Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up
Can bioplastics, which is derived from renewable resources and biodegradable, become an alternative to conventional plastics made from mineral oil? Not yet, writes Nina Weber in Der SPIEGEL. Cultivation of raw material needs pesticides and fertilizers and the predominant bioplastics used to date is made from polylactic acid (PLA), which is biodegradable only at high temperatures. The prospects may become better – but only if PLA can be derived from plant remains and if enough PLA is on the market so that recycling is profitable.
Gardiner Harris in The New York Times reports on flaws in a widely cited lung cancer study involving more than 50,000 patients. The study’s conclusion that 80% of lung cancer deaths could be prevented through wide use of CT scans made the headlines in 2006. Now it seems that the researchers are unable to locate 90% of the consent forms so that a confidential report evaluating the study on behalf of the lead study center recommend that the trial be stopped already in 2008. The study is still ongoing.
The New Scientist reports on findings that the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum can be killed by kinase inhibitors, common anti-cancer drugs. In in-vitro experiments at Lausanne Federal Polytechnic in Switzerland researchers exposed malaria-infected liver and blood cells to kinase inhibitors and observed that some of these compounds selectively killed the parasite, but not the cells.
Also in New Scientist, Ahmed Zewail, who won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1999, claims that the Middle East is ripe for a scientific revolution. At present, he states, Arab, Persian, and Turkish scientists as a group are underperforming as compared to colleagues in the West or Far East. Zewail thinks that the recent revolutions will open the door to improve on literacy, women’s participation and education and bear the chance to remove red tape and allow freedom of thought. He calls on partnering with Muslim countries to establish centers of excellence in science and technology.
Finally, Alex Knapp in Forbes introduces Justin, an impressive humanoid robot made in Germany by DLR, the German aerospace agency. So far, this incredible piece of German hard- and software engineering is used to catch two balls at once while making coffee. the akampioneer very much hopes he will learn better tricks to avoid the “invented in Germany, marketed elsewhere” pitfall.