Latest on Spectral Lines

Spectral FloydThere have been 32 issues of my science news column on since it was last officially called Spectral Lines, but I thought it was a nice name so occasionally resurrect it here when I highlight the latest research findings I cover on the site. It also gives me an excuse to re-use a logo I did in the early days of the site touting the line “David Bradley On Spec” (geddit?).

So this, week the first May issue is brought to you by the letter “F” with articles entitled: Fishing for amines, Fancy ants for arthritis, and Fixing chemotherapy. We also have, Rewiring brains therapeutically, Hybrid contact, and Boning up with Raman, but they don’t start with an “F” so required a separate sentence. Anyway…

Those fancy ants are perhaps not the first organism one would think to turn to for medical assistance, but researchers in Hong Kong and Japan have now used spectroscopy to study the chemical structures of various compounds extracted from Chinese medicinal ants that are thought to have anti-arthritic activity and be beneficial in treating hepatitis. There are lessons to be learned here, regarding the harvesting of traditional knowledge from folk medicine as well as yet another reason to try and conserve biodiversity the world over.

In Rewiring brains therapeutically, Edward Taub and colleagues at UAB use MRI scans to lay to rest once and for all the medical myth that the adult brain cannot grow new neurons. They show that a form of therapy, developed by Taub in the early 1990s for helping stroke patients recover use of paralysed limbs, so-called constraint induced (CI) therapy, really does induce a remodelling of the brain.

And in my Hybrid contact item, I discuss how early attempts to create protein-polymer hybrid materials often foundered because the mixed chemistry was simply not up to the task. Now, a UCB team has developed a new approach to hooking up natural proteins with synthetic polymers that could work with almost any protein and any polymer and could be used to develop new types of chemical sensor for medical diagnostics, quality control and environmental analysis. Related materials might also work as highly targeted drug-delivery systems, or even as the components of a future nanomachine.