November 27, 2004

DNA Breakthrough Links the Crime to the Time; Future World

DNA testing has revolutionised criminal investigations by linking suspects to crime scenes. Now advances in forensic science mean we may one day be able to say what time a suspect was there.

A new test developed by the forensic and investigative science programme at West Virginia University in Morgantown, USA, can indicate the age of genetic material and, therefore, set DNA samples within a time-frame.

The test can be used on DNA samples up to 150 days old and measures the breakdown of two forms of RNA (ribonucleic acid). Researchers found messenger

RNA breaks down faster than ribosomal (rRNA), because rRNA is protected by proteins.

Both prosecuting and defence lawyers will be excited about the finding's legal applications, although more research is required before the test will be credible enough to be used in court. The team specifically needs to find out whether the result can be influenced by environmental factors.

Breathe easy Sufferers of persistent halitosis can breathe a sigh of relief: a new laser treatment can cure bad breath in a single 15- minute treatment. While mild bad breath is usually caused by bacteria in small cavities in the gums or teeth producing unpleasant gases, it is thought persistent cases are caused when bacteria breed in the deep crypts of tonsils.

Yehuda Finkelstein, of Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, Israel, developed a laser procedure whereby the infected tissue is vapourised and the crypts sealed to prevent further infection. In a trial, more than half of 53 people treated found their problem cured after one session.

Pulling power A 10mm-wide generator invented at Georgia Tech in the US can produce enough power to run a mobile phone. Known as a micro- electrical-mechanical system (Mems), it may one day create enough electricity to power a laptop.

The micro-power system generates electricity by spinning a magnet at 100,000rpm above a mesh of coils fabricated on a chip. Coupled with a gas-fuelled jet engine, it could last 10 times longer than a conventional battery.

The object of the research is to provide portable energy sources for use by the army. The researchers at the university ultimately hope to produce 20-50 watts of electricity, which would be enough to power a soldier's laptop, radio or GPS system.

Take heart A protein could help the heart repair itself after a cardiac arrest, according to research at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

A study of mice found a protein, thymosin beta-4, which is produced by embryos to aid development of the heart, can prevent cell death after a heart attack and reduces scar tissue. The protein has an effect on the metabolism of cells and creates stronger cells which are resistant to post-attack low-oxygen levels.

Thymosin beta-4 is likely to enter clinical trials for heart treatment soon, while the research leader, Dr Deepak Srivastava, says the priority is to determine the optimum dose and time of administration.