Monthly Archives: June 2007

Reamins of Kush in Africa

What exactly does Kush mean to you? Probably Hindu god Rama’s son if you are a Hindu. And how about Kerma? May be misspelled Karma. But these two words have completely different meanings to archaeologists. A recently published article in The New York Times reports Kush, currently in Egypt, was an ancient kingdom that stretched 750 plus mile in Africa and its capital was Kerma. The Kushite kingdom has been dated back to around second millennium B.C.

 Not only are Kush and Kerma both Hindu terms but they also kind of resonate with an age-old story told in Nepal. The Kusundas of Nepal used to be nomadic until just a few decades ago. According to their story, they originated from Kush, one of the twin sons of Rama who was made the king of the forests. Could it be that once exiled, Kush and his army headed east, reached Egypt and established the kingdom of Kush?  The idea of Kush establishing a kingdom after his own name in Egypt is bizarre; however, Hindu supremacists may hold it true unless proven false. Even scientific evidence can be quoted–among the geneticists, it is a very well known fact that humans moved out of Africa to various parts of the world including India and later, they moved into Africa from India as well.  

Although based on the linguistic similarities one might contend that Hindus of India established Kushite kingdom, the chances of this hypothesis being true are very limited. Yet, my curiosity still lingers what can explain the similarities between an ancient African kingdom and a Hindu god?


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Do Diet Soda Cause Cancer: Apparently Not!

Like so many people I love the fizzling sensation caused by soda in my tongue and pallet. This kind of sensation is not satisfied by drinking water or juice. Even the high calorie energy drinks do not produce this sensation.

Besides, being health and environment conscious makes me lean towards soda. I drink lots of water everyday so why should I sacrifice the sensational fizzle during my lunch? Besides empty bottles from bottled water are one of the highest environment hazards if not recycled properly. I would not want to drink juice or energy drink simply because of the fact that they are loaded with calories. So soda seems to be the only choice I have.

Fine. My logic has numerous fallacies. But the point is I like drinking soda everyday. This leaves me with a dilemma. Should I drink the sugar loaded ‘regular’ beverage or should I opt for the ‘diet’ ones? Afraid of the amount of calories in ‘regular’ sodas, I used to drink ‘diet’ ones, until my friend pointed out that some of the components used in the diet soda could cause cancer.

Not that I am unaware of the fact that everything these days is carcinogenic, but I could not knowingly keep drinking ‘diet’ soda. What if they are really carcinogenic? After a few days of drinking ‘regular’ sodas, I could not take it anymore. The sweetness and the after taste of ‘regular’ were unbearable for me. Hence, I decided to investigate whether ‘diet’ sodas really cause cancer.

Although my investigation was limited to searching for scientific journals related to artificial sugar and cancer, I have learned, to my delight that artificial sugars do not cause cancer. According The American Dietetic Association (ADA), “consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners when consumed in a diet that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Dietary References Intakes, as well as individual health goals.”

According to ADA, normal sugars are called nutritive sweeteners while artificial sugars are called non-nutritive sugars. FDA has approved five non-nutritive sugars— acesulfame-K (used in diet sodas), aspartame (used in diet sodas) aka Nutrasweet, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose to be safely consumable everyday over a lifetime on the basis that there is no known adverse effects of the non-nutritive sweeteners in obesity, cancer, and behavioral disporders. 

Scientists also seem to agree with ADA and FDA in the sense that non-nutritive sweeteners do not cause cancer. Various scientific studies with long known artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, cyclamate and aspartame demonstrate that they pose no carcinogenic effects in humans despite the fact that some of these artificial sweeteners induce bladder cancer in rats. Another study that looked at blood and brain cancers in men and women demonstrated that consumption of Aspartame does not cause these cancers. However, cancer-inducing properties of acesulfame-K, sucralose, alitame and neotame cannot be accessed in part because they have been recently introduced to the consumers and it is too early to detect their possible carcinogenic risks. In addition, there is more than one artificial sweetener in food products today, which makes it difficult to single out one possible carcinogenic factor.  

Although non-nutritive sweeteners do not pose carcinogenic threat, a group of scientists who study aspartame metabolism believe that upon digestion, methanol in aspartame (consisting of phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol) is converted into formaldehyde (a carcinogen), which accumulates within the cells. Use of aspartame may lead to breast and prostate cancer. Although it is true that formaldehyde, a carcinogen is produced by aspartame, its concentration is so small that it causes negligible effect.

So, soda lovers, we have a good news unless you guzzle tanks of ‘diet’ soda, we are good. Just do not drink in excess seems to be the message. For the soda haters, they probably need to turn off their tvs, microwaves, cell phones and virtually all electronic piece of equipment they come near to live in a cancer free society. Also, I recommend going to an isolated forest to escape pollution. Oh, yes do not drive there for cars also induce cancer.

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Living Goddesses: A documentary by Ishbel Whitaker

The Kumaris are Buddhist girls believed to be inhabited by a Hindu goddess, so they’re seen as symbols of religious tolerance. For centuries, the goddesses were used by kings to legitimize their rule. NPR’s All Things Considered featured a Kumari who recently visited the US and interacted with children of her age at a Washington DC school. Although her interaction is pretty funny, the author of the article has completely ignored the process of being a Kumari, the huge responsibilities that little Kumaris carry, and their life different from that of their contemporary children. Hope the documentary does a better job in educating the public.

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Leprosy: Of Genes and Geography

The large sample size of Brazilian patients for the case control genetic tests and replication of these using analytical approach on a very different Vietnamese population, demonstrates that leprosy, caused by Mycobacterium leprae is associate with some HLA alleles. According to a paper titled “HLA-DRB1*04 and DRB1*10 are associated with resistance and susceptibility, respectively, in Brazilian and Vietnamese leprosy patients” (Genes and Immunity, 2007, 8, 320-324), Vanderborght et al. mention that 400000 people get leprosy worldwide per year. While the majority of people are resistant to leprosy, some are still susceptible to the bacteria.

While geography plays an important role in any disease, some genes seem to play an important part in leprosy. Vanderborght’s group studied Brazilian and Vietnamese patients and families respectively and found that HLA-DRB1*07 and HLA-DRB1*04 genes are resistant to leprosy while DRB1*15 and DRB1*10 are susceptible. The authors also found ethnicity specific effect of DRB1*15 in Afro-Brazilians and DRB1*07 in Euro-Brazilians.

While this paper is interesting from immunological perspective, it raises the question about genetic makeup and diseases. While one group may possess resistant allele(s) to a disease, others may carry susceptible gene(s) to that particular disease. A myriad of questions arise from such findings—what does this mean at the dawn of gene therapy?  Will such information be used ethically in future? What is also interesting to me is can these polymorphisms in HLA be used to track Human migration (out of Africa)? Is there a correlation between human evolution/migration and diseases?


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Polynesians Discovered America 100 Years Before Columbus

Prehistoric Polynesians, not European voyagers, may have brought chickens to the Americas, according to new research from The University of Auckland’s Department of Anthropology which will be published in the prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

When chicken bones were discovered at an ancient archaeological site in Chile, University of Auckland Anthropology PhD candidate Alice Storey, along with Associate Professor of Anthropology Lisa Matisoo-Smith and collaborators Jose Miguel Ramirez and Daniel Quiroz from Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile, used carbon dating and DNA analysis to identify the origins of the bones.

To the surprise of the researchers, the evidence conclusively found the bones followed the same DNA sequence as prehistoric Polynesian chickens from Tonga, Samoa, Niue, Hawaii and Easter Island. Radio carbon dated to approximately 622 BP (years before present), the Chilean chicken bone has a calibrated date of between 1321 and 1407 AD – suggesting the birds were introduced at least 100 years before the arrival of Europeans on the continent.

The chickens’ presence in Chile casts doubt on long-held theories that early European voyagers were responsible for bringing the birds to South America and gives new insight into the extensive-and early-journeying of the Polynesian people. Ms Storey says that prior to this finding, there had been several hypotheses offered to explain how the chicken reached the Americas.

“The most common theory suggests that Spanish or Portuguese explorers introduced chickens when they arrived on the eastern shores of South America around AD 1500,” says Ms Storey, who will complete her PhD on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of chickens in the ancient Pacific next year. “But this new genetic evidence suggests the chickens came from Polynesia and underscores the idea that Polynesians landed on the west coast of South America.”

Although it is widely held that ancient Polynesian and South American peoples share linguistic and stylistic traits, the latest research is the first conclusive evidence of the Polynesian presence in South America prior to the arrival of European explorers. The findings, tracking the origins and dispersal of Pacific chickens, are the latest chapter in ongoing research on the use of commensal animals to track prehistoric human migration and interaction in the Pacific. The chicken study adds to the developing story based on previous and on-going research on the dispersal of rats (kiore), dogs and pigs across the Pacific, but is the first to provide evidence of Polynesian contact with the Americas.

The article “Radiocarbon and DNA Evidence for a Pre-Columbian Introduction of Polynesian Chickens to Chile” (#03993) will appear in the 4-8 June issue of the PNAS. The article is authored by Alice Storey, José Miguel Ramírez, Daniel Quiroz, David Burley, David Addison, Richard Walter, Atholl Anderson, Terry Hunt, J. Stephen Athens, Leon Huynen, Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith.

As published in (

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Junior docs refuse to work in remote areas



KATHMANDU, June 4 – Forty-five of 71 doctors posted at several Primary Health Centers (PHCs) and district hospitals under the Scholarship Act said they won’t go to work in remote areas, protesting against the recent amendment to the Act.The amendment to the Act in January 2006 states that doctors who study under government scholarship have to work in remote areas for two years.

Dr Dibya Raj Misra, one of the 45 doctors lobbying against the amendment, said, “The government’s step to make the doctors studying under its scholarship scheme work in remote parts especially at PHCs and district hospitals for two years is unjustified.”

Misra, who was posted at Katari PHC on March 4 this year, said, “We have returned to Kathmandu to exert pressure upon the ministry to revoke the amendment. And we won’t get back to work unless our demands are fulfilled.”

He said the Act has a provision that such doctors (doctors, who studied under government scholarship) will be posted in government posts. “But the government didn’t apply this provision while it posted us to different PHCs and district hospitals,” he said.

He said the doctors were posted only as consultants. “We have to work under the Assistant Health Workers now,” he said, adding, “It’s very humiliating.”

The agitating doctors demand that the current provision of compulsory two years’ service in remote areas be minimized to one year. They also demand that their service period under the Scholarship Act should be counted from the time they join government service, under the Civil Service Act.

The Scholarship Act was promulgated in 1964. The students, while applying for government quota under the Act, have to sign a contract which states that they will serve in remote areas for certain years after completing their studies. Although the students signed the contract, the provision was never implemented in the past. Prior to amending the Act, doctors had to serve in remote areas for five years.

In view of the growing scarcity of human resources in government health institutions; especially in remote areas, government amended the Act in 2006. The national review meeting of health directors from five development regions, held during November last year had stated that only 40 to 45 per cent of the doctors’ quota were filled in health institutions. The ministry then decided to depute 150 doctors produced annually through government quota in district hospitals and PHCs to tackle the problem.

Giri Raj Mani Pokhrel, health minister, said the ministry is positive toward the demands of the protesting doctors. He said the ministry would not minimize the duration of the service. “But other demands can be considered,” he said, adding, “We will ensure their status and financial aspects.”

He said the cabinet meeting will soon address their problems.



As Posted on The Kathmandu Post, June 5th edition.

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