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News Briefs

International Effort Sequences First Human Chromosome, 22


Reaching a major milestone in the science of human genetics, an international consortium of researchers has determined the sequence of an entire human chromosome, the first to be finished under the massive Human Genome Project.

The much-anticipated feat paves the way for similar announcements in the months to come as research centers around the world attempt to sequence the entire human genetic blueprint, including 3 billion base pairs of DNA, by the year 2003. A completed blueprint, scientists say, will provide critical information in diagnosing, treating, and ultimately curing a wide range of genetic-based diseases.

Chromosome 22 -- which includes genes implicated in leukemia, breast cancer and mental retardation, among others -- is the first finished section of that blueprint, experts say.

“I would say that it’s a milestone in the knowledge of ourselves,” said Adam Felsenfeld, a staff scientist at the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Md. “It’s the first indication that a chromosome can be assembled, and that we can understand our human inheritance.”

The achievement will be formally presented at news conferences scheduled in Washington and London on Dec. 1, and in a major scientific journal the following day, according to Bruce Roe, a University of Oklahoma researcher who led the American effort.

Police Chase Bystanders Have No Path for Recourse Against Injury


Motorists and bystanders who are injured or killed because of reckless high-speed police chases cannot sue the police for their damages, under a ruling the Supreme Court let stand on Monday.

The justices turned away appeals from four Southern California accident victims who were badly injured when they were struck by cars fleeing the police.

They claimed the police were reckless for pursuing cars at high speed through the Los Angeles area, and therefore, should be held at least partly responsible for their injuries. The court was told that roughly 300 Americans die each year as a result of high-speed police pursuits, about as many as who die in police shootings.

But the California Legislature, and now the federal courts, have closed the door to claims for accident victims.

Gabriel Torres, a road repair worker, was returning home in the early morning hours along the Hollywood Freeway when he was struck by a car traveling 130 miles per hour. The vehicle was being chased by California Highway Patrol officers, but the driver escaped.

Torres was thrown from his car and suffered multiple injuries. He was blinded in one eye and has had numerous operations to reconstruct his nose and cheek bones.

In the second accident, Noni Onossian, a former fashion model, was struck by a car fleeing police at 70 mph in West Hollywood. She and her husband and another relative were all badly injured.

Under California law, the police are shielded from lawsuits growing out of police chases or the operation of emergency vehicles.