Astronaut Food Approach to Medical Testing

What comes to your mind when you think of astronaut food? You might think of food that is dried-out and nonperishable. These same descriptions might soon be applied to new malaria tests that do not require refrigeration and are small enough to fit in a wallet. These malaria tests were recently developed by researchers at the University of Washington.

How do the malaria tests work? Each test is a small piece of plastic about the size of a credit card. When a sick persons blood sample is added to the card, the blood mixes with dried antibodies. The antibodies turn colors if the blood sample is positive for malarial proteins. In the future, the University of Washington researchers are hoping to develop tests for other diseases, such as the flu and measles. In addition, they hope to test for DNA and RNA of the viruses and bacteria that cause these diseases so that doctors can be absolutely certain which disease the patient has.

Its very likely that your doctor will never use the astronaut-style tests on you, because these tests are being developed for use in poor, rural areas, like those in third world countries. In these areas, patients do not have access to medical care on a regular basis, and the medical professionals that are around may not have access to medical labs. The tests being developed at the University of Washington do not require complicated set-ups and can be used quickly to diagnose patients. These tests are important new developments in the worldwide fight against deadly diseases.

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Scientists Discover Formula for Longer Plant Life

In a study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Biology this week, scientists in Dr. Detlef Weigel’s lab at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tbingen, Germany announced that they had discovered the formula for long life in plants.

The researchers’ studies focused on certain short, single-strand sections of genes called microRNAs. These short-gene sections regulate other genes. In plants, microRNAS coordinate the growth and aging process. MicroRNAs work by stopping certain regulators from functioning. These regulators, called TCP transcription factors, influence the production of jasmonic acid, a plant hormone.

In their studies of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress), the researchers found that when more microRNAs are present, fewer transcription factors are active. With fewer active transcription factors, smaller amounts of jasmonic acid are produced by the plant, and the plant ages at a slower rate.

So, what can be done with these findings? Because of this research, scientists now have a better understanding of what affects the aging process in plants. In the future, this information could be used to genetically modify plants to live longer or grow faster. However, scientists have only just begun to learn how gene regulation works in plants. According to Dr. Weigel, only when these processes are fully understood will scientists be able to attempt to produce plants that have certain desired characteristics.

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