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June 5, 2014

Scientists Say Creating Embryo From Three People May Be OK


AP Medical Writer

London (AP) Britain’s fertility regulator says controversial techniques to create embryos from the DNA of three people ``do not appear to be unsafe’’ even though no one has ever received the treatment, according to a new report released Tuesday.

The report based its conclusion largely on lab tests and some animal experiments and called for further experiments before patients are treated.

``Until a healthy baby is born, we cannot say 100 percent that these techniques are safe,’’ said Dr. Andy Greenfield, who chaired the expert panel behind the report.

The techniques are meant to stop mothers from passing on potentially fatal genetic diseases to their babies and involve altering a human egg or embryo before transferring it into a woman. Such methods have only been allowed for research in a laboratory, but the U.K. department of health has said it hopes new legislation will be in place by the end of the year that allows treatment of patients.

If approved, Britain would become the first country in the world to allow embryos to be genetically modified this way.

Critics have described the research as unethical and warn the novel technology has unknown dangers.

``Safety is not a straightforward issue,’’ Greenfield said, comparing the ongoing debate to qualms about in vitro fertilization in the 1970s before the first test tube baby was born.

Marcy Darnovsky, of the Center for Genetics and Society in the U.S., warned that allowing embryos to be created this way might lead to a slippery slope and tempt scientists and parents to use the techniques to create designer babies with certain traits.

Experts say that if approved, these new methods would likely be used in about a dozen British women every year, who are known to have faulty mitochondria — the energy-producing structures outside a cell’s nucleus. Defects in the mitochondria’s genetic code can result in diseases such as muscular dystrophy, heart problems and mental retardation.

The techniques involve removing the nucleus DNA from the egg of a prospective mother and inserting it into a donor egg, where the nucleus DNA has been removed. That can be done either before or after fertilization.

The resulting embryo would end up with the nucleus DNA from its parents but the mitochondrial DNA from the donor. Scientists say the DNA from the donor egg amounts to less than 1 percent of the resulting embryo’s genes. But the change will be passed onto future generations, a major genetic modification that many scientists and ethicists have been loath to endorse. Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a meeting to discuss the techniques and scientists warned it could take decades to determine if they are safe.

This Week In The Civil War

This Week in the Civil War - This series marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

By The Associated Press

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 8: Lincoln nominated to run again for president as fighting rages.

President Abraham Lincoln was nominated by his party to seek a second term on June 8, 1864 — a major political milestone for Lincoln as he pressed on with the war.

The New York Times reported on May 16, 1864, that critics had been predicting Lincoln wouldn’t let any major fighting go on as he pressed for the nomination for a second term.

But heavy fighting by the Union in Virginia in recent days trumped the naysayers. ``The recent campaign in Virginia has very effectually silenced that calumny; for one of its most conspicuous features has been the zealous cooperation of every department of the Government and every branch of the public service  ... President Lincoln has done everything in his power to insure success’’ in the war effort, The Times declared.

It added that Lincoln was intent on the public good first and foremost. ``The country may rely, with unfaltering trust, upon the supreme devotion of the President to the defence of the Government and the suppression of the rebellion,’’ the newspaper added.

Staging Of The Wizard Of Oz Gives Inmates Hope & Purpose


The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati (AP) There may be no tougher crowd in the world than a room filled with inmates and guards. These people are hard by definition and necessity. On a recent Tuesday, they sat waiting for the curtain to rise on the prison stage.

When it did, there was Dorothy, a 6-foot-4-inch African American man doing eight years in the Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe. Dorothy wore braids and a blue dress, and Toto was sitting by her side.

Joseph Sims plays Dorothy

The sniggering and eye-rolling began immediately, then it turned louder and more derisive.

Dorothy, something of a diva, let the laughter subside. Then she started to sing with a voice of resounding beauty about a land she once heard of in a lullaby, about chimney tops and lemon drops and wanting to fly away. ``Why oh, why, can’t I?’’

The crowd instantly grew quiet.

This production was the idea of Darwin Secrest, a corrections officer with 20 years of experience and a well-earned reputation as a ``hard ass,’’ according to both him and the prisoners.

``I was sitting in Block 1A, looking at some of the characters we had there, and I heard some singing, and I thought, `We have enough talent here to put on a play.’’’

Secrest wrote down the idea, put it in his pocket and eventually passed it on to the administration. The warden said go ahead and try. This was never going to be easy. Secrest needed guys to try out. He needed to get them to read the original book, then watch the movie and then create a play that worked inside a prison. Only then would there be rehearsals and set-building and costume-sewing.

The idea of working with the inmates is practical. It will make them better inmates, and it will make them better citizens when they get out. And they are getting out. ``One of these days they might be sitting next to you at your kid’s softball game. That’s just the truth of it. We need to do something with them.’’

The palace guards were originally costumed like the ones in the movie, in gray tunics. That had to change once they were made, and it was clear they looked too much like real prison guard uniforms.

The money for the production, some supplies and the sewing machines to make costumes and sets did not come from taxpayers. The production was funded entirely from commissary sales and vending machines from the visiting area.

Secrest says there are two types of reactions when he explains the play to guards or his neighbors. ``People either have an immediate understanding, or an immediate dislike.’’

Some of the other guards said it could never be done. ``A couple of the guys said, `All you got is some faggots and some chomos, and no money. Good luck.’’’ Chomos is a prison term for child molesters.

Making a musical does not initially seem consistent with Secrest’s tough-guy reputation. He said that is not true.

``This play is a chance to work hard and follow the rules and do something positive with their life. I will show them respect if they earn it. To me this makes perfect sense.’’

Principals in the cast of The Wizard of Oz

Jacob Bokeno is inmate number 647060, and he got 20-to-life for raping children in Butler County. He earned every one of those years, and this story is not forgetting his victims. But he is going to get out.

He said ``The Wizard of Oz’’ was an opportunity to start to rebuild his life by doing something positive. Bokeno, 26, is a talented guitarist and plays throughout the production.

``You don’t have an opportunity to show your worth in here,’’ Bokeno said. ``I wanted to participate.’’

When the size of the production grew, the administration at Ross Correctional asked the Chillicothe Correctional Institutional, across the street, if they could perform there because the stage is bigger.

That meant the guys would be playing on the same stage once played by Merle Haggard. Haggard played at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution because his friend, Johnny Paycheck, was doing time there for shooting a man in an Ohio bar.

So Bokeno, a musician before going to prison, was playing on the Haggard stage. ``I’m a better person today,’’ Bokeno said. ``I’m proud of myself today.’’

The stage and costumes were made by inmates who could use cardboard, tape and cloth. Lots of tape. The paint had to be a specific type so it could not be used for tattoos. ``They needed to find solutions and work together,’’ Secrest said. ``That is important in here.’’

Joseph Sims is doing eight years for creating fake payroll checks and cashing them as part of a criminal enterprise.

Dorothy is not an easy role to play in a prison musical. ``This is already a negative environment,’’ Sims, 36, said. ``Being who I am, I’ve had to deal with a lot.’’

Sims is openly gay and says his fellow inmates cannot understand why he would want to do this. It confuses them, Sims says, which makes them ``lash out’’ at him. So why did he choose to be Dorothy?

``Because this is who I am,’’ Sims said. ``This is what I love.’’

He started singing when he was 2 years old, and sang in churches growing up in Birmingham, Alabama. Singing and acting, he said, helps him ``try to remain human.’’

Secrest says the inmates need to be challenged in the prison system. ``This gives them something to do, something positive.’’ And the men in the program have flourished, he said. ``You do not have to like it, but these guys are getting out.’’

William Venes becoming the Wicked Witch

Christian Robinson is doing 15 years for assaulting children. In the play, Robinson was the Cowardly Lion, complete with a full costume and whiskers painted on his cheeks.

Growing up, Robinson, 21, watched ``The Wizard of Oz’’ every Christmas morning with his mother. The lion, he knows, acts tough when he is scared and is full of bluster. Robinson came into the system weighing 500 pounds, and is now down to 350. He says everybody in prison tries to act tough.

``There are times in here you have a lot of anger and hatred,’’ Robinson said. For him, ``over the rainbow’’ means going home. There are 11 years before that becomes possible, but it will happen.

He knows people on the outside are going to be critical of a program like this, that people will not be comfortable with inmates staging a play. But that is avoiding the truth.

``A lot of these guys are going home. Most all of us are going home,’’ Robinson said. ``What would you like them to do in here, get better, or get worse?’’

Secrest is nobody’s idea of a bleeding heart, but before the play, he was excited about the idea of these inmates performing before a live audience. Most of them, he said, have probably never heard anybody clap for them. ``This whole thing worked because we presented challenges and obstacles for the inmates,’’ Secrest said.

Antoine Davis got 25 years for drug trafficking, gun possession and attempted aggravated murder. He might be the last person on Earth you would expect to be in a play, let alone playing Glinda the Good Witch. Davis, 39, is big and tough and quiet. Secrest thought he could be more than that.

``Somebody convinced me I should try out for the part,’’ Davis said, looking pointedly at Secrest. ``But he forgot to mention the pink dress.’’

Davis said there are limited programs for level-3 inmates facing long terms. They are considered a security risk and will serve long stretches. It can feel like there is no path home. Being in ``The Wizard of Oz’’ has helped him grow. ``Being a loner, participating in this program has opened me up,’’ Davis said. ``It gave me a sense of accomplishment.’’

He said playing Glinda, which he accomplishes with a rather rugged aplomb, has helped him improve as a person. In his prior life, he was a drug dealer, making a living off of helping people make bad decisions. Glinda put Dorothy on the yellow-brick road. ``She did what she needed to do to get people on the right path,’’ Davis said. ``In here you have a group of guys doing the right thing.’’

The stage was covered with flying monkeys and palace guards and witches both good and bad. There were three Munchkins _ one is in for murder, two for aggravated robbery and battery. ``I demand accountability from the inmates,’’ Secrest said. ``I expect them to work hard and follow the rules.’’

At the end of the play, when Dorothy sang ``Home,’’ from ``The Wiz,’’ as performed by Diana Ross, Sims sang about thinking of home, a place where love is overflowing. He sang about trees bending in the wind and snowflakes with meaning and about living in a brand new world.

It is a difficult song to sing, one that he practiced over and again in the months leading to this show. He stood there, in red plastic shoes, covered with sparkles and he sang as loud and as well as he could.

When he was finished, it was quiet again. And then the inmates stood and cheered.


Video of the production:

Backyard Chickens: A Green Investment In Sourcing Food


The Des Moines Register

Des Moines, IA (AP) Raising backyard chickens doesn’t have to break the bank. The rising popularity of urban poultry has Iowans searching for the best ways to house their feathered friends. While constructed coops ranging from basic abodes to elaborate chateaus are available, some chicken owners are turning to online ideas and their own scrap piles for inspiration.

Others, like Ted Scovel of Des Moines, are simply retrofitting structures already on their properties. He keeps his 20 chickens in a 12-by-18-foot garage outfitted with roosts.

``Housing for chickens can be as elaborate or simple as what you have available or can afford,’’ said Scovel, who has raised poultry for roughly 40 years. ``It depends on what kind of time you have.’’

Rules regarding urban chickens vary from city to city. Some municipalities have banned the birds; others have created chicken-specific regulations in response to residents’ requests.

Most cities cap the number of chickens permitted, and roosters are usually not allowed. Some apply restrictions based on property size, require a coop to provide a minimum square footage per bird or mandate the structure be a certain distance inside the property line. Once those criteria are met, the only limits to coop design come from the owner’s imagination or wallet.

Bill Callahan of Des Moines used scrap materials he found on Craigslist and inside his garage for the largest of his two coops. He estimates his out-of-pocket cost for the entire 5-by-9-foot structure was less than $100. Callahan was hesitant at first when one of his daughters asked to raise chickens a few years ago. But the family had already started an organic garden and he came to see the link between that project and the chickens.

``I finally realized it went hand-in-hand with what I was already doing,’’ he said. ``It’s great because they eat all of our compost, they fight over banana peels, things like that.’’ When the birds are let out of the run, ``they just wander around the yard and pick up bugs.’’

The wire mesh that surrounds the run was probably the biggest purchase for the project, he said. A few cans of ``oops’’ paint for about $10 were mixed together to create a dusty-red color to dress up the metal panels. An old window sash from the family’s home provides light and air to the coop. Along with large doors on the run, there’s one on the back of the coop and also a smaller door behind the roosts to make egg-gathering easy.

A big challenge was using all the recycled materials efficiently as possible, Callahan said. ``It makes the design process more difficult,’’ he said, but that’s part of the fun.

Darren Fife of Windsor Heights combined his family’s love of gardening with a home for their two chickens. A greenhouse makes up just over half of the 8-by-16-foot shed they built in the backyard, with the chicken coop and run on the other end.

``We just kind of figured it out as we went along,’’ he said. The Fifes got their first two chickens four years ago when eggs were hatched at the children’s school. They traded those birds to a farmer for two other chicks once the first duo’s egg-laying diminished. The current chickens provide about a dozen eggs a week. ``We really like the idea of knowing where our food comes from,’’ Fife said. ``It doesn’t get more local than your backyard.’’

Tips for your coop

Chickens’ needs are basic _ fresh water and feed, shelter inside, a run outside and protection from predators.

When deciding on the size of the coop, a good rule is at least 4 square feet of floor space per bird, Scovel said, with the outdoor run as least as large but preferably bigger.

Enough interior space helps prevent squabbles among the chickens and halts the spread of disease, he said. Plan the size of the coop to be roomy enough for when the birds aren’t using their outdoor run in the winter. While the space can be insulated, Scovel said a heat lamp may be all that’s needed when the snow flies.

Scovel suggested the outdoor run be at least 3 feet high. It must have a covering, such as sturdy wire mesh, he said. Hawks have been spotted in his neighborhood, and he’s not taking any chances.

``Don’t worry about the chickens getting out. Be more worried about the predators getting in,’’ Scovel said, adding research is the key to successfully raising chickens in the city.

``Study up and learn more about how to keep them in the wintertime. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. As long as they’re dry and draft-free and they have good ventilation, they’re fine.’’












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