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U.S. scientists win Nobel Prize-medicine

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Three U.S. scientists earned the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for work on how chromosomes are protected, the Nobel Foundation in Sweden said.

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Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak addressed a major problem in biology of how the chromosomes could be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they are protected against degradation, the foundation said in a news release.

The laureates showed the answer lies in the telomeres and telomerase -- the ends of the chromosomes and the enzyme that forms them, the foundation said.

DNA molecules carry human genes in chromosomes capped by telomeres on their ends. Blackburn and Szostak discovered that a specific DNA sequence in the telomeres protects the chromosomes from degradation. Greider and Blackburn identified telomerase, the enzyme making telomere DNA. The body of work explain how the ends of the chromosomes are protected by the telomeres and that they are built by telomerase.

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The discoveries by Blackburn, Greider and Szostak have "added a new dimension to our understanding of the cell, shed light on disease mechanisms, and stimulated the development of potential new therapies," the foundation said.

Blackburn has dual U.S-Australian citizenship. Since 1990, she has been professor of biology and physiology at the University of California in San Francisco.

Greider was appointed professor in the department of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore in 1997.

Szostak is professor of genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and affiliated with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


Jones: No immediate threat to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones says Afghanistan is not under any immediate threat of falling or being taken over by the Taliban.

"I don't foresee the return of the Taliban. And I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in danger -- imminent danger -- of falling," the retired Marine Corps general told CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday.

Jones' appearance on CNN comes as U.S. President Barack Obama and his top officials review various U.S. military options in Afghanistan, including a troop surge requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in the country.

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Jones was quoted as citing three reasons for the current review of the Afghan strategy, including questions about Afghan President Hamid Karzai's re-election win, McChrystal's assessment of Taliban strength and Pakistan's improved efforts in the border region.

The CNN report said some top Obama administration officials are advocating a counterterrorism approach through the use of unmanned drones and Special Forces without involving additional troops. However, a senior military official told CNN McChrystal would have included that possibility in his assessment if he thought it was viable.


Black markets make Iran sanctions tough

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Black market networks will make it difficult for the United States to truly quarantine Iran's economy through sanctions, observers say.

The White House says it is working to keep up pressure on Tehran over its alleged nuclear ambitions and is recruiting other nations to impose a new round of sanctions if Iran doesn't negotiate on the issue.

But the difficulty in doing so is highlighted by the case of a Dutch aviation services company whose owner has admitted in U.S. federal court he had illegally channeled American aircraft and electronics parts to Iran from 2005 to 2007, The New York Times reported Monday.

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The scheme was unveiled in court documents only a day before President Barack Obama and European allies announced Iran was maintaining a secret uranium enrichment facility.

"The Iranians have a lot of experience at this point in evading sanctions," Michael Jacobson, an intelligence and sanctions specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Times. "They are adaptable, learn from mistakes, see where the United States cracks down and move elsewhere. And on the part of businesses, there is a lot of willful blindness."


Israel's deputy PM cancels trip to Britain

JERUSALEM, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon canceled a trip to England to avoid possible arrest for alleged charges lodged by Palestinians, officials said.

Yaalon, a former chief of general staff, was invited to attend a fundraising dinner by the British branch of the Jewish National Fund, Haaretz said Monday.

The dinner is to collect funds for Benji's Home, a facility for soldiers serving in the Israeli Army who have no family in Israel, the newspaper said.

Yaalon consulted with legal advisers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who warned pro-Palestinian groups operating in the United Kingdom may seek his arrest, the paper said.

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The advisers also told Yaalon that despite being a government minister, he has no diplomatic immunity and would therefore be subject to arrest, the paper said.

Yaalon told the newspaper he had refrained from visiting England in recent years so as not to play into the hands of the pro-Palestinian groups.

Yaalon's decision came a week after pro-Palestinian groups sought the arrest of visiting Defense Minister Ehud Barak for war crimes allegedly committed by Israel during the Gaza offensive Operation Cast Lead earlier in the year.

The British court rejected a request to arrest the defense minister, who remained for the duration of his visit in England.


Fires consume acreage in Calif., Ariz.

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Wildfires churned through acreage in California and Arizona, burning homes, forcing school closures and prompting evacuations.

In California, communities in the eastern San Gabriel Mountains were under a mandatory evacuation as the wind-driven Sheep Fire destroyed four homes and was within a half-mile of Wrightwood, KTLA-TV, Los Angeles reported Monday.

U.S. Forest Service officials reported the fire ate 7,500 acres and was 20 percent contained by Sunday evening. Weather forecasters predicted Monday would see less gusty winds and a chance of drizzle. Some 4,000 to 6,000 residents are affected by the evacuation orders, officials said.

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California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, freeing up state resources to fight the blaze.

"The fire is erratic and unpredictable," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Miller. "The fire spread greater than expected."

Schools in Williams, Ariz., closed Monday because of a fire that has burned about 1,000 acres and forced the evacuation of more than 60 residents, the Arizona Republic reported.

The fire began Friday and has been marching toward Williams, a city of 3,300 residents 100 miles north of Phoenix. Fire crews lost control of a prescribed burn in the Kaibab National Forest.

"The city of Williams has been threatened and that remains until we can ensure the lines are going to hold," fire department spokesman Punky Moore said Sunday. "The winds will play a role in that today."

Bill Williams Mountain, a popular hiking area, and Kaibab Lake Recreation Area were closed to visitors. Kaibab National Forest was open but Moore urged recreational forest users to call ahead.

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