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Thursday, June 13, 2013

UN Says 93,000 Killed in Syrian Civil War

UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Thursday that the death toll of the civil war in Syria reached 93,000 at the end of April, replacing an estimate of 80,000 deaths issued in May. Pillay added that the “true number of those killed is potentially much higher” because 38,000 reported killings had been excluded from the count because of incomplete records. “There are also well-documented cases of individual children being tortured and executed, and entire families, including babies, being massacred – which, along with this devastatingly high death toll, is a terrible reminder of just how vicious this conflict has become”, said the commissioner. Of the 93,000 dead, 6,561 were children. Damascus, Homs and Aleppo were the regions most hit by the violence, with Pillay warning that an upcoming Aleppo offensive by the government could push figures much higher. “All the reports I’m receiving are of augmentation of resources and forces on the part of the government”, he said.

Greece Strikes Over Public Broadcaster Closure

Greece’s two biggest trade unions have began a 24-hour strike on Thursday, bringing the country to a halt in protest over the sudden closure of state broadcaster ERT, described as a “symbol of waste and lack of transparency” by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, and the loss of nearly 2,700 jobs across its stations. This is the third general strike in Greece this year and has closed government offices, schools and hospitals, as well as interrupted transportation services such as buses, trains and ferries. Air traffic controllers were also expected to walk-out in the afternoon. “This is a very important struggle that impacts on everybody, because the draft bill is not only about ERT, it’s about thousands of other workers too because it’s a green light for thousands of lay-offs in public organisations”, said Georgios Milionis of the All-Workers Militant Front. Some, however, seemed skeptical of the strike action. “The lowest ERT employee is making in a day what I’m making in a week, so why should I strike for them?” said vegetable-seller Yannis Papailias. Waitress Maria Skylakou had a similar opinion. “Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. Who protested for them?”, she asked.

US Supreme Court Rules Human Genes Cannot Be Patented

The US Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that human genes isolated from the body cannot be patented, a victory for researchers who argued that allowing patents on genes could block important medical research. The justices ruled that “a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated”, but conceded that “strands of nucleotides known as composite DNA (cDNA)” could be patented if they were created synthetically. The court also addressed the possibility that naturally-occurring genes might mutate in such a way as to become identical to a synthetic and patented one, but said that such a phenomenon would not render such patents invalid. The case began because researchers challenged a patent made by Myriad Genetics, a biotechnology company, that discovered two genes that were “highly associated” with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. The patent gave the company a 20-year monopoly on the use of the two genes for research and treatment.

Bioengineer Develops ‘Nanopatch’ For Needle-Free Vaccination

A skin patch that is capable of delivering vaccines has been shown by its inventor at a TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh on Thursday. Prof Mark Kendall of the University of Queensland said that his patch, smaller than a postage stamp and with thousands of microscopic points, could transform disease prevention around the world. “To the naked eye it looks like a patch. But if we look under a microscope, we see thousands of projections that we dry-coat vaccine to”, said Prof Kendall. “It could be argued that needles are holding back how well the vaccines could work because it is putting them into the wrong place, it is putting them into muscle. If you put them in the right place, at the right time, you can get them to work better”, he added.

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