Research in Brief - 3rd April

Foot and Mouth vaccine developedA new synthetic vaccine has been produced by UK researchers which promises to effectively stop the slaughter of cattle herds infected with foot and mouth disease. The new vaccine formula allows vets to distinguish between infected animals and vaccinated animals.The previous vaccine worked by injecting the deactivated form of the foot and mouth virus into cattle, whose immune system response produced the antibodies necessary to resist contraction of the live virus. This vaccine, although effective, rendered vaccinated cows indistinguishable from infected ones.At the height of the pandemic in 2001, UK and Irish government officials chose not to opt for the old formula vaccine, and instead they sanctioned the slaughter of 6 million animals. This is largely owing to how the previous vaccine could not ensure meat traders that the cattle they bought was free of the disease.The new vaccine is also more easily produced and transported than the older vaccine, bringing it within the reach of poorer countries. Although the vaccine may take up to seven years to pass the strict tests imposed by EU before it becomes available, it will be a definite breakthrough in the fight against the pandemic.Artificially Intelligent Spider Web Recognition System PioneeredOne of the greatest practical difficulties facing biodiversity tracking among small insects like arachnids has been effectively resolved with the invention of a new web-recognising technology.Carlos Travieso in the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain has observed that spider webs are constructed in a species-specific way, this allows biologists to discern between species on the basis of their webs, which are as distinctive as the differences in handwriting biometrics in humans.By compiling a library of images from spider experts in Costa Rica, Travieso’s team programmed a pattern-recognition using principle component analysis (this being the method that allows most visual information to be captured in an image). This system gave them a 99.6% species-recognition accuracy, which is hugely effective compared to former manual efforts in species-counting.This automated counting of spider species can serve as an invaluable tool for biodiversity and environmental researchers, since spiders are present across multiple ecosystems, and their population numbers can hugely influence the different species populations around them. Drug-Resistant TB strains effect DCU studentsAlthough reports of Tuberculosis (TB) cases in Ireland have been in decline since the HSE Protection Surveillance Centre began taking close count in 1998, the recent global scares of a multi-drug resistant TB strain outbreak have extended to Ireland in the last few months. Two non-contagious cases of the disease were reported from the 150 people tested in DCU in the last eight weeks. The cases are reportedly “not a threat” to public health, although they come at a time of international concern in the fight against the spread of Tuberculosis.The recently-diagnosed incidences of multi-drug resistant TB strains (MDR TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB) have been a huge concern for health officials. WHO reports that 4% of new TB cases are the MDR TB strain, and that 20% of previously treated patients now have this form of TB.Among the 84 countries now infected with extensively drug-resistant TB, it is worst in India, southeast Asia and South Africa. Health officials are pressing international government to take immediate action against the new strains.