Julian Assange leaving Royal Court of Justice on July 13th, 2011
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder accused of rape in Sweden, has sought asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London. Assange, known for leaking hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic documents through the WikiLeaks Web site, arrived at the South American country’s embassy Tuesday according to media reports. It wasn’t clear how Assange got there, since he was living under strict bail conditions at the country mansion of a wealthy supporter.
The development is the latest twist in Assange’s battle to avoid extradition from Britain to Sweden, where two women claim the international whistleblower raped and sexually assaulted them. Both are ex-WikiLeaks volunteers. Assange denies the allegations, which he claims are politically motivated.
The Ecuadorian government said it would keep Assange under its protection while it evaluates Assange’s application, according to Reuters news agency. Ecuador invited Assange in 2010 to take up residence in the country, but later withdrew the invitation on the grounds that he had violated U.S. laws. Ecuador currently has a leftist government unfriendly to the U.S.
Earlier this month, Britain’s Supreme Court refused to reconsider Assange’s appeal against being sent back to Sweden. Extradition proceedings were scheduled to start June 28.
Ecuador has been cautious in its comments. The embassy released a statement saying that its decision to consider the asylum request should not be interpreted as the country interfering in the judicial processes of Britain or Sweden, according to the British Broadcasting Corp.
Assange believes extradition to Sweden would eventually lead to him being sent to the U.S. to face charges that could lead to the death penalty. Swedish authorities have said that the European Court of Human Rights would prevent “inhuman or degrading treatment or an unfair trial” in the U.S., according to the BBC.
Assange was arrested in London in December 2010 to face a Swedish arrest warrant. Assange turned himself shortly after WikiLeaks started releasing more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables
Assange photo by acidpolly.
What’s the News: Scientists have been rooting around in the rice genome for years, and the same goes for wheat. But now the long-recalcitrant potato genome has finally been sequenced. Time for a celebration? Perhaps, but biologists can’t rest for long: in addition to the just-published genome, there are still three more to sequence in each commercial potato.
What’s the Context:
- The human genome consists of two copies each of 23 chromosomes, one from Mom and one from Dad. And we tend to think of most other species’ genomes as roughly comparable. Sure, dogs have 34 pairs and ferrets have 20, but everybody gets two of each chromosome, and each has the same kinds of genes on it, right?
- Wrong. Things are a lot weirder in plants, which are known to have bizarre numbers of chromosomes that don’t repeat each other much at all. In humans this kind of lackadaisical genetic policing usually means death before an embryo is born. But for some plants, it’s normal.
- Instead of having two basically similar copies of each of their twelve chromosomes, most potatoes have four wildly varying versions of each. Thus, each set of chromosomes is essentially a separate genome, which makes sequencing difficult, and it’s also made breeding potatoes with specific traits a more haphazard process than with plants that just have chromosome pairs.
How the Heck:
- To get around the problem of multiple genomes, researchers sought out an unusual South American potato variety that had just two copies of each chromosome.
- Then they whittled down the number even further and grew a plant from a pollen cell, which, just like its human analog, a sperm, has one copy of each chromosome. To make the plant viable, they duplicated each of the chromosomes, but for all intents and purposes, the plant had just one set of genes. These could then be easily sequenced using available technology.
- Using this sequence, the researchers, who hail from 26 different institutions and banded together specifically for this project, were able to help organize the results of earlier attempts to sequence the genome of a potato similar to those sold in stores. They learned that one reason the potato is so susceptible to blight (like the one that caused the Irish Potato Famine) is that many of the genes involved in disease resistance have been inactivated or destroyed, the result of inbreeding.
The Future Holds: Still, even with this new data, the researchers were only able to make sense of about half the commercial potato’s genome. To tackle that challenge, they will need to wait for better technology, which will let them sequence longer sections of DNA—a must-have for piecing together the arrangement of genes in an organism with chromosomes as messy as the potato’s. And after that? Perhaps we’ll finally breed a spud that can stand up to blight.
Reference: The Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium. Genome sequence and analysis of the tuber crop potato. Nature, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/nature10158
Image credit: Johannes Jander / flickr
The 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck last February relieved seismic stress in some areas–such as southern Santiago–but not in an area dubbed the “Darwin gap,” which lies on the coastal area near Concepcion, according to a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
To see if the 2010 quake might have helped release pent-up stress in the Darwin gap, scientists modeled how it might have affected the gap by analyzing tsunami readings gathered by gauges in the water and land observations taken by satellite, GPS and the human eye…. The investigators found the earthquake ruptured only part of the Darwin gap. An area of stored energy remains unbroken there, and the 2010 earthquake might have actually stressed it further…. [Said study coauthor Stefano Lorito]: “A new magnitude 7 to 8 earthquake might be expected in that region.” [OurAmazingPlanet]
It’s called the “Darwin gap” because a similar earthquake in the region was witnessed by Charles Darwin in 1835. The zone of un-relieved stress derives from the movement of tectonic plates:
They found that a continental plate beneath the Pacific Ocean was sliding under the South American mainland at a rate of about 6.8 cms (2.7 inches) a year, so that a total of almost 12 meters (39 ft 4.4 in) of stresses had built up since 1835. [Reuters]
But the process of pinpointing and predicting a future earthquake isn’t as easy as measuring stress–it’s a complicated process. Says Lorito:
“It’s impossible to predict exactly when a new quake might happen.” [Reuters]
So while geologists aren’t sure exactly when or where the next earthquake will strike, they do know that another big one is likely. And that knowledge, however lacking, may just save lives as Chile prepares its buildings and citizens for another rumble.
Image: flickr /martingarri
Adeo Ressi of the Founder Institute was blown away by the comments and response he got from our post last week reporting the incubator’s new offices in South America and intention to keep expanding globally. Readers were invited to make the case for their city in the comments and more than 40 locations caught his attention. The post even wound up expediting the opening of a new Amsterdam chapter.
Ressi is offering any TechCrunch readers a free predictive admissions test and early acceptance if they register at this link.
Below is Ressi’s response to commenters, including details of which chapters are in the works already and what you can do to put your city over the top. Enthusiasm and local leadership matters here. While Bogota might not make the most sense for a South American chapter, Ressi says so far it’s had the highest volume of founder applications in less than a week.
“Thanks for the great suggestions!First, we are actively working on a number of places suggested.Second, there are a bunch of locations that we need more information on to determine why they would make for good Founder Institute Chapters, so please feel free to add some further analysis in the comments. Are there a dozen strong CEOs of fast growth technology companies that will Mentor? Is there a good regulatory environment? Are funding resources available? Is there a strong technical talent pool to draw from? Please help us with your insights.Third, there are a bunch of locations suggested that are interesting, but we need a strong individual that is passionate about startups to be a Local Leader. The Local Leader should be well-connected in the startup ecosystem, know of most good regional Mentors, and have solid organizational skills. A potential Local Leader just needs to submit an application to be considered at the following link: http://www.founderinstitute.com/leadThanks, again! I look forward to some more feedback.North America1. Boulder, Colorado – Have Denver Chapter with Boulder Sessions2. Chicago, Illinois – **Actively Working On**3. Austin, Texas – **Actively Working On** – Slow Progress4. Atlanta, Georgia – Interesting! – Any Ideas for a Local Leader?5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Interesting! – Any Ideas for a Local Leader?6. Guadalajara, Mexico – Why Guadalajara?7. Boise, Idaho – Why Boise?Europe1. United Kingdom – **Actively Working On** – Launch Likely in 20112. Amsterdam, Netherlands – **Actively Working On** – Launch Likely in 20113. Istanbul, Turkey – Interesting! – Any Ideas for a Local Leader?4. Russia – Concerns about Regulatory and Investment Environments5. Ukraine – Concerns about Regulatory and Investment EnvironmentsSouth and Central America1. Sao Paolo, Brazil – **Actively Working On** – Launch Likely in 20112. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Would Follow Sao Paolo3. Buenos Aires, Argentina – Interesting! – Any Ideas for a Local Leader?4. Cordoba, Argentina – Would Follow Buenos Aires5. Peru – Why Peru?6. San Jose, Costa Rica – Why Costa Rica?Asia1. Hong Kong – Limited Progress – Any Ideas for a Local Leader?2. Manila, Philipines – Interesting! – Any Ideas for a Local Leader?3. Jakarta, Indonesia – **Actively Working On** – Slow Progress4. Bangalore, India – Interesting! – Any Ideas for a Local Leader?5. China – Which City in China, Shanghai?Africa1. Cairo, Egypt – Interesting! – Any Ideas for a Local Leader?2. South Africa – Interesting! – Any Ideas for a Local Leader?3. Nairobi, Kenya – Why Nairobi?4. Lagos, Nigeria – Why Lagos?Middle East1. Tel Aviv, Israel – **Actively Working On**2. Dubai, UAE – Interesting! – Any Ideas for a Local Leader?Oceania1. Sydney, Australia – **Actively Working On** – Slow Progress2. Melbourne, Australia – Why Melbourne?3. Auckland, New Zealand – Why Auckland?Other1. Curacao – Why Curacao?
Hey you know what’s happening right now? #LessAmbitiousMovies, the craziest Twitter hashtag meme I’ve ever seen, pacing at around 200 tweets per minute. The basic premise is to tweet out the titles of popular films but watered down and less ambitious, get it?
What’s notable about the meme is a) for some inexplicable reason it is not trending and b) that since it started a couple of hours ago it has suddenly saturated my (and probably your) entire Twitter stream with hilarious faux movie titles like “Being John Stamos,”Harry Potter and the Chamber of Nothing,” and “The Devil Wears Zara.”
Maybe because it’s the first work week after the holidays and we all need to let off a little steam, but there something deeply satisfying about coming up with these. Go ahead try one.
And yeah, someone really should make posters for all the movies.
Some of my favorites, below:
It’s the most delicious genetic breakthrough yet. A consortium led by Mars Inc., the company behind such treats as M&Ms and Snickers, has announced the rough draft of the cacao tree’s genome, and researchers say the information could lead to improvements in the chocolate supply.
While the scientists are just beginning to analyze the genome, understanding the tree’s innermost workings could lead to breeding programs for drought- or disease-resistant varieties, or even for trees that produce tastier or healthier cocoa. The consortium has put the data online at the Cacao Genome Database for use by any and all.
The tree, known officially as Theobroma cacao (meaning “food of the gods”), contains about 420 million DNA units, represented by the letters A, C, G and T. That is fairly small for a plant. The human genome has about three billion units. [New York Times]
In a strange twist, the quest for the cacao tree genome became a race between two companies that typically compete in the candy aisle of your local drug store, Mars and Hershey. According to a New York Times report, the Hershey-led research project has also finished a rough draft of the genome, but can’t discuss its work until a journal article is published.
The genetic data will be precious to those who cultivate and rely on the cacao tree, researchers say.
Trailrunner7 writes “Bot herders and the crimeware gangs behind banker Trojans have had a lot of success in the last few years with using bulletproof hosting providers as their main base of operations. But more and more, they’re finding that social networks such as Twitter and Facebook are offering even more fertile and convenient grounds for controlling their malicious creations. New research from RSA shows that the gangs behind some of the targeted banker Trojans that are such a huge problem in some countries, especially Brazil and other South American nations, are moving quietly and quickly to using social networks as the command-and-control mechanisms for their malware. The company’s anti-fraud researchers recently stumbled upon one such attack in progress and watched as it unfolded.”