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  • Artificial jellyfish 'Medusoid' swims in a heartbeat: Creation is an amalgam of silicone polymer and heart muscle cells

    30th Jul 2012

    Using recent advances in marine biomechanics, materials science, and tissue engineering, a team of researchers at Harvard University and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have turned inanimate silicone and living cardiac muscle cells into a freely swimming “jellyfish.”

    The finding serves as a proof of concept for reverse engineering a variety of muscular organs and simple life forms. It also suggests a broader definition of what counts as synthetic life in an emerging field that has primarily focused on replicating life’s building blocks. The researchers’ method for building the tissue-engineered jellyfish, dubbed “Medusoid,” was published in a Nature Biotechnology paper on July 22.

    An expert in cell- and tissue-powered actuators, co-author Kevin Kit Parker has previously demonstrated bioengineered constructs that can grip, pump, and even walk. The inspiration to raise the bar and mimic a jellyfish came out of his own frustration with the state of the cardiac field. Similar to the way a human heart moves blood throughout the body, jellyfish propel themselves through the water by pumping. In figuring out how to take apart and then rebuild the primary motor function of a jellyfish, the aim was to gain new insights into how such pumps really worked.

    To read more click here
    Story: Phys.org

  • Stem cells can be harvested long after death

    22nd Jun 2012

    The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, unlocks further knowledge about the versatility of these cells, touted as a future source to replenish damaged tissue.

    “Remarkably, skeletal muscle stem cells can survive for 17 days in humans and 16 days in mice, post mortem well beyond the 1-2 days currently thought,” they said in a statement.

    The stem cells retained their ability to differentiate into perfectly functioning muscle cells, they found.

    “This discovery could form the basis of a new source, and more importantly new methods of conservation, for stem cells used to treat a number of pathologies,” the statement said.

    Stem cells are infant cells that develop into the specialised tissues of the body.

    They have sparked great excitement as they offer hopes of rebuilding organs damaged by disease or accident.

    The study led by Fabrice Chretien of France’s Pasteur Institute found that to survive in adverse conditions, skeletal muscle stem cells lower their metabolism to enter a dormant state, using less energy.

    The team then also looked at stem cells taken from bone marrow, where blood cells are produced.

    These remained viable for four days after death in lab mice and retained their ability to reconstitute tissue after a bone marrow transplant.

    To read more click here

    Story: medicalxpress.com

  • Researchers create mosquitoes incapable of transmitting malaria

    22nd Jun 2012

    Anthony James and colleagues from UCI and the Pasteur Institute in Paris have produced a model of the Anopheles stephensi mosquito – a major source of malaria in India and the Middle East – that impairs the development of the malaria parasite. These mosquitoes, in turn, cannot transmit the disease through their bites.

    “Our group has made significant advances with the creation of transgenic mosquitoes,” said James, a UCI Distinguished Professor of microbiology & molecular genetics and molecular biology & biochemistry. “But this is the first model of a malaria vector with a genetic modification that can potentially exist in wild populations and be transferred through generations without affecting their fitness.”

    More than 40 percent of the world’s population lives in areas where there is a risk of contracting malaria. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 300 million to 500 million cases of malaria occur each year, and nearly 1 million people die of the disease annually – largely infants, young children and pregnant women, most of them in Africa.

    To read more click here

    Story: Phys.org-June 2012


  • Kenya: Strange Disease Hits Maize in South Rift

    22nd Jun 2012

    Researchers and scientists have identified the strange disease which has destroyed thousands of acres of maize crops in South Rift as maize lethal necrotic.

    Scientists from Kenya Agriculture Research Institute have said the disease is a viral infection made up of two viruses and is new in the country but has been reported in other parts of the world. Anne Wangai a researcher with Kari said the disease is a combination of maize chlorotic mottle virus and sugarcane mosaic virus. She said tests conducted on affected maize samples collected from the region positively identified the two viruses.

    Dr Wangai said the disease is spread by insects and wind from one plant to another. She said farmers from the affected regions should destroy their crops and plant alternative crops to curb further spread. The researcher also refuted claims that the disease is seed borne saying maize seed from Kenya Seed have been tested and do not have any of the identified viruses.

    Speaking during a field tour of the affected regions with Ministry of Agriculture officials led by Agriculture minister Sally Kosgey and PS Romano Kiome, Dr Wangai said a diagnosis for the disease is yet to be established. Dr Kosgey, however, said the government has come up with a maize variety which is resistant to the disease and will be availed to farmers to plant during the next season.

    The Aldai MP said the resistant variety is still being verified by researchers. It has been put to test in Naivasha and is doing well. “Once the resistant seed variety is verified the government will ensure farmers get them at a subsidised price as alternative maize seeds to be planted,” Dr Kosgey said. The minister urged farmers to implement agricultural practices that will step up the fight against the strange disease. “As farmers we should shun planting maize on our farms and plant other crops such as beans, Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes,” Kosgey said.

    She allayed fears that the outbreak will affect food security in the region saying the government has put in place measures to provide an alternative source of food for the affected region. Dr Kosgey was non-committal whether the government will compensate farmers whose crops have been ravaged by the disease. Home Affairs assistant minister and Bomet MP Beatrice Kones who hosted them at Longisa division in Bomet district said agriculture extension officers should take up the challenge to encourage farmers to diversify farming activities.

    Story by Gilbert Kimutai- The Star Newspaper

  • Africa: Parasites Hint At Antimalarial Resistance

    22nd Jun 2012

    Malarial parasites from Sub-Saharan Africa could be acquiring mutations that make them resistant to artemisinin, the backbone of antimalarial therapy.

    A team of researchers from Canada and the United Kingdom studied parasites from travellers who returned to Canada with malaria after trips abroad between April 2008 and January 2011.

    They found that 11 of the 28 parasites grown in the laboratory had a mutation that made them resistant to artemether, one of the artemisinin group of antimalarials.

    All 11 came from Africa (from Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania), the researchers reported last month (27 April) in Malaria Journal.

    “We are seeing statistical evidence of resistance in the test tube,” author Sanjeev Krishna, a researcher at the University of London, United Kingdom, told SciDev.Net. “If this progresses, and becomes more severe and established, it is likely to cause resistance in terms of treatment failures.”

    But it is still not clear whether resistance is already affecting treatment in the field.

    “At the moment there is not evidence for these types of treatments failing in an important way in African countries, but we need to be alert,” said Krishna.

    Story by Joanna Carpenter: SciDev.Net .

  • Prof Mike Wingfield receives another prestigious award

    Prof Mike Wingfield receives another prestigious award
    22nd Jun 2012

    Prof Mike Wingfield receiving the Johanna van Westerdijk Award from the Director of the CBS, Prof Dr Crous (a past PhD student of Wingfield) at Trippenhuis, the official home of the Netherlands Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam.
    Prof Mike Wingfield receiving the Johanna van Westerdijk Award from the Director of the CBS, Prof Dr Crous (a past PhD student of Wingfield) at Trippenhuis, the official home of the Netherlands Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam.

    Prof Mike Wingfield, Director of the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) at the University of Pretoria, has recently been awarded the prestigious Johanna Westerdijk Award by the Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures (CBS) Fungal Biodiversity Centre. This Award is made on special occasions to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the culture collection of the CBS Fungal Biodiversity Centre, marking a distinguished career in mycology.

    The CBS Fungal Biodiversity Centre is an institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), situated in Utrecht. It maintains a world-renowned collection of living filamentous fungi, yeasts and bacteria. The Institute’s research programmes principally focus on the taxonomy and evolution of fungi as well as on functional aspects of fungal biology and ecology, increasingly making use of molecular and genomics  approaches.

    Prof Wingfield is an internationally renowned researcher and was also recently selected to receive honorary doctorates from the University of British Columbia (Canada) and North Carolina State University (USA). These degrees will officially be awarded at graduation ceremonies of the two universities in November 2012 and May 2013 respectively.

    He has published widely on the topic of tree health in more than 600 research papers, five books and in numerous prestigious invited presentations globally. He has served in many distinguished positions and has received numerous awards and honours for contributions to education, research and industry in South Africa and elsewhere in the world. Based on these contributions he has been elected as a fellow of scientific societies including the Royal Society of South Africa, Academy of Sciences of South Africa, the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology and the American Phytopathological Society. He is one of the few honorary members of the Mycological Society of America.

    He has conducted research on tree pests and pathogens, especially concerning their global movement, for more than thirty years. His highly cited research in this field, conducted in many different countries of the world, has led to the discovery of some of the most important pathogens of trees grown commercially in plantations. It has also elucidated elements of the biology and global movement of many of the most important pests and pathogens of trees, substantially contributing to new management options and solutions to problems, thereby reducing losses to industry. Based on his research reputation, he has been a long term advisor of many major forestry corporations globally.

    Story by Martie Meyer, University of Pretoria-Newsroom

  • POL-SABINA Rain Shelter Handover-Mulanje, Malawi.

    POL-SABINA Rain Shelter Handover-Mulanje, Malawi.
    21st Jun 2012

    All roads led to the TRFCA Mimosa research station on the foothills of the Mulanje Mountains in Malawi on the 11th May 2012 where several members from the SABINA/POL-SABINA network gathered to witness the official handover of the POL-SABINA rain shelter. This event marked the culmination of years of hard work and commitment from several dedicated role players including Professor Apostolides at the University of Pretoria, Mr Andrie Lombard the consulting engineer, Dr Albert Changaya and his team at the Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa (TRFCA), Ms Ella Nyakunu the POL-SABINA project manager and especially Dr Morris at the African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT) who motivated for and obtained the funding necessary to execute this project. The project was funded by the European Union as part of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states Science and Technology Programme (ACP S&T).

    The occurrence of droughts in several parts of the world has led to devastating consequences in agricultural production and it has become clear that the development of drought tolerant cultivars for all crops is necessary. The Malawi rain shelter is a framework with a movable roof covered with transparent sheets. The roof is controlled by an electric motor which allows one to automatically adjust the setting from allowing water in to keeping water out, thereby controlling rain-fall and permitting on-demand droughts for research and the development of prospective drought-tolerant cultivars. Hence, the rain shelter is a facility for growing quantities of test plants under controlled conditions so as to demonstrate their qualities to farmers and agro-industries.

    Although situated at the TFRCA the facility is not just for tea research but also for other plants including medicinal herbs being investigated by other SABINA partners. Once the plants are grown the next phase is to process them and extract the active ingredient(s). This is where the participation of the CSIR comes in since the CSIR is equipped with a GMP botanical supplies unit which can process pilot quantities of plant material to provide plant extracts for further testing and investigation.

    As part of the POL-SABINA initiative, open days will be held at both this new rain shelter facility and at the CSIR in Pretoria. Farmers, entrepreneurs and the general public will be enabled to gain a better understanding of the potential of natural products and of the work being undertaken within the SABINA network. The attendees at the open days will be provided with opportunities for discussion and questions, and it is hoped that this will stimulate more awareness of the potential for the commercialisation of research projects.


  • SABINA student receives prestigious grant for women

    Petrina Kapewangolo, SABINA PhD Fellow and Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund (MMMF) grant holder.
    11th Apr 2012

     Petrina Kapewangolo, SABINA PhD Fellow and Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund (MMMF) grant holder.

    PhD candidate and SABINA student, Petrina Kapewangolo is the proud recipient of a Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund (MMMF) grant. The Fund provides grants to women from developing countries to help further their education and strengthen their leadership skills to improve the lives of other women and children in their home countries. (more…)

  • ACGT founder presented with lifetime biotech contribution award

    ACGT founder presented with lifetime biotech contribution award
    10th Apr 2012

    Co-founder, former Director of the ACGT and currently part time consultant to the organisation, Dr Jane Morris, was honoured with the Lifetime Contribution Award at the 2012 Biotechnology Fundi Awards on 16 February. (more…)

  • POL-SABINA announces award for the development of a full implementation/business plan in the area of natural product science

    9th Apr 2012

    POL-SABINA is pleased to announce an award for support towards the development of a full implementation/business plan. Scientists and students from SABINA partner institutions are invited to submit motivations for support outlining how the award money would contribute towards the development of a full business/implementation plan for value addition to a natural product research project that they are involved in. (more…)