Today's news

May 2, 2003

Media group takes over exam board Edexcel
Pearson, the media group that owns the Financial Times and Penguin publishers, became a major player in the British education world yesterday with the announcement that it had taken over the country's second-biggest exam board, Edexcel. Although the £20 million deal is only a small acquisition for Pearson it heralds a radical overhaul of the exam system. Under the deal, Pearson will own three-quarters of London Qualifications, a new non-charitable organisation which will run all of Edexcel's existing courses. Edexcel will own the rest and continue to operate as a charity providing grants for vocational education and training. From January, GCSE, AS-level, A-level and BTEC exam scripts will be scanned into computers and marked online to make the process faster and more reliable.
(Independent, Financial Times, Guardian)

Scientists can make human eggs from male embryos
Researchers at the University of Philadelphia have found a way to mass produce eggs from embryos, even male embryos. This makes it feasible for men to make eggs too so that it will be possible, in theory, for a homosexual male couple to have children that are genetically their own, with the help of a surrogate mother. The work, reported in the journal Science, the work shows that even outside the body embryonic stem cells remain "totipotent", that is capable of generating any of the body's tissues. A professor of theology has called the work "a cannon ball fired across the bow of Christian bioethics." He said: "Many people still operate with the assumption that babies require a mummy and a daddy."
(Daily Telegraph)

Experimental worms alive in space shuttle debris
Thousands of tiny worms on board the Columbia space shuttle, which disintegrated 38 miles above Earth, have been found alive three months after the disaster. The dirt-eating worms, Caenorhabditis elegans , were being studied because they share many characteristics with human beings, despite being a millimetre long, of a species hundreds of millions of years old, and present in almost any soil. Their survival, inside six metal canisters at the heart of the shuttle, raises the prospect of harvesting scientific data from the mission.

Sars DNA sequenced but China shuts down
Researchers have begun the first close look at the molecular make-up of the Sars virus, as Beijing's usual May Day exodus ground to a halt yesterday. Detailed studies of the complete DNA sequence of the virus - first recorded late last year - could speed efforts to diagnose, treat and prevent the spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic. Genetic studies, quickly confirmed by a panel of experts, are to be published in the journal Science. They have already been released on the internet, but this is the first time the research has been peer-reviewed. Other research teams can now proceed with more confidence using the DNA data.

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