January 8th, 2011 - Open Knowledge
Jan. 8th, 2011
01:18 pm - Opium producing yeast
Canadian researchers have unlocked the genetic secrets of the poppy plant, raising the possibility of making powerful narcotics from simple raw materials.
Building on the discovery of two elusive genes that enable the opium poppy to make morphine and codeine, researchers inserted synthetic versions of those genes into yeast and coaxed it to produced the potent painkillers.
It is an important step in a Canadian project that aims to produce the analgesics from a cheap raw material like sugar, says the University of Calgary's Peter Facchini, who along with his research team member Jillian Hagel discovered the genes. They collaborate with Concordia University's Vincent Martin, who genetically modified yeast to produce the narcotics.
Eventually, this technology will make it out into the illegal drug market. Imagine being able to brew opium as easily as you make bread. Will the drug warriors finally give up?
01:28 pm - Swiss approve prescription heroin
Swiss voters have approved a radical health policy that offers prescription heroin to addicts on a permanent basis.
Final results from the national referendum showed 68% of voters supported the plan.
The scheme, allowing addicts to inject the drug under medical supervision at a clinic, began in Zurich 14 years ago before spreading across the country.
A little bit of sanity.
01:37 pm - Edible Crayons!
02:04 pm - Edible Vaccines!
When Dr. Charles Arntzen of Arizona State University visited Thailand in 1992, he was not expecting a moment of scientific "eureka" that would redirect his career. However, after observing a young Thai mother soothing her fussy infant with bits of banana, this plant molecular biologist was struck with an idea that is both startling and ingenious. What if, in addition to quieting her child, the mother could also administer a life-saving vaccine in the banana?
Disease-prevention via an edible vaccine is great news for people around the globe. The problem with current vaccination protocols-- and the passion behind Arntzen's research--is that what works in the developed world is often much more difficult to deliver in the developing world, or simply too costly for them to buy. A vaccine that requires a sterile syringe, refrigeration prior to injection, and repeat booster shots is difficult to implement in many countries. Unfortunately, this often means that the people who most need a vaccine cannot get it. In a discussion of his work, Arntzen points out that "each year diarrhea kills about two and one-half million children under the age of five." Arntzen persuasively uses such horrendous statistics to champion his cause. In his own words, It's hard to be pro-infant mortality."
While Arntzen's edible vaccine is likely to win approval from children everywhere, there are actually significant medical advantages to this route of administration. An oral vaccine incorporated into a plant bypasses the need for sterile syringes, costly refrigeration, or multiple injections. Furthermore, since many of the developing world's most deadly diseases--cholera, rotavirus, or E. coli to name a few--enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract, a vaccine that is ingested may actually provide the best protection because it mimics the natural route of infection.
His most recent clinical trials are particularly exciting. Human volunteers who enrolled in a study at the University of Maryland in Baltimore started producing antibodies against Norwalk virus (which causes acute bouts of diarrhea) after eating Arntzen's creations-- genetically engineered potato. Negotiations are currently in progress to start clinical trials abroad with the International Vaccine Institute in Korea, a new center funded in large part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Clinical trials of cholera vaccines are also planned to take place there as well as in Vietnam and Cambodia, regions where cholera is still a serious medical concern.
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