Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cool Bioscience Roundup

Well, I'm back from a short holiday and way behind in blogging. Without much ado, here is a roundup of some interesting bioscience news from the past couple of weeks.

Carl Zimmer writes about human genome pioneer Craig Venter's patent application for synthetic life forms.
Venter is taking a very different approach to synthetic biology than many others in the community. He's locking down patents. ETC is right in suggesting Venter might become "Microbesoft"--controlling operating system for anyone who wants to build an organism from scratch. Other researchers, such as Keasling, are promoting a different way of doing synthetic biology--what they call open source biology. Scientists and their students are amassing an open inventory of parts that anyone can use to design organisms of their own. And it's open source biology, these researchers argue, that will provide the best protection against any evil uses of synthetic biology. Instead of being hidden behind patents, the information about these parts would be available to everyone, and collectively solutions could be found. As this debate starts to unfold, I think open source biology will keep it from becoming nothing but deja vu.
GrrrlScientist writes about a man who was discovered to have dark green blood when he went into surgery. His was due to a rare reaction to his migrane medication, rather than the copper-based hemoglobin of the denizens of the planet Vulcan.

Discover Magazine reports on a recent set of experiments that demonstrated the ability to insert encoded data into the bacterial genome.
The first step was to convert each of the characters in “E = mc² 1905!” into binary code, the standard computer language consisting of zeros and ones. The next step was to insert that information into the bacterium’s own data-storing code, its DNA. The basic units of DNA are four nucleotide bases: adenine (abbreviated as A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T), which are linked by a phosphate-sugar backbone. Using their own encryption method, Ohashi and his collaborators made the two codes compatible by converting the four units of binary code into two nucleotides. For example, a sequence of four zeros equaled AA, the series 0001 indicated CA, 0010 specified GA, and so on.
They estimate 200,000 characters, or 1/5 of the New Testament could be inserted into a single, replicating bacterium.

The Associated Press reports on the annual University of Maryland School of Medicine conference on the deaths of historic figures. This year the attendees speculated as to whether Abraham Lincoln would have survived using today's medicine and what the impact of his survival would have been. (via Improbable Research)

The results, Ben-Jacob says, set the stage for the creation of a neuromemory chip that could be paired with computer hardware to create cyborglike machines capable of such tasks as detecting dangerous toxins in the air, allowing the blind to see or helping someone who is paralyzed regain some if not all muscle use.
Scientists at UC Riverside have identified and sequenced the genes encoding black widow spider's dragline silk
With the ingredients and their genetic blueprint now known, it may be possible to synthetically produce the proteins by inserting the genetic sequences into host organisms such as bacteria, plants or animals, she said. Once the pure proteins are harvested, a manufacturing challenge will be spinning them into silk fibers that have the same remarkable properties as spider spun silk. But several advances have recently been made in artificial spinning methods.
[ . . .]
Spider silks have some of the best mechanical properties of any known natural fibers, thus they are being considered in the improvement of a variety of products including surgical microsutures and specialty ropes. Dragline silk – just one type of the seven different silks that an individual spider produces – are used by spiders as the structural foundation of their webs and to support their body weight as they move about. The dragline silk of black widows is one of the strongest and toughest spider silks identified thus far.
Scientists at the University of Colorado have developed a sensor that can be clipped to plant leaves that sends a wireless signal when the plants need water.
Stoner likened the plant communication aspect of the invention to a scene in the 1986 comedy musical film, "Little Shop of Horrors," when a giant carnivorous plant tells humans to "feed me." "This technology allows plants to say, 'water me,' " he said.
George Dvorsky reports on a new study that shows that human interaction can improve the cognitive abilities of chimpanzees. I wonder if interaction with supersmart aliens would improve our intelligence?

There's a great Metafilter post on the use of slime molds to control biosensors and robots, and the use of fungus that feeds on radiation to protect astronauts.

Finally, Astrobiology Magazine reports that a team studying methanogens - microorganisms that produce methane - has demonstrated their ability to grow on the types of soil found on Mars.

Tags: , , , , , ,

No comments: