Discovered: Fake weed gave lots of people kidney damage last year; the FDA approves artificial sight for the blind; engineering tires from flowers; flushed anti-anxiety meds are making fish jittery.
Synthetic pot might be causing kidney damage. Formerly legal products seeking to mimic the effects of marijuana sent 16 people to the emergency room with serious kidney damage last year, according to a new report from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers. Synthetic herbal concoctions like K2 and Spice, commonly sold in head shops, also may be causing heart problems and seizures. They've been outlawed since July 2012, and evidence about their negative health effects has been trickling out for awhile now. Scientists aren't sure what caused all the affected young men between 15 and 33 to suffer kidney damage, though a compound called XLR-11 might be to blame. [Scientific American]
FDA approves bionic sight for the blind. Cutting-edge developments in providing artificial sight to blind individuals can now go to market, according to Food and Drug Administration approval lodged today. "Artificial retina" technology, which allows people with certain types of blindness to perceive basic shapes in lines in their field of hi-tech glasses-enhanced vision, can now be used to treat patients. "This is just the beginning," Grace Shen of the National Eye Institute told The New York Times' Pam Belluck about the approval of the Argus II system. "We have a lot of exciting things sitting in the wings, multiple approaches being developed now to address this." [The New York Times]
Can dandelions replace rubber in tires? The roots of a common flower might make a good substitute for conventional rubber materials, according to research being done at Dutch biotech firm KeyGene. The latex contained in dandelion roots is being studied as a potential successor to natural rubber, supplies of which are expected to fall short of demand by 2050. Tire manufacturers like Apollo Vredestein are already looking at the possibility of using dandelions in their products. But in order to scale up the tiny dandelion plant to meet global rubber demands, KeyGene CEO Arjen Van Tunen says the company's researchers are working to genetically modify a more efficient flower. "We are making ... crosses between the Russian dandelion and the common dandelion using those modern DNA profiling technologies," he tells CNN reporters. "We're making and developing a better rubber dandelion, which produces more rubber because of an increased size." [CNN.com]
Anti-anxiety pills are trickling down to fish, and making them act very strange. Researchers in Sweden have noticed rainbow trout acting very strange lately. They're becoming less sociable, getting more impulsive about exploring unknown areas, and gobbling down their food faster. What could account for this skittishness? Apparently their anxious behavior is the direct result of humans trying to tamp down their own anxieties with benzodiazepines. Residue from anti-anxiety medications is finding its way into Swedish waters and messing with fish behavior, finds Umeå University researchers led by Tomas Brodin. But there's no need for humans to stop taking prescription drugs in order to keep fish sane, the researchers argue. Rather, "The solution to this problem [is] to try to develop sewage treatment plants that can capture environmentally hazardous drugs," says study co-author Jerker Fick. [Smithsonian]