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It will be difficult – but not impossible – to detect the chemical breakdown products of any nerve agents that may have been used in the Damascus attack, but access to the victims could be critical in proving the illicit use of chemical weapons.

Science: A matter of life and death

Most animals have prions - proteins that can cause fatal nervous diseases. So why do we have them in the first place?

Scientists solve key mystery of scrapie and BSE

ONE OF the biggest mysteries in the 30-year history of research into "prion diseases", such as scrapie in sheep, BSE in cattle and CJD in humans, may finally have been solved.

Podium: The Lilliputian laboratory is changing science

Dr Andrew de Mello

Nutrition study brings new hope for Down's syndrome mothers

MOTHERS OF children with Down's syndrome appear to have problems absorbing folic acid, new research shows. The finding could lead to preventive measures against the disorder, which affects one in 1,000 births in Britain.

FOCUS: THE BRAIN DRAIN: Medical stars pack their bags

Lack of government funding, low salaries and even lower status are driving Britain's leading researchers overseas

Obituary: Professor David Baum

DAVID BAUM was from 1985 Professor of Child Health at Bristol University and, since 1997, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. His enthusiasm for life affected everyone with whom he came into contact, patients and colleagues alike. Those who knew him well will recall many examples of his impact on their thinking, their professional practice and their personal attitudes. But those who only met him once, whether recently or a long time ago, will also remember the experience clearly and with relish.

A Week in Books: Stars fall prey to the scorned spouse

ONE TELLING moment in Jane Hawking's bloated tome about her sad life with Professor Stephen comes near the end, after the (literally) window-smashing ferocity of their break-up. Jane finds herself pursued by the Inland Revenue. They are sniffing out the profits from A Brief History of Time because, she claims, the Treasury lacked funds "as a result of the high rate of unemployment caused by deliberate Tory government policy".

Open Eye: Bridging the 2C gap

It was back in the `50s that C P Snow spotlighted the two-culture gap. Crudely it meant that if you knew the second law of thermodynamics you were probably hazy about Shakespeare, and vice versa. At the end of the 1980s this nagged me into action. Everything I seemed to be involved with was word-based and verbal.

Herbal `antidote' leads to dangerous Ecstasy boom

BRITAIN'S largest health-food manufacturer has launched an investigation after discovering clubbers are using on of its herbal remedies as an "antidote" to the side-effects of the drug Ecstacy.

Obituary: Professor Alan Wellburn

ALAN WELLBURN was a biochemist who made numerous contributions to our understanding of the ways in which plants function in different environments, particularly in atmospheres contaminated with air pollutants. He was an early authority on "acid rain" and climate change.

Starfish `hold key to cancer relief'

STARFISH ARE helping scientists turn the tide against cancer, it was revealed yesterday.

Obituary: Garth Robinson

GARTH ROBINSON was a biochemist at Oxford University for over 30 years who became briefly, in the early Eighties, a national hero for his progressive policies on lawn mowing. "Why bother with a hover?" called the newspaper headlines.

Health: The smell good factor

Its powers and healing properties have been tried and tested; the French and Germans swear by it. But in Britain, aromatherapy is still not taken seriously.

I work for... Mad about the boffins

I Work For...: Jennie Wood is PA to Dr Graham Currie, research director of Marie Curie Cancer Care
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Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
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Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
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Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
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Day In a Page

Independent Travel
Pompeii, Capri & the Bay of Naples
Seven Cities of Italy
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence
Prague, Budapest and Vienna
Lake Garda
3.	Provence 6 nights B&B by train from £599pp
Prices correct as of 20 February 2015
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003