The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 48.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

News Briefs

Indyk Back as Ambassador to Israel


The State Department’s Middle East diplomat, Martin S. Indyk, is returning to his former post as ambassador to Israel at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, officials said Wednesday.

The unusual move demonstrates Barak’s considerable influence with President Clinton, who approved the transfer. It comes, moreover, at a critical time in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, both of which have pledged to reach a final settlement by the end of next year.

Indyk, who served as ambassador from April 1995 until October 1997, is an Australian native long associated with pro-Israel causes. A former White House official, he enjoys the confidence of both Clinton and Barak -- an echo of his strong ties to slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Barak’s political mentor.

Indyk, the assistant secretary for Near East affairs, will swap jobs with Edward S. Walker, a career Foreign Service officer and former ambassador to Egypt who currently serves as ambassador in Tel Aviv. The appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

A State Department spokesman, James Foley, said Clinton decided to make the nomination on the advice of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The change was specifically sought by Barak, who knows Indyk from his previous tenure as ambassador, according to U.S. and Israeli sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Researchers Find Enzyme That May Induce Development of Alzheimer’s


Scientists at Amgen have isolated an elusive brain chemical believed to play a crucial role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Reporting their findings in Friday’s edition of Science, the researchers hope the discovery will lead to targeted treatments that can halt the advance of this mind-devouring disease that afflicts an estimated 4 million Americans.

The investigators found the chemical -- an enzyme that occurs in normal and diseased cells -- by conducting a massive, automated search through tens of thousands of genes that occur in brain tissue.

Blocking the enzyme, scientists say, might prevent the progress of the disease in the same way that reducing cholesterol has been shown to blunt the ravages of heart disease.

But experts in the field caution that the leap from discovery to effective treatment could take years.

Still, the finding is a striking example of the power of the biotechnology industry to harness the genetic engineering revolution in the search for root causes of disease. In the past, such basic research was largely the domain of university scientists, but increasingly biotech companies are weighing in and producing encouraging results.

In this case, the ingenuity and resources of the largest biotech company, armed with the most advanced equipment available, proved critical in a race among a number of teams to find the enzyme.

Researchers believe the enzyme breaks down a large protein into smaller pieces -- one of which, after further trimming, becomes amyloid, the fragment that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and is thought to destroy healthy brain tissue.

Madagascar Fossils May Be Oldest Dinosaur Remains Ever Found


Scientists excavating a remote valley on the African island of Madagascar have unearthed jawbones from what may be the two oldest dinosaurs ever discovered.

Teeth from the new creatures indicate that they were both long-necked prosauropods, plant-eating ancestors of later -- and much larger -- herbivores like the 36-ton ^Apatosaurus,@ the largest animal that ever lived.

Evidence from surrounding fossils suggest the new jawbones must be around 230 million years old, which would make them the oldest dinosaur remains ever found, said paleontologist John J. Flynn, who leads the four-year excavation in southwestern Madagascar.

“They were both bipedal and quadripedal, somewhere between four and eight feet long,” said Flynn, curator at Chicago’s Field Museum. “The kangaroo is a good visual image, because while they could use four legs to run, they could also forage with their front arms.”

The excavation report, published by Flynn and five others in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science, also describes eight other species of reptiles and mammal-like reptiles, some of which appear to be cousins of similar, already discovered species and which were key in fixing the age of the dinosaur remains.

Mitochondria Might Cause Aging


California Institute of Technology scientists report some of the most convincing evidence yet that aging is linked to genetic mutations in the small compartments where cells manufacture their energy.

The results, published Friday in the journal Science, lend strong support to a decade-long theory of how people age that centers on mitochondria, the tiny power generators in all cells.

The theory proposes that aging is triggered as mutations in mitochondria impair their ability to make energy while at the same time turning them into producers of toxic “free-radicals.” The result is devastating: low in energy and full of toxic molecules, the cell ages as it essentially runs out of steam.

But even though scientists already knew that mitochondria deteriorated with age, the source of the damage had proved elusive. Previous studies had only found very few mutations in the mitochondrial DNA of old cells. And because mitochondria constantly mingle with other cellular components, skeptics contended that the source of mitochondrial deterioration could come from surrounding cellular material, and not the mitochondria themselves.

Now, Giuseppe Attardi and peers from Caltech and the University of Milan are the first to find genetic defects in a unique region of the mitochondrial DNA of old humans, but not young ones. The results support the idea that mitochondrial defects -- and subsequent aging of the cell -- may very well start within the mitochondria.