Ice cream not a treat for girl

HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP): The gaggle of girls outside a school in Herat are all about the same age, but one of them sticks out. Fatima, eight, isn’t wearing a neat black and white uniform, or laughing and playing with classmates. She is hard at work, selling ice creams to the other girls from her small cart as she tries to make enough money to feed her disabled father and the rest of her family. Fatima yearns to go to school like her noisy, cheerful customers, but she is her family’s only regular money-earner.  Her father, his two wives and six daughters all live in a dilapidated two-room, rented house with one bed and few other possessions.

Treats helped cats become pets

WASHINGTON (AFP): A mild manner and a fondness for fatty treats like fish or meat scraps may have helped cats evolve into the tame yet independent-minded pets they are today, researchers said Monday. After that, it was people’s preference for cats with certain appearances, like white paws, that played a key role in winnowing down the 38 species known today, said a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Using advanced genome sequencing technology, we were able to shed light on the genetic signatures of cats’ unique biology and survival skills,” said Wes Warren, associate professor.

‘Hollande resign’ banner flown

ABLAIN-SAINT-NAZAIRE, France (AFP): It was supposed to be a day that the deeply unpopular French President Francois Hollande could forget all his political and economic woes as he inaugurated a memorial remembering fallen World War I soldiers. But there was no respite for the French leader as hours before the inauguration Tuesday a tourism plane flew over the memorial in the Notre Dame de Lorette military cemetery pulling a black banner that read “” in large, white letters.

“Demission” in French means to resign. The plane was ushered away from the aerial zone above the memorial in the northern Pas-de-Calais district by a helicopter. David van Hemelryck, who heads up the “Hollande demission” organisation and has actively participated in protests against gay marriage, immediately claimed the flyover on his Twitter account.

The embattled French leader has been unable to shake off an approval rating that stands at a historic low as unemployment keeps rising and growth grinds to a halt. But despite Hollande’s deep unpopularity, the flyover was quickly condemned on Twitter as the country commemorated Armistice Day, the official end of the devastating 1914-18 conflict during which millions of soldiers and civilians perished. The French president was due to arrive at 1400 GMT at the site of the new memorial - which carries the names of nearly 600,000 fallen Allied and enemy soldiers from some 40 countries on gold steel plates set in a huge ellipse.

Greater protection at World  Parks

SYDNEY (AFP): Thousands of representatives from more than 160 nations meet in Australia this week at the once-a-decade World Parks Congress as scientists warn that countries are failing to care for protected areas. The week-long summit will see up to 5,000 scientists, politicians, activists and business leaders converge in Sydney to lay out the global conservation agenda for the next 10 years. The meeting follows an Australian-led scientific review last week that said governments needed to do more to protect national parks or risk losing their economic, environmental and social benefits.  “A lot of nations have backtracked on their commitments over the last five years,” University of Queensland professor James Watson, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature, told AFP. “And so the first thing is to put protected areas back on the table... and from that it’s not just recognising the importance of protected areas.

Anti-typhoid may improve vaccines

PARIS (AFP): Scientists said Monday they had found a variant of a gene that confers a near five-fold protection against typhoid fever, which affects millions of people each year. The discovery, that came from screening the genomes of hundreds of infected people and healthy controls in Vietnam and Nepal, may aid the development of better vaccines for typhoid and other bacterial diseases, said the authors of a study published in Nature Genetics. “We found that carrying a particular form of the HLA-DRB1 gene provides natural resistance against typhoid fever,” study co-author Sarah Dunstan of the University of Melbourne said in a statement.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 21 million people are infected with typhoid fever every year, and an estimated 216,000 to 600,000 die. It is caused by the Salmonella typhi or Paratyphi bacteria carried in contaminated food or water, said the study authors. The gene they found protects against infection by recognising proteins from invading bacteria, thus stimulating an immune response. Vaccines against S. typhi do exist, but are not always effective and are not suitable for young children - the group most at risk, according to the study authors. “Consequently, these vaccines are not widely deployed in the populations with the greatest need,” they wrote. “Notably, there is currently no licensed vaccine against enteric fever caused by S. Paratyphi pathovars, potentially constituting a huge problem as the incidence of S. Paratyphi A infection is increasing in many countries across Asia.” The team said their discovery may lead to “improvements in the rational design of vaccines” for this and other bacterial infections.