News archives - Year 2008
The latest headlines on the life sciences,
biotechnologies, and other related issues.
To read past articles, access the 2003,
, 2006, 2007 and 2008
Eat your way to health with functional food
Functional foods are foods which can provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. They include fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fortified or enhanced foods and beverages. Rapid advances in science and technology and a growing awareness of attaining wellness through diet are among the factors fueling this interest. Many academic, scientific, and regulatory organisations are now working towards establishing the scientific basis to support and further validate claims for functional components or the foods containing them.
EU funds research into genetic disorders
Small changes to a piece of DNA, the genetic code, can result in a range of medical disorders. But now, exciting new developments in scientific research have helped to unravel the effects of variations in our genes. It has been estimated that 60% of people will be affected during their lifetimes by one or more gene mutations which they inherit in their DNA. Even a minor change to the DNA can fundamentally alter an individual's susceptibility or resistance to disease.
SmartCell plants to grow pharmaceuticals
Plants provide us with food, fuel and shelter and take up carbon dioxide to give oxygen. But they also have another vital use, providing valuable drugs and materials that can be incorporated in modern medicine. The EU is currently investing in a new plant-based technology as part of a major commitment to developing better medicines for Europe. This will not only benefit EU citizens but also SMEs, industry and academia.
CASCADE Open Forum gives food for thought
Everyone wants to know what their food contains. So too does the CASCADE Network of Excellence, which identifies and studies the chemicals in Europe's food and drinking water. Financed by the European Commission, the network brings together 24 research groups from 9 EU Member States. The focus has been on human health, in particular hormone disrupting effects. Some chemicals, both natural and manmade can interfere with the body's endocrine glands and the hormones they produce or the target tissues where the hormones act.
EU pioneers new approach to nano-medicine
A new research project in the field of medical technologies will allow for collaboration between researchers in the European Union, Latin America, the Western Balkans and North Africa. The Action-Grid project is an EU funded initiative which will target nano-medicine. It will develop nano-systems as diagnostic tools and apply these to the study of new drugs and the development of new tools for surgical tasks. For many diseases nano-medicine promises solutions which will dramatically improve upon current diagnostic methods.
How fresh is your juice?
A glass of orange juice first thing in the morning has become an essential part of many people's breakfast. The refreshing drink provides an excellent source of vitamin C, in the form of ascorbic acid, and potassium. It is also an important natural source of folic acid, which is recommended for expectant mothers, and flavonoids which are believed to be beneficial to health. However, fruit juice producers need to protect their product from spoilage by microorganisms.
EU researchers make new stem cell discovery
Stems cells are remarkable because they have the potential develop into many different cell types. For example they may become a muscle cell, a red blood cell or even a brain cell. Stem cells are obtained from human or animal tissues and are capable of replicating in the laboratory. Sometimes they are kept in a nutrient solution with mouse embryonic fibroblasts, known as 'feeder cells'. However scientists now recognise the importance of using media completely free of animal products
Happy cows give better milk
'Give cows the freedom to roam', seems to be the message from researchers at Newcastle University in the UK. As part of EU supported research on animal health and welfare scientists found that the nutritional benefits of milk are considerably higher in the summer months, when cows are feeding on fresh grass and clover. The study confirms that there are higher concentrations of Omega-3 in organically produced milk and gives further encouragement in the drive to find cheaper ways of providing organic food.
Protecting Europe's biological data resources
Biologists are producing major benefits for society. But information on these benefits needs to be collated and made available to fellow scientists if these advances are to be fully exploited. Now the future of Europe's biological data resources has been secured following an award by the EU. The money will be used to develop the infrastructure for maintaining valuable research information. This will help Europe to retain its position as a world leader in developing new scientific knowledge.
EU funded biotech project may provide plant-based HIV vaccine
European scientists have established the use of genetically modified maize seeds as the basis of a vaccination that can provide immunity to HIV and so stop the virus from spreading. The maize seeds are easy to cultivate and the costs of manufacture, transportation and storage of the vaccine can be kept low. Further research and development could mean that in a few years, distribution of the plant based vaccine in Sub-Saharan Africa will be possible. This research could signal a medical breakthrough in the fight against AIDS.
Scientists call for biobank identification codes
Biobanks are an invaluable resource for scientists. They contain tens of thousands of samples of human biological material such as blood or tissue, together with data such as clinical information associated with them. Researchers use these to study complex diseases such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis and dementia as well as other conditions. In order to work as effectively as possible, scientists need to be able to easily track down information held in other similar repositories.
EU and China cooperate to combat climate change
China is among the world's fastest growing and biggest economies. The country's industrial base continues to increase rapidly and its population of 1.3 billion is becoming wealthier. The Chinese government recognises the impact that these factors will have on the environment and is taking action. In an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, China will work alongside the European Union to develop environmentally friendly technologies.
Fresh hope for spinal injury victims
An injury to the spinal cord may be caused by disease or a sporting or road traffic accident. The result can be paralysis, with the impact of such an injury turning lives upside down. Those individuals and their families living with the disability must face many challenges while coming to terms with the impairment and in rebuilding their lives. Now there is fresh hope in the form of an EU-funded project.
Scientists from developing countries urge European action on global food crisis
Soaring food prices, stoked by the increasing cost of fuel, have pushed about 100 million people around the world even deeper into poverty. The result has been a major increase in the numbers of those going hungry according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP). In response, life scientists from developing countries have made an impassioned plea for Europe to support research designed to address the growing global food crisis.
India to increase biotech research ties with EU
India is known for its large pool of talented scientists, world-class IT industry and successful pharmaceutical sector. All these factors have enabled the country to become an emerging player in the global biotechnology arena. India also has an advantage over other countries: with a population of over a billion people there is a huge market for products and services. The country also has an enormous number of plant and animal species, which can be utilised by biotech companies.
EU patients can check genetic tests laboratories credentials on-line
Going for a genetic test is not a decision that is taken lightly and may open up ethical and psychological challenges. Individuals usually wish to be tested if there is a family history of a specific disease or if they show symptoms of a genetic disorder. Prospective parents concerned about passing on genetic problems to the children also want to be tested.
Energy from plants fuels debate
The search is on to find a clean and sustainable alternative to oil. This is mainly as a result of rising oil prices and concerns over greenhouse gas emissions. One of the solutions cited is biofuels, which are manufactured from plants. Humans have used plant material for cooking and heating since the discovery of fire, but now it will help run our modern economies and way of life.
Let your clothes take care of you
What if your clothes could let you know when to visit the doctor? Scientists in Europe are currently devising smart fabrics that can provide an assessment of the wearer’s state of health. Embedded within the fabric are numerous sensors constantly checking your vital signs. Should any danger signs be detected, the garment will contact your doctor and send a text message telling you to take corrective measures.
Farmers favour GM crops
Farmers are upbeat about growing genetically modified (GM) crops according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Researchers have found that British farmers and farming industry leaders believe that GM technology provides the answer to producing sufficient high-quality food as the country’s population grows and the climate changes. They also consider that GM crops allow farmers to reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides they use, while increasing the amount of food that can be harvested.
EU funds research into intelligent materials for regenerating bone tissue
More than half a million Europeans suffer from disorders in or serious defects of some part of their bone structure. This may be the result of a congenital defect, degenerative disease, cancer or an accident. In such situations the reconstruction of the defect requires a bone graft capable of providing similar physical properties and behaviour to the bone being substituted. A graft or an implant operation depends decisively on the materials used and at present commercial bone tissue ’scaffolds’ are not always suitable.
Nanofilters and bacteria revolutionise clean water technology
Clean water is crucial for life, but sometimes we take it for granted in the modern world. However, over a billion people around the globe do not have easy access to this vital resource. Furthermore, around 5 000 children a day die as a result of unclean water and poor sanitation. Therefore, new technologies are being sought that can provide a fast and cheap way for purifying water, thereby improving the lives of millions of people.
European food watchdog approves cloned animal food products
Europe's official food watchdog has concluded that bacon, beef and milk produced from cloned animals appeared to pose no safety risk to consumers and are suitable for consumption. The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) provides independent scientific advice on all matters concerning food safety. Its work covers the whole food production process 'from farm to fork'. The EFSA issued its draft opinion, concluding that cloned pigs and cows and their products were as healthy and nutritious as those bred normally.
Europe to develop catalogue of genetic variation
Our genes affect our health in a number of ways. Small differences in a given genetic sequence can affect how susceptible we are to certain diseases or conditions, or how we respond to particular drugs. Major genetic mutations responsible for the development of disease were first discovered in 1949. However, for many common diseases and conditions, unravelling the effects of environmental factors and minor variations in our genes on our health, remains extremely difficult.
New regulations proposed for novel foods
Throughout history human beings have attempted to broaden their diet by seeking new things to eat. Can you imagine what European cuisine was like before the arrival of the humble potato? People have also employed different methods to preserve their food or make it more palatable. These innovations, over time, have revolutionised the way people eat. This process continues as new scientific research and technologies will now enable us to enjoy a range and choice of foods that our ancestors would have marvelled at.
EU Funding opens the way for a new age in biosociety
The European Commission has made EUR 1.75 billion available for the funding of projects in 32 areas of research as part of the Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7). These monies have been slated for projects ranging from environmental science to sustainable transport, from nanotechnology to biotechnology. The funding targets the key areas outlined in the Lisbon Agenda and will further Europe's standing as a leader in research and biotechnology.
Origin of Meat Traced Using Biotechnology
Good quality food is one of life's pleasures and is also essential for our health and well-being. Since it plays such a central role in our lives, consumers need to have confidence in what they eat. This is particularly applicable to meat, because of past health scares. Regulations on traceability require that foods should have a clear verifiable record from farm to fork, tracking them from production through to distribution. This challenge is now being met using the latest methods in the field of biotechnology.
Better information required on genetic testing of IVF embryos, study finds
Low fertility rates in many of the European Union countries have given rise to ageing and shrinking populations. In vitro fertilisation (IVF) offers a solution to this increasing problem. However, this is no easy solution, and health problems can occur in infants. A new report recently released by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) found that patients need better information on the genetic testing of embryos produced using IVF.