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A DIARY OF THE WEEK

ALL-CANCERS GENE? Until now, scientists had been able to identify only those cancer genes that affected 1 in 1,000 Americans _ those at special risk for hereditary breast or colon cancer.

But scientists kept searching for genes more widely distributed in the population, and their search has paid off.

In a report issued last week, an international team of researchers said that more than a decade of intense effort had allowed them to isolate a cancer gene that is carried by about 1 percent of Americans, or about 2.6-million people.

The gene is called ATM (for ataxia telangiectasia mutated). Those who have it are thought to run a three- to eightfold increased risk of developing a variety of cancers, including those of the breast, lung, skin, stomach, and pancreas.

The gene also causes a fatal disease, ataxia telangiectasia, in the 1 in 40,000 people who inherit two copies of it, one from each parent.

Many researchers are elated, anticipating that studies of the ATM gene will allow for broader studies and new ways of preventing and treating cancer.

BRITISH ABOUT-FACE: British politics is an unlikely hybrid of the high and the low: a noble-minded enterprise combined with blood sport. It's like a poetry recital held on a raft in shark-infested waters.

Perhaps that's why Michael Heseltine, Britain's president of the Board of Trade, is reluctant to challenge Prime Minister John Major in a Conservative Party leadership contest that Major virtually demanded last week.

Heseltine brought down Margaret Thatcher in a challenge in 1990 _ "the hand that wields the dagger" as he put it in Shakespearean prose _ and it has taken all this time for some Tories to forgive him. So he would prefer someone else to do the stabbing now.

And perhaps that's why Thatcher herself performed such a neat pirouette. She has been the specter haunting Major for two years now, deriding him as an unworthy successor who squandered her legacy and is leading the party into the desert.

Yet when Major took his leadership gamble, she decided he wasn't so bad after all. Why if she were in the House of Commons today, she said, she would even vote for him.

What caused the about-face? A ghost is one thing, but nobody really likes Lady Macbeth.

OUT OF THE ASHES: Both are powerful men who have earned millions of dollars with big hits. Both committed crimes and became sorry sports figures. Both came back to New York last week for a second chance.

Darryl Strawberry and Mike Tyson, once loosely connected by stardom, are now paired by their pursuit of redemption.

In their dream worlds, Strawberry will bash homers and save the struggling Yankees and Tyson will bash fighters and save the struggling sport of boxing.

In the real world, there is debate over whether either man should be permitted to return to the public arena at all.

Strawberry, who is 33, completed a 60-day suspension from baseball last week after his second treatment for alcohol or substance abuse and remains under house arrest for income tax evasion.

George Steinbrenner, the principal owner of the Yankees, fervently pursued Strawberry and made him the 11th-highest paid Yankee before his first at-bat next Friday.

"Can you imagine me being here in Yankee Stadium?" Strawberry said. "Look where I was six months ago."

Tyson, 28, was released from prison in March after serving three years for rape. About 2,000 people welcomed the former heavyweight champion in Harlem last week when he donated $1-million to charities. Tyson, whose return fight will be Aug. 19, claimed to be unaware that domestic violence awareness groups had opposed his welcome.

"The only thing I do is pray and fight," Tyson said. "I don't know about anything else."

NEW NEIGHBORS: Relations between Christians and Muslims have always been troubled, which is why the opening of a mosque last week, here in the heart of Christendom, was such a remarkable event.

But even as the two religions mingled at the opening of Rome's Islamic Cultural Center, an elaborate complex that took 20 years to build, there were ample signs that neither fully understands the other.

The Roman Catholic Church, which still regards this city as its own despite the increasingly secular nature of the Italian state, clearly saw itself as the generous host.

That gave Pope John Paul II license to issue a stern rebuke to certain Islamic countries _ by which he meant principally Saudi Arabia, the new mosque's chief benefactor _ for failing to practice religious tolerance at home.

Islamic leaders said they hoped the mosque would serve to erase the negative image of Islam in the West. The two appeals for tolerance crisscrossing the fuzzy divide between states and religions never did intersect in Rome last week.

The Saudis, who ban all religions except Islam, turned a deaf ear to the plea from the pope, while Italian Catholic fringe groups condemned the new mosque as a symbol of Islam's expansion into Europe.

As Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro pointed out, tolerance involves more than building temples.

_ The New York Times

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