To conduct experiments, researchers can change a variable in an organism and watch the results unfold. But life is messy, and it's difficult to understand the underlying processes that explain the data. Digitizing the process could help, and now we're starting small: researchers have successfully made a computer model of Mycoplasma genitalium, the world's tiniest free-living bacterium.
Extolling the many virtues of spider silk is something of a trend these days, as the fine yet remarkably hardy material continues to best even the strongest synthetic materials (a good spider silk weave is supposedly four times stronger than Kevlar).
Tiny organisms such as algae offer great promise for a clean energy future by creating biofuels or even hydrogen, if only scientists can figure out how to use them in a cost-efficient way. A startup named Joule Unlimited has hit upon a possible solution, with a genetically tailored organism that sweats out its fuel and lives on to continue making more, New York Times reports. The company broke ground recently on a Texas pilot plant that will house the single-cell plant organisms in flat structures resembling solar panels facing the sun.
A new generation of scientists hope to become genome hackers who redesign organisms to become living tools, capable of creating diesel fuel or producing anti-malarial drugs. That synthetic biology revolution has led to a can-do spirit of innovation that has fueled MIT's International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, known as iGEM for short. The New York Times has traced the route to iGEM by following a community-college team from the City College of San Francisco, as the group tries to build a bacteria-based battery powered entirely by the sun for iGEM. It's a great overview of one of the more exciting scientific fields today.
It's been a long time since a Pentagon project from the DARPA labs truly evoked a "WTF DARPA?!" response, but our collective jaw dropped when we saw the details on a project known as BioDesign. DARPA hopes to dispense with evolutionary randomness and assemble biological creatures, genetically programmed to live indefinitely and presumably do whatever their human masters want. And, Wired's Danger Room reports, when there's the inevitable problem of said creatures going haywire or realizing that they're intelligent and have feelings, there's a planned self-destruct genetic code that could be triggered.
Poor Dr. Frankenstein had to steal corpses for his mad experiments, but modern-day bioengineers need not resort to such dubious methods for raw materials. The new Biofab laboratory plans to churn out thousands of free standard DNA parts that academic and private biotech labs can use to create new designer microbes that can make everything from new drugs to fuel.
Tiny surface electrodes could help paralyzed people move
By Carina StorrsPosted 11.04.2009 at 10:17 am 3 Comments
Bundles of microelectrode wires fan out over a small area of a human brain. These electrodes were placed by neurosurgeons at the University of Utah to see if they could detect precise brain activity associated with motor movements. To their surprise, the hair's-width microelectrodes, originally designed to study epilepsy, picked up the firings of small groups of neurons despite being merely set on the surface of the brain.
Implantable electronics like pacemakers are old hat, but these kinds of implants are limited by the fact that they must be encased to protect them from the body, and vice versa. But in the quest to make our bodies ever more bionic, researchers have now developed implantable silicon-silk electronics that almost dissolve completely inside the body, leaving behind nanocircuitry that could be used for improved electrical interfaces for nervous system tissues or photonic tattoos that display blood-sugar readouts on the skin’s surface.
They say only time heals a broken heart, but Duke University researchers think they can do better. Using embryonic stem cells from mice and their own novel molding technique, a team of researchers at Duke has developed a three-dimensional heart cell "patch" that conducts electrical impulses and contracts, two all important characteristics of heart tissue.