Sporomex wins Grand Tour competition20th March 2012 | by Stephen Lewis, York Press
ANY guesses what these gloriously colourful objects are?
No, they are not abstract works of art, or even photographs of a distant galaxy.
They are pollen grains, magnified hundreds of times under a laser microscope. The border around the outside is the tough shell; the substance inside an artificial “filling” inserted by York-based research and development firm Sporomex.
These beautiful images – and others like them – have earned Sporomex first place in our competition to find new entries for this year’s York Science and Innovation Grand Tour.
The company’s work will feature among 70 spectacular images – all illustrating pioneering research and innovation that has taken place in York – which will go on show across the city centre from June to August.
Sporomex is looking at how to use pollen grains as a better way of administering medicines, food supplements and even cosmetics.
It has found a way of removing the genetic plant material inside a pollen grain, and replacing it with a medicine or nutritional supplement, such as fish oil.
The result is a powder made up of countless tiny pollen grains, each containing a minute amount of the medicine.
This could in theory be spread on food, turned into a tablet or even inhaled, says Sporomex managing director Dr Stephen Beckett.
There are a number of benefits. The tough pollen shells are a great way of protecting medicines and food additives so that they keep longer, Dr Beckett said. Medicines could be delivered more efficiently. “If you take fish oil as a powder, it is ten times more effective.”
And using pollen grains would also allow medicines to be targeted better.
Pollen grains from different types of plants are of a different size: so by using smaller grains it may be possible for medicines to be inhaled directly into the lungs.
Researchers can also add a protective layer within the pollen shell, to protect the medicine against stomach acids.
Hay fever sufferers need have no fear: it is the material inside pollen that sufferers are allergic to, and that is removed before the medicine is inserted.
“Sporomex’s electron microscope picture of a pollen spore is a wonderful image that tells a real story of scientific innovation,” said Prof Tony Robards of the Innovation Centre at York Science Park, whose idea this year’s grand tour was.
“We will be delighted to include it in the tour.”