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If pigs could glow

Once upon a time pigs were as likely to fly as to glow in the dark.

But from the country that introduced us to fluorescent fish, now come luminous pigs, although this time the developers claim its all in the name of science rather than commerce.

Scientists in Taiwan have genetically engineered three pigs which glow fluorescent green in the dark, which they claim is a breakthrough for stem cell research.

While other partially glowing pigs already exist, these are the first to be green both inside and out - including their heart and internal organs.

Green ham and eggs, anyone?

In daylight the pigs’ eyes, teeth and trotters are green while their skin has a greenish hue, but in the dark they glow green brightly under a blue lamp.

The scientists created the animals transgenically by adding DNA from jellyfish into about 265 pig embryos which were then implanted in eight sows, of which four became pregnant - three eventually giving birth to male piglets.

The pigs were bred to help researchers trace the development of tissues when stem cells are used to repair damaged organs.

Because the pig’s genetic material is green it will be easier to track. If, for example, some of its stem cells are injected into another animal, scientists can trace how they develop without the need for a biopsy or invasive test.

The scientists are keen to disassociate themselves from the selling of fluorescent fish by Taiwan’s Taikong Corporation two years ago. The fish, described by Time magazine as one of the “coolest inventions” of the year, triggered a backlash from conservationist groups who warned of serious consequences to the eco-system.

Institute and Department of Animal Science and Technology, National Taiwan University: http://www.ansc.ntu.edu.tw/index2.htm

Sunflower’s drugs potential

Sunflowers could be the source for a new breed of anti-Aids drugs which at the moment are proving prohibitively expensive to develop.

For several years research into new Aids drugs has been pinning its hopes on a substance known as DCQA (dicaffeoyl quinic acid) which prevents the AIDS pathogen HIV from reproducing in cell cultures by inhibiting an enzyme essential to the process - viral integrase.

However, DCQA is only available in very small quantities, naturally occurring in artichoke and wild chicory, and hence is extremely expensive, costing about €1m per gram.

But research at the University of Bonn in Germany has patented a method by which DCQA could be produced at a fraction of the cost.

Some sunflowers can produce DCQA as one of several antibodies to combat “white stem rot”, a fungus which can destroy a whole sunflower crop.

Researchers have managed to isolate DCQA and are now looking for industry partners to help them produce the substance in greater quantities. This could be achieved by cultivating sunflower cells in a nutrient solution together with the sclerotinia sclerotiorum (the mould that causes white stem rot) and then obtaining DCQA from the liquid.

However, DCQA’s efficacy as the basis of a new class of anti-Aids drugs is still yet to be tested beyond the confines of the laboratory.

University of Bonn: http://www.uni-bonn.de/index_en.shtml

Road safety through sensors

Car makers are testing a cutting-edge sensing system that could help to save the lives of pedestrians and cyclists.

Volkswagen and Daimler Chrysler are leading the Save-U project which they hope will reduce the 9,000 deaths and 200,000 injuries that occur in the European Union every year as a result of cars colliding with more vulnerable road users.

Save-U combines different sensors which will initiate automatic braking if a pedestrian has a high probability of hitting the car.

The pre-impact sensing platform uses three different sensor technologies - a radar network composed of several 24 GHz sensors working in parallel, infrared cameras and colour video cameras. The system then fuses their data together, taking into consideration variables such as weather and light conditions.

The system calculates in a matter of seconds the movement of pedestrians within the “capture zone” which can be anything up to 30m away from the vehicle. The car’s onboard cameras then track the pedestrian’s movements and the information is correlated with data on distance and speed received from the radar network.

If there is a danger of collision, Save-U will either warn the driver, apply automatic braking and, if a collision is unavoidable, introduce measures to minimise the impact of a crash which are still in development but could include such as external airbags.

So far two test vehicles have been fitted with the apparatus, but mass production is some way off as the sensors have to be shrunk in size and cost before they can be integrated in production line models.

Save-U: http://www.save-u.org/

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