Category Archives: Discovery

The World’s First Malaria Vaccine to Be Rolled Out in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in 2018

Mosquito on human skin at sunset_0
Image credit: Shutterstock

Malaria is one of the world’s most deadly diseases even though it is highly preventable and treatable. Malaria causes approximately 881,000 deaths every year, with nine out of ten deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.

Effective control and treatment of malaria has been very challenging and efforts have been made to reduce the burden of malaria in an integrated approach that combines preventative measures, such as long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets (LLINs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS), with improved access to effective anti-malarial drugs.

However, malaria is a disease that stems from and causes poverty, and many at-risk populations live in extremely destitute, remote areas. Poor, rural families are the least likely to have access to these preventative measures that are fundamental to malaria control, and may live kilometres from the nearest healthcare facility. They are also less able to afford treatment once infection has occurred.

In addition to the human cost of malaria, the economic burden of the disease is vast. It is estimated that malaria costs African countries more than US$12 billion every year in direct losses, even though the disease could be controlled for a fraction of that sum. For Nigeria alone the direct loss to the economy is estimated at GBP530 million annually.

Up to 40% of African health budgets are spent on malaria each year, and on average, a malaria-stricken family loses a quarter of its income through loss of earnings and the cost of treating and preventing the disease. Malaria causes an average loss of 1.3% of economic growth per year in Africa.

There is a ray of hope in Africa as the world first malaria vaccine is to be rolled out in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in 2018. This injectable vaccine known as “RTS,S or Mosquirix” was developed by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and will be offered for babies and children in high risk areas as part of real life trials as reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In clinical trials it is proved only partially effective, and it needs to be given in a four-dose schedule, but it is the first-regulator-approved vaccine against the mosquito- borne disease. The WHO, who is in process of assessing whether to add the shot to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, has said it firsts wants to see the results of on-the ground testing in a pilot programme.

“Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine,” Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s African regional director said in a statement as the three pilot countries were announced.

“Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.”

Global efforts in the last 15 years cut the malaria toll by 62 percent between 2000 and 2015. The WHO pilot programme will assess whether the Mosquirix’s protective effect in children aged 5 to 17 months can be replicated in real life. It will also assess the feasibility of delivering the four doses needed and explore the vaccine’s potential role in reducing the number of children killed by the disease. 

The WHO said Malawi, Kenya and Ghana were chosen for the pilot due to several factors, including having high rates of malaria as well as good malaria programmes, wide use of bed-nets and well-functioning immunization programmes. 

Each of the three countries will decide on the districts and regions to be included in the pilots, the WHO said, with high malaria areas getting priority since these are where experts expect to see most benefit from the use of the vaccine.  The vaccine was developed by GSK in partnership with the non-profit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and part-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The WHO said in November it had secured full funding for the first phase of the RTS,S pilots, with 15 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and up to 27.5 million and 9.6 million respectively from the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and UNITAID for the first four years of the programme.

This significant development will help to address the continuing challenges presented by malaria in Africa in the years ahead and hopefully bring an end to this deadly disease.

Sources:

The Hindu, April 25, 2017. 

Kokwaro G. (2009) Ongoing challenges in the management of malaria. Malaria Journal, 8(Suppl 1):S2 doi:10.1186/1475-2875-8-S1-S2.

​The general attitude towards science and the usage of the word “scientist” in Nigeria.

I remember in the days of my undergraduate industrial training in SheSTCo – a research institute in the capital of Nigeria, a professor rebuked a fellow trainee who referred to himself as a scientist during a seminar presentation. He said, “even with a master degree you are not even a scientist”.  
In Nigeria, if you call yourself a scientist you are scolded. You are quickly attacked with questions like “you call yourself a scientist what have you discovered?” but the irony is that you hardly get this question if you call yourself a chemist, biologist, physicist or mathematician. probably only because they think you are only telling them what you studied in school. 

As student and graduates of pure sciences, we ‘proudly’ call ourselves chemists, physicists, biologist or mathematicians depending on our disciplines because we have friends who call themselves economist, sociologist, accounts etc., but we barely call ourselves scientists. The word is too heavy for us.

In this society, the word, scientist can best be compared to words like astronauts, spaceship, or snow. Nigerians mostly use these words when referring to white people, advanced counties, or Hollywood movies and hardly when referring to the next Nigerian or Nigeria as a country because whatever these words represents are alien and transcendent to the majority of the Nigerian society.

When average Nigerians hear the word, scientist, the picture that comes to their mind is that of a white man in a white lab coat making big magical discoveries like time travel or a syrup that can make someone invisible. This is what Hollywood – the only teacher smart enough to tell them who a scientist is, taught them. With these picture in their head it becomes very difficult to see a Nigerian next door as a scientist.

Here, the most tangible science is seen as very abstract if not as magic hence the word, “oyibo magic”, meaning white people’s magic. Many Nigerians even beleive dicoveries and inventions by the advance world come from knowledge gotten from witchcraft. There is disconnect between the Nigerian culture and modern science.  One of the reason for this is that Nigerians are nurtured not to ask questions as children. They discourage curiosity making the saying, “curiosity killed the cat” very popular in the country. Secondly they hardly engage in endeavors without direct and immediate benefit. 

They can’t relate well with the pure sciences because they can’t see any direct and immediate benefit in engaging in them. It is common to hear even a university graduate asking questions like, “why would anyone in his/her right senses attend a university to study chemistry”, biology, physics or mathematics? To them if is not medicine, engineering, computer science,  pharmacy or nursing, it is a waste of resources and a shortcut to poverty. 

The Nigerian society relate well and better with science related profession like medicine, pharmacy, engineering, piloting etc. because these professions come with direct and immediate benefits. This mentality has resulted to a system whereby pure scientists are mostly trained to be teachers so as to train doctors, pharmacists, engineers, pilot etc. For this reason when an average Nigerian looks at those in the pure sciences all he or she sees is a secondary school teacher. 

Education in Nigeria has too little to do with curiosity, hunger for knowledge or the need to solve problem. It is all about statues, tittles and earning a living. Even the pure scientists in Nigeria are guilty of this. Most of them are in pure sciences today because they couldn’t get into medical or engineering school even after several try. After grumbling through school, may Nigerian graduates with science degrees find themselves in a dilemma. They learnt too little science in school and so cannot compete to become a lecturer or a researcher, and they don’t have the qualification for a non-science job. 

Before coming to conclusion let’s have a look from another angle. By international standard are most Nigerian lecturers or researchers qualified to be referred to as scientists? That is the question many nigerians are asking. Lecturers and researchers in Nigeria are known to carryout research mostly for the sake of publishing articles required for job promotion. They are not driven by hunger for knowledge or desire to solve a problem. Like the policy makers and bureaucrats, the pay so little attention to science development. Some would argue that the science practiced in the country is obsolete and insignificant. There is hardly any discovery from universities or research centers.  

If Science is discovery, then where there is hardly any discovery there is hardly any science and where there is hardly any science there is hardly any scientist. 

​The struggle of Nigeria’s foremost anti-sickle cell disease medication

A name synonymous with sickle cell anaemia in Nigeria

Sickle-cell anaemia is particularly common in western Africa and people of western African ancestry. Sickle-cell anaemia is also common in people from Mediterranean countries, the Middle East, and India, or people whose ancestors came from these regions. it is a genetic disorder which in particular shows its clinical manifestations in the black race and Nigeria been the most populous black nation on the word has the highest incidence of this disorder. Before the first known case of Sickle-cell anaemia in the advance world in 1910, Nigerian were already battling with this disease. If fact archaeological research in Nigeria has unearthed 700 years old human bones showing evidence of sickle cell infarcts. So you are in order if you say Sickle-cell anaemia is a Nigerian problem.
After man years of this disease in Nigeria traditional healers and medicine men were able to produce medicine that minimize painful episodes which are the most common complication of Sickle-cell anaemia. One of the medicine was later developed by a team of 8 Nigerian scientists and researchers at the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Abuja, Nigeria and Nigeria’s foremost anti-sickle cell disease medication – NIPRISAN™, was born. A patent for the formulation was filed on the 21st of January 1997 with the Office of the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, United States of America. The patent was approved in September 1998. 

NIPRISAN, as claimed in the patent is a herbal mixture extract, formulated from parts of four different indigenous plants (Piper guineenses seeds, Pterocarpus osun stem, Eugenia caryophylum fruit and Sorghum bicolor leaves) and an inorganic material mixed at specific ratios which has been shown to be safe and effective in the management of sickle cell disease during a phase 1 and subsequent Phase 2 clinical trials.

The patent document lists eight individuals as the inventors and the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development as the assignee.  NIPRD had earlier licensed the product to Xechem PLC under the chairmanship of Dr. Ramesh Pandey and it was then sold under the tradename, NICOSAN™ in United States of America and in Nigeria. The product successfully got an orphan drug designation from both USFDA and EUFDA under the management of Xechem Plc.

In 2007, despite growing local and international demands for the Nigerian product, the parent company in America went bankrupt and Xechem Pharma Nigeria Ltd gradually was brought to a halt by crippling debts. With these developments and the failure of Xechem Pharma Nigeria Ltd to continue with drug production, the drug became scarce despite the huge local and international demand. NIPRD decided to implement the clause in the NIPRD-Xechem Agreement which stipulates that should Xechem change ownership or be insolvent, NIPRD reserves the right to withdraw the license.

The decision was challenged in a U.S. court and, after a grueling and expensive court case, NIPRD won the court case and withdrew the license from Xechem. Efforts to license the commercialisation to another firm has not been successful as all previous attempts have been hindered by court cases initiated by Xechem creditors and shareholders.

Efforts are underway by some actors to launch a generic brand once the patent expires as the tradename – Nicosan™ is held by Dr. Ramesh Pandey and not Xechem Plc. There are multiple opinions on the expiry date of the Niprisan patent ranging from:

  • 1st September, 2015 (17 years from approval)
  • 25th January, 2016 (20 years from first filing in Nigeria)
  • 21st January 2017 (20 years from USA first filing)

The rule is that patent expiry date is the latter of 17 years from USA approval date or 20 years from the date of filing in USA or Internationally provided it qualifies under the 35 U.S.C 120, 121 or 365 conditions. In the event of patent expiry, the court cases would lose their potency and any player with sufficient technical and marketing capacity can produce and market the product under a new or existing brand.

The Nigerian Pharmacist Who Invented Alabukun Powder Almost 100 Years Ago

Jacob Sogboyega Odulate aka Blessed Jacob was a Nigerian pharmacist, inventor and entrepreneur. He invented Alabukun powder

ALABUKUN is an indigenous brand that has persisted for almost 100 years in the most unlikely sector of trade for the average Nigerian: pharmacy. Alabukun powder a very popular drug in Nigeria, the world’s most populous nation and in other West African nations. Almost 100 years after, the brand remains one of the most resilient in Africa. Alabukun gained acceptance and wide spread use without any considerable adverts. It is cheap, easily recognizable and available in most chemist shop in Nigeria. 

This popular drug is an invention of Jacob Sogboyega Odulate aka Blessed Jacob (1884-1962), a Nigerian pharmacist, inventor and entrepreneur in 1918. He was originally from Ikorodu in Lagos State but later moved to the neighbouring Ogun State.  He was just 14 when he left Ikorodu, he trekked for three months before reaching Abeokuta to establish himself.

The 1910s was a period of British colonialism. In spite of all the obstacles the English imperialists placed before the ‘natives’, Blessed Jacob was able to create this brand from what served as his consulting room and laboratory in Abeokuta, Ogun State, south-western Nigeria. Without any government support and facing immense obstacles from the British colonialists who controlled all the economy, Blessed Jacob managed to create a brand that has lasted a century.

Blessed Jacob also produced other brands like Alabukun mentholine, other preparations and an annual journal called Alabukun Almanac which was widely distributed in Abeokuta and eventually all over Nigeria between the 1920s and 1950s.

Alabukun Powder contains acetylsalicylic acid and caffeine as its active ingredients. A packet contains 760 mg of acetylsalicylic acid and 60 mg of caffeine making a total of 820 mg. Although many Nigerians use it as an over-the-counter drug primarily as a mild analgesic for headache and other simple infirmities, the application of Alabukun powder is actually more diverse than that. It is used for a host of ailment and these include migraine, prevention of blood clots, myocardial infarction, transluminal angioplasty, ischaemic attacks and stroke. It can also be used in the treatment, management or prevention of these conditions: toothache, sore throat and Neuralgias.

The pharmacodynamics of Alabukun powder show that it functions by preventing the production of platelet aggregation and inhibits adenosine in the body. These functions reduce pain and allows the user to breath better by stimulating the brain and the heart.

Like every drug, Alabukun powder must not be used for any of these conditions without recommendations from a medical doctor. And like order drugs too Alabukun can have side effects. The possible side effects that can result from taking Alabukun are swelling due to fluid accumulation, asthma, vomiting, nausea and vertigo.

It Snowed in Sahara Desert For the First Time in 40 Years (Pictures)

Satellite imagery shows how much snow fell in the desert last week AFP

Everyone was stunned to see snow falling in the desert’ says photographer, in hot, dry town where snow almost never falls

Satellite images released by Nasa have revealed the extent of rare snowfall in the Sahara desert.

A vast expanse of what is usually one of the hottest and most arid places in the world was briefly coated with frost last week, for the first time in 37 years.

Before the snow melted, a day later, the Nasa Landsat 7 satellite captured what the strange scene looked like from space.

Snow last fell in the affected area of the northern Sahara desert in February 1979, when a brief snowstorm stopped traffic in some towns.

Summer temperatures in the region, around the Moroccan-Algerian border, typically average 37 degrees Celsius.

Snow in the Moroccan desert was clearly visible from space (Nasa)

In the winter, the temperature can plummet to single digits, but the area experiences just a few centimetres of rain over the course of the year. Even if temperatures fall below freezing, the dry air usually stops snow flakes from forming.

Nasa said a review of several years of satellite data suggests the unusual weather also affected a section of the Atlas mountain range.

Although the new satellite images show the extent of the rare weather, an amateur photographer stole the show by capturing a set of striking images of the snowfall in a small Algerian town on Monday 19 December.

Karim Bouchetata photographed the fleeting scene in Ain Sefra, which lies in the Atlas Mountains on the northern edge of the desert.

A beautiful image of snow on sand

In his images a thin layer of snow rests on deep orange dunes, where he said it stayed for about a day, and forms whirling patterns where the slopes are too steep for it to settle.

Think layer of snow forms whirling patterns where the slopes are too steep for it to settle.

Mr Bouchetata said: “Everyone was stunned to see snow falling in the desert, it is such a rare occurrence.

“It looked amazing as the snow settled on the sand and made a great set of photos.”

“The snow stayed for about a day and has now melted away.”

Source: The Independent

5 Science Myths You Need to Ponder About

The clustering of galaxies in the Universe on the largest observable scales, where each pixel represents a galaxy. Image credit: Michael Blanton and SDSS collaboration.

The Universe is a vast, mysterious place, encompassing everything we’ve ever known, observed or could ever hope to come into contact with. For millennia, a look up at the sky — our window into the cosmos beyond our world — was met with wonder, awe, and a fascination with the unknown. Thanks to all the scientific advances made by civilizations across the globe, we now know that the points of light in the sky are stars, found grouped together in galaxies, which cluster together on the largest scales, in a Universe that began with our Big Bang a finite amount of time ago: 13.8 billion years. Yet knowing that doesn’t mean we know everything. In fact, knowing some physics opens the door for some really large misconceptions, some of which afflict even professional scientists. They include…

1.) If the Universe is 13.8 billion years old, then we shouldn’t be able to see objects 46 billion light years away. After all, nothing can move faster than the speed of light! The light from the Sun is 8 minutes and 20 seconds old because it takes light 8 minutes and 20 seconds to traverse the distance from the Sun to Earth. But there are two important points to realize there: one is that the Sun and Earth aren’t moving away from or towards each other during the light’s journey, the other is that the space between the Sun and Earth isn’t expanding. On the largest cosmic scales, the Universe has both of these factors in play.

Imagine a galaxy that were 10 billion light years away from where we are now 10 billion years ago. Imagine that it emitted light. If the fabric of the Universe weren’t expanding, it would take 10 billion years to reach us. But if the galaxy were moving away from us, limited by the speed of light, it could be as far as 20 billion light years from us by time the light gets there. And if the Universe were expanding, it could be even farther! If our Universe were made out of mostly radiation, we could see up to 27.6 billion light years away in a 13.8 billion year old Universe. If it were made out of mostly matter, that number would go up to 41.4 billion light years. And with the mix of matter, dark matter and dark energy that we have, the expansion brings that number up to 46 billion light years distant. That’s how we can see objects so distant in our Universe. 

2.) Nobody knows how gravity really, fundamentally works. The forces affecting our Universe — gravitation, governed by Einstein’s General Relativity, and the electromagnetic, weak and strong forces, described by quantum field theory — are easy to observe and measure. The theories underlying them are separate, with General Relativity describing the relationship between matter-and-energy to the curvature of space-and-time, and quantum field theory describing the interactions between particles occurring in that spacetime. You might worry that gravity must inherently be a quantum force in nature, and that there should be gravitons mediating that interaction. You might also worry that we cannot calculate how the gravitational force or field ought to work in quantum situations, like for an electron passing through a double slit and interfering with itself.

But the purpose of science is to explain observations, and General Relativity does so for absolutely all of them. Not just sufficiently, but perfectly, to the very limits of what we’re capable of observing. Every theory has a limit to its range of validity; General Relativity will break down at some point, like at the singularities inside of black holes. But quantum field theories have those limits too: at the Planck scale, or distances of around 10^-33 meters or so. Gravitons ought to exist, but they’re similar to photons: real ones can be detected as gravitational waves (just as real photons can be detected as light waves), while virtual ones cannot be detected, and are just a calculational tool. Einstein’s description is perfectly valid. Although we hope it’s someday superseded by a quantum description of gravity, our picture of curved spacetime affected by matter and energy, where the curved spacetime determines the paths of objects, is fundamentally valid in the most important sense: it perfectly describes every observation we can conceive of making.

3.) The Big Bang was the birth of space and time. The Universe has been expanding and cooling for billions of years; everything was hotter and denser in the past, and if we extrapolate back arbitrarily far, we’d arrive at a point of infinite density. Theoretically, this was realized as early as the 1920s by cosmologists like Alexandr Friedmann and Georges Lemaître, with the latter calling this state the “primeval atom” from which everything emerged. When the leftover radiation glow predicted by this picture — shifted into the microwave portion of the spectrum by the Universe’s expansion — was detected in the 1960s, the Big Bang was confirmed. Extrapolate back arbitrarily far, and you arrive at a singularity: where space and time as we know them emerged from.

Only, that picture isn’t right. If the Universe’s temperature (and hence, its energies) ever rose above a certain point, early on, the fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background would be larger than what we observe. The fact that they are only a few parts in 100,000 — first measured in the early 1990s by COBE — tells us that there must have been a state before the hot Big Bang that our hot, dense, matter-and-radiation-filled Universe emerged from. There was a prediction made as to what that state would be in the 1980s: cosmic inflation, that set up and gave rise to the Big Bang. The details of what the CMB’s fluctuations would be were predicted, and observed to match in gory detail what we observed by COBE, WMAP (2000s) and Planck (2010s). Inflation came before the hot Big Bang. What came before inflation, and honestly, what came before the last 10^-32 seconds of inflation or so, is still a mystery.

4.) Space, time and gravity could all just be illusions. Maybe they’re not fundamental; maybe they’re not really “real” in some sense. There has been a lot of buzz about a recent idea: that some of these properties may emerge from something more fundamental. Sound waves emerge from molecular interactions; atoms emerge from quarks, gluons and electrons and the strong and electromagnetic interactions; planetary systems emerge from gravitation in General Relativity. But in the idea of entropic gravity — as well as some other scenarios (like qbits) — gravitation or even space and time themselves might emerge from other entities in a similar fashion.
But at the root of this is the fact that there are close relationships in the equations that govern gravitation and those that govern thermodynamics. Normally, we take the point-of-view that gravity and particles are fundamental entities, and that that thermodynamics is emergent: describing the aggregate properties of a large number of more fundamental things. In fact, the laws of thermodynamics do emerge from a different, more fundamental field; statistical mechanics. Gravity may yet emerge from something more fundamental: strings, loops, hairy black holes, Planck particles or some other theoretical construct. The key, however, is that the predictions of this “more fundamental” idea must differ from what General Relativity predicts, and that hasn’t been put forth in any verified manner. But most importantly, gravity isn’t an illusion even if it’s not fundamental; it exists just as surely as any emergent property does. And as for space and time? They might not be fundamental either, but there’s no good idea out there for what they might emerge from that connects to anything testable. Either way, space, time and gravity certainly all exist, and calling them an “illusion” is simply untrue.

5.) It’s all just a theory, anyway. The Big Bang: just a theory. Gravity: only a theory. Even the entire field of putting these ideas together is called theoretical physics. It’s not like these are facts, truths or even laws. They’re only theories.

But that completely misses the point of what a scientific theory is. Facts are the most basic elements of science. You make an observation and that’s a fact. You make a measurement and that’s a fact. A single experimental data point is a fact, and so we collect as many of them as we can, and devise setups to collect even more. When you notice that things are correlated, that relationships between various measureables/observables obey a particular form or equation, that’s a law. It’s only when you can put together an overarching framework that not only explains the facts and encompasses the laws, but also makes new predictions about things you can go out and observe that you’ve got a scientific theory. If you then go out, validate and verify your theories and push them to the absolute limits, that you’ve got a theory as good as the Big Bang or General Relativity.

And it’s true: even a theory as robust and accepted as these examples will never be the final answer. There’s always more to learn, more boundaries to cross and more questions to uncover and probe. But the best accepted theories of the day are as close to the truth as science can ever get, even as we always strive to get closer. Better to understand reality, with all the nuance involved with it, as best as we actually can, than to persist in a comforting myth.

Source: Forbes Magazine

How Western Countries Steal From Africa by Patenting Her Natural Resources

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Europe and America has always stolen from Africa using deception or force. In the 90s, Africa was pressed hard by the West to adopt a legislation recognising foreign patents. This meant no country can steal another country’s knowledge and natural resources.

This law prevents Africa countries from using the discoveries and knowledge of great inventors and innovators, and the natural resources from western countries without paying a huge price, but allows western countries to use Africa’s traditional knowledge passed down from generation to generation and natural resources without the consent of the country of origin and without paying for the knowledge or resources.

Africa’s Traditional Knowledge and Biodiversity

Africa is a land of abundant natural resources. It’s biodiversity is one of its largest asset. Africans carry in them valuable knowledge collected over many centuries, of plants, seeds, algae, soil etc, that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Much of its natural and human resources lies largely untapped. The very few that’s has been tapped have not been done on full industrial scale, because Africa has not yet developed its secondary and tertiary industries.

Unlike developed countries, Africa lacks indigenous companies with the innovation and energy to research and develop local discoveries that can be brought to the market.

Western Countries’s Rules on Research and Development

Europe and America have an advanced Research and Development (R & D). To encourage research, patents were introduced long ago to ensure that anyone developing an original idea would have a monopoly on the fruit of that research for a fixed period of time.

In the 1990s, they went further to establish an international law called TRIPS: Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which includes recognising foreign patent.

In theory, the idea is that companies from one country can not rip off the ideas and products of companies from another.

In practice, western drugs are expensive, especially patent or branded drugs. When the patent of a drug expire. Any company can produce a copy called a generic drug without any license from the inventor.

Generic drugs are frequently as effective as, but much cheaper than, brand-name drugs. Because of their low price, generic drugs are often the only medicines that the poorest can access. 

By signing this law, Africa countries gave the West control over the amount of generics Africa countries can access and the West has always us this control in international trade to their own advantage.

In theory also, no one can steal anyone’s else’s natural resources: there have to be prove of an original step in the research and a new discovery.

But in practice, African knowledge, ideas or products are still in their natural form and have not been patented for personal or monetary gain.

No pharmaceutical company in the West want to market a strange yellow flowered tropical plant from southern Nigeria which the Esan people claims cures acute Eczema when the leave of the plant is squeezed and it’s juice used to scrub the skin; they would rather want to isolate the compound that kills the Eczema and make it a constituent of an antifungal cream already in the market.

The West Stealing From Africa

The San people of the Kahalari desert long discovered a cactus plant that can keep you going when you want a bite to eat.

A south African company sold the right to the active components of the cactus – a Hoodia compound, to an American company called phytopharm which further sold the license to the American drug company Pfizer in the late 1990s, planning to make such drug.

When the Sans found out they were understandably angry. After much media backlash there was an agreement to give the Sans who are the true owner of the intellectual property a meagre 0.003% of retail sales.

In another patent dispute in 2007, an enzyme was found in Lake Nakaru in Kenya. This enzyme survives in a caustic environment, softens fabric, and eats up indigo dye, making this enzyme very useful and valuable in the textile industry. A U.S biotech company, Genencor, patented the enzyme.

Guess what, the Kenya Wildlife Service argues it never approved access for the research in Lake Nakuru nor received any benefit from the discovery.

Western company’s also patented Brazzein, a protein 500 time sweeter than sugar from a plant in Gabon and an extract from Aloe ferox plant from Lesotho, which helps lighten skin.

The biggest robbery was carried out by a Dutch company, Health and Performance Food International bv. (HPFI) in 2007. This company patented Teff, an Ethiopian gluten-free hardy grain used for making Injera, a flat bread which is a staple food in Ethiopia.

In practice, the teff patent excludes all others, including Ethiopia itself, from utilizing teff for most forms of relevant production and marketing in the countries where it is granted. The patent was also filed in the USA and Japan. Ethiopia was sidelined and the country found itself squeezed out of position to utilize its own teff genetic resources.

TRIPS legislation was forced on Africa because it suits the West industrialised, service economies of their heavy emphasis on research and development.

TRIPS must be adjusted to also protect African countries, to allow African countries get a greater share of the profits made from their traditional knowledge and natural resources, as it is done in the crude oil sector.

Production of Butter From shea Trees in West Africa Pushed Back 1,000 Years

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EUGENE, Ore. — University of Oregon anthropologists have pushed back the history of harvesting shea trees in West Africa by more than 1,000 years earlier than previously believed.

Evidence for earlier use of the wild trees dating to A.D. 100 — reported in the March issue of the Journal of Ethnobiology — surfaced from excavations at the well-preserved archaeological site at Kirikongo in western Burkina Faso. Shea trees only grow in a narrow belt of fertile, well-drained soils in the savannah stretching from West Africa to East Africa.

Nuts from shea trees (Vitellaria paradoxa) are the source of thick ivory-colored vegetable butter — a staple used as cooking oil in the region. Shea butter, which is rich in antioxidants, also is used medicinally and exported for making soap, moisturizers and lotions. It occasionally is a substitute for cocoa butter. The tree’s termite-resistant wood also is used for construction and making implements.

The researchers analyzed thousands of carbonized fragments of nutshells found in multiple layers of households that had been built on top of each other for some 1,600 years.

“Our findings demonstrate the antiquity of the use of this particular resource,” said Daphne E. Gallagher, a researcher and lecturer in the UO Department of Anthropology. “It demonstrates the importance of wild foods in early agricultural diets, and that its importance has continued through time.”

Nurturing of the trees has been maintained even in periods of climate change, during which the trees have not adapted with predictability, Gallagher said. Other agricultural practices, such as millet and sorghum production that is common now, have been managed around where the wild shea trees grow. Such practices suggest that a form of sustainable farming has been in place for hundreds of years, she said.

“In the layers, we’ve found exterior shells that have been knocked off the nuts.

When a household first starts using shea, nutshells are all over the place,” she said. “Some are thick. Some are thin. There is a huge range of variability. As households become established the shells become more consistent and thinner. This is reflecting that trees are being brought into these cultivation systems.

“We are seeing the continual integration of the farming system. Farmers leave the trees in place. They are respected, loved, maintained and pruned,” Gallagher said. “People have rights to particular trees, which may or may not be on the land they are farming.”

Processing the nuts takes a lot of work to extract the oil, Gallagher said. “The nuts on trees in Burkina Faso produce a Crisco-like fat,” she said. “Those in eastern Africa have a different chemical composition that produces more of a liquid that has to be stored in something like a milk jug. It’s not as widely used.”

Previous published reports the regular use of shea trees had pointed to about A.D. 1100. Pushing back the practice to an earlier time is important, Gallagher said. “It serves as a reminder of how little we really know about this region.”

Source: SCIENMAG

This Spider Looks Like a Disco Ball

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This spider’s decorative patterning may seem like a dead give away to predators. But for those looking to feast on the arachnid, a species in the genus Thwaitesia, the hunt might result in confusion and failure. “Like a disco ball with lots of different mirrors,” reflective splotches on this spider’s abdomen probably “scatter light and make it difficult for predators to see it,” says Robert Whyte, an honorary researcher in arachnology at the Queensland Museum, who’s currently co-authoring a field guide to Australian spiders.

Thwaitesia species are colloquially called “mirror spiders” or “sequined spiders,” although several other spider families include members with similar silvery or white abdominal markings. Based on what scientists know about some of its better-studied cousins, this spider’s shimmery spots are probably crystalline deposits comprised of guanine, a waste product produced by gut cells called guanocytes, according to retired biologist Ron Atkinson, who maintains the Find-a-Spider Guide for the Spiders of Southern Queensland. Those cells are located right under the transparent “skin,” or cuticle, of the spider’s abdomen.

A better-studied species that sports guanine dots, Floronia bucculenta, seems to hide its white patterns by contracting fine muscles that pull the guanocytes into a tight mass, according to Atkinson. “The stimulus for these muscle cell contractions is usually [something] external,” he says—such as a predator. As the guanocytes shrink, other pigmented cells become more prominent, and the spider’s coloring appears to change.

There are at least 21 known spider species (including F. bucculenta) that can rapidly change color, which they do by involving guanocytes, according to a chapter in Spider Ecophysiology. The spider featured in this article appears to be able to contract its spots, too—compare the picture below with the one above—but the mechanism is unknown.

Markings such as these can stymie would-be diners. For instance, “reflections from the [silver] plates may resemble those from droplets of water in the green vegetation,” in areas where they live, says Atkinson, “and the colored bits of the spider could easily be confused with flower parts.”

While there are multiple species in the genus Thwaitesia, there are likely more that remain unknown to science, says Whyte. In fact, while photographer Nicky Bay photographed the spider pictured above in Singapore, The World Spider Catalog currently has no documentation of a Thwaitesia species living on the island country.

“There are several Thwaitesia in China and Vietnam, as well as one each in Myanmar and New Guinea,” adds Atkinson. “I am confident that moreThwaitesia species will be found and described in Southeast Asia in the near future.”

Scientists Found a New Spider in Australia that Can Swim and Catch Fish

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A new species of spider, Dolomedes briangreenei, which likes to swim and catch fish, has been discovered in Queensland.

It is named after physicist and World Science Festival co-founder, Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk unveiled the spider to Green in Brisbane today at the opening of the inaugural World Science Festival.

The Brisbane spider is about the size of the palm of a hand and uses vibrations on the surface of the water, or waves, to navigate and find prey.

It eats fish, frogs, and tadpoles and the introduced cane toad, making a significant contribution to the management of the pest.

The spiders are also good swimmers, usually working from the sides of pools and off rocks. They can also been seen sculling across the surface with their two middle pairs of legs.

When disturbed or hauling in captured fish, they will plunge through the surface of the water and swim quickly to hide on the bottom.

Source: Science Alert