Sunday, January 27, 2008
Its no more exclamatory where science reach ,Scientists yesterday announced that they have successfully created an entire synthetic genome in the lab by stitching together the DNA of the smallest known free-living bacterium, Mycoplasma genitalium.
Experts are hailing the research as an important breakthrough in genetic manipulation that will one day lead to the "routine" creation of synthetic genomes—possibly including those of mammals.
This is "a striking technical accomplishment," biochemist Leroy Hood, who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email.
"It represents the initial stages of an important new step in studying how genes function together in systems to create complex phenotypes [traits]," added Hood, co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, Washington.
Step Toward Artificial Life
The new work is an important second step in a three-step process to the creation of synthetic life, said research leader Hamilton Smith, a biologist and Nobel laureate at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland.
The first step, reported last year by the same team at Venter's institute, was the successful transplantation of a genome from one species of bacteria into another, effectively switching the bug's identity.
"The third step, which we're working on now, is to take the chemically synthesized DNA, which is in the test tube, and get it into a bacterium where it can take over and produce a synthetic cell," Smith said.
Researchers liken that step to rebooting a computer, because a genome is akin an operating system that makes a cell function.
Successfully completing the final step would create the first synthetic life-form.
The research is also part of a project to create a cell with "the smallest number of genes that can still confer life," Smith added.
The team chose M. genitalium because it contains about 485 genes, the smallest known of any organism capable of surviving on its own. The researchers suspect that about 400 genes are necessary for life.
Once they have created a synthetic copy of the bacteria, scientists can begin to eliminate genes to determine which are essential.
Such an accomplishment would then allow scientists to create synthetic life-forms that may one day produce biofuels, clean up toxic waste, and fight global warming.
But completing that second step was no easy feat.
While scientists can pretty easily assemble short sequences of DNA—or order them out of a catalog—synthesizing entire genomes is difficult.
That's because as more base pairs of the four building blocks of DNA—adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine—are stitched together, the strands tend to weaken and eventually break.
Prior to this research, for instance, the longest synthesized string contained 32,000 base pairs of DNA. The M. genitalium genome is 582,970 base pairs.
So the researchers broke up the genome into 101 segments, called cassettes, each containing between 5,000 and 7,000 base pairs of genetic code.
The researchers also took steps at this stage to address concerns that the technology could be misused to engineer a deadly virus or that an unforeseen innocent error could lead to bacteria run amok.
The researchers added watermarks to the code to differentiate the synthetic DNA from genomes of wild M. genitalium. They also inserted a gene to block the ability of the synthetic genome to infect human or animal hosts.
Much of the cassette assembly work was outsourced to genetics companies.
Back at the lab, meanwhile, Smith and his colleagues devised a process to stitch the 101 cassettes into a full synthetic genome.
They combined increasingly larger sections of the genome together in a test tube with linking and repair enzymes found in the bacterium Escherichia coli until they had four overlapping quarter genome sections.
After unsuccessfully trying to combine the quarters into halves in E. coli, the team switched to brewers' yeast, and the genome came together through a process the yeast uses to repair damaged DNA.
"That was pretty remarkable," Smith said, explaining that scientists had not known that a single yeast cell would pick up all the overlapping pieces and correctly assemble them.
"Yeast will play a big part in the future in assembling large DNA molecules," he added.
Smith and his colleagues report the assembly process in a paper published on the Web site of the journal Science.
"Important Changes" to Genetics
Drew Endy is an assistant professor in the department of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and an expert in the field of synthetic biology. He was not involved in this study.
In an email, he said "reconstructing a natural bacterial genome from scratch is a great technical feat."
While genomes up to eight million base pairs have previously been assembled from existing DNA fragments, he noted the new accomplishment heralds "important changes in the science of genetics."
By 2012, he added, the technology should exist to routinely design and construct genomes of any bacteria or single-celled organism with a membrane-bound nucleus.
"Which also means," he said, "that it will be possible to construct some mammalian chromosomes."
More :Gene-Altered Plant, Tree Can Suck Up Toxins
Two types of genetically modified plants can remove toxic compounds from the environment, according to research by a pair of independent groups.
One group developed Arabidopsis plants—small plants related to cabbage and mustard—that can clean up soil contaminated with cyclonite, or RDX. The widely used explosive is highly toxic and carcinogenic.
The other team modified a poplar tree to soak up a host of cancer-causing compounds from soil, groundwater, and air.
The contaminants are then broken down into harmless compounds in a process called phytoremediation.
"It is our hope that by developing trees that can remove carcinogens from the water and air in a fast and economical way, people will be more likely to use [the land] than abandon the property as too expensive to clean up," Sharon Doty, of the University of Washington, said in an email.
Doty is the lead author of a paper on the modified poplar tree that appears this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"There is more research left to be done before we reach that stage, but that is the ultimate goal."
But outside experts cautioned that the risks of using genetically engineered plants are unknown and require rigorous testing.
"I think we're playing to some extent a game of roulette here," said Doug Gurian-Sherman with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C.
He noted that both Arabidopsis and poplars spread naturally in the wild, which heightens the risk of an engineered gene spreading unchecked.
"If they do [escape and] cause problems," he said, "we're pretty much going to be stuck with them."
A cutting from a genetically modified poplar tree sits inside a closed chamber filled with benzene gas, a pollutant associated with petroleum.
Researchers added genes from rabbit livers to increase the rate at which poplars can remove harmful compounds from the environment.
Senior government officials said Saturday that they were closely watching a failing U.S. spy satellite that had begun the process of "de-orbiting" and cautioned that the large device was no longer controllable and could hit the Earth as early as late February.
U.S. officials announced on Sunday that a no longer functional American spy satellite is likely to hit Earth by the end of February, possibly early March. The trajectory of the satellite is being carefully monitored by government officials, as the location where the satellite might land is still unknown. The satellite is no longer controllable and the debris could pose a potential danger, depending on where it might fall.
"Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council. "Numerous satellites over the years have come out of orbit and fallen harmlessly. We are looking at potential options to mitigate any possible damage this satellite may cause."
U.S. officials are unable to maneuver the satellite, and Johndroe declined to say whether it would be possible to shoot down the spy apparatus before it plummets to Earth. He would not divulge further specifics.
A disabled American spy satellite is rapidly descending and is likely to plunge to Earth by late February or early March, posing a potential danger from its debris, officials said Saturday.
Officials said that they had no control over the nonfunctioning satellite and that it was unknown where the debris might land.
“Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation,” Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement. “Numerous satellites over the years have come out of orbit and fallen harmlessly. We are looking at potential options to mitigate any possible damage this satellite may cause.”
Specialists who follow spy satellite operations suspect it is an experimental imagery satellite built by Lockheed Martin and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in December 2006 aboard a Delta II rocket. Shortly after the satellite reached orbit, ground controllers lost the ability to control it and were never able to regain communication.
“It’s not necessarily dead, but deaf,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and an analyst of various government space programs.
It is fairly common for satellites to drop out of orbit and enter Earth’s atmosphere, but most break up before they reach the surface, Mr. McDowell said. Such incidents occur every few months, and it is often difficult to control the satellite’s trajectory or its re-entry into the atmosphere. The debris, if any survives the fiery descent, typically lands in remote areas and causes little or no harm.
“For the most part,” Mr. McDowell said, “re-entering space hardware isn’t a threat because so much of the Earth is empty. But one could say we’ve been lucky so far.”
Of particular concern in this case, however, is that the debris from the satellite may include hydrazine fuel, which is typically used for rocket maneuvers in space.
Much of the fuel on the experimental satellite may not have been used and, should the tank survive re-entry into the atmosphere, the remaining fuel would be hazardous to anyone on the ground. It is likely, however, that the tank may rupture on re-entry, and that the fuel would burn off in a fiery plume that would be visible to the naked eye.
John E. Pike, the director of Globalsecurity.org in Alexandria, Va., said that if the satellite in question was a spy satellite, it was unlikely to have any kind of nuclear fuel, but that it could contain toxins, including beryllium, which is often used as a rigid frame for optical components.
Since it was launched, the experimental satellite has been in a slowly decaying orbit. As of Jan. 22, it was moving in a circular orbit at about 275 kilometers above the Earth, Mr. McDowell said. In the last month, its orbit has declined by 15 to 20 kilometers.
“If you plot the curve, it’s now just a matter of weeks before it falls out of orbit,” he said.
The largest uncontrolled re-entry by a NASA spacecraft was that of Skylab, the 78-ton abandoned space station that fell from orbit in 1979.
Amazon.com announced that in 2008 the company will begin an international rollout of Amazon MP3, Amazon’s DRM-free MP3 digital music store
Amazon to Begin International Rollout of Amazon MP3 in 2008
Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) today announced that in 2008 the company will begin an international rollout of Amazon MP3, Amazon's DRM-free MP3 digital music store where every song is playable on virtually any digital music-capable device, including the PC, Mac®, iPod®, Zune®, Zen®, iPhone™, RAZR™, and BlackBerry®. Amazon MP3 is the only retailer to offer customers DRM-free MP3s from all four major music labels as well as over 33,000 independent labels. "We have received thousands of e-mails from Amazon customers around the world asking us when we will make Amazon MP3 available outside of the U.S. They can't wait to choose from the biggest selection of high-quality, low-priced DRM-free MP3 music downloads which play on virtually any music device they own today or will own in the future," said Bill Carr, Amazon.com Vice President of Digital Music. "We are excited to tell those customers today that Amazon MP3 is going international this year." Launched on Amazon.com in September 2007, Amazon MP3 offers Earth's Biggest Selection of a la carte DRM-free MP3 music downloads, which now includes over 3.3 million songs from more than 270,000 artists. Every song and album in the Amazon MP3 music download store is available exclusively in the MP3 format without digital rights management (DRM) software and is encoded at 256 kbps to deliver high audio quality. Amazon MP3 customers are free to enjoy their music downloads using any hardware device; organize their music using any music management application, such as iTunes® or Windows Media Player™; and burn songs to CDs for personal use. Most songs available on Amazon MP3 are priced from 89 cents to 99 cents, with more than 1 million of the over 3.3 million songs priced at 89 cents. The top 100 bestselling songs are 89 cents, unless marked otherwise. Most albums are priced from $5.99 to $9.99. The top 100 bestselling albums are $8.99 or less, unless marked otherwise. Buying and downloading MP3s from Amazon MP3 is easy. Customers can purchase downloads using Amazon 1-Click shopping, and with the Amazon MP3 Downloader, seamlessly add their MP3s to their iTunes® or Windows Media Player™ libraries. The company is not disclosing a specific launch timeline for individual Amazon international websites. About Amazon.com Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), a Fortune 500 company based in Seattle, opened on the World Wide Web in July 1995 and today offers Earth's Biggest Selection. Amazon.com, Inc. seeks to be Earth's most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices. Amazon.com and other sellers offer millions of unique new, refurbished and used items in categories such as books, movies, music & games, digital downloads, electronics & computers, home & garden, toys, kids & baby, grocery, apparel, shoes & jewelry, health & beauty, sports & outdoors, tools, auto & industrial. Amazon Web Services provides Amazon's developer customers with access to in-the-cloud infrastructure services based on Amazon's own back-end technology platform, which developers can use to enable virtually any type of business. Examples of the services offered by Amazon Web Services are Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon SimpleDB, Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS), Amazon Flexible Payments Service (Amazon FPS), and Amazon Mechanical Turk. Amazon and its affiliates operate websites, including www.amazon.com, www.amazon.co.uk, www.amazon.de, www.amazon.co.jp, www.amazon.fr, www.amazon.ca, and the Joyo Amazon websites at www.joyo.cn and www.amazon.cn. As used herein, "Amazon.com," "we," "our" and similar terms include Amazon.com, Inc., and its subsidiaries, unless the context indicates otherwise. Forward-Looking Statements This announcement contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Actual results may differ significantly from management's expectations. These forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that include, among others, risks related to competition, management of growth, new products, services and technologies, potential fluctuations in operating results, international expansion, outcomes of legal proceedings and claims, fulfillment center optimization, seasonality, commercial agreements, acquisitions and strategic transactions, foreign exchange rates, system interruption, significant amount of indebtedness, inventory, government regulation and taxation, payments and fraud. More information about factors that potentially could affect Amazon.com's financial results is included in Amazon.com's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including its Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2006, and all subsequent filings.
Sony Joins Other Labels on Amazon MP3 Store
Sony BMG, the music company, announced Thursday that it would become the fourth and final major label to begin selling digital music on Amazon.com, offering its entire catalog in the MP3 format by the end of the month.
The move by Sony BMG, which represents artists like Bruce Springsteen, the Foo Fighters, Santana and Justin Timberlake, further positions Amazon's digital music store as a significant rival to the market leader, the iTunes store from Apple.
"This is such an exciting day for us and our customers," said Bill Carr, vice president for digital music at Amazon. "All four major labels will be part of our service. It means our customers will really have access to all the biggest artists in the world."
Sony's embrace of the MP3 format is also the latest blow to the technology known as digital rights management software, or D.R.M., which is intended to prevent consumers from making unauthorized copies of digital material.
In an open letter to the music industry last February, Steven P. Jobs, Apple's chief executive, said his company would welcome the end of software antipiracy measures and a world where music from any online music store could be played on Apple devices.
Since then, one by one, major music industry figures like Edgar M. Bronfman Jr., Warner Music's chairman, have supported the notion that D.R.M. was doing more harm than good in the evolving digital music market.
But Sony's partnership with Amazon.com also underscores the music industry's gathering effort to nurture an online rival to Apple, which has sold more than three billion songs through its iTunes store. Most music purchased on iTunes can be played only on Apple devices, and Apple insists on selling all single tracks for 99 cents. Amazon, which sells tracks for anywhere from 89 cents to over a dollar, offers the pricing variability the labels want.
"The major music companies feel that Apple's foot is on their necks, and they would like to get it off," said Bill Rosenblatt, president of GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies, a consulting firm. "They are looking to destabilize Apple's dominant share, and they see Amazon as their best shot."
The Universal Music Group and EMI Group joined the Amazon MP3 music store when it was introduced in September. In December, the Warner Music Group announced that it would make its entire catalog available.
Nevertheless, the development is not necessarily a bad one for Apple, said Richard Greenfield, an analyst at Pali Capital. "My guess is that Apple doesn't care," he said. "The reality is, everyone will now start downloading their songs more cheaply someplace else and using them on their iPods."
Apple also sells digital music without copy protection, but so far only EMI has made its music available to iTunes in that format.
Could Tiny Diatoms Help Offset Global Warming?
Diatoms -- some of which are so tiny that 30 can fit across the width of a human hair -- are so numerous that they are among the key organisms taking the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide out of the Earth's atmosphere.
The shells of diatoms are so heavy that when they die in the oceans they typically sink to watery graves on the seafloor, taking carbon out of the surface waters and locking it into sediments below.
Scientists have reported the discovery of whole subsets of genes and proteins that govern how one species of diatom builds its shell. For oceanographers, the work might one day help them understand how thousands of different kinds of diatoms -- and their ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere -- might be affected by something like global climate change. Material scientists involved in the work are interested in the possibilities of manipulating the genes responsible for silica production as a way of fabricating more efficient computer chips.
Diatoms, most of which are far too tiny to see without magnification, are incredibly important in the global carbon cycle, says Thomas Mock, a University of Washington postdoctoral researcher in oceanography and lead author of the paper. During photosynthesis, diatoms turn carbon dioxide into organic carbon and, in the process, generate oxygen. They are responsible for 40 percent of the organic carbon produced in the world's oceans each year.
The new work took advantage of the genomic map of the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana published in 2004 by a team led by UW oceanography professor Virginia Armbrust, who is corresponding author of the new PNAS paper.* Thalassiosira pseudonana is encased in a hatbox-shaped shell comprised of a rigid cell wall, made mainly of silica and delicately marked with pores in patterns distinctive enough for scientists to tell it from other diatoms.
Armed with the genomic map, the researchers changed environmental conditions in laboratory cultures of Thalassiosira pseudonana, for example limiting the amount of silicon and changing the temperatures. Then researchers used what's called "whole genome expression profiling" to determine which parts of the genome were triggered to compensate.
Think of a plant on a windowsill that starts getting a lot more sunlight, Mock says. The new set of conditions will cause genes in the plant to turn on and off to help the plant acclimate to the increased light as best it can.
Scientists since the late 1990s have found only a handful of genes that influence diatom shell formation. The work with Thalassiosira pseudonana identified large, previously unknown subsets. A set of 75 genes, for example, was triggered to compensate when silicon was limited.
The researchers were surprised to find another subset of 84 genes triggered when either silicon or iron were limited, suggesting that these two pathways were somehow linked. Under low-iron conditions, the diatoms grew more slowly and genes involved in the production of the silica shell were triggered. Individual diatoms also tended to clump together under those conditions, making them even heavier and more likely to sink.
The response of thin and thick cell walls depending on the amount of iron available had been observed at sea but "no one had a clue about the molecular basis," Mock says.
Considering that 30 percent of the world's oceans are iron-poor, some scientists have suggested fertilizing such areas with iron so diatoms become more numerous and absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus putting the brakes on global warming. If, however, adding iron causes diatoms to change the thickness of their shells then perhaps they won't be as likely to sink and instead would remain in the upper ocean where the carbon they contain might be released back to the atmosphere as they decay or are eaten.
"Iron increases primary production by diatoms but our study adds another concern about the efficiency of iron fertilization," Mock says.
Along with helping scientists understand implications for climate change and absorption of carbon dioxide, diatoms can manipulate silica in ways that engineers can only dream about.
University of Wisconsin professor Michael Sussman, the co-corresponding author on the paper, says the new findings will help his group start manipulating the genes responsible for silica production and potentially harness them to produce lines on computer chips. This could vastly increase chip speed because diatoms are capable of producing lines much smaller than current technology allows, he says.
*This research was published recently in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Other co-authors from the University of Washington are Vaughn Iverson, Chris Berthiaume, Karie Holtermann and Colleen Durkin; from Systemix Institute is Manoj Pratim Samanta; and from University of Wisconsin are Matthew Robinson, Sandra Splinter BonDurant, Kathryn Richmond, Matthew Rodesch, Toivo Kallas, Edward Huttlin and Franceso Cerrina.
Funding for the research came from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, National Science Foundation, German Academic Exchange Service, National Institutes of Health Genomic Sciences Training Center and the University of Wisconsin.
Tiny Phytoplankton Could Be Harboring the Next Big breakthrough In Computer Chips.
Denizens of oceans, lakes and even wet soil, diatoms are unicellular algae that encase themselves in intricately patterned, glass-like shells. Curiously, these tiny phytoplankton could be harboring the next big breakthrough in computer chips.
Diatoms build their hard cell walls by laying down submicron-sized lines of silica, a compound related to the key material of the semiconductor industry--silicon. "If we can genetically control that process, we would have a whole new way of performing the nanofabrication used to make computer chips," says Michael Sussman, a University of Wisconsin-Madison biochemistry professor and director of the UW-Madison's Biotechnology Center.
To that end, a team led by Sussman and diatom expert Virginia Armbrust of the University of Washington has reported finding a set of 75 genes specifically involved in silica bioprocessing in the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana, as published January 21 in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Armbrust, an oceanography professor who studies the ecological role of diatoms, headed up the effort to sequence the genome of T. pseudonana, which was completed in 2004.
The new data will enable Sussman to start manipulating the genes responsible for silica production and potentially harness them to produce lines on computer chips. This could vastly increase chip speed, Sussman says, because diatoms are capable of producing lines much smaller than current technology allows.
"The semiconductor industry has been able to double the density of transistors on computer chips every few years. They've been doing that using photolithographic techniques for the past 30 years," explains Sussman. "But they are actually hitting a wall now because they're getting down to the resolution of visible light."
Before diatoms were appreciated for their engineering prowess, they interested ecologists for their role in the planet's carbon cycle. These photosynthetic cells soak up carbon dioxide and then fall to the ocean floor. They account for upwards of 20 percent of the carbon dioxide that is removed from the atmosphere each year, an amount comparable to that removed by all of the planet's rainforests combined.
"We want to see which genes express under different environmental conditions because these organisms are so important in global carbon cycling," explains Thomas Mock, a postdoctoral researcher in Armbrust's lab and the paper's first author.
But research on these algae has uncovered other enticing possibilities. As he learned about diatoms, Sussman became intrigued by the fact that each species of diatom--there may be around 100,000 of them--is believed to sport a uniquely designed cell wall.
To determine which genes are involved in creating those distinctive patterns, the research team used a DNA chip developed by Sussman, UW-Madison electrical engineer Franco Cerrina and UW-Madison geneticist Fred Blattner, the three founders of the biotechnology company NimbleGen. Put simply, the chip allows scientists to see which genes are involved in a given cellular process. In this case, the chip identified genes that responded when diatoms were grown in low levels of silicic acid, the raw material they use to make silica.
Of the 30 genes that increased their expression the most during silicic acid starvation, 25 are completely new, displaying no similarities to known genes.
"Now we know which of the organism's 13,000 genes are most likely to be involved in silica bioprocessing. Now we can zero in on those top 30 genes and start genetically manipulating them and see what happens," says Sussman.
For his part, Sussman is optimistic that in the long run these findings will help him improve the DNA chip he helped develop -- the very one used to gather data for this research project. "It's like the Lion King song," he says. "You know, 'the circle of life.'"
A group of vigilantes--calling themselves Anonymous, or Anon--are escalating their attacks against the Church of Scientology
Anonymous steps up its war with Scientology
A group of vigilantes--calling themselves Anonymous, or Anon--are escalating their attacks against the Church of Scientology in what they consider to be Internet censorship by issuing new video challenges. In one video posted to YouTube, Anonymous addresses the many news organizations covering the war, stating that the group has been watching. While the individuals behind the effort generally support the coverage, they also severely fault the media.
"We find it interesting that you did not mention the other objections in your news reporting. The stifling and punishment of dissent within the totalitarian organization of Scientology. The numerous, alleged human rights violations. Such as the treatment and events that led to the deaths of victims of the cult such as Lisa McPherson.
This Cult is Nothing but a psychotically driven pyramid scheme.
Why are you, the news media, afraid of discussing these matters? It is your duty to report on these matters.You are failing in your duty."
Lisa McPherson was a member of the Flag Service Organization, a branch of the Church of Scientology, whose death in 1995 remains controversial. Although the Church of Scientology was initially held responsible, felony charges against it were dropped when the medical examiner ruled her death was an accident. A civil suit against the church by McPherson's parents was settled in 2004.
At one point in the video, Anonymous says, perhaps in response to its growing numbers of critics, "this is not religious persecution, but the suppression of a powerful, criminal fascist regime."
A request for comment from the Church of Scientology has not yet been answered.
On Friday, Anonymous also posted on YouTube a second YouTube video to the Church of Scientology, this time addressed to its many followers.
"Your religious beliefs are not wrong, like any other religion, and they are yours to keep. However beliefs should not come at a price. Not from your wallet or compromising your thoughts.
Those who have left feel a new life, a rebirth into true freedom. You can join them if you wish. You may not believe us. We ask of you one thing: Make up your own mind. That is a sentence of more profound meaning for you now than at any other time in your life."
Both videos continue a trend in using a computer-generated voice over stylized video. A Web site called Project Chanology continues to detail present and future actions by Anonymous and others.
Hackers Hit Scientology With Online Attack
Hacker group claims to have knocked the Church of Scientology's Web site offline with a distributed denial-of-service attack.
A group of hackers calling itself "Anonymous" has hit the Church of Scientology's Web site with an online attack.
The attack was launched Jan. 19 by Anonymous, which is seeking media attention to help "save people from Scientology by reversing the brainwashing," according to a Web page maintained by Anonymous.
Anonymous claims to have knocked the Church's Web site offline with a distributed denial-of-service attack, in which many computers bombard the victim's server with requests, overwhelming it with data in the hope of ultimately knocking the system offline. True to its name, Anonymous does not disclose the true identities of its members.
The attacks were spurred by the Church's efforts to remove video of movie star Tom Cruise professing his admiration for the religion, according to an Anonymous video manifesto posted to Youtube.
Anonymous has managed to generate a measurable attack against the Scientology.org Web site. Over the past few days, the site was hit with several DDOS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks, which flooded it with as much as 220M bps of traffic, according to Jose Nazario, a senior security engineer with Arbor Networks, whose company compiles data on Internet attacks.
The Anonymous campaign shows some level of organization. "220M bps is probably about in the middle of attack sizes," Nazario said. "It's not just one or two guys hanging out in the university dorms doing this."
On average, the attacks lasted about 30 minutes and used up 168M bps of bandwidth. In the past year, Arbor has seen attacks on other sites hit 40G bps, or 200 times the strength of the Anonymous event.
Shortly after it was hit with the DDOS flood, the Scientology.org Web site was moved to a server hosted by Prolexic Technologies, according to data compiled by Netcraft, an Internet monitoring company. Prolexic specializes in protecting companies from DDOS attacks.
A Prolexic spokeswoman confirmed that the Church of Scientology is one of the company's clients, but declined to offer more details on the matter. The Church of Scientology did not return a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.
The secretive Church of Scientology's practices, including its efforts to use copyright law to restrict the dissemination of information about the church, have engendered a lot of criticism within the Internet community. But one Web site set up to criticize Scientology -- called Operation Clambake -- called the DDOS attacks a bad idea. "Attacking Scientology like that will just make them play the religious persecution card," wrote Andreas Heldal-Lund, the Web site's owner. "They will use it to defend their own counter actions when they try to shatter criticism and crush critics without mercy."
If publicity was Anonymous' ultimate goal, the group has had some success. Late in the day Friday, seven of the top 10 stories on the Digg.com news-linking site related to Scientology or to Anonymous' communiques.