How Cellphones Track Malaria in Kenya; Black Glass from Mars

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Discovered: There's an app for keeping tabs on the spread of malaria; strange extracts from a Martian meteorite; tomatoes reduce stroke risk; stem cells fight deadly brain condition.

Cellphones track the spread of malaria in Kenya. No one wants to hear that they're being tracked through their cellphones. We ask, "Who's trying to sell me something? What government agency is putting me under surveillance?" But researchers in Kenya are tracking cellphones for a completely different purpose: to better understand the spread of malaria. Cellphones are useful for tracking movement, and Carnegie Mellon researchers lead by Amy Wesolowski are using data on almost 15 million Kenyans with cellphones to locate vectors of the disease. Often infected people don't realize they have malaria until after they've traveled far and wide, spreading it to insects and other humans along the way. Tracking cellphones can reveal hotspots and pinpoint who exactly might be spreading it. Tom Scott, a researcher with the Mosquito Research Laboratory at UC Davis, comments that the new effort gives, "previously unattainable insights into long distance movement of malaria parasites." [New Scientist]

Meteorite carries Martian black glass to Earth. Meteorites bring lots of cool things to Earth. Water might have come to our planet via meteorite, and everyone knows Superman landed here in a glorious shower of meteors. Scientists have just discovered another cool thing brought to us on the wings of a meteor—black glass from Mars. Intrepid researchers trekked out to the Moroccan desert to gather fragments from a meteor shower last year. Studying one of the meteorites, named Tissint after the town where it was discovered, reveals that it originated from Mars long ago. The black glass found in its veins peg the rock to be at least 700,000 years old. Only one other meteorite connected to Mars has had shards of black glass. [ScienceNow]

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Tomatoes lower risk of stroke. Ah, tomatoes. You help stave off cancer and promote heart health, and you're delicious on top of it all. We didn't think we could love you any more, but now we learn that you're also helping us avoid having a stroke. Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland used blood tests to determine that higher levels of lycopene (the compound that lends tomatos their red color) correspond with a lowered risk of stroke. "There hasn’t been a heck of a lot of lycopene/tomato research in stroke," says University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign nutritionist John Erdman, commenting on the findings. "It’s encouraging that they’ve got these results." Men who ate tomatos were half as likely to have a stroke as their tomato-abstaining peers, claims a new study in Neurology. You're the best, tomatoes. [ScienceNews]

Stem cells help fight fatal brain condition. Pelizaeus-Merzbacher is a rare brain condition that kills sufferers by preventing the production of myelin, the crucial insulating protein that protects nerve fibers and helps safely relay neurological signals. Without myelin, patients lose the ability to walk, communicate, and ultimately breathe. New stem cell research has just taken a step in making death from the disorder a thing of the past. Scientists were able to save four young boys suffering from the disease by surgically transplanting numan neural stem cells in their brains. "This is very exciting," says National Institutes of Health neuroscientist Douglas Fields, who was involved with the research. "From these early studies one sees the promise of cell transplant therapy in overcoming disease and relieving suffering." [WIRED

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.