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News Briefs

Food Scientists Seek To Turn Bitter to Sweet


The food industry, trying to offer healthier versions of popular foods without affecting the taste, is looking for new ways to trick the tongue. If it succeeds, grapefruit juice could be sweet without added sugar, and potato chips flavorful with half the salt.

In April the Linguagen Corp., a biotechnology company in Cranbury, N.J., that is conducting taste research, received a patent for the first molecular compound that will block bitter tastes in foods, beverages and some pharmaceuticals. The compound, named adenosine 5’-monophosphate, or AMP, occurs naturally (it’s found in human breast milk, among other places) and when added to certain foods, including coffee and canned or bottled citrus fruits, the company says, it blocks the tongue from absorbing some of the acidic tastes.

“The idea of a bitter suppressor is the holy grail,” said Linda M. Bartoshuk, a professor at the Yale University School of Medicine and a taste research expert. “Everybody wants to find them.”

Despite Linguagen’s early successes, some researchers into taste raise doubts about whether the company will actually be able to create a food utopia. If doing so were easy, they said, someone would have discovered a way to significantly alter foods long ago.

Child Obesity Prompts New Action


Prevention has always been a cornerstone of pediatrics, more so than in almost any other medical specialty. Pediatricians vaccinate and screen. They counsel parents on ways to keep children healthy and safe. One area that pediatricians have not typically focused on, however, is preventing young patients from becoming overweight. Yet in the last 20 years, those who work in the field say, obesity has become the most prevalent chronic health problem among American children.

In a report this month that points up this discrepancy, the American Academy of Pediatrics has called on members to make obesity screening and counseling routine parts of children’s checkups, like testing reflexes or measles immunizations.

The report offers pediatricians procedures to identify and intervene with patients before weight problems start, rather than waiting until children are too heavy. After children have gained too much weight, the report suggests, it can be very hard for them to lose it and keep it off.

Dr. Nancy Krebs, a pediatrician at the University of Colorado and a lead author of the report, said, “In the last five years, with both adults and pediatrics, there’s certainly been a trend toward saying, ‘Treatment success is so bleak, we’ve got to stop it because we can’t treat it once it occurs.”’

Incumbent Kagame Wins Election in Rwanda


President Paul Kagame will remain in office for another seven years, according to returns on Monday night in Rwanda’s presidential election.

With all ballots tallied, Kagame had 94.3 percent of the vote, according to a preliminary count.

He has held the job since 2001 as part of a transitional government set up after the frenzy of ethnic violence nine years ago in which Hutu extremists killed 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu.

The election on Monday had all the trappings of democracy. Beginning at dawn, voters turned out in huge numbers across this tiny and troubled Central African country, where strife has been as much apart of the landscape as the lush rolling hills. There have been presidential elections before in the 40 years since Rwanda’s independence from Belgium but never have voters had a choice at the polls.

There were four names on the ballot this time, although Kagame, who is Tutsi, worked aggressively behind the scenes to neutralize his rivals, all of whom were from the majority Hutu population. His campaign persuaded Alivera Mukabaramaba, the only woman in the race, to pull out at the 11th hour and endorse Kagame. Jean-Nipomuschne Nayinzira, who claimed divine intervention in his campaign, posed little challenge. But Faustin Twagiramungu, a former prime minister, was viewed as a threat, and he found his campaign stymied at every turn by government security forces.

Gay Nuptials Cause Rift in Canada


In Canada, a nation famed for tolerance, bitter opposition is building toward Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s determination to make gay marriage the law of the land.

In a country where morality is rarely the subject of public debate and where religious leaders seldom take political stands, onlookers have been surprised by the passionate bolts of denunciation hurled from Roman Catholic cathedrals and conservative Protestant pulpits at Chretien’s pledge to rewrite the country’s legal definition of marriage from the “lawful union of one man and one woman” to the union of “two persons.”

But the real shocker is the rebellion brewing within the ranks of the prime minister’s usually-docile Liberal Party. Same-sex marriage has emerged as an issue that could dominate next year’s federal elections and might even loosen the Liberal stranglehold on power. Last week some party members demanded a national referendum on whether the marriage law should be rewritten, arguing that all Canadians deserve a say on such a momentous social question.

“We’re on a collision course with the electorate,” Dan McTeague, a Liberal member of Parliament from Ontario, said of the gay marriage issue. “This thing is really, really heating up.”

Chretien, however, is adamant that gay marriage is a pure civil rights issue that should not be subject to a popularity contest. “To have a referendum to decide on the fate of a minority -- it’s a problem,” he said. “If it’s always the majority of the vote by a referendum, who will defend the minorities? In government, we are there to defend every minority.”