theoretically

Gene, or rather, genes of the week, are those that cause the comparatively common problem of tuberous sclerosis. Affecting about 1 in 6,000 babies, it causes small tumours - usually benign - and small lesions, particularly on the face, consisting of white patches. The disease can be caused by a fault on either of the genes, which lie on chromosome nine and chromosome 16. In those with a faulty copy of the genes, seizures and learning disabilities may occur, in about 65 and 40 per cent respectively of cases.

The problem with the disease is that testing of prospective parents is not an exact predictor: though the genes involved are dominant, 75 per cent of cases arise through new mutations. The new work, isolating the second gene, was reported in the latest issue of Science.

Yet another genome is sequenced, and it's one you probably harbour - unwillingly. Nature reports that the 1,667,867 base pairs comprising the genetic sequence of Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium responsible for the majority of gastric ulcers, have been completed by an international team from the US and Sweden. About half the world's population is reckoned to be infected with H pylori, which burrows into the lining of the stomach. But little else is known about how it operates; scientists now hope that careful study will help them fight back.

The US House of Representatives has stuck its sizeable oar into the cloning debate there, backing an anti-cloning Bill that bans cloning of human embryos, not just of human beings. Researchers pointed out that this could turn into an embryo research ban, or even a ban on research on all somatic (body cells that are not sperm or egg) cells - because in theory, after Dolly the sheep, any somatic cell can be used to produce an embryo. "The US seems hell-bent on withdrawal from one of the most important areas of biomedical research," said David Blake, vice-president for biomedical research at the Association of American Medical Colleges. The US already bans state-sponsored research into human embryos.

The UK Patent Office reports growing demand for patents and particularly for patent searches - those checks to see whether a design has been registered already. Yet, paradoxically, the number of British patents actually granted fell, because the increased applications meant that more effort had to be put into validating them. The Patent Office says that this year's increase will be reflected in two or three years' time "when the applications have worked through the system". Worth remembering if you thought patents were the path to quick riches.

Will a virtual university charge virtual fees? Researchers at the universities of Loughborough and Southampton have a pounds 143,000 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) are investigating the idea of remote learning (via e-mail and videoconferencing) as part of an ESRC initiative into "Virtual Society". The two-year project starts this October.

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