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News Briefs, part 2

Investigators Search For Arsonists in Malibu Brushfires

Los Angeles Times

MALIBU, California

Investigators from at least four agencies probing causes of the Malibu fire scoured the hills above the seaside community Wednesday, emerging with evidence that the latest Southern California inferno appeared to be the work of at least one arsonist.

According to one law enforcement official, witnesses near the flash point of the blaze spotted two white men speeding from the area in a blue pickup.

Another witness who lives in the area saw the blaze as it was beginning and radioed Topanga Firewatch officials to report the fire. He, too, said he saw two men near the fire, and that neighbors told him they had seen two men leaving the area in a pickup truck.

As they launched their probe of the latest suspicious fire to rip through Southern California, fire investigators from the city and county of Los Angeles were joined by sheriff's deputies and agents from the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Unlike other fires from the past week, the latest blaze is under investigation as a possible homicide.

Homicide detectives joined the probe because one fire victim, British film director Duncan Gibbins, died late Wednesday, meaning that whoever set the fire could be charged with homicide.

Panel Urges Caution In Use of Genetic Tests


Rapid growth in information about genes and their impact on diseases in adults is creating pressure for a broad range of new genetic tests without adequate preparation or oversight, a study panel warned Thursday.

The research is opening an era of "predictive" medicine, the panel said, that goes far beyond the well-accepted genetic screening of newborns for such readily treatable ailments as phenylketonuria and congential hypothyroidism -- two genetic disorders that cause mental retardation if not treated.

"We are learning that genetic factors play a role in many common adult diseases such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and several others," said Dr. Arno Motulsky, a geneticist at the University of Washington, who headed the panel. "We are therefore often able to identify individuals at risk long before they develop signs and symptoms of illness."

Scientists recently found evidence of a gene associated with increased risk for breast cancer, for example. Women carrying that gene -- if identified through genetic testing -- could decide to have more frequent mammograms at an earlier age to monitor for onset of the disease, Motulsky said.