FBI to restrict student freedoms

Submitted by Canada IFP

US university students will not be able to work late at the campus, travel abroad, show interest in their colleagues’ work, have friends outside the United States, engage in independent research, or make extra money without the prior consent of the authorities, according to a set of guidelines given to administrators by the FBI.

Federal agents are visiting some of the New England’s top universities, including MIT, Boston College, and the University of Massachusetts, to warn university heads about the dangers of foreign spies and terrorists stealing sensitive academic research.

FBI is offering to brief faculty, students and staff on what it calls “espionage indicators” aimed at identifying foreign agents.

Unexplained affluence, failing to report overseas travel, showing unusual interest in information outside the job scope, keeping unusual work hours, unreported contacts with foreign nationals, unreported contact with foreign government, military, or intelligence officials, attempting to gain new accesses without the need to know, and unexplained absences are all considered potential espionage indicators.

Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to monitor their colleagues for signs of suspicious behaviour and report any concerns to the FBI or the military.

“What we’re most concerned about are those things that are not classified being developed by MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], Worcester Polytech [Worcester Polytechnic Institute] and other universities,” Warren Bamford, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, told the Boston Herald. “It’s to make sure these institutions receive training…[on] what spies look for. There are hundreds of projects going on that could be useful to a foreign power.”

“My understanding is that what the FBI is proposing is not illegal, but it does raise questions about the chilling effect in regard to academia,”Chris Ott, Communications Manager of the ACLU of Massachusetts told WSWS. “What will it mean about feeling free to pursue information? People on the campuses will be afraid to ask questions or take on the investigation of certain areas, say, for example, nuclear energy. ”

University administrators have expressed their appreciation of FBI efforts.

“It was a very nice offer,” Robert A. Weygand, vice president for administration and a former Rhode Island congressman told the Boston Herald. “We are taking it under consideration.”

Last year the FBI initiated the College and University Security Effort (CAUSE), in order to establish an “alliance” between the Federal agency and academic institutions.

According to the FBI, through CAUSE, Special Agents in charge meet with the heads of local colleges to discuss national security issues and to share information and ideas.

The G(e)nomes of Zurich: Civil Society Calls for Urgent Controls on Synthetic Life*

ETC Group News Release – www.etcgroup.org

Follow Syn Bio meeting on ETC Group’s blog

Scientists and industrialists in the controversial new field of synthetic biology (building life-forms from scratch) are meeting in Zurich, Switzerland this week amidst claims that the world’s first entirely human-made organism may be only weeks away from creation. Swiss and international civil society groups are calling for swift action to control this technology but the scientists themselves are advancing pre-emptive proposals to evade regulation. As scientists meet in Zurich, the UK’s Royal Society and the Swiss government announce plans to investigate synthetic biology.

Synthetic Biology 3.0
An international scientific congress, Synthetic Biology 3.0, is meeting in Zurich from 24-27 June to discuss the latest advances in Synthetic Biology – the new field of extreme genetic engineering that attempts to build synthetic life forms. Synthetic biologists contend that all the parts of life can be made synthetically (that is, by chemistry) and then engineered together in the laboratory to produce “living machines” – fully working organisms programmed for particular tasks. Some are being designed for intentional environmental release. Today there are about a dozen synthetic biology companies worldwide plus almost 70 commercial ‘gene foundries’ that manufacture designer DNA molecules for industrial use. The first commercial products using synthetic biology (e.g., a textile fiber by DuPont) are about to enter the market and there are concerns that dangerous pathogens, such as smallpox or Ebola virus, could now be constructed as bioweapons. Because synthetic biology goes far beyond the genetic engineering techniques previously used to develop genetically modified food and drugs, no laws have yet been developed that address its safety, security and societal risks.

“Once more a new technology is storming ahead with no government or international body able to regulate or control it,” says biologist Florianne Koechlin from SAG (the Swiss Working Group on Gene Technology). “Once more we hear from the scientific community, supported by industry and the military, that they have life under control and will soon be able to construct it. But life is more than the sum of its parts.” Koechlin is a member of the Swiss government-appointed ethics body that will investigate the implications of synthetic biology later this year.

Synthetic Biology 3.Ownership?
The task of framing new laws became more urgent earlier this month when ETC Group, an international civil society organisation, uncovered the first-ever patent application on a fully synthetic life form produced via synthetic biology. US patent application no. 20070122826, entitled “Minimal bacterial genome,” claims monopoly ownership of a “free-living organism that can grow and replicate” whose genome (full genetic information) has been built entirely through mechanical means. Craig Venter, whose scientific institute filed the patent application, has since told Business Week that his team is only weeks or months away from having built such a synthetic organism, dubbed Mycoplasma laboratorium (nicknamed ‘Synthia’ by ETC Group)[1]. If they succeed it will mark a break with evolution as we know it.

Craig Venter himself has a long history of mixing cutting-edge science with commercial exploitation. He led the private part of the human genome-sequencing project, selling human genetic data to pharmaceutical companies as he went. Once again he has announced that he hopes to cash in on a new science, boasting that his new synthetic creation could be the first trillion-dollar organism[2]. Just last week he inked an investment deal with oil company BP that brought the commercial value of his start-up company, Synthetic Genomics, Inc., to US$300 million[3]. Civil society critics are concerned that, using broad patents, Venter may carve out a monopoly position as the ‘Microbesoft’ of synthetic biology.

“In the last year synthetic biologists have really climbed into bed with big business,” explains Jim Thomas of the ETC Group. “With BP, Cargill and DuPont setting their sights on synbio, the corporate agenda is starting to drive this powerful technology. Society should be concerned about whose interests will get ignored or even trampled on.”

Synthetic biology 3.oh no here we go again…
A year ago (at Synthetic Biology 2.0 in Berkeley, California) scientists attempted to advance a plan for self-governance of the field, seen by critics as a ruse to head off future regulation. Those plans were quietly dropped after 38 civil society organisations signed an open letter calling on the scientists to abandon the scheme and pursue a wider, more inclusive dialogue with society. No such dialogue has been forthcoming. This year the same proposals have largely been repackaged, and published in the June issue of Nature Biotechnology [4]. The recycled governance proposal, authored by members of a new trade body, The International Consortium for Polynucleotide Synthesis, along with scientist-entrepreneurs and employees of the US FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), focuses exclusively on biowarfare concerns. It presents a framework where the industry body shares best practices and screening software to identify synthetic DNA that could be of interest to bioterrorists. In addition, the authors recommend a requirement that all buyers of synthesized DNA reveal their name, home institution and offer any biosafety information relevant to the sequences they are ordering. The authors feel satisfied that this “path forward” is sufficient to top-up existing biosafety laws. Critics disagree.

“Of the proposed framework’s fourteen authors, all but four [who are FBI employees] declared competing financial interests. We believe the authors’ own investment in the success of the technology cannot help but overwhelm their capacity for self-criticism,” argues Kathy Jo Wetter of ETC Group. “It is bad enough that this new industry is already claiming exclusive ownership on artificial life forms; they should not be allowed to make up artificial governance frameworks, too.”

For more information:
Jim Thomas, ETC Group jim@etcgroup.org
available in Zurich on +1 514 5165759 (mobile)

Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group kjo@etcgroup.org

Pat Mooney, ETC Group
etc@etcgroup.org tel: +1 613 241-2267

Hope Shand, ETC Group
hope@etcgroup.org tel: +1 919 960-5767

Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group
silvia@etcgroup.org tel: +52 5555 6326 64

Florianne Koechlin, SAG
fkoechlin@datacomm.ch
tel: +41 79 6530274

Huge weight gains reported by patients on prescription drugs

By Roger Dobson

Thousands of people who take prescription medicines for everyday conditions are gaining large amounts of weight as an unexpected side effect, scientists have warned.

Researchers, who found that some patients were putting on up to 22lbs in a year, say that the drugs may even be contributing to the nation’s rocketing obesity epidemic.

All of the patients they studied, on medication for conditions as diverse as diabetes, epilepsy, depression, high blood pressure and schizophrenia, showed evidence of weight increase.

“Given the common and long-term use of many of these drugs,” said the researchers, “it is likely that they play a significant contributory role in the increasing prevalence of obesity.”

A team from Glasgow University and Glasgow Royal Infirmary reviewed and analysed data on drug use by more than 25,000 people to quantify the effects of prescription drugs.

All of the drugs included in the review are used to treat chronic diseases by large numbers of people. In the UK, it is estimated that around 2.6 million people have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease, for which beta-blockers are widely prescribed. More than 400,000 people have epilepsy, and around 1.3 million people have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

“In the light of these figures, the number of individuals in the population receiving treatment with an obesogenic drug is potentially quite high. In
Scotland alone, the number of prescriptions dispensed for beta-blockers and tricyclic antidepressants between 2004 and 2005 exceeded one million and two million respectively,” says the report.

With many of the drugs, weight gain was significant and rapid, according to the researchers. Just how they lead to weight gain varies, and is in some cases unknown. Some, like corticosteroids, increase appetite, while beta-adrenoceptor blockers reduce metabolic rate.

Olanzapine and clozapine, drugs used for psychiatric conditions, resulted in the most weight gain – up to 22lbs in 52 weeks. Insulin for type 2 diabetes was found to increase weight by up to 13.2lbs, while some drugs for depression added up to 8lbs, and some for high blood pressure led to gains of up to 3lbs. A heart drug added 5lbs, while some treatments for epilepsy added more than 12lbs, and some bipolar drugs led to weight gains of around 8lbs.

The researchers say that many other drugs which are being prescribed and have not been investigated may also have an effect on weight.

They also suggest that unexpected weight gain may be a reason why some people stop taking prescribed drugs: “Non-compliance with any drug therapy is a widespread problem, and around half of patients prescribed long-term medication for the management of chronic diseases do not comply fully with treatment.

“Non-compliance is reported as an issue with many of the drugs included in this review, and the weight gain associated with them may contribute to this.”

In future, the scientists suggest, doctors should discuss with patients the risk of weight gain before they start treatment: “This review provides evidence of the weight gain potential of some common drugs. It is perhaps only now, in light of the present epidemic of obesity, that the negative effect on body weight is a pertinent issue. The potential of weight gain should be discussed with patients prior to the institution of therapy.”
Side effects: Prescription problems

The drugs listed below are prescription medicines implicated in the new research. Each has been identified as possibly being responsible for dramatic weight gain:

Beta-blockers

Used to treat high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms and panic attacks. The drugs block the effects of adrenalin, slowing the heart rate.

Corticosteroids

Generally known as steroids, the drug is used to treat various conditions, from rheumatoid arthritis to stress relief after a trauma or operation.

Olanzapine

Used to treat schizophrenia and manic episodes. Is said to help the patient stay in touch with reality.