Reader’s Scigest 03-12-15

By Bruno Martin

Mozzies & malaria

Scientists from the University of California have bred hundreds of mosquitoes that are incapable of acquiring the malaria infectionand are therefore harmless to humans. Their genomes were edited to incorporate genes encoding antibodies to the human malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. Laboratory tests demonstrated the mosquitoes passed on these resistance genes to 99.5% of their offspring, which has led the researchers to suggest releasing many individuals, in the hope that they will breed with wild populations to produce new generations of malaria-resistant mosquitoes. This technique, called gene drive, has proven to be very powerful, but many leading scientists warn that it “could have unpredictable ecological consequences.”

Earth’s riches

The world’s second largest gem quality diamond has been extracted from the Karowe mine in Botswana by Canadian firm Lucara Diamond. It is roughly the size of a satsuma, weighs 1,111 carats and is estimated to be worth at least $70 million. Diamonds are formed when carbon crystallizes in a repeating isometric pattern under high pressure. This is not rare, but finding large gem quality diamonds – that is, without cracks, twins or large inclusions  on Earth is. The largest diamond was mined in 1905 and cut into nine separate stones, many of which form the British Crown Jewels.

Curdling cure

Lancehead pit vipers bite with a venom that thickens blood to jam-like consistency. Dr Jeffrey Hartgerink, chemist at Rice University in Texas, has thought of using the active ingredient in the venom, a powerful clotting agent called batroxobin, to staunch bleeding during human surgeries. The danger with applying clotting agents is inducing systemic responses. Dr Hartgerink has solved this by delivering batroxobin in a hydrogel, a porous substance that traps liquids and can be applied locally. Trials in rats have proven the method is very effective at stopping hemorrhage, even in subjects on anti-clotting drug treatments, often prescribed in humans to prevent heart attacks, strokes and pulmonary thromboses.

Photograph: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library

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