Published: Monday 15 September 2003

profiling the menace: Researchers have taken snapshots of the ever-changing protein profile of Plasmodium falciparum -- the malaria parasite. In Africa, where the disease is most menacing, P falciparum rapidly develops resistance to most drugs due to its ever-changing character. The parasite goes through 10 or more growth phases. Elizabeth Winzeler and her colleagues from the Scripps Research Institute, USA, built a chip and recorded gene activity of nine stages. The feat will help develop drugs that can perturb gene expression in all the stages.

ray of hope: The race to develop cost-effective solar power has speeded up with the making of the world's most efficient photovoltaic cell. Spectrolab, a subsidiary of the US-based company Boeing, has created the cell capable of converting 36 per cent of the Sun's rays into electricity. Existing cells are only 10-15 per cent energy-efficient.

vegetarian delight: An Indian drug company has launched Asia's first vegetarian insulin. The product may prove highly successful in India, which has the world's largest population of diabetics. The new insulin is derived from yeast. Until now, 90 per cent of the insulin available in the Indian market was derived from pigs or cows, which are proscribed by many Muslim and Hindu communities. Wockhardt, the company that manufactures the drug, says that this type of insulin will also help avoid other infections such as BSE and CJD associated with insulin derived from animals. Wockhardt has priced a 10-centilitre bottle of the insulin at Rs 130 (nearly US $3). Other insulin products cost between US $5 and US $8 a bottle.

waste to wealth: Indian Oil Corporation Limited along with the Union government's department of science and technology will soon establish India's first plant to convert waste plastic into petrol, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas. The plant will be based on the technology developed by Alka Zadgaonkar of Nagpur-based G H Raisoni College of Engineering (see: "Don't junk it", July 31, 2003). The plant will be constructed at Faridabad in Haryana or Nagpur in Maharashtra.

whale trouble: Carcass sightings suggest that at least 12 whales, mostly humpbacks, have died in the Georges Bank area of the US. This is said to be one of the worst known mass fatalities of whales. A red tide of the toxic algae Alexandrium fundyense is the most likely culprit. The algae's poison, saxitoxin, killed 14 whales in the same area in 1987. Saxitoxin can accumulate in mackerel that whales eat. Unusual currents or weather may have carried the algae to Georges Bank from the coast of Maine and Massachusetts, where they bloom each summer. The toxin also poisons people.

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