Pope’s iPad fetches $30,500 at auction

MONTEVIDEO (Reuters): An Apple iPad which belonged to Pope Francis has fetched $30,500 at auction, with proceeds going to a school for the poor in Uruguay, the local auction house selling the item said. The Castells auction house in Montevideo said the winning bid was placed by telephone, but declined to disclose the buyer’s identity or nationality. It is not the first time Pope Francis, who has often criticized orthodox market economics for fostering inequality, has donated a personal belonging. Last year, a Harley-Davidson motorbike he had received as a gift fetched 241,500 euros ($257,681). “May you do something good with it,” Uruguayan priest Gonzalo Aemilius recalled being told by the Argentina-born pope when he handed over the iPad.

Aemilius in turn donated the tablet to the Francisco de Paysandu high school, located about 370 kilometers (230 miles)north of the capital, Montevideo. School officials said that after a string of failed attempts to sell the iPad through auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s they were offering the iPad through local auction house Castells. The device carries the inscription “His Holiness Francisco. Servizio Internet Vatican, March 2013,” and has a certificate signed by the Pope’s personal secretary, Fabian Pedacchio Leaniz. Pope Francis has called the Internet a “gift from God,” but confesses to being a “disaster” with technology.

Migrating whale sets distance record

PARIS (AFP): A lone female Western North Pacific grey whale has set a record for long-distance migration, according to a study. Nicknamed Varvara, the nine-year-old whale was tagged off Russia’s Sakhalin Island in 2011. She crossed from the northwestern to the northeastern side of the Pacific and followed the western Canadian and US coast down to breeding grounds off Baja California, Mexico. She swam 10,880 kilometres (6,800 miles) in 69 days - “the longest recorded distance travelled during a mammal migration,” the scientists said. She then returned home by a slightly more southerly route, completing a 172-day, 22,511-km (14,069-mile) trek, also a record for round-trip migration.

Immune system linked to Alzheimer’s disease

WASHINGTON (AFP): The immune system may play a part in Alzheimer’s disease, US researchers have discovered, in a breakthrough which could lead to the development of new treatments for the most common form of dementia. A Duke University study published in the Journal of Neuroscience reported that researchers had found that certain immune system cells which normally protect the brain began to consume a key nutrient, arginine. In tests on mice, researchers were able to block the process with a small-molecule drug to prevent brain plaques and memory loss. The study found that while the exact role of immune system cells was unclear, the research could point to a new potential cause of Alzheimer’s while eventually opening a door to a new treatment strategy.

 “If indeed arginine consumption is so important to the disease process, maybe we could block it and reverse the disease,” said Carol Colton, professor of neurology at the Duke University School of Medicine, a senior author of the study. “We see this study opening the doors to thinking about Alzheimer’s in a completely different way, to break the stalemate of ideas in Alzheimer’s disease.” Research into the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers has typically focused on two hallmarks - “plaques” and “tangles.” Plaques are a build-up of sticky proteins known as beta amyloid while tangles are a twisted protein called tau. By studying a type of mouse created several years ago with a similar type of immune system to a human, researchers found that immune cells called microglia began to divide and change early in the onset of Alzheimer’s. Using the drug difluoromethylornithine (DFMO) before the onset of symptoms, scientists were able to block damage caused by arginase, an enzyme which breaks down arginine. “All of this suggests to us that if you can block this local process of amino acid deprivation, then you can protect - the mouse, at least - from Alzheimer’s disease,” said Matthew Kan, one of the researchers involved in the study.

Putin earns less than many in the Kremlin

MOSCOW (Reuters): Russian President Vladimir Putin earned about $151,000 in 2014, less than many others in the presidential administration, according to details of his income declaration published by the Kremlin on Wednesday. Putin’s wealth has long been the focus of speculation by opponents who portray him as one of the richest men in the world, allegations he has dismissed. Putin declared ownership of three Russian cars, a trailer, some land, an apartment and a garage. His earnings of 7.65 million roubles compared to about 3.6 million roubles in 2013, which was around $100,000 at the exchange rate a year ago. The Kremlin did not say how much of the 2014 income was made up by Putin’s salary, which is not public knowledge, but was raised a year ago.

Empire State lights up for Nigeria missing girls

NEW YORK (AFP): New York’s Empire State building was lit up in red and purple Tuesday in honor of more than 200 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants one year ago. The edifice was to remain illuminated until 2:00 am (0600 GMT), a nod to the number of girls who remain missing.  Candlelight vigils, rallies and prayers were held from Nigeria to New Zealand to Paris to mark one year since the girls were kidnapped, while others commemorated the missing students and demanded their safe return with #BringBackOurGirls messages. “On Tuesday, April 14, 2015, The Empire State Building will be lit Purple and red in honor of BringBackOurGirls,” the Empire State website said. Some 276 girls were taken from the northeastern town of Chibok by the Boko Haram extremists, 219 of which remain missing.  Amnesty International said the Chibok girls’ kidnapping was one of 38 in northeast Nigeria since the start of last year that had seen at least 2,000 women taken by the militants. Nigeria’s president-elect Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday cautioned he could not make promises on the return of the 219 missing schoolgirls. 

Public trust in the Web ‘eroded’

THE HAGUE (AFP): The public’s trust in the Internet has been severely eroded by a cloak-and-dagger approach to collecting private data online leaving it open to abuse, the Global Commission on Internet Governance said on Wednesday. “Confidence must be restored in the Internet because trust is eroding,” commission head Carl Bildt told a press conference in The Hague, ahead of a two-day conference on cyber freedom, safety and security. Around 1,500 delegates from almost 100 countries are to gather in The Hague on Thursday and Friday at the fourth annual Global Conference on Cyberspace (GCCS), which will discuss how to keep the Internet safe and free and how to use it to boost economic growth. Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister, said distrust was brought about by “the non-transparent market in collecting, centralising, integrating and analysing enormous quantities of private information about individuals and enterprises.”