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Tuesday, Sep 19th

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Vitamin D 'triggers and arms' the immune system

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have discovered that Vitamin D is crucial to activating our immune defences and that without sufficient intake of the vitamin, the killer cells of the immune system – T cells – will not be able to react to and fight off serious infections in the body.

For T cells to detect and kill foreign pathogens such as clumps of bacteria or viruses, the cells must first be ‘triggered’ into action and "transform" from inactive and harmless immune cells into killer cells that are primed to seek out and destroy all traces of invaders. The researchers found that the T cells rely on vitamin D in order activate and they would remain dormant, ‘naïve’ to the possibility of threat if vitamin D is lacking in the blood.

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Indonesian 'hobbit' challenges evolutionary theory

Her scientific name is Homo floresiensis, her nickname is "the hobbit," and the hunt is on to prove that she and the dozen other hobbits since discovered are not a quirk of nature but members of a distinct hominid species.

The discovery of Homo floresiensis shocked and divided scientists. Here apparently was a band of distant relatives that exhibited features not seen for millions of years but were living at the same time as much more modern humans. Almost overnight, the find threatened to change our understanding of human evolution.

It would mean contemplating the possibility that not all the answers to human evolution lie in Africa, and that our development was more complex than previously thought.

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Growing low-oxygen zones in oceans worry scientists

Lower levels of oxygen in the Earth's oceans, particularly off the United States' Pacific Northwest coast, could be another sign of fundamental changes linked to global climate change, scientists say. They warn that the oceans' complex undersea ecosystems and fragile food chains could be disrupted.

In some spots off Washington state and Oregon, the almost complete absence of oxygen has left piles of Dungeness crab carcasses littering the ocean floor, killed off 25-year-old sea stars, crippled colonies of sea anemones and produced mats of potentially noxious bacteria that thrive in such conditions.

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Dodgy dossier aide now the £100,000 boss of White House lobbying firm

The man who wrote the infamous ‘dodgy dossier’ for Tony Blair about Saddam Hussein’s weapons is now a £100,000-a-year adviser working at the nerve centre of Barack Obama’s military and foreign policy establishment.

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Waterboarding Too Dangerous, Internal DoD Memo Reveals

In recent weeks, former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen has been on a public relations campaign defending the efficacy of waterboarding, going so far as to say that the torture technique sanctioned by the Bush administration is not only safe, but is in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

In his defense of the practice, Yoo cited the thousands of US servicemen who have undergone SERE training and said, "we don't think it amounts to torture because we would not be doing it to our own soldiers otherwise."

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UN envoy says Afghan strategy is too 'military-driven'

Hours before boarding a flight out of Kabul, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide delivered a final warning Saturday as he wrapped up his two-year tenure as the top United Nations diplomat in Afghanistan.

"This year can become a year when negative trends are reversed, but it will require a tremendous effort and mobilization of political energy," Eide told a small women's conference. "So far, I do not see that mobilization of political energy . . . . If this does not happen, then I believe the negative trends ."

In his final weeks, Eide stepped up his push for political talks with the Taliban as the best way to end the eight-year-old war, and in his final press conference, he expressed concern that President Barack Obama's decision to send 30,000-35,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan is coming without a concurrent political surge.

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Top home-school texts dismiss Darwin, evolution

Christian-based materials dominate a growing home-school education market that encompasses more than 1.5 million students in the U.S. And for most home-school parents, a Bible-based version of the Earth's creation is exactly what they want. Federal statistics from 2007 show 83 percent of home-schooling parents want to give their children "religious or moral instruction."

"The majority of home-schoolers self-identify as evangelical Christians," said Ian Slatter, a spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association. "Most home-schoolers will definitely have a sort of creationist component to their home-school program."

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U.S. Enriches Companies Defying Its Policy on Iran

The federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran, despite Washington’s efforts to discourage investment there, records show.

That includes nearly $15 billion paid to companies that defied American sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves.

For years, the United States has been pressing other nations to join its efforts to squeeze the Iranian economy, in hopes of reining in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Now, with the nuclear standoff hardening and Iran rebuffing American diplomatic outreach, the Obama administration is trying to win a tough new round of United Nations sanctions.

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Virginia attorney general to colleges: End gay protections

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II has urged the state's public colleges and universities to rescind policies that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, arguing in a letter sent to each school that their boards of visitors had no legal authority to adopt such statements.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II has urged the state's public colleges and universities to rescind policies that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, arguing in a letter sent to each school that their boards of visitors had no legal authority to adopt such statements.

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