Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

NME’s weekly science dose (August 16-22)

Aid organizations are failing to address urgent the health needs of Syrians, domestically and of those driven from home. This conclusion is based on an UNHCR report that highlights the lack of long-term strategies and poor coordination to explain the agencies’ shortfalls.

Already an estimated 70% of medical professionals have fled Syria and 60% of healthcare facilities in opposition-controlled areas have been damaged or destroyed. Facilities in Jordan and Lebanon are strained due to the influx of refugees. With health issues being identified as the most grave risk Syrians face, what’s to be done to minimize this crisis within a crisis? Read more about it here.

On the other hand, in the midst of the political unrest in Egypt, it’s heritage continues to be at risk as violence continues. Raiders broke into the Malawai National Museum and ransacked its collections on two consecutive nights, stealing or destroying almost all of its artefacts.

The museum, 300km south of Cairo in the Upper Egypt city of Minya, is a little-known cultural centre, but is home to a diverse collection that spans Egyptian history from Greco-Roman to the 18th Dynasty eras. Read more about what archeologists are doing to try and salvage what they can of the museum.

In other news, scientists have completed sequencing the genome of Phoenix dactylifera L, more commonly known as the date palm. A team of researchers from Saudi Arabia collaborating with colleagues in China have built on earlier work by a Qatari research team to sequence more than 90% of the genome of an important variety of P. dactylifera called Khalas. More details here.

Beyond the hood

A blood test can tell you all sorts of things about your health, but it does not reveal your deepest, darkest thoughts — unless those thought were about suicide, it now seems. New research from the Indiana University School of Medicine suggests that biomarkers in the bloodstream can indicate whether someone is contemplating killing themselves.

The researchers identified these biomarkers by comparing blood samples drawn when bipolar patients’ suicidal thoughts were low to blood samples drawn when suicidal thoughts were high. A significant increase in the amount of a protein associated with the activity of a gene called SAT1 was observed in those with suicidal thoughts.

The study also examined blood samples taken from nine suicide cases and found this protein to be unusually high–significantly higher than those with suicidal thoughts that didn’t actually kill themselves.

While the sample size used in the study is small, the researchers claim the results reflect a “proof of principle” for a suicide test. More about it here.


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