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Light shed on black plague

Cambridge, England - Scientists concerned with countering biological weapons have gained new insight into one of the agents that might be used - the bacterium associated with bubonic plague.

Julian Parkhill at the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, England, and colleagues report in today's issue of Nature that they have sequenced the bacterium's genome. Study of this genetic recipe shows how the organism may have evolved and how it is continuing to evolve. Early results suggest the bacterium may eventually evolve into a benign form. Meanwhile, knowledge of the genome can help scientists find ways to neutralize the bacterium as a biological weapon.

Russian subs leak disaster

MURMANSK, RUSSIA - Some 113 nuclear submarines abandoned in a state of disrepair threaten Russia's northwestern Kola Peninsula with an environmental disaster, according to the Norwegian environmentalist group Bellona.

The nuclear submarines of Russia's Northern Fleet, 70 of which are still loaded with nuclear fuel, have been rusting for years in military ports located on the peninsula.

Beijing-Vatican Détente

BEIJING - China said Sept. 27 that diplomatic relations with the Vatican would depend on a promise from the Holy See to cut ties with Taiwan and not to use religion as an excuse for interfering in Chinese internal affairs. The Chinese remark came after reports that the two sides could be preparing for full diplomatic relations.

China's underground church has remained loyal to the Holy See and has about 10 million followers. Its "patriotic" church, which has pledged allegiance to China's Communist leaders and has some 4 million followers, does not recognize the authority of the pope.

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