Today's Papers

Turn Back Time

The Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today lead with scientists announcing that they have devised a way to turn skin cells of a mouse into cells that act the same way as embryonic stem cells. If, as the biologists suspect, they are able to replicate this process with humans, it means that embryonic stem cells could be created without using human eggs or destroying embryos, which has been a source of much controversy. Although scientists warned that it could be a while before the technique is successfully adapted to humans, everyone seems excited about the possibilities.

The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with word that federal prosecutors are investigating whether the Kuwaiti company that is building the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad tricked and abused foreign employees who were brought into Iraq to work on the $592 million project. First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting was barred from using Iraqi workers out of security concerns, so the company hired cheap labor from countries such as Bangladesh and Egypt. The company allegedly told employees they would be working in Dubai, and then confiscated their passports when they reached Baghdad so they couldn’t leave. First Kuwaiti denies the allegations. Both the State Department and the U.S. military have already investigated the company over similar claims and said they couldn’t find evidence of any wrongdoing.

The scientists were able to, as the WP describes it, turn “back the biological clocks of skin cells” by using a technique that involves using viruses to insert four genes into the skin cells. Once rejuvenated, some of the cells grew into new mice, “demonstrating the cells’ ability to create every type of tissue in the body,” says the LAT. This means that, if this technique is adaptable to humans, it could be used to create all sorts of replacement tissue for patients that wouldn’t be rejected by their immune system.

In a related development, scientists also said they have found that embryonic stem cells can be created from a fertilized mouse egg. Until now it was thought that only unfertilized eggs could be used, but, in fact, the scientists showed they could even use fertilized eggs that had chromosomal abnormalities and thus had no chance of becoming a healthy embryo. This still makes many people uncomfortable because of the ethical implications, but the scientists point out that fertility clinics frequently discard these types of eggs.

All these new revelations come at an interesting time politically because the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a bill that would increase federal funding for stem-cell research and give scientists access to embryos that would be destroyed by fertility clinics. The Senate already passed a similar bill, and the president has vowed to veto it. Although the new techniques could remove most, if not all, of the ethical objections to stem-cell research, the Post notes that scientists are still urging Congress to pass the bill, because, as the leader of one of the studies said, “a human is not a mouse.” There are still several hurdles that must be overcome before the technique can be used on people. One of the problems is that two of the genes used are known to cause cancer, and 20 percent of the mice in one study developed tumors. In a separate article, the NYT says, the technique “involves genetically altering cells,” which makes many uncomfortable because it could create new safety risks.

The WSJ goes high with reports that emerged yesterday saying that the Turkish military had launched an operation into northern Iraq in search of Kurdish rebels. The Turkish and Iraqi governments denied the reports, while American officials said there was no evidence that there had been a military incursion. But news agencies continued to cite Turkish military sources saying that troops had carried out “a limited operation.” In other Iraq news, two car bombs exploded near a revered Shiite shrine in Baghdad, and the U.S. military announced the death of four more soldiers. The LAT notes this means that at least 3,503 U.S. military personnel have been killed since the beginning of the war.

The NYT reefers a list issued by six human rights groups that includes 39 names of people they say are currently being secretly imprisoned by U.S. authorities. The groups acknowledge they can’t be sure of all the people identified on the list, but they used the opportunity to call for an end to secret detentions.

All the papers go inside with former Deputy Attorney General James Comey’s claim that Vice President Dick Cheney blocked the promotion of a senior Justice Department lawyer because he had raised concerns about the warrantless surveillance program. In written answers to questions posed by the Senate judiciary committee, Comey said Cheney made it clear to Justice Department officials that he disagreed with their claim that the surveillance program needed to be changed.

The NYT off-leads a look at what appears to be a clear example of how someone can benefit from raising money for a lawmaker’s campaign. In a 2006 transportation bill, Republican Rep. Don Young, R.-Alaska, inserted a $10 million earmark to extend a road in Florida. Young is already infamous for putting money aside to fund Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere,” but this earmark is particularly perplexing since, well, Florida is a little far away from his district. The Republican congressman who represents the district where Coconut Road is located said he didn’t ask for the funds, and, in fact, county officials have voted not to use the money. So, who wants the road? A developer who raised money for Young and owns several thousand acres of property along Coconut Road, which, naturally, would increase in value if the extension is built. Proving his classiness, when Young “was approached near the House floor by a reporter, [he] responded with an obscene gesture,” writes the NYT.