Gems of scientific progress
[b]National Academy of Sciences ‘generates’ precious stones and ‘magic’ milk [/b]Vladimir Merkulov heads the laboratory of superconductive materials physics at Belarus’ National Academy of Sciences. He takes a small box from his safe and shows us two apparently similar precious stones that are transparent and red in colour, sitting on a velvet pad. He asks us to determine which of them is a fake.
Vladimir Merkulov heads the laboratory of superconductive materials physics at Belarus’ National Academy of Sciences. He takes a small box from his safe and shows us two apparently similar precious stones that are transparent and red in colour, sitting on a velvet pad. He asks us to determine which of them is a fake. Try as we might, we fail to see any difference, even after scrutinising the stones in bright light and with the help of a microscope. Only a highly qualified specialist could do so as the beautiful natural red emerald and its analogue (made by Belarusian scientists) have no visible differences and their physicochemical properties differ very little. Moreover, the artificial stones boast fewer defects.
The invention of synthetic red emeralds could quite easily be called a major contribution to global science… and to the jewellery business. Red emeralds are seldom found in the natural environment. Moreover, their deposits — concentrated only in the USA— are insignificant and scientists assume that they will be depleted sooner than oil. This is why jewellers are now ready to work with artificial stones and, in the near future, Belarusian scientists plan to deliver the first batches of these man-made red emeralds to domestic and foreign companies.
Specialists from the Scientific-Practical Centre keep the technology used in making the stones a secret. They tell us only that beryllium oxide is the basic material. However, success has not come accidentally to the Belarusian scientists. Their research in the field of high-pressure physics and super-conductivity combined with super-hard materials has received global recognition and, as a result of their research, they have developed the technology to make artificial rubies and ‘natural’ emeralds. These have been produced to order from jewellers and toolmakers from all over the world. Belarus’ latest development is another great achievement.
Let’s move from the laboratory to a goat farm. At first sight, there is nothing extraordinary about the animals here; they all have horns and beards! They all give milk, which is known for its ideal dietary properties. Their milk is hypoallergenic, contains many vitamins and nutrients and is digested better than cow’s milk. A question arises: what is the role of science with regards to goat’s milk? The answer: Belarusian scientists recently announced that they have bred ‘wonderful’ goats whose milk can be used to produce drugs that will significantly reduce the number of deaths from heart attacks. Additionally, new medicines will treat babies with dangerous gastro-enteritis as well as cancer sufferers. Another side-benefit will be advances in perfume-making.
Moreover, this milk will be used to make compounds for bottle-feeding (similar to human breast milk). This is all possible due to a gene that has been isolated in the goat which is responsible for the production of lactoferin. This miraculous substance contains small quantities of colostrum, found in mother’s milk. Several drops of colostrum would be enough to protect a baby from hazardous microbes and viruses. Later, a child’s own immune system is activated. However, for obvious reasons, it is impossible to extract this wonderful substance from human milk in large quantities — but genetically modified goats can help. This year, the construction of a farm for 250 milking animals and 500 kids will begin near Zhodino in Belarus. In addition, an experimental processing laboratory will be built where lactoferin will be produced for the further production of medications and food.
This news has recently been announced by Alexander Budevich, the Head of the Laboratory for Reproduction and Genetic Engineering at the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences’ Scientific-Practical Centre for Cattle Breeding, and is likely to become a global sensation. Close scientific collaboration has enabled specialists to obtain this unique natural material artificially. Staff from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Gene Biology have developed its ‘genetic construction’; using this, Belarusian scientists have introduced a human protein into animals. Of almost 300 tests, only a few proved successful, but two goats were born: Lucky 1 and Lucky 2. These were found to have the desired valuable properties and even passed these on to further generations of goats, which, in 2010, grew into a herd numbering several hundred. However, only a number of she-goats were found to have human lacto-ferin in their milk. These record-making animals have up to six grams per litre of this substance (each gram costs around $2,000 on the global market). No doubt, these goats have ‘golden’ horns and hoofs!
However, the First Deputy Director of the Scientific-Practical Cattle Breeding Centre at the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences, Ivan Sheiko, believes that much work lies ahead. The experiment is in its initial stages and it will now be necessary to buy highly productive thoroughbred animals, while exploring technologies for breeding transgenic animals. Work is also needed on extracting lacto-ferin from their milk and on deriving medicine from it. Tests will begin in due course, likely to continue for about five years. However, there is no doubt in the scientific world of the Belarusian scientists’ achievements.
Apart from this, Belarus is among the elite states involved in supercomputer development. Not long ago, scientists from the National Academy of Sciences’ United Institute of Informatics Problems achieved another significant result in this sphere. Their supercomputer — based on 12-nuclei processors and graphic processor-accelerators — has proved to be the most productive configuration among Belarusian computers; moreover, it ranked first in the global rating of the number of points scored during one-day calculations. This is a significant contribution to the
development of technologies which make it possible to conduct super-quick calculations for universities and enterprises (linked into a single computer network). Belarus also plans to master the production of some components for supercomputers.
Information-, communication- and bio-technologies, in addition to the latest physical processes, are recognised in Belarus as the most important avenues for scientific research from 2011 — 2015. This has recently been stressed by the First Deputy of the State Committee for Science and Technologies of Belarus, Vladimir Nedilko.
By Vladimir Bibikov