January 2015
Contents / home
Bloodhound's supersonic quest
Deputy Minister visits SAASTA
SAASTA Highlights Report
SAASTA takes science to Beijing
Natural Science Olympiad
Community media pilot project
Crystallography kits for schools
PUB celebrates 10 years of biotech
Reaching visually impaired learners
School debate finals
Science communication workshops
KAT-7 seen as design highlight
Meet Nithaya Chetty
Eskom Expo 2014
SKA SA exhibits at BRICS EXPO
Algoa Bay Hope Spot launched
Inspiring environmental scientists
In the news
Upcoming events
It's a fact!

In the news

CAPE TOWN – Mapping Africa's genetic diversity

Scientists have made the most comprehensive map yet of African genetic variation and say it should help them learn more about the role genes play in diseases such as malaria, haemorrhagic fever and hypertension in African populations.

Publishing the findings in the journal Nature, Deepti Gurdasani of Britain's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said that despite Africa being the world's most genetically diverse region, relatively little is known about potential genetic risks for disease among its populations.

"Infectious and non-infectious diseases are highly prevalent in Africa and the risk factors for these diseases may be very different from those in European populations," Gurdasani said.

The scientists – working in partnerships with doctors and researchers in Ethiopia, the Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda – collected genetic data from more than 1 800 people to make a detailed map of 18 so-called "ethnolinguistic" groups in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The data also included 320 whole genome sequences from seven populations. The team found 30 million genetic variants in the seven sequenced populations, a quarter of which they said had never previously been identified in any human population. They also found clues about possible genetic regions being linked to increased susceptibility to various infectious diseases including malaria, Lassa fever and trypanosomiasis, all common diseases in some parts of Africa.

The study, part of the African Genome Variation Project, also gives clues about the movement of ancient human populations – supporting a hypothesis that European and Middle Eastern populations migrated back to Africa around 9 000 years ago.

Source: Reuters


LONDON – SA entrepreneur cracks fitness code

South African-born entrepreneur Avi Lasarow, who lives in London, was awarded the African Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the UK after developing a new DNA-based weight loss technology.

Through his company, DNAfit, the technology, which uses genetic testing, enables users to identify their specific fitness and dietary requirements and see improved results, Lasarow said, adding that the genetic test was a "blueprint" to understand how an individual should train and what they should eat to get fit faster. It also determines the vitamins and minerals the specific individual required.

The technique involves a DNA swab test, which the company uses to study more than 40 gene variants linked to the body's capacity to respond to training and nutrition. Within 10 days, customers receive a tailor-made fitness and health plan.

"The response has been huge," Lasarow reported. "It has really taken off. It's being used in Singapore, Costa Rica, Dubai and other countries across the globe."

Source: Reuters

CAPE TOWN – A high-tech punch on nose for sharks

A high-tech version of the reputedly life-saving punch to a shark's nose is being tested in an effort to protect humans without harming the toothy predators or other sea creatures.

In the blue waters of a small bay in Cape Town, a revolutionary experiment with an electronic barrier seeks to exploit the super-sensitivity of a sharks' snout to keep swimmers and surfers safe. The technology has been developed by South African experts who invented the electronic "shark pod" for use by surfers and divers – now marketed by an Australian company – and could be applied globally if successful.

The pod and years of research have shown that sharks will turn away when they encounter an electrical current – and that has prompted this experiment on a much larger scale. A 100-metre cable with vertical "risers" designed to emit a low-frequency electronic field is in the process of being fixed to the seabed off Glencairn beach, and will remain there for five months.

"If successful, it will provide the basis to develop a barrier system that can protect bathers without killing or harming sharks or any other marine animals," says the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, which developed the shark pod.

The barrier would mark a major shift away from the shark nets used in KwaZulu-Natal on South Africa's east coast for the past 50 years, which also kill other animals and have been criticised as environmentally destructive.

Research has shown that sharks have a gel in their noses which makes them more sensitive to electrical currents than other species, and thus ordinary fish and sea life such as seals and dolphins should not be affected by the barrier.

Source: Sapa-AFP

  The 40-year-old former fireman is learning to walk again after receiving pioneering treatment from doctors in London
LONDON – Hope to end paralysis

According to the British neuroscientist whose work with regenerative cells helped a paraplegic man with a severed spinal cord to walk again, the technique could herald a cure for stroke victims.

University College London's Geoff Raisman led a British team that worked with a Polish neurosurgeon to knit together nerve fibres severed when Polish fireman Darek Fidyka was stabbed in the back four years ago. Fidyka, who was given an infinitesimal chance of regaining feeling below his waist, can now walk with a frame and has been able to resume an independent life.

"We believe that this procedure is the breakthrough which, as it is further developed, will result in a historic change in the currently hopeless outlook for people disabled by spinal cord injury," Raisman said. He believes success in patients with spinal cord injuries will open the way to applying similar principles to devise new approaches to stroke, blindness and deafness.

It has been 40 years since Raisman first described how the nerve fibres that carry the sense of smell from the nose to the brain were able to regenerate themselves. These olfactory ensheathing cells were transplanted from Fidyka's nose to either side of the 8-millimetre cut that a knife left in his spinal cord.

The surgery on the 40-year-old former fireman was performed in the Polish city of Wroclaw in 2012. The procedure was only described in the science journal Cell Transplantation in 2014.

Source: Sapa-dpa