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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Better weather to aid Malaysia plane search

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 04:18 PM PDT

SYDNEY: Improving weather conditions should help the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on Friday, forecasters said, as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott vowed everything "humanly possible" was being done to find the aircraft.

Grainy satellite imagery taken on Sunday detected a pair of floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean which Malaysia and Australia called a credible lead in the drawn-out hunt for the jet that vanished on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board.

But four planes from Australia, New Zealand and the United States that flew over a 23,000-square kilometre (8,800 square mile) area of the vast ocean some 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth on Thursday saw nothing of significance, hampered by low cloud.

"The weather conditions were such that we were unable to see for very much of the flight," Royal Australian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Chris Birrer told reporters of his crew's sortie.

But conditions are improving, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology told AFP.

"Showers associated with the passage of a cold front on Thursday, which saw low cloud and drizzle affect visibility, are easing," the bureau said.

"Winds are currently 15-20 knots, with swell 2 to 2.5 metres, and also easing. Overall conditions are expected to slowly improve today for the search operations in the area."

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which Malaysia tasked with heading the southern Indian Ocean search, said the four planes would leave again Friday on further missions to try and find the two objects, one as large as 24 metres (79 feet) in size. 

Military jets dispatched

"Today's search will utilise four military aircraft, including two RAAF Orions, tasked by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to search a 23,000-kilometre area, about 2,500 kilometres south-west of Perth," AMSA said in a statement Friday.

A Norwegian merchant ship is currently in the search area and AMSA said another merchant ship was expected Friday evening, but Australia's HMAS Success, which is capable of retrieving any wreckage, was still some days away.

New Zealand Air Commodore Mike Yardley, commenting to TV3 on the sortie flown by the New Zealand P3 Orion on Thursday, warned that "there's a lot of debris out there in the ocean".

"Our crews picked up debris out there that was not part of the aircraft," he said.

"Our radar will pick up containers that have fallen off container vessels as well, and last night our radar system was picking up marine life - whales and dolphins."

Abbott, who first announced the potential breakthrough to parliament on Thursday, again cautioned that they were looking in "a remarkably isolated location in very deep and inaccessible ocean".

"Nevertheless, we are throwing all the resources we can at it," he said late Thursday after arriving in Papua New Guinea for a visit.

"We will do everything we humanly can to try to get to the bottom of this. 

"We don't know what that satellite saw until we can get a much better, much closer, look at it. But this is the first tangible breakthrough in what up until now has been an utterly baffling mystery." - AFP

Maid charged with socialite’s murder

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

An Indonesian domestic worker was charged in court with the murder of socialite and philanthropist Nancy Gan Wan Geok.

Dewi Sukowati, 23, is alleged to have caused the death of her 69-year-old employer at her bungalow in Bukit Timah on Wednesday.

The mother of two was found in the swimming pool of her home. She had suffered head injuries. The prosecution successfully applied for Dewi to be remanded at Changi Women's Prison for psychiatric assessment. She will be back in court on April 10. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

New technique eliminates need for invasive collection methods

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Scientists in Singapore say they have found a way to create human stem cells from a drop of blood pricked from the finger.

Previously, methods for generating these cells – called human-induced pluripotent stem cells – involved collecting adult cells from bone marrow, skin or large quantities of blood. These were then genetically coaxed into reverting into stem cells.

However, such invasive collection methods deterred some potential donors.

Researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) revealed their new technique yesterday.

The team, from A*Star's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, had tried to find a way of reducing the amount of blood needed to generate the stem cells and created a method requiring just a single finger prick.

It could encourage a wider range of people to donate stem cells and collect their own blood samples, the scientists said, and lead to the establishment of comprehensive "bio­banks" from people with a broad range of ethnic backgrounds, genetics and disease risks.

"It all began when we wondered if we could reduce the volume of blood used for reprogramming," said Dr Jonathan Loh, who led the research.

"We then tested if donors could collect their own blood sample in a normal room environment and store it. Our finger-prick technique, in fact, utilised less than a drop of finger-pricked blood. The remaining blood could even be used for DNA sequencing and other blood tests."

The cells collected from the finger pricks were reprogrammed into stem cells which were then turned into heart cells.

Stem cells can be used for basic research, to test new drugs, and for cell therapy.

There have been ethical objections to using their traditional source – human embryos – so such induced pluripotent stem cells have often been used as an alternative.

The team's work was published in the journal Stem Cell Translational Medicine yesterday. The researchers have filed a patent for the method. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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