Can tomatoes be taught to make antiviral drugs for people who eat them?
Would zapping your skin with a laser make your vaccination work better?
Could malaria-carrying mosquitoes be given a teensy head cold that would prevent them from sniffing out a human snack bar?
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $100,000 grants to 81 projects considered highly innovative and unconventional in global health research.
For example, Eric Lam at the Rutgers University in New Jersey, who has been exploring tomatoes as an antiviral drug delivery system during the last eight years, will get the financial support he needed to test tomatoes with antiviral genetic material added to their genes on animals and then judge whether the idea is worth testing on humans.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic to get immunity to an illness, say influenza, HIV or hepatitis-C by having some of these tomatoes on our plate rather than having traditional high cost and painful vaccination? Obviously, the taste and look of the tomatoes would have to remain the same, as the change would be restricted to the molecular level, not affecting other vegetable traits.
Also, and as Lam himself pointed out, the genetically modified tomato seeds could be shipped easily around the world. "If it works, it would be a big breakthrough for the developing world," he said.
Another grant was awarded to a medical doctor in rural Mozambique who wanted to use the local architecture to test the ability of the village huts to trap mosquitoes in the home's roof structure, turning houses into mosquito traps!
Further, researchers at the University of Exeter in Devon, UK, will seek to build an inexpensive instrument to diagnose malaria by using magnets to detect the waste products of the malaria parasite in human blood.
Mei Wu at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School will be getting a grant to see if shooting a laser at a person's skin before administering a vaccine can enhance immune response.
And Thomas Baker at Pennsylvania State University wants to see if malaria-carrying mosquitoes can be infected with a fungus that would act like a cold, suppressing the sense of smell that they use to find people as sources of blood.
In conclusion, if you know of someone who has a brilliant idea even if it is very unconventional, you might want to inform him/her that he/she might be eligible for a Gates grant. The creative genius would only have to fill in a two-page application form (…less than you wrote when you registered to Facebook!).