While You Were Sleeping: 5 stories you might have missed, May 18 edition

President Donald Trump and Republican Speaker of the House from Wisconsin Paul Ryan (centre-right), along with GOP lawmakers, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, on May 4, 2017.
President Donald Trump and Republican Speaker of the House from Wisconsin Paul Ryan (centre-right), along with GOP lawmakers, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, on May 4, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

More US Republicans back independent probe of Trump-Russia ties 

A small but growing number of US President Donald Trump's fellow Republicans called on Wednesday (May 17) for an independent probe of possible collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia, and one even mentioned impeachment, spurred by a memo from the fired FBI chief that Trump tried to impede the agency's investigation.

The tumult in Washington deepened over allegations Trump had sought to end the FBI's investigation into ties between Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia.

US stocks were on track for their worst day in almost two months and the dollar dropped as investors fled risky assets amid uncertainty about the president's ability to deliver on tax and regulatory changes.


Irish PM to step down, succession contest begins

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he was stepping down as leader of the Fine Gael party on Wednesday (May 17), kicking off a succession contest between two younger ministers who colleagues hope will boost the party ahead of an election due late next year.

Kenny - who had already announced he would not lead Fine Gael into the election - said he would remain prime minister during the contest, due to be concluded on June 2, and subsequent talks with lawmakers backing the government.

Kenny, prime minister since 2011 and leader of his party for almost 15 years, is expected to be replaced by either Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar, the bookmakers' favourite, or Housing Minister Simon Coveney.


Fuel shortage again hits oil-rich Venezuela amid refinery woes, protests

Pockets of oil-rich Venezuela were suffering gasoline shortages on Wednesday (May 17) as the Opec nation's ageing refineries faced more operational problems and protests blocked some deliveries.

Venezuela, which has the world's cheapest gasoline, has been plagued by intermittent fuel shortages in recent months as its oil industry struggles with lower production.

Lines were reported in the southeastern Anzoategui and Bolivar states as well as the opposition hotbed of Tachira near Colombia, where anti-government protests have flared in recent days. Caracas, the capital, did not appear affected.


'Milestone' in quest to make blood cells: Studies

Scientists on Wednesday (May 17) unveiled two methods for coaxing stem cells into blood cells, a long-sought goal that could lead to new treatments for blood disease, including leukaemia.

In separate experiments reported in Nature - one with mice, the other transplanting human stem cells into mouse bone marrow - researchers demonstrated techniques with the potential to produce all types of blood cells.

"This step opens up an opportunity to take cells from patients with genetic blood disorders, use gene editing to correct their genetic defect, and make functional blood cells," said Ryohichi Sugimura, a doctor at Boston Children's Hospital and lead author of one of the studies.


Google ups artificial intelligence game at annual developer conference

Artificial intelligence (AI) took centrestage at tech giant's Google annual developer conference in 2017, as the company announced deeper integration of AI into both new and existing services.

Google apps such as Photos and Gmail will soon have AI-powered functions, while Android users can expect a new image recognition feature, called Google Lens.

Google's Assistant software, an AI-powered virtual assistant, has also been enhanced with new features.