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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Day In a Page

Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – MS Swiss Corona - seven nights from £999pp
Lake Maggiore, Orta and the Matterhorn – seven nights from £899pp
Sicily – seven nights from £939pp
Pompeii, Capri and the Bay of Naples - seven nights from £799pp
Istanbul Ephesus & Troy – six nights from £859pp
Mary Rose – two nights from £319pp
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform