Science: Theoretically...

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, whose mutation is implicated in some forms of human breast cancer, are most likely to be "caretakers" of their cells - looking after the integrity of their DNA - rather than "gatekeepers" which regulate tumours by inhibiting growth or promoting death, according to work published in Nature. The implications are that treatments of cancers following inherited BRCA mutations might be simplified: such tumours are less able to survive the genomic damage (caused, say, by radiotherapy) that healthy cells, with working caretaker genes, can. The tumour is thus easier to kill off.

You thought nuclear power was dead? Not so. According to the International Atomic Energy Authority, five new plants with a combined capacity of 5,717 megawatts came on stream in 1996, bringing the total number currently operating around the world to 443. Nuclear power provides an average of 17 per cent of the world's electricity - though significantly more in Lithuania, which tops the list by relying on fission for 86 per cent of its power. France, which has 57 reactors - second only to the US, with 110 - is next, using it for 77 per cent of output. Ukraine, site of the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986, has 16 reactors in operation, providing almost 44 per cent of its electricity.

A significant step for genetic testing: Any couple in the United States planning to have children should be offered a test for cystic fibrosis, said a panel of experts there convened by the National Institutes of Health. It is the first time in any country that such a genetic test for a disease has been recommended for the general population, not just those specifically known to be at risk. CF is the most common inherited disease among American Caucasians, with about 1 in 30 people there carrying the recessive gene for the disease. The panel did not push for routine screening of newborn children.

Perhaps it was the clothes. Greenpeace activists dressed in tomato costumes last week got the Greek government to say that it would consider scrapping private research into genetically altered tomatoes. The Greek government already opposes the production, import and use of genetically engineered food, but it may now rescind a permit granted in March to the British company Zeneca to experiment with tomatoes to extend their ripening time and give them a longer shelf-life in stores. Ministry officials said they were prepared to cancel the research permit if presented with new evidence that it was dangerous. Although Zeneca is keeping the tomatoes in a greenhouse, Greenpeace said there was no way of preventing the results of the work reaching the environment outside via insects and pollen.

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