensing fee of €3.50 to €5.00 to give out a drug to a medical card patient.

This brings the total cost of dispensing the drugs to €380 million.

“We need to look at all aspects of pharmaceutical expenditure and pharmacy fees are no different,” said Prof Michael Barry Director of the Irish centre for Pharmaeconomics.

You may decide at the end of it all the fees we are paying are totally appropriate, however when you have such discrepancies where you have a drug price that is a fraction of what the HSE is paying then yes – it is legitimate to look at this.”

Frances Fitzgerald cannot open inquest into Mary Boyle case

Donegal schoolgirl’s relatives asked for case to be re-examined after 1977 disappearance


The Donegal schoolgirl Mary Boyle was six years old when she went missing in 1977 and also pictured above is Ann Doherty left with a picture of her twin sister Mary Boyle and centre former detective inspector Aidan Murray.

The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said she cannot direct an inquest to be opened into Ireland’s oldest missing person case.

Commenting on the case of Mary Boyle, a Donegal schoolgirl who disappeared in March 1977, then aged six, Ms Fitzgerald said it is the role of the relevant coroner to schedule and conduct inquests.

She said her department has no role in this process.

The missing girl’s sister, Ann Doherty, has been meeting politicians and has given new statements to gardaí in an attempt to find out what happened to her twin sister nearly four decades ago.

Ms Doherty has alleged that her sister’s disappearance from her their grandparents’ home in Cashelard, Co Donegal has been subject of a cover-up, and that not all evidence was thoroughly reviewed by gardaí as part of the original investigation.

She has previously stated her belief that a prominent local politician was complicit in the alleged cover-up, and says she and her family know who kidnapped and murdered Mary Boyle, who is presumed dead.

In a response to a parliamentary question from Donegal TD Thomas Pringle, Ms Fitzgerald said the case is subject to an ongoing investigation and that she has asked gardaí to keep her updated on any further developments.

With the assistance of investigative journalist Gemma O’Doherty and cousin Margo O’Donnell, Ms Doherty has met Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Fianna Fáilleader Mícheál Martin and other politicians to raise concerns about how the case has been handled.

A 64-year-old man was arrested and questioned in Mullingar in October 2014 in relation to the investigation, but was later released without charge.

‘Sunscreen’ gene might help protect against skin cancer through tumour suppression

Researchers from the University of Southern California have discovered a “sunscreen” gene that might help protect damaged cells from developing into skin cancer.


Researchers from the University of Southern California have discovered a “sunscreen” gene that might help protect damaged cells from developing into skin cancer.

Just in time for Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, a new University of Southern California (USC) study has discovered a “sunscreen” gene that might help protect against skin cancer, revealing that the unique gene acts as a tumor suppressor for skin cancer.

“If we understand how this UV-resistant gene functions and the processes by which cells repair themselves after ultraviolet damage, then we could find targets for drugs to revert a misguided mechanism back to normal conditions,” said Chengyu Liang of USC and senior author of the study.

Over 90 percent of melanoma skin cancers stem from cell damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. The American Cancer society reports that melanoma kills approximately 10,130 people each year.

“People who have the mutated UV-resistant gene or low levels of the UV-resistant gene may be at higher risk of melanoma or other skin cancers, especially if they go sunbathing or tanning frequently,” Liang said. “Our study suggests that the UV-resistant gene may serve as a biomarker for skin cancer prevention.”

The team used data from 340 melanoma patients from The Cancer Genome Atlas, as well as two experimental groups that possessed either reduced levels of the UV-resistant sunscreen gene or a mutant copy of it in melanoma cells and 50 fly eyes; melanoma cells or fly eyes with normal copies of the sunscreen gene acted as the control groups.

After administering a UV shot to cells with the normal sunscreen gene and those carrying defective copies, the team waited for 24 hours before further examination. Subsequent analysis revealed that cells carrying normal versions of the gene had repaired over 50 percent of the UV-induced damage, whereas defective samples repaired less than 20 percent of the UV-damaged cells.

“That means when people sunbathe or go tanning, those who have the normal UV-resistant gene can repair most UV-induced DNA burns in a timely manner, whereas those with the defective UV-resistant gene will have more damage left unrepaired,” Liang said. “After daily accumulation, if they sunbathe or go tanning often, these people will have increased risk for developing skin cancers such as melanoma.”

In addition, the USC team found a correlation with increased cancer risk, although there is not yet any definitive evidence that lower levels or mutant copies of the sunscreen gene are directly connected to skin cancer development.

The findings were published in the May 19 issue of the journal Molecular Cell.

Scientists now find which genes help to shape our nose


Scientists found genes which help determine whether you have a neat nose or one to shame Cyrano de Bergerac, portrayed here by Anthony Sher

Four genes help determine whether you are blessed with the neatest of noses or a schnozzle that would shame Cyrano de Bergerac, research has shown.

Scientists analysed the DNA of more than 6,000 people to discover why some of us possess narrow, pointy noses while others have hooters that are broad and hefty.

They identified four genes that affect the width and pointiness of the nose, known as DCHS2, RUNX2, GLI3, and PAX1.

A fifth gene, EDAR, was found to influence the jut of the chin.

The genes are among those that regulate the growth of bone and cartilage, and the shape of the face.

GLI3, which drives cartilage growth, had the strongest effect on the breadth of the nostrils. DCHS2 was linked to pointiness, while the bone-growth gene RUNX2 modified nose bridge width.

Senior researcher Dr Kaustubh Adhikari, from University College London, said: “Few studies have looked at how normal facial features develop and those that have only looked at European populations, which show less diversity than the group we studied.

“What we’ve found are specific genes which influence the shape and size of individual features, which hasn’t been seen before.

“Finding out the role each gene plays helps us to piece together the evolutionary path from Neanderthal to modern humans.

“It brings us closer to understanding how genes influence the way we look, which is important for forensics applications.”

All the study participants came from South American countries with mixed ethnic populations. Half the population had European, 45% Native American and 5% African ancestry.

Photos of the volunteers were first examined to establish 14 different attributes, including nose bridge width, nose protrusion and the shape of the nose tip. Facial features were also measured using 3D computer simulations.

Genetic data was compared with each characteristic trait to see if there was an association.

The findings are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

Study leader Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares, also from University College London, said: “It has long been speculated that the shape of the nose reflects the environment in which humans evolved.

“For example, the comparatively narrower nose of Europeans has been proposed to represent an adaptation to a cold, dry climate.

“Identifying genes affecting nose shape provides us with new tools to examine this question, as well as the evolution of the face in other species.

“It may also help us understand what goes wrong in genetic disorders involving facial abnormalities.”

Cyrano de Bergerac, a 19th century play written by Edmond Rostand, depicts the life of a dashing French duellist and poet whose shockingly large nose stands between him and the woman he loves.

Asian hornets that behead bees and can kill humans could be heading for Ireland?

  DEADLY Asian hornets ARRIVE in BRITAIN – with bites which kill within MINUTES: https://t.co/zlCHcJ4ZC9

An Asian hornet feasts on a honey bee

Killer hornets that can wipe out bee colonies and have caused the death of several people may be heading for Ireland.

Sightings of Asian hornets have been reported in the UK and are currently being investigated by the country’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Firefighters battle giant hornets in China

Fears have now been raised that the invasive Vespa velutina, which is active between April and November, could arrive here this summer.

A small number of the vicious predators, which carry potent venom and are between 2.5cm and 3cm long, could wipe out entire bee colonies should they make their way to Ireland, according to Philip McCabe, president of the World Bee Keepers Federation.

“The Asian hornet is a very vicious wasp – around 60 of them could destroy whole colonies if they arrived here,” McCabe told independent.ie.

“It comes to the hive and identifies the larvae of bees…the queen uses this larvae to make a ‘stew’ for her young.

“Then she essentially goes into a killing frenzy and she simply beheads the bees.”

The terrifying insects are believed to have been inadvertently imported to France over two decades ago in a shipment of pottery from China.

At least six people have reportedly died in France from anaphylactic shock after being stung by the hornets.

The reported sightings of the hornet in the UK have yet to be confirmed and McCabe thinks “it’s unlikely a true Asian hornet came that far”.

However, bee keepers in the UK have now been put on high alert by the National Bee Unit (NBU) and members of the public have been asked to report nest sightings.

Unlike the European hornet, the Asian hornet is a day-flying species which ceases activity at dusk.

It nests in tall trees in urban and rural areas – but also in sheds, garages, under decking or in holes in the wall or ground.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 8th April 2016.

It’s time for Micheál Martin and Enda Kenny to take responsibility for forming a Irish government

The role of the President is not to knock heads together?


Irish democratic parties are expected to seek political advantage. It is what they do in order to remain relevant. But a time comes when the interests of the State and the general public should take precedence. That is not happening and voters are faced with another election at a time of threatening economic circumstances.

Bleating from Fianna Fáil that Fine Gael attempted to bounce it into government is a joke. Getting into power has been Fianna Fáil’s raison d’etresince its foundation and it formed the basis for its election campaign. But Micheál Martin, with fewer votes and seats than Fine Gael, wants to be in the driving seat.

He decided that participation in government with the ancient enemy could have a dampening impact on the party’s recovery and he has opted to stay out. His position is no different from that of Sinn Féin where Gerry Adams insists it will only enter government as the leading party.

Fine Gael also sought political advantage. It received a thrashing in the election but emerged as the largest party and the one favoured – on the basis of Dáil arithmetic – to lead the next government. Mindful of Fianna Fáil’s visceral opposition to a formal, two-party coalition, however, it engaged in intensive negotiations with Independent TDs over a number of weeks. It put together a draft partnership programme, involving Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Independents and presented it to Mr Martin.

The inclusion of Independents was a creative approach. The longer the idea of a three-way government remained alive, the more appealing it would become. So, within 24 hours it was killed stone dead. Having rallied his parliamentary party, Mr Martin found that such a partnership would not be in the national interest. He would, however, consider supporting a Fine Gael-led minority government.

Where to from here? Sinn Féin’s view was unequivocal. Mr Martin was attempting to assert control over both an incoming government and the opposition benches and Sinn Féin would not tolerate it. No quarter would be given. Within Fianna Fáil, the search was on for a defensive position. Some TDs suggested the party should abstain in next Thursday’s vote for Taoiseach.

That way, Enda Kenny would be elected with responsibility for forming a government and pressure would be reduced on Fianna Fáil. Anticipating this development, Leo Varadkar called for a written agreement between the two parties on government longevity, along with agreement on common policies.

It has been suggested that President Higgins might knock heads together and facilitate the establishment of a stable and effective government. That is not his role. His power under the Constitution extends only to granting or withholding permission to dissolve the Dáil. Mr Martin and Mr Kenny must shoulder their own responsibilities.

How the Donegal Mountain Rescue Team is using drones to save people

Tests from the Donegal Mountain Rescue Team will help shape EU regulations.


Donegal will be at the centre of a pilot scheme which will help shape the rules regarding drone usage among emergency response teams.

Both the European Emergency Number Association (EENA), an NGO dedicated to improving emergency services, and drone company DJI announced a partnership which would see it training first responders to use drones in emergency situations.

One of the two groups taking part in this trial is the Donegal Mountain Rescue Team, a organisation made up of volunteers across the county.

Team member, Leo Murray, said the organisation had been testing drones for the “past nine months” conducting tests, but the new partnership allows further testing over the summer.

“The announcement [from EENA and DJI] was on the back of the relationships we’ve built up,” he said. “DJI and EENA have come on board toe be part of a pilot test for the summer because they’re putting together compliance and regulations of drone applications in emergency services and they want to see the best way of doing it”.

We’ve been at it for about nine months testing it and we’ve had positive results but there are further tests needed over the summer.

Since the volunteer organisation has experience in drone usage, partly thanks to a Donegal startup called Drone App Labs developing some of the software needed for live feeds and tracking, the pilot scheme will look at developing networking and crowd-sourcing capabilities.

That’s something the rescue team already does as it regularly works with the Irish coastguards’ ground-based teams and boat units since some of the mountainous areas are based along the coastline. Roughly 40% of its calls are coastline based according to Murray so it makes sense to expand upon this.

“We would be looking at doing trials with them as we know they’re interested as well,” says Murray. “So you’re looking at cliff areas, bays and areas that are inaccessible or hard to get to so that’s where we see the application”.

The main objective of a drone is to enhance the personal view and get a visual overview in advance of the team actually reaching it… we can get a drone to send back live imagery. We would be able to asses that imagery and inform the different search parties to go to different areas.

A live view of remote or hard to reach areas is one of the things drones can be used for, but the team is experimenting with other uses.

One would be dropping payloads to someone remotely to help them out while another area they’re looking at is thermal imagery, giving it the ability to perform night searches using heat signals to find people.

Overall, such a scheme allows the organisation to further step up their tests and see where their strengths lie. Yet they’re not seen as a replacement for anything, just as a way to compliment existing protocol.

“It’s really just an extra tool in the toolbox,” says Murray. We are thankful [for the pilot scheme] because we are voluntary and we don’t have money to buy this equipment… it’s an opportunity for us to use and get the benefits of them”.

I do see their use coming into emergency services just because we can get live imagery for remote locations very quickly… [and] speed up search and rescue operations.

Gene specifically responsible for stroke may have been discovered


A new study in the US has identified the gene that researchers believe is a primary cause of both strokes and dementia.

FOXF2. That’s the name of the gene that Boston researchers believe is the cause of two of humanity’s most common neurological  conditions: stroke and dementia.

Small vessel disease on the brain can cause strokes, and it’s here that researchers from Boston University decided to look, and it’s also where they hunted down FOXF2. This is a first, though some genes associated with familial small vessel diseases, such as CADASIL, are known.

The discovery increases researchers’ understanding of ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, potentially improving treatments and prevention. This could, in theory, stretch to treatments for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, too.

Stroke of genius

“Unravelling the mechanisms of small vessel disease is essential for the development of therapeutic and preventive strategies for this major cause of stroke,” said Sudha Seshadri, one of the paper’s authors.

Small vessel disease stretches far beyond ‘just’ strokes and dementia, though, with depression and gait issues also related.

“Hence, it is exciting that we are beginning to better understand the cause of this very important and poorly understood type of stroke,” said Seshadri.

Stroke is the leading neurological cause of death and disability worldwide. Given the different types of strokes, different sets of genes have been said to cause it in the past.

Huawei’s new P9 smart-phone is a photographer’s dream


Huawei today (above left) announced the P9 new phone, which is designed with the art of photography in mind with improvements and innovative features across the board.

Huawei today lifted the lid on its latest flagship, the Huawei P9, which like the P8 before it puts a focus on photography. In fact, Huawei wants to change the way we view smartphone photography.

Rather than just being clear, Huawei wants to enable users to be artistic with smartphone photography. As previously reported, Huawei worked with Leica to develop a smartphone photography system, which “brings together best-in-class hardware and software.” This, Huawei says, will enable users to capture the highest quality pictures.

If you want more control, or you want to improve your grasp of photography, the Huawei P9 offers professional mode with full manual control, so you can tweak a variety of settings at your leisure.

The Huawei P9 features a dual-camera design, which means it can create incredibly detailed images packed with depth and colour. The RGB camera specialises in capturing colour, working in tandem with the monochrome camera, which focuses on picture detail. This dual-camera system also ensures that the Huawei P9 excels in low-light and high-contrast conditions.

There are three Leica film modes available – Standard, Vivid Colours, and Smooth Colours – while the P9 can also be used as a monochrome camera to capture stunning black and white images.

The Huawei P9 features a 5.2-inch display, is powered by Huawei’s own Kirin 955 processor, 3GB RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and packs a 3,000mAh battery. The front of the device features an 8MP auto-focus camera that should cater for taking selfies in low light.

Huawei also announced the P9 Plus, which features a larger 5.5-inch display – but slotted into a more compact body than the iPhone 6S Plus – 4GB RAM, even more storage space, and a larger 3,400mAh battery. Best of all, it offers dual-IC Rapid Charge, so you can top up your phone’s charge quickly just before heading out.

Both handsets feature a virtual-triple-antenna architecture, which is designed with those who need robust and seamless connectivity to cellular and Wi-Fi networks in mind. And they also emphasise security with an enhanced fingerprint sensor.

The Huawei P9 will be available in six colours, including several shades of gold, a stunning Ceramic White, a Titanium Grey, and Mystic Silver, while the P9 Plus will be available in four colours – Ceramic White, Rose Gold, Haze Gold, and Quartz Grey.

David Attenborough rediscovers the Great Barrier Reef in a submersible


David Attenborough takes us into a dream place with magical residents and goes below the surface to inspect the reef from the Nadir.

‘When you are a boy and at least when I was a boy yes you dreamt of being able to move freely into any part of the world in some magical craft that would transport you there without any problems and you would be able to see and witness all these strange things,” David Attenborough is saying from London.

He’s discussing his latest series in which, after an absence of almost 60 years, the ¬89-year-old revisits what he calls “the most magical thing” he has seen in his long career as a naturalist, the Great Barrier Reef, then mostly inaccessible and shrouded in mystery.

When asked to define that experience, his answer is always the same. “I always say the first time I put on a mask and went below the surface and moved in three dimensions, just with a flick of my fins, and suddenly saw all these amazing multicoloured things living in communities right there, just astounding things, unforgettable beauty,” he says at the start of the three-part series, produced in hi-tech 3-D by the prestigious factual company Atlantic.

It’s another fine blue-chip affair with all the cinematic stature and intellectual gravity that expression properly signals. In this groundbreaking and at times intensely moving series, as he has done for so many decades, the magisterial Attenborough — now stooped like a heron but surprisingly robust and agile — manages to tread that fine line between education and entertainment.

The series includes snippets of black-and-white footage of him diving — stripped to his togs and looking remarkably like Johnny Weissmuller — from his first exploration in 1957, discovered in the BBC archives by director Mike Davis, and about which Attenborough was initially apprehensive.

He hadn’t thought of harking back 60 years and practically had forgotten the film that was made, using the primitive cinematic technology of the time. (“The camera was a real pain in the butt,” he says with a laugh. “I mean, you get to somewhere exciting — it takes time to get down to any depth in scuba gear — and suddenly you look at the back of the camera and you see you have shot 80 feet out of your 100.”)

While he had considerable doubts as to the quality of the film, he’s now rather proud of it. “The footage gives an element to the program which people seem to enjoy and which I certainly had no part of,” he says, laughing, something he does often. “I am in fact totally incompetent underwater and I had only just started doing it when we started those shots and I’m amazed that we actually managed to get away with it.”

He always wanted to return and his mission, as much personal odyssey as research, is to complete a series of dives never before attempted. To accomplish it he climbs aboard the Alucia, home for his journey across the reef, a 56m exploration vessel, equipped with helicopters, laboratory and advanced mapping systems. It also boasts the latest in technical diving, filming and scientific research equipment, possessed with its own submersible called the Nadir. When he first spotted the sleek vessel he had one thought: “Why can’t I get in it now?” he says. “It just sat there, a fantastic thing, a science fiction object, and of course the only one in the world of its kind.” The Nadir with its eight hi-tech cameras can dive to depths of 1000m and go on missions lasting up to 12 hours.

“It is exactly like Jules Verne and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea; it was like a dream come true,” he says. “Well, it happened, and it’s a fantastic privilege and I found it unbelievable. I had been in submersibles before but only in very cramped circumstances with a tiny little porthole and feeling uncomfortable with all kinds of changes in pressure, but this particular craft is fantastic in that you sit in an easy chair and then just relax and see all this wonderful panorama of things that appear and disappear in front of this kind of transparent bubble in which you are sitting.”

It’s interesting watching him interact with the many technicians, scientists and vehicle wranglers as he’s briefed and boards for the first time. He never imposes himself on the gatherings — it would be against everything in his nature — but his presence is unmistakeable, a shy contented point of reference for everyone who comes into contact with him.

The challenge, he says, was to explore the reef as never before. “You certainly can’t do it in normal scuba gear and no other craft has been able to do this. So nobody has been as deep as that while sitting in an armchair, eating a Mars bar and watching fish.”

As in Verne, the real originality of these “dream machines” lies in their role as powerful stepping stones to a sense of wonder, bridging for the viewer the scientific with the sublime. Verne’s fantastical machines allowed his readers to transcend their earthbound selves and to experience a kind of spiritual voyage extraordinaire into a world where “no one has gone before”.

And like the French writer, Attenborough takes us into a dream place with magical residents like the deep-sea “mesophytic” coral found hundreds of metres below the surface and grand visitors such as the epaulet shark, able to “walk” out of the water.

With his infra-red cameras he shows us the fantastical clownfish that live permanently among the tentacles of anemones and never get stung, and the sublime mantis shrimp that use their hammer-like claws to smash through mollusc shells and dance along the coral like Japanese geisha girls, haughty and elegant.

“There is nothing that the television camera can’t record now, really nothing; lots of things that the human eye can’t even see,” he tells me, his voice quivering with that familiar sense of wonder. “The electronic camera can see in the dark more effectively than your eye can and of course it can speed things up and slow things down, and you put it on drones and you can send it skimming over the top of a reef or indeed on top of a city.” He adds quickly: “If you’ve got a permit; if you haven’t, you are likely to be shot down these days.”

He begins his journey at Ribbon Reef where, to look at the coral and the tiny organisms that create it, he takes a night dive in the Nadir. “Sinking beneath the waves is a surreal experience; your first instinct is to hold your breath.”

He reveals the reef’s architecture, its buildings more than 450 species of hard coral made of limestone, housing thousands of little animals called coral polyps. Their stinging armoury helps them mobilise as they fight for territory, jostling with each other for the best feeding sites. It’s beautiful and mesmerising, like something fromThe Lord of the Rings.

Attenborough is entranced, sitting in his big chair in the Nadir. A large green turtle swims towards the light. He gazes quietly at it for a long time. Then he turns back to the camera with a boy’s smile: “Isn’t that great?”

His series is timely, going to air just as aerial surveys have revealed the worst bleaching on record on the reef’s pristine north, with scientists suggesting few corals escaping damage. Bleaching occurs when abnormal conditions, such as warmer sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, draining them of their colour.

As he so often does Attenborough starts his show with the beauty and the marvellous, and concludes with the lesson, illustrating just how the increasing temperature and acidity of the oceans have had a huge effect on the reef’s inhabitants. In the last program, he shows the research that’s going on to see just what those effects may be and what action can be taken.

And this great scientist puts a convincing case that if we don’t increase our commitment to solve the burgeoning stress from local and global sources, the reef will disappear, while expressing his admiration for the way the reef has always been one of nature’s great survivors, adapting to change in the most extraordinary ways.

“The resilience of the natural world gives you great hope really. Give nature half a chance and it really takes it and works with it,” he says. “But we are throwing huge problems at it.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday/Thursday 22nd & 23rd April 2015

AIB executives weather finance committee storm


David Duffy denies AIB has been profit taking from variable rate customers

David Duffy, AIB chief executive officer, speaking to Conor Lenihan before addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform at the Dail.

The chief executive of AIB David Duffy and other senior executives at the bank were grilled for more than two hours by the Oireachtas Finance Committee.

Mr Duffy was pushed to explain why the bank’s Standard Variable Rates (SVR) remained 4% higher than the base rates charged by the European Central Bank (ECB) forcing over 140,000 of its customers to pay hundreds of euro more in mortgage repayments than those with the same amount of money borrowed under a tracker mortgage.

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly asked Mr Duffy to explain why its SVR was 3.5% in 2012 when the economy was in a perilous state and 4.1% now when things have improved considerably.

Mr Donnelly said ECB rates had fallen 0.7% in the interval and the level of risk had fallen as had the cost of wholesale funding. He asked if the reason SVRs remained high was to increase shareholder profits.

This suggestion was rejected by Mr Duffy who did more than hint that almost 150,000 AIB customers with Standard Variable Rate mortgages are in line for a rate cut within weeks.

Anticipating questions about its high rates, Mr Duffy started out by saying that if market conditions and the bank’s costs of funding continue to improve over the next month or two – as is widely anticipated – then it will be in a position to cut its SVR rates.

He said funding costs and the risks associated with the loans had fallen over the first part of this year and operational changes had lowered the day to day running costs of the bank. “If we see that trend continuing over the next couple of months we will make a rate cut,” he said.

Mr Duffy denied that AIB had been profit taking from its SVR customers in recent years and said historically low ECB rates painted a misleading picture of the bank’s costs as it only supplied 3% of its funding.

“There is a narrative that AIB funds itself at the ECB rate, that is simply not the case,” he said. He said AIB’s net profit margin was 1.61% which was “below the level across the euro-zone”.

On arrears and the potential for home repossessions, he said the bank always tried to keep customers in their homes “if the customers engage with us” and he said the bank had adopted “a very pragmatic approach to residual debt”.

Fine Gael’s Kieran O’Donnell asked for Mr Duffy’s view on a possible change in the bankruptcy legislation which would see the term fall from its current three years to 12 months. “I don’t see any problem from the bank’s perspective with a reduction of the term,” Mr Duffy said.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Finance Michael McGrath welcomed the “strong indication” from Mr Duffy that the bank could reduce its SVR’s “within the next month or two”.

He said the SVRs being charged by banks in Ireland on around 300,000 customers were “completely unjustifiable. With falling cost of funds and rapidly rising net interest margins, the banks are extracting more and more profits from variable rate customer,” he said.

He called on AIB to ensure Mr Duffy’s comments were “quickly backed up by a significant variable rate cut from the bank.

The pressure is now likely to fall on Bank of Ireland andPermanent TSB who charge SVRs of 4.5% to their existing customers.

Scientists have now succeeded in shutting down brain swelling


Researchers prevent tissue damage in rodent brains by turning off single gene.

MRI scan showing a human brain. Researchers have successfully shut down brain swelling in a rodent brain by turning off a single gene.

Researchers have identified a biological switch that shuts down brain swelling after a head injury or stroke. The discovery has widespread medical implications and could be valuable in reducing the risk to sportspeople after injury.

Turning off a single gene successfully stopped swelling in rodent brains, according to a team from the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health.

The discovery opens up the possibility of a drug treatment to block brain damage after a head injury, heart attack, stroke or infection.

“This discovery is significant because it gives us a specific target,” said Dr Brian MacVicar, co-director of the centre where the study was conducted.

“Now we know what we are shooting at, we just need the ammunition.”

It has long been known that head trauma can cause a salt build up in brain tissues, which in turn draws in water to cause swelling in the days after injury. If the swelling becomes severe brain tissues can become squeezed, causing them to lose blood supply and die.

Dr MacVicar and colleagues identified the single gene and its protein, SLC26A11, that acts as the channel that brings salt into the nerve cells.

The team switched off this gene, and this stopped the accumulation of fluid in and halted damage to brain tissues. They publish their findings today in the journal Cell.

Scientists now have a target that might help them develop a treatment post-head injury. It will take some years to find and test a drug that can block the action of the protein.

Sports injuries

Concussion is a worry in many sports, but this usually does not cause the severe swelling seen in stroke or accident, according to Dr Noel McCaffrey, sports medicine consultant and lecturer in the School of Health and Human Performance in DCU.

Even so, tragic sports incidents can occur, such as the death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, who died in November 2014 when struck in the head by a cricket ball.

Days later, cricket umpire and former Israel captain Hillel Oscar died after being hit by a ball.

These deaths were likely caused by bleeds into the brain which triggered swelling, Dr McCaffrey said.

Similar head trauma after a slip while skiing in 2009 caused the death of actress Natasha Richardson, wife of Irish actor Liam Neeson.

Cancer risk high in young Irish women drinkers


Women who drink alcohol between puberty and their first pregnancy are putting themselves at a greater risk of breast cancer, a public health expert has warned.

Triona McCarthy said young women should be discouraged from drinking alcohol because their breast tissue was more vulnerable.

Dr McCarthy, who works with the National Cancer Control programme, spoke at a conference in Dublin yesterday about the increasing toll alcohol is taking on Irish women.

The consultant in public health medicine referred to a US study that examined the breast cancer risk for more than 91,000 women who had no cancer history when the 10-year study began in 1991.

The researchers found more than 1,600 cases of breast cancer and 970 diagnoses of benign breast disease during the study period.

Drinking alcohol after the first menstrual period and before the first pregnancy was linked with a risk of both breast cancer and benign breast disease.

Dr McCarthy said the risk associated with drinking between puberty and first pregnancy was greater than drinking alcohol later on in life. She said the breast tissue of younger women was particularly vulnerable because of the proliferation and turnover of cells.

“The risk of breast cancer in younger women who drink alcohol is proportionately greater than those who don’t,” said Dr McCarthy.

She said young people should be encouraged to delay starting drinking.

“Even moving the stage at which they start drinking alcohol by a couple of years would make a big difference in the whole lifetime risk,” she said.

Dr McCarthy said at least half of the alcohol-related cancers could be avoided if people kept within the Department of Health’s alcohol consumption guidelines.

A 10-year look back at figures compiled by the National Cancer Registry found 300 alcohol-related breast cancers every year could have been avoided.

“Younger women who are drinking heavily are putting themselves at greater risk down the line because your risk of cancer depends on how much you drink over your lifetime,” said Dr McCarthy.

Another speaker, Canadian author and alcohol policy advocate Ann Dowsett Johnston, said women were starting to out-pace men in terms of risky drinking.

“We need to jump-start a public health dialogue on the meaning of low-risk drinking as soon as possible,” she said.

Ms Dowsett Johnston described herself as the “poster girl” for the modern alcoholic — well-educated, high- achieving, and high-functioning. She is now six years sober.

“I used alcohol to decompress in a high-octane life. We are now witnessing a tragic rise in this sort of behaviour,” she said.

“Alcohol has become the modern women’s steroid, enabling her to do the heavy lifting in a complex world. The truth is it works — until it doesn’t.”

Alcohol Action Ireland chief executive Suzanne Costello said the proliferation of alcohol products designed to appeal specifically to women had contributed greatly to harmful female drinking.

The plastic bag problem still hasn’t gone away in Ireland?

And It is still causing problems


New research from Trinity College has found that plastic litter is smothering marine life in Irish coastal marshes and even ‘biodegradable’ bags are having the same negative impacts as less environmentally-friendly options.

The study led by Dr Dannielle Green, an IRC-funded Research Fellow in the Biogeochemistry Research Group at Trinity College Dublin, found that in just nine weeks plastic bags smothered the surface of coastal sediment, prevented oxygen and nutrient flow, and blocked light.

This caused a substantial reduction in the amount of ‘microalgae’ beneath the bags. The tiny algae form the base of the food webs makes them important for animals higher up the food chain, including worms and bivalves, such as clams and mussels. These species, in turn, are food for commercially important fish that feed within the marsh when the tide is in.

Because some of the animals affected during this study are known to be hardy and resilient to other types of pollution, other, more sensitive groups of animals like those living in coral reefs could be more strongly affected from smothering by plastic waste.

“The same effects were there regardless of whether the plastic in question was biodegradable or not,” Dr. Green explained.

“Biodegradable plastics are produced because they are thought to be better for the environment because their persistence is shorter, but our study suggests that the rate at which they break down may not be fast enough to have any meaningful advantage over conventional bags in marine habitats.”

Though it is already well known that plastic litter is harmful to organisms, this study showed that it can affect them within a matter of weeks.

A plastic bag levy in Ireland was first introduced in March 2002 and figures from 2013 showed it had raised over €200 million. Though many other nations since 2002 have considered or are considering similar legislation, the production of plastic has increased from 1.5 million tonnes in the 1950s to around 300 million tonnes in 2013.

Of this, single-use packaging items account for almost 40% and a not-insignificant portion could end up in the marine environment as litter, transported via wastewater flows, inland waterways, wind or tides. Plastic litter currently accounts for up to 80% of all litter found in marine habitats.

According to Green, even if plastics degrade and seem to disappear, they persist as micro-plastics and could cause harm to marine organisms that ingest them.

Mosquitoes ‘lured by Body odour odour genes’


The likelihood of being bitten by mosquitoes could be down to genes that control our body odour, a preliminary study in Plos One suggests.

Researchers tested pairs of identical and non-identical twins to see how attractive they were to mosquitoes.

Identical twins were more likely to have similar levels of attractiveness – suggesting shared genetic factors were at play.

The “intriguing” results must now be assessed in larger trials, experts say.

Researchers have long tried to understand what drives mosquitoes to bite certain people more than others. Recent work shows the insects may be lured to their victims by body odour.

And anecdotal reports suggest some relatives are just as likely to be bitten as each other.

Scientists from the UK and US wanted to find out whether genes were behind this phenomenon.

To test their theory they enlisted 19 non-identical and 18 identical pairs of twins in a pilot study.

Identical and non-identical female twins took part in the study

In a series of experiments each twin placed one hand at an end of a Y-shaped wind tunnel as air was pumped through, carrying odour with it.

Swarms of mosquitoes were then released and moved towards or away from each twin’s hand.

For identical twins – who share much of their genetic material – there was an even distribution of mosquitoes in both sections.

This suggests the insects did not prefer the odour of one hand more than the other.

In contrast, results for the non identical twins – who share fewer genes – were more varied.

Researchers say their works suggests attractiveness to mosquitoes could be caused by inherited body odour genes.

Their next step is to uncover which specific genes may be involved.

Further research is now under way. ‘Bespoke control methods’

Providing an independent comment, Dr David Weetman, lecturer at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: “This is a novel and intriguing finding.

“It is the first time a genetic basis has been demonstrated.

“But mosquitoes are not just attracted to scent – things like carbon dioxide also play a role.

“Larger studies will help assess how relevant these findings are outside the laboratory where other factors may be important.”

Lead author Dr James Logan, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “If we understand the genetic basis for variation between individuals it could be possible to develop bespoke ways to control mosquitoes better, and develop new ways to repel them.”

Pesticides give bees the buzz & get them on a high?


Bees seem to get a pleasurable ‘high’ from nicotine-like pesticides, a study suggests.

Bees get a “buzz” from nicotine-like pesticides in much the same way as smokers are stimulated by tobacco, startling new research suggests.

In a series of experiments, bumblebees and honeybees actively preferred sugar solutions laced with the neonicotinoid chemicals.

This was despite evidence that the bees could not taste the pesticides.

Rather than enjoying the taste, they seemed to be reacting to a pleasurable “high” as the chemicals activated reward centres in their tiny brains, the scientists believe.

Just like smokers reaching for another cigarette, the bees returned to food tubes containing the “spiked” sugar again and again, choosing them over solutions free of pesticide.

The research is important because it suggests bees may be exposed to harmful doses of “neonics” as a result of being so attracted to the chemicals.

Lead scientist Professor Geraldine Wright, from the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Newcastle, said: “Bees can’t taste neonicotinoids in their food and therefore do not avoid these pesticides. This is putting them at risk of poisoning when they eat contaminated nectar.

“Even worse, we now have evidence that bees prefer to eat pesticide-contaminated food. Neonicotinoids target the same mechanisms in the bee brain that are affected by nicotine in the human brain.

“The fact that bees show a preference for food containing neonicotinoids is concerning as it suggests that like nicotine, neonicotinoids may act like a drug to make foods containing these substances more rewarding.

“If foraging bees prefer to collect nectar containing neonicotinoids, this could have a knock-on negative impact on whole colonies and on bee populations.”

Previous research indicating that exposure to neonicotinoid residues might be decimating bee colonies led to a two-year European ban on the use of three of the pesticides on flowering crops that began in 2013.

But the move remains highly controversial, with some critics insisting it is not backed by sufficient evidence. While having to enforce the moratorium, the British Government has publicly stated it does not support it.

The new research is one of two new investigations reported in the journal Nature that sound further warnings over the use of neonicotinoids to control insect pests.

The other study, led by Dr Maj Rundlof from Lund University in Sweden, found the pesticides had harmful effects on bee populations in replicated agricultural environments, not just laboratory settings.

Oilseed rape sown from seeds coated in neonicotinoids reduced wild bee density, solitary bee nesting, and bumblebee colony growth and reproduction.

However, neonicotinoid exposure did not have a significant impact on honeybee colonies. As a result, tests on “domesticated” honeybees could not readily be extrapolated to wild bees, said the authors.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are chemically similar to nicotine for a good reason. Nicotine is a potently toxic compound used by some plants, notably tobacco, to defend themselves against herbivorous insects.

Prof Wright pointed out that although highly toxic, in very small doses nicotine – and presumably its neonicotinoid cousin – act as stimulants rather than poisons.

She said: “It’s complicated. A little bit’s medicine and a lot’s toxin. If you have a high enough dose of the stuff it will kill you. At very low doses, though, like the ones found in cigarettes, it’s got a pharmacological effect that affects the reward pathway in the human brain. I think what’s happening here is something very analogous.

“I don’t think they (the bees) can taste it at all. They’re learning the location of the food that contains it. And during the time that they’re eating it they’re getting a stronger feeling of reward.

“It must be very fast acting. As soon as it gets into their blood they’re getting a little buzz, as it were, and they’re responding to that.”

Prof Wright added: “We don’t have any evidence that it’s addictive, but it could be.”

The team recorded electrical activity from the bees’ mouth parts to show that the insects’ “taste” neurons were not reacting to neonicotinoids. This was strong evidence that the bees could not taste the pesticides.

Sandra Bell, from the environmental group Friends of the Earth, which has campaigned against neonicotinoids, said: ” The scientific evidence that neonicotinoid insecticides harm our under-threat bees keeps stacking up.

“These dangerous chemicals should have no place on our farms and gardens. Bees are essential to us – it is vital that action is taken to reduce all the threats they face.

“The next UK Government faces a key green test. It must support a complete and permanent European ban on these bee harming chemicals, and help UK farmers find safer alternatives.”

Biologist Professor David Goulson, from the University of Sussex, said: “At this point in time it is no longer credible to argue that agricultural use of neonicotinoids does not harm wild bees.”

But Professor Lin Field, head of biological chemistry and crop protection at the Rothamsted Research agricultural institute in Harpenden, maintained the two studies did not go far enough to put an end to the neonicotinoid debate.

She said: “We simply need more data before we can really say what the risks are. We also have to consider the reason why we use these compounds: can we afford not to control pest insects? Is it acceptable that yields would be reduced as a result? Are the alternative insecticides any safer to bees? These are questions that a two-year moratorium on neonics is unable to answer.”

News Ireland daily BLOG Tuesday

Tuesday 27th August 2013

Ireland does not have any cavemen, Pat Rabbitte re-assures us


Having no TV won’t help in escaping the incoming broadcasting charge

So confident is Mr Rabbitte of the technological nous of Irish citizens that anyone who claims not to watch television won’t be believed.

This morning, Mr Rabbitte said exemptions to the new charge would not apply to individuals who don’t -or at least claim not to – watch television.

“I don’t believe that we have cavemen in the country,” he told RTE Radio.

To Mr Rabbitte, cavemen are “people who don’t watch television and don’t access content on their iPad or their iPhone or whatever”.

Pensioners will, however, be off the hook when it comes to the charge, as will the owners of second homes, provided the occupier has paid up for his or her principal residence.

But hotels face higher bills in the future. As it stands, hotels only pay the price of a single licence fee despite often having dozens of television sets. This morning. Mr Rabbitte said the new charge would address this “serious anomaly”.

Separately, Mr Rabbitte told Morning Ireland he didn’t have any concerns over the Government’s extension of an invitation to businessman Denis O’Brien to attend the Global Irish Economic Forum in October.

He said he didn’t know “what kind of tests you would expect the Government to cause invitees to the Global Economic Forum to jump through”.

The Moriarty inquiry found in 2011 that then minister for communications Michael Lowry “secured the winning” of the 1995 mobile phone licence for Mr O’Brien’s company Esat Digifone. The tribunal also found Mr O’Brien made two payments to Mr Lowry in 1996 and 1999 totalling £500,000 and backed a loan of stg£420,000 to Mr Lowry in 1999.

Ireland at risk of losing status as reddest-headed


The traditional view of Ireland as the home of red-haired cailíní is out of step with new research.

There is at least the potential that Ireland will be knocked off its perch as the true home of flowing red hair, as a genetics study shows more people in Scotland and Wales carry the genes that could produce future foxy generations.
Over the past year, commercial research company IrelandsDNA worked with more than 2,300 people whose four grandparents were all from England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, to check if they carried one of the three most common gene variants that predict red hair. If both parents carry one of the variants, there is a one-in-four chance their children will have red hair, but millions of people could have it without knowing.

“Nobody needs a DNA test to tell if they have red hair; all they need is a mirror,” said IrelandsDNA managing director Alistair Moffat. “What we set out to discover was a hidden story, one never before told, of the secret carriers.”

And the results, revealed at the Redhead Convention in Crosshaven, are shocking to anyone who thinks this country holds eternal sway in the redhead stakes. While almost 35% of Irish people carry one of the three red hair gene variants, the figure is 36.5% in Scotland and as high as 40% in Edinburgh and south-east Scotland.

Even Wales has a higher proportion, with 38% carrying the red-head genes.

Yorkshire’s level of carriers is less than 1% lower than Ireland’s and the researchers were surprised that England was as high as 32% overall.

The actual numbers who have red hair do not directly relate, as around 6% of Scots and 4% of English people are red-heads, but the genetics show the potential.

So, with a greater chance of a red-headed child if both parents have the gene, are some extraordinary tactics in order? The new King of the Redheads, Jack Daly, certainly thinks so.

“There was always that Spanish Armada link up in Connacht that has introduced more dark-haired people. So maybe we could have a Take Me Out, redhead-style, to get more redheads in the population again,” he suggested.

In case we get complacent, remember that Edinburgh hosted Britain’s first Ginger Pride march this month, standing up against ‘gingerism’ prejudice.

How eating raspberries could increase your chances of becoming a father

Wellbeing: Eating fresh raspberries could help boost chances of fatherhood because of their Vitamin C and antioxidants 

  • Raspberries contain very high levels of antioxidants, which protect sperm from oxidative stress
  • It is also thought that antioxidants may decrease risk of miscarriage
  • One portion provides same amount of Vitamin C as 173 grapes
  • The berries also help to maintain a healthy body weigh

Eating raspberries could help increase the chances of becoming a father, it has been claimed.

They contain high levels of Vitamin C, a key nutrient in male fertility, and magnesium, which is involved in the production of testosterone.

They are also thought to protect sperm from ‘oxidative stress’.

Wellbeing: Eating fresh raspberries could help boost chances of fatherhood because of their Vitamin C and antioxidants

A study by the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that men over 44 with the highest intake of Vitamin C had 20 per cent less damage to their sperm DNA than men who did not eat those foods.

It is also thought that after conception antioxidants may decrease the risk of miscarriage.

Juliet Wilson, a fertility nutritionist, said: ‘Raspberries provide essential nutrients that are known to enhance fertility in men and women.’

A recent study in the USA found that men over 44 with the highest intake of Vitamin C – found in foods such as raspberries, broccoli and potatoes – had 20 per cent less damage to their sperm DNA than men who did not eat those foods.

Juliet Wilson, a leading fertility nutritionist said that one portion of raspberries provided the same amount of Vitamin C as eating 173 grapes.

She said: ‘Raspberries have not yet been given the ‘super-food’ recognition of other berries, but they have a comparable bounty of nutrients which shouldn’t be ignored.

‘Alongside their many health benefits, raspberries are a perfect snack for couples trying to conceive.

‘Together with their high vitamin C content – one portion of raspberries provides the same amount as 173 grapes – they are also a good source of folate, which is known to be essential in key stages of female fertility and early embryo development.

‘Raspberries provide essential nutrients that are known to enhance fertility in men and women.’

Beneficial: Antioxidants in the fruit may decrease the risk of miscarriage

With sperm counts in the average British male falling by almost half in the past 60 years, experts have claimed raspberries maybe the saviour to help fathers-to-be.

The popular fruit contain folate, a key nutrient during conception and throughout pregnancy.

Juliet added that it is not just the vitamins and minerals in raspberries which are beneficial in the bedroom.

The berries also help to maintain a healthy body weight, which is the key to balancing sex hormones and increasing the likelihood of conceiving.

They have the lowest GI of any fruit, meaning their sugar is absorbed into the body slowly.

This, combined with their high fibre content means raspberries are an effective way to control hunger and cravings at only a few calories.

Nick Marston of British Summer Fruits, the body that represents 85 per cent of British berry growers, said: ‘Raspberries are often overlooked, but their numerous fertility-boosting properties and antioxidants make them the perfect bedtime snack.

‘This year we’ve had faultless growing conditions with the cool spring and recent warm weather, which have resulted in exceptionally tasty and juicy raspberries – so there’s no excuse not to take advantage of this superfood.’

British raspberries are in season now and available in abundance in all major supermarkets until November.

Spinal fluid test could give early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease


The first signs of having the disease include body tremors, but this new test could give a diagnosis before symptoms present.

TESTING FOR PROTEIN biomarkers in spinal fluid could show up the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, giving an early diagnosis, a study has found.

New research by the Perelman School of Medicine researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has found that people with early Parkinson’s had lower levels of amyloid beta, tau and alpha synuclein in their spinal fluid.


Those with with low levels of amyloid beta and tau were more likely to have the postural instability-gait disturbance- dominant (PIGD) motor type of disease. This form of the disease can cause those who have the disease to fall and walking can be difficult.

The study, which was published in JAMA Neurology, came from the five-year Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI). Spinal taps were carried out on 102 participants.

Of those that took part in the study, 63 people either had early and untreated Parkinson’s disease. The tests were compared to 39 individuals unaffected by the disease.

Parkinson’s progression

Protein bio-markers were found to be low in those suffering from the disease which researchers stating it could be key in further research on how Parkinson’s progresses.

ScienceDaily.com reports that Dr. John Trojanowski, director of the Penn Udall Center for Parkinson’s Research said that “early prediction is critical, for both motor and dementia symptoms.

This spinal fluid testing procedure is only being used in research studies at the moment and will be evaluated in a larger study at a later date.

NASA mission to capture near-Earth asteroid for study


NASA has released an animation of an ambitious project that includes capturing a near-Earth asteroid and sending astronauts into space to study it.

While it sounds like science fiction, President Obama has added the asteroid initiative to his fiscal year 2014 budget request. He initially announced plans for the mission in April 2010 and it could be executed as early as 2021.

The near-Earth asteroid would first be robotically captured in a maneuver akin to throwing a bag over something. The mission would seek an asteroid that is 7-10 meters in diameter, weighing about 500 tons.

From Earth a team of astronauts would blast off in an Orion spacecraft atop a heavy liftrocket. Once in space, the crew would set off on a nine-day journey to the asteroid, which would include a slingshot maneuver, or what’s called a lunar gravity assist, around the moon to gain speed toward the target asteroid.

After carefully docking the spacecraft with the robotic capture vehicle, astronauts would don space suits and begin a space walk towards the asteroid. After lifting one of the covers on the material surrounding the asteroid, the team would collect rock and soil samples that would be analyzed later on Earth.

Once the team undocked from the capture vehicle, Orion would complete another lunar gravity assist on the trip home.

The mission is still in the very early planning stages and NASA will host a technical workshop at the end of September to discuss potential approaches. The asteroid mission is one step in the agency’s strategy to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

The mission is somewhat reminiscent of the 1998 blockbuster action movie “Armageddon” where Bruce Willis has to land on an asteroid to save Earth from the rock’s deadly path. Among the real life goals of the asteroid initiative is, in fact, protecting Earth in addition to advancing technologies for human space flight and learning how to utilize space resources.