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News Briefs II

FDA Recalls Apple Juice Products After Discovery of Link to Illness

Los Angeles Times

Makers of apple juice products linked to the illnesses of 13 young people in the Seattle area scrambled to pull the beverages from grocery shelves Thursday, the latest in a string of incidents raising safety concerns about the food supply.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the voluntary recall of all Odwalla brand apple juice and juice blends containing apple juice after the California-made products were tied to an outbreak of a virulent strain of bacteria that causes severe diarrhea and can be fatal.

Meanwhile, health officials in California and Colorado reported Thursday they are investigating possible additional cases of E. coli disease. Investigators were evaluating three patients - in Los Angeles, Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area - to determine whether the cases were examples of E. coli illness.

Chinese Find Dissident Guilty, Issue an 11-Year Sentence

The Washington Post

Two years ago the slender, somewhat-disheveled Chinese dissident Wang Dan wrote that the principles of the Chinese Communist Party were "like a paper horse, which will topple over at the slightest touch."

This week, the riders of the "paper horse" showed him they still have some kick left. After finding Wang, 27, guilty of trying to subvert the Communist government, a Chinese court sentenced the former student leader to 11 years in jail.

The harsh sentence has dealt another blow to China's already-decimated dissident movement and put the Clinton administration in an awkward position on the eve of next month's visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

Wang, who topped the Chinese government's most-wanted list after the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations were crushed, was the best-known dissident left outside the Chinese gulag.

His name and that of fellow dissident Wei Jingsheng, who was sentenced last December to 14 years in jail, have been those most frequently mentioned by foreign governments expressing concerns with China's human-rights record.

Yeltsin's Security Chief Appointment Spurs More Russian Infighting

The Baltimore Sun

A nasty new round of political infighting has engulfed the Kremlin with President Boris Yeltsin now confined to his bed in preparation for heart surgery that may occur in less than a week.

Even though Yeltsin canceled all business meetings this week, he managed to provoke his opponents by signing off on the appointment of a controversial wealthy entrepreneur to the National Security Council.

The president's chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais, an aggressive advocate of market reforms, became the lightning rod for the criticism.

The appointment was Boris Berezovsky - whose wheeling and dealing has even attracted a couple of assassination attempts. The media and Communist opponents read the appointment as the latest attempt by Chubais to win support for himself in the ongoing power struggles he has tended to win since he returned to the Kremlin last summer.

Chubais, the presidential gatekeeper since Yeltsin was re-elected in July, is believed to be behind last summer's firings of members of the so-called "party of power" - the hawkish, undemocratic military and intelligence chiefs - and the sacking last month of Security Chief Alexander Lebed.

Maternal Blood Test Able to Assess Fetuses at Risk for Disorders

Los Angeles Times

Raising hopes that a simple maternal blood test could replace amniocentesis and other invasive techniques, University of California, San Francisco, researchers have accurately diagnosed two fetuses at risk for genetic disorders by analyzing the mothers' blood.

Reporting in Thursday's issue of Nature Genetics, the UC San Francisco scientists said they were able to test for single gene disorders by isolating and studying fetal cells in the mothers' samples.

Single gene disorders include such common diseases as sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs disease and cystic fibrosis. More than 100 genes have already been identified for various inherited disorders, and the number is growing.

The findings build on a previous success by other researchers in identifying chromosomal disorders, such as Down syndrome, from maternal blood. Combined, the research increases the possibility that maternal blood samples might replace amniocentesis and chorionic villi sampling to identify fetuses with genetic disorders.

Both amniocentesis and CVS are costly, invasive procedures that carry a slight risk of miscarriage.

Prenatal diagnosis from maternal blood, however, bears no such risk and can probably be done earlier in the pregnancy, which proves to be a much better alternative.

"This is the first example of the accurate use of fetal cells in maternal blood for the non-invasive diagnosis of single gene disorders early in pregnancy," said Dr. Bob Williamson, of the Royal Children's Hospital in Australia, in an editorial accompanying the paper.

"If the procedure can be adapted for use in routine diagnostic laboratories, it should remove one of the major remaining concerns of women whose pregnancies are at risk - the possibility that CVS or amniocentesis could cause a spontaneous abortion, resulting in the loss of a normal pregnancy," Williamson said.