Yet More Breakthroughs in Science and Technology

Here is yet another installment in the series on incremental change in science and technology. As ever, check out data on the improving state of the world at www.humanprogress.org.

Prawn Sex-Change Boosts Yields   

Male prawns grow faster and get to be 60% larger than female prawns. As such, they are more economically valuable. By slicing the prawn genome, scientists from the Ben Gurion University found, it is possible to generate all-male populations of prawns. In trials, female prawns were injected with a molecule that silenced certain genes thus allowing for all-male prawn yields. This method eliminates the need for chemicals or hormones, which have been used to increase prawn yields in the past. The breakthrough in prawn yields could also be used in the fight against bilharzia in Africa. Bilharzia is carried by snails and prawns are snails’ natural predators. By increasing prawn yields, snail populationscould be controlled more easily.   

Artificial Skin that Mimics Touch             

Currently, prosthetic limbs allow for patients to complete physical activities. However, the sense of “feeling” is nonexistent. Researches at Stanford University have recently discovered a way to create artificial skin that has the ability to mimic the sense of touch. It works like this: small pyramids made out of carbon nanotube-elastomer composite have their conductivity altered when changes in pressure occur. The pressure signals are then routed through organic circuits, where they are converted into electrical pulses and sent to the nerves.   

Is Reversal of Parkinson’s Disease Possible?             

Alan Hoffman has a condition called Parkinson’s disease, which makes it very difficult for him to complete any simple physical task or even read short articles. He has tried a variety of medications and even a surgery to try and reduce the symptoms of the disease, but none of them really worked. So he agreed to a 6 month clinical trial of nilotinib - a drug that helps to rid cells of a protein that is attributed to Parkinson’s disease. Five weeks later, Alan’s cognition had improved. He was able to complete various physical activities and was even able to read a book.   

Update on the Malaria Vaccine             

Malaria kills 500,000 African children under the age of 5 each year and now the World Health Organization has thrown its weight behind a vaccine that could help to fight the disease. In a trial that was recently completed in seven African countries, malaria vaccination consisted of three doses and an additional booster injected 18 months later. Children under 5 who received the full treatment experienced a 36 percent decrease in malaria cases over the following 4 years. However, the children who were only administered a partial treatment, were more likely to contract malaria two years later than children who did.