Greek inferno kills at least 80, many missing

An electricity pole stands among burnt trees following a wildfire in Neos Voutzas, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

By George Georgiopoulos and Michele Kambas

ATHENS (Reuters) – The death toll from a fire which ripped through a Greek coastal town stood at 80 on Wednesday, with dozens of people unaccounted for as forensic experts tried to identify victims who were burned alive.

With most of the corpses badly charred, identification of the dead will be challenging, experts said, meaning no fast closure in sight for suffering relatives.

Hundreds of people were trapped in the eastern resort of Mati on Monday night as flames whipped around them. Many jumped into the sea to survive, but others died from suffocation either in their cars or trapped on the edge of steep cliffs.

A house burns as a wildfire rages at the village of Mati, near Athens. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A house burns as a wildfire rages at the village of Mati, near Athens.
REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

The Greek fire brigade said the death of a survivor in hospital had brought the toll up to 80. The service was also receiving dozens of calls reporting missing persons, but it was unclear if some of them were among those found dead, a spokesperson said.

With many burned beyond recognition, Greek coroners began the grim task of trying to identify the victims of the wildfires near Athens, having to rely on DNA or dental records as angst over missing persons mounted among relatives.

“Work has started on identifying the victims of the wildfires but the majority of the bodies are totally charred,” Grigoris Leon, head of the Hellenic Society of Forensic Medicine, told Reuters.

The post-mortems and identification procedures are taking place at a morgue at Shisto, west of Athens. Leon said this will involve teamwork by coroners, forensic dentistry experts from the Athens University’s Dental School, and the Greek police’s forensic service.

Post-mortems to determine the cause of death are mandatory by Greek law and the last stage after the conclusion of identification procedures.

Burnt houses are seen following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Burnt houses are seen following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Rescue teams combed through the area and the sea on Wednesday, trying to locate anything which could offer clarity on the missing, who are thought to number about 40.

“It was a really terrible situation here,” said Finnish tourist Jaakob Makinen. “We had to run away from the hotel, we ran through the beach, along the beach and then we were caught by fire, so kind of surrounded, we had to go into the water,” he told Reuters Television.

He and others spent several hours in the water.

It was unclear what caused the fire, which spread rapidly through Mati, a maze of narrow streets and dense forest. But some suggested that the sheer force of winds, thick pine, fire and panic was a deadly combination making even the most well-executed evacuation plan futile.

“You can’t leave. My house was up in flames in two minutes,” Elias Psinakis, the Mayor of Marathon, told Greece’s SKAI TV. “With eight Beaufort (wind) and pine you don’t even have time.”

“Armageddon,” wrote the daily newspaper Ethnos on its front page, a reference to the Biblical location prophesizing the end of times. It carried a photo of a burned Greek flag hanging among the branches of a charred tree.

A man walks among burnt cars following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A man walks among burnt cars following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Fires are common in Greece in the summer months. However, one outspoken cleric had at least one theory of what caused it.

In a vitriolic post, Bishop Ambrosios of Kalavryta said it was the wrath of God because Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is a stated atheist. It drew a sharp response from the Church, which distanced itself from the Bishop’s remarks.

Tsipras declared three days of national mourning.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Alkis Konstantinidis and Vassilis Triantafyllou, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Genealogy websites help California police find Golden State Killer suspect

By Fred Greaves

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California investigators tracked down the man they suspect is the Golden State Killer by comparing crime scene DNA to information on genealogy websites consumers use to trace their ancestry, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

Former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested on Tuesday outside the Sacramento-area home where he has lived for at least two decades, not far from the site of the first of eight murders he is charged with committing 40 years ago.

DeAngelo, described by neighbors as an oddball and loner known to fly into occasional fits of solitary rage, is suspected of 12 slayings in all. He also is accused of committing 45 rapes and scores of home invasions in a crime spree that spanned 10 years and 10 California counties during the 1970s and 1980s.

Announcing his arrest on Wednesday, authorities said DeAngelo’s name had never surfaced as a suspect prior to last week, when a DNA match was made.

Officials initially did not disclose how their investigation led to DeAngelo, whose DNA had never previously been collected.

But on Thursday, Steve Grippi, chief deputy district attorney for Sacramento County, said detectives narrowed their search by using genetic information available through commercial genealogy websites furnishing personal family histories to consumers who send DNA samples in for analysis.

Confirming details first reported by the Sacramento Bee newspaper, Grippi said investigators compared DNA samples left by the perpetrator at a crime scene to genetic profiles on the ancestry sites, looking for similarities.

He did not address whether the websites volunteered the information or were subject to a search warrant or subpoena.

Detectives followed the family trees of close matches, seeking blood relatives who fit a rough profile of the killer. The process produced a lead a week ago, pointing to DeAngelo based on his age and whereabouts at the time of the attacks, Grippi said.

Investigators found DeAngelo, placed him under surveillance and obtained his DNA from a discarded object, finding a match to a crime scene sample. A second, more decisive sample was collected from him days later and came back positive on Monday.

Authorities have not disclosed the relative whose DNA helped solve the case. DeAngelo is known to have at least two adult children.

DeAngelo is scheduled to make his first court appearance in Sacramento on Friday, facing two counts of murder.

On Thursday, sheriff’s detectives and FBI agents spent hours combing through his modest single-story house in Citrus Heights, a Sacramento suburb, and probing the backyard with poles for signs of digging. Red marker flags were visible in an embankment at the rear of the yard, enclosed by a tall wooden fence.

“Those are fairly standard search techniques,” said Lieutenant Paul Belli, a homicide detective for the sheriff’s department. “There’s no reason to believe there are bodies buried back there.”

Among the items of evidence collected from the house were computers and firearms, he said.

Investigators also sought articles of clothing that might help tie the suspect to particular crimes, such as ski masks or gloves worn during the attacks, or jewelry, driver’s licenses and other personal effects taken from victims, apparently as keepsakes or trophies, Belli said.

Belli said he doubted additional victims would emerge because exhaustive DNA database searches had turned up no further matches.

Neighbor Paul Sanchietti, 58, said he was left “bone-chilled” by news that DeAngelo, who lived four houses away, had been arrested as a suspected serial killer.

In the 20 years they lived as neighbors, Sanchietti said he could recount speaking just a few words with DeAngelo on two occasions, once when they pushed a stalled car out of the middle of the street.

“It just felt like he wanted to be left alone,” Sanchietti said of his neighbor, who he said had a reputation in the community for loud, angry outbursts.

“He would be outside in his driveway working on his car or something, and he would go into these rally loud tirades, Sanchietti told Reuters, adding that he nevertheless was unaware of DeAngelo ever running afoul of law enforcement.

(Reporting in Sacramento by Fred Greaves. Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry)

Chinese scientists break key barrier by cloning monkeys

Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, two cloned long tailed macaque monkeys are seen at the Non-Primate facility at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, China January 10, 2018.

By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) – Chinese scientists have cloned monkeys using the same technique that produced Dolly the sheep two decades ago, breaking a technical barrier that could open the door to copying humans.

Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, two identical long-tailed macaques, were born eight and six weeks ago, making them the first primates — the order of mammals that includes monkeys, apes and humans — to be cloned from a non-embryonic cell.

It was achieved through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which involves transferring the nucleus of a cell, which includes its DNA, into an egg which has had its nucleus removed.

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai said their work should be a boon to medical research by making it possible to study diseases in populations of genetically uniform monkeys.

But it also brings the feasibility of cloning to the doorstep of our own species.

“Humans are primates. So (for) the cloning of primate species, including humans, the technical barrier is now broken,” Muming Poo, who helped supervise the program at the institute, told reporters in a conference call.

“The reason … we broke this barrier is to produce animal models that are useful for medicine, for human health. There is no intention to apply this method to humans.”

Genetically identical animals are useful in research because confounding factors caused by genetic variability in non-cloned animals can complicate experiments. They could be used to test new drugs for a range of diseases before clinical use.

The two newborns are now being bottle fed and are growing normally. The researchers said they expect more macaque clones to be born over the coming months.

Since Dolly – cloning’s poster child – was born in Scotland in 1996, scientists have successfully used SCNT to clone more than 20 other species, including cows, pigs, dogs, rabbits, rats and mice.

Similar work in primates, however, had always failed, leading some experts to wonder if primates were resistant.

The new research, published on Wednesday in the journal Cell, shows that is not the case. The Chinese team succeeded, after many attempts, by using modulators to switch on or off certain genes that were inhibiting embryo development.

Even so, their success rate was extremely low and the technique worked only when nuclei were transferred from foetal cells, rather than adult ones, as was the case with Dolly. In all, it took 127 eggs to produce two live macaque births.

“It remains a very inefficient and hazardous procedure,” said Robin Lovell-Badge, a cloning expert at the Francis Crick Institute in London, who was not involved in the Chinese work.

“The work in this paper is not a stepping-stone to establishing methods for obtaining live born human clones. This clearly remains a very foolish thing to attempt.”

The research underscores China’s increasingly important role at the cutting-edge of biosciences, where its scientists have at times pushed ethical boundaries.

Three years ago, for example, researchers at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou caused a furor when they reported carrying out the first experiment to edit the DNA of human embryos, although similar work has now been done in the United States.

Scientists at the Shanghai institute said they followed international guidelines for animal research set by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, but called for a debate on what should or should not be acceptable practice in primate cloning.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Peter Graff)

DNA links man to two Michigan police shootings: law enforcement

(Reuters) – A man charged in the shooting of two Detroit police officers earlier this week has been linked through DNA evidence to the fatal shooting of a university police officer last year, authorities said.

Raymond Durham, 60, who was charged in shootings of two Detroit officers on Wednesday, is now the “prime suspect” in the November shooting death of Wayne State University Police Sergeant Collin Rose, Detroit Police Chief James Craig told the media on Friday.

Craig declined to provide details on the DNA evidence that links Durham to Rose’s death, citing the ongoing investigation.

Durham was charged by the Wayne County Prosecutor on Friday in connection with the shootings of the two Detroit officers, the Detroit Free Press reported.

He was arraigned while in hospital, where he is receiving treatment after being shot in the leg during a shoot-out with officers.

One officer was shot once in the ankle and twice in the upper torso, but was wearing protective body armor that likely saved his life. The other officer was shot in the neck, police said. They are both recovering in hospital, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The shoot-out occurred while officers were investigating drug activity on the city’s West Side, just blocks from where Rose, 29, was shot on Nov. 22. He died a day later.

Police are compiling evidence to present to prosecutors regarding Rose’s killing, Craig said on Friday. He said he anticipated charges would be filed against Durham for that shooting.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Paul Tait)

U.S. experts soften on DNA editing of human eggs, sperm, embryos

DNA Double Helix

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Powerful gene editing tools may one day be used on human embryos, eggs and sperm to remove genes that cause inherited diseases, according to a report by U.S. scientists and ethicists released on Tuesday.

The report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Academy of Medicine said scientific advances make gene editing in human reproductive cells “a realistic possibility that deserves serious consideration.”

The statement signals a softening in approach over the use of the technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 that has opened up new frontiers in genetic medicine because of its ability to modify genes quickly and efficiently.

In December 2015, scientists and ethicists at an international meeting held at the NAS in Washington said it would be “irresponsible” to use gene editing technology in human embryos for therapeutic purposes, such as to correct genetic diseases, until safety and efficacy issues are resolved.

Though the technology is still not ready, the latest NAS report says clinical trials for genome editing of the human germline could be permitted, “but only for serious conditions under stringent oversight.”

Such editing is not legal in the United States, and other countries have signed a convention prohibiting the practice on concerns it could be used to create so-called designer babies.

CRISPR-Cas9 works as a type of molecular scissors that can selectively trim away unwanted parts of the genome, and replace it with new stretches of DNA.

Genome editing is already being planned for use in clinical trials of people to correct diseases caused by a single gene mutation, such as sickle cell disease. But these therapies affect only the patient.

The concern is over use of the technology in human reproductive cells or early embryos because the changes would be passed along to offspring.

Research using the powerful technique is plowing ahead even as researchers from the University of California and the Broad Institute battle for control over the CRISPR patent.

Although gene editing of human reproductive cells to correct inherited diseases “must be approached with caution, caution does not mean prohibition,” the committee said in a statement.

Sarah Norcross of the Progress Educational Trust, which advocates for people affected by genetic conditions, called the recommendations “sensible and prudent.”

But Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society said they were “unsettling and disappointing,” arguing that they “constitute a green light for proceeding with efforts to modify the human germline” – changes that can be passed to future generations.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Andrew Hay)

New “Superbug” Gene Found in People and Pigs in China Makes Bacteria Antibiotic-Resistant

Scientists in China have made the “alarming” discovery that another line of defense against infection may have been breached.  In research studies led by Hua Liu from the South China Agricultural University, they have identified infectious bacteria that may be resistant to antibiotics.

The University published their work in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal finding the gene called mcr-1, on plasmids – mobile DNA that can be easily copied and transferred between different bacteria.

According to several news reports, these untreatable superbugs originated in animals before spreading to humans and are highly resistant to antibiotics known as polymyxins, our last line of defense against disease when all else fails.

They include E.coli, the pneumonia bug Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa which can trigger serious lung, blood, and surgical infections.

Professor Nigel Brown, president of Britain’s Microbiology Society, said: “This discovery that resistance to polymyxins can be transferred between bacteria is alarming.

“Now that it has been demonstrated that resistance can be transferred between bacteria and across bacterial species, another line of defense against infection is in danger of being breached.

“We need careful surveillance to track the potential global spread of this resistance, and investment in research to discover new drugs with different modes of action.”

According to  Reuters, researchers warned that these findings suggest “the progression from extensive drug resistance to pandrug resistance is inevitable.”

“(And) although currently confined to China, mcr-1 is likely to emulate other resistance genes … and spread worldwide.”

Britain’s Lower House Approves Three Parent Babies

Great Britain is now the first country in the world to approve genetically modified children with DNA from three parents.

The vote in the House of Commons was 328 in favor and 128 against the process that scientists say would stop genetic diseases from being passed from a mother to the child.  The pro-genetic modification crowd said it was a “light at the end of a dark tunnel” for many families.

The bill now moves to the House of Lords for approval.  If the House of Lords approve the measure the first genetically modified babies could be born in 2016.  Estimates say 150 modified babies could be born each year.

Prime Minister David Cameron tried to quell criticism of the process.

“We’re not playing god here, we’re just making sure that two parents who want a healthy baby can have one,” the PM said.

Critics were quick to point out no one can know the future of this process.

“This will be passed down generations, the implications of this simply cannot be predicted,” MP Fiona Bruce said.  “But one thing is for sure, once this alteration has taken place, as someone has said, once the gene is out of the bottle, once these procedures that we’re asked to authorize today go ahead, there will be no going back for society.”

“Designer Baby” Now Possible Claims British Doctor

A British doctor is claiming that he has created the ability to edit DNA at the moment of conception in mice that makes human DNA editing a realistic possibility.

He says this discovery along with others in the last two years mean that scientists can seriously began to pursue creation of  “designer babies” which specific hair color, eye color and other features.

“We used a pair of molecular scissors and a molecular sat-nav that tells the scissors where to cut,” Dr. Tony Perry told the BBC.  “It is approaching 100% efficiency already, it’s a case of ‘you shoot you score’.”

He says that science fiction is no longer necessarily fiction.

“There’s much speculation here, but it’s not completely fanciful, this is not HG Wells, you can imagine people doing this soon [in animals],” Dr. Perry said.  “At that time the HFEA [the UK’s fertility regulator] will need to be prepared because they’re going to have to deal with this issue.”

Dr. Perry says that his science exists in a wider scientific community and that society as a whole should decide what is acceptable when it comes to DNA mutation.

Virus “Makes Humans Stupid”

A new study at Johns Hopkins says a virus that infects human brains has been discovered and the virus lowers human intelligence.

The algae virus impacts cognitive functions including visual process and special awareness according to a report in the Independent UK newspaper.

The study by scientists at Johns Hopkins and the University of Nebraska started completely by accident during an investigation into throat microbes.  The DNA of virus that infects green algae was found in the throats of healthy individuals.

“This is a striking example showing that the ‘innocuous’ microorganisms we carry can affect behavior and cognition,” Dr. Robert Yolken told the Independent.

In the study, 40 people in 90 tested positive for the algae virus.  All 40 of the positive subjects scored lower on tests to measure speed and accuracy of visual processing.  They also had lower attention spans.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Study Links Autism To Vaccines Using Aborted Fetus Cells

A new study shows vaccines that come from human fetal cell lines can contribute to autism.

The study uses data from the U.S., U.K., Denmark and Australia.  It was complied by the Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute.

“Not only are the human fetal contaminated vaccines associated with autistic disorder throughout the world, but also with epidemic childhood leukemia and lymphomas,” said Dr. Theresa Deisher of SCPI.

The study showed that in most cases, the amount of fetal DNA in the vaccines was significantly above the levels considered safe.  No more than 10ng should be in a dose, yet in some cases the levels were as high at 2000ng per dose.

“There are a large number of publications about the presence of HERV (human endogenous retrovirus – the only re-activatable endogenous retrovirus) and its association with childhood lymphoma,” noted Dr Deisher. “The MMR II and chickenpox vaccines and indeed all vaccines that were propagated or manufactured using the fetal cell line WI-38 are contaminated with this retrovirus. And both parents and physicians have a right to know this!”

The report comes on the heels of a CDC report that was withheld showing an increase among African American boys and autism when vaccinated prior to 36 months.