Criminal Behavior Might Be Linked To Abnormal Brain Shape; Law Courts Allow Such Evidence

Criminality is an inherent tendency that lies in the brain or at least the law courts think so. A court of law reduced the murder sentence of an Italian woman, Stefania Albertani, since her lawyers proved that her behaviour could be related to the abnormalities in her brain and genes.

Albertani killed her own sister by force feeding her psychotropic drugs and then burning her corpse. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

 

Does this really reveal hidden criminal instinct?

Brain scans are being increasingly used in courts all over the world and quite a lot throughout the US. In fact, in the US, it has become a feature in a number of states and lawyers use suspicious brain scans in the defense of their clients.

The wider question remains does an abnormal shape of the brain really affect the actions of a person? Is there enough correlation to pronounce someone guilty or innocent?

Correlations?

It seems natural enough. A man was booked for paedophilic offences and was later diagnosed with a tumour in his brain. When he was operated on, his paedophilic traits went away. After a few months, when his paedophilic tendencies returned, doctors examined him and found that his tumour had relapsed.

But one case doesn’t solve the issue. Science needs hard statistical correlation before it can deliver a verdict, but apparently no such restriction binds law courts.

Medieval ages experienced such methods of rooting out’ criminals before they had a chance to commit crime by measuring the size of skulls and certain other factors. These methods were utter failures, so now neuroscientists are hoping that something more insightful by looking inside skulls and not just measuring them from outside.

So even though MRI scans might acquit criminals in law courts, science still has a long way to go!

Cause Of Black Death Established from Genome Sequencing: It Was The Bubonic Plague

The Black Death bacteria may be gone forever! Scientists have identified the cause of the infamous Black Death bacteria with almost 100% confidence. While it was widely believed that the Black Death was caused by the plague bacteria both inside and outside the medical community, it wasn’t an established fact. Now it is, thanks to modern genetics!

Black Death

The Black Death wiped out an estimated one-third of Europe during the 14th century. Fields turned into mass graves and it was suggested that not one household was spared some effect of the Black Death or the other.

The Dreaded Bacterium

The Black Death was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, one which is responsible for current plague outbreaks, said Hendrik Poinar, an anthropologist at McMaster University in Ontario. No one can doubt now that bubonic plague was the cause of the horrible epidemic.

The Y.Pestis bacterium

It was Hendrik Poinar who did pioneering work in developing a technique for extracting the DNA from the bones of the Black Death victims and then analysing the genome structure. He got definitive signatures of the Y.pestis bacteria. Samples from death bodies before the Black Death did not contain any strain of Y.pestis, while those of the victims did. This deadly Y.pestis strain, however, no longer exists and Y.pestis has mutated into a less harmful form. It still causes bubonic plague outbreaks, but these are nowhere as deadly as the medieval European version. In other words, Black Death bacterium is extinct.

Some scientists had suggested a strain of the Ebola virus, but this settles the issue. Ebola DNA was not found in the bones.

This is a fascinating story of modern genetics reconstructing history and also giving valuable lessons on disease control in the future.

Federal Court Quashes Lawsuit Challenging Obama’s Funding of Stem Cell Research

The Obama administration’s funding of stem-cell research will continue, thanks to a ruling by a federal court that quashes a lawsuit challenging the funding. Yesterday, i.e. on 27th July, Wednesday, the lawsuit brought by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, chief of the Washington federal court, was dismissed by the US Circuit Court of Appeals in response to an appeal by the Obama Administration. The primary claim of the lawsuit was that the National Institute of Health violated the 1996 Dicky-Wicker law that prohibits the public funding for research involving harming human embryos.

Stem Cell and Its Funding by the Bush and Obama Administrations

Stem Cell research has the potential to find cures for many diseases of the nervous system, like Parkinson’s disease. Further, cures to diseases like cancer might also be found.

Stem Cell research holds great potential for 21st century medicine

President Bush allowed stem cell research and provided funding, but limited the amount of public funds available. Most of the research was funded privately. With this lawsuit being quashed, the Obama administration has removed the barriers on public funding.

Only yesterday were we talking about fund cuts across all disciplines of science by the US here and today comes some good news.

The controversy surrounding stem cell research arises from the fact that human embryos are needed for the research. However, the embryos used for research are those which are already destroyed, like those obtained from fertility clinics, and those which will be destroyed in the near future. The options of donating the embryos to infertile women etc. are placed in front of couples willing to donate their unwanted embryos for scientific purposes.

It’s prudent to end with the words by Obama’s scientific adviser, Stephanie Cutter:

For too long, patients and families have suffered from debilitating, incurable diseases and we know that stem cell research offers hope to millions of Americans across the country. President Obama is committed to supporting responsible stem cell research and today’s ruling was another step in the right direction.

It is truly a step in the right direction.

Deadly New E.coli Strain That Causes Kidney Failure Spreading Through Europe and America

It’s a bacterium wrecking havoc again! The all-too-common E.coli strain is again responsible for creating the panic of an epidemic across Europe and maybe extending to countries like India, which have been kept on high alert. The E.coli strain is a Shiga toxin producing strain and it has already infected 1800 people across 12 countries, with the toll rising. The bacteria causes acute renal failure, due to a condition medically known as haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

India has been put on high alert, following the alarm from Europe. All Indian ports have been asked to monitor any imported grains, vegetables and fruits from anywhere in the world. Germany was the first to report an incident, followed by Austria, Denmark, Norway, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain, Spain, Czech Republic, Netherlands and the United States. The bacteria has claimed 17 lives so far in Europe.

E.coli is a bacterial species known for fast reproduction rates and its ability to mutate with other resistant strains of bacteria to produce superbugs‘. The current strain produces a toxin that causes infection in the various parts of the gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines) system, extending into the hepato-renal (liver and kidney) system. The HUS is characterized by renal failure, aneaemia, and thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), reports WHO. Symptoms are gastrointestinal in nature, mostly severe bloody diarrhoea, but without fever.

Currently, there is no cure for the bacteria. WHO says that this strain this strain of E coli “is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before. It may also be more virulent than many other isolated strains.

Fatality is not the real fear, with only an estimated 3-5% of the patients dying. We recommend that if you experience any of these symptoms diarrhoea, even mild go to a doctor. The bacteria needs a 3-4 day incubation time before becoming really deadly, so it’s best to prevent than to cure.

WHO has not pressed the panic button just yet, but the spread of the bacteria is alarming. There is also a chance that it may mutate into something deadlier!

Stay safe.

Ticking Timebomb: WHO Warns of Excessive Drug Use Against Microbes

WHO sounded alarm bells about Anti Microbial Resistance (AMR) this past World Health Day on April 7th and the warning is not early. This was writ large for a long time. Excessive prescription of antibiotics and, that too, in high doses are making microbes change faster than the speed of drug research. WHO warned of an imminent ‘pre-antibiotic age’, when we will be stuck with a large number of different, but ineffectual, antibiotics.

WHO poster for 2011 World Health Day

The threat is especially severe for diseases that spread through the air, water or vector agents. It has long been predicted that TB will develop resistance and the conventional drugs will not work in normal doses. Very high doses may harm the patient more that the bacteria itself, or may have some severe side-effects.

Bacterial strains, like Escherichia coli (E.coli), have already been observed developing medicinal resistance at conventional antibiotic doses. E.coli can mutate with amazing speed. They can go through about 20 generations in four hours, given an aerobic (i.e. oxygen-rich) environment and enough food (glucose). Scientists have observed that about 200 generations are enough for a potentially deadly strain to develop, a feat that E.coli can achieve in 2 days.

E Coli
Escherichia coli (E.coli)

Many antibiotics adhere to the bacterial cell wall and slowly break it down. Bacteria change (or, rather, evolve) their cell wall composition slightly  disallowing the adhesion, thus become immune. A greater fear is the crossing of genes amongst different bacterial strains producing a strain to which the human immune system has no response. This happened in the case of SARS, although that was a virus at work. E.coli has frequently been observed to cross with highly resistant Salmonella strains.

Multi-drug resistant (MDR) strains are also emerging at an alarming pace. A staggering 440 000 cases of MDR-TB are reported annually causing 150 000 deaths in 64 countries worldwide, according to WHO.

WHO says

AMR threatens a return to the pre-antibiotic era — Many infectious diseases risk becoming uncontrollable and could derail the progress made towards reaching the targets of the health-related United Nations Millennium Development Goals set for 2015.

The first response to this threat is the judicial prescription of drugs by medical practitioners. WHO called upon all who have any stake holding in the medical practice and requested for more responsible behavior. Citizens are also responsible for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Just as prevention is better than cure, an immune system is a better defense than any antibiotic.