Wetenschap - 28 maart 1996

English Summary

English Summary

  • England is struggling with the Mad Cow Disease. Is it possible that the Scrapie disease in sheep is transmitted to cows through feed and ultimately to the human brain by eating infected meat? Scientists are in the process of discovering the main agents: prions: Once dismissed as an impossibility, now gaining wide recognition as extraordinary agents that cause a number of infectious, genetic and spontaneous disorders, according to the American biochemist Stanley B. Prusiner. There is still a lot which is not known about the prions, state WAU molecular scientists, but Prusiner deserves the highest scientific decoration for his work.

  • A promising new field of industrial research is the improvement of chemical reactions through the use of bacteria and other micro-organisms. One example is the development in the production of the colouring agent for jeans, indigo. For centuries indigo was extracted from the plants Isatis tinctoria and Indigofera tinctoria, but at the beginning of the 20th century chemists managed to synthesize the colour agent. In the 1980's US scientists discovered a way of manipulating bacteria whereby glucose can be transformed into indigo. By the time bacteria production has been further refined and the environmental restrictions on chemical production become stricter, companies will increasingly adopt this form of production, scientists concluded at the Sixth Dutch Biotechnology Congress. Plant breeders are also busy in this field. They have crossed commercial cotton plants with coloured varieties occurring in the wild, to produce green and red cotton. Through this type of researc
    h, agriculture will regain its share on the pigment market. One of the places where this process of bio-catalysis is being studied is the Vlag graduate school at WAU.

  • The new visiting professor in groundwater quality at WAU, Dr A. Leijnse, warns the Dutch Department of the Environment that scientists are not able to produce models which will predict large scale pollution in detail. Ministerial officials want to standardise the models in which the results of research are stored, but Leijnse is keen on improving the models through research. Their aim of producing consensus model creates a false sense of security. Policy makers need to learn how to cope with different answers, as this is the way to improve our understanding of the complex reality."

  • The various Departments of Economics at WAU have produced a plan for a new study programme, which has been rejected by the Education Committee. The programme does not offer the students enough course choice, and the departments would give students less credit points for their thesis. Professor Speelman, chair of the Education Committee, suggests that the programme plan is the result of departmental interests instead of educational considerations. As a result, law, economic history and technical courses from other departments would no longer be on offer in the economics programme. The programme reflects a kingdom with many kings and a decreasing number of subjects," according to Professor Speelman, chair of the Education Committee.

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