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Mon, Apr 13, 2009

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From Foreign Perspective
Bad Mood,
Better Recall
Double Whammy
Malaria Drug Underway
How Much Fish to Eat While Pregnant?

Iranian Technology
From Foreign Perspective
Iranians are rapidly increasing their knowledge and skills, proud of their achievements, like sending up a satellite, refining their uranium ore, building their own tools and feeding their own people.
George Jones, a former president of Royal Society’s Wellington branch, recently visited Iran and was given an insight into the Iranian approach to science and technology. He filed the following report.
The Technology Coordination Office is an umbrella organization at the highest level of Iran’s government, advising the president about science and technology and coordinating, educating, mentoring and training the Science and Technology (S&T;) community. Its closest equivalent in New Zealand is the Royal Society of NZ, except for ownership.
In New Zealand, we tend to use ’science’ as the word to describe both S&T;, while in Iran they use ’technology’ to mean the same thing, Sciencemediacentre reported.
I was invited to see if there could be stronger collaborative links between researchers in both countries, as well as exploring whether some of their technology could be of use here in New Zealand, and vice versa.
At all times I had a driver and a guide, so that they could efficiently use my time. I had been asked to limit my interest to only one subject, so they could aim efficiently, so I looked at what they had decided to specialize in. They have four major areas of specialization: energy, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information and communication technology. I chose nanotechnology as a young, fast expanding and exciting area of research.

Excellence in Nanotech
In 2001, they decided to push for excellence in nanotech, and are proud of their progress. They are now 19th in the world ranking, and aspire to be 15th.
They have about 2,000 master’s and 400 doctorate researchers in nanotech, about 2 percent and 0.7 percent of the student population at those levels. Nearly two-thirds of the students entering university are women, with a similar fraction in science and technology. The population is generally young, with half of the 71 million under 35.
The country has been suffering from three decades of US sanctions, so they have been limited in acquiring appropriate tools for their work. However they are relatively pleased that the sanctions are there, as it forced them to stand on their own feet, in a similar way that UK’s entry into the EU forced us in NZ to learn to market to the world, and again when our farmers lost their government subsidies, forcing us to be competitive on an uneven playing field. Because their banking system is not connected internationally, the recent downturn in the world’s finances has not so far had any effect in Iran.
So they have developed their own tools, and they are ready to market these to the world, at a better price because of their lower wage structure.
I saw a scanning tunneling electron microscope that they are using for medical research. They are working on early detection of cancers, and are proud that they can detect 2 mm cancerous lumps, by attaching iron oxide nanoparticles to the cancer cells.
I also saw a computer-controlled machine for spraying nanofibers on to targets using a high voltage, similar to applying powder coating paints.

Pardis Technology Park
I was also shown around the Pardis Technology Park about 25 km east of Tehran, where there are many buildings being built, a few occupied.
The first companies to arrive are the already established ones, and soon the new startups will come, nurtured by a well-organized support system to train technologists to be businessmen and women, and to provide appropriate venture capital, administrative and mentoring backup.
They have a Scientists Garden in the park, with so far only one scientist’s bronze statue installed. It is of the Armenian astrophysicist, Victor Hambartsumyan. Soon to be displayed will be those of an Iranian and an American scientist. There are three names proposed to represent New Zealand, and the decision on which one to display has not yet been made.
They call the park Paradise, but at the moment it, like much of Tehran, looks more like a construction site. There is plenty of room for expansion in the current 20 hectares, with a second section of 18 ha, and a total reserve of 1,000 ha (10 square kilometers).
There is considerable enthusiasm for the future of their country. They are rapidly increasing their knowledge and skills, proud of their achievements, like sending up a satellite, refining their uranium ore, building their own tools and feeding their own people.
The Iranians are proud of their history, proud of their religion that is as well a way of life, a political system and a set of laws.
They are proud of the fact that they kicked out a system of government that concentrated vast wealth and power in one man, and replaced it with a democracy.

Bad Mood,
Better Recall
People grumbling their way through the grimness of winter have better recall than those enjoying a carefree, sunny day, Australian researchers have found.
According to AFP, the University of New South Wales team used a Sydney news agency to test whether people’s moods had an impact on their ability to remember small details.
Researchers placed 10 small items on the shop counter, including a toy cannon, red bus and a piggy bank, and quizzed shoppers about what they remembered seeing upon their exit.
Lead researcher Joseph Forgas said subjects were able to remember three times as many items on cold, windy, rainy days when there was somber classical music playing as they were when conditions were sunny and bright.
Rainy-day shoppers were also less likely to have false memories of objects that weren’t there, said Forgas.
“We predicted and found that weather-induced negative mood improved memory accuracy,“ he wrote in the study, which was published in the latest edition of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
“Shoppers in a negative mood showed better memory and higher discrimination ability.“
Forgas said a worse mood helped to focus people’s attention on their surroundings and led to a more thorough and careful thinking style, while happiness tended to reduce focus and increase both confidence and forgetfulness.
“This finding suggests that some allowance for such mood effects could be incorporated in applied domains such as legal, forensic, counseling and clinical practice,“ he said.

Double Whammy
Malaria Drug Underway
A new “double whammy“ malaria drug, which works on its own and reverses resistance to other drugs, is being developed by US researchers.
The drug contains a chemical that prevents the malaria parasite getting rid of a toxic byproduct of feeding on red blood cells, BBC reported.
It also disables a genetic defense that prevents the existing drugs chloroquine and quinine working, Nature reports. But the team says it could be at least 10 years before the drug is available. There are around 250 million cases of malaria and 880,000 deaths worldwide each year. The drug, developed by Jane Kelly and colleagues at Portland State University, is called an acridone derivative.
It targets the way mosquitoes digest hemoglobin in red blood cells, from which they take amino acids as their food.
A substance called hem, a byproduct of this process, is toxic to the malaria parasites, carried by mosquitoes, so they have to convert it into a pigment called hemozoin.
This drug prevents that conversion taking place, meaning the toxic pigment remains. It is the same effect as that of chloroquine and quinine.
But the researchers have found that, as well as working on its own, the acridone can restore and enhance the effectiveness of these other drugs too.
Malaraia parasites have developed a genetic mutation preventing chloroquine and quinine absorption, and expelling them from the parasite’s body.
This new drug can disable that defense mechanism, allowing the chloroquine and quinine to do their job.

How Much Fish to Eat While Pregnant?
Women who are pregnant should include fish in their diet for optimal maternal health and fetal growth and development. That much health experts agree on.
But just how much seafood moms-to-be can safely consume without exposing their unborn babies to dangerous levels of mercury is a matter of ongoing debate, HealthDay said.
The US Food and Drug Administration advises women to eat no more than 12 ounces a week, but a coalition of scientists in nutrition and medicine insists that expectant moms need at least that much.
“Recent data shows us that women are still not eating enough fish, and that’s really alarming,“ said Judy Meehan, executive director of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, an organization dedicated to disseminating the latest science on maternal and child health.
“There’s simply no other way to get the omega-3s for brain development that you can from fish,“ she said.
Fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, a beneficial type of fat that is considered important for neural development.
Limiting fish intake to the government-recommended level, in fact, could be ’detrimental’ to a child’s mental development, British and American researchers reported in 2007 in The Lancet. Their study found that children whose mothers ate at least three servings of fish a week during pregnancy performed better on tests of mental function.

Heart Risk in Women
Women who had an increase in blood pressure during pregnancy are likely to develop heart disease at an earlier age, Chilean researchers reported.

Iran Registered
9,000 Inventions Last Year
A total of 9, 570 national inventions was registered in Iran during the last Iranian year (ended March 20, 2009), State Registration Organization of Deeds and Properties announced.
Compared with the previous year, there was a 38-percent increase in the number of inventions registered by the organization, Mehr News Agency reported.
A total of 1,234,293 deeds was also issued last year.

Roll-Up, Portable Stovetop
Italian designer Maurizio Maiorana has invented an innovative stovetop called the ’Cooka’ that can be rolled up and stored away when it is not needed.
According to Ideaconnection, the device is made from a non-toxic, liquid silicone rubber and uses an electric coil for heating food.
How the Cooka design differs from conventional stove-tops is with its adoption of silver to conduct heat. The silver lets the hot plates heat quickly and then cool rapidly when it is turned off.
Small holes around the plates release hot air, which keeps the loss of heat to a minimum. The Cooka has not yet been commercially released.

Snake Diet Affects Venom Strength
New research by a Bangor university student has found that the diet of venomous snakes affects its venom strength.
Axel Barlow’s discovery means that anti-venom can be developed specific to a certain snake’s location or diet, BBC said.
His studies into saw-scaled vipers, which have evolved to eat scorpions, found that they also had venom which was more lethal to scorpions.
Researchers hope the information will lead to fewer snake bite deaths. The research was done as part of a final-year paper on saw-scaled vipers by Barlow.
“The significance of the discovery was that variation in venom composition between different species or populations of snakes can complicate anti-venom treatment,“ he said.
This is particularly relevant in the case of saw-scaled vipers that are probably responsible for the majority of snakebite deaths in Africa, he said.
This was because West African hospitals still rely on imported anti-venom from Asia, where the saw-scaled vipers have a very different venom composition.
Axel Barlow added, “Saw-scaled vipers provide a good model to study venom variation, as different species have extremely different diets. This allows us to investigate the effects of evolutionary changes in diet within a single group of related snake species.“

Amphibians May Develop Immunity to Fatal Fungus
Amphibian populations are declining worldwide, principally because of the spread of the fungal disease chytridiomycosis.
Researchers know that some amphibian populations and species are innately more susceptible to the disease than others.
Recent preliminary evidence, described in the April issue of BioScience, suggests that individual amphibians can sometimes develop resistance to chytridiomycosis, which is caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), ScienceDaily said.
Jonathan Q. Richmond, of the US Geological Survey, and three coauthors argue that researchers should broaden their studies of chytridiomycosis to include so-called acquired immunity, because this might improve predictive models of Bd’s spread and so suggest ways to protect threatened frog and toad populations.
Richmond and colleagues discuss experimental studies indicating that two species of New Zealand frogs infected with Bd but treated with the antimicrobial drug chloramphenicol were later resistant to re-infection with the fungus.
Other studies indicate that North American toads that survived after being first exposed to Bd in dry conditions survived longer when re-infected in wet conditions than did toads that were exposed to Bd in wet conditions.
Richmond and colleagues emphasize that innate immunity has to be activated in an animal before acquired immunity can develop.
They point to several key immune-system components--notably, toll-like receptors and major histo-compatibility complex molecules--that most likely play a role in bridging the innate and the acquired immune systems, and urge researchers to undertake collaborative studies of the genetics of how these systems interact as Bd spreads.