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A SARS Treatment From Survivors' Cells

Scientists at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Bellinzona, Switzerland, are perfecting a technique to generate antibodies for treatments of SARS. First, they remove antibody-making cells called memory B cells from the blood of a donor who has survived SARS. These are cloned and screened to see which make the best antibodies. They can then be mass-produced using standard biotech methods.

Such SARS antibodies may someday be injected into anyone at risk of infection. That will come in handy "when you don't have time to wait around for the body to make antibodies," says Kanta Subbarao, senior investigator at the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., who worked on the study. Still, SARS remedies of this sort may be three years away, says Antonio Lanzavecchia, director of the Swiss institute. His team hopes to use the new technique against other diseases as well.

While current gas prices may cause some people to go into shock, others get inspired. Researchers at Genoil, a Canadian company, have developed and are starting to sell a new refining technology that increases the yield of usable barrels of oil by 25%. The extra oil comes from the previously unrefinable viscous bottom residue.

Genoil's Hydroconversion Upgrader, which pumps hydrogen into the oil, is "something that can work immediately" to help alleviate gas shortages, says Genoil Chairman and CEO David Lifschultz.

In addition to producing more oil, Genoil's technique removes sulfur from the crude oil, reducing the amount of pollution produced when the fuel is burned. Genoil is now retrofitting a refinery near Salt Lake City, which should be ready in 6 to 10 months.

What do lost dogs, mad cows, and the Mexican police have in common? They may all benefit from radio-frequency ID (RFID) tags made by VeriChip, a subsidiary of Applied Digital Solutions (ADSX) in Palm Beach, Fla. Mexican Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha says he and 160 of his deputies had the rice-grain-size chips implanted under the skin of their arms. Only people with the chips can get past electromagnetic scanners at a new federal anti-crime information center in Mexico City.

Each month, says Applied Digital, such RFID chips help reunite 6,000 lost dogs and cats with their owners. The technology could also be used to keep tabs on all cattle that share feed, so their meat can be tracked if there's a renewed outbreak of mad cow disease. Chipping humans, it seems, is the inevitable next step.

-- Foamed polystyrene plastic is a mainstay material for drinking cups, packaging, and building insulation. But there's growing concern about the environmental impact of the chemical that's commonly used to puff up the foam -- pentane. This volatile organic compound (VOC) gradually escapes from the plastic and into the air, where it contributes to the formation of smog. Now a European project led by Nova Chemicals' researchers in The Netherlands has developed a way to use water instead of pentane. Germany's Teubert Maschinenbau has built a special machine to make VOC-free polystyrene foam that may hit the market within months.

-- Tarantulas are big, intimidating spiders. But under all that hair lurks a unique chemical factory that produces an unusual peptide in their venom. It's the only known biological compound that relieves so-called stretch-sensitive channels. These tissue structures are involved in such muscle-related ills as heart attacks, incontinence, and muscular dystrophy. Sadly, the peptide, dubbed GsMTx4, can't be used in pills because it would get digested by enzymes before entering the bloodstream. But a team at the State University of New York at Buffalo reports in the July 8 issue of Nature that they have created a mirror-image, or right-handed, version of the peptide. It escapes digestion because the enzymes target only the peptide's natural, left-handed form.

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