US to develop machines to destroy CWs

WASHINGTON (AFP): The Pentagon is going to develop two prototypes of machines that can destroy chemical weapons on the spot and avoid the complex logistics of transporting such arsenals. Most of the 1,300 cubic meters (46,000 cubic feet) of chemical weapons that the Syrian regime handed to the international community were neutralized in 2014 on a US Navy ship, then transformed into waste that was treated in different sites around the world. The devices now envisioned by the Pentagon will allow for such weapons to be destroyed in situ, according to a statement from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has awarded contracts to build the prototypes.

Such chemical agents will be able to be transformed into “safe output,” the statement said.

Current methods like incineration or hydrolysis - breaking a molecule’s bonds though the use of water - require a lot of water and create hazardous waste that requires further processing, it added. Two companies - SRI International based in Menlo Park, California and Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, won the contracts. Syria agreed to give up its chemical arsenal in 2013 under the terms of an international agreement after outrage over use of such arms in attacks that killed hundreds of civilians.

China dominates list of most expensive cities in Asia

SINGAPORE (Reuters): Chinese cities dominate a list of the 20 most expensive in the Asia-Pacific region for expatriates, as the yuan strengthens against rival currencies, a cost of living survey by ECA International shows. Chinese cities including Hong Kong account for 11 of the 20 most expensive Asian cities, the London-based consultancy said. Shanghai jumped from third place in 2014 to become the most expensive city in Asia this year. “In spite of the minor depreciation in the renminbi (yuan) against the dollar over the summer, it has strengthened against most other currencies leading to Shanghai becoming the most expensive Asian city for international assignees,” said ECA’s Asia regional director,

Lee Quane. “It is likely that major Chinese cities will remain expensive destinations for mobile executives for the foreseeable future.” Chinese cities also make up the biggest share of a list of the 30 most expensive worldwide for expatriates, with six of them beating cities in Switzerland and Japan. Chinese cities listed in the study jumped across the board in Asia. Beijing (2nd), Guangzhou (6th) and Shenzhen (7th) rose from fourth, 13th and 22nd. Macau saw the largest rank increase, moving up to 13th place from 34th last year.

Kentucky boy gets ‘bionic’ hand courtesy of 3-D printing

LOUISVILLE (Reuters): A 6-year-old Kentucky boy born with a malformed right hand because of a rare disorder has received what he called his best Christmas gift ever - a “bionic” prosthetic made from 3-D printing technology. Lucas Abraham, who has wanted a working right hand since he was 2 years old, showed off the new prosthetic made by University of Louisville bioengineering students. “It’s better than every gift that I’ve ever had before,” Lucas told a news conference at the university on Wednesday. Gina Bertocci, a University of Louisville bioengineering professor, said Lucas’ hand was the first created by the school for a child and that more could be produced. The university described it as “bionic.”

The printer technology greatly reduces the manufacturing cost and the plastics used are similar to those in Lego blocks, allowing the devices to be produced in various colors, Bertocci said.

Children like it because it makes them look like a Transformer, she added, saying: “Everyone wants to show off their hardware.” The students received assistance from e-NABLE, a global volunteer group that designs and prints prosthetics. Three hands composed of plastic, leather and wire were made to fit Lucas. He will keep two and the university will retain the third for accreditation purposes, the school said. Within minutes of receiving his new hand last week, Lucas was able to grasp a ball. He wore the hand to school and was able to shake hands and give his classmates high fives. It also will let him crash cymbals together in music class, Lucas said.

Lucas’ grandmother Julie Abraham said he had shown more confidence in himself since receiving the hand. Abraham had written to the university in August asking if it could do something for him. “It’s a pretty good Christmas gift,” she said.

Moscow to launch wifi in cemeteries

MOSCOW (AFP): Residents in Moscow already enjoy free wireless Internet in cafes and on the metro system but now authorities in the city have also decided to bring wifi to a more unusual setting - some of its most storied cemeteries. The free services are set to start working next year for visitors of the Vagankovo, Troyekurovo and Novodevichy cemeteries, where the likes of author Anton Chekov, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and the first Russian president Boris Yeltsin are buried. “These cemeteries are like open air museums,” Lilya Lvovskaya, a spokeswoman from city-run funeral service Ritual, which runs Moscow’s graveyards, told AFP.

“People often come and find themselves standing in front of a grave and want to know more about the person lying there.”

If the wireless Internet service proves popular then the authorities will look about expanding it to the rest of the sprawling capital’s 133 cemeteries. According to the Moscow city website, every year some 120,000 people are buried in the city and there are some 8 million graves there. The Novodevichy and Vagankovo cemeteries already have GPS systems installed to help visitors locate graves of famous individuals. The city in October launched an online system to auction off family plots in cemeteries.

First litter of IVF puppies born in US

WASHINGTON (AFP): The first litter of puppies conceived through in vitro fertilisation has been born, in a scientific breakthrough decades in the making, US researchers announced. As puppies tend to be cute, news outlets were positively panting and wagging their tails over these playful canine pioneers. “This is probably the most adorable scientific breakthrough of all time,” a headline on Buzzfeed said.The nitty gritty: A female dog into which 19 embryos were transferred gave birth in July to seven healthy puppies, according to the researchers from Cornell University.

The announcement was made Wednesday. Two of the puppies are from a Beagle mother and a Cocker Spaniel father, and the remaining five are from two Beagle pairs.

“Since the mid-1970s, people have been trying to do this in a dog and have been unsuccessful, said Alex Travis, associate professor of reproductive biology at Cornell University’s Baker Institute for Animal Health. The findings were published in the Public Library of Science ONE journal. The researchers said the success has major ramifications for wildlife conservation.

“We can freeze and bank sperm, and use it for artificial insemination. We can also freeze oocytes (female egg cell), but in the absence of in vitro fertilization, we couldn’t use them,” Travis said. “Now we can use this technique to conserve the genetics of endangered species.” Margret Casal of the University Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine told CBS that “the reason for doing things like this is that it will lead to the preservation of species that are almost lost.”

She cited “canid types - wolves, foxes - certain sub-species. There are many different types. They may not be facing extinction just yet but some are running into a crisis.” It also could help eradicate heritable diseases in dogs, according to researchers. “With a combination of gene editing techniques and IVF, we can potentially prevent genetic disease before it starts,” Travis said.

Successful in vitro fertilization requires fertilizing a mature egg with a sperm to produce an embryo, which is then inserted at just the right time into a female. With multiple factors at play, the researchers faced several hurdles along the way, including collecting mature eggs from the female oviduct, simulating how the female tract prepares sperm for fertilization in the lab and freezing the embryos.

It was in 1978 that the first human “test tube” baby was born in Britain, where the technique was developed. Cornell spokeswoman Melissa Mae Osgood told The Huffington Post all the puppies have been adopted. “In fact, the lead researcher, Alex Travis, has adopted two that his kids absolutely adore,” she said. The puppies, who were named after different colors, turn five months old this week.

Netanyahu’s dog bites two guests

JERUSALEM (AFP): A dog recently adopted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bit a lawmaker and a minister’s husband during an event to mark the Hanukkah religious holiday, Israeli media reported Thursday. Kaiya, adopted by Netanyahu in July, bit lawmaker Sharren Haskel from the prime minister’s Likud party as well as the husband of deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely during a candle-lighting ceremony on Wednesday night. It turns out however that Kaiya may be more bark than bite as neither was seriously hurt during the event at the prime minister’s residence. Netanyahu tweeted a photo of himself and his new dog in August.

“How much light Kaiya brought into our home!” he wrote of the 10-year-old mixed breed. “If you want a canine, find an adult dog to rescue. You won’t regret it!”

Honda India recalls 90,000 cars over fuel pipe scare

NEW DELHI (AFP): Japanese auto maker Honda said Thursday it was recalling around 90,000 units of two of its diesel car models in India over a potential defect in a fuel pipe. Honda Cars India, the company’s Indian arm, ordered the recall of 64,428 units of its Honda City sedan and 25,782 units of multi-purpose Honda Mobilio vehicle manufactured between December 2013 and July 2015, the company said in a statement.

“There is a possibility that in some of these cars, the fuel return pipe may come out, resulting in fuel leakage and leading to engine stoppage.”

The company will replace the parts without any additional costs across India, the statement added. Last week Volkswagen India announced the recall of around 323,700 cars in India, a move which followed its parent company’s involvement in a global pollution-cheating scandal.