Archive for April, 2007|Monthly archive page

beauty or truth but not both :(

In Uncategorized on 04/22/2007 at 3:42 pm

“…For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her. But converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence — combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others — had something stimulating about it.”

…Sounds like a first-century version of the line “She’s no babe, but she does have a nice personality”.
So which average-looking lady was the Greek biographer Plutarch describing with these words? You may be surprised to learn that it was none other than the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. Plutarch’s description seems a far cry from the beauty depicted in modern literature and Hollywood movies. So was Plutarch right? Or was Chaucer closer to the mark when he opined that she was “fair as is the rose in May”? Well, the recent discovery of a coin from the period may provide the definitive answer.

Antony and Cleopatra were not the handsome General and his beautiful queen Hollywood would have us believe, according to experts at Newcastle University, who have been studying the depiction of the one of history’s most tragic romantic couples found on a Roman coin.

The silver coin of Mark Antony and Cleopatra was discovered in a collection from the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, which was being researched as part of the preparations for the Great North Museum, currently under development on the site of the Hancock Museum.

Antony and Cleopatra are shown on either side of the small silver coin (pictured), which is about the size of a modern five pence piece. Cleopatra is depicted with a shallow forehead, long, pointed nose, narrow lips and a sharply pointed chin, while Mark Antony has bulging eyes, a large hooked nose and a thick neck.

Clare Pickersgill, Assistant Director of Archaeological Museums at Newcastle University, said: ‘The popular image we have of Cleopatra is that of a beautiful queen who was adored by Roman politicians and generals.

‘The relationship between Mark Antony and Cleopatra has long been romanticised by writers, artists and film-makers. Shakespeare wrote his tragedy ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ in 1608, while the Orientalist artists of the nineteenth century and the modern Hollywood depictions, such as that of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1963 film have added to the idea that Cleopatra was a great beauty. Recent research would seem to disagree with this portrayal, however’, said Clare.

Lindsay Allason-Jones, Director of Archaeological Museums at Newcastle University, added: ‘The image on the coin is far from being that of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton!

‘Roman writers tell us that Cleopatra was intelligent and charismatic, and that she had a seductive voice but, tellingly, they do not mention her beauty. The image of Cleopatra as a beautiful seductress is a more recent image’.

The coin is a silver denarius of Mark Antony and Cleopatra dated to 32 BC, which would have been issued by the mint of Mark Antony.

The coin itself is not enormously rare, but due to its depictions, it is very collectable. The collection has been owned by the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne since the 1920s. Until now, it has been kept in a bank, but the development of the Great North Museum project (yes, that Great North project in umm…England) means that other ‘hidden gems’ like the Antony and Cleopatra coin, will be able to go on display to the public for the first time when the GNM opens in 2009

many thanks to University of Newcastle :))

power of the web…

In Uncategorized on 04/21/2007 at 6:02 pm

and we are not talking Spider Man here.

What REALLY happened at the Myspace party from hell
by NICK CRAVEN, Daily Mail
Last updated at 10:32am on 21st April 2007

Remember that advertisement for Yellow Pages from the 1990s in which a brutally hung-over young man wakes up on the sofa to recall the wild house party he threw the night before? All he had to do was let his fingers do the walking and call in a French polisher to put the damage right before his parents’ return.

But 17-year-old Rachael Bell was not so fortunate. She would have needed an army to even begin to tackle the £25,000 orgy of destruction visited upon her parents’ home in just a few hours.
An open invitation was placed on Rachael’s MySpace page for revellers to attend a ‘Skins Party’ (based on a riotous episode of the controversial C4 teen drama). The invitation was headed: “Let’s all trash the average, family-sized house disco party.”

And they did. More than 200 young people from as far afield as London and Liverpool, converged on the £230,000 detached house in a respectable culdesac in Houghton-le-Spring and destroyed it after seven hours of drink and drug-fuelled mayhem.
As Rachael’s mother Elaine, 48, so aptly put it: “The house has been raped. Every carpet’s burned where they’ve stomped out cigarettes. They’ve urinated in wardrobes, pulled my clothes out and stubbed cigarettes on them. The beds have burns, food has been smeared everywhere and messages scrawled all over the walls.”

Add to that the vomit-strewn clothing and condoms littering the bedrooms of Rachael’s three younger siblings, stolen money and jewellery and furniture damaged beyond repair. Now, primary school teacher Mrs Bell’s trust in her eldest daughter has been catastrophically shaken, as Rachael for the moment stays with a friend, too ashamed to return home. Rachael has been arrested and released on police bail as a criminal damage inquiry is under way.

Mrs Bell and her three other children are being put up in a hotel at her insurers’ expense. Worse, she fears that she may not be able to return to the house at all, following its violation. Though she is separated from her husband Alan, both parents are united in their condemnation of their daughter and the teenage hoodlums she allowed in to destroy the family home.

A-level student Rachael has insisted that – despite her mother’s strict instructions not to have anyone over while she looked after the house on Easter Monday – she invited only 40 or so friends. Then, she has told her mother, someone “hacked into” her MySpace page and suggested the ‘Skins’ theme with its invitation. From that moment on, Rachael was powerless to stop it.

Rachael, according to her account, hid in a bathroom having a “panic attack” as the uninvited mob swelled her house to breaking point.
All this would seem to exonerate Rachael as a hapless, if disobedient, victim of circumstance. But inquiries by the Mail suggest the truth may be more complex, and that Rachael’s story may amount to little more than the timeworn teenager’s excuse of “it wasn’t me”.

So what did happen before, during and after the party that so many of its attendees can barely remember, but which the residents of Chipchase Court will never forget?
Elaine Bell decided at short notice to capitalise on the glorious Bank Holiday weather by taking her three younger children to a caravan site about 15 miles away at Whitburn, a pretty coastal spot. Rachael, who ostensibly wanted to revise for her A-levels, didn’t join the family group.

“I left her with firm instructions not to have any friends round while I was away,” said Mrs Bell.

When and by whom the ‘Skins’ party invitation was added to Rachael’s MySpace entry, no one can say for sure. Her version is that an innocent announcement was sent to her friends, inviting them over that night, presumably within minutes of her mother’s car disappearing round the corner.
So, we are asked to believe that all of a sudden, someone else ‘hacked’ into her account and changed the nature of the invitation.

Just how likely is it that someone who knew Rachael had the wherewithal to obtain her password and change the entry in a matter of hours?
According to internet security sources consulted by the Mail, it’s virtually impossible.

“Hacking into an account without the password is very, very difficult and time-consuming, unless you’ve somehow found the password out,” said one expert who did not want to be named. “On the other hand, what we call ‘social hacking’ is far more likely, where the person has been careless with their password or has told a friend without thinking much of it.”

If that were the case, would someone Rachael trusted with her password betray her so completely? If so, the list of suspects can’t be very long. Mrs Bell, while still fuming at her daughter for having the party in the first place, believes her about the webspace tampering. She said: “Rachael has never done anything like this before, and there was nothing to suggest she would. She may have had the odd friend round, but that’s all.

“I’m 99.9per cent sure she’s telling the truth when she says that she was not responsible for what happened.
“No one knew I was going away until the Saturday, which was just two days before the party – Rachael wouldn’t have had time to arrange a party on such a big scale. Someone else is behind it.
“She only planned to have a few friends round, I’m sure of that.”
Naturally, Mrs Bell may want to believe her daughter, but the fact is that someone did organise the party in a short space of time. Another reason she chooses to believe her daughter is that Rachael removed all the knives in the kitchen drawer and took the television and china from the living room and put them away.
Curiously, she even taped over the clothes drawers to deter anyone from opening them. Mrs Bell draws a comforting conclusion from this: “To my mind those are not the actions of someone who was planning to let the house be smashed up.”

Sceptics might wonder why, if Rachael were only expecting her ‘good’ friends, did she feel the need to hide the kitchen knives and tape shut the drawers?
Whatever her reasons, with those last-minute preparations made, the young hostess was by all accounts delighted to see the first revellers begin arriving in fleets of cars, taxis and minibuses shortly after 9pm.

And they just kept coming. One 17-year-old guest – who knows Rachael and definitely was invited, told the Mail he got to the house around 10pm, by which time there were around 150 people spilling out into the road. “I could hardly get in the door for people, and I soon realised a lot of them didn’t know Rachael at all,” said the young man, who declined to be named. “I heard people asking whose party it was.
“I noticed people stubbing tabs [cigarettes] out on the living room walls, which I thought was really disrespecting the house.”
Intriguingly, despite the presence of so many unwanted guests, her friend spoke to Rachael soon after he arrived, and she was “really enjoying herself”, he said.

“I wouldn’t say she was off her face, but she was quite merry. I’d only been there about 20 minutes and another 20 or 30 people turned up and she didn’t seem bothered.
“It was only when the police arrived in force that she started to panic.”
Another party-goer, named ‘Lizzie’, who e-mailed a local newspaper, told a similar story (with apologies for her txtspk grammar and spelling). Her e-mail said: “we walked in threw the back door and rachael who no one knew or had met before welcomed us in and sed come in make yourselfs at home the partys already started.”

A solitary police car arrived at 10pm, after neighbours realised Mrs Bell was not at home and became concerned at the large numbers of young people milling inside and outside the house. The officers asked to see the householder and an unknown teenage girl claimed there was no problem and everyone there had been invited. The police left after about five minutes. By 11pm, the party was in full swing and dozens, if not hundreds, of youngsters were drinking in the street. Outraged residents called the police again, and this time seven vehicles, including a dog van, arrived.

Police again made checks to find out who had organised the party but, according to residents the officers said they couldn’t stay long. Within an hour all had gone, although one patrol car made regular passes.
Meanwhile, inside the house, partygoer ‘Nicky’ described the unfolding nightmare in her unique way. Her e-mail description read: “it was like a totall free for all. going threw every draw wardrobe in the house taking clothes from anywhere, a fish hook was found in the draw of rachaels brothers room and was used to carv names in the wall.

“wardrobe doors where pulled off and left on the landing for people to stamp on, door handles actully inscrewed off so people wouldnt interupt the ‘yobs’ having sex in everyroom in frount of all to see.
“lights in the ceiling were pulled out of the ceiling the wires snapped, the carpets were all light colours, they were black with in minuets. bed sheets where urinated on but still people slept on them, the bath was cracked off people kicking it, the toilet seemed to be dismantled, mirrors smashed, the walls were urinated on, drink was spilt up the walls on the carpets the curtains were pulled down and ripped. ‘at one point, in the sitting room 4 people walked in took the radiator off the wall walked out and when we finally left in the mornin seen it dumped at the side of the road 5 minets from rachaels house.”

Astonishingly, at 3am, partygoers were still arriving. Paradoxically, neighbours admitted the noise from the party itself wasn’t bad. Said one: “If it hadn’t been for the sheer volume of people in the street, I wouldn’t have known there was a party at all.”
By 8am, most revellers had left and about 20 of Rachael’s friends stayed to clear up, but stopped when told by a neighbour that Mrs Bell had heard and was on her way home; Rachael and her friends fled.
At 9am, Rachael’s mother arrived to find the house locked up and deserted. Opening the front door, she collapsed in tears at the state of the house she has lived in for six years, and which she had left ‘immaculate’ only 24 hours earlier.

This week, overseeing a massive clear-up operation by professionals, aided by a skip, she recalled the shock of that moment.
“It was devastating, just devastating,” she said. “I love my house and I love it tidy and clean. I’ve said to Rachael she needs to give the names of those who caused the damage to the house. These people just walk off and get away with it – it’s criminal.
“We’ll be out of the house for a month while the specialist cleaners are in, it will need new carpets throughout.”

But can the relationship with her daughter be similarly repaired? Long after the clean-up crews have done their work and departed, for Elaine Bell and her family, the emotional scars will remain.

sound of silence…

In gene pool, lisapicks on 04/11/2007 at 2:43 pm

Genetic wallflowers have their day.

It took all this time to finally prove what we gals (um.. some of us anyhow:) have always known, that it’s the strong silent types you have to watch out for… well it turns out same applies at the genetic level. Download some vintage S&G pour yourself a cup of tea and Enjoy…

Scattered throughout the human genome are thousands of mutations that biologists have treated mostly as footnotes. They’re hardly few in number—in coding regions of the genome, there are as many as 15,000—but biologists regard them as mutations that simply don’t change the way a cell functions. Both in name and effect, they have been accepted as “silent.” Now, however, new discoveries are showing that silent mutations appear to play an important role in dozens of human genetic diseases, a fact that is forcing biologists to discard a long-held evolutionary theory and to reexamine the very rules governing the transfer of information from DNA to proteins.
To understand the importance of this realization, it’s necessary to review how information is transfered from genes to proteins. During protein synthesis the two strands of the double helix unravel, and the DNA template, composed of four nucleotide bases, is transcribed into messenger RNA (mRNA). Essentially, the information encoded in DNA is preserved in the alphabet of mRNA, which in turn is translated into amino acids, the basic building blocks of proteins. In this process, each group of three mRNA bases, called collectively a codon, signals for the addition of a particular amino acid to the growing protein. As this chain elongates, the protein spontaneously begins to fold into its final, three-dimensional conformation—a step that is essential for it to be biologically active.

A simple mutation within a gene, such as the substitution of one nucleotide for another (a “single nucleotide polymorphism,” or SNP), can modify which amino acid gets incorporated into the protein, altering the way it folds and functions. Though there are an estimated 30,000 SNPs in the human genome, which account for the genetic variation among humans, most are not harmful. Biologists consider these harmless mutations “neutral” because they do not affect the fitness of an organism.

Silent mutations are a subset of SNPs. They have no impact on the amino acid sequence of proteins and, therefore, were not expected to change their function. This belief has been a central tenet of biology for decades, but new research is eroding that orthodoxy. And an article in Science this past December substantially overturned it. Dr. Chava Kimchi-Sarfaty and her colleagues at the National Institutes of Health were trying to understand why certain silent mutations occurred with unusual frequency in a gene called multidrug resistance 1 (MDR1), found in human cancer cells. MDR1 codes for a protein that sits in the membrane and pumps chemotherapy drugs out of cells, rendering the cancer cells resistant to the drugs. The team discovered that a variant of the MDR1 gene, containing certain common silent mutations, made the cells even more effective at expelling cytotoxic drugs. The question was, how?

After further investigation, the team showed that the silent mutations in MDR1 were actually slowing down the protein-making process. And since the folding of a protein into its three-dimensional shape is partially speed-dependent, these mutations were able to alter the structure—and biological function—of the protein without changing its basic building blocks. Through a series of elegant experiments, the team put to rest the idea that silent mutations were neutral.

This mechanism, which they call “translational pausing,” is actually just one of several ways in which silent mutations have very recently been shown to affect protein function—and, more broadly, the fitness of an organism. It turns out that silent mutations can also change the stability of mRNA, one of the important intermediates in the transfer of information from DNA to proteins, and disrupt gene splicing, the process by which the DNA that contains genes is trimmed away from the rest of the genome.

Remarkably, it has now been shown that there are at least 40 silent mutations that cause disease in humans by changing the way a gene is spliced. One such example is CFTR, the gene that is linked to cystic fibrosis. Another example is FBN1, a gene linked to a common connective-tissue disorder called Marfan Syndrome. With this new understanding, we can now reexamine the basis of many inherited conditions for which no underlying cause has been identified.

Most fundamentally, the involvement of silent mutations in disease undermines the neutral theory of molecular evolution. This theory, posited by Motoo Kimura in the late 1960s and a powerful influence ever since, asserted that the vast majority of mutations were neutral, having no effect on the fitness of an organism, and spread through a population by chance. The fact that silent mutations are not harmless anomalies of nature means that they are not neutral. In contrast, some, if not all, silent sites must be subject to the forces of Darwinian natural selection.

—Lindsay Borthwick is a writer living in Toronto.