Published: Tuesday 15 July 2003

easy rabies cure: Tobacco plants have been genetically modified to produce proteins used to combat the rabies virus. Till now, the only way to fight the virus was to use antibodies derived from either horses or humans; but they are difficult to get. Researchers from the Thomas Jefferson University, USA, have now inserted DNA coding of the human antibodies into the tobacco plants. The new antibodies are as efficient as the ones used at present.

biodetectors: Scientists from US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have started using sensors to map wind patterns and provide information in case of a chemical or biological attack. The prototypes, in the form of nine-meter high aluminum towers, are being tested in New York and Washington DC. The sensors measure wind strength and direction 10 times per second. The data is downloaded via the Internet to computers that simulate a 'wind field' map, updated every 15 minutes.

who's drug: A controversy has erupted in Nigeria over the sale of patents of a drug regarded as a breakthrough in the treatment of sickle cell anaemia. The patents have been sold to the US-based Xechem International Incorporation. NIPRISAN, the drug, was developed by a traditional practitioner in collaboration with researchers from Nigeria's National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Development (NIPRD). Local scientists claim that NIPRD director-general acted improperly in the deal, as the drug could be produced locally. Officials argue the transaction will allow mass production. This is important, as Nigeria has the highest incidence of the disease in the world.

think straight while driving: Superstitions are to be blamed for the shocking rate of fatal road accidents in South Africa, where there are 10 times more deaths for a given driving distance than the us . Karl Peltzer of the University of the North, South Africa, says that many South African drivers believe accidents happen due to witchcraft. He has found, the more superstitious the driver, the more accidents he has, meaning superstitions make them respond inappropriately to risks.

no wild test: Prosecution for wildlife offences would become easier due to a testing method developed by the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology. The test establishes whether a drop of blood belongs to a human or an animal species. The challenge for the scientists was to identify a fragment of DNA that is present in all animals, but not in humans. It should also have proteins unique to each species, to facilitate precise identification. They found it on a gene called cytochrome B. It has a section that is common to all animals, and also contains species-specific proteins. Once these proteins are isolated, they can be compared against a database containing 'signatures' of 2,000 species to identity the animal species.

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