6 Surprising Natural Uses For Breast Milk

Breastfeeding is an experience that can bring a mother and child closer to one another — and possibly an entire family. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Immunization Survey, 73.9 percent of U.S. infants born in 2006 were breastfed — with 43.4 percent still breastfeeding at six months of age. While the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends mothers to continue breastfeeding for up to two years of age or over to maximize the child’s nutritional value, family members can also soak in the benefits of breast milk. Breast milk benefits extend beyond mother and child, as adults of all ages can find natural uses for human breast milk to improve their overall health.

Recently in China, breast milk is seen as the “drink of the wealthy” among the inhabitants of Shenzhen, Guangdong Province who have reported to be in poor health. In parts of China, there is the belief that human breast milk contains the most nutritional value for people that are ill, reports the Southern Metropolis Daily. The antibodies in breast milk, IgG, IgA, IgM, IgD and IgE, which are secretory IgA molecules, combat diseases without causing inflammation. This is why breastfed babies are often protected from various illnesses such as diarrhea, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal disease and even asthma symptoms. In a study published in the European Respiratory Journal, researchers examined the association between breastfeeding duration in relation to risks of developing asthma-related symptoms in more than 5,000 preschool children. The results of the study showed that children who were breastfed for a short period of time and for six months were less likely to have wheezing symptoms from one to three years of age compared to their counterparts who were more likely to experience a greater reoccurrence of these symptoms.

While human breast milk may not be able to alleviate asthma symptoms in adults, the application and consumption of human breast milk can act as a medicinal aid to treat at-home common ailments for the entire family. So, if you have some extra breast milk laying around in the house, don’t let it go to waste and put it to good, natural use!

Breast Milk As An Ear Treatment

Ear infections most commonly occur from the ages of six to 18 months, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. A natural remedy to treat an ear infection in infants and even adults is to put breast milk in the ear canal because of the antibodies found in milk, says Dr. Joseph Mercola. Three to four drops of breast milk into the baby’s ear will suffice, and the drops should be administered at the entrance of the ear canal, not directly into it.

Breast Milk As An Eye Treatment

Mothers have often used breast milk to treat conjunctivitis — viral, bacterial, and allergic. A probiotic-laden non-acidic liquid can be used to treat viral conjunctivitis, commonly known as pinkeye. Human breast milk has proven to be the most effective liquid to treat babies and children with the eye infection. Two drops of breast milk in addition to a clear eyedropper into the infected eye will get rid of the infection in a jiffy. “Breast milk has been used by mothers (probably for many years) to treat infectious conjunctivitis, but hold off on this idea until you speak with your doctor,” Debbi Donovan, a board certified lactation consultant, told iVillage


Breast milk can also be used as a contact lens solution for cleansing.

Breast Milk As A Sore Throat Soother

The consumption of, or simply gargling with, breast milk can soothe a sore throat. If a newborn has a sore throat, it is highly encouraged to give him or her some breast milk to alleviate the symptoms.

Breast Milk As A Burning, Itching and Stinging Ointment

If you have a cut that is causing burning, itching, or stinging on your body, you can disinfect it using breast milk. A slight drop of human breast milk on the infected area as it simmers on the cut will help heal the wound. Due to the antibodies found in breast milk, specifically IgA, the liquid helps prevent germs from growing on the site of injury.

Breast Milk As A Facial Cleanser

If you have acne, or a skin disorder, breast milk can be a cost-effective solution. According to University of California San Diego scientist, Dissaya Pornpattananangkul, lauric acid can help treat teenage acne, reports the Telegraph. To use breast milk as an acne solution, use clean water all over your face and then apply breast milk all over the infected area and let it air-dry. As a facial cleanser, the breast milk should be applied over the entire face and then wiped away clean with a towel.

Breast Milk As A Cooking Ingredient

Breast milk has been used as a substitute for cow’s milk in coffee and cereal. The nutrients found in human breast milk are not found in regular milk. The human milk’s human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor cells — also known as “Hamlet” — are compounds that have been linked to killing 40 types of cancer cells in tests, says the National Institutes of Health. The Learning Channel’s website has a “Mommy’s Milk Cheese” recipe for those daring souls who want to cook with the nutrient-packed human mil

Supplemental calcium is the wrong approach to age-related bone loss

A popular mantra for dealing with osteoporosis and other forms of age-related bone loss is to take supplemental calcium and get on a bisphosphonate drug like Fosamax. But health expert Dr. Suzanne Humphries, M.D., says this is a majorly flawed approach, and that a combination of bioavailable vitamin C, vitamin K2, vitamin D3, magnesium and healthy forms of calcium is necessary, along with regular load-bearing exercise, for maintaining strong and healthy bones.

A former nephrologist and internal medicine specialist, Dr. Humphries knows what she’s talking about when it comes to bone health. She’s seen her fair share of calcified blood vessels and heart valves that resulted from people taking the recommended doses of supplemental calcium apart from its other necessary cofactors. And many of the drugs that people take for high blood pressure and other health conditions are making the problem worse by robbing people’s bodies of magnesium, potassium and other bone-building nutrients.

The end result of following the conventional approach to bone loss is more pain, suffering, and disease, things that Dr. Humphries says can be avoided through proper diet and supplementation. Building and maintaining healthy bones, in other words, requires a whole lot more than just taking calcium pills, as proper hormone balance, nutrient intake and other key factors all play a role in how the body regulates bone production.

“The matrix of bone will incorporate calcium and nutrients where they belong as long as the proper hormones and nutrients are present,” she wrote in a recent piece on osteoporosis.

Vitamins C, D3 and K2 combined with exercise and intake of boron and silica are the keys to strong bones

What are these other nutrients? As previously mentioned, they include the vitamins K2, C and D3, as well as minerals like boron and silica. Vitamin C in particular, says Dr. Humphries, is absolutely essential for proper bone health. Rather than signaling a calcium deficiency, osteoporosis can more accurately be described as scurvy of the bones, she says, a condition that requires much higher intakes of vitamin C to address.

“[A] more constructive supplementation regimen could include vitamin C, vitamin K2, vitamin D3( in [sic] winter months, sun in summer) and boron, silica and magnesium. These are all far more important to preventing fracture and keeping bone healthy than calcium,” wrote Dr. Humphries on her blog.

“Calcium will ultimately land in the muscles of the heart, the heart valves and the blood vessels, leading to cardiovascular disease. However if you are getting enough [vitamin] C, D3 and K2, your body will direct the calcium you ingest from your food, to where it belongs, not in your heart and blood vessels.”

The ways that vitamin C helps strengthen bones include its abilities to promote bone mineralization and prevent bone degradation. A lack of vitamin C allows osteoclasts, which break down and absorbs bone tissue, to proliferate. At the same time, vitamin D deficiency blocks the formation of osteoblasts, which provide the mineral foundation for new bone growth.

Vitamin C also helps prevent oxidative stress, the single leading cause of aging and a primary trigger of age-related bone loss. Collagen synthesis is reliant upon vitamin C as well, as the body uses this nutrient to prevent the formation of scurvy. If left unchecked, low vitamin C levels in the body can inhibit connective tissue formation and damage blood vessels.

“With the toxic load we all have, even with the most pristine diets, we are requiring more vitamin C internally than our ancestors did,” added Dr. Humphries. “Adults would do well to take 2-5 grams per day of sodium ascorbate as a general supplement.”

Sources for this article include:







Decrease in Mortality in Severe Community-Acquired Pneumococcal Pneumonia.

OBJECTIVE:  The objective of the present study was to compare antibiotic prescribing practices and survival in the ICU for patients with pneumococcal severe community-acquired pneumonia (SCAP) between 2000 and 2013.

METHODS:  This was a matched case-control study of two prospectively recorded cohorts in Europe. Eighty patients from the Community-Acquired Pneumonia en la Unidad de Cuidados Intensivos (CAPUCI) II study (case group) were matched with 80 patients from CAPUCI I (control group) based on the following: shock at admission, need of mechanical ventilation, COPD, immunosuppression, and age.

RESULTS:  Demographic data were comparable in the two groups. Combined antibiotic therapy increased from 66.2% to 87.5% (P < .01), and the percentage of patients receiving the first dose of antibiotic within 3 h increased from 27.5% to 70.0% (P < .01). ICU mortality was significantly lower (OR, 0.82; 95% CI, 0.68-0.98) in cases, both in the whole population and in the subgroups of patients with shock (OR, 0.67; 95% CI, 0.50-0.89) or receiving mechanical ventilation (OR, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.55-0.96). In the multivariate analysis, ICU mortality increased in patients requiring mechanical ventilation (OR, 5.23; 95% CI, 1.60-17.17) and decreased in patients receiving early antibiotic treatment (OR, 0.36; 95% CI, 0.15-0.87) and combined therapy (OR, 0.19; 95% CI, 0.07-0.51).

CONCLUSIONS:  In pneumococcal SCAP, early antibiotic prescription and use of combination therapy increased. Both were associated with improved survival.

Robotics Innovations: Advanced robotic toys you can buy today

We’re still pretty far away from having a personal humanoid robot in our homes. But in the meantime, a few start-ups are building cool new products like Jibo, the family robot – a recently funded Indiegogo project. ET explores some of the innovative new robots that you can buy today.


Jibo may not look like much intially, but this 11-inch tall invention from the mind of social robotics pioneer Dr. Cynthia Breazeal has the potential to change the way you interact with your technology. Jibo has multiple touch sensors, multiple microphones (to gauge direction of sound), two high-res cameras (to recognise faces, capture photos/videos), natural language processing (so that you can talk to it like a person) and built-in artificial intelligence algorithms that help it to learn and adapt to yours and your family’s needs. Paired with your smartphone and tethered to your home WiFi, Jibo can remind you about important tasks, read out your voicemail or even read out stories to children. While Jibo can’t move around, his three separate sections can independently articulate — giving him a sort of ‘body language’. For instance, Jibo will turn to face you when you talk, lean in closer as you talk face-to-face or move in conjunction with the expressive orb on its face to convey an emotion. Jibo has been successfully funded on Indiegogo and you can head over there to reserve one for yourself.


The original humanoid robotic toy, Robosapien has multiple sensors, fully functional arms with grippers (to pick up objects) and fluid motions and gestures (it can run, walk, turn). It comes with a remote control that you can use to activate the 67 pre-programmed actions (dancing, Kung-Fu moves, kick, etc). Probably what makes it more interesting is the fact that Robosapien can react to you – using a combination of microphones and various sensors, it reacts to being picked up, touched or spoken to.

AI Frame

Built around an open-source platform, Ai.Frame is currently live on Kickstarter (it has exceeded its initial modest goal of $5,000). It’s available in different forms, in parts or pre-assembled – the whole robot is powered by servos (tiny motors) and sensors. There are 10 pre-programmed actions that you can control with the iOS/Android app but you can also programme your own motions and actions: over 300 distinct motions are possible.


Crafted by robotic toy maker WowWee, the Tri-Bot is a triwheeled play robot with an animated face. You can either set it to free roam (autonomous) where it explores the territory on its own or play with it using one of the included games. It comes with a tilt-sensing remote controller and can tell you jokes, stories or just entertain you with wild antics (it can rotate in place or run amok in ‘alarm mode’.

Anki Drive

It may look like just a scale car racing game, but Anki Drive is a lot more. The makers call it a robot battle racing game for the real world. You can get the Anki Drive starter kit for $199 which includes two cars, two chargers and a race track. You take control of the cars using your iOS device (iPhone, iPod or iPad) and challenge other players or play against the artificial intelligence of the cars themselves. You can shoot invisible laser beams to ‘disable’ other cars while you race around the track.


What originally started out as a Kickstarter campaign is now a real product that you can buy ($150). The Romo is essentially a robotic, fully mobile dock for the iPhone 5, 5C & 5S. It’s powered and controlled by the iPhone itself – a companion app on the phone can be programmed with various actions. Since the iPhone has WiFi and cameras, you can invite family/friends from anywhere in the world to connect to and control your Romo, while simultaneously transmitting live audio/video.


Created by Lego, Mindstorms is a programmable robotics kit that lets you build robots using tiny motors & articulating parts. The brains of it all is the electronic ‘brick’ or controller. The motors move belts which in turn can be used to move the robot or control its limbs. You can either create your own programs for the NXT or download hundreds of robot plans and software programs for your own use.


Japanese company Softbank will begin selling their robot Pepper to consumers in Japan by February 2015 – designed as an affectionate human companion, Pepper can sing, talk, express, understand and respond to your mood by analysing your voice. Pepper has two cameras (with facial recognition), four microphones, over a dozen touch sensors and built in WiFi. Pepper also has built in cloud AI — which means it can learn from the experiences of other units. The company’s goal is to make a robot that makes people happy.

How sparkling water has up to 11 times more SALT than tap water

Sparkling mineral water is often seen as a healthy alternative to sugary drinks.

But despite its lack of sweeteners, fizzy water can contain up to 11 times more salt than tap water.

Drinking a litre or more of carbonated water every day can contribute significantly to a person’s daily salt intake, which can cause health problems if it is too high.

The amount of salt in sparkling mineral water varies greatly depending on the brand, but the saltier it is, the less it quenches thirst – making people want to drink more of it.

Painful reading: A table showing how fizzy water can contain up to 11 times more salt than tap water

Painful reading: A table showing how fizzy water can contain up to 11 times more salt than tap water

Some of the more luxury brands are the saltiest. French Badoit sparkling water contains 8 per cent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of salt for adults, with 0.45g per litre.

Water from the tap contains just 0.04g per litre, making Badoit more than 11 times saltier.

  • Popular Italian brand San Pellegrino has double the amount of salt found in tap water, with  0.08g per litre, while Buxton sparkling water contains 0.06g per litre – one and a half times the salt in tap water.

Spa Barisart and Highland Spring are two of the least salty on the market, with just 0.01g of salt per litre, a quarter of the amount found in tap water.

Drinking a litre or more of carbonated water every day can contribute significantly to a person's daily salt intake

Drinking a litre or more of carbonated water every day can contribute significantly to a person’s daily salt intake

Too much salt can cause kidney problems, raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease or a stroke.

The RDI for adults is 6g, but at present there is no obligation for soft drinks firms to show on the label how much of this guideline amount their products contain.

All sparkling water labels list their salt content under its chemical name sodium, leaving some consumers unsure of what they are drinking.

San Pellegrino water even lists the figure under the chemical symbol for sodium, ‘Na’, further confusing customers.

To work out the amount of salt in grams from the sodium content on the label, they would have to divide by 1,000 and multiply by 2.5.

Sodium can occur naturally in drinking water or be the result of road salts, water treatment chemicals or softening units.

Sonia Pombo, nutritionist at Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said: ‘Not many people would think to check the label on their bottle of water, and so would not know that it might contribute to their daily salt intake.

‘The higher our salt intake, the greater our risk of high blood pressure – the major cause of heart disease and strokes.’

The British Soft Drinks Association said guidelines coming into force by December stipulate that labels will have to use the word ‘salt’, not ‘sodium’, show salt in grams and give percentage of RDI.

This won’t be the AIDS-free generation

He was just 18 years old when he got the news. It was the summer before his senior year in high school.

“I had a fever of 103,” Bryan Seth Johnson said. “My body was hurting; I wasn’t eating, couldn’t hold down food. I just felt weak all the time.”

He went to the hospital, told them he was having difficulty swallowing and was treated for tonsillitis. But he didn’t have tonsillitis.

Johnson had the human immunodeficiency virus, better known as HIV.

“I was basically in shock, because the guy I got HIV from works in the HIV-prevention field,” Johnson recalled. “He deleted me from Facebook and basically cut all communication out.”

At the time, Johnson was getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases every three months at SMYAL, an organization dedicated to supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and questioning youth in Washington. Johnson says he generally practiced safe sex, but once, when he was under the influence, he had unprotected sex.

Creating an AIDS-free generation

Virus detected in baby ‘cured’ of HIV

Magic Johnson on his battle with HIV

Still, “I was in denial at the time. I thought it might be a false test.”

So he got retested. He remembers the date: September 16. The result was the same.

“The bus ride home was so quiet. Even though there was a whole bunch of noise around me, I blocked everything out.”

At home, he could not tell his mother; her baby brother had died of AIDS complications two years before Johnson was born.

One in a million

At the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, this week, young people from over 50 countries gathered to make sure the issues of their generation were heard.

The numbers are quite startling.

Globally, 5 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are living with HIV. They represent 41% of all new infections. About 2,500 young people become infected every day, according to Advocates for Youth, an organization that works here and in developing countries.

In the United States, 26% of all new HIV infections are among young people ages 13 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most new infections are among young gay and bisexual males.

Yet only one in five high school students who has had sex has been tested for HIV, according to a new CDC report (PDF) on sexual risk behaviors. Although the majority of sexually active teens report using condoms, those numbers are decreasing, said Dr. Stephanie Zaza, director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health.

“Teens are unaware of their risk of HIV and how to protect themselves,” Zaza said. “As parents and health professionals, and as educators, we need to take responsibility to help them learn about HIV.”

I think we’re in a moment now where there is more complacency around HIV.
Adam Tanner, executive director of Metro TeenAIDS

‘We know what works

A staggering 60% of youths with HIV in the United States don’t know that they are infected, which leads us to an even more troubling statistic: In 2011, about 3,000 young people in this country were diagnosed with AIDS, an increase of 29% since 2008.

“That makes me sick to my stomach,” said Adam Tanner, executive director of Metro TeenAIDS in Washington. “I’m horrified. I think we’re in a moment now where there is more complacency around HIV.”

Metro TeenAIDS is a community health organization working with young people to end HIV/AIDS. It’s where Johnson went to be retested, and after his diagnosis, he began volunteering with the group. Tanner says two-thirds of Metro TeenAIDS’ clients who come in for testing have had unprotected sex in the past year.

Two years ago, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 64% of 15- to 24-year-olds in the United States don’t get tested because they think they’re not at risk. More than 40% said they didn’t get tested because their doctors never suggested it.

“We know what works to end the epidemic,” Tanner said. “We have better medications than we’ve ever had before. We need to arm young people with basic education about how HIV is transmitted. … All the data suggest that by fourth grade, we should be starting those conversations about sex.”

Brennan Stewart, 22, was diagnosed with HIV at 16.
Brennan Stewart, 22, was diagnosed with HIV at 16.

The United States is one of 10 countries that make up 61% of HIV cases, says Cornelius Baker, acting director of the HIV/AIDS division at the nonprofit group FHI 360.

“We have the tools to protect our young people through education, quality health care and family and community support,” Baker said. “If we continue to fail them, our hopes of an AIDS-free generation will be lost.”

Safe sex or no sex

Brennan Stewart, 22, understands the importance of educating young people. He was diagnosed with HIV at age 16. Stewart had just had a routine physical and blood work done. His mother delivered the news.

“My first thought was death. I was going to die,” Stewart recalled. “I felt like, oh, my God, I’m just this dirty person. … I’ve contracted something that’s going to mess up my life.”

He’s not sure how he got it. He says he practiced safe sex but not all the time. He never got sick, never had any symptoms of the disease.

A few months after the diagnosis, he started taking medication. Today, he takes one pill a day and has no side effects. He says his viral load is undetectable.

Metro TeenAIDS has kept him on track, making sure he does what he needs to do to stay healthy. He wants other teens to know what he learned the “extremely” hard way.

“If you think it can’t happen to you, it can,” he said emphatically. “You have to get tested, because if you don’t, you can put your life in danger, as well as somebody else’s life.”

Oh, “and wrap it up,” he said. “Either safe sex or no sex.”

MERS may be airborne, scientists say

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, better known as MERS, may be an airborne virus, according to an observation paper published Tuesday in the journal mBio.

There have been 836 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS infection since its first appearance in 2012, according to the latest numbers provided by the World Health Organization. At least 288 related deaths have officially been reported to the WHO.

Scientists are still trying to figure out how the deadly virus is transmitted.

Saudi Arabia reports big jump in MERS cases

Researchers from King Fahd Medical Research Center in Saudi Arabia collected three air samples from a camel barn. Previously, they had found MERS in a camel from that barn and in its infected owner, who later died from the condition. After analyzing the air sample, the scientists found one strain of MERS RNA, the viral genome.

CDC: We were wrong on Illinois MERS case

Gupta: People can have MERS, not know it

How are health officials detecting MERS?

Interestingly, the barn air tested positive for MERS on the exact same day that one of the nine camels in the barn tested positive for MERS. Also, the virus from the air sample was identical to the virus found in nasal samples from the infected camel and its owner.

“These data show evidence for the presence of the airborne MERS in the same barn that was owned by the patient and sheltered the infected camels,” the study authors write.

But does that mean MERS is easily transmitted through the air?

“What they say is that virus particles can be airborne, but it’s premature to conclude that MERS is transmitted through aerosols,” said Dr. Mark Denison, a professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.

The key point is the difference between dead virus particles and a viable virus.

“I could take billions of particles of dead viruses and could still find the RNA. That doesn’t mean that there are infectious aerosols,” Denison said.

Kevin Olival, a senior research scientist at EcoHealth Alliance, agrees on that distinction.

“We know that MERS is found in nasal secretion of camels, so virus particles being spread out in a barn is not a surprise,” he said. “Whether or not you can get infected, and if it’s a cause for concern, is still an open question.”

However, previous studies have suggested that there must be a way MERS is shed into the environment. Several reports in the past have shown MERS infection of those in close contact with infected patients. The exact pathways of infections are unclear.

“Do we still need to consider the possibility of airborne transmission? Yes, of course,” Denison said.

But in order to fully understand whether airborne transmission plays a role in MERS, further research is needed, Denison and Olival conclude.

A novel cholera vaccine developed in India provides more protection

An Indian cholera vaccine now available produces only 53 per cent protection after two doses.

Using a novel approach, scientists in India have developed a live oral cholera vaccine that is not only more efficacious and hence more protective than the currently available ones but also able to elicit better protection with just one dose. The results of the human clinical trial of the vaccine have been published in July this year in the journal PLoS ONE.

“We were able to achieve 65.9 per cent sero-conversion using only one dose of the vaccine,” said Amit Ghosh who is currently an Emeritus Scientist at the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) in Kolkata. An Indian cholera vaccine now available produces only 53 per cent protection after two doses.

The difference between the existing three vaccines and the candidate vaccine — VA1.4 — being tested goes beyond the level of protection achieved. The most important one from the public health perspective is that the higher protection was achieved using only one dose of the vaccine.

‘Shanchol’, marketed by Hyderabad-based Shantha Biotechnics requires two doses to achieve 53 per cent protection, with the second dose given 14 days after the first. The other two vaccines too need to be given in two doses.

But the biggest public health challenge when a vaccine is given as two doses is to make sure that people come back for the second dose. In reality, there could be a significant number of people not turning up for the second dose; this greatly impacts the achievement of the primary objective of preventive vaccination, especially during cholera outbreaks.

“It is difficult to say” whether it was the use of a live cholera strain (unlike the killed ones used in the other three cholera vaccines) in the vaccine that produced better protection Dr. Ghosh noted. “It’s a speculation that if some antigen that may induceprotective immunity is made by the Vibrio bug only when it is in the intestine, then this protective antigen is absent in the killed bug [used in other vaccines],” he explained.

But the biggest differentiating factor is that unlike the other three vaccines, the strain used in the VA1.4 vaccine does not have the gene that produces the cholera toxin.

“It does happen in nature that due to various reasons one bug may not have the gene responsible for producing cholera toxin,” he said. “NICED [National Institute of Cholera & Enteric Diseases, Kolkatta] screened 1,000s of cholera strains. They identified one and sent it to me at IMTECH [Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh] in mid 1990s to genetically engineer the bug.”

While the general trend at that time was to take a live virulent cholera strain and remove the cholera toxin gene thereby preventing the strain from causing cholera (when the vaccine containing the live bacteria is given), the vaccine still causedsome adverse effects.

“When they remove the toxin gene, other secondary virulent factors present in the cholera bacteria whose adverse effects are normally masked by the presence of the cholera toxin gene emerge,” Dr. Ghosh explained. “These [secondary virulent factors] cause diarrhoea.”

“So we wanted to take a Vibrio bug which is completely devoid of all virulent factors and then manipulate it so the bug has only the immunogenic subunit of the cholera toxin,” he said. The live oral vaccine VA 1.4 was developed by isolating a ‘Vibrio cholerae O1 El Tor’ strain.

The cholera toxin gene is a combination of two different subunits. Subunit A of the toxin gene is the one that causes cholera disease, while subunit B is the immunogenic subunit that is necessary for the virus to produce antigen. The human immune system produces antibodies in response to the antigen produced by a bacteria/virus; antibodies so produced are responsible for killing the bacteria. “We genetically engineered the strain to produce the subunit B,” he said.

“We were probably lucky the approach worked,” he said. “We got a U.S. patent in 10 months of filing it.”

A human clinical trial conducted last year had 44 subjects on whom the vaccine was tested; 43 got a placebo. Two doses were given — the second dose was given 14 days after the first one. The sero-conversion was about 66 per cent on day seven after the first dose was given, and it did not increase further after the second dose was administered. The trial was done in collaboration with the Society for Applied Sciences, Kolkatta.

“The trial was beyond Phase I,” Dr. Ghosh said, “because it looked at sero-conversion [efficacy] and not just safety.” The main objective of Phase I trials is to check for the safety of a candidate drug/vaccine. A larger trial involving more human subjects is being planned.

The vaccine was developed by a collaborative effort of three institutes in India — IMTECH, NICED the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB), Kolkata. DBT funded the project.


Biodiversity loss pushing earth towards sixth mass extinction

Being driven primarily by climate disruption, say scientists

The danger is lurking near us. Scientists now warn that the persistent loss and decline of biodiversity is leading humanity to early days of the planet’s sixth mass biological extinction event.

Since 1500, more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates have become extinct. Populations of the remaining species show a 25 per cent average decline in abundance.

The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life.

“While previous extinctions have been driven by natural planetary transformations or catastrophic asteroid strikes, the current die-off can be associated with human activity, leading to an era of ‘Anthropocene defaunation’,” said lead researcher Rodolfo Dirzo, a Professor of Biology at Stanford University.

Across vertebrates, 16-33 per cent of all species are estimated to be globally threatened or endangered.

 Large animals — described as megafauna and including elephants, rhinoceroses, polar bears and countless other species worldwide —

 the highest rate of decline, a trend that matches previous extinction events, the study noted.


Consequently, the number of rodents doubles — and so does the abundance of the disease-causing ectoparasites that they harbour.

“Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission,” Professor Dirzo added.

The scientists also detailed a troubling trend in invertebrate defaunation. Human population has doubled in the past 35 years; in the same period, the number of invertebrate animals — such as beetles, butterflies, spiders and worms — has decreased by 45 per cent.

As with larger animals, the loss is driven primarily by loss of habitat and global climate disruption, and could have trickle-up effects in our everyday lives.

“Immediately reducing rates of habitat change and overexploitation would help but these approaches need to be tailored to individual regions and situations,” Professor Dirzo suggested.

According to him, “We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth but there is a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well.” The review was published in Science.

Africa ‘needs green revolution’

Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural sector needs to harvest the fruits of biotechnology in order to establish sustainable development, says a report.

A key challenge is to attract funding for biotechnology projects on staple crops, such as cassava, it added.

Farmer digs a whole in a cassava field (Getty Images)

These crops were often ignored by commercial funders because they had a limited market, the authors suggested.

Africa missed out on the previous green revolution that boosted food output in many Asian and Latin American nations.

The report, On Trial: GM Crops in Africa, published by think tank Chatham House, said: “Increasing agricultural productivity and adapting farming to climate change are central to Africa’s development prospects.”

It added that there were opportunities to boost yields and increase resilience by improving existing crop varieties, and that “in some cases, biotechnology, and in particular genetic modification (GM), offers advantages over conventional plant-breeding approaches”, such as drought, pest and disease resistance.

However, the continent was in danger of missing out on capitalising on innovations offered by the 21st Century green revolution, just as it had done in the previous century.

“If you look at what happened in Latin America and Asia in the second half of the 20th Century with the Green Revolution, there was a range of technologies, new high-yielding hybrid varieties of wheat, rice and maize, new irrigation platforms, etc,” explained co-author Rob Bailey, research director for energy, environment and resources at Chatham House.

‘Growth spurt’

He added that this acted as a “growth spurt for development” because it delivered a big increase in yields and agricultural productivity allowing food prices to fall, increased food security and a diversification in economic activity in other sectors.

Vegetable stall, India (Image: BBC)
Crops that do not have a global market do not attract the same level of private sector R&D investment

“Now, we are in a situation where Africa needs this growth spark in its agricultural sector, because it is primarily where most of the poorest people are, and it makes up a significant share of African GDP,” Mr Bailey said.

“But they are also in a race against time because climate change is gathering pace because the forecasts suggests that this is going to have a very profound impact on farm productivity.”

He explained that the need to increase resilience to forecasts of a changing climate was likely to increase the importance and need for innovation and R&D offered by biotechnology projects.

“The key challenge that African agriculture faces is that a lot of food security and livelihoods are dependent on these so-called orphan crops, such as cassava and sorghum, which do not have large commercial markets in the way that maize or wheat do. Therefore they are not attractive to large private sector researchers,” he told BBC News.

“So the first thing that Africa has to do is attract and mobilise public sector money to fund research into these sorts of technologies.”

Mr Bailey explained that biotechnology offered a range of advantages over traditional breeding methods: “A lot of the staple crops that are grown in Africa have quite narrow gene pools. There are not huge seed banks, with lots of different varieties of cassava or sorghum, that can be tapped into. It is not like maize or wheat.

“Biotechnology can be useful there because it provides plant-breeders with the opportunity to introduce genes or traits from outside of the species’ genomes.

“If you can identify a trait for pest resistance in another species and cannot find a trait like that within the cassava genome, then a conventional plant breeder is a bit [stuck].

“If you are using transgenics then you have the opportunity to bring that trait in from another species.”

Growing support

But he added that this was easier said than done because many sub-Saharan governments had limited resources and scientific capacity, and there was a danger of simply adopting models developed for Western food crops.

Mr Bailey said: “The problem with these sorts of models is that they do not properly engage the farmers.

“They have to be careful to make sure they are working with farmers from the outset so then they can understand what are the farmers’ needs, how they can be addressed and included in the technological process so they are more likely to use and adopt it when it is ready.

“A key message from the report is that you need to start with the farmers, understand their context and their market environments. This is the platform you use to judge whether or not you can develop a technology-based solution.

“If you come in and try to parachute something in from elsewhere because it has worked in Europe or North America then the risk of that technology failing or not being used are much higher.”

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