Science News Digest

This is Sarah Long. And this is Bob Doughty with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today, we tell about the publication of ancient writings called the Dead Sea Scrolls. We tell about a common pain medicine that may prevent Alzheimer's Disease. And we tell about a project that provides farm animals to people in developing countries.

The ancient documents called the Dead Sea Scrolls have been published, more than fifty years after their discovery. Emmanuel Tov of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, announced the publication in New York City last month. For eleven years, Professor Tov has led an international effort to study and publish the ancient writings.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were written more than two-thousand years ago. They represent the oldest surviving copies of the Old Testament of the Bible, considered holy by both the Jewish and Christian religions.

Some experts have called the Dead Sea Scrolls one of the most important discoveries of the Twentieth Century. The scrolls were found between Nineteen-Forty-Seven and Nineteen-Fifty-Six in caves near the ruins of an ancient settlement at Qumran. Qumran is on the western shore of the Dead Sea, near Jericho, in what is now part of the West Bank.

Eight of the documents found were almost complete. More than one-hundred-thousand pieces of documents also were found. Some pieces were as long as one meter. Others were only a few centimeters long. The Dead Sea Scrolls were written on animal skin and an ancient form of paper called papyrus. The scrolls were written mainly in two languages: Hebrew and Aramaic.

Experts say the Dead Sea Scrolls are a treasure of Jewish history and religion. They say the scrolls help to show what the Hebrew Bible looked like more than two-thousand years ago. They also show the thinking of Jews who lived before and during the period when Christianity first began.

Some of the writings include the prayers, laws and beliefs of the people who wrote them. Many experts believe the writers were from a group called the Essenes who lived in Qumran. A few experts believe the scrolls were written in Jerusalem and hidden in caves in Qumran to protect them from invading Roman forces.

Ten years ago, publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls was far from completion. A small group of experts controlled the documents and resisted requests to share them. The speed of the work quickened under the direction of Professor Tov. He says electronic technology helped speed completion of the project. For example, the new technology helped experts read the writing on some of the documents that they could not even see before.

Oxford University Press is publishing the Dead Sea Scrolls. The nine-hundred scrolls and commentaries are published in thirty-seven books. Two of the books are in final preparation. The series is called "Discoveries in the Judean Desert." One book to be published early next year will give a history of the project and list all the writings.

You are listening to the Special English program SCIENCE IN THE NEWS on VOA. This is Sarah Long with Bob Doughty in Washington.

Scientists in the Netherlands have found the strongest evidence yet that some common medicines may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. The medicines are called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. People take the drugs to ease pain or reduce high body temperature. They include drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

The Dutch study found that adults who took the painkilling drugs every day for at least two years greatly reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. They were eighty percent less likely to develop the disease than people who had never taken the drugs.

The study is not the first to suggest that some painkillers reduce the risk of Alzheimer's. However, experts say it is one of the largest and best designed studies on the subject. The New England Journal of Medicine reported the findings.

Twelve-million people around the world suffer from Alzheimer's disease. They slowly lose their ability to think and remember. These changes are caused by the progressive death of brain cells. About ten percent of people sixty-five years and older have Alzheimer's. However, the risk of the disease increases with age.

Other studies have suggested that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs could help prevent or treat Alzheimer's. A few years ago, scientists found that some people who take these drugs have a lower risk of developing the disease. Scientists suspected the painkillers had a protective effect because they help to reduce the pain and swelling of damaged tissue.

The new Dutch study involved almost seven-thousand adults in a community near Rotterdam. They were fifty-five years old or older. None of them had Alzheimer's when the study began. By the end of the study seven years later, two-hundred-ninety-three people had developed the disease.

The Dutch scientists examined a national system of medical records to identify which patients had taken anti-inflammatory drugs and for how long. More than four-thousand of the people took the drugs. Most of the people took them to ease the pain of the disease arthritis. Arthritis affects areas of the body where bones are joined, like the knees.

The study found that the length of drug use was linked with a reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer's. The risk was not greatly different among people who took the drugs for less than two years and non-users. Among long-term users, the protective effect appeared to be the same, no matter how much of the drugs were taken. The study found that the drug aspirin did not reduce the risk of the disease.

Bruno Stricker of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam led the study. He urged people not to start using anti-inflammatory drugs before other studies confirm the findings. Mr. Stricker warned that the drugs can have serious side effects, such as severe bleeding in the stomach or intestines.

One of the biggest problems in developing countries is hunger. An organization called Heifer International is working to improve this situation. The organization sends needed farm animals to families and communities around the world.

An American farmer, Dan West, developed the idea for Heifer International in the Nineteen-Thirties. Mr. West was working in Spain where he discovered a need for cows. Many families were starving because of a civil war in that country. So Mr. West asked his friends in the United States to send some cows. The first Heifer animals were sent in Nineteen-Forty-Four.

Since that time, more than four-million people in one-hundred-fifteen countries have had better lives because of Heifer animals. The organization provides families a chance to feed themselves and become self-supporting. It provides more than twenty kinds of animals, such as sheep, goats, pigs and cows. Last year, Heifer International helped more than thirty-thousand families in forty-six countries.

To receive a Heifer animal, groups must first explain their needs and goals. They must also make a plan which will allow them to become self-supporting. Local experts usually provide training. The organization says that animals must have food, water, shelter, health care, and the ability to reproduce. Without them, the animals will not remain healthy and productive.

Heifer International also believes that groups must pass on some of their success to others in need. This belief guarantees that each person who takes part in the program also becomes a giver. Every family that receives a Heifer animal must agree to give that animal's first female baby to other people in need. Families must also agree to pass on the skills and training they received from Heifer International. This concept of "passing on the gift" helps communities become self-supporting.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by George Grow and Jill Moss. This is Sarah Long. And this is Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

Source: SCIENCE IN THE NEWS - December 4, 2001: Digest
TEXT = http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/archive/2001-12/a-2001-12-03-1-1.cfm?renderforprint=1