October 10, 2016

Breakthroughs in Agriculture, Energy and Health

By Chelsea Follett
Could Algae Provide 'Green' Energy?

The next major step in alternative energy development might be coming from a very unlikely source: algae. Processed algae can actually be turned into a substance that is close to gasoline, but with added benefits.  Not only can algae be used in energy production, but it also can address hunger when used as food.  The company Global Algae Innovations believes that algae hold a key role in both the development of sustainable energy and food production. 

Drones Can Help Spray Crops

Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) are used in farming to spray crops.  However, due to short flight times of 10-15 minutes, their practicality is debatable.  The new product, Crop Angel from the Norfolk-based company, is looking to address these shortcomings.  Along with a targeted spray head, they are developing stronger formulas to be used on crops.  Making the spraying capacity stronger and more targeted allows farmers to maximize the effectiveness of short flight times.  Additionally, better targeted spraying prevents harm to the crops that occur with less focused spraying of chemicals. This research adapts existing technology to the real needs of food producers world-wide.

U.S. Teen Pregnancy Rate Plummets

A new study released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, found that in 2015 there had been a 64 percent decline in the U.S. teen birthrate since 1990. For every 1,000 American girls in 1991, there were 61.8 births. By 2015, that number had dropped to just 22.3 births per 1,000 girls. The decline has occurred across all racial groups, with particularly sharp falls for minority groups. This sharp decrease is being called one of the greatest public health victories of the 21st century and has sent researchers scrambling to explain it. According to Laura Lindberg, John Santelli, and Sheila Desai, the decline can be generally attributed to a more efficient use of contraceptives. 

Immunotherapy Breakthroughs Offer Hope

Breakthroughs in “immunotherapy,” which rallies the body’s own immune system to defeat disease, are offering hope to cancer patients. There are two kinds of immunotherapy: checkpoint inhibitor therapy and CAR T cell therapy. Checkpoint inhibitors are available off-the-shelf and often used together with surgery and radiation to rally the body’s immune system against disease. CAR T cell therapy, advanced by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, and other centers, is more experimental. The short procedure involves infusing millions of the body’s T cells (now genetically modified) back into the bloodstream. These T cells are reprogrammed using a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR, to recognize a specific protein called CD19, which is attached to lymphoblastic leukemia. From there, the T cells track down the protein and destroy the cancer. Although refreshingly effective at putting the cancer in remission, the CAR T cell therapy is still in its early stages and still very expensive to administer.