Quick trick
Candida fungus shares a love-hate relationship with humans. It forms an integral part of the gut and skin flora, but the friendly fungus can turn foe if it overgrows or appears in other parts of the body – and then it can cause health problems, like fatigue, headache, weight gain, oral and genital candidiasis and, worst of all, a blood infection called candidemia. This infection has a 40 per cent mortality rate, mainly attributed to the long time required for a diagnostic test. But the situation might change with a new test that can detect the fungus in less than three hours.
   Known as T2 Candida, the test uses magnetic resonance to detect the presence of Candida&’s DNA in a blood sample. Developed by researchers from T2 Biosystems, a firm involved in the production of diagnostic test kits, this test is the first single-step blood assay for detection of the fungus. The findings were published in Science Translational Medicine on 24 April.
   The researchers say the test is far more sensitive, precise and accurate than the standard Candida test that employs blood culture and takes two to five days to produce a result.
For their study, the scientists collected blood samples from 24 patients and developed blood compatible nanoparticles. Magnetic resonance technology was then used to detect Candida DNA from the blood-nanoparticle mixture. The scientists were able to correctly identify eight candidemic patients out of the 24 samples, without any false-positive readouts.
   “The technology is no doubt exciting but it is too early to say whether this could be useful for quick diagnosis of blood infection in all cases,” says Thangam Menon, head of the microbiology department at the University of Madras. “Candida is one of the easiest fungi to grow in the lab and presents little diagnostic challenge.”
   India has a fair number of candidemia cases and the disease also ails people in developed countries like the USA. The Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh carried out a six-month surveillance study from April-September 2011 to determine Candida distribution in hospitals. Incidence of Candidemia in intensive care units was found to be seven per 1,000 ICU admissions. The scientists also found a connection between Candidemia and gastrointestinal surgery. “In contrast to other studies, mortality rate was higher (greater than 50 per cent) in patients with Candidemia caused by two Candida species: C guilliermondii and C parapsilosis,” the study states.
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Nuts & bolts
Cockatoos can crack tough puzzles and even unpick locks to reach a reward, scientists have found. Researchers presented 10 birds with a box containing a cashew nut, which they could reach by removing five different interlocking devices. One of the not-so-bird-brained cockatoos solved the complex mechanical puzzle within two hours to get at the goodies.
   The research, carried out by scientists from the University of Oxford, the University of Vienna and the Max Planck Institute in Germany, also found that other birds mastered the task after observing their peers. To reach the nut, the Goffin&’s cockatoos had to remove a pin, followed by a screw and then a bolt, and then turn a wheel and move a latch sideways.
   In most cases, the results showed once a bird had mastered how to remove a lock it could do it again without error.
the independent