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Zec must respect citizens' rights – NewsDay

THE announcement by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission  (ZEC) that all new voters who registered this year will not be captured on the national voters’ roll and might not vote in the March 26 by-elections and 2023 general polls could cause first-time voters to lose confidence in the system.

Zec chairperson Priscilla Chigumba told journalists in Victoria Falls on Thursday that possession of a registration slip did not mean one would be automatically added onto the voters’ roll.

Does it mean that Zec’s data capturing system is so archaic that the electoral management body, whose core business is dealing in figures, is still doing its work manually?

This is a key question Zec must answer as first-time registrants are eager to exercise their right to vote in the March by-elections and other plebiscites.

For too long, Zec has failed to hold the by-elections, claiming it was waiting for a directive from the Health minister that the environment was now conducive to go ahead with the by-elections following the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country in March 2020.

Having come under immense pressure from civic society organisations and the citizenry to hold the by-elections, Zec capitulated, but has now come up with other excuses, which will advertently disenfranchise new voters.

In essence, the “powers-that-be” are using Zec to frustrate new voters so that they lose hope even in participating in the 2023 general elections.

Chigumba says Zec has two verification systems to check the national identity document and the fingerprint verification, which is run through a system called automated fingerprint verification system.

If those two processes take more than a month to capture 2 971 new voters registered in 2021, as Zec claimed, how long will it take to register Zanu PF and MDC Alliance targeted millions of first-time voters?

How long will it take them to conduct the so-called “meticulous verification of ballots” after the polls?

With Zec’s slow pace, all these millions that political parties are mobilising to participate in the elections, might still not be able to cast their ballots in the 2023 harmonised elections.

Government must channel more resources towards upgrading Zec’s data capturing system to enable an efficient and timely registration and verification process.

On the other hand, Zec should be prepared to bend the rules and allow these first-time registrants to vote given that they were denied the opportunity to register on time due to COVID-19 restrictions and Zec’s own failure to provide adequate registration centres.

The fact that Zec spokesperson Joyce Kazembe publicly apologised for disenfranchising thousands of potential first-time registrants to register due to failure to provide adequate and accessible registration centres should compel the electoral management body to consider allowing first-time registrants to vote upon production of their registration slips.

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Researchers discover biomarkers linked to autism risk – Hindustan Times

A recent clinical study led by a team of international researchers has identified molecular signatures of gestational inflammation linked to the risk of developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Researchers discover biomarkers linked to autism risk(Unsplash)

Researchers discover biomarkers linked to autism risk(Unsplash)
Updated on Jan 23, 2022 09:39 AM IST

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ANI | , Washington

A recent clinical study led by a team of international researchers has identified molecular signatures of gestational inflammation linked to the risk of developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

These findings, which provide insights into abnormal brain development, could eventually lead to a test to screen for ASD at birth. The study was published in the journal ‘Molecular Psychiatry’.

The large study was conducted by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the Norwegian National Institute of Public Health.

ALSO READ: Study links mothers’ use of paracetamol during pregnancy to ADHD, autism in kids

The new research aligns with growing evidence that the risk of ASD is increased by fetal exposure to inflammation. In earlier studies, the researchers linked ASD risk to prenatal exposure to maternal fever, and to influenza infection and herpesvirus type 2 infection — two of many potential triggers for maternal inflammation and ASD.

In the new study, researchers analyzed the presence of 60 molecular markers of immune response, including cytokines and growth factors. Blood samples were collected during pregnancy (maternal mid-gestational blood sample) and at birth (cord blood) from 957 children, roughly half of whom were later diagnosed with ASD. The study linked ASD risk to groupings of inflammation-related molecules, with different groupings seen in boys versus girls.

Among the most predictive molecules were interleukins like IL1RA and IL4. Four molecules thought to be involved in fetal brain development were also linked to ASD risk in both sexes: TNFa, Serpin E1, VCAM1, and IL1b. Biomarkers collected at birth were only slightly less predictive than those collected during pregnancy.

“Our research suggests a period of vulnerability during gestation when inflammation can interfere with central nervous system development,” said first author Xiaoyu (Jason) Che, PhD, assistant professor of biostatistics in the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia Mailman School.

“We found immune signatures in mid-pregnancy blood samples from mothers and in umbilical cord blood from children later diagnosed with autism that correlate with responses to infection, and molecules important for the development of the brain and its blood supply,” said study co-first author, Mady Hornig, MD, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School.

“This work illustrates the unique power of prospective cohorts for elucidating the roots of disease,” said corresponding author, Ezra Susser, professor of epidemiology and psychiatry.

“This paper is the culmination of more than 20 years of data and sample collection and analysis in collaboration with our colleagues in the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Our future research will focus on finding the triggers for inflammation and links between those triggers and genetic susceptibility,” said W. Ian Lipkin, John Snow Professor of Epidemiology and professor of neurology and pathology.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.


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Old Offices Turned Into Apartments In US Add Twist To Working From Home – NDTV



Old Offices Turned Into Apartments In US Add Twist To Working From Home

The Wray, an office building used by the US State Department, has been renovated to house apartments.


Blocks from the White House, an unassuming edifice in downtown Washington that once held offices used by the US Department of Justice is set to be converted into homes for hundreds of people.

The transformation of the vacant office space is among a surge of “adaptive reuse” projects that swept the US property market in 2021, where developers bought hotels and offices that were struggling to get business and announced plans to turn them into apartments.

“The market spoke, and it said the value was greater for a conversion than for it continuing as office space,” said Michael Abrams, managing director of Foulger-Pratt, the property development firm that is turning the 14-story building on New York Avenue into 255 apartments.

A survey by apartment listing service RentCafe found about 20,100 apartments were built out of converted properties in the United States last year, almost double the number converted in the year prior.

Such conversions could offer a way forward for US downtowns, which haven’t been the same since office workers fled as Covid-19 broke out nearly two years ago, leaving landlords and local businesses struggling.

“The slow office market recovery is just going to make it that much more expensive to carry vacant office buildings,” Abrams said.

Conversions may also play a role in easing a shortage of affordable housing, particularly in cities like Washington, where notoriously high rents are a feature of life.

“From the overall perspective, we just need increased supply. By having more supply, both the home price growth will come down and the rents will come down,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors.

Even more expensive

Despite the downturn caused by Covid-19, the median price of existing homes climbed 15.8 percent over the course of 2021, and by last month supply had hit an all-time low, according to NAR data, likely exacerbating a crisis of affordable housing that predated the pandemic.

As of 2017, 48 percent of tenants were considered “rent burdened” by the US Government Accountability Office — meaning they paid more than 30 percent of their income on rent — a figure that had risen six percentage points over the preceding 16 years.

The United States meanwhile has a glut of offices. With many of them dating to the 1980s, they are now too old to be attractive to companies, said Tracy Hadden Loh, a fellow at Brookings Metro.

With their designs centered around outdated needs like space for file cabinets, “Really just the entire building is obsolete,” she said in an interview. 

Corporate pullout

Marc Ehrlich, chief investment officer at Rose Associates, which has converted New York City offices into housing, said such projects tend to be “well-located properties that need a higher and better use.”

One of his firm’s latest undertakings is the transformation of an office once used by telecommunications firm AT&T into a place people want to live.

Lacking amenities like covered parking, the building is unlikely to attract commercial tenants, Ehrlich said.

However, the new apartments will feature co-working spaces, since many tenants will likely want to continue working from home, he said. 

In Washington, developers are pouncing on properties formerly rented by the region’s top employer, the federal government. 

This includes The Wray, an office building used by the State Department, but which has been totally renovated to house apartments.

The only signs of its former use are in the lobby, where the tiles are original, as is a directory listing the names of State Department offices once based there.

“The pool of tenants that goes back into these buildings is dramatically diminished, and that’s what’s putting the stress on that tier of property, that’s what’s creating the opportunity,” said Abrams.

Adaptive reuse projects tend to demand high rents, Loh said, since they often require expensive renovations such as the construction of new bathrooms in buildings where they were once communal.

While expanding inventory has been shown to relieve price pressures elsewhere in the housing market, “This isn’t a solution to the housing crisis,” she added.

“This is a solution to revitalize areas like downtowns that are super dominated by places like office spaces.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Study finds more than 1,000 gene-activation differences between female and male mouse brains –

Male and female mouse brains differ in important ways, according to a new study led by Stanford Medicine investigators.

These differences are likely reflected in the brains of women and men, the researchers speculate.

The scientists probed four tiny structures within mouse brains that are known to program “rating, dating, mating and hating” behaviors. These behaviors — for example, males’ quick determination of a stranger’s sex, females’ receptivity to mating, and maternal protectiveness — help the animals reproduce and their offspring survive.

Analyzing tissue that was extracted from these brain structures and enriched for cells responsive to sex hormones, the scientists found more than 1,000 genes that are substantially more active in the brains of one sex versus the other. Genes are the blueprints for proteins, which do virtually all of a cell’s work. Gene-activation levels — the rate at which the information genes contain is copied and converted into proteins — determine a cell’s functions.

The findings, described in a paper to be published online Jan. 21 in Cell, help explain behavioral sex differences in mammals.

Using these genes as entry points, we’ve identified specific groups of brain cells that orchestrate specific sex-typical behaviors.”

Nirao Shah, MBBS, PhD, study’s senior author, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of neurobiology

Joseph Knoedler, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in Shah’s lab, is the lead author of the study.

The researchers also pinpointed more than 600 differences in gene-activation levels between females in different phases of their estrous cycle. (In women, this is referred to as the menstrual cycle; female mice don’t menstruate.)

“To find, within these four tiny brain structures, several hundred genes whose activity levels depend only on the female’s cycle stage was completely surprising,” said Shah, who has devoted his career to understanding how sex hormones regulate sex-typical behaviors.

The brain structures the researchers focused on are shared among mammals, including humans.

“Mice aren’t humans,” Shah said. “But it’s reasonable to expect that analogous brain cell types will be shown to play roles in our sex-typical social behaviors.”

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