Despite the ethical and political differences they incite, stem cells are still a miraculous medicine, potentially able to change into whatever a sick body needs them to be. If we could get around the controversies behind them, theoretically, the problems would be gone.
By Spencer Woodman
Posted 06.21.2012 at 3:35 pm 0 Comments
One of the most vexing problems that confronted surgeons after they completed the first successful human organ transplant, in 1954, was: Where would they get more organs? Medical researchers have since figured out how to transplant hearts, eyes and even entire faces. But half a century later, they still struggle to keep up with the demand for parts. For example, in the U.S., every year 1,400 people die awaiting livers and 4,500 more awaiting kidneys.
Like a coin machine sorting change according to size, a new lab-on-a-chip can sift cells according to their weight and other properties. Doctors could use it to tease out biological matter from the bloodstream and detect cancer or potentially other ailments.
DNA is the blueprint for life, and now it can serve as a computer to monitor life’s processes. Bioengineers transformed DNA into a one-bit memory system that can record, store and erase data within living cells. A future DNA memory device could be used to track cell division and differentiation in cancer patients, perhaps, or to monitor what happens as cells get sick or age.
A tiny microorganism found in Norwegian lake sludge may be related to the very oldest life forms on this planet, a possible modern cousin of our earliest common ancestor. It is not a fungus, alga, parasite, plant or animal, yet it has features associated with other kingdoms of life. It could be a founding member of the newest kingdom on the tree of life, scientists said.
A clump of bone marrow cells are the fastest cells in the world, moving at a glacial pace of 5.2 microns per minute across a petri dish. They beat a line of breast cells by a hair’s breadth — OK, well less than that, because the entire race track was about a hair’s breadth long.
The ability to make cells do our bidding would be a major advance in everything from drug production to biofuels, but it’s difficult to hack into nature and make cells obey. A team of Swiss researchers have one way to do it: Create cyborg cells connected to, and controlled by, a computer.
The tedious, carpal-tunnel-inducing pipette work of cell biologists may soon be relegated to robots, thanks to a new cell factory developed in Germany. This could free humans to perform new studies and ask new questions, as automated equipment takes over the time-consuming task of growing, feeding and observing cells in the lab.
Human-machine interfaces are constantly improving, but our inability to fully integrate electronics into our bodies stems in part from the very nature of that word — electronics. For the most part, machines relay information using electrons, but living systems use protons and ions. Now a new proton-based transistor built partly from crab shells could open the gates to a new method of communication between machines and biological systems.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.