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Russian, Ukrainian, German, French officials meet on Ukraine

MUNICH (AP) — Senior officials from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France have met on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier hosted Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and Ukraine’s Pavlo Klimkin, along with the French Foreign Ministry’s political director Nicolas de Riviere, for a meeting Saturday.

Germany and France brokered a peace deal for eastern Ukraine in Minsk, Belarus a year ago and have been at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to try to implement it. Still, fighting hasn’t fully stopped and there has been little progress in bringing about a political settlement.

Steinmeier told the Munich Security Conference that “not talking to each other in times of crisis can’t be the answer.”


Urbanization leads to change in type of bacteria in the home

WASHINGTON (AP) — Whether it’s a jungle hut or a high-rise apartment, your home is covered in bacteria, and new research from the Amazon suggests city dwellers might want to open a window.

Scientists traveled from remote villages in Peru to a large Brazilian city to begin tracking the effects of urbanization on the diversity of bacteria in people’s homes. It’s a small first step in a larger quest — understanding how different environmental bugs help shape what’s called our microbiome, the trillions of bacteria that share our bodies and play a critical role in our health.

“Very little is known about the microbes of the built environment,” microbiologist Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello of New York University, who led the pilot study, said at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Her team found that as people living in the Amazon rainforest become more urbanized, the kinds of bacteria in their homes change from the bugs mostly found in nature to those that typically live on people, she reported Friday.

In fact, in city dwellings, the researchers could tell just by the microbial fingerprints of the walls that “this is a kitchen or this is a bathroom or this is a living room. That’s amazing,” Dominguez-Bello said.

As she puts it, “the walls talk.”

Everyone carries a customized set of microbes on the skin, in the nose and in the gut, a microbial zoo that starts forming at birth and help with such things as digestion and immune development. What influences the balance of good bugs and bad varies depending on such things as your diet, if you were born vaginally or by C-section, and antibiotics. Environmental exposures play a role, too. The hygiene hypothesis, for example, suggests asthma and allergies are on the rise in Western populations because of a lack of early contact with once-common bugs, one reason why tots who grow up on farms or around animals tend to have fewer of those immune-related ailments.

Increasingly, scientists also are investigating where we spend a lot of time — indoor spaces, especially our homes. To track the effects of urbanization, Dominguez-Bello’s team analyzed the microbial communities of 10 houses and their inhabitants from each of three Peruvian locations — a village of hunter-gatherers, a slightly more modern rural village and Iquitos, a medium-sized city not accessible by roads — and the contemporary Brazilian city of Manaus.

Housing styles help tell the story, said study co-author Humberto Cavallin, an architect at the University of Puerto Rico. Large families shared open-air jungle huts with no external walls; homes in the rural villages had walls but room dividers didn’t reach the roof; city homes were larger with standard rooms and smaller families.

Despite fewer occupants, the more urbanized a dwelling, the more human bacteria lived on its walls and floors, the researchers reported in the journal Science Advances. In Manaus, a collection of microbes normally found in the mouth, including various species of strep bacteria, and in the gut were the most important in telling rooms apart. The more crowded jungle and rural homes nonetheless were filled with more bacteria commonly found in soil and water than with human microbes.

Walls were acting as traps as people shed bacteria, compared with the less urban homes open to air circulation, the team reported. Dominguez-Bello was so struck by the findings that she insisted the windows in her New York office be unsealed so she could open them.

She next will compare the microbiomes of the residents with their homes. There’s a balancing act, she acknowledged: Microbiome theories aside, these rural populations are exposed to their own set of infectious threats, including no screens to keep out disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Still, the findings reflect research in U.S. homes and hospitals about the role of ventilation, said microbiologist Jack Gilbert of the Argonne National Laboratory and University of Chicago, who wasn’t involved in the study. His own housing study was able to match which family lived where by the bacteria they shed inside.

“Our modern homes are set up perfectly for doing microbial forensics,” he said.


AP PHOTOS: A selection of pictures from the past week

Highlights from the weekly AP photo report, a gallery featuring a mix of front-page photography, the odd image you might have missed and lasting moments our editors think you should see.

This week’s gallery features a wild elephant walking through the streets of Siliguri, India; the North Side Skull & Bone Gang parade during Mardi Gras in New Orleans; and a health worker fumigating the Martires 19 de Julio cemetery to stave off mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus in Lima, Peru.

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This gallery contains photos published Feb. 6-Feb. 12, 2016.

See the latest AP photo galleries: http://apne.ws/TXeCBN

The Archive: Top photo highlights from previous weeks: http://apne.ws/13QUFKJ

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Follow AP photographers on Twitter: http://twitter.com/AP/lists/ap-photographers

Follow AP Images on Twitter: http://twitter.com/AP_Images

Visit AP Images online: http://www.apimages.com http://www.apimages.com/

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This gallery was produced by Patrick Sison in New York.


115 bodies pulled out from Taiwan quake rubble; 2 missing

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Rescuers have pulled out 115 dead a week since a powerful earthquake struck Taiwan’s oldest city of Tainan, leaving only two missing in the rubble of a collapsed 17-story residential complex, authorities said Saturday.

All but two of the dead were found at the ruins of the Weiguan Golden Dragon complex, which toppled when the 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck last Saturday just ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.

A total of 327 people in the building survived.

According to Taiwan’s Interior Ministry, workers extracted scores more bodies on Friday and Saturday morning. Two are still listed as missing.

Authorities have detained the building’s developer Lin Ming-hui and two architects this week on suspicion of negligent homicide amid accusations his firm cut corners in the construction.

Tainan city officials said they will inspect several dozen other developments built by Lin, as well as other buildings in the Weiguan compound that did not collapse.

Earthquakes frequently strike Taiwan, but usually cause little or no damage, particularly since more stringent building regulations were introduced following a magnitude-7.6 quake in 1999 that killed more than 2,300.


2 Indian soldiers, 4 rebels killed in Kashmir fighting

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Four suspected rebels and two soldiers were killed in a fierce gunbattle Saturday in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, an army official said.

Police and soldiers cordoned off a village in northern Kupwara region after they got a tip that militants were hiding in the area, said army spokesman Col. Nitin Joshi.

The fighting erupted Friday evening and intermittent gunfire continued through the night.

An intense firefight resumed early Saturday in which two soldiers were killed and two others wounded, Joshi said.

Police say the bodies of the militants have been spotted and soldiers were in the process of retrieving them.

The area is close to the Line of Control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim the Himalayan region in its entirety.

More than a dozen rebel groups have been fighting in Kashmir since an insurgency erupted in 1989.

The rebels are demanding independence for Kashmir from Hindu-majority India or its merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the fighting and the ensuing crackdown by Indian forces.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the insurgents, a charge Islamabad denies.

The two countries have fought two wars over control of the region since they won independence from British in 1947.


Where did El Nino go? Heat, dry spell stoke drought worry

SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — Where did El Nino go?

Winter has suddenly switched off the rain and flipped on heat up to 95 degrees in California, raising jitters that the strong El Nino might not be the drought-buster the crispy state had hoped.

“Forget El Nino, this is El No-no!” YouTube celebrity Hannah Hart tweeted.

Heat records have fallen across the West in recent days, from Oregon to Phoenix to Los Angeles, where surfers hit the beaches and golfers strolled fairways.

Much of California marked its 10th straight day on Friday without measurable precipitation. The blue skies were increasingly unwelcome in a state that just logged its four driest years on record. California has been looking for a robust and rainy El Nino to bring it out of mandatory water cutbacks.

“It’s nice to have the weather, but we hope to have the rain,” Tia Gavin of Santa Rosa said as she showed out-of-town visitors around the adobe central plaza of the wine country town of Sonoma. Strollers in shorts surveyed restaurant windows and lolled on blankets on green grass under the sun.

The dry spell came after El Nino dropped near-normal rain and snow earlier this winter.

“If you just looked at the precipitation, you wouldn’t think that there was an El Nino going on,” said Sam Iacobellis, a climate researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. He has been taking note of early blooming flowers as he drove to work this week.

Strong El Ninos such as the one this year typically bring strong rain, Iacobellis said. However, there have been few modern El Ninos on the scale of this one, making comparisons trickier, he said.

National Weather Service forecasters were quick to offer soothing messages of drizzle yet to come.

“No need to be concerned,” forecaster Steve Anderson said.

The balmy weather has “been awesome. It’s been great. But it’s not going to last,” he said. “It’s still winter.”

Californians are particularly concerned about whether the warm stretch is melting the above-average snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. The snow generally provides about a third of the state’s water when it thaws in the spring.

There again, not to worry, forecaster Travis Wilson said.

Parts of the Sierras broke heat records on at least two days this month, but nights have all fallen below freezing, keeping the precious new snow intact, he explained.

The heat is expected to peak around Monday, with more record highs possible all the way to Washington state and in parts of Arizona. More seasonal weather patterns were expected to bring some rain back to California midweek.

Californians are adjusting in the meantime. Bryan Stranahan had to do something unusual for this time of year when he went out Friday to run errands in Los Angeles.

“I normally don’t have to look for a shady parking spot until August or September,” the New York native said.

“I’m not complaining,” he added.

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AP writer Samantha Schotzbarger contributed to this report from Phoenix.


Seeking a Splash: Klay goes for All-Star 3s upset of Curry

TORONTO (AP) — Klay Thompson believes, even if he knows many don’t.

He knows how good Stephen Curry is, so he couldn’t have been terribly surprised when he was told during NBA All-Star player interviews that “everyone” thinks his Golden State Warriors teammate is going to win the 3-point contest Saturday night.

“Everybody thinks that? Oh, wow,” Thompson said. “There’s got to be a few who think Klay has a chance. I mean, I don’t mean to refer to myself in the third person, but there’s a few out there, I think. I’m one of them. Hopefully my brothers, and probably the rest of the world thinks Steph. That’s fine. I’ll play the underdog for a night.”

A heavy underdog, at least according to one betting site. Curry was made a 10 to 11 favorite Friday by Bovada, meaning an $11 wager would only pay $10. Kobe Bryant also picked Curry when asked.

The 3-point contest takes place between the Skills Challenge and slam dunk contest, but it may be the main event with the Splash Brothers from the NBA champions leading the field.

Thompson made it to the final round last year along with Kyrie Irving, but they were blown away when Curry made 13 straight shots and set a record with 27 points. Bovada listed Thompson as the second choice at 9 to 2, and he’s looking forward to another chance at the NBA’s record holder for 3-pointers in a season.

“There’s only a few times me and him get to compete against each other. We always go against each other in practice, so it’s cool to do it on a real stage,” Thompson said.

“It’s going to be a fun round, because you’re going to need two perfect rounds to beat Steph.”

Other things to watch during All-Star Saturday:

ZACH’S BACK: The slam dunk contest has largely become a one-and-done event, but Minnesota’s Zach LaVine is back for a chance to repeat after his high-flying performance last year in Brooklyn. Nobody has won two in a row since Nate Robinson in 2009-10.

He defends against Denver’s Will Barton, Orlando’s Aaron Gordon and Detroit All-Star Andre Drummond.

IF NOT A SPLASH BROTHER: The Warriors’ backcourt partners face a field that includes two more All-Stars in Houston’s James Harden and Toronto’s James Harden, plus the Clippers’ J.J. Redick, Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Phoenix rookie Devin Booker and Portland’s CJ McCollum.

DOUBLE DUTY: Not long after McCollum joked about his disappointment in not being picked for the 3-point contest, he was added to the field when Miami’s Chris Bosh pulled out with an injury. That makes the Portland guard a busy man Saturday, as he is already entered in the field of the Skills Challenge.

BIG CHALLENGE: A big man is guaranteed to reach the final of the Skills Challenge, the obstacle-course event that combines dribbling, passing and shooting. All-Stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins square off in the first round and the winner would meet All-Star Draymond Green or No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns, who believes he can get by the bigs and then knock off one of the little guys who usually make up the event’s entire field.

“I think I can win,” Towns said. “I think I honestly can win the Skills Challenge. I think I have a great opportunity.”

D-LEAGUE’S DAY: The best from the NBA Development League get the stage in the afternoon, as the D-League has its own All-Star Game, 3-point and slam dunk contests.


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