Deflation hits Eurozone; Cartoonists draw for slain colleagues in France; ‘Game-changing’ US antibiotic find

1 Deflation hits Eurozone (Phillip Inman in The Guardian) The European Central Bank has come under intense pressure to boost the supply of cheap credit to the eurozone after figures showed a much-feared period of deflation started in December, triggered by falling oil prices.

The 0.2% drop in prices, the first annual fall for five years, indicated the weakness of the eurozone economy and the need for a fresh injection of funds by the central bank, according to many eurozone politicians and analysts. Separate data for unemployment in the eurozone turned the screw on the ECB board after the number of jobless rose by 34,000 to maintain the unemployment rate at 11.5%.

One analyst described the figures as dire news that would put strong pressure on the ECB to “pull the quantitative easing [QE] trigger” at its next meeting later this month. Expectation for more stimulus has weighed heavily on the euro, which hit a new nine-year low against the dollar on Wednesday at €1.18. Against the pound the single currency was trading at €1.27.

Some central bank officials have stressed that the dip in inflation could be a temporary feature and that it results from a short-term fall in oil prices which will benefit economic growth over the next year without the need for QE.

France and Italy, the powerhouses of the eurozone economy alongside Germany, have struggled to recover since the financial crisis and continue to limp along with weak banks and a lack of business and consumer confidence. France has an unemployment rate of 10.3% and Italy 13.4%. German inflation remained steady at 0.1%, avoiding a contraction in prices, and unemployment improved.

2 Cartoonists draw for slain colleagues in France (San Francisco Chronicle) As if to prove that pens are mightier than swords, cartoonists around the world reacted to the cold-blooded assassination of their colleagues at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo as only they can: with powerful drawings worth thousands of words.

“Can’t sleep tonight, thoughts with my French cartooning colleagues, their families and loved ones,” David Pope, cartoonist for The Canberra Times in Australia, wrote on his Twitter feed. His drawing showed the lifeless body of a cartoonist and a hooded gunman holding a still-smoking rifle and saying: “He drew first.”

In India, cartoonist Manjul drew a plane exploding in a fireball into the Eiffel Tower, its pointy top redrawn as the nib of an ink pen. One of the most powerful drawings had no drawing. Christian Adams’ cartoon for The Daily Telegraph in London showed a completely blank space with the heading: “Extremist approved cartoon.”

Another Telegraph cartoon showed one gunman saying to another: “Be careful, they might have pens.” The 12 people killed in the terrorist attack in Paris on Wednesday included some of France’s leading cartoonists.

3 ‘Game-changing’ US antibiotic find (BBC) The decades-long drought in antibiotic discovery could be over after a breakthrough by US scientists. Their novel method for growing bacteria has yielded 25 new antibiotics, with one deemed “very promising”. The last new class of antibiotics to make it to clinic was discovered nearly three decades ago.

The study, in the journal Nature, has been described as a “game-changer” and experts believe the antibiotic haul is just the “tip of the iceberg”. The heyday of antibiotic discovery was in the 1950s and 1960s, but nothing found since 1987 has made it into doctor’s hands.

The researchers, at the Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, turned to the source of nearly all antibiotics – soil. This is teeming with microbes, but only 1% can be grown in the laboratory.

The team created a “subterranean hotel” for bacteria. One bacterium was placed in each “room” and the whole device was buried in soil. It allowed the unique chemistry of soil to permeate the room, but kept the bacteria in place for study. The scientists involved believe they can grow nearly half of all soil bacteria.

Chemicals produced by the microbes, dug up from one researchers back yard, were then tested for antimicrobial properties. The lead scientist, Prof Kim Lewis, said: “So far 25 new antibiotics have been discovered using this method and teixobactin is the latest and most promising one.

“[The study shows] uncultured bacteria do harbour novel chemistry that we have not seen before. That is a promising source of new antimicrobials and will hopefully help revive the field of antibiotic discovery.” Tests on teixobactin showed it was toxic to bacteria, but not mammalian tissues, and could clear a deadly dose of MRSA in tests on mice. Human tests are now needed.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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