EXCLUSIVE China's Tencent in talks with U.S. to keep gaming investments -sources
Tencent Holdings Ltd (0700.HK) is negotiating agreements with a U.S. national security panel that would allow it to keep its ownership stakes in U.S. video game developers Riot Games and Epic Games, according to people familiar with the matter.
Tencent has been in talks with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which has the authority to order the Chinese technology giant to divest U.S. holdings, since the second half of last year, the sources said.
CFIUS has been looking in to whether Epic Games' and Riot Games' handling of the personal data of their users constitutes a national security risk because of their Chinese ownership, the sources added.
Tencent owns a 40% stake in Epic Games, the maker of popular video game Fortnite. Tencent also bought a majority stake in Riot Games in 2011 and acquired the rest of the company in 2015. Riot Games is the developer of "League of Legends," one of the world's most popular desktop-based games.
Tencent is negotiating risk-mitigation measures with CFIUS so it can keep its investments, according to the sources. The details of the proposed measures could not be learned. They typically involve ringfencing the owner of a company from operations that have national security implications. They often call for the appointment of independent auditors to monitor the implementation of these agreements.
One of the sources said Epic Games has not been sharing any user data with Tencent.
The sources cautioned there is no certainty that Tencent will clinch deals to keep its investments and asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.
A Tencent logo is seen in Beijing, China September 4, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu WangTencent, Epic Games and a CFIUS representative at the U.S. Treasury Department declined to comment.
A Riot Games spokesman said the Los Angeles-based company operates independently of Tencent and that it has implemented "industry-leading practices" to protect player data. He declined to comment on Riot Games' discussions with CFIUS.
CFIUS has been cracking down on Chinese ownership of U.S. technology assets in the last few years, amid an escalation in tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade, human rights and the protection of intellectual property. U.S. officials have expressed concerns that the personal data of U.S. citizens could end up in the hands of China's Communist Party government.
President Joe Biden's administration has maintained the hawkish stance against China inherited in January from his predecessor Donald Trump, albeit with more of a focus on geopolitical issues such as the future of Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as China's persecution of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Yet many key CFIUS roles have not yet been staffed. This has provided a reprieve to China's ByteDance, which was ordered by Trump last year to sell its popular short video app TikTok but balked at a transaction that would have involved Oracle Corp (ORCL.N) and Walmart Inc (WMT.N). CFIUS has not sought to enforce the divestiture order under Biden.
Epic is locked in a legal fight with Apple Inc (AAPL.O) over access to the iPhone maker's app store. It alleges that Apple forces developers to use its in-app payment systems - which charge commissions of up to 30% - and to submit to app-review guidelines that discriminate against products that compete with Apple's own.
Apple argues that Epic Games broke their contract when it introduced its own in-app payment system in Fortnite to circumvent Apple's commissions. It says the way it runs the app store inspires trust in consumers to open up their wallets to unknown developers. read more
Tencent's vast businesses include video games, content streaming, social media, advertising and cloud services. China has in recent months sought to curb the economic and social power of Tencent and other internet companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (9988.HK), in a clampdown backed by President Xi Jinping. Reuters reported last week that Beijing was preparing a substantial antitrust fine for Tencent. read more
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Facebook moderator: ‘Every day was a nightmare’
She said her experience drove her to give evidence: “I just had such a feeling that I needed to do it,” she added in her testimony. “I need to speak for the people that are too afraid, that feel they have too many responsibilities, and they can't afford to take any risks."
Illustration by The New York Times; photographs by Al Drago and Tom Brenner for The New York Times, and samxmeg/Getty Images
德语媒体：双赢互惠的德中关系已经成为历史 | DW | 29.04.2021
© 2021年 德国之声版权声明：本文所有内容受到著作权法保护，如无德国之声特别授权，不得擅自使用。任何不当行为都将导致追偿，并受到刑事追究。
DNA of Giant ‘Corpse Flower’ Parasite Surprises Biologists
genomicsDNA of Giant ‘Corpse Flower’ Parasite Surprises BiologistsBy Christie WilcoxApril 21, 2021
The bizarre genome of the world’s most mysterious flowering plants shows how far parasites will go in stealing, deleting and duplicating DNA.The world’s biggest flower, Rafflesia arnoldii, is a parasite that spends much of its life inside its vine hosts. New genomic work suggests that the parasites in this group of plants have lost an astonishing share of their genes.
They are invisible at first. In their Southeast Asian forest homes, they grow as thin strands of cells, foreign fibers sometimes more than 10 meters long that weave through the vital tissues of their vine hosts, siphoning nourishment from them. Even under a microscope, the single-file lines of cells are nearly indistinguishable from the vine’s own. They seem more like a fungus than a plant.
But when the drive to breed awakens them, the members of the Rafflesiaceae family erupt as immense, stemless, rubbery red “corpse flowers” covered in polka dots, with a putrid smell like rotting meat designed to draw pollinating carrion flies. The blooms of one species, Rafflesia arnoldii, are the largest flowers in the world — each one can be more than a meter across and weigh a whopping 10 kilograms, roughly the heft of a toddler.
More than a decade ago, Rafflesiaceae parasites caught the eye of Jeanmaire Molina, an evolutionary plant biologist at Long Island University in Brooklyn, who wondered if their genomes were as bizarre as their outward forms. Her initial investigations suggested they were. As she and her colleagues described it in a 2014 paper in Molecular Biology and Evolution, they successfully assembled the mitochondrial DNA from one Philippines species of Rafflesia. But they were unable to detect any functional genes from its chloroplasts. The plants seemed to have simply ditched their entire chloroplast genome.
That was almost unthinkable. Chloroplasts are best known for using light to make food, but like all the food-making organelles called plastids, they contain genes that are involved in many key cellular processes. Even malaria parasites still carry a plastid genome, Molina noted, and their last photosynthetic ancestor lived hundreds of millions of years ago.
Recent research compiled the first draft nuclear genome of a Rafflesiaceae parasite, Sapria himalayana.
This shocking finding has now been confirmed by an independent research team from Harvard University. The draft genome for another member of the Rafflesiaceae family that they recently published in Current Biology is full of surprises, showing how far parasites can go in shedding superfluous genes and acquiring useful new ones from their hosts. It also deepens mysteries about the role of highly mobile genetic elements that don’t encode proteins in enabling evolutionary changes. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the study is how much we still have to learn about genomics, particularly in plants, and in parasites — a category of organisms that includes more than 40% of all known species.
Losing to Win
Like Molina, Charles Davis, a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University and the curator of vascular plants in the Harvard University Herbaria, was drawn into studying the Rafflesiaceae because they are the most “charismatic and enigmatic of all the quarter-million species of flowering plants,” he said.
He has been trying to reveal their many secrets for nearly 15 years, but a nuclear genome sequence always proved elusive. Finally, his doctoral student Liming Cai (now a postdoctoral researcher in systematic biology at the University of California, Riverside) stepped up to spearhead the project, and with the help of the university’s informatics group and its director of bioinformatics, Timothy Sackton, the team was finally able to put together a draft genome for Sapria himalayana, a species with blooms the size of a human head.
Sapria’s genome follows several trends seen in many other parasitic plants (and in parasites more generally). Like them, Sapria has done away with many genes considered essential to its free-living relatives. Because parasites steal from their hosts, they essentially outsource the labor of metabolism, so they don’t need all the moving biochemical parts of an independent plant cell.
Still, Davis was shocked to see that nearly half of the genes widely conserved across plant lineages had disappeared from Sapria. That’s more than twice as many genes as are lost from the parasitic plants called dodders (genus Cuscuta), and four times the losses in cereal-killing witchweeds (genus Striga). “We knew that there would be loss,” he said, “but we didn’t think it would be on the order of 44% of its genes.”
Samuel Velasco/Quanta Magazine; Source: DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.12.045; Photos: Aneth David (SLU) (Striga); Tyrrhium (Cuscuta); Rohit Naniwadekar (Sapria)
And that’s in addition to the stunning deletion of the whole plastid genome that Molina’s work on Rafflesia had suggested. The only other organisms known to have jettisoned that genome are single-celled algae in the genus Polytomella, which gave up photosynthesis in favor of absorbing sustenance from the waters around them.
Molina said she found the confirmation of her team’s finding “comforting,” but also confusing, because Rafflesia still seem to make their plastid compartments. “When we did electron microscopy studies, we found plastids,” she said, “so it’s just quite bizarre that the plastids are empty.”
Sapria also seems to have cut other genetic corners. The plants have deleted the noncoding stretches of DNA within many genes. These regions, called introns, are interspersed among the parts of genes that code for the actual protein that is produced.
It might sound as though Sapria and its kin have simply made their genomes smaller and more efficient. But paradoxically, Sapria’s genome is big: an estimated 3.2 to 3.5 gigabases of DNA in total, roughly the same size as ours. What is filling up its genome?
A Life of Theft
For starters, it’s loaded with stolen genes. Davis’ team estimated that at least 1.2% of the plant’s genes came from other species, particularly its hosts, past and present. That might not sound impressive, but this kind of horizontal gene transfer is considered exceptionally rare outside of bacteria. So even a single percent of genes arising this way raises eyebrows.
Because these parasites have been stealing genes for millennia, Cai noted, their genome is like “a huge graveyard of DNA.” By carefully digging through that graveyard and comparing its contents to the genomes of 10 types of vines that seemed like potential hosts, Cai and her colleagues were able to peer back in time. “These horizontally transferred genes are serving as DNA fossils,” she said.
From these fossils, they unearthed “an extinct host-parasite association that dates back to maybe the mid-Cretaceous,” she said. Today, the roughly four dozen known species of Rafflesiaceae all infest vines from a single genus, Tetrastigma. But long before the parasites infested Tetrastigma, they seem to have infested and stolen from peppervines (genus Ampelopsis). This kind of ecological history is all but impossible to deduce from stony fossils: The parasite’s flowers don’t last long, and the thin, threadlike remains of its vegetative body are unlikely to fossilize.
Evolution on Repeat
Yet stolen genes represent only a paltry fraction of Sapria’s huge genome. The vast majority of it consists of copies of DNA sequences called transposable elements (also known as transposons or “jumping genes”). “The genome of this plant is something like 90% repeat elements,” said Sackton.
That high level of repetition is in fact why Davis struggled so long to assemble a draft genome for Sapria. Until about the past decade, genome sequencing technologies were easily stymied by DNA with too many indistinguishable, repetitive sequences. “It’s like trying to do a puzzle of a completely clear blue sky where every piece is exactly the same shape,” Sackton said. “There’s just no way to do it.”
Samuel Velasco/Quanta Magazine; Source: DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.12.045
But Cai and colleagues were able to take advantage of current sequencing technologies, which can handle much longer (and therefore more distinctive) stretches of DNA. Even so, they were only able to reconstruct what they estimate is 40% of the Sapria genome — the rest was still too repetitive.
This abundance of transposable elements is striking, says Saima Shahid, a plant biologist with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, who studies the functions of transposable elements in plants. It’s about twice what is seen in dodders. And in the other plant parasites sequenced to date, the dominant elements are “retrotransposons,” which move within the genome by first being transcribed into RNA. Sapria, however, is mostly filled with DNA transposons that repeatedly copy and paste themselves into the genome directly. “That’s somethi
印度媒體《周日衛報》（The Sunday Guardian）報道，大陸連鎖火鍋店海底撈在加拿大溫哥華的店內裝設60多個攝像鏡頭，用來拍攝員工的工作情況和用餐的客人，其影像資料可能還會傳回中國總公司。而台灣也因發現了布滿監視器的海底撈店而引發驚恐的消息。
加拿大海底撈公司尚未回應記者查詢，但印度媒體從海底撈溫哥華分店的一名潘姓經理方面得到的解釋仍令人感到不安。這名潘姓經理提到，總公司要求依照中國“社會信用體系“（Social Credit System）的規定，在該分店安裝逾60個攝像鏡頭。該店設有30張桌子，每張桌子約有兩個鏡頭。
包括草泥馬在內，蘋果日報訪問了五位持特區及BNO護照的在德港人，發現德國不同市政府在處理香港人國籍上做法不一，有港人持BNO護照被列“英籍（GBR）”、“中國籍（CHN）”，甚至歸類為“英屬印度洋領地”（IOT- Indian Ocean Terrorities) 國籍，可謂“各處鄉村各處例”。
Russia, China warn Biden at same time to stay out of Ukraine, Taiwan
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China's plans for Himalayan super dam stoke fears in India
by Patrick Baert and Bhuvan Bagga In New Delhi
The structure will span the Brahmaputra River before the waterway leaves the Himalayas and flows into India, straddling the world's longest and deepest canyon
China is planning a mega dam in Tibet able to produce triple the electricity generated by the Three Gorges—the world's largest power station—stoking fears among environmentalists and in neighbouring India.
The structure will span the Brahmaputra River before the waterway leaves the Himalayas and flows into India, straddling the world's longest and deepest canyon at an altitude of more than 1,500 metres (4,900 feet).
The project in Tibet's Medog County is expected to dwarf the record-breaking Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China, and is billed as able to produce 300 billion kilowatts of electricity each year.
It is mentioned in China's strategic 14th Five-Year Plan, unveiled in March at an annual rubber-stamp congress of the country's top lawmakers.
But the plan was short on details, a timeframe or budget.
The river, known as the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibetan, is also home to two other projects far upstream, while six others are in the pipeline or under construction.
The "super-dam" however is in a league of its own.
Last October, the Tibet local government signed a "strategic cooperation agreement" with PowerChina, a public construction company specialising in hydroelectric projects.
A month later the head of PowerChina, Yan Zhiyong, partially unveiled the project to the Communist Youth League, the youth wing of China's ruling party.
Enthusiastic about "the world's richest region in terms of hydroelectric resources", Yan explained that the dam would draw its power from the huge drop of the river at this particular section.
The project in Tibet's Medog County is expected to dwarf the record-breaking Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China
'Really bad idea'
Beijing may justify the massive project as an environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, but it risks provoking strong opposition from environmentalists in the same way as the Three Gorges Dam, built between 1994 and 2012.
The Three Gorges created a reservoir and displaced 1.4 million inhabitants upstream.
"Building a dam the size of the super-dam is likely a really bad idea for many reasons," said Brian Eyler, energy, water and sustainability program director at the Stimson Center, a US think tank.
Besides being known for seismic activity, the area also contains a unique biodiversity. The dam would block the migration of fish as well as sediment flow that enriches the soil during seasonal floods downstream, said Eyler.
There are both ecological and political risks, noted Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha, an environmental policy specialist at the Tibet Policy Institute, a think tank linked to the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamshala, India.
"We have a very rich Tibetan cultural heritage in those areas, and any dam construction would cause ecological destruction, submergence of parts of that region," he told AFP.
"Many local residents would be forced to leave their ancestral homes," he said, adding that the project will encourage migration of Han Chinese workers that "gradually becomes a permanent settlement".
Map showing major dam projects on the upper stream of the Brahmaputra River, Yarlung Zangbo.
New Delhi is also worried by the project.
The Chinese Communist Party is effectively in a position to control the origins of much of South Asia's water supply, analysts say.
"Water wars are a key component of such warfare because they allow China to leverage its upstream Tibet-centred power over the most essential natural resource," wrote political scientist Brahma Chellaney last month in the Times of India.
The risks of seismic activity would also make it a "ticking water bomb" for residents downstream, he warned.
In reaction to the dam idea, the Indian government has floated the prospect of building another dam on the Brahmaputra to shore up its own water reserves.
"There is still much time to negotiate with China about the future of the super-dam and its impacts," said Eyler.
"A poor outcome would see India build a dam downstream."
© 2021 AFP
China's plans for Himalayan super dam stoke fears in India (2021, April 11)
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An environmental disaster was uncovered off California after 70 years
Just 10 miles off the coast of Los Angeles lurks an environmental disaster over 70 years in the making, which few have ever heard about. That is, until now, thanks to the research of a University of California marine scientist named David Valentine.
Working with little more than rumors and a hunch, curiosity guided him 3,000 feet below the ocean's surface. A few hours of research time and an autonomous robotic submersible unearthed what had been hidden since the 1940s: countless barrels of toxic waste, laced with DDT, littering the ocean floor in between Long Beach and Catalina Island.
Dr. David Valentine
The fact that his underwater camera spotted dozens of decaying barrels immediately in what is otherwise a barren, desert-like sea floor, Valentine says, is evidence that the number of barrels is likely immense. Although the exact number is still unknown, a historical account estimates it may be as many as a half a million.
After 70-plus years of inaction, Valentine's research has finally helped initiate a huge research effort to reveal the extent of the contamination.
But this offshore dump site is only a part of the story of environmental damage from years of DDT discharge along the coast of Southern California — a story which likely won't be closed for decades to come because of its ongoing impact, including a recently discovered alarming and unprecedented rate of cancer in the state's sea lion population, with 1 in every 4 adult sea lions plagued with the disease.
The history of DDT dumpingThe chemical DDT was invented in 1939 and used during World War II as a pesticide helping to protect troops from insect-borne diseases like Malaria. After the war, production of the chemical ramped up and it became routinely used in the spraying of crops, and even over crowded beaches, to eliminate pests like mosquitos.
But in the 1960s, DDT was discovered to be toxic. Over time, eating food laced with DDT builds up inside the tissues of animals and even humans, resulting in harmful side effects. The EPA now calls it a "probable human carcinogen." In 1972, when the U.S. government started taking environmental pollution seriously with legislation like the Clean Air Act, DDT was banned in the United States.
The largest DDT manufacturer in the U.S., Montrose Chemical Corporation, was located along the Southern California coast in the city of Torrance. From 1947 through 1982, Montrose manufactured and distributed DDT worldwide. In doing so, a byproduct mix of toxic sludge made up of petrochemicals, DDT and PCBs was produced.
For decades, that hazardous waste was disposed of in two ways. Some of the toxic pollution was dumped into storm drains and the sewer system, which was then pumped out to sea through outflow pipes, 2 miles offshore of the city of Rancho Palos Verdes.
The rest of the waste was disposed of in barrels which were loaded onto barges and floated 10 to 15 miles offshore to waste dumping sites off Catalina Island and then jettisoned into the ocean.
While it may seem hard to believe, at least part of the dumping was legally permitted. Back then, Valentine says, the prevailing thought was the ocean's were so huge that they could never be compromised. The mantra was "dilution is the solution to pollution" — in hindsight a naïve notion.
But while the designated dumping site was very deep — in 3,000 feet of water — Valentine says shortcuts were taken, with barrels being dumped much closer to shore. And, in an effort to get the barrels to sink, there is evidence that many were slashed, allowing poison to leak, as they were dropped into the ocean.
For decades, the existence of these toxic barrels was surmised only by a very small group of scientists and regulators. That's despite a startling report produced in the 1980s by a California Regional Water Quality Control Board scientist named Allan Chartrand, which asserted there may be as many as 500,000 barrels laced with DDT sitting on the ocean floor.
The report was largely ignored. But after nearly 30 years, Valentine dusted it off as he began his quest to see if these barrels existed.
The inshore toxic waste siteUnlike the deep water dumping sites, the shallower toxic site — called the Palos Verdes Shelf — 2 miles off the beaches of Rancho Palos Verdes was well-known and documented. In 1996, this zone was declared a Superfund clean-up site by the EPA, now comprising a 34-square-mile area. Montrose was sued and after a protracted legal battle ending in late 2000 the companies involved, including Montrose, settled for $140 million.
Over the past two decades, most of the money has been used by a program called the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program (MSRP) to try to restore the contaminated sites. Half of the funds were allocated to the EPA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to rehabilitate ecosystems impacted by the poison.
DDT gets into the food chain when it is consumed from the contaminated ocean bottom by tiny marine creatures, which are then eaten by small fish, which are then consumed by larger fish and marine mammals, like sea lions. Over time DDT builds up in the tissues and blubber of marine animals, a process called bioaccumulation. To this day, signs all along the Southern California coast warn fishermen not to eat certain fish. Despite this, you cannot get DDT contamination from swimming in the water.
Scientists say the contamination at this shallower water site is the most likely food chain route which leads to DDT building up in sea lion blubber. That's because there is a much greater amount of marine life living in shallower water. But that does not rule out contamination from the much deeper site as well.
To try to remedy these pollution problems, NOAA has used its share of the funds to manage almost 20 restoration projects off the LA coast, like restoring kelp forest habitat, helping migratory seabirds and restoring 500 acres of critical coastal marsh habitat in Huntington Beach.
The last project of the effort — just completed — was the commissioning of an artificial reef just off the beaches of Rancho Palos Verdes. To accomplish this, NOAA hired a team of scientists from the Southern California Marine Science Institute and Vantuna Research Group at Occidental College to design and deploy the reef.
The reef building effort was led by Jonathan Williams, a marine biologist from Occidental College. The project involved strategically placing more than 70,000 tons of quarry rock on the ocean bottom just off the beach. Williams says that the reef was an immediate success, with thousands of fish flocking to the rocks.
This reef site is much closer to shore than the contamination site, which is 2 miles from land. That's by design. Williams says the idea is to construct new habitat for fish and kelp in uncontaminated areas to build up healthy populations of fish. This helps limit the amount of toxins, like DDT, which enters the food chain.
As predators at the top of the food chain, DDT in fish is also a danger to people. Williams says this is especially true of underserved communities who are mostly likely to subsistence fish, eating what they catch. In this way, NOAA's project addresses environmental justice by attempting to make fish more safe to eat.
Two miles offshore, Williams says that after years of measuring high levels of DDT on the Palos Verdes Shelf, levels have started to drop precipitously, a sign that some of the DDT may finally be starting to break down.
Discovering the barrelsDespite the fact that the toxic barrels were dumped in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, their existence just became common knowledge this past fall when the Los Angeles Times published a feature on Valentine's work. But his discovery dates all the way back to 2011 when he first decided to see if the rumors of the barrels were true. In 2013 he made another short trip to the site. But his research was not published until March of 2019.
In all, his time-limited work yielded visuals of 60 barrels. Besides bringing back video of the leaking barrels, his team was also able to collect samples from the ocean floor. One of them registered a contamination 40 times greater than the highest contamination at the Superfund site, indicating that the toxins down deep are still very concentrated.
Armed with this compelling evidence, Valentine said that he "beat the drum" for years, speaking to various government agencies, trying to get some interest, but to no avail. However, when the LA Times story came out, interest finally followed as public outcry grew.