Scientist who first synthesised DNA

Arthur Kornberg, the Stanford University Nobel laureate who first synthesised DNA in a test tube and whose identification of the enzymes used by cells to manufacture DNA laid the basis for the biotechnology industry, died of respiratory failure on Friday at Stanford Hospital. He was 89.
A prolific researcher, Kornberg also created the Stanford University School of Medicine's biochemistry department, bringing in a talented group of scientists who worked together for nearly half a century.

Kornberg lived to see his son Roger win the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
It is often hard to conceive how little was known about the mysterious DNA molecule when Kornberg began his research in the 1950s. Scientists were pretty sure that it was the repository of genetic information. Beyond that, DNA was a black hole.
In the second world war Kornberg developed an interest in enzymes, the large proteins used by cells to carry out chemical reactions, especially the synthesis of substances used by cells.
After preliminary work isolating enzymes involved in vitamin production, Kornberg tackled the more difficult challenge of DNA and RNA, the messenger molecule used by cells in the conversion of genetic information contained in DNA into proteins.
Kornberg reasoned that cells would produce DNA by stringing together pre-made nucleotides – combinations of a base, a sugar molecule and a phosphate group.
While Kornberg was working on the project in 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published the structure of DNA, providing clues to direct his efforts. By the following year, Kornberg and his colleagues had isolated the enzymes used to produce the nucleotides used in RNA and DNA.
By 1957, Kornberg had discovered and purified the key molecule, called DNA polymerase, and submitted two papers describing the work to the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Referees, however, objected to calling the material produced by the enzyme DNA.
Disgusted, Kornberg withdrew the papers, but they were published the following year when the journal appointed a new editor.
His work confirmed speculation by Watson and Crick that genetic information was encoded in opposite directions on the two strands of double-helical DNA.
In 1959, Kornberg shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the synthesis of DNA.

SembCorp Marine hit by forex

Shares in Singapore’s SembCorp Marine fell more than 15 per cent on Tuesday after the world’s number two offshore oil rig maker said it could lose up to $248m from alleged unauthorised forex trading by its finance director.
SembCorp Marine said Wee Sing Guan, the group finance director, had been relieved from duty. Mr Wee has also resigned from the directorships of SembMarine units, including Jurong Shipyard, on whose account the company claims the currency trades were made.

The potential losses for SembCorp Marine include $83m Jurong Shipyard already paid for forex losses and up to $165m on estimated unrealised losses. The total amount would exceed SembMarine’s profits last year of S$234m ($159.7m).
SembCorp Marine on Tuesday said it had sold part of its stake in Cosco Corp (Singapore), which has several ship and offshore oil rig building yards in China, for a gain of S$230m, which would mitigate the impact of the forex losses on this year’s results.
The company reported a 62 per cent rise in earnings to S$158m in the first half on the back of a boom in global demand for offshore oil rigs.
SembMarine said it did not allow speculative forex trading, although it does hedge against currency risks. The US dollar has suffered an unexpectedly sharp 7 per cent fall against the Singapore dollar in the past year, which may have accounted for the forex losses.
The company added that steps had been taken “to prevent the entry of any further unauthorised transactions”.
Temasek, Singapore’s state-owned investment agency, owns 49 per cent of SembCorp Industries, which in turn has 61.5 per cent of SembCorp Marine. Shares in SembCorp Marine fell 15.4 per cent to S$4.74, while SembCorp Industries dropped nearly 5 per cent to S$6. Cosco closed down 2.7 per cent at S$7.30.
The disclosure of the alleged forex trades took investors by surprise since Temasek-linked companies are known for tight financial controls.
Drew & Napier, a local law firm, and Ernst & Young, the accounting group, are set to conduct a probe into the transactions on Semb-Corp Marine’s behalf.
Three local brokerages cut their ratings on SembCorp Marine following the disclosure of the forex losses in spite of the fact that the company’s fundamentals are seen as strong due to high oil prices, which have led to increased orders for offshore oil rigs

Retail investors keep faith with forex

Japanese retail investors are pouring into the yen carry trade despite being battered by the recent sharp rise in the country's currency against the US dollar.
For many individual traders, the yen's surge against the dollar has been a rude awakening to the dangers of forex trading. Stories abound of housewives losing their lifetime savings within days as the yen value of highly leveraged dollar holdings plummeted.
Contrary to expectations, the currency market turmoil has not significantly dented the appetite of Mr and Mrs Watanabe to play the foreign exchange markets.
According to research by Yano Research Institute, the number of foreign exchange margin trading accounts almost doubled last year to 644,802 and is poised to grow another 62 per cent in the year to March, to 1.05m accounts.
Although the survey was published in June, long before the latest yen up-swing, Kazuhiro Shirakura, senior researcher at Yano, said: "The number of acc-ounts has not been affected at all [by the yen's recent rise] and has continued to increase." This was because new forex traders usually began by buying foreign currencies and the strong yen made it a good environment to start trading, he said.
Even traders who had been hurt by the yen's rise had generally taken a long-term view and stayed in the market, said Junichi Katsuno in the financial markets division at Himawari Shoken, which specialises in foreign exchange trading.
"There are many people who take a long-term view and are waiting to buy [dollars]," he said. "There aren't that many people who expect the yen to strengthen that much more."
Retail investors were generally willing to participate in the yen carry trade as long as the yen did not rise above Y105 to the US dollar, Mr Katsuno said.
Individual traders are also becoming more sophisticated in their trading strategy.
Since the summer, instead of taking large positions in one currency, which can lead to huge losses, investors are taking smaller positions and trading frequently and flexibly to minimise any potential losses.
What is more, not all retail traders have lost out in the latest currency turmoil.
One housewife who uses the online handle "Forex-loving Mama" to blog about her trading, said she had made profits by taking both short and long positions in the more than 20 currency pairs she tracked daily.
The woman, who declined to be identified, said she closed her positions each day before going to bed and was not phased by the latest currency moves that had left many retail investors nursing huge losses.
She also expects other retail traders to stay in the market. "Surprisingly, there aren't many people who say they will quit. I think it's because people remember how good it can be. It's like a gambling addiction," she said.

VC returns: reversion to the mean?

VC returns: reversion to the mean?
The pain from the long dotcom hangover is finally starting to recede into the past, at least when it comes to venture capital returns. About time, too. But it is still far too soon to tell whether historic long-term profits from VC investment will hold up.
The story is told in the chart below. The thick broken line at the bottom shows five-year venture capital returns in the US. As write-offs from the dotcom disaster have receded and profitable exits are being found for the the companies that survived, this line has finally crept back into positive territory (the latest figures were put out today by the NVCA.)

The most encouraging part of this chart is the thin broken line in the middle: despite the boom and bust, 20-year returns from start-up financing have stayed remarkably solid, at around 16 per cent a year.
But will that continue to hold good for the next 20 years? The top line shows how ten-year returns, which had been boosted by the bubble, are sinking back towards the norm. The supply and demand equation in venture financing looks very different than it did back in the mid-1990s, with many more funds and many more investors still scrambling to get in. That surely points, eventually, to long-term returns below the historic mean.

Phoenix from the flames

Phoenix from the flames
My usual routine for booting my home computer is to turn it on, then go away, make a cup of tea and come back 10 to 15 minutes later, knowing it’s safe by then to click something and get some kind of response.
The only fast part of the whole process is the initial boot of the BIOS, the piece of software that sits on a memory chip and checks everything is powered on, then tells the PC where to find the operating system.
The name that briefly flashes up on my screen and on millions of others is Phoenix Technologies, the leading maker of this system firmware.
Phoenix had been in decline until a new management team came in a year ago with a plan to revitalise its product line. Its biggest step so far is the HyperSpace platform announced today, in what amounts to a reinvention of the humble role of the BIOS.
HyperSpace enhances the BIOS by adding a mini operating system of its own that should provide almost instant access to web browsers, email programs, instant messaging clients and media players that are written for it.
Phoenix is using new virtualisation capabilities being built into Intel and AMD chips, which allow such environments to be compartmentalised for greater security.
Applications have yet to be developed for the platform and Phoenix could face competition from other software companies, including Microsoft, by the time of HyperSpace’s full launch on notebook PCs in the second half of 2008.
But Rich Arnold, chief strategy officer, expects Phoenix will find enough partners to exploit HyperSpace’s instant-on capabilities for people wanting fast access to standard applications while on the go.
“We want to be a Blackberry inside the PC that has all the same functionality,” he says.
“This will give access to just the applications you really need and probably give you an hour of extra battery life.”

Sony's $100m HD campaign

Sony's $100m HD campaign
Despite fires in San Diego closing its factory there and forcing evacuations of its workers, Sony Electronics says it has now caught up with orders and is expecting a bumper holiday season in the US.
“It could be the best holiday season in the last couple of years,” Stan Glasgow, its president in the US, told us at a press event in San Francisco on Monday night.
His confidence is based on orders from retailers for Sony’s current third quarter and he also expects returns from a $100m marketing campaign in the US.
“You will see more advertising than we have ever done before,” he said. The emphasis will be on High Definition , with Sony’s HDNA campaign prominent.
Sony also showed off the new version of its Sony Reader and an 8Gb Walkman that competes with the iPod Nano. Significantly for Sony, its proprietary Atrac format is gone and it now seems more open format than Apple, with WMA, MP3 and AAC music files supported.
Mr Glasgow said Sony’s announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January would emphasise integration between Sony’s different product lines – a key goal of Sony’s chief executive, Sir Howard Stringer.
His US president was particularly critical of supporters of the HD-DVD standard, which competes with Sony’s Blu-ray DVD players. He said Toshiba and perhaps Wal-Mart had substantially subsidised an HD-DVD player that went on sale for $99 at the retailer last week.
He also claimed that HD-DVD supporters had paid the Hollywood studios as much as $500m in incentives to bring out movies in that format. The studios are also reported to have asked for incentives from Sony and the New York Times reported in August that Paramount and Dreamworks alone had received $150m for choosing HD-DVD over Blu-ray for their releases.