Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Human Virus Linked to Deaths of Endangered Mountain Gorillas; Finding Confirms That Serious Diseases Can Pass to Gorillas from People

The finding confirms that serious diseases can pass from people to these endangered animals.

The researchers are from the non-profit Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project; the Wildlife Health Center at the University of California, Davis; the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University; and the Rwanda Development Board.

Their study, which reports the 2009 deaths of two mountain gorilla that were infected with a human virus, was published online by the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Because there are fewer than 800 living mountain gorillas, each individual is critically important to the survival of their species," said Mike Cranfield, executive director of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and a UC Davis wildlife veterinarian. "But mountain gorillas are surrounded by people, and this discovery makes it clear that living in protected national parks is not a barrier to human diseases."

Humans and gorillas share approximately 98 percent of their DNA. This close genetic relatedness has led to concerns that gorillas may be susceptible to many of the infectious diseases that affect people.

The potential for disease transmission between humans and mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) is of particular concern because over the past 100 years, mountain gorillas have come into increasing contact with humans. In fact, the national parks where the gorillas are protected in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are surrounded by the densest human populations in continental Africa.

Also, gorilla tourism -- while helping the gorillas survive by funding the national parks that shelter them -- brings thousands of people from local communities and around the world into contact with mountain gorillas annually.

The veterinarians of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, who monitor the health of the gorillas and treat individuals suffering from life-threatening or human-caused trauma and disease, have observed an increase in the frequency and severity of respiratory disease outbreaks in the mountain gorilla population in recent years.

Infectious disease is the second most common cause of death in mountain gorillas (traumatic injury is the first). "The type of infection we see most frequently is respiratory, which can range from mild colds to severe pneumonia," said co-author Linda Lowenstine, a veterinary pathologist with the UC Davis Mountain Gorilla One Health Program who has studied gorilla diseases for more than 25 years.

The two gorillas described in the new study were members of the Hirwa group living in Rwanda. In 2008 and 2009, this group experienced outbreaks of respiratory disease, with various amounts of coughing, eye and nose discharge, and lethargy. In the 2009 outbreak, the Hirwa group consisted of 12 animals: one adult male, six adult females, three juveniles and two infants. All but one were sick. Two died: an adult female and a newborn infant.

Tissue analyses showed the biochemical signature of an RNA virus called human metapneumovirus (HMPV) infecting both animals that had died. While the adult female gorilla ultimately died as a result of a secondary bacterial pneumonia infection, HMPV infection likely predisposed her to pneumonia. HMPV was also found in the infant gorilla, which was born to a female gorilla that showed symptoms of respiratory disease.

The study's UC Davis authors are Cranfield, Lowenstine and Kirsten Gilardi, co-director of the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center's Mountain Gorilla One Health Program. The lead author is Gustavo Palacios, a virologist at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University in New York. Other authors are from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, Columbia University and the Rwanda Development Board.

The research was supported by Google.org; the U.S. National Institutes of Health; the Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT program of the U.S. Agency for International Development; and a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

About mountain gorillas

With only about 786 individuals left in the world, mountain gorillas are a critically endangered species. Mountain gorillas live in central Africa, with about 480 animals living in the 173-square-mile Virunga Volcanoes Massif, which combines Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. The remaining population lives within the boundaries of the 128-square-mile Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

Will We Hear the Light? Surprising Discovery That Infrared Can Activate Heart and Ear Cells

University of Utah scientists used invisible infrared light to make rat heart cells contract and toadfish inner-ear cells send signals to the brain. The discovery someday might improve cochlear implants for deafness and lead to devices to restore vision, maintain balance and treat movement disorders like Parkinson's.

"We're going to talk to the brain with optical infrared pulses instead of electrical pulses," which now are used in cochlear implants to provide deaf people with limited hearing, says Richard Rabbitt, a professor of bioengineering and senior author of the heart-cell and inner-ear-cell studies published this month in The Journal of Physiology.

The studies -- funded by the National Institutes of Health -- also raise the possibility of developing cardiac pacemakers that use optical signals rather than electrical signals to stimulate heart cells. But Rabbitt says that because electronic pacemakers work well, "I don't see a market for an optical pacemaker at the present time."

The scientific significance of the studies is the discovery that optical signals -- short pulses of an invisible wavelength of infrared laser light delivered via a thin, glass optical fiber -- can activate heart cells and inner-ear cells related to balance and hearing.

In addition, the research showed infrared activates the heart cells, called cardiomyocytes, by triggering the movement of calcium ions in and out of mitochondria, the organelles or components within cells that convert sugar into usable energy. The same process appears to occur when infrared light stimulates inner-ear cells.

Infrared light can be felt as heat, raising the possibility the heart and ear cells were activated by heat rather than the infrared radiation itself. But Rabbitt and colleagues did "elegant experiments" to show the cells indeed were activated by the infrared radiation, says a commentary in the journal by Ian Curthoys of the University of Sydney, Australia.

Curthoys writes that the research provides "stunningly bright insight" into events within inner-ear cells and "has great potential for future clinical application."

Shedding Infrared Light on Inner-Ear Cells and Heart Cells

The low-power infrared light pulses in the study were generated by a diode -- "the same thing that's in a laser pointer, just a different wavelength," Rabbitt says.

The scientists exposed the cells to infrared light in the laboratory. The heart cells in the study were newborn rat heart muscle cells called cardiomyocytes, which make the heart pump. The inner-ear cells are hair cells, and came from the inner-ear organ that senses motion of the head. The hair cells came from oyster toadfish, which are well-establish models for comparison with human inner ears and the sense of balance.

Inner-ear hair cells "convert the mechanical vibration from sound, gravity or motion into the signal that goes to the brain" via adjacent nerve cells, says Rabbitt.

Using infrared radiation, "we were stimulating the hair cells, and they dumped neurotransmitter onto the neurons that sent signals to the brain," Rabbitt says.

He believes the inner-ear hair cells are activated by infrared radiation because "they are full of mitochondria, which are a primary target of this wavelength."

The infrared radiation affects the flow of calcium ions in and out of mitochondria -- something shown by the companion study in neonatal rat heart cells.

That is important because for "excitable" nerve and muscle cells, "calcium is like the trigger for making these cells contract or release neurotransmitter," says Rabbitt.

The heart cell study found that an infrared pulse lasting a mere one-5,000th of a second made mitochondria rapidly suck up calcium ions within a cell, then slowly release them back into the cell -- a cycle that makes the cell contract.

"Calcium does that normally," says Rabbitt. "But it's normally controlled by the cell, not by us. So the infrared radiation gives us a tool to control the cell. In the case of the [inner-ear] neurons, you are controlling signals going to the brain. In the case of the heart, you are pacing contraction."

New Possibilities for Optical versus Electrical Cochlear Implants

Rabbitt believes the research -- including a related study of the cochlea last year -- could lead to better cochlear implants that would use optical rather than electrical signals.

Existing cochlear implants convert sound into electrical signals, which typically are transmitted to eight electrodes in the cochlea, a part of the inner ear where sound vibrations are converted to nerve signals to the brain. Eight electrodes can deliver only eight frequencies of sound, Rabbitt says.

"A healthy adult can hear more than 3,000 different frequencies. With optical stimulation, there's a possibility of hearing hundreds or thousands of frequencies instead of eight. Perhaps someday an optical cochlear implant will allow deaf people to once again enjoy music and hear all the nuances in sound that a hearing person would enjoy."

Unlike electrical current, which spreads through tissue and cannot be focused to a point, infrared light can be focused, so numerous wavelengths (corresponding to numerous frequencies of sound) could be aimed at different cells in the inner ear.

Nerve cells that send sound signals from the ears to the brain can fire more than 300 times per second, so ideally, a cochlear implant using infrared light would be able to perform as well. In the Utah experiments, the researchers were able to apply laser pulses to hair cells to make adjacent nerve cells fire up to 100 times per second. For a cochlear implant, the nerve cells would be activated within infrared light instead of the hair cells.

Rabbitt cautioned it may be five to 10 years before the development of cochlear implants that run optically. To be practical, they need a smaller power supply and light source, and must be more power efficient to run on small batteries like a hearing aid.

Optical Prosthetics for Movement, Balance and Vision Disorders

Electrical deep-brain stimulation now is used to treat movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease and "essential tremor, which causes rhythmic movement of the limbs so it becomes difficult to walk, function and eat," says Rabbitt.

He is investigating whether optical rather than electrical deep-brain stimulation might increase how long the treatment is effective.

Rabbitt also sees potential for optical implants to treat balance disorders.

"When we get old, we shuffle and walk carefully, not because our muscles don't work but because we have trouble with balance," he says. "This technology has potential for restoring balance by restoring the signals that the healthy ear sends to the brain about how your body is moving in space."

Optical stimulation also might provide artificial vision in people with retinitis pigmentosa or other loss of retinal cells -- the eye cells that detect light and color -- but who still have the next level of cells, known as ganglia, Rabbitt says.

"You would wear glasses with a camera [mounted on the frames] and there would be electronics that would convert signals from the camera into pulses of infrared radiation that would be patterned onto the diseased retina that normally does not respond to light but would respond to the pulsed infrared radiation" to create images, he says.

Hearing and vision implants that use optical rather than electrical signals do not have to penetrate the brain or other nerve tissue because infrared light can penetrate "quite a bit of tissue," so devices emitting the light "have potential for excellent biocompatibility," Rabbitt says. "You will be able to implant optical devices and leave them there for life."

The heart cell study was led by Rabbitt, with University of Utah bioengineering doctoral student Gregory Dittami as first author. Co-authors were Suhrud Rajguru, a former Utah doctoral student now at Northwestern University in Chicago; Utah doctoral student Richard Lasher; and Robert Hitchcock, an assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Utah.

Rabbitt's coauthors on the inner-ear study included first author Rajguru; Dittami; Claus-Peter Richter and Agnella Matic of Northwestern University; neuroscientist Gay Holstein of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York; and neuroscientist Stephen Highstein of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.

Most Obese Mothers and Children Underestimate Their Weight

A growing number of obese Americans perceive themselves as being slimmer than they actually are. A new study from Columbia University Medical Center in New York shows that among more than 200 obese mothers and children, this continuing trend may be putting many at greater risk of serious health issues. Findings of the new research were recently presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Atlanta, Georgia.

About one-third of children and two-thirds of adults living in the U.S. are now either overweight or obese. With the growing problem of obesity in America, it appears that the perception of being overweight is being re-defined in such a way as to lead many who are in serious need of losing weight to see their weight as being normal. In light of this dangerous trend, it comes as no surprise that the rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases continue to rise.

For their study, the researchers interviewed 111 women, and 111 children ranging in age from 7 to 13, to gather information regarding age, income and body size. In addition, the height, weight, and body mass index measurements of each participant were taken. Approximately 80 of subjects were Hispanic, and the rest were either black, Asian or white. Among the group, about 66 percent of the Mothers, and 39 percent of the children were either overweight or obese.

The participants were shown images of body silhouettes depicting various body weights ranging from underweight and normal weight, to overweight, obese, and extremely obese. When the subjects compared themselves to the silhouettes, findings showed that 82 percent of obese women, and 42.5 percent of overweight women underestimated their weight. In addition, about 13 percent of women having a normal viewed themselves as being thinner than they were. Among the children in the study, 86 percent of those who were overweight or obese underestimated their weight, as did 15 percent of those being of normal weight.

But it didn’t stop there. In addition to misguided self-perceptions about weight, close to half of the study participants projected the lighter image to their family members. Findings showed that 47.5 of mothers of overweight or obese children thought their children were at a healthy weight, while 41 percent of children whose mothers were overweight or obese thought their parent needed to lose weight.

Regarding the findings, lead author of the study, Nicole E. Dumas, M.D., an internal medicine resident at Columbia, “A lot of their misperception has to do with the fact that overweight and obesity is becoming the norm.” She also pointed out, “There was a trend that showed that as women became more and more overweight, and then obese, the larger the misperception of true body weight was. Unfortunately, we found this was the case with the children as well.”

Although Dumas acknowledged that the findings may not be respesentative of the American population as a whole, she noted that other studies have found similar trends. Indeed, in a 2009 survey, when participants were asked to evaluate their weight stage based on their body mass index, thirty percent of those measuring in the overweight class said they were of normal weight, while 70 percent of the obese respondents believed they were only overweight. In addition, sixty percent of morbidly obese respondents said they were merely obese.

Similarly, in the report F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010, published by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, researchers found that an increasing number of children are either overweight or obese and that their parents are in denial. Parents who were polled about their children overwhelmingly—to the tune of 84 percent— rated their children as having a normal or healthy weight, while in fact that was not true in many of the cases.

With obesity affecting more than 30 percent of adults, as well as over 30 percent of children in America, it’s time to cut the calories and get more exercise. Our nation’s health is at stake, and we all need to take responsibility for our own individual health as well as that of our families.

New Study Shows the Cold Busting Properties of Zinc

Taking zinc supplements could be your best weapon in the battle against the common cold. According to a new study recently published in the health care journal The Cochrane Library, zinc can reduce the severity and duration of the cold virus and possibly even prevent the virus altogether.

Researchers from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India examined data gathered from fifteen trials on more than 1,300 participants. Their findings showed that cold sufferers who began taking zinc in the form of tablets, lozenges, or syrup within a day of the onset of symptoms experienced curative effects. In addition, participants who took zinc regularly for at least five months saw a reduction of the number of colds they contracted.

Zinc is a trace mineral necessary to the basic biological process, such as with cell division. As for how zinc can fight the common cold, it may contain antiviral properties, or possibly prevent the release of histamine and prostaglandin, which are known to increase inflammation in the nose that contributes to stuffiness, pain, and sneezing.

Previous studies have touted the effectiveness of zinc against the common cold in regards to both prevention and a reduction in the duration of symptoms. This latest study serves as confirmation of past findings. In a statement, lead researcher Meenu Singh of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research acknowledged, “This review strengthens the evidence for zinc as a treatment for the common cold.”

According to the research team’s press release, “At seven days, more of the patients who took zinc had cleared their symptoms compared to those who took placebos.” The statement also noted, “Children who took zinc syrup or lozenges for five months or longer caught fewer colds and took less time off school. Zinc also reduced antibiotic use in children, which is important because overuse has implications for antibiotic resistance.”

Contrary to popular belief, cold temperatures do not cause the common cold. The virus is spread by droplets coming from a person who has already been infected. However, droplets released by a cough or sneeze have more favorable conditions to travel farther and remain in the air longer on a cold and dry day, and the dryness of nasal passages during cold weather only adds to this effect.

People also tend to spend more time indoors during winter, which increases the frequency of close contact with one another, and boosts the likelihood of virus transmission. In addition, viruses remain in common space areas such as elevators and break rooms, as well as on surfaces such as countertops, doorknobs, and telephones.

The normal duration of a cold is about seven days, and although the virus may make you more susceptible to other bacterial infections, it does not cause them. Therefore, if your symptoms begin to improve and then worsen over a period of days, a visit to your doctor is advisable.

As to the outcome of the new study, it is not yet clear as to what dosage of zinc is sufficient for the prevention and cure of the cold virus. The researchers concluded that “at the moment, it is still difficult to make a general recommendation, because we do not know very much about the optimum dose, formulation or length of treatment.” Future investigations into the matter will be necessary to make any definite determinations.

For now, the best preventive measure against the cold virus is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as your backup. In addition, getting a sufficient amount of sleep can cut your risk of getting a respiratory infection. Research has also shown that regular exercise can help ward off the common cold. And, of course, a healthy diet including zinc can’t hurt. If you already have a cold, cough into your elbow instead of your hands to lessen the likelihood of your cold spreading to others.

Five Things Facebook Should Fix Immediately

Let me start with two questions. Why is it that such a successful company as Facebook feels like it needs to change and reinvent its interface constantly? And why are we so complacent with these changes that, quite literally, disrupt our online social lives?

We have seen how social media is changing the world around us, yet we don’t have a say in its progress. Undeniably, Facebook is already part of all of our lives, even for non-users.

We shouldn’t take the site for granted. After all, it has over half a billion users. Alternatively, we should not allow it to take us—their users—for granted either. I remember back when I was heavily using Digg, they made so many changes, that it was all too hard to follow. At around version 4, I couldn’t use it anymore and therefore left the site.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of new design and up-to-date features. But when one has such a large community of users, you need to make changes carefully and not force your members to suffer through your own growing pains. It’s true, we can all leave the site if we are upset with the changes. No one is forcing us to be members. But most of us don’t want to leave. We want to be part of this community. Facebook should acknowledge some of the problems that need to be resolved and show appreciation for the mass following they have built before it slips away.

I’d like to highlight 5 critical problems that Facebook needs to fix immediately:

One day I saw this update on my Facebook feed: “If one more person adds me to a group, I’m sending you to the unfriended land.” I easily related to this, can’t you? I don’t know what Facebook was thinking by letting anyone add you to a group, and start sending messages as a default setting. That’s like saying: Hello spam, come visit me more often. And yes, your Facebook friends are the biggest spammers in the world, they just might not know it.

By the time I wake up in the morning, my mailbox has at least two new group invites (I’m not sure we can even call them invites), and email discussions around this group, mostly from people that have no clue why this group owner added them. Couldn’t you handle this one better Facebook? Shouldn’t I get an email suggesting that I join this group in the first place? And thank god, my chatbox is closed most of the time because if I had to get all of those Group discussions inside chat, I’d go nuts. I’m a member of my high school’s group (something that is always nice to remember) but I know some people that left the group since the chat was too annoying for them and they didn’t want to deal with (nor understand) the odd settings. So rant number one: Make groups less spammy.

Photo Viewer

I wanted to leave this section open and let you all say whatever that comes to your mind.. but I feel like I must say it out loud: What the hell?!

How did this design replace the previous one? The user experience is so completely wrong here. The light box annoys the eye and basically it is just a bad visual that doesn’t fit the overall design of the site. A photo viewer is for viewing pictures, but the pictures are now displayed in a smaller format so you get a poorer experience than before. Why did you fix something that wasn’t broken, Facebook?

And before you tell me to click F5 and forget about it, I don’t want to and I shouldn’t have to either. I think it looks bad, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, and since photos are a huge part of the site, I also don’t think it’s a good idea to change it from good to worse. Usually, it goes the other way around.

To have a world of possibilities is sometimes great and sometimes confusing. I love both Foursquare and Gowalla, and only lately have I started to use Facebook Places. But when it comes to choosing one service, Facebook is my last choice. Why? You can’t connect it to Twitter. Perhaps Facebook thinks all my friends are on Facebook, but even so, if I want them to know where I am, I’d like to extend this ability to make sure they’ll be able to see my statuses from other platforms as well. I still don’t get why Facebook is so closed. If people want privacy they can set their own personal choices. What if other people want to share more? I think Facebook should allow it. After all, it’s a “social” network, right?

I can honestly say that I haven’t switched from the old messaging platform to the new one. But I’ve noticed people sending me up to 10 emails when they meant to send only one. Most people don’t know how to fix this so they always just apologize for sending too many messages, which results in even more messages. Overall, it looks like Facebook is trying to make everything behave like chat (i.e., new commenting system) when chat is not something everyone feels comfortable using all the time.

Now, I don’t want to say Facebook is evil, but I don’t really understand how they could dismiss the customized tabs so easily after people worked so hard on them, and many companies were built specifically around this creation space. Yes, I know you can still see tabs, but not as prominently as before. Again, this was to me at least the part of Facebook that was fun and now has been marginalized. With the latest changes from FBML to Iframe, many users who could create customized tabs on their own have been left with obsolete skills. Seriously, if a company asked me if it’s worth it to create something from the Facebook API, I’d say it’s a risky situation since Facebook so easily changes things solely for their own benefit. Tabs are one great example of that. I would never expect them to change such a great feature. One that really gave users and brands the feeling of ownership but, alas they did…

Remember when it used to be so much fun to use Facebook? When you had games right in your face (not just news), when you could see your connections from Flickr, Youtube, and other sites, when it was just a more friendly place? I miss that.

Amazon Beats Apple And Google To Cloud-Based Music Storage/Streaming

Well, the rumors were true. Not only is Amazon entering the “music locker” space, they’re doing it before both Google and Apple — as their “Cloud Drive” and “Cloud Player” have just gone live on their site tonight.

Cloud Drive is the name Amazon is giving to its media storage space on their servers. They give you 5 GB of storage for free and allow you to access the media from any computer. Cloud Player is the name of yes, the actual player. And it comes in two flavors: a player for the web, and one for Android devices. You’ll note an absence of an iOS player…

A bit more:

    * Any album bought through Amazon MP3 is stored for free in your Cloud Drive — a very nice perk.
    * If you buy one album from Amazon MP3, they’ll upgrade your Cloud Drive storage to 20 GB for free for a year — another nice perk.
    * Normally, 20 GB of Drive storage will cost $20 for a year. 50 GB is $50. 100 GB is $100. And so on. All the way up to 1 TB for $1,000.
    * The Cloud Drive storage isn’t just for music — Amazon notes that 1 TB will hold 70 hours of HD video.
    * Other files can be uploaded — this includes music, movies, photos, and even documents.
    * The MP3 uploader accepts MP3 or AAC files, but they must be DRM-free (.wma, .wav, .ogg and others are not supported)
    * Old Amazon MP3 purchases aren’t put in your Cloud Drive, only new purchases going forward (though you can manually upload).
    * The Android Cloud Player is built into the Amazon MP3 app — it’s in both the Android Market and Amazon’s new Appstore.
    * This is for U.S. customers only for the time being.
    * Cloud Player for the web works on IE 8 and above, Firefox 3.5 and above, Chrome, and Safari. There is no Opera support. And Flash is required (but for uploads only).
    * There’s also a stand-alone uploader app for Mac and PC.
    * You can’t upload music from your mobile device “at this time”.

So there you go, Amazon has won the race of the big three to deliver a fully cloud-supported music option. Current whispers have Google launching something very similar at their I/O conference in May. And Apple is working on a similar concept as well — but it may not launch until this fall. At least that was the original plan, Amazon’s move may alter things, obviously.

RJ Shiva's next film!

RJ turned actor Shiva delighted everyone with his comic performance in films like Chennai-28, Saroja and Tamizh Padam. The actor's next film is titled 'Sivapoojayil Karadi' and is being directed by Rama Narayan. The film is touted to be a complete comic caper and the shooting is complete. The post production works are going on in full throttle now. The movie will release once the results of the upcoming elections are out.

Shiva is happy to have finished this film and told the media that he is working on his own script and wants to transfer it to the celluloid. The actor is also doing a cameo in Jiiva's Ko directed by KV Anand. We wish Shiva all the very best on his next film's release and hope that his script will be made into a film soon.

Vikram’s next with Katrina Kaif

Vikram is wrapping up work on Deiva Thirumagan and is all set to begin work on a brand new exciting project. The film is to be called Karikalan and it will be directed by Kannan who has been responsible for the graphics in director Shankar’s movies. Karikalan is expected to be a mega budget entertainer with impressive special effects.

It is to be produced by Silver Line Film Factory, the makers of the recent Singam Puli. The buzz is that Katrina Kaif will be the heroine as she is said to be perfect for the part and the entire team is keen that she be a part of this project. Harris Jayaraj will do the music.

Sakshi is back

Sakshi who starred in films like Puthaiyal, Vedam, and Manasthan got married and chose to take a break from films. The slender actress will be seen after a long hiatus in a dance sequence for director Ameer’s Adibaghavan.

The film has Jeyam Ravi and Neetu Chandra doing the lead roles. Sakshi will provide the spice in this movie with a sizzling number. A huge set has been erected for the dance and as many as 150 dancers will be flown in from abroad. Sakshi is rehearsing diligently and is thrilled to don the greasepaint and face the camera again.

Sneha in tears!

Sneha who is famous for her dazzling smile, had reason to cry recently. But they were tears of joy. She participated in a cultural program at Panimalar Engineering College recently and was overwhelmed with the love and affection showered on her by the students. Her presence was a source of excitement for all present and they made sure that she enjoyed every minute of her visit.

The students had prepared a video presentation on her life and its best moments. Sneha was deeply moved when she saw it and when she went up onstage to thank those who were responsible, she burst into tears saying that she had been to many college functions in the past but never before had she experienced so much warmth and appreciation for her work.

The charming actress thanked the students profusely and wished them all luck for the future, saying that she would include them all in her prayers for success. She said that she would never forget this experience and as an actress it was moments like this that made all the hard work worthwhile and enriched her life.

Gilani Coming With Senior Ministers To Mohali

Islamabad : Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will be accompanied by ex-premier Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and several of his Cabinet colleagues, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik, for his visit to Mohali tomorrow to watch the World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan, a media report said today.

Awami National Party chief Asfandyar Wali Khan, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan, Sports Minister Engineer Shaukatullah, Postal Services Minister Muhammad Gorgage and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar will also accompany Gilani,'The News' daily reported.

Former minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, the spokesman of the ruling PPP, party lawmaker Sherry Rehman, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam parliamentarian Laiq Muhammad Khan and Muttahida Qaumi Movement's Farooq Sattar will also be part of the Premier's delegation, the report said.

Several political parties are sending their leaders with Gilani as an expression of solidarity, it said.The main opposition PML-N is yet to nominate its representative for the visit, the first by Gilani to India after he became the Premier in 2008.

However, there was no official word on the delegation that would accompany Gilani to Mohali.Gilani is visiting India at the invitation of his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh to watch the semi-final of the World Cup.

The two Prime Ministers are expected to spend over five hours in a special box at the Mohali stadium though no formal talks have been scheduled so far, the report said.

Singh will host a dinner for Gilani and his delegation before his departure for Pakistan after the game.The two Prime Ministers have met twice on the sidelines on international and regional meetings - once at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in 2009 and again in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu last year.

They will meet again a day after the talks between the Home and Interior Secretaries of India and Pakistan that marked the formal resumption of dialogue between the two sides after a gap of over two years in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. PTI

Win Mohali, Get 25 Acres Land: Pak Punjab CM's Offer To Cricketers

Lahore, :  Pakistan's Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has announced that each member of the national cricket team will be given 25 acres of fertile land if they beat India in the high-profile World Cup semi-final match.

"My government will give 25 acres of fertile land to each member of the team as a prize if they beat India," Sharif said during a news conference yesterday.

"The Pakistani cricket team deserves appreciation from the nation for displaying outstanding performance in different matches of the World Cup. We are praying for its success," he said.

Sharif advised the Pakistani players not to come under pressure for the crucial game against arch-rival India.

Pakistan will play against India tomorrow in high-voltage semi-final match of the World Cup in Indian Punjab, not far from the Pakistani Punjab. PTI

Kashmir Not On Agenda In Mohali : Pak Info Minister

Islamabad, March 29: Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers will only be watching the Mohali match  and will not discuss the Kashmir issue, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan clarified  on Monday night after a cabinet meeting, The Dawn reported.

Briefing newsmen,  Firdous Ashiq Awan said that primarily the prime minister was going to watch the Pakistan-India cricket match, and `not to discuss the Kashmir issue`, but she hastened to add that the two prime ministers could discuss anything on the occasion.

In reply to a question, she said the Foreign Office and Pakistan`s High Commission in New Delhi were working to fully utilise the occasion for improvement of relations between the two countries.

She said that the occasion would be utilised to bridge the communication gap between the leaderships of the two countries through this gesture of goodwill of the Indian government.

She said Prime Minister Gilani believed that the invitation was a significant way forward on the diplomatic front and the government had accepted it in the larger interest of the country.

Since Friday when Prime Minister Singh extended the invitation to Gilani to join him at Mohali to witness the World Cup semi-final, political pundits, in particular, and the media, in general, have been terming it a major development towards friendly relations between the two countries. After the Mumbai attacks, India had suspended the composite dialogue with Pakistan.

Asked if the government had taken the security establishment (read Pak Army)  and opposition parties into confidence before accepting the invitation of the Indian prime minister, the minister said all stakeholders had been taken on board.

But the Awami National Party, which is part of the federal government, was not sure if the prime minister had talked to the leaders of other political parties about his trip to India.

The minister said because of limited availability of tickets for the match, the government could not take as many people to Mohali as it wanted.

Everything will become clear by Tuesday about the composition of the prime ministerial entourage and the issues which could be discussed during the meeting, she said.

Ms Firdous said the keenness to accompany the prime minister was such that she too would have missed the trip had she not been information minister. The government was still trying its best to accommodate more people, but it all depended on how many guests the Indian authorities allowed, she added.

She refused to get into the controversial statement made by Interior Minister Rehman Malik that  intelligence agencies were monitoring members of the national cricket team so that match-fixing didn`t happen.

“Once head of the federal cabinet, Prime Minister Gilani, is himself going to India to buck up our team, the statement by one minister shouldn`t demoralise the players,” she said.

Firdous remarked that she believed that there was a need to encourage people-to-people contacts and the government had directed the Pakistan High Commission for ensuring visas for journalists, but the Indian authorities declined by saying that there was lack of space.

However, she said that the Indian side had welcomed the visit of all those having match tickets.

Japan On 'Maximum Alert' Over Nuclear Crisis: PM

Osaka,  : Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan today said his government is in a "state of maximum alert" over the crisis at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, Jiji Press reported.

Kan told a lower house budget committee meeting that the situation "continues to be unpredictable" and that the government "will tackle the problem while in a state of maximum alert," Jiji reported.

Radiation worries have disrupted efforts to restart the cooling system of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was battered by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that left more than 28,000 people dead or missing.

Plutonium has been detected in soil at the facility northeast of Tokyo and highly contaminated water has leaked from a reactor building, the operator said yesterday, while nearby seawater has shown high iodine readings. (AFP)

Wikileaks: Mystery Of Two Pink Boxes In Mumbai Probe

New Delhi : The Hindu in a US embassy cable procured from Wikileaks on Tuesday reported that United States officials believed that a pink foam-covered box found at one of the 26/11 Mumbai attack sites was crucial to proving the Pakistani links to the attacks, but complained that India was “not forthcoming” about sharing information about it.

A U.S. Embassy cable from Islamabad (204888: confidential) sent by Charge d'Affaires Gerald Feierstein on April 30, 2009, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, spoke of Pakistani officials handing over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation a similar box from investigations on Pakistan's side.

The cable said this was “possibly the most important piece of evidence shared [by Pakistan] with the FBI,” and that an analysis of the boxes could help prove that the conspiracy was hatched in Pakistan.

“For successful analysis, the FBI still needs the GOI to provide samples of the pink box in India,” the cable said, but pointed to India's reluctance to do so as a significant hurdle” in the successful prosecution of the case in Pakistan.

The cables do not say if India finally shared this bit of evidence. Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) found the pink box at a training camp the Mumbai attackers attended in the Sindh province. The cable did not mention the location of the camp.

The investigators handed it over to the U.S. Embassy's Legal Attache, a designated FBI official in U.S. diplomatic missions. The cable noted the turning over of physical evidence by the FIA to the FBI as a significant development.

“The release of physical evidence is a very sensitive issue, and one that could affect the success of the GOP's prosecution.

The FIA stressed that this sharing of evidence has to be kept quiet, as any leaks would endanger the prosecution,” the cable cautioned. Going by the cable, U.S. officials also assisted the Pakistani investigators to prepare the prosecution case.

“Embassy Legatt [Legal Attache] continues to meet with the FIA investigative team on the technical aspects of the Mumbai investigation and prosecution. Currently Legatt is assisting FIA to prepare evidentiary materials for the court trial and the filing of a formal charge sheet,” the cable said.

The cable emphasised that in order to successfully prosecute the five men in judicial custody — LeT operations commander Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Hammad Ameen Sadiq, Mazhar Iqbal (aka al Qama), Abdul Wajid (aka Zarrar Shah), and Shahid Jamil Riaz — “the GOP [Government of Pakistan] still needs significant evidence sharing from both the U.S. and India. Additionally, U.S. legal expertise will be important in helping to frame third-country evidence in the most effective form for convictions.”

Under the sub-heading “Significant Hurdles,” the cable said acquiring some of the information that Pakistan needed for a successful prosecution would require “high-level intervention” from the relevant governments.

“The two pink boxes found in Pakistan and India are a strong link that proves the conspiracy behind the attacks originated in Pakistan. The GOP has passed its pink box to the FBI. The FBI still requires samples from the foam and glue that make up the box found in India. The GOI has not been forthcoming with this evidence.”

India did give the green light for sharing one piece of information. On April 27, according to the cable, the Embassy Legatt shared FBI information about a Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT) subgroup believed to be responsible for the Mumbai attack.

“The information provided biographic leads on LeT members for the FIA to pursue.

According to the information, an LeT subgroup, headed by Saifullah Muzzamil, and under the direction of LeT operation commander Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, is suspected of planning, training, and execution of the Mumbai attacks. The information provided includes a list of suspected ‘Muzzamil' group members.

Saifullah Muzzamil, the group leader, is responsible for LeT operations in four districts of Kashmir and is also allowed to conduct independent attacks in other parts of India.

The ‘Muzzamil' group was established in late 2001, or early 2002, after Muzzamil's return from fighting in Kashmir.” It is not known what, if any, action Pakistan took on the basis of this information.

Thackeray Flays PM Over Cricket Invite To Pak President, PM

Mumbai, : The Congress may call it a "holistic" approach towards friendly relations with Pakistan, but Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray has flayed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for inviting his Pakistani counterpart to the March 30 World Cup cricket semi-final match. 

"Why should injustice be done to Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru? They should also be invited to the match," the Sena chief said in a hard-hitting editorial in party mouthpiece `Saamana'.

"Instead of adopting a harsh stance against the enemy country, Singh is laying down the carpet," Thackeray said.  

"If Pak President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani can be invited for the match in the name of peace, why should injustice be done to Kasab and Guru," he said, of the main accused in the Mumbai terror attacks and the Parliament attack.

"Pakistani leaders in the past watched cricket matches in India but that did not result in a change of heart and India continues to be a target of terror attacks from across the border," Thackeray said.

However, backing the fresh round of cricket diplomacy, Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari said in Delhi, "India has always been desirous of friendly relations with Pakistan.  Notwithstanding setbacks, successive Indian administrations have made overtures to the authorities there, civilian or military."

"We have always been firm that there is minimum requirement for normalistion of relations. We have certain expectations from Pakistan particularly in regard to terrorism and we have never made any compromises on that. It is a holistic approach towards Pakistan," he said describing it as a well thought out move. PTI

Govt Acting Fast On Fake Pilot Licence Scam: Vayalar Ravi

Thiruvanathapuram, Mar 28: The government is “acting very fast” in taking action against those linked to the fake pilot licence scam and has set up an independent committee to audit all 40 flying schools in the country, Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi said here today.

“The Union government is acting fast on the matter. The aviation ministry had set up an independent committee which will audit all the 40 flying schools in the country,” he said at a press meet, on a query on whether the probe was going slow.

Ravi said action had to be taken step by step and that all pilots cannot be grounded and checked. “And we can’t arrest every officer in the DGCA. It is not possible.”

He said a few officers in DGCA were involved in the scam.  “We have suspended one and he is now in jail. Others will be arrested according to law as the investigation progresses.”

Ravi said all fake pilot training institutions would be sealed and such schools would not be allowed to exploit students who were paying huge amounts.

“We will also change the rules to see educated people come in. Graduation should be the minimum qualification,” he said.

The Minister said complaints were being examined by the authorities. A meeting of airline officials and DGCA was called to discuss the issue, he said.

“Directions have been given to see that DGCA is informed about any small error on the part of pilots. I can assure you that we will take action against every fake pilot,” he said. PTI

PAC Summons Niira Radia, Ratan Tata On Apr 4 In 2G Case

New Delhi, : Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has summoned corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and Tata Group Chairperson Ratan Tata on April 4 to discuss their role in the 2-G Spectrum allocation case.

Sources said the PAC will meet on April 4 and 5 to discuss the 2-G spectrum allocation case which had led to the resignation of Telecom Minister A Raja. He was later arrested and is still in custody.

“Niira Radia and Ratan Tata have been called on April 4 to discuss their role in the 2-G allocation. On April 5, representatives of four companies - Swan Telecom, Reliance, Airtel and Unitech - have been asked to present themselves,” they said.

After editors of ‘Outlook’ and ‘Open’ magazines were called in the 2-G spectrum case to question them on the revelations made in their respective publications about tapes regarding Radia’s telephonic conversations with captains of industry and important journalists, it was clear that she would be summoned by the PAC.

PAC Chairperson Murli Manohar Joshi as well as several members of the panel had expressed “satisfaction and happiness” with the deposition made by Vinod Mehta (Outlook) and Manu Joseph (Open).

The tapes brought to light Radia allegedly lobbying with journalists and important people to influence formation of the UPA-II cabinet, especially the Telecom portfolio. Radia is allegedly heard in the tapes making a case for Raja to get the telecom portfolio and ensure that Dayanidhi Maran (also of DMK) is kept out.

Ratan Tata also figures in some of these purported conversations with Radia.

Representatives of four key players and alleged beneficiaries, namely Reliance (Anil Ambani Group), Airtel, Swan Telecom and Unitech, have been summoned on April 5.

Tata and Reliance are clients of Radia’s Vaishnavi Communications.

Swan Telecom, now DB Etisalat, chief Shahid Usman Balwa is already in custody in the 2-G Spectrum case. PTI

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