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News Briefs II

Scientists Report Progress In Effort Against Parkinson's

Los Angeles Times

Federal scientists have narrowed the search for a gene that causes one form of Parkinson's disease to a small segment of one human chromosome, providing the first direct evidence that a genetic alteration is capable of producing the devastating brain disorder.

The results offer new hope for early detection and improved treatment of the disorder, which affects more than 1 million Americans, the researchers say.

The discovery, reported Friday in the journal Science, "gives us a powerful new tool to understand why nerve cells die in Parkinson's disease and how to stop them from dying," said Zach Hall, director of the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke. "It will usher in a new era of Parkinson's disease research."

"This is an exciting moment, but it is really only a beginning," added Dr. Matt Kurtz of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.

What researchers have done in the new work is akin to looking for a single individual in the United States and narrowing the search down to a small town, noted Kurtz, who is assistant clinical director of the National Parkinson's Foundation. "Now the challenge is to figure out the address of that person," he said.

It is unclear how long that will take. In the case of Huntington's disease, it took eight years to find the gene after researchers had progressed this far. For some other diseases, it was only a matter of months. "It depends on how much effort they will be able to devote to the project," he added.

Poll Finds Campaigns Failed To Increase Awareness of Issues

The Washington Post

After hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign spending, countless news stories, three nationally televised debates, and hours of advertising on television and radio, Americans knew no more about how the two major presidential candidates stood on key issues when they voted than they did when the fall campaign began in September, according to a national survey by The Washington Post, Harvard University and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

But even though voters did not know more as a result of the fall campaign, they apparently knew enough: A majority said they were sufficiently knowledgeable about President Clinton and Republican Bob Dole and the issues to make an informed choice on Election Day.

The post-election survey also found that more than seven in 10 said this year's race was no more negative than previous presidential campaigns. And just over half said the news media's treatment of the candidates was generally fair, though a larger proportion thought the media had been less fair to Dole than to Clinton.

A total of 1,205 randomly selected adults who said they voted on Nov. 5 were interviewed Nov. 6-10 for this survey, which included questions asked in a companion poll in September among registered voters who said they were "certain" to cast ballots in the November election. The polls are part of a series of surveys by The Washington Post, Harvard and the Kaiser Family Foundation measuring how much Americans know about public affairs.

Race for Rep. Dornan's Seat Still Too Close to Call

Los Angeles Times

After a day of reversals and confusion, the outcome of the contentious race between Republican Rep. Robert K. Dornan and Democratic newcomer Loretta Sanchez remained unknown Wednesday, and final results weren't expected until next week.

Down by nearly 1,000 votes, Dornan all but conceded the race Wednesday morning as his opponent fielded congratulatory calls from prospective colleagues in Washington.

Speaking to reporters on the front lawn of his home and surrounded by family members, Dornan, a nine-term representative, spoke of hosting a radio talk show and said, "There's no sadness here. I feel I am going to capitalize on this. The sky's the limit for me."

But by day's end, it was Dornan who was jubilant, holding out hope that, with a slightly narrowed gap and the revelation late in the day that there were about 1,200 more uncounted absentee ballots, he might be able to snatch back the victory he had claimed last week.

In addition to these absentee ballots, the registrar still must count 1,500 to 3,000 so-called provisional ballots, those filled out by voters whose names did not appear on registration lists. Those will be counted once they are validated, by the end of next week. The mail-in ballots should be counted by Friday.

Descent Theory of Birds From Dinosaurs Being Challenged

The Washington Post

To most modern paleontologists, fierce Tyrannosaurus Rex looks like a big chicken. That is, they see so many anatomical similarities between the modern birds and the ancient reptiles that they have come to believe birds descended from dinosaurs.

But controversial new research is challenging that view. In Friday's edition of the journal Science, researchers argue that fossils recently discovered in China are very early ancestors of modern birds. And those creatures lived well before the dinosaurs that other researchers had claimed gave rise to modern birds. If that is true, birds must have evolved independently, the researchers argue.

In addition, the astonishingly rich trove of fossils from northeastern China show that the creatures that historically have been called a link between dinosaurs and birds are actually part of an evolutionary cul-de-sac and therefore could not have evolved into anything still alive today.

"We're talking about a brand-new look at bird evolution," said Alan Feduccia, an ornithologist from the University of North Carolina and lead author of the paper.