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Science news digest – 1st May 2014

In the science news this week, skin grown in the lab could replace animal testing, the tsetse fly’s DNA is decoded, and finally… lab rats are stressed out by male researchers.

Human skin grown in lab could replace animal testing

Skin grown in the laboratory could be used to replace animal testing for certain medicines and cosmetics, reported the BBC.

A team from King’s College London has grown a layer of human skin from stem cells, and although skin has been grown from stem cells before, this is the first time that scientists have been able to create a permeable barrier in the layer as well, making it more similar to real skin.

The team believe this technique offers a cost effective alternative to testing drugs and cosmetics on animals.

Lead researcher Dr Dusko Ilic, of King's College London, said: "This is a new and suitable model that can be used for testing new drugs and cosmetics and can replace animal models.

"It is cheap, it is easy to scale up and it is reproducible."

The outermost layer of skin is known as the epidermis, and acts as a protective barrier. Scientists have previously been able to grow epidermis in the lab from human skin cells, but this latest research is the first time the epidermis has been grown from reprogrammed stem cells.


Genetic code of the tsetse fly is cracked

Scientists have deciphered the genetic code of the tsetse fly raising hopes that one of the most devastating diseases in Africa could be eradicated in the future, reported the Guardian.

The tsetse fly is responsible for spreading the single cell parasites that cause trypanosomiasis – an often lethal disease that affects 3 million animals in sub-Saharan Africa every year, and is a huge problem for improving food security.

"Decoding the tsetse fly's DNA is a major scientific breakthrough. It paves the way for more effective control of trypanosomiasis, which will be good news for millions of herders and farmers in sub-Saharan Africa," said Kostas Bourtzis, from a joint body of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which sequenced the genome in a 10-year multimillion-dollar effort.

The tsetse fly is only found in Africa but the disease it carries has an impact on millions of peoples’ lives across 36 countries. There is no vaccine for the disease because the parasite is able to evade mammals’ immune systems.

"Many of the affected populations live in remote areas with limited access to adequate health services, which complicates the surveillance and therefore the diagnosis and treatment of cases," said John Reeder, who leads the World Health Organisation's (WHO) programme for research into tropical diseases.

"Detection and treatment of trypanosomiasis is expensive, difficult and dangerous for the livestock, as it often involves toxic drugs," Reeder said.

"But this new knowledge will accelerate research on tsetse control methods and help scientists develop new and complementary strategies to reduce the use of costly drugs and insecticides."


And finally…

Lab rats are stressed out by male researchers

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada have found that lab rats and mice become more stressed when handled by male researchers than by female researchers, reported New Scientist.

The mice showed a reduced sensitivity to pain – a common side effect of stress – and stayed close to the walls in their enclosures.

Jeffrey Mogil, a neuroscientist from McGill University, believes the mice are reacting to the odours given off by male humans, which are similar to the scent given by a strange male of their own species, as it is the same mammalian scent molecules.

Mogil believes these experimenter effects could be one reason why researchers struggle to replicate biomedical studies.

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