Biosingularity

Archive for March 2006

Soft Machines is a very interesting blog on nanotechnology and future technologies by Richard Jones who is also the author of the book "Soft machines: nanotechnology and life". The book explains why things behave differently at the nanoscale to way they behave at familiar human scales, and why this means that nanotechnology may be more like biology than conventional engineering. The blog follows on a similar theme with many  thoughtful articles.

I especially enjoyed the recent article titled: Death, life and amyloids, which is about the good, the bad and the ugly sides of misfolded fibrillar proteins called amyloids. Check it out.

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Biologists in recent years have identified every individual gene in the genomes of several organisms. While this has been quite an accomplishment in itself, the further goal of figuring out how these genes interact is truly daunting.

The difficulty lies in the fact that two genes can pair up in a gigantic number of ways. If an organism has a genome of 20,000 genes, for example, the total number of pairwise combinations is a staggering total of 200 million possible interactions.

Researchers can indeed perform experiments to see what happens when the two genes interact, but 200 million is an enormous number of experiments, says Weiwei Zhong, a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology. “The question is whether we can prioritize which experiments we should do in order to save a lot of time.”

To get at this issue, Zhong and her supervising professor, Paul Sternberg, have derived a method of database-mining to make predictions about genetic interactions. In the current issue of the journal Science, they report on a procedure for computationally integrating several sources of data from several organisms to study the tiny worm C. elegans, or nematode, an animal commonly used in biological experiments.
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Researchers at the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children have recorded the most comprehensive and reliable map of protein interactions in a living organism to date, bringing science one step closer to deciphering and correcting disease-causing genetic instructions in humans and animals.

The findings, which will be released in the March 30 issue of Nature, reveal how researchers used sophisticated proteomic techniques to identify close to 4,000 proteins and 550 protein complexes involved in 7,123 protein-protein interactions in yeast cells, about half of which are novel. Many of the same complexes and protein interactions that go awry in human disease are also found in yeast. While living yeast cells have only 6,000 genes compared to a human’s 25,000, the structures of their encoded proteins and interactions among the proteins are virtually identical to ours.

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Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have developed a paradigm-shifting method for detecting small amounts of proteins in the blood. Applications of this method will make discerning low-abundance molecules associated with cancers (such as breast cancer), Alzheimer’s disease, prion diseases, and possibly psychiatric diseases relatively easy and more accurate compared with the current methodology, including the widely used ELISA (enzyme-linked immunoadsorbent assay).
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Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have published findings that show, for the first time, that bone cells can grow and proliferate on a scaffold of carbon nanotubes. Scientists found that the nanotubes, 100,000 times finer than a human hair, are an excellent scaffold for bone cells to grow on.

Nano.Bones.jpg

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University of Texas at Dallas nanotechnologists have made alcohol- and hydrogen-powered artificial muscles that are 100 times stronger than natural muscles, able to do 100 times greater work per cycle and produce, at reduced strengths, larger contractions than natural muscles. Among other possibilities, these muscles could enable fuel-powered artificial limbs, “smart skins” and morphing structures for air and marine vehicles, autonomous robots having very long mission capabilities and smart sensors that detect and self-actuate to change the environment.

nanotech.muscle.jpg

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For the first time ever, researchers at the Salk Institute have pinpointed a protein specifically responsible for extending lifespan and youthfulness without disrupting an organism’s response to some forms of stress, development and fertility controlled by the insulin signaling pathway.

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Rodents blinded by a severed tract in their brains’ visual system had their sight partially restored within weeks, thanks to a tiny biodegradable scaffold invented by MIT bioengineers and neuroscientists.

This technique, which involves giving brain cells an internal matrix on which to regrow, just as ivy grows on a trellis, may one day help patients with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and stroke.
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Botulinum neurotoxin A can be either the greatest wrinkle remover or one of the world’s most potent biological weapons. To perform either job, however, the toxin must first find a way to enter cells.

But understanding how the toxin — one of seven neurotoxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum — enters nerve cells has proved elusive for scientists. Despite a decade-long search for the receptor by labs around the world, researchers had come up empty handed.

Now, a research team led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) researcher Edwin R. Chapman reports that it has identified the cellular receptor for botulinum neurotoxin A. The group’s work was published in the March 16, 2006, edition of ScienceXpress, which provides electronic publication of selected Science papers in advance of print. The finding offers important new insights that suggest how the toxin shuts down nerve cells with deadly efficiency.
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Reseachers coupled a microcantilever with a metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor to yield a device that generates a direct electrical signal whenever the cantilever bends in response to biomolecule binding.

It is capable of detecting bending of as little as five nanometers, sufficient to reliably detect binding of DNA, antibodies, and prostate specific antigen (PSA) to the microcantilevers.

It can also be mass-produced using standard computer chip design and manufacturing techniques.

cantilever.jpg
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By studying a particularly short-lived fish species, researchers have been able to show that a natural compound, Resveratrol, previously shown to extend lifespan in non-vertebrate organisms can also do so in at least one vertebrate species. The findings support the potential utility of the compound in human aging research.
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A mouse immune cell that plays dual roles as both assassin and messenger, normally the job of two separate cells, has been discovered by an international team of researchers. The discovery has triggered a race among scientists to find a human equivalent of the multitasking cell, which could one day be a target for therapies that seek out and destroy cancer.
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