Herbs & Plants

Artemisia absinthium

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Botanical Name : Artemisia absinthium
Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Artemisia
Species: A. absinthium
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Asterales

Synonyms: Absinthium officinale Brot. Artemisia pendula Salisb.. Artemisia rhaetica Brügger
Common Names: Absinthium, Absinthe wormwood, Wormwood, Common wormwood, Green ginger or Grand wormwood
Habitat :Artemisia absinthium is native to temperate regions of Eurasia and Northern Africa and widely naturalized in Canada and the northern United States. It grows naturally on uncultivated, arid ground, on rocky slopes, and at the edge of footpaths and fields.

Artemisia absinthium is a herbaceous, perennial plant with fibrous roots. The stems are straight, growing to 0.8–1.2 metres (2 ft 7 in–3 ft 11 in) (rarely 1.5 m, but, sometimes even larger) tall, grooved, branched, and silvery-green. The leaves are spirally arranged, greenish-grey above and white below, covered with silky silvery-white trichomes, and bearing minute oil-producing glands; the basal leaves are up to 25 cm long, bipinnate to tripinnate with long petioles, with the cauline leaves (those on the stem) smaller, 5–10 cm long, less divided, and with short petioles; the uppermost leaves can be both simple and sessile (without a petiole). Its flowers are pale yellow, tubular, and clustered in spherical bent-down heads (capitula), which are in turn clustered in leafy and branched panicles. Flowering is from early summer to early autumn; pollination is anemophilous. The fruit is a small achene; seed dispersal is by gravity.


Landscape Uses:Border, Ground cover, Seashore. Succeeds in any soil but it is best in a poor dry one with a warm aspect. Established plants are very drought tolerant. Plants are longer lived, more hardy and more aromatic when they are grown in a poor dry soil. Easily grown in a well-drained circumneutral or slightly alkaline loamy soil, preferring a sunny position. Prefers a shady situation according to another report. Tolerates a pH in the range 4.8 to 8.2. Wormwood is occasionally grown in the herb garden, there are some named forms. The growing plant is said to inhibit the growth of fennel, sage, caraway, anise and most young plants, especially in wet years. Wormwood is a good companion for carrots, however, helping to protect them from root fly. This herb was at one time the principal flavouring in the liqueur ‘Absinthe’ but its use has now been banned in most countries since prolonged consumption can lead to chronic poisoning, epileptiform convulsions and degeneration of the central nervous system. The scent of the plant attracts dogs. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer. Special Features: Attractive foliage, Not North American native, Naturalizing, Suitable for dried flowers.
Seed – surface sow from late winter to early summer in a greenhouse. The seed usually germinates within 2 – 26 weeks at 15°c. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots. They can be planted out in the summer, or kept in pots in a cold frame for the winter and then planted out in the spring. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Division in spring or autumn.

Edible Uses :
Leaves are occasionally used as a flavouring. Caution is advised, prolonged use is known to have a detrimental effect – see the notes above on toxicity.

It is an ingredient in the spirit absinthe, and is used for flavouring in some other spirits and wines, including bitters, vermouth and pelinkovac. In the Middle Ages, it was used to spice mead, and in Morocco it is used as tea. In 18th century England, wormwood was sometimes used instead of hops in beer.

Medicinal Uses:

Anthelmintic; Antiseptic; Antispasmodic; Appetizer; Carminative; Cholagogue; Emmenagogue; Febrifuge; Homeopathy; Hypnotic; Stimulant;
Stomachic; Tonic; Vermifuge.

Wormwood is a very bitter plant with a long history of use as a medicinal herb. It is valued especially for its tonic effect on the liver, gallbladder and digestive system, and for its vermicidal activity. It is an extremely useful medicine for those with weak and under-active digestion. It increases stomach acid and bile production, improving digestion and the absorption of nutrients. It also eases wind and bloating and, if taken regularly, helps the body return to full vitality after a prolonged illness. The leaves and flowering shoots are anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitumor, carminative, cholagogue, emmenagogue, febrifuge, hypnotic, stimulant, stomachic, tonic and vermifuge. The plant is harvested as it is coming into flower and then dried for later use. Use with caution, the plant should be taken internally in small doses for short-term treatment only, preferably under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. It should not be prescribed for children or pregnant women. See also the notes above on toxicity. The extremely bitter leaves are chewed to stimulate the appetite. The bitter taste on the tongue sets off a reflex action, stimulating stomach and other digestive secretions. The leaves have been used with some success in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. The plant is applied externally to bruises and bites. A warm compress has been used to ease sprains and strained muscles. A homeopathic remedy is made from the leaves. It is used to stimulate bile and gastric juice production and to treat disorders of the liver and gall bladder.

Wormwood leaves primary use is to stimulate the gallbladder, help prevent, and release stones, and to adjust resulting digestive problems.  Clinical studies with volunteers proved that wormwood does effectively increase bile.  It expels roundworms and threadworms, probably due to is sesquiterpene lactones.  It is also a muscle relaxer that is occasionally added to liniments, especially for rheumatism.  Members of the Bedouin African tribe place the antiseptic leaves inside their nostrils as a decongestant and drink it for coughs.  Wormwood is an extremely useful medicine for those with weak and underactive digestions.  It increases stomach acid and bile production and therefore improves digestion and the absorption of nutrients, making it helpful for many conditions including anemia.  It also eases gas and bloating, and if the tincture is taken regularly, it slowly strengthens the digestion and helps the body return to full vitality after a prolonged illness.

Other Uses:
Repellent; Strewing.
The fresh or dried shoots are said to repel insects and mice, they have been laid amongst clothing to repel moths and have also been used as a strewing herb. An infusion of the plant is said to discourage slugs and insects. The plant contains substances called sesquiterpene lactones, these are strongly insecticidal.

Known Hazards: Artemisia absinthium contains thujone, a GABAA receptor antagonist that can cause epileptic-like convulsions and kidney failure when ingested in large amounts. Even small quantities have been known to cause nervous disorders, convulsions, insomnia etc. Just the scent of the plant has been known to cause headaches and nervousness in some people. The plant contains thujone. In small quantities this acts as a brain stimulant but is toxic in excess. Avoid if prone to seizures. Avoid during pregnancy & breast feeding. Absinthism adverse effects include hallucinations, insomnia, loss of intellect, psychosis, tremor & seizures.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


Herbs & Plants

Artemisia vulgaris

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Botanical Name: Artemisia vulgaris
Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Artemisia
Species: A. vulgaris
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Asterales
Synonyms: Felon Herb. St. John’s Plant. Cingulum Sancti Johannis.   Absinthium spicatum. Artemisia affinis. Artemisia coarctata. Artemisia officinalis

Common Names:   Mugwort, Common wormwood, Felon Herb, Chrysanthemum Weed, Wild Wormwood

Other Names: Felon herb, Chrysanthemum weed, Wild wormwood, Old Uncle Henry, Sailor’s tobacco, Naughty man, Old man or St. John’s plant

Habitat: Artemisia vulgaris is native to temperate Europe, Asia, northern Africa and Alaska and is naturalized in North America, where some consider it an invasive weed. It is a very common plant growing on nitrogenous soils, like weedy and uncultivated areas, such as waste places and roadsides.

Artemisia vulgaris is a tall herbaceous perennial plant growing 1–2 m (rarely 2.5 m) tall, with a woody root. The leaves are 5–20 cm long, dark green, pinnate, with dense white tomentose hairs on the underside. The erect stem often has a red-purplish tinge. The rather small flowers (5 mm long) are radially symmetrical with many yellow or dark red petals. The narrow and numerous capitula (flower heads) spread out in racemose panicles. It flowers from July to September…..CLICK & SEE THE PICTURES

A number of species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) feed on the leaves and flowers.
Easily grown in a well-drained circumneutral or slightly alkaline loamy soil, preferring a sunny position and a moist soil. Plants are longer lived, more hardy and more aromatic when they are grown in a poor dry soil. Tolerates a pH in the range 4.8 to 8.2. Established plants are drought tolerant. Mugwort is an aggressive and invasive plant, it inhibits the growth of nearby plants by means of root secretions. The sub-species A. vulgaris parviflora. Maxim. is the form that is eaten in China. There are some named varieties. ‘White’ is a taller plant than the type species, growing to 1.5 metres. It has a strong, rather resinous or “floral” taste similar to chrysanthemum leaves and is used in soups or fried as a side dish. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer. Special Features:Edible, Not North American native, Invasive, Attracts butterflies, Suitable for dried flowers, Fragrant flowers, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms.
Propagation :
Seed – surface sow from late winter to early summer in a greenhouse and do not allow the compost to dry out. When large enough to handle, prick out the seedlings into individual pots. If growth is sufficient, they can be planted out into their permanent positions in the summer, otherwise grow them on in a cold frame for their first winter and then plant them out in the spring. Division in spring or autumn. Basal cuttings in late spring. Harvest the young shoots when about 10 – 15cm long, pot up in a lightly shaded position in a greenhouse or cold frame and plant them out when well rooted. Very easy.

Edible Uses: 
Edible Parts: Leaves.
Edible Uses: Colouring; Condiment.

Leaves – raw or cooked. Aromatic and somewhat bitter. Their addition to the diet aids the digestion and so they are often used in small quantities as a flavouring, especially with fatty foods. They are also used to give colour and flavour to glutinous-rice dumplings (Mochi). The young shoots are used in spring. In Japan the young leaves are used as a potherb. The dried leaves and flowering tops are steeped into tea. They have also been used as a flavouring in beer, though fell into virtual disuse once hops came into favour

Parts Used in Medicines: The leaves, collected in August and dried in the same manner as Wormwood, and the root, dug in autumn and dried. The roots are cleansed in cold water and then freed from rootlets. Drying may be done at first in the open air, spread thinly, as contact may turn the roots mouldy. Or they may be spread on clean floors, or on shelves, in a warm room for about ten days, and turned frequently. When somewhat shrunken, they must be finished more quickly by artificial heat in a drying room or shed, near a stove or gas fire, care being taken that the heated air can escape at the top of the room. Drying in an even temperature will probably take about a fortnight, or more. It is not complete until the roots are dry to the core and brittle, snapping when bent.

Mugwort root is generally about 8 inches long, woody, beset with numerous thin and tough rootlets, 2 to 4 inches long, and about 1/12 inch thick. It is light brown externally; internally whitish, with an angular wood and thick bark, showing five or six resin cells. The taste is sweetish and acrid.

Constituents: A volatile oil, an acrid resin and tannin.

Medicinal Uses:
It has stimulant and slightly tonic properties, and is of value as a nervine and emmenagogue, having also diuretic and diaphoretic action.

Its chief employment is as an emmenagogue, often in combination with Pennyroyal and Southernwood. It is also useful as a diaphoretic in the commencement of cold.

It is given in infusion, which should be prepared in a covered vessel, 1 OZ. of the herb to 1 pint of boiling water, and given in 1/2 teaspoonful doses, while warm. The infusion may be taken cold as a tonic, in similar doses, three times daily: it has a bitterish and aromatic taste.

As a nervine, Mugwort is valued in palsy, fits, epileptic and similar affections, being an old-fashioned popular remedy for epilepsy (especially in persons of a feeble constitution). Gerard says: ‘Mugwort cureth the shakings of the joynts inclining to the Palsie;’ and Parkinson considered it good against hysteria. A drachm of the powdered leaves, given four times a day, is stated by Withering to have cured a patient who had been affected with hysterical fits for many years, when all other remedies had failed.

The juice and an infusion of the herb were given for intermittent fevers and agues. The leaves used to be steeped in baths, to communicate an invigorating property to the water.

The classic herb for premenstrual symptoms, used in tea and the bath. Use a standard infusion of two teaspoons per cup of water steeped for 20 minutes, take ? cup flour times a day. It makes a good foot bath for tired feet and legs. Cleansing to the liver, it promotes digestion. Mugwort is an emmenagogue, especially when combined with pennyroyal, blue cohosh, or angelica root. It is helpful in epilepsy, palsy, and hysteria and is useful for fevers.

HOMEOPATHIC: Homeopaths use Artemisia vulgaris for petit mal epilepsy, somnambulism, profuse perspiration that smells like garlic and dizziness caused by colored lights. It is especially effective when given with wine.

Other Uses:  Landscape Uses:  Border.  The fresh or the dried plant repels insects, it can be used as a spray but caution is advised since it can also inhibit plant growth. A weak tea made from the infused plant is a good all-purpose insecticide. An essential oil from the plant kills insect larvae. The down on the leaves makes a good tinder for starting fires.

Known Hazards: The plant might be poisonous in large doses. Skin contact can cause dermatitis in some people. Probably unsafe for pregnant women as it may stimulate the uterus to contract and induce abortion

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


Herbs & Plants

Artemisia franserioides

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Botanical Name: Artemisia franserioides
Family: Asteraceae – Aster family
Genus: Artemisia L. – sagebrush
Species: Artemisia franserioides Greene – ragweed sagebrush
KingdomPlantae – Plants
Subkingdom : Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass: Asteridae
Order: Asterales

Common Name :Ragweed Sagebrush,   Bursage mugwort, Mountain mugwort

Habitat :
Artemisia franserioides is native to the southwestern United States (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma) as well as northern Mexico (Chihuahua)

Artemisia franserioides is a biennial or perennial herb,  growing up to 100 cm (40 inches) tall. It is faintly aromatic, with many small, hanging flower heads. It grows in conifer forests.. It is a non-woody plant and not a grass, and belongs to the genus Artemisia.It’s stems are erect and reddish brown in color. The leaves are basal in form of rosettes and bicolor (that is white and green). The blades are ovate and pinnately lobed about 2-6 mm in width. The flower heads are in painuliform arrays and florets are pistillate about 1-1.5mm with yellow corollas. The flowers bloom from late summer to early fall.


Cultivation: The plant has average water needs and medium maintenance. It requires dry to medium moisture and well drained soils and poor to moderately fertile soil to grow in its best. Plant will rot at its root in wet soils. The flowers are bisexual in nature. The leaves and young shoots are antibacterial, anticholesterolemic, antiviral, cholagogue, diuretic, febrifuge and vasodilator and in the treatment of jaundice, hepatitis, gall bladder complaints and feverish illnesses and headaches.
The word “Artemisia” comes from the Greek god, Artemis. This plant needs full sun to partial shade and well drained soil.

Medicinal Uses:
As a cold and flu medicine it is drunk cold to settle the stomach, and hot to bring on and to reduce fever.  It also is brewed as a bitter tonic for stomach pains and acidosis from greasy and rancid foods. Also used for diarrhea.

The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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Exercise Health & Fitness

Exercise Protects Against Stress Induced Cell Aging

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Exercise can buffer the effects of stress-induced cell aging, according to new research that revealed actual benefits of physical activity at the cellular level.

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The scientists learned that vigorous physical activity as brief as 42 minutes over a 3-day period, similar to federally recommended levels, can protect individuals from the effects of stress by reducing its impact on telomere length. Telomeres (pronounced TEEL-oh-meres) are tiny pieces of DNA that promote genetic stability and act as protective sheaths by keeping chromosomes from unraveling, much like plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces.

A growing body of research suggests that short telomeres are linked to a range of health problems, including coronary heart disease and diabetes, as well as early death.

“Telomere length is increasingly considered a biological marker of the accumulated wear and tear of living, integrating genetic influences, lifestyle behaviors, and stress,” said Elissa Epel, who is one of the lead investigators. “Even a moderate amount of vigorous exercise appears to provide a critical amount of protection for the telomeres.”

The findings build on previous research documenting that chronic psychological stress takes a significant toll on the human body by impacting the length of telomeres in immune cells. While the exact mechanisms have remained elusive, a research study in 2004 found that the ramifications of stress stretch deep into our cells, affecting telomeres, which are believed to play a key role in cellular aging, and possibly disease development.

The findings also build on previous studies showing that exercise is linked to longer telomeres, but this is the first study to show that exercise — acting as a “stress-buffer” – can prevent the shortening of telomeres due to stress.

Research on telomeres, and the enzyme that makes them, was pioneered by three Americans, including molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn who co-discovered the telomerase enzyme in 1985. The scientists received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009.

“We are at the tip of the iceberg in our understanding of which lifestyle factors affect telomere maintenance, and how,” noted Blackburn.

In the study, 62 post-menopausal women – many of whom were caring for spouses or parents with dementia — reported at the end of each day over three days the number of minutes of vigorous physical activity in which they had engaged. Vigorous activity in the study was defined as “increased heart rate and/or sweating.” They also reported separately their perceptions of life stress that they had experienced during the prior month. Their blood’s immune cells were examined for telomere length.

Results support the discovery six years earlier in premenopausal women that psychological stress has a detrimental effect on immune cell longevity, as it relates to shorter telomeres. The new study showed, however, that when participants were divided into groups – an inactive group, and an active group (i.e., they met federal recommendations for 75 minutes of weekly physical activity) – only the inactive high stress group had shorter telomeres. The active high stress group did not have shorter telomeres. In other words, stress predicted shorter telomeres in the sedentary group, but not in the active group.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week for adults, or 150 minutes of moderate activity in addition to weight-bearing exercises. For children and adolescents, recommended levels are 90 minutes per day. For this sample of older women, it appears that the CDC-recommended level of vigorous exercise for adults may be enough to buffer the effects of stress on telomeres. However, the researchers say, this finding needs to be replicated with larger samples.

“At this point, we have replicated previous findings showing a link between life stress and the dynamics of how cells age,” said lead author Eli Puterman. “Yet we have extended those findings to show that, in fact, there are things we can do about it. If we maintain the levels of physical activity recommended, at least those put forth by the CDC, we can prevent the unyielding damage that psychological stress may have on our body.”

“Our findings also reveal that those who reported more stress were less likely to exercise over the course of the study,” he said.”While this finding may be discouraging, it offers a great opportunity to direct research to specifically examine these vulnerable stressed individuals to find ways to engage them in greater physical activity.”

The researchers are now embarking on another research project in which participants will learn their own telomere length. The scientists will test whether discovering one’s personal telomere length will motivate people to make lifestyle changes such as exercising more, reducing stress and eating less processed red meat, all factors that have been linked to telomere length.

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News on Health & Science

Of Glowing Proteins and Killer Viruses

This year’s Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine have a strong Japanese flavour.

As is the case with most great scientific discoveries, it all started with a bit of curiosity. In the 1960s, Osamu Shimomura wondered why crystal jellyfish gave off green pinpricks of light. Now, half a century later, Shimomura has been awarded for his curiosity with the Nobel prize in chemistry.

Shimomura was fascinated by the chemistry involved in bioluminescence and collected more than one million jellyfish from Friday Harbor in Washington State in the US in the 1960s and early 1970s. He spent the next 40 years meticulously examining the proteins that made them glow. In a crystal jellyfish’s approximately 300 photo-organs, Shimomura found a protein he named aequorin that produces blue light, which subsequently is converted to green light by green fluorescent protein, or GFP.

In the decades since Shimomura isolated it, GFP has revolutionised stem cell research, cloning, organ transplants, neuroscience — and everything in between. That’s because GFP can be attached biochemically to proteins within a cell, making a formerly invisible protein fluoresce beneath blue light. Proteins are extremely small and cannot be seen, even under an electron microscope. But attaching GFP makes a protein fluoresce: it’s like seeing headlights from the window of a plane even if you’re too high to make out the cars.

Proteins in human cancer cells have been tagged with GFP, and the resulting fluorescent tumours have been implanted in mice. As cancer cells break from the tumour and begin to metastasise, or move about the body, they continue to fluoresce, and scientists can watch the cancer spread.

Four other scientists are largely responsible for making this curious glowing protein into the most useful modern imaging technique available. Douglas Prasher cloned the GFP gene and was the first to think about using GFP as a fluorescent protein tag. Sergey Lukyanov won the race to find the first red fluorescent proteins, which he found in corals in a Moscow aquarium, and his research led to the discovery of fluorescent proteins in many other marine organisms.

Unfortunately, the Nobel can be shared among only three people, and these two worthy scientists were denied a slice of the $1.4 million prize.

Two others, however, join Shimomura as the new chemistry laureates: Marty Chalfie, who was the first to use GFP to light up bacteria and worms, and Roger Tsien, who has been in the forefront of fluorescent protein research since 1994 and has created a series of fluorescent proteins whose colours span the spectrum.

Many more continue to contribute to GFP research. GFP has been used to show how HIV travels from infected to non-infected cells. In another study, scientists created a mouse with fluorescent neurons that connect its whiskers with its cortex. By replacing part of its skull with a glass window, they have been able to observe how the mouse rewires its brain to cope when half of its whiskers are removed. This fluorescent window into the brain is being used to study the effects of ageing and neuro-degenerative diseases.

GFP is the microscope of the 21st century. It lets us see things we have never been able to see before. And, like the microscope, it has completely changed the way we think about science.

Green fluorescent protein has been floating in the ocean for more than 160 million years, but it took an inquisitive scientist, fascinated by bits of green light, to begin unlocking its potential.

Two French researchers were awarded the Nobel prize for medicine last week for discovering the AIDS virus, bypassing an American researcher who played a key role in the discovery.

Luc Montagnier of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi of the Pasteur Institute, both in Paris, were awarded the Nobel prize in physiology and medicine by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm for their 1983 identification of what was later named the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The pair split the $1.4 million prize with Harald zur Hausen of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, who discovered that another virus, the human papilloma virus (HPV), causes cervical cancer.

Excluded from the prize was Robert C. Gallo, who for years was locked in a bitter dispute with Montagnier over credit for the discovery of HIV from work he did while at the National Cancer Institute in the US. Gallo is now at the University of Maryland.

Although the prize’s rules limit the number of scientists who can win the award to three, Jans Jornvall, scientific secretary to the assembly, made it clear the committee felt that Montagnier and Barre-Sinoussi deserved sole credit because in 1983 they published the first papers identifying the virus in the journal Science.

“We think the two that we named are the discoverers of the virus,” Jornvall said in a telephone interview. “If you look at the initial papers on the publication of the discovery you will find those who discovered it.”

Jornvall praised Gallo’s work but said the committee based its decision on the French researchers publishing their work first.

“Dr Gallo is an excellent person and has meant very much for science, but there are many people who are excellent and do very much for science,” Jornvall said. “We named the three people we consider to be the discoverers of the viruses we named.”

Other researchers said Montagnier and Barre-Sinoussi clearly deserved the prize, but that it was disappointing that Gallo was excluded.

“Gallo deserves enormous credit,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “It’s a shame you can’t give it to four people because Gallo’s contributions were enormous.”

In a written statement, Gallo congratulated the winners, adding that he was “gratified” by Montagnier’s “kind statement” that he was “equally deserving.”

“I am pleased that the Nobel Committee chose to recognise the importance of AIDS with these awards and I am proud that my colleagues and I continue to search for an AIDS vaccine,” he said.

Montagnier and Gallo were locked in a bitter dispute in the 1980s over the discovery of the virus. Beyond who should get the credit, millions of dollars were also at stake from fees for blood tests. President Ronald Reagan and French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac eventually signed an agreement in 1987 that divided the royalties equally, and Gallo and Montagnier published a paper together in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2003 acknowledging each other’s work.

In announcing the award, the Nobel Committee said Montagnier and Barre-Sinoussi’s initial discovery led to a series of crucial advances, including deciphering how the virus reproduces and infects cells and the development of the blood test and powerful antiviral drugs that have helped contain the spread of the virus and reduce the death toll.

The committee also praised zur Hausen’s work, saying he “went against current dogma” when he proposed that HPV caused cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women and the most common sexually transmitted agent. Among other things, the work led to the development of vaccines against strains of the virus.

“The global public health burden attributable to human papilloma viruses is considerable,” the committee said.

“I’m of course totally surprised. It’s of course a great pleasure for me,” said zur Hausen, 72, said during an interview posted on the Nobel Committee’s website.

An American and two Japanese physicists won the 2008 Nobel prize in physics for their discovery of tiny asymmetries in nature’s fundamental particles that help explain why our universe exists.

Yoichiro Nambu, of the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago, will receive half of the $1.4 million prize. The other half will be split between Makoto Kobayashi, of the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Tsukuba, Japan, and Toshihide Maskawa, of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics at Kyoto University.

The three physicists were pioneers in understanding “broken symmetry,” which explains why the universe can contain life as we know it. When matter and antimatter collide, they annihilate one another, leaving only radiation. In a symmetric universe with an equal amount of matter and antimatter, life — if any could exist — would be nasty, brutish and short.

That doesn’t happen because there is a tiny imbalance of one extra particle of matter for every 10 billion antimatter particles, resulting in the matter-dominated universe we live in today.

How exactly this happened is still a mystery. But Nambu, 87, born in Tokyo, was among those who opened up the field to further questions with the discovery of “spontaneous symmetry breaking”.

Nambu’s work, done in the 1960s and 1970s, predicted the behaviour of the tiny particles known as quarks and underlies the Standard Model of the universe, which unites three of the four fundamental forces of nature: the strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force and electromagnetic force. The working of gravity, and how it relates to the other three forces, is still a mystery.

Kobayashi and Maskawa predicted there were three families of quarks, instead of the two then known. Their calculations were confirmed by experiments in high-energy physics, leading to the discovery of the six quarks known today. Quarks and leptons are considered to be the two basic components of all matter, which make up atomic particles like protons and neutrons.

“It is my great honour and I can’t believe this,” Kobayashi told Reuters news service.

Physicists are now searching for spontaneous broken symmetry in the Higgs mechanism, which threw the universe into imbalance at the time of the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.

Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Switzerland will be looking for the Higgs particle when they restart the collider in spring 2009.

The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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