Malaria Vaccines, Looking but Seeing and Nanoscale Electric Cars!

A new target for Malaria vaccines, How seeing and paying attention to things uses separate parts of the brain and the world's smallest electric car...
13 November 2011

Interview with 

Julian Rayner, Sanger Institute; Masataka Watanabe, University of Tokyo; Paul Weiss UCLA; Karen Williams, Staunton-on-Wye Endowed Primary School


New Malaria Vaccine Target

A protein interaction on red blood cells could be a prime target for an Anopheles albimanus mosquitoeffective Malaria vaccine.

Symptoms of Malaria only begin when the plasmodium parasite causing the disease infects red blood cells to replicate.

Publishing in Nature this week, Julian Rayners team at the Sanger Institute have identified a crucial interaction needed by all strains of the parasite to get into the red blood cells, which if blocked could stop the parasite in its tracks and preventing the onset of disease.

Julian - So the interaction is between a parasite protein called RH5 and protein that's present on the surface of the red blood cell called basigin  That if we block that interaction, we can completely prevent invasion down to undetectable levels, so it seems to be an essential interaction, the parasite needs it in order to get inside their blood cells.


Looking but not Seeing

fMRILooking at an object and paying attention to it involve separate regions of the brains visual system.

Working with human volunteers, Masataka Watanabe's team from the University of Tokyo monitored brain activity in the primary part of the visual cortex, where information is first processed. By changing the visibility of images seen by the volunteers the team saw no different in activity when the images were visible or invisible, meaning their awareness and perception of the images must happen elsewhere in the brain.

Masataka - Even if the visual input is actually there into your brain, when you don't see it there's no modulation in the primary visual cortex. So we need like extra experiments to look where exactly awareness modulates your neural activity.


A Molecular 'four-wheel drive'

The world's smallest four-wheel electric car has been created by scientists molecular motorat the University of Groningen.

Ben Feringa's team have developed a molecular motor using a single molecule, which can move in a chosen direction after the injection of electrons, by using four attached rotary units, The units change shape in response to the incoming electrons propelling the molecule forward along a copper surface.

Paul Weiss, Director of the California Nanosystems Institute comments on the discovery.

Paul - We're really just getting the first glimpses in this field.  Single molecule motion is something we can now do, With this beautiful work by Feringa, the excitement there is this four motors and different parts of one molecule around working together in concert to move a structure forward.  If we can understand motion at these scales where we know everything about the system, we hope to bring that to bigger systems.  So for instance the motors that we have running our automobiles now don't work very efficiently.  We may be able to make motors that are more efficient.


The Rolls-Royce Science Prize

And finally, The Rolls Royce science prize was awarded this week to Staunton-on-Wye Endowed Primary School in Hereford and Mulberry School for Girls in London.

Beating over 2000 schools across the UK who had all developed science teaching projects that helped meet particular needs in their school, the two winning schools were awarded for their excellence in science teaching. Staunton-on-Wye winner and teacher Karen Williams on their winning project.

Karen - The children built quite a large playhouse in our school grounds and they had to reach a joint decision about what materials they were going to use to build the walls in the rough of the huts.  During the project, they were very engaged so we had 5-year-olds talking about the pros and cons of different types of roofs and 10-year-olds grilling the architects about the merits of different types of vinyl and rubber as a building material.  So it was combining practical science with a commitment to look at how we can make good decisions about what we're using.

Joint winners Mulberry School had developed a hydroponic greenhouse powered by renewable energy. More information on this years entries and runners up can be found online at


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