Cuba: 'Scientific Cooperation Can Overcome Climate Change'

Cuba's minister of Science, Technology and Environment spoke Friday on the importance of global scientific cooperation to build "resilient societies" to overcome climate change.

"It is impossible to advance in the adoption of adequate measures to make out societies more resilient to climate change without the support of science," Science Minister Elba Rosa Perez said.

She emphasized Cuba's will to cooperate and share scientific knowledge with its Caribbean neighbors and other countries in order to create the kind of international scientific cooperation necessary to tackle the problem.

The Caribbean, she said, faces among the highest risks from climate change of any region in the world, and so it is essential that scientific efforts are aware of the imminent risk faced and the necessity to work hard to achieve both mitigation and adaptation.

The remarks were made at the International Science School of the United Nations in Havana, a project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). It's a joint effort by Unesco and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment of the Republic of Cuba.

Havana's International Science School was held to "provide a space for collective learning in relation to environmental adaptation in the Caribbean," according to Unesco.

"This capacity-building event is conceived as a knowledge-brokering exercise that will bring together academics, public officials and representatives from civil society, prioritizing young participants and women."

Cuba Calls 15th International Meeting on Criminal Sciences

The 14th International Meeting on Criminal Sciences and the 2nd Event on Legality, Law and Society concluded in this capital with a call to a new edition of the event.

At the closing ceremony at Havana's Conference Center, the Attorney General of the Republic of Cuba invited the delegates to participate in the next meetings, scheduled for March 2020.

Both meetings will be co-sponsored by the National Association of Cuban Lawyers, the Law Faculty of the University of Havana, the People's Supreme Court, the National Organization of Collective Law Offices and the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba.

The call is mainly addressed to prosecutors, attorneys, lawyers, judges, police officers, prison workers, criminal lawyers, criminologists, victimologists, experts in forensic medicine and forensic psychiatrists.

Officials who attend to minor who are victims of crimes or suffer from behavioral disorders, psychologists, sociologists, controllers, auditors, economists, legal advisors, professors and university students can also attend the meeting.

Among the main issues to be discussed are human trafficking, transnational crime, cybercrime, prevention and confrontation with drug and migrant traffickers, economic and civil servants' crimes, asset laundering, illegal trafficking in minors and sexual exploitation.

Other issues that will be analyzed are environmental crime, the fight against corruption, immigration laws, terrorism and the execution of sentences on persons deprived of their freedom.

  • Published in Cuba

CUBA - U.S.: Lives waiting for a visa

Despite the restrictions and impact of the blockade, Cuba has developed world class scientific centers. Photo: Fonticoba Gener

CAR T-cell therapy, effective against several types of cancer, can make a life and death difference for patients in critical condition. The United States is a leader in the field, and only a few developed countries have the technology to provide it.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) awarded a fellowship to Darel Martínez, a specialist at Cuba's Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM), to learn about the treatment at an internationally recognized center in the United States.

"The objective was to begin a project to generate CAR T-cells in Cuba and establish collaboration with the leading groups in this arena," the 35 year-old PhD biologist, who studied at the University of Havana, told Granma.

Martínez was set to travel to the United States last October, but the suspension of U.S. consular services in Cuba has prevented him from obtaining the necessary scientific collaboration visa.

Based on an unfounded and scientifically implausible pretext, this past September the State Department withdrew the majority of its diplomatic staff in Cuba and almost completely suspended the issuing of visas, with the exception of those for officials or diplomats. At the same time, the U.S. demanded that 17 Cuban staff members at the Cuban mission in Washington leave the country.

After three months of investigations, U.S. authorities themselves acknowledged that there is no evidence to substantiate "sonic attacks" on diplomats in Havana, the alleged reason for these drastic steps.

Nevertheless, the unjustified, unilateral measures remain in place, negatively affecting academic, scientific, sports, cultural, and family exchanges.

"CAR T-cell therapy is one of the most novel and costly to fight cancer. Thus far, it has had great results in cases of leukemia," the Cuban scientist stated.

The benefits for Cuba, he explains, would be introducing the platform and with that the products, which have already been registered here, as well as the possibility of developing others based on the country's experience in treating cancer.

"While for the American side, they could benefit from the CIM's experience in the production of monoclonal antibodies, which are necessary for the generation of

CAR T-cells," he noted.

Martínez recalls that the Trump administration's decision to suspend the issuing of visas arrived precisely when he had just submitted his paperwork to the U.S. embassy in Havana, "Instead of starting in October, we're still struggling to get the collaboration going."

In accordance with the new procedure established by the United States, Cubans interested in applying for a non-immigrant visa - a J1 in the case of Martínez, for scientific collaboration - can be processed in any U.S. consulate anywhere in the world, except Havana.

The Cuban scientist was obliged to notify his U.S. counterparts of the situation, who were in turn forced to incur extra expenses to complete the visa process in another country. All this with no guarantee that the visa will in fact be granted.

"They were wiling to cover these costs, which, of course means spending money that could have been used to finance my work or that of other persons," Martínez commented.

His case is not unique and the impact has been felt in other sectors, including culture and sports.

Seven Cuban athletes were not able to attend the World Weightlifting Championship in Anaheim, held last year, as a result of the suspension of consular services here.

Likewise, the uncertainty generated by the U.S. government's unjustified warning on travel to Cuba, one of the safest countries in the world, has affected visits by collaborators to the island.

Several scientists were scheduled to visit the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK), one of Cuba's most prestigious scientific centers, but cancelled their plans under pressure from U.S. authorities.

The Trump administration has "probably closed the door" on many Cuba-U.S. joint projects, according to John Van Horn, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.

The scientists from the U.S. were interested in the IPK's research on arboviruses, pathogens transmitted by mosquitoes that include Zika, Chikungunya, and dengue.

The U.S. National Institute of Health had even approved, this past June, four grants of up to 50,000 USD each, to support these projects. Nevertheless, the new circumstances obliged them to cancel the financial help, because of "difficulties with getting the money to Cuba."

"By affecting the functioning of both (embassies), exchanges of all kinds between Cuba and the United States are being affected, be they cultural, sports-related, or scientific, but also family interactions and relations," said Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal recently.

Despite the restrictions and impact of the blockade, Cuba has world class scientific centers and has produced its own medical treatments, largely unavailable in other undeveloped countries.

Among its most significant accomplishments, Cuba now cures 80% of children with leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. Likewise, it was the first country to be certified by the World Health Organization as having eliminated mother-infant transmission of HIV and syphilis.

  • Published in Specials

Cuba Contributes to Renewing Global Medicine, Said Neuro-Scientist

Cuban health system can make substantial contributions to new health trends worldwide, like precision medicine, said Professor Pedro Valdes, Deputy Director of the island''s Neuro Sciences Center.

Precision medicine represents a change of paradigm, as it is based on assessment, rules and algorithms to study the persons during all their lives and provide them with personalized care, the neuro-scientiest said at a presentation.

In his remarks, Valdes said that despite the trend gaining ground in the world, there's a big gap between rich and poor as in the developed nations it is exclusively benefiting high income people thus not turning into a major public health coverage.

However, Cuba is ideally located to serve as the intermediary between where the money is for research and those who need this kind of medicine, the doctor said.

Cuba has the experience of the family doctor and the prevention medicine approach centered on primary care, he explained, adding the island has been working for decades focused on precision medicine.

Therefore, the country has the experience to boost such medical trend and contribute to world public health, Valdes highlighted.

In his presentation, the doctor talked over Cuba's recent breakthroughs in international cooperation on connections of brain regions involved in cognitive and emotional functions and their repercussion in the diagnosis of degenerative, brain-vascular and psychiatric diseases.

He added the islands's main partners on this matter are China and Canada. The three nations are working to create a big data bases, which will contribute to boost precision medicine in a just manner.

Cloning, the Return of an Old Controversy

For the first time in the history of science, Chinese scientists managed to clone two primates, mammals that until now resisted such a technique.

The scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience, in Shanghai, changed the technique used in Dolly the sheep to create a theoretically limitless number of clones, a method called somatic cell nuclear transfer, which allows the development of identical clones from a cell of a sole individual.

The researchers, who published the results in the journal Cell, said that using this technique to raise primates is a breakthrough for biomedical research, since it will provide accurate genetic copies of the same animal and reduce the variability in the results when new drugs or other therapies are tested, hence, researches as those on cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's could benefit from the initiative, since primates are more genetically similar to humans than mice.

The team affirmed that the novel technique will not be used in humans, however, it triggered the fearful reaction of the scientific community and the opposition of organizations for animal protection.

Although a group of species have been already cloned, this new cloning arouses again the controversy on this issue, because even though the cloned monkeys are long-tailed macaques it raised the question of whether this represents a previous step to the cloning of humans.


Russian Airline Plane Crashes Killing All 71 on Board

A Saratov Airlines passenger plane crashed into a field a short time after it had taken off from the Domodedovo airport in Moscow. Officials say there are no survivors.

A major plane crash just outside of Moscow has left all 71 crew and passengers dead upon impact.

A Saratov Airlines passenger plane crashed into a field in Ramenski a short time after it had taken off from the Domodedovo airport in Moscow on its way to the city of Orsk some 1,500km from the capital. The pilot of the AN-148 short-haul aircraft lost contact with radio control two minutes before it hit the ground. The crew did not send out any distress signal prior to the accident.

The impact left human remains and debris scattered throughout the snow-covered field where the plane went down. The Russian Investigative Committee says there’s no chance of finding survivors.

Russian officials say they are investigating what caused the plane to fall, mainly taking into consideration human error, weather conditions, and the technical status of the eight-year-old craft. Outside temperatures hovered around negative 5 degrees Celsius at the time of the crash early this morning.

"The debris of the plane are spread over a radius of at least one kilometer. Investigators are using modern investigative equipment taking into consideration the large territory. They are using quadcopters to get a view from the air," Svetlana Petrenko of the investigatory committee told the press.

An emergency service official said the government is “verifying (eyewitness) testimonies” of the crash to help in the investigation.

The plane had carried 65 passengers and six Saratov Airlines crew members.

Cuba Hosts 6th Workshop of Basic Biomedical Sciences

The 6th Workshop on Basic Biomedical Sciences started today in this capital with a great international participation and the aim to continue raising the level of Cuban health professionals, recognized worldwide.

Today's agenda includes lectures on several issues such as genetics, nutrition, probiotics in medicine and preclinical and clinical data of the amniotic membrane, by renowned specialists from Spain, the United States and several Latin America nations.

This event welcomes doctors, stomatologists, nursing graduates and other specialists who are working or researching in the areas of the Basic Biomedical Sciences, the Cuban News Agency (ACN) stated.

Its objective is to raise the level of teachers and enrich the scientific production of medicine and biomedical science in the Caribbean country, the Head of Dissemination and Information at the University of Medical Sciences in Havana, Cosme More, said.

Courses, trainings and lectures related to the metabolic diseases, biomedical anthropology in vulnerable groups, experimental models in the basic science research, and neuro-protection in degenerative diseases are also included.

The event, which began on April 17th and will conclude tomorrow, is hosted at the 'Victoria de Giron' Institute of Basic and Preclinical Sciences, a leading center in Cuba to train highly qualified medical professionals, the organizing committee said.

  • Published in Now

First Known Dinosaur Brain Fossil Discovered

The 133-million-year-old specimen is a stunningly well-preserved sample of mineralized tissue from inside a Cretaceous dinosaur’s skull.

An unassuming lump found on a Sussex beach in 2004 contains the first known fossilized brain tissue from a dinosaur.

The 133-million-year-old fossil belongs to a relative of Iguanodon, an iconic herbivorous dinosaur that lived during the early Cretaceous. The fossil mostly consists of an endocast—a sediment cast of the skull cavity where the dinosaur’s brain resided.

Typically, endocasts give vital but indirect information about the brains of fossilized animals, as these sensitive organs are often the first to decay. But this endocast’s top surface contains microscopic features that appear to be directly mineralized bits of brain tissue.

Fossilized Dinosaur Brain Discovered in England

A piece of a dinosaur's brain has been found in Sussex, England. The fossilized brain tissue is thought to be from a species similar to Iguanodon, large herbivores that lived about 133 million years ago.

Fibrous textures across the endocast surface probably started as pieces of the meninges, the tough, protective membranes that envelop and nurture the brain. Mineralized networks of blood vessels—some smaller in width than a human hair—crisscross the surface. And tantalizingly, ripples in the preserved meninges might trace some of the folds in the cortex, the wrinkled outer layer of the brain.

“That is the nearest I suspect we’re ever going to get to the whole [brain],” says paleontologist David Norman of the University of Cambridge, one of the researchers who worked on the fossil. The remarkable find was announced on October 27 at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting in Utah.

High-resolution scans of the fossil revealed signs that the dinosaur’s meninges and overall brain structure resembled those of living birds and crocodilians. Although it’s tricky to extrapolate the dinosaur’s intelligence from the fossil, Norman and his colleagues say that based on it and other endocasts, the animal was at least as smart as modern crocodilians.

Pickled Brains

Soft tissue preservation in fossils is extremely rare, in part because it requires exacting chemical conditions to occur. Previously described dinosaur fossils have captured skin, organs, and even red blood cells. (Read about a fossil fish with an exquisitely preserved heart of stone.)

Based on the brain fossil’s minerals and orientation, Norman and his colleagues believe that the dinosaur sank into a stagnant pond after it died, flipping belly up as it descended to leave its head upside down and partially buried in the lake bed sediments.

The animal’s braincase served as a natural bowl, cradling the collapsed brain as the pond’s acidic, low-oxygen waters essentially pickled its membranes. As the waters ate away at the dinosaur’s blood and bone, the corrosion freed charged atoms that replaced the pickled tissues with minerals—preserving their impressions 133 million years later, down to the microscopic level.

The animal’s braincase served as a natural bowl, cradling the collapsed brain as the pond’s acidic, low-oxygen waters essentially pickled its membranes.

“It looks like a very exceptional specimen, for sure,” says Ohio University paleontologist Lawrence Witmer, an expert on dinosaur brain evolution who wasn’t involved with the study. “Soft tissue preservation of any kind gets us excited, and for those of us looking at the brain, potentially getting a glimpse into what the brain is like blows us away.”

The ancient brain first came to light in late 2004, when fossil hunter Jamie Hiscocks combed the beaches of Bexhill, some 50 miles southeast of London, after a winter storm. As he prowled the fossil-rich shore by torchlight, an unusually shaped object jumped out at him among the piles of rock debris.

In short order, Hiscocks and his brother concluded that the fossil was an endocast—but he remained struck by its unusual preservation, eventually leading him to ask Oxford paleobiologist Martin Brasier for his opinion.

“Martin knew immediately we had something special here, so I agreed to loan the specimen to him,” Hiscocks writes in an email. “In his initial email to me, he asked if I’d ever heard of dinosaur brain cells being preserved in the fossil record. I knew exactly what he was getting at. I was amazed to hear this coming from a world-renowned expert like him.

“Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would find anything like this,” continues Hiscocks. And he’s no stranger to significant discoveries: Hiscocks also found the world’s oldest spiderweb fossil, which was described in 2008.

In 2011, Brasier brought the brain fossil to the attention of Norman, his longtime friend and colleague. Norman’s first read: The endocast was mostly made of sediments encrusted with a thin layer of mineralized soft tissue. Brasier, on the other hand, was more bullish about the endocast, holding on to the hope that the fossil was an entire dinosaur brain.

“We then went into this prolonged argumentative debate between friends—the sort of stuff you argue about over a beer,” says Norman. But the two could never agree, leading Norman in 2013 to write down his interpretation of the fossil for Brasier’s reference.

But Brasier never replied to Norman in life: In December 2014, he died suddenly in a car crash, shocking the paleontological community.

A few months later, Brasier’s former Ph.D. student Alex Liu was sorting through Brasier’s papers when he came across Norman’s letter.

“Martin had gone through it in detail, and after each paragraph, [he had written] ‘agreed,’” says Norman. “He had completely turned around to my way of thinking,” he adds, even embracing Norman’s flip-and-pickle explanation for how the tissues mineralized.

Norman and Liu then resumed work on the fossil, conducting additional scans that revealed the extra details. Their paper will be included in a special publication of Earth System Evolution and Early Life from the Geological Society of London honoring Brasier’s life.

Smart Search

Future studies may reveal even more about the potential link between this ancient brain and the noggins of modern animals, including 3-D scans that directly compare the dinosaur’s brain structure to that of bird and crocodilian brains.

Amy Balanoff, a research scientist with Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution, says she isn’t yet fully convinced of the brain tissues, but she looks forward to seeing more detailed information about the fossil.

“Confirmation in science is a long process, and this publication is the first step toward that end,” she writes in an email. “I have a feeling that because this is such a sensational find, it will be thoroughly examined by the scientific community.”

To that end, Hiscocks and Norman are working to place the fossil, currently in Hiscock’s possession, in a publicly accessible museum collection.

Beyond its anatomical value, Norman and Witmer say that the Bexhill fossil’s real significance comes from how it expands the realm of possible tissues that can be preserved in the fossil record.

“These are the kinds of things we don’t expect to see, and what makes this [fossil] so important is that now we can look,” says Witmer. “Things that change our search image wind up being the most important finds.”

Although Norman doesn’t think that fossils like the Bexhill specimen will spark their own research program—he calls it “an interesting one-off”—he says he will double back to endocasts he has examined previously, to be sure he didn’t miss similarly revealing surface features.

“It never really occurred to me that there could be mineralization of the tissues in that area, because the brain is so fragile,” he says. “It’s putting a flag up the pole.”

People who meditate are more aware of their unconscious brain

People who meditate are more aware of their unconscious brain activity – or so a new take on a classic “free will” experiment suggests.

The results hint that the feeling of conscious control over our actions can vary – and provide more clues to understanding the complex nature of free will.

The famous experiment that challenged our notions of free will was first done in 1983 by neuroscientist Benjamin Libet. It involved measuring electrical activity in someone’s brain while asking them to press a button, whenever they like, while they watch a special clock that allows them to note the time precisely.

Typically people feel like they decide to press the button about 200 milliseconds before their finger moves – but the electrodes reveal activity in the part of their brain that controls movement occurs a further 350 milliseconds before they feel they make that decision. This suggests that in fact it is the unconscious brain that “decides” when to press the button.

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In the new study, a team at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, did a slimmed-down version of the experiment (omitting the brain electrodes), with 57 volunteers, 11 of whom regularly practised mindfulness mediation. The meditators had a longer gap in time between when they felt like they decided to move their finger and when it physically moved – 149 compared with 68 milliseconds for the other people.

This suggests they were recognising their unconscious brain activity earlier than most people, says Peter Lush, a member of the team, supporting the belief among meditators that it helps them to become more aware of their internal bodily process, he says. Such a result has previously been predicted by the Buddhist scholar Georges Dreyfus.

Spectrum of awareness

The non-meditators were also tested on how well they could be hypnotised. After they were out of any hypnotic trance, the experiment was repeated. Those who could be easily hypnotised felt like they decided to move their finger 124 milliseconds later than did those of low hypnotisability. In fact, the easily hypnotisable group had the sensation of deciding to move 23 milliseconds after their finger had actually moved.

It is not that people who are highly hypnotisable are puppets, says Lush, but that they may have less conscious access to their unconscious intentions.

“Self-awareness of our intention to act is a fundamental part of being human, so anything that affects it is important,” says Stephen Fleming of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging in London. “The results indicate that hypnotisability and mindfulness might be at opposite ends of a spectrum of self-awareness,” he says. Previous research has suggested that people who meditate are less easy to hypnotise and people who can be hypnotised are less “mindful”, in other words, are less aware of their internal bodily processes.

Another study using Libet’s set-up has shown that people who are impulsive also have shorter time intervals between their conscious awareness of an intention to act and the act itself.

However others have criticised drawing broad conclusions from such experiments, saying that giving people an instruction to sit and press a button at some random time-point is an artificial situation and may not be relevant to real-life decisions – like voting in a referendum.

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