Genetically modified high school grads, stem cell treatment for diabetes, and deciphering memory engrams.

A couple of years ago I did an article on the disclosure that mitochondrial genetic modifications were carried out on thirty embryos in the year 2001 to treat mitochondrial diseases that would probably have been fatal later in life. I also wrote in the article that this does not constitute full scale genetic modification ala the movie Gattaca. It is true that mitochondria are essential to human life but they do not seem to influence any traits that we usually think about, such as increased intelligence or hair color, as they are primarily involved in metabolism. In other words, mitochontrial …

Read more...

Biobatteries and bioengineered petroleum manufacturing.

In the twenty-first century you'd be hard pressed to find a piece of every day kit that doesn't have a power cell of some kind running it. Cellphones, tablets, laptops, MP3 players... they all need to be plugged in periodically to recharge. Under optimal conditions they can go two or three days in between top-offs but sometimes that isn't practical. Additionally, rechargable power cells have a finite lifetime and start to run dry faster and faster after two or three hundred recharges. This next bit of tech makes me wonder... a research team at Virginia Tech has figured out how …

Read more...

Post-biological proof of concept lab experiments and genetic anomalies.

Yesterday afternoon I posted an article about synthetic nucleic acids and processing of arbitrary information from the field of synthetic biology. To recap briefly, by adding synthetic components to bioengineered bacteria researchers have been able to represent and manipulate information with XNA, a variant of DNA which involves synthetic compounds in addition to the four naturally found in DNA. One of the commenters on that post is working somewhere in that field and mentioned a few of the things that can be done with those custom-designed nucleic acids. This reminded me of another article I've had in my to-write queue …

Read more...

Artificially constructed human organs on the horizon?

The liver is arguably one of the most complex organs in the body due to the list of functions it carries out. Not only does it help to filter the blood but it synthesizes an array of proteins, strips worn erythrocytes out of the bloodstream, and produces a number of hormones. That's just the first page of the list. It's also unusual in that it is capable of regenerating and becoming fully functional once again given enough time and proper conditions. Except when it doesn't; there are a number of diseases and chronic conditions that can render the liver nonfunctional …

Read more...

Biodegradable surgical implants and surreptitious DNA archival.

After badly breaking a load-bearing part of your body it's not uncommon for an orthopedic surgeon to install a couple of after-market bits of hardware to hold the bones together while they knit. This usually takes the form of a couple of titanium alloy screws, though plates, rods, and tubes are not unknown. The downside of using something made out of metal to put things back together is that the screw holes left behind after the implants are removed require additional time to heal. Plus, the holes further compromise the structural integrity of the bone until they fill in. In …

Read more...

Explosive post queue flush in three.. two.. one....

As one might expect, it's been a busy couple of days (a week, really), which has kept me from being able to post anything. I got back from Philly around 1700 EST5EDT last Friday, and I've been offline pretty much the entire weekend because I've been too tired to do much of anything. After I got back, Lyssa made a wonderful hot dinner (all the more special because temperatures in the tri-state area have been averaging in the mid-twenties Fahrenheit), and then we decided to get together with some friendly faces to hang out for the evening. To that end …

Read more...

Another step closer to artificial life - an artificial chromosome.

Geneticist Craig Venter of San Diego, California has made a significant breakthrough in genetics and bioengineering after it's been verified by the scientific community (I have to throw that disclaimer for reasons that'll be made clear in a moment)... he's built a chromosome out of raw materials in vitro.

Yeah. Not only did Venter's team, lead by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Hamilton O. Smith hooked synthetic nucleotides together one by one into a strand of DNA 580,000 base pairs in length, coding for 381 distinct genes, and then got the DNA to coil up into a chromosome. The synthetic …

Read more...

Genetically engineered 'queen' cancer cells.

Geneticists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new cell culturing medium that does something amazing: It allows human cells to transform into so-called 'queen' cancer cells, cancer cells that reproduce rapidly and produce mutants that become the actual tumours. Think of them as stem cells that specialize in producing cancers as we normally think of them. Not all malignant cells are capable of doing this, most just sit there and use up resources and oxygen and reproduce, but don't actually break off and spread to other parts of the body. This germ line of cells came about …

Read more...

Bioengineered strain of e.coli produces fuel-worthy hydrocarbons

A bioengineering firm called LS9 has done something remarkable with the bacteria e.coli (the Swiss Army Knife of gengineering) - they successfully engineered a strain to produce arbitrary hydrocarbon compounds in addition to the usual fatty acids that life on this planet uses to store energy. Specifically, the bacterial strains almost produce the hydrocarbons that are normally pumped out of the ground in the form of crude oil and then fractionated ("cracked") into different substances. Mix the right hydrocarbons together and you get gasoline. Or diesel fuel. Or the raw materials needed to make plastics.

I say 'almost' because the …

Read more...