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POSITIVE NEWS - What went right this week: malaria progress, hydrogen trains, and more

Posted 9th September 2022 • Written by •

A malaria vaccine was declared ‘the best yet’

A vaccine developed by the University of Oxford provides the most effective protection against malaria yet, a study has shown. 

Scientists have been trying to develop a malaria vaccine for a century, and last year the first one was approved for use by the World Health Organization. 

However, a trial suggests that Oxford’s R21 vaccine offers greater protection (up to 80 per cent) than the existing RTS,S vaccine – and will be cheaper to deliver. Millions of doses could be rolled out as soon as next year. 

The need is urgent. Almost half a million children died from malaria in 2020. Gareth Jenkins, of the charity Malaria No More, said that infant malaria deaths could end “in our lifetimes” thanks to the vaccines. 

Experts shone a light on unexplained infertility

Scientists have discovered a new protein, which appears to help sperm fuse to an egg. Named Maia, after the Greek goddess of motherhood, the protein could be crucial in helping doctors understand some aspects of infertility. 

Currently, infertility is unexplained in more than half of people who are unable to conceive naturally.

In the first study of its kind, an international team of researchers led by the University of Sheffield created artificial eggs using thousands of beads. Each of these beads had a different protein on its surface. Sperm bound to beads coated with Maia. 

The gene corresponding to Maia was then inserted into human culture cells, which became receptive to sperm in the same way. Prof Harry Moore, lead investigator of the study, predicted the development would “pave the way for novel ways to treat infertility”. 

The world’s first hydrogen train departed

The race to get smut-belching diesel locomotives off the rails stepped up a gear this week with the launch of the world’s first 100 per cent hydrogen-powered trains. 

The locomotives have been put to work on a line near the German city of Hamburg, where they whirr along emitting only water. 

Around half of Europe’s railway network is electrified, but some lines are too difficult to install overhead cables on, leaving diesel locomotives as the only option. Until now. 

However, while hydrogen-powered trains produce no direct carbon emissions, the fuel is only ever as green as the energy used to create it. 

California had a bright idea to tackle drought

Amid a punishing heatwave, California is pressing ahead with plans to install solar canopies above irrigation canals – a move that could help the Golden State tackle drought and meet green energy commitments.

Project Nexus will see an 8,500ft section of a canal in central California capped with solar panels. Work is set to begin on the $20m (£17.4m) state-funded pilot in early 2023. 

It follows a study by the University of California, which estimated that covering all 4,000 miles of the state’s canals with PV panels could save 63bn gallons of water from evaporating annually. 

The university’s Prof Roger Bales said: “[Project Nexus] helps address California’s underlying vulnerabilities, while meeting both state and federal level commitments to produce renewable energy, preserve natural lands, lower greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.”

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