This is Steve Ember.
And this is Bob Doughty with Science in the News, a VOA Special
English program about recent developments in science. Today,
we tell about an ancient stone box that may be the oldest evidence
of Jesus. We tell about an effort to create a new human genome
map to identify genes that cause disease. And we tell about
the latest World Health Report.
Religious experts are excited about the discovery of what may
be the oldest historic evidence of Jesus and the beginnings
of the Christian religion. It is a small stone box that may
have held the bones of a man said to be Jesus¡¯ brother
The box is called an ossuary (OSH-oo-ar-y). Two-thousand years
ago, Jews used ossuaries to hold the remains of their dead.
This box now belongs to a private collector in Israel. The owner
purchased it from a dealer who said the box was found in an
ancient burial area in Jerusalem. The box contains a message
written in Aramaic, a language spoken in the Middle East two-thousand
years ago. The writing says ¡°James, son of Joseph,
brother of Jesus.¡±
Andre Lemaire is a researcher and expert on ancient languages
at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. He examined the ossuary and
wrote a study about it. The study was published in the Biblical
Archeology Review. Herschel Shanks is publisher of the magazine.
He says chemical tests done on the stone box show that the writing
is as old as the box itself.
Mister Shanks says the writing must have been on the box when
it was first used two-thousand years ago. Mister Shanks also
says tests have failed to find any metal particles on the writing.
He says this shows the words probably were not made with a modern
James is identified as Jesus¡¯ brother in the Christian
holy book, the Bible. Two-thousand years ago, the name James
was common in Jerusalem. So were the names Jesus and Joseph.
Andre Lemaire considered the rate at which the three names appear
in existing records from that time. He estimates there could
have been no more than twenty men in Jerusalem named James who
had fathers named Joseph and brothers named Jesus.
Mister Lemaire and Mister Shanks say it was common for an ossuary
to include the name of the dead person¡¯s father.
But they say there are only two reasons to include the name
of the dead person¡¯s brother as well. One reason
was if the brother was responsible for the burial. However,
the James noted in the Bible was killed thirty years after Jesus
was executed. The other reason to include a brother¡¯s
name on the ossuary was if the brother was an extremely important
Not all experts believe that the ossuary is a direct link to
the man whom Christians believe is the son of God. Some people
criticized the Biblical Archeology Review for publishing a study
that involves an object that was stolen from a burial place.
Other experts question the shape of some of the letters and
the spelling of some of the names on the ossuary.
The ossuary will be shown to the public for the first time
at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada starting November
sixteenth. Museum officials say the ancient box was damaged
while it was being transported from Israel to Toronto. But they
say the ossuary was expected to be repaired in time for the
International scientists have joined forces to create a new
kind of map of all the genes of the human body. The effort is
called the International HapMap Project. The project will compare
genetic differences among individuals. Experts hope the project
will lead to identifying genes responsible for diseases like
cancer and diabetes. They believe it will help tell why some
people get these diseases while others do not.
The research will cost about one-hundred-million dollars. Project
scientists estimate the work will take about three years.
Fifteen research teams will begin the map after studying the
genes of people of four ethnic groups. They are Japanese, Han
Chinese, the Yoruba people of Nigeria and Americans of northern
and western European ancestry. The researchers will examine
blood from as many as four-hundred people. Project scientists
are from government agencies, universities, nonprofit research
laboratories and private companies. The researchers come from
Japan, China, Britain, Canada and the United States. The United
States National Institutes of Health is providing thirty-nine
million dollars. That is the largest part of the research money
for the project.
The scientists are developing their work from recent findings
about the human genome. Last year, researchers at the Whitehead
Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, made an important discovery
about genetic material called D-N-A.
They learned that, over time, people pass their D-N-A to their
children in large, unchanged blocks. These blocks of D-N-A are
called haplotypes (HAP-lo-types). Earlier, scientists had thought
D-N-A became mixed as each set of parents had children. The
goal of the new genetic map is to show where the haplotypes
appear throughout the human genome.
The International HapMap Project will also depend on the results
of the Human Genome Project. Scientists produced a map of all
human genes two years ago. But this human genome did not identify
the genes that cause diseases.
Some genetic research has resulted in identifying a single
gene responsible for a disease. For example, scientists found
the gene that causes cystic fibrosis, a disease that affects
a person¡¯s lungs and other organs. The disease cannot
be cured. People who suspect they carry this gene may now be
tested for its presence.
However, researchers say most common diseases do not result
from a single gene but are thought to be caused by several genes
acting together. These conditions include Alzheimer¡¯s
disease, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and a mental disease called
schizophrenia. Scientists believe environmental influences also
are linked to these diseases.
Francis Collins is the director of the National Human Genome
Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health. He
said the HapMap would provide a powerful tool to help doctors
understand the influence of genes on common illnesses.
However, some experts express less hope for the project. Some
reject the description of the haplotypes in the human genome.
Others do not believe that studying haplotypes will find genes
that cause diseases.
The life expectancy of people around the world could increase
by five to ten years if action against common health risks is
taken. This is one of the findings in this year¡¯s
World Health Report released recently by the World Health Organization.
The report is called ¡°Reducing Risks, Promoting Life.¡±
Researchers found that ten major threats to good health are
common around the world. The chief of the World Health Organization,
Gro Harlem Brundtland, called them the ten leading killers.
They include unsafe sex, poor nutrition, high blood pressure,
use of tobacco and alcohol, unsafe water and unclean living
conditions. Also included are high levels of dangerous fat in
the blood, indoor smoke from solid fuels, a lack of iron in
the body and too much body weight, or obesity. Together, these
ten health risks make up forty percent of the fifty-six-million
deaths worldwide each year.
Doctor Brundtland called for reducing the ten main health risks
by twenty-five percent within ten years. If this were done,
life expectancy in industrial countries could increase by ten
years. In developing countries, it could increase by five years.
Currently, the number of life years lost because of these health
risks differs around the world. Doctor Brundtland says the differences
these health risks create between rich and poor nations are
shocking. For example, about one-hundred-seventy-million children
in poor countries are underweight. They do not weigh enough
because they do not get enough food. However, more than one-thousand-million
adults around the world are too fat. Most of these people live
in rich, industrial countries.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by George Grow,
Jerilyn Watson and Jill Moss. It was produced by George Grow.
This is Bob Doughty.
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for more news
about science in Special English on the Voice of America.)
This Science Report is published courtesy