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One gay marriage in Texas, then a political storm

Sarah Goodfriend, left, and Suzanne Bryant celebrate their wedding with their daughters in Austin, Texas.

Three weeks before her younger daughter’s bat mitzvah last spring, Sarah Goodfriend, 58, got startling news: She had ovarian cancer and needed emergency surgery.

For Goodfriend and her partner of 30 years, Suzanne Bryant, the diagnosis lent urgency to their eight-year battle to marry in their home state, which has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that’s being challenged in a federal appeals court.

“Our future is uncertain,” Goodfriend said. “We just felt time was of the essence.”

On Thursday a state district judge agreed, finding Goodfriend’s “health condition strongly militates in favor of issuing immediate relief.” In other words, the women could marry, and they went off to claim this conservative state’s first same-sex marriage license.



Mike Luckovich Toon- Bush Comeback

Better view of Ceres released

The Dawn spacecraft has snapped the most detailed photos to date of the dwarf planet Ceres. Craters and mysterious bright patches dot the landscape in a pair of images taken February 12 when Dawn was just 83,000 kilometers from Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Launched in 2007, Dawn spent 14 months investigating the asteroid Vesta before heading off to Ceres, which it will begin to orbit on March 6. Once there it will spend the rest of the year mapping the dwarf planet, hopefully finding clues about the formation of the solar system.


Diets around the world are getting worse, not better

It's the worst-kept of secrets that many people in the United States have terrible diets, with overly large portions that contain enough fat, sugar and salt to push obesity and other health problems to epidemic levels. Outside our borders, you may be aware of the Mediterranean Diet and its cardiovascular benefits, or perhaps the health benefits of the Japanese way of eating.

But what about the rest of the world? Largely there has been a void of comprehensive information, with the exception of news about food security and occasional crises in impoverished and developing parts of the world.

Now a team of researchers has completed the arduous task of assembling information on the diets of 88.7 percent of the global adult population from 325 surveys, and assessing whether diets have improved or worsened between 1990 and 2010.

Overall, the news is not good. While some people — older folks, women and those in some developed nations — have increased their consumption of ten healthful foods and substances, that improvement has been surpassed by increased consumption of seven unhealthful foods, particularly among younger generations, men and middle-income and poor nations, according to the study published Wednesday evening in the journal The Lancet Global Health.



A New Theory on How Neanderthal DNA Spread in Asia

In 2010, scientists made a startling discovery about our past: About 50,000 years ago, Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of living Europeans and Asians.

Now two teams of researchers have come to another intriguing conclusion: Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of Asians at a second point in history, giving them an extra infusion of Neanderthal DNA.

The findings are further evidence that our genomes contain secrets about our evolution that we might have missed by looking at fossils alone. “We’re learning new, big-picture things from the genetic data, rather than just filling in details,” said Kirk E. Lohmueller, a geneticist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and co-author of one of the new studies.

The oldest fossils of Neanderthals date back about 200,000 years, while the most recent are an estimated 40,000 years old. Researchers have found Neanderthal bones at sites across Europe and western Asia, from Spain to Siberia.



Olive oil compound kills cancer cells in minutes

An ingredient in extra-virgin olive oil kills a variety of human cancer cells without harming healthy ones.

Scientists knew that oleocanthal killed some cancer cells, but weren’t really sure how. They thought the compound might be targeting a key protein in cancer cells that triggers a programmed cell death, known as apoptosis, and decided to test their hypothesis.

“We needed to determine if oleocanthal was targeting that protein and causing the cells to die,” says Paul Breslin, professor of nutritional sciences in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers and coauthor of a new study published in Molecular and Cellular Oncology.

After applying oleocanthal to the cancer cells, the researchers discovered that the cancer cells were dying very quickly—within 30 minutes to an hour. Programmed cell death takes between 16 and 24 hours, so the scientists realized that something else had to be causing the cancer cells to break down and die.

They discovered that the cancer cells were being killed by their own enzymes. The oleocanthal was puncturing the vesicles inside the cancer cells that store the cell’s waste—the cell’s “dumpster,” or “recycling center.”



Stopping HIV with an artificial protein

By Jon Cohen

For 30 years, researchers have struggled to determine which immune responses best foil HIV, information that has guided the design of AIDS vaccines and other prevention approaches. Now, a research team has shown that a lab-made molecule that mimics an antibody from our immune system may have more protective power than anything the body produces, keeping four monkeys free of HIV infection despite injection of large doses of the virus.

Intensive hunts are under way for natural HIV antibodies that can stop—or “neutralize”—the many variants of the constantly mutating AIDS virus. Researchers have recently found several dozen broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) that are highly potent and work at low doses. But viral immunologist Michael Farzan of the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, and 33 co-workers have recently taken a different strategy, building a novel molecule based on our knowledge of how HIV infects cells. HIV infects white blood cells by sequentially attaching to two receptors on their surfaces. First, HIV’s own surface protein, gp120, docks on the cell’s CD4 receptor. This attachment twists gp120 such that it exposes a region on the virus that can attach to the second cellular receptor, CCR5. The new construct combines a piece of CD4 with a smidgen of CCR5 and attaches both receptors to a piece of an antibody. In essence, the AIDS virus locks onto the construct, dubbed eCD4-Ig, as though it were attaching to a cell and thus is neutralized.

In test-tube experiments, eCD4-Ig outperformed all known natural HIV antibodies at stopping the virus from infecting cells, Farzan’s team reports in this week’s issue of Nature. To test how it works in animals, they then put a gene for eCD4-Ig into a harmless virus and infected four monkeys; the virus forces the monkey’s cells to mass produce the construct. When they “challenged” these monkeys and four controls with successively higher doses of an AIDS virus for up to 34 weeks, none of the animals that received eCD4-Ig became infected, whereas all of the untreated ones did.

The new study ups the ante on a similar gene therapy approach with natural antibodies that 6 years ago showed promise in monkey experiments, says an accompanying Nature editorial by AIDS vaccine researcher Nancy Haigwood of Oregon Health & Science University in Beaverton. “I am a huge fan of this paper,” Haigwood says. “It’s really very creative and a breakthrough as far as I am concerned.” Pediatrician Philip Johnson of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, whose lab in 2009 showed success with a gene therapy that delivers an HIV bNAb, adds that eCD4-Ig “is a beautiful thing.”


A Gun on Every Corner

by Gail Collins

Earlier this month — right between Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day — Senator John Cornyn of Texas introduced a bill that would allow people from states with lax gun laws to carry their concealed weapons all around the country.

The goal, Cornyn said in a press release, is to treat local gun permits “like drivers’ licenses.”

“This operates more or less like a driver’s license,” he told a reporter for The Hill. “So, for example, if you have a driver’s license in Texas, you can drive in New York, in Utah, and other places subject to the laws in those states.”

This is perfectly reasonable, except for the part about gun permits being anything whatsoever like drivers’ licenses. If a citizen from Mississippi shows his driver’s license to someone in Connecticut, the Connecticut person has good reason to presume that the licensee can, um, drive. It’s not a perfect system — witness the fact that there are many, many licensed drivers in America who have successfully parallel parked only one time in their entire life. But, still, no matter what state it comes from, a driver’s license generally signifies a certain level of accomplishment when it comes to the basics of stopping, starting and steering.


Bernie Sanders, mulling presidential run, adopts novel stance on deficit

Bernie Sanders is headed to Iowa. On Thursday, the irascible Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist will kick off three days of public speaking events in the state, joining the scores of other rumored presidential contenders who have recently descended on the crucial 2016 battleground.

Like the others, Sanders has not yet said whether he is running for president. But he has repeatedly said that he is “prepared to run,” particularly if nobody else steps up to fill a left-wing, economically egalitarian vacancy in the Democratic primary field.

In the meantime, Sanders has used his position as a ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee to expound on his own vision for a political program. Last month, he put out a report advocating for a federal budget that would help “rebuild the disappearing middle class.”

Most of the policy initiatives suggested in that report — such as raising the minimum wage and boosting infrastructure spending — have been proposed before by Sanders and members of the Democratic Party. But the report also included a novel way of thinking about the federal deficit: Although Sanders said debt reduction is a worthy goal, he put far greater emphasis on reducing what he called the “other deficits in our society,” such as unemployment and income inequality.



Scott Walker Embraced by Voodoo Economists

Yesterday, Jeb Bush commanded media attention in a highly public unveiling of his foreign-policy advisory team. The more significant development was Scott Walker’s semi-public confab with the leading lights, such as they are, of supply-side economics. Last night, the Wisconsin governor attended a dinner in New York hosted by Stephen Moore, Arthur Laffer, and Lawrence Kudlow. This is a strong indication of the policy leanings of a candidate who probably stands as strong a chance as anybody of capturing the nomination.

The backdrop to Walker’s meeting is that the Republican Party is undergoing the first serious effort to alter its domestic policy in a quarter century. In 1990, George H.W. Bush reluctantly agreed to a small tax hike on the rich in order to secure Democratic support for a major deficit-reduction plan. Conservatives revolted and opposed Bush’s deal en masse, and, since then, securing the lowest possible effective tax rates for the richest Americans has been the core tenet of party dogma. This overriding priority remained completely unchallenged within the GOP until the aftermath of the 2012 election, when some party strategists and intellectuals realized that its insistence on lower taxes for the highest earning one percent left Republicans handicapped in competing for the votes of the remaining 99 percent. The reformocons have proposed, in various ways, to move the party’s domestic focus toward more direct benefits for the middle class. Reformocon concepts have gained some attention from leading candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and, perhaps, Chris Christie.

This has left a gaping void for a Republican candidate to defend the party’s traditional (and still-reigning) dogma. Plenty of candidates can and will do that — Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Perry — but Walker is the candidate with the strongest standing. A twice-elected blue state governor who smashed his state’s public employee unions, Walker has mainstream electoral plausibility. Walker is also an ideal candidate to carry the banner of traditional Republicanism, having been married on Ronald Reagan’s birthday, and celebrating the occasion annually with a meal of the Gipper’s favorite foods, like macaroni-and-cheese casserole and red, white, and blue jelly beans.

The supply-side ideology of Moore, Kudlow, and Laffer is a form of Reagan cultism. Supply-siders consider Reagan’s tax cuts a towering achievement, responsible for all the positive events (and none of the negative events) that have followed. They believe that cutting the top tax rate always ushers in massive prosperity, and that raising it dooms the economy to stagnation.


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