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News Briefs I

Amtrak Continues Talks with Union

The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Negotiators for Amtrak and its track maintenance union continued to talk Monday as Congress prepared to step in to head off a possible strike that could strand hundreds of thousands of daily rail commuters from Boston to the Washington metropolitan area.

Negotiators had been meeting nearly around the clock at the Transportation Department since Sunday afternoon, but there were no reports of progress late Monday as the union prepared to strike the government-subsidized passenger service beginning at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

Amtrak carries more than 500,000 daily passengers along the Northeast corridor, most of them daily commuters in cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington. A strike would have a major impact on the Washington metropolitan area, where service would be halted or disrupted on both of the Maryland and Virginia commuter rail lines that either operate on Amtrak tracks or go to Washington's Union Station, which is operated by Amtrak. The strike would shut down Amtrak's Metroliner and Northeast Direct trains from Union Station to New York City and Boston.

The union has been trying to work out local commuter agreements to minimize the impact of a strike in the New York City and Philadelphia areas.

Both the House and Senate were scheduled to consider legislation today that would bar the union from striking, but leave the labor dispute unresolved until well into next year.

Despite Guerrilla-Imposed Boycott, Peace Measure Supported

Los Angeles Times
BOGOTA, Colombia

While a guerrilla-imposed election boycott kept many from the polls in rural areas, election officials said Monday that city dwellers had voted overwhelmingly for a peace referendum to end the nation's four-decade-long civil war.

Half the country's registered voters - or 10 million people - cast a special green ballot for peace in local elections Sunday, according to results released Monday. And the result has encouraged local leaders to pursue their own talks with the rebels, filling the gap left by the federal government's inability to even begin negotiations.

"The guerrillas are very sensitive to public opinion, and we hope this will pressure them to enter into discussions," said Diego Turbay, a member of the leading political family in the Amazon state of Caqueta. Before the election, Turbay tried unsuccessfully to negotiate democratic guarantees with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, this nation's largest guerrilla group known by the Spanish initials FARC.

"We hope we now will be able to meet with them to discuss cease fires, human rights, the surrender of arms and other vital issues," he said.

Gene Interaction Increases Likelihood of Jaundice in Newborns

Newsday

One of the more startling outcomes of birth is jaundice in the newborn, which often is of no consequence. Sometimes, however, jaundice can be serious, even fatal, and as scientists now are finding, can have deep roots in the genes.

Reporting in Tuesday's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers in Israel have homed in on the genes that lead to a condition called kernicterus. It occurs when the brain and spinal cord are infiltrated by bilirubin, a yellow-pigmented substance produced by the breakdown of hemoglobin, the iron-containing pigment of red blood cells.

Dr. Michael Kaplan and his colleagues in the department of medical genetics at Shaare Zadek Medical Center in Jerusalem found that an interaction between two genes produced an increased likelihood of jaundice in which bilirubin breaches the blood brain barrier.

The barrier is a membrane between the circulating blood and the brain that, like a sieve, allows nutrients in and usually keeps most harmful substances out. Unfortunately, the blood brain barrier is not always failsafe.

Deficiency of an enzyme known as G-6-PD, which affects millions worldwide, has long been associated with severe jaundice in newborns. But Kaplan and his team have found that G-6-PD infants are only at heightened risk for severe jaundice when they also have reduced levels of a second enzyme, called UDPGT1. Both enzyme deficiencies are caused by gene mutations. Alone, each mutation is harmless. Combined, there is an increased risk for potentially fatal jaundice.