27th February 2000

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Scientists create bionic chip

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - Scientists said on Friday they have created a bionic chip that mixes human cells with layers of silicon, a device they hope to use in research and to treat disease.

The chip is a sandwich that traps a cell within three layers of silicon. The cell acts to complete an electrical circuit, and can be altered -perhaps to add a new gene - as part of the process.

Yong Huang and Boris Rubinsky of the University of California at Berkeley say their invention, described in the journal Biomedical Microdevices, is used for a process called electroporation.

"We have developed a micro-electroporation chip that incorporates a live biological cell in the electrical circuit," they wrote in their report.

Electroporation is used extensively in genetic engineering and other forms of research on cells. It uses an electrical current to open pores in the membranes that surround cells, allowing scientists to put in new genes or other compounds.

The chip integrates the cell, using it to complete the needed electrical circuit and trapping it in place so the new genes or compounds can be inserted.

"In a typical process, individual cells flow through the inlet tube to the top chamber between the top and middle layers," the researchers wrote.

A bottom chamber is kept at a lower pressure, and the cell is automatically sucked into a hole that connects the two chambers.

Focus on Rights

Remembering Richard De Zoysa

10 years on: Same arguments, same threats

By: Kishali Pinto Jayawardene

What price, the death of a man or a woman in a culture of brutality? Writing to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1998, Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney talked about the Republic of Conscience, for whose inhabitants it is an article of faith that "all life sprang from salt in tears, which the sky-god wept after he dreamt his solitude was endless."Richard De Zoysa

The sacred symbol of this Republic is a stylized boat, the sail is an ear, the mast is a sloping pen, the hull is a mouth-shape and the keel is an open eye. To enter this space, there are no formal immigration procedures, "you carried your own burdens and soon, your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared." Heaney was writing thus to celebrate an anniversary of special significance in the history of mankind. His comments are peculiarly appropriate at this time when the country marks the 10th death anniversary of a man whose inhabitancy of Heaney's dangerous Republic was beyond question.

Richard de Zoysa, journalist, communicator and human rights activist of a particular incandescent brilliance was killed on February 18, 1990. His ruthless slaying was demonstrably different from the other killings of Sri Lanka's men and women of intellect, in recent times. Though his murderers have not still been officially named and condemned, they have been recognised without a doubt to be agents of the State. His death, a symbol of the senseless brutality of that period, is yet put forward by some as the kind of fitting retribution that awaits those who dare to "disagree with the State and therefore become traitors". For members of his tribe who claim the journalistic right to expose and to dissent, what happened to Richard has become an even more significant warning of what yet might happen to any one of the tribe in Sri Lanka's continuing culture of brutality. For his sake therefore and for the purpose of shaking ourselves into a consciousness of history's true ironies, it might be well to engage in a time warp and take ourselves back to the particular atmosphere which prevailed at the time of his death. And what better way to do this than to revisit the chambers of the Parliament of this country on the day of the debate on the monthly extension of the emergency immediately following his death, for us to be reminded of some salutary lessons.

Present in the House on that occasion, this columnist vividly remembers the nature of the debate that prevailed, a debate which in best of all surreal traditions, one can easily imagine being reenacted in this day and age, with different players, of course. Then, it was a feeling of unreality that persisted when journalists in the press galleries, to which Richard was no stranger, sat through the emergency debate of the day and watched it developing into a condolence motion on his death. It was a time when the harshness of the reprisals on the JVP had lessened and some of the more draconian emergency regulations had been lifted.

Despite this, the case of the opposition was that killings of all those, whose views were seen to be contrary to the Government, were continuing. Professionals, businessmen and lawyers were leaving the country in droves for fear of being persecuted. MEP leader Dinesh Gunewardene, one of the more articulate parliamentarians of his day, summed it up in words that sound so appropriate for the present day reality as well. "One will soon have to go about searching with a lamp to discover the faintest traces of democracy left in this land", he warned. At that time, the attack on Richard's killing was led by SLFP leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who outlined the circumstances of his death and said the murdered man was a "journalist, playwright and a fighter for human rights. Perhaps the last was his crime" Her chief protagonist was then Defence Minister, Ranjan Wijeratne with his characteristically outspoken rejoinders on the fate that befalls all those who threaten the State. Backed up by UNP backbenchers who could not understand why all this fuss was made about one man when hundreds had died in the country in recent times, Minister Wijeratne was then heard to say that "we are pressing the JVP to the jungles. There are only a few of them left. We will pursue them in the same way that we will pursue others who threaten us." It was a remark calculated to bring out the ire of the Opposition whose outraged protests at this stifling of parliamentary democracy was calmed only by a part apology by Minister Wijeratne with regard to the remark that he had made.

Throughout, questions on Richard's death were evaded by government spokesmen whose excuse was that the Magisterial inquiry was on and that therefore they could not comment. Ten years later, one remembers this one debate with particular sadness. Thus, the lessons that history teaches us are all so apt. The magisterial inquiry and numerous other inquiries subsequently did not succeed in bringing the killers of Richard de Zoysa to light. Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, then a formidable opponent of the forces "against the State" has now also been killed, a victim of the self same tide of force which he was so quick in justifying.

The Opposition has become the Government but excepting the individual personalities involved, the arguments are the same and the threats are the same. Over and above everything else, that Richard's assassination has yet not quite been repeated is only a matter of time. Given the re-enacting of a civil insurrection of that particular nature in the years to come or even in the absence of such, the chances of such brutality being remorselessly repeated is inevitably high. What signs are there, after all, that the conscience of this country had increased appreciably since his death? What signs are there that the safety barriers to the replaying of such a tragic drama, (not common to Richard alone but also to the numerous others who were killed during this time), are safely in place? On the contrary, if anything, the lack of conscience on the part of our leaders, our professionals, our academics and our so-called civic minded citizens, the reluctance to claim citizenship to Heaney's Republic, have now become a matter of ingrained habit. And the system goes on. In truth, an inescapably depressing conclusion which one is compelled to come to, on the tenth anniversary of Ricahrd de Zoysa's death.

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