Selasa, 28 April 2009

Swine Flu

ScienceDaily (Apr. 27, 2009) — The rapidly developing swine flu scare has activated a global response from the public health community and alarmed hundreds of millions of people, but there are a number of reasons why people should remain realistic and calm concerning the scope of the problem, according to Dr. X. J. Meng, a virologist who is on faculty in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.

For one thing, according to Meng, who is considered one of the world’s leading experts on swine viruses, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the World Health Organization in Geneva have spent the past several years creating management protocols designed to deal with a global pandemic that might be caused by Avian Influenza H5N1, or “Bird Flu.” Pharmaceuticals have been stockpiled, and outbreak management and risk communication plans have been developed to minimize transmission patterns and contain the scope of a potential outbreak.

“Mortality from flu is generally not considered very high considering the high number of people who are being infected every year,” said Meng, although he does believe that it could spread quickly since it appears to be a novel virus and human-to-human transmission is occurring. “But it does look like one of those bugs that has the potential of leading to a pandemic.”

Meng suggested that possible reasons for the increased mortality rate associated with the Mexican cases as opposed to the American cases could be attributed to differences in the sophistication of the two healthcare systems, it could be the result of “other co-infecting or underlying diseases” that remain unclear at this time or it could be due to the very small number of cases that have been currently diagnosed in the United States.

“We have much to learn about this specific virus,” said Meng, who has a medical doctorate and a Ph.D virologist who frequently works with the National Institutes of Health and other organizations on infectious disease research and containment programs. “But then again, we have much to learn about many other zoonotic disease viruses.”

From SARS to Bird Flu, most of the emerging diseases affecting people today come from pathogens most often associated with animals, according to Meng, who is among a growing legion of scientists trying to convince the federal government to invest more money in studying animal pathogens as part of an overall effort to protect humans from disease. According to a recent article published in Science, Meng said, only $32 million of the $88 billion U.S. Department of Agriculture 2007 budget was allocated for farm animal disease research.

“If we can understand more about these viruses, their transmission behavior, and the mechanism of cross-species infection among animal and human populations, then we can better prepare ourselves for protecting human populations,” said Meng, who recently participated in a National Institutes of Health sponsored expert workshop entitled “Cross Species Infection Workshop” in Washington D.C. that summarized the dangers and called for the need to study the animal viruses in animals such as pigs before they jump species and infect humans.

“It will likely be several days before the virus is fully characterized in the laboratory,” he said. “Once that work is finished, we’ll know a lot more about how to proceed with the management of this situation.”

Meng said that one of the major factors that might minimize the scope of the outbreak and the spread of the virus could be related to the timing of this outbreak. Influenza viruses are “envelope viruses” that can be more efficiently transmitted in cold winter conditions that facilitate the survival of the virus, Meng said, and they typically do not do well in hot summer temperatures. “That is something that may limit the spread of this new virus,” he said.

The strain of swine virus H1N1 responsible for the emerging epidemic does not normally infect people and there are only a few cases of swine flu infections in humans each year in the United States, according to Meng. Because pigs have receptors for human, avian and pig viruses, they serve as a “mixing vessel” for new viruses, he said. This particular strain is believed to include components from pig, bird and human viruses that have been combined through a process known as genetic re-assortment. Humans are likely immunologically na├»ve to the new virus that has been created, which is why the danger for a potential global pandemic does exist.


Selasa, 21 April 2009



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Scientists discover a nearly Earth-sized planet



HATFIELD, England – In the search for Earth-like planets, astronomers zeroed in Tuesday on two places that look awfully familiar to home. One is close to the right size. The other is in the right place. European researchers said they not only found the smallest exoplanet ever, called Gliese 581 e, but realized that a neighboring planet discovered earlier, Gliese 581 d, was in the prime habitable zone for potential life.
"The Holy Grail of current exoplanet research is the detection of a rocky, Earth-like planet in the 'habitable zone,'" said Michel Mayor, an astrophysicist at Geneva University in Switzerland.
An American expert called the discovery of the tiny planet "extraordinary."
Gliese 581 e is only 1.9 times the size of Earth — while previous planets found outside our solar system are closer to the size of massive Jupiter, which NASA says could swallow more than 1,000 Earths.
Gliese 581 e sits close to the nearest star, making it too hot to support life. Still, Mayor said its discovery in a solar system 20 1/2 light years away from Earth is a "good example that we are progressing in the detection of Earth-like planets."
Scientists also discovered that the orbit of planet Gliese 581 d, which was found in 2007, was located within the "habitable zone" — a region around a sun-like star that would allow water to be liquid on the planet's surface, Mayor said.
He spoke at a news conference Tuesday at the University of Hertfordshire during the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science.
Gliese 581 d is probably too large to be made only of rocky material, fellow astronomer and team member Stephane Udry said, adding it was possible the planet had a "large and deep" ocean.
"It is the first serious 'water-world' candidate," Udry said.
Mayor's main planet-hunting competitor, Geoff Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, praised the find of Gliese 581 e as "the most exciting discovery" so far of exoplanets — planets outside our solar system.
"This discovery is absolutely extraordinary," Marcy told The Associated Press by e-mail, calling the discoveries a significant step in the search for Earth-like planets.
While Gliese 581 e is too hot for life "it shows that nature makes such small planets, probably in large numbers," Marcy commented. "Surely the galaxy contains tens of billions of planets like the small, Earth-mass one announced here."
Nearly 350 planets have been found outside our solar system, but so far nearly every one of them was found to be extremely unlikely to harbor life.
Most were too close or too far from their sun, making them too hot or too cold for life. Others were too big and likely to be uninhabitable gas giants like Jupiter. Those that are too small are highly difficult to detect in the first place.
Both Gliese 581 d and Gliese 581 e are located in constellation Libra and orbit around Gliese 581.
Like other planets circling that star — scientists have discovered four so far — Gliese 581 e was found using the European Southern Observatory's telescope in La Silla, Chile.
The telescope has a special instrument which splits light to find wobbles in different wavelengths. Those wobbles can reveal the existence of other worlds.
"It is great work and shows the potential of this detection method," said Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
___
Associated Press Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report from Washington.

Modernist Islam, 1840-1940

Modernist Islam, 1840-1940
Publisher: Oxford University Press ISBN: 0195154673 edition 2002 PDF 408 pages 9,28 mb

Modernist Islam was a major intellectual current in the Muslim world during the 19th and 20th centuries. Proponents of this movement typically believed that it was not only possible but imperative to show how "modern" values and institutions could be reconciled with authentically Islamic ideals. This sourcebook brings together a broad range of writings on modernist Islam from across the Muslim world. It makes available for the first time in English the writings of many of the activists and intellectuals who made up the early modernist Islamic movement. Charles Kurzman and a team of section editors, each specializing in a different region of the Islamic world, have assembled, translated, and annotated the work of the most important of these figures. With the publication of this volume, an English-speaking audience will have wider access to the literature of modernist Islam than did the makers of the movement themselves.

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Sabtu, 18 April 2009

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Selasa, 14 April 2009

Macan Tutul Terancam Punah

Lebak (ANTARA News) - Populasi macan tutul (Panther pardus) di Taman Nasional Gunung Halimun Salak (TNGHS) terancam punah akibat pemburuan dari warga sekitar sehingga satwa itu perlu perlindungan ekstra."Sekitar tahun 1900-an populasi macan tutul diperkirakan 50 sampai 100 ekor, namun saat ini sulit ditemukan jejaknya," kata Kepala Bidang Kehutanan, Dinas Kehutanan dan Perkebunan, Kabupaten Lebak, Asep Mauladi di Rangkasbitung, Senin.Asep juga menyatakan, berdasarkan data Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam (BKSDA), jumlah macan tutul tak lebih dari 10 sampai 17 ekor."Saya berharap polisi hutan Balai konservasi TNGHS berkoordinasi untuk pengamanan satwa-satwa langka itu," katanya.Saat ini, Balai Konservasi TNGHS tidak berkoordinasi dengan Dinas Kehutanan dan Perkebunan Kabupaten Lebak dalam mengamankan dan mengawasi binatang langka itu.Sebagian besar kawasan TNGHS masuk wilayah Kabupaten Lebak, sementara lainnya masuk Bogor dan Sukabumi.Asep menyebutkan, pernah menemukan puluhan jejak macan tutul pada 1900-an di Blok Cikijang Cibeber dan Gunung Gede Panggarangan, namun kini sulit menemukan nya akibat pemburuan dari orang-orang tidak bertanggung jawab.Sejumlah pencinta binatang langka Kabupaten Lebak mengaku saat ini banyak pemburuan dengan menggunakan anjing sebagai alat pelacak."Hasil pemburuan itu mereka jual dalam keadaan hidup-hidup. Jika mati biasanya mereka gunakan air pengeras," kata Dede (35) warga Rangkasbitung Kabupaten Lebak. (*)Sumber : http://www.antara.co.id

Sebagian Hutan di Kabupaten Malang Kritis

Malang (ANTARA News) - Hutan kritis yang ada di wilayah Kabupaten Malang, Jawa Timur, mencapai 8,5 persen atau sekitar 15 ribu hektare dari total seluas 127.089 hektare.Kepala Dinas Kehutanan Kabupaten Malang, Zen Achmad, Senin, mengakui, sebelumnya hutan yang berkategori kritis di daerah itu mencapai 35 ribu hektare dan sudah berkurang cukup signifikan, sehingga tinggal sekitar 15 ribu hektare.Menurut dia, upaya Pemkab Malang untuk mengembalikan kondisi hutan yang dikelolanya di antaranya melakukan penghijauan dengan menanam bibit pohon berbagai jenis sebanyak 2,4 juta pohon yang disediakan Pemkab dari Anggaran Pendapatan dan Belanja Daerah (APBD) maupun peran aktif masyarakat setempat."Kalau gerakan penghijauan terus dilakukan dan masyarakat khususnya yang berada di kawasan hutan juga aktif, paling tidak tujuh sampai delapan tahun ke depan Kabupaten Malang sudah terbebas dari lahan hutan kritis," tegasnya.Dalam APBD 2009, katanya, pihaknya menyediakan anggaran sebesar Rp459 juta untuk rehabilitasi lahan hutan kritis maupun pengadaan bibit, disamping sumbangan bibit dari masyarakat.Ia mengakui, kawasan hutan yang tersebar di wilayah Kabupaten Malang terutama hutan produksi tidak hanya hutan yang dikelola Pemkab saja, tetapi juga Perhutani. Namun hutan produksi milik Perhutani tersebut di luar kewenangan Pemkab Malang.Data dari Dinas Kehutanan Kabupaten Malang disebutkan, total luas lahan hutan produksi yang dikelola Pemkab Malang seluas 44.180 hektare, hutan lindung seluas 46.2007 hektare, hutan konservasi seluas 28.811 hektare dan hutan rakyat seluas 7.891 hektare.Kawasan hutan baik produksi, hutan lindung, konservasi dan hutan rakyat sebagian besar berada di wilayah Malang Selatan, di antaranya di Kecamatan Pagak, Bantur, Gedangan dan Kalipare. (*)Sumber : http://www.antara.co.id

Pig Of The Future Might Be Free Of Diseases That Can Infect People

ScienceDaily (Apr. 13, 2009) — Pigs are known carriers of the bacterium Yersinia enterocolitica, and they can infect both other pigs and people. Human infection occurs through eating improperly-cooked pork. Professor Truls Nesbakken of the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science is trying to rid pigs of the bacterium.

The professor, who already has 2 Norwegian doctorates (Dr. scient and Dr. med. vet.), recently defended his thesis for the degree of Dr. philos., entitled "Control of human pathogenic Yersinia enterocolitica in the meat chain". It will make him the first scientist with 3 Norwegian doctorates.
One of the scientific articles supporting the thesis shows that it is possible to keep swine herds in closed breeding pyramids free of Yersinia enterocolitica. This indicates that it is possible to keep Yersinia enterocolitica, which is presently extremely wide-spread in the pig population at large, under control. In man, the bacterium can cause serious arthritis, among other illnesses. The pig is the primary host of the bacterium, and the most common path of infection from pig to man is assumed to be direct infection from eating pork.
Norwegian abattoirs have already introduced several important measures to improve slaughter hygiene, which is also a subject of the doctorate. However, more remains to be done, indicated by the fact that 2 people who ate pickled pork for Christmas in 2006 died of yersiniosis. Only rarely does yersiniosis lead to such a tragic outcome, and most cases cause nothing more than intestinal infection or at worst a drawn-out arthritis.
Exciting research with consequences for public health
A pig herd free of infectious disease is referred to as SPF, meaning "specific pathogen-free". In a broader context, it is very likely that we can also produce pork free of Yersinia enterocolitica, Toxoplasma and Salmonella. In that case we are no longer talking of SPF-herds, but of a development towards HPF (human pathogen-free) herds. Such a development would depend, however, on its cost-effectiveness.
The development of SPF-herds, and ultimately HPF-herds, is part of a field of veterinary medicine called Veterinary Public Health (VPH), defined as the science and practice of veterinary medicine science concerned with the maintenance of human health. Central to VPH is the understanding, prevention and control of zoonoses, or diseases spread between animals and man.

Gene Targeting Discovery Opens Door For Vaccines And Drugs

ScienceDaily (Apr. 14, 2009) — In a genetic leap that could help fast track vaccine and drug development to prevent or tame serious global diseases, DMS researchers have discovered how to destroy a key DNA pathway in a wily and widespread human parasite. The feat surmounts a major hurdle for targeting genes in Toxoplasma gondii, an infection model whose close relatives are responsible for diseases that include malaria and severe diarrhea.
"This opens a wide window on a complex parasite family and can help accelerate the development of safe and effective genetically modified vaccines and drug therapies," says team leader David Bzik, PHD, professor of microbiology and immunology. The work is reported in the April issue of Eukaryotic Cell with Barbara Fox, senior research associate of microbiology and immunology who is the lead author and innovator of the study.
Parasites steal shamelessly from their hosts, co-opting resources to survive and infect. T gondii, however is a clever contrarian: it invites destruction and goes underground.
"Most parasites, along with bacteria and viruses, are shape shifters, so the immune system can't catch up with them; but T. gondii actually wants to be destroyed,'' says Bzik. "It has a unique strategy to elicit an immune response that stops the actively growing parasite and something in that response drives it to a latent stage which is necessary for its transmission."
The food borne parasite, often transmitted from cats, can be serious, even fatal for immune deficient people or newborns of mothers infected in pregnancy. While the T. gondii infection is harmless in most people, the parasite does takes up permanent residence inside its host. Its virulent cousins include Plasmodium, which causes lethal malaria and Cryptosporidium, a common source of waterborne diarrhea that can be severe or intractable in children or those with HIV.
"There is an amazing immune response hard-wired into this parasite to deliver life-long immunity to T. gondii," Fox says. "So our work has been recently focused at creating safe, attenuated (weakened), and genetically defined T. gondii strains that also piggyback antigens to deliver sorely needed vaccines for malaria, cryptosporidiosis, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, or even cancer. This finding overcomes the bottleneck for quickly developing multiple manipulated and completely safe strains where each genetic manipulation is precisely defined and irreversible."
T. gondii is easy to grow in the lab and has other amenable attributes that have made it a leading model for understanding intracellular pathogens. It belongs to the Apicomplexan family of protozoa, along with its other medically important relatives. Family members share numerous genes, but many are unique to Apicomplexa, making it difficult to predict or determine gene functions.
Employing a cut and paste genetic engineering technique, scientists can knock out or replace a gene to determine or change its functions. Most model organisms rejoin the manipulated pieces at the location of their proper and predictable sequence.
The dominant pathway in T. gondii, however, is random insertion. The parasite uses a pathway of nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ), which is also used to repair DNA in broken chromosomes, and arbitrarily reinserts targeting DNA segments at incorrect locations. That makes isolating strains with defined and targeted gene knockouts a difficult, time consuming and painstaking adventure.
Using a strategy Fox devised, the DMS team disrupted and killed a parasite gene called KU80 that is involved in the NHEJ DNA repair pathway. Their success effectively turned the parasite into a dependable genetic workhorse for all the diverse organisms in the Apicomplexa phylum. It permits a direct approach to determine gene function by examining mutants lacking a specific gene.
"The KU80 knockout strain holds much genetic magic," says Bzik. "Remarkably, it exhibits 100 percent homologous recombination and gene targeting efficiency compared to the parent strain. This also provides the first biological proof of a functional NHEJ DNA repair pathway in a protozoan."
The work makes T. gondii an effective model for understanding a globally significant parasite family and holds promise for speeding up new therapies. "To create safe, genetically modified products or vaccines to put into people, we need to be able to efficiently and reliably target strains for genetic manipulation," Fox explains.
"Fundamentally, all possible growth and virulence factors as well as the potential for transmission must be first genetically deleted; then key protective antigens or genes from other sources must be introduced in a precisely defined way. We needed to be able to do this efficiently, reliably and, cleanly. Now we can."
Coauthors of the study (in Vol. 8, No. 4: 520-529) are Jessica Ristuccia, a former research assistant now at Tufts School of Dental Medicine, and Jason Gigley, a former student now at George Washington University. The work was funded by grants from the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.