November 30, 2016

Progress in Health, Energy and Agriculture

By Chelsea Follett
Researchers at the University of Delaware are working to help protect rice crops from disease. Rice blast fungus destroys rice crops, enough to sustain roughly 60 million people every year.  By spraying a combination of microbes on rice plants, UD researchers have discovered that they can boost naturally occurring immune systems within the crops. In addition to rice blast fungus, rice farmers in Southeast Asia have to worry about high rates of arsenic poisoning in the water. A second microbe helps the crops defend against that by limiting the absorption of arsenic from the roots.  These two microbes can work together to help the health of rice crops on two fronts and increase the production of this staple crop.           

Researchers in Central Florida University created a battery, through the use of super capacitors, that can charge in a matter of seconds and last for days. While the technology has been around for a while, battery manufacturers did not use it for personal electronics due to the massive size. By using extremely thin wires, researchers are able to reduce the size of the battery in order to be usable in cellphones and wearable technology. In addition to the battery life, it can be recharged up to 30,000 times. Comparatively, normal lithium ion batteries can only be charged 1,500-3,000 times before losing their capacity. Researchers say the battery is not ready for the market yet, but when its released it has to potential to revolutionize batteries.  

An international team of scientists has developed a technology, which has the potential to restore movement to many patients paralyzed due to spinal injuries. The technology consists of two small implants, one in the brain and one in the spine below the injury. These implants are able to wirelessly bypass the damaged spinal cord by decoding signals in the brain’s motor cortex and converting them into electrical ones that are then transmitted and read by the implant in the spine. By mimicking the signals that would naturally travel down the spine, these implants are able to restore movement to limbs that are otherwise still capable of functioning. So far, the implants have been successfully tested in two macaque monkeys, but scientists are hopeful that the same results would be replicable in human patients. 

In a promising discovery, U.S scientists have found an antibody that has successfully neutralized 98% of HIV isolates tested. According to the National Institute of Health, the antibody, named N6, was recovered from the body of an HIV positive patient and is showing the potential to treat the majority of HIV strains worldwide. Previous antibodies have been discovered which also target HIV with up to 90% efficiency, yet the surface proteins of the HIV cell to which these antibodies must bind change rapidly to avoid recognition and destruction. N6 binds to a region of the HIV cell which, as a consequence, changes much more slowly. NIH scientists believe N6 is ideally suited for further research into treating and preventing HIV, a disease which UNAIDS estimates is effecting 36.7 million people worldwide. 

Scientists have developed a new technique of DNA editing, based on CRISPR technology, which allows them to edit the DNA of non-dividing cells (those cells make up the majority of cells in the adult human body). This technique, known as HITI, allows scientists to fix malfunctioning genes in eye, brain, heart, and liver tissues for the first time. The technique has already been used to restore partial vision to mice with a retinal disease that also affects humans. As Prof. Robert MacLaren of Oxford University notes, since aging is defined as the picking up of DNA mutations over time, the fact that HITI can potentially fix these gene defects would mean it could be used to treat many aging related diseases and thereby increase human lifespans. While the efficiency of the technique needs to be improved before human trials can begin, HITI has the potential to benefit many people with otherwise incurable conditions relating to these crucial, non-diving cells.