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Bovine ‘Twin’ Gene Intrigues Dairy and Beef Farmers


In an attempt to squeeze more bang per buck from cattle breeding, scientists in Wisconsin have tracked down at least one gene that promotes twinning, producing two calves at once.

The goal of such work is to control the birth rate of valuable animals -- such as those that grow fast and make lots of meat -- with less difficulty and smaller expense by having more twins. Dairy farmers, in contrast, would prefer to reduce twinning, limiting the hazard for mother cows giving birth.

The first known gene that seems to foster twinning has already been found among bovine chromosomes, the researchers said, and more are thought to exist. They suspect the locations of at least two other twinning-related genes have been spotted within the same genome.

“Our work has confirmed the existence of at least one gene, on cattle chromosome 19, that affects ovulation rate,” said geneticist Brian Kirkpatrick, at the University of Wisconsin. Also, “we have strong evidence for genes with similar effects on chromosomes 5 and 7.”

So far, the researchers reported in a genetics journal -- Mammalian Genome -- they’ve isolated the first known “twinning” gene and are on the track toward isolating the others. The quest is for genes that influence the production of extra bovine ova, looking for animals that produce two eggs at a time.

School Voucher Initiative Woos Public with Prizes


In a move critics claim comes close to vote-buying, the millionaire-backed California school voucher campaign is giving away computers, a Hawaii vacation and shopping sprees to persuade people to register electronically as supporters of Proposition 38.

In the weeks leading to the November election, people who round up the most co-workers, friends and neighbors to endorse the school vouchers initiative become eligible for prizes that include 38 iMac computers, a trip to Maui and five $2,000 shopping sprees at Macy’s department store.

“This is breaking new ground here,” said Chris Bertelli, spokesman for the voucher proponents. “We’re certainly offering people an incentive to come support Proposition 38.”

The California secretary of state’s office said there is nothing illegal about the prize contest, which many observers called the first of its kind.

“The Yes on 38 campaign’s result-based payments to workers are not illegal,” said Alfie Charles, spokesman for California Secretary of State Bill Jones, “but to the casual observer they may raise some eyebrows.

“Campaigns need to make sure they distinguish clearly between offers to campaign workers and direct offers to voters,” he said.

15 WWII ‘Sex Slaves’ File Suit Against Japanese Government


Fifteen Asian women, forced into sex slavery by the Japanese army during World War II, filed a lawsuit against the government of Japan on Monday, seeking unspecified but substantial damage payments for years of rape, beating, starvation and other forms of mistreatment that continues to haunt them into old age.

Lawyers in the case said it is the first lawsuit filed in U.S. courts directly against the Japanese government for war crimes. Previously, lawsuits were brought against Japanese companies for their use of slave labor during the war.

It was also the first U.S. lawsuit on behalf of former sex slaves, euphemistically called “comfort women” by the Japanese imperial army, which seized them and forced them to service as many as 40 or 50 soldiers a day in battlefield brothels.

In addition to the 15 named plaintiffs whose stories were set forth in graphic detail in the legal complaint, the suit sought “class action” compensation for all other “comfort women.” It estimated that as many as 200,000 women were victims from 1931 through the end of the war but that only about 1,000 women are thought to be still alive.

The vast majority of the women either died of disease and mistreatment or were murdered by Japanese troops during the war. Many of those still held in 1945 as the Japanese war effort collapsed were either killed or abandoned in jungle battlefields by the retreating troops.

Study Says People Who Follow Pyramid Don’t Improve Health


Given all the purported flaws, food pyramid critics aren’t surprised by results from a study conducted by Marji McCollough of the Harvard School of Public Health. It examined the diet of thousands of male health professionals and female nurses over many years and showed that those who ate most like the pyramid dictates didn’t improve their health much.

Men only moderately reduced their heart disease risk; women, even less so. Neither group decreased its cancer risk.

But there’s a potential problem, say Marion Nestle, professor and chairwoman of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University, and Eileen Kennedy, deputy undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics at the USDA.

Because it’s not feasible to control thousands of peoples’ diets for decades, epidemiologists must ask people what they eat and hope they get accurate reports. There are different ways to collect such data, and some researchers fault the method used by the Harvard group. Maybe the people in the study weren’t eating according to the pyramid anyway, critics say.