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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 47 - January 2006   
 Living with influenza
 The unexplored territory of low-dose radiation
 The strategy of coexistence
 The reality in the field
 Ordering the chaos of life
 A look at what the elderly eat
 Jean Audouze and the paths of good fortune
 The little prince of R&D

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Nanotechnologies and medicine Nanotechnologies and medicine

‘Nano’ is all the rage in today’s research world. Biology is no exception, and nanomedicine is now active on three fronts: the refining of diagnostics, improving treatment efficiency and regenerative medicine. All three are of major importance to public health in the context of ageing populations and soaring healthcare costs. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry is watching this strategic market with great interest.


  Type A flu virus
Avian flu
Living with influenza
The epidemic has been spreading since 1997, but it was not until the summer of 2005 that the A H5N1 flu virus first hit the headlines. Since then the public has been kept well informed of the progress of a disease that is causing growing concern: multiple outbreaks on poultry farms in the Far East, with the widespread slaughter of birds; limited, but often fatal, cases of transmission to humans; and propagation of the virus among wild and migrating birds bringing the Asian epidemic to the EU’s borders. Most serious of all, this epizootic disease is raising the spectre of the appearance of a mutant virus that would be transmissible between humans. All of this begs the question as to what weapons are available to science and research to combat the threat. 
  Two high-tech medical techniques subject patients to low-dose radiation. Fluorescence in situ hybridisation permits chromosome observation and is used in particular in the study of chromosomic instability and during prenatal diagnostics (above). The TEP camera makes it possible to reconstitute a 3D image of the organ studied. This technique is used for carrying out neurological, cardiac and oncological examinations (below). © L.Medard/CEAF.Vigouroux/CEA
Euratom research
The unexplored territory of low-dose radiation
Radiation – the word immediately evokes the dreadful fallout of nuclear bombs or the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. Yet radiation is also a useful weapon in the therapeutic arsenal, for medical imaging as well as combating cancer. More subtly, it is also present in our everyday environment that is home to an increasing variety of ionising radiation of natural or technological origin – but which is not considered a danger as it is far below the acceptable safety levels. The real long-term effects of this background radiation are nevertheless a mystery, which is why they are currently being investigated by the Risc-Rad project.
  Field test with a genetically modified grafting stock to protect the vine against the grapevine fanleaf virus for which there is no treatment. To isolate the test plot, it is covered with a a non-woven geotextile sheet that is permeable to water but not to nematodes. France, July 2005. © INRA/Gérard Demangeat
Agri-foodstuff chains
The strategy of coexistence
The latest Eurobarometer survey on science and technology shows that a third of Europeans are hostile to GMOs, another third are favourable and the rest do not know what to think. Faced with this divided public opinion, neither a radical ban nor total freedom without a safety net is the answer. Hence the EU’s democratic option of giving the consumer freedom of choice. For this to be a real choice, however, there must be contained but transparent coexistence of the ‘genetically modified’ and ‘conventional’ agri-foodstuff chains. This is the challenge researchers on the Co-ExTra project are currently seeking to meet. (1)
  Study of colza pollen dispersion in a circular field measuring 105 metres in diameter with a central plot of phosphinotricine-resistant transgenic colza measuring 9 metres in diameter. © INRA/Michel Renard
Genetically modified organisms
The reality in the field
Much of the ‘militant’ opposition to GMOs has focused on the impact of transgenic crops on other agricultural productions and on the natural botanical environment. This raises the all-important question of the tools available to prevent this genetic contamination in the field. RTD info takes a close look at the European SIGMEA project, leading research investigating a very complex issue.
  All these orchids grow on the slopes of the active volcano Cayambe (Ecuador) at between 2 500 and 3 850 metres altitude. © IRD/Michel Monzier
Ordering the chaos of life
How many species make up the global biodiversity? Is it 3 million or 100 million? The degree of uncertainty is surprising and only a few small groups are really ‘known’. It is a field where the collection and classification of information over past centuries has been a fragmented affair based on varied criteria. Yet over time these efforts have nevertheless produced an impressive body of knowledge that taxonomists worldwide have now decided to classify and enumerate in a coherent manner. RTD info looks at the compilation of the Catalogue of Life, a genuine directory of the biosphere with a Europe section managed by the Species 2000 Europa project, financed by the European Union.
  "What we eat is a complex subject. Its significance goes far beyond meeting physical needs, and a great many social interactions come into play.” Eating a meal while watching television, for example, is also a way of not feeling so lonely.
Health and food
A look at what the elderly eat
Around 20% of the European population is aged over 60. By 2020, this will have climbed to 25%, including around 30 million octogenarians. This is why combining health and longevity is now a priority for society. One notable way of achieving this is by adapting diet to the ageing process. A number of European research projects are now approaching this question from various angles.
  Jean Audouze
Jean Audouze and the paths of good fortune
Today’s astronomers are anything but the dreamy stargazers we may imagine. Many have their feet firmly on the ground, a taste for action and a curiosity that leads them to be involved in many projects in a very real world. RTD info talks to the French astronomer Jean Audouze, a man whose passion for knowledge is matched only by a desire to communicate it.
  Asimo presented by Philippe Busquin at the opening of the CER conference organised by the Research DG – Brussels, November 2005 © Olivier Polet
The little prince of R&D
Asimo (1) is as white as snow. A cross between a miniature cosmonaut and a giant toy, he stands 1.20 metres tall, walks at a leisurely 3 kilometres an hour, runs, dances, avoids obstacles, goes to a particular place when you tell him to, and responds to a greeting. He recognises certain people and answers to his name. Doing his bit for science education by turning up at various scientific events, Asimo was special guest at the CER conference, held in Brussels last November.