Archive for Thursday, December 11, 2003

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December 11, 2003

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Los Angeles

FDA clears way for U.S. sales of GloFish

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, reversing an earlier decision to regulate all genetically altered animals, announced Tuesday that it saw no need to scrutinize a tropical zebra fish bioengineered to glow red and headed for sale in pet stores next month.

A Texas company and a pair of tropical fish farms in Florida plan to market the trademarked GloFish beginning Jan. 5 in every state except California, which has banned all transgenic fish except in biomedical laboratories that can assure the fish will not escape into the wild.

But the Food and Drug Administration said it has no concerns about the zebra fish, which is infused with a red fluorescent gene of a sea anemone.

"Because tropical aquarium fish are not used for food purposes, they pose no threat to the food supply," the FDA said in a terse statement.

Detroit

Grad student discovers record prime number

More than 200,000 computers spent years looking for the largest known prime number. It turned up on Michigan State University graduate student Michael Shafer's off-the-shelf PC.

"It was just a matter of time," Shafer said.

The number is 6,320,430 digits long and would need 1,400 to 1,500 pages to write out. It is more than 2 million digits larger than the previous-largest known prime number.

Shafer, 26, helped find the number as a volunteer on the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search.

Shafer ran an ordinary Dell computer in his office for 19 days until Nov. 17, when he glanced at the screen and saw "New Mersenne prime found."

A prime number is a positive number divisible only by itself and one: 2, 3, 5, 7 and so on. Mersenne primes are a special category, expressed as 2 to the "p" power minus 1, where "p" also is a prime number.

Washington, D.C.

Withheld evidence jeopardizes terror case

The Bush administration's first major post-Sept. 11 prosecution, which broke up an al-Qaida cell in Detroit, is in danger of unraveling after the Justice Department divulged it had failed to turn over evidence that might have helped the defense.

The evidence includes a letter from an imprisoned drug gang leader who alleges the government's key witness confided he made up some of his story.

The December 2001 letter, which could have been used by defense lawyers to challenge the prosecution witness during the trial this spring, wasn't turned over until a couple of weeks ago.

The defendants are now asking that their convictions be overturned, and the judge has scheduled an emergency hearing Friday to demand an explanation from the government.

Geneva

Elected billionaire opposes immigration

A billionaire industrialist and fervent nationalist won a seat Wednesday on the federal Cabinet -- Switzerland's most powerful elected body -- a move likely to lead to a clampdown on immigration and to deepen the Alpine nation's isolation in united Europe.

Though often labeled a right-wing extremist abroad, Christoph Blocher, the firebrand leader of the Swiss People's Party, is widely respected by business leaders at home.

His election drew praise from Swiss banks and industry but alarm from refugee aid groups, swift to recall his inflammatory, anti-immigrant rhetoric and to warn him against endangering Switzerland's humanitarian traditions.

Ireland

Judge links police to 1974 bombings

Individual members of the police and British army in Northern Ireland may have aided car-bombers who killed 33 people in 1974, but there isn't proof of wider collusion, a report concluded Wednesday.

Nobody was ever charged in connection with the attacks, which were universally blamed on anti-Catholic extremists in Northern Ireland.

The mammoth report by Justice Henry Barron, presented to lawmakers and made public Wednesday after nearly four years of investigation, also harshly criticized the Irish government of the day, accusing it of demonstrating little interest or competence in bringing the bombers to justice.

On May 17, 1974, three car bombs went off within a few minutes of each other in crowded streets in downtown Dublin, killing 26 people, followed about 90 minutes later by a fourth car bomb that ravaged the border town of Monaghan, killing seven.

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