theoretically...

Bacteria which are not killed by vancomycin, known as the antibiotic of last resort, are worrying Japanese scientists. With a growing number of hospitals becoming worried about "superbug" strains of MRSA - methicillin- resistant staphylococcus aureus - the Japanese team has found S. aureus strains which are not killed by vancomycin, reports New Scientist. Microbiologists had forecast that vancomycin-resistant S. aureus would emerge, after the discovery of resistant strains of the enterococcus bacteria. If MRSA strains also gain vancomycin resistance, the result could be "a nightmare", said one specialist. No new antibiotics have been developed since the 1970s.

The view that ice ages in the last two to three million years were probably caused by variations in the Earth's orbital path has won extra backing. Science published a report by a team who compared the past climate - as laid down in ocean corals from Barbados and samples from the Arizona desert. The corals indicated that the time of the sea-level change during the last ice age matches the idea that variations in the Earth's orbit changed our climate. The desert samples provided a "clock" against which to measure the corals' chronology.

South Korea's lack of guidelines over use of gene therapy hasn't stopped a group from carrying it out on a 33-year-old woman suffering from breast cancer. They treated her with a retrovirus with the interleukin-12 gene, which is reckoned to spark off the immune system to act against cancer cells, reported Nature. While the treatment might make sense, use of an advanced medical technique in the absence of a medical and legal framework might be cause for concern. One of the researchers, Sunyoung Kim, said that setting up government guidelines was taking too long and that "it would not be fair to be left behind" just because of their absence.

When hearts go wrong, could it be the fault of a single piece of the contraction mechanism? After all, your heart contracts more than three billion times in a lifetime - even a tiny defect would eventually turn into something dramatic. That's the suggestion of a team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the latest issue of Science. If they're right, high blood pressure (hypertension) could lead to a progressive decrease in the heart's ability to contract. The team points out that people with hypertension have heart cells that grow larger to compensate for the increased pressure. The over-large cells can't contract well, leading to a breakdown of the contraction mechanism. But the same flaw was also found in failing hearts - a clue, perhaps, that the same defect underlies the trouble.

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