Monday, February 25, 2008

Bioscience News Roundup: 02-25-08

Here are some interesting bioscience web tidbits from the past couple of weeks.

Edge has an interview with biological engineer Drew Endy about the future of engineering organisms.
Programming DNA is more cool, it's more appealing, it's more powerful than silicon. You have an actual living, reproducing machine; it's nanotechnology that works. It's not some Drexlarian (Eric Drexler) fantasy. And we get to program it. And it's actually a pretty cheap technology. You don't need a FAB Lab like you need for silicon wafers. You grow some stuff up in sugar water with a little bit of nutrients. My read on the world is that there is tremendous pressure that's just started to be revealed around what heretofore has been extraordinarily limited access to biotechnology.
Bioethics Bytes looks at the ethical issues that arise with human longevity, based on the BBC Channel 4 documentary, Do You Want to Live Forever?, featuring biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey.

io9 reports from the AAAS conference about research from Angela Belcher's lab at MIT that uses specially engineered viruses as battery components. Belcher says we shouldn't worry about the viruses running rampant:
"Let's see what we can get biology to do for us," she said. "It's just a matter of giving biology new opportunities, new materials to work with." One audience member asked if Belcher is concerned about the viruses mutating and perhaps replicating on their own. Not possible, responded Belcher. The only mutations she's seen so far have been viruses reverting back to their old state (ie, making regular virus shells instead of battery components), and viruses making depolarized battery components.
Technology Review presents its annual list of the 10 most exciting emerging technologies. On the bioscience front are enzymes designed to make biofuels from cellulose and "connectomics", which "attempts to physically map the ­tangle of neural circuits that collect, ­process, and archive information in the nervous system."

Technology Review also writes about the work of Miguel Nicolelis's lab at Duke on neural implant technology. Their most recent breakthrough:
In January a rhesus monkey named Idoya did what no other creature has done before: she made a robot walk just by thinking about it. All Idoya had to do was imagine taking a step, and the robot would actually take it.
Australian scientists surveying the deep ocean around Antarctica have found an array of giant sea creatures, including "sea spiders the size of dinner plates." You can watch video from the expeition at the Census of Antarctic Marine Life web site.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins have created a chip that where chemical interactions between neurons mimic those in the brain.

The fossil of a very large frog - estimated to be 16 inches long and 10 pounds - was discovere in Madagascar. The frog, christened Beelzebufo (pictured above), may have eaten baby dinosaurs.

Finally, Korean scientists have developed a space safe kimchi, so the country's first astronaut doesn't have to go without spicy fermented cabbage. Some bacteria have been shown to be more virulent in a zero-g environment, so a bacteria-free version needed to be developed. It doesn't address the other potential problem with kimchi in the close confines of a space vessel: stinky garlic kimchi breath.

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