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Biotech

Companies Genetically Engineer Spider Silk 82

Posted by Soulskill
from the spider-goat-spider-goat-does-whatever-a-spider-goat-does dept.
gthuang88 writes: Spider silk is touted for its strength and potential to be used in body armor, sports gear, and even artificial tendons and implants. Now several companies including EntoGenetics, Kraig Labs, and Araknitek have developed genetic approaches to producing commercial quantities of the stuff. One method is to implant spider genes into silkworms, which then act as spider-silk factories. Another is to place the gene that encodes spider web production into the DNA of goats; these "spidergoats" then produce milk containing spider-silk proteins that can be extracted. There's still a long way to go, however, and big companies like DuPont and BASF have tried and failed to commercialize similar materials.
Medicine

Scientists Coax Human Embryonic Stem Cells Into Making Insulin 100

Posted by samzenpus
from the closer-to-the-cure dept.
First time accepted submitter kwiecmmm writes A group of Harvard scientists reported that they have figured out how to turn embryonic stem cells into beta cells capable of producing insulin. This discovery could cure diabetes. From the article: "'It's a huge landmark paper. I would say it's bigger than the discovery of insulin,' says Jose Olberholzer, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois. 'The discovery of insulin was important and certainly saved millions of people, but it just allowed patients to survive but not really to have a normal life. The finding of Doug Melton would really allow to offer them really something what I would call a functional cure. You know, they really wouldn't feel anymore being diabetic if they got a transplant with those kind of cells.'"
Medicine

Device Allows Paralyzed Rats To Walk, Human Trials Scheduled Next Summer 85

Posted by samzenpus
from the walking-again dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A new technique pioneered by scientists working on project NEUWalk at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology (EPFL) have figured out a way to reactivate the severed spinal cords of fully paralyzed rats, allowing them to walk again via remote control. Human trials are scheduled for next summer. "We have complete control of the rat's hind legs," EPFL neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine said. "The rat has no voluntary control of its limbs, but the severed spinal cord can be reactivated and stimulated to perform natural walking. We can control in real-time how the rat moves forward and how high it lifts its legs."
Biotech

US Asks Universities To Flag Risky Pathogen Experiments 39

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-little-notice-please dept.
sciencehabit writes 'Academic scientists with federal funding who work with any of 15 dangerous microbes or toxins will soon have to flag specific studies that could potentially be used to cause harm and work with their institutions to reduce risks, according to new U.S. government rules released today. The long-awaited final rule is similar to a February 2013 draft and is "about what we expected," says Carrie Wolinetz, a deputy director of federal relations at the Association of American Universities (AAU) in Washington, D.C., which represents more than 60 major research universities. Those schools see the rules as replicating other federal security and safety rules, Wolinetz says, but will adjust to them. But some observers have concerns, such as that the rules do not apply to other risky biological agents. In a conference call with reporters today, a White House official said the government is open to a "broader discussion" about whether it should expand the list of 15 regulated agents.
Biotech

Researchers Report Largest DNA Origami To Date 36

Posted by timothy
from the never-date-origami-it-won't-respect-you dept.
MTorrice (2611475) writes Bioengineers can harness DNA's remarkable ability to self-assemble to build two- and three-dimensional nanostructures through DNA origami. Until now, researchers using this approach have been limited to building structures that are tens of square nanometers in size. Now a team reports the largest individual DNA origami structures to date, which reach sizes of hundreds of square nanometers. What's more, they have developed a less expensive way to synthesize the DNA strands needed, overcoming a tremendous obstacle to scaling up the technology.
Biotech

The Myths and Realities of Synthetic Bioweapons 36

Posted by samzenpus
from the microwave-safe-anthrax dept.
Lasrick writes Three researchers from King's College, London, walk through the security threats posed by synthetic and do-it-yourself biology, assessing whether changes in technology and associated costs make it any easier for would-be terrorists to pursue biological weapons for high-consequence, mass- casualty attacks (and even whether they would want to). "Those who have overemphasized the bioterrorism threat typically portray it as an imminent concern, with emphasis placed on high-consequence, mass-casualty attacks, performed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This is a myth with two dimensions."
Medicine

Artificial Spleen Removes Ebola, HIV Viruses and Toxins From Blood Using Magnets 106

Posted by samzenpus
from the cleaning-the-system dept.
concertina226 writes Harvard scientists have invented a new artificial spleen that is able to clear toxins, fungi and deadly pathogens such as Ebola from human blood, which could potentially save millions of lives. When antibiotics are used to kill them, dying viruses release toxins in the blood that begin to multiply quickly, causing sepsis, a life-threatening condition whereby the immune system overreacts, causing blood clotting, organ damage and inflammation. To overcome this, researchers have invented a "biospleen", a device similar to a dialysis machine that makes use of magnetic nanobeads measuring 128 nanometres in diameter (one-five hundredths the width of a single human hair) coated with mannose-binding lectin (MBL), a type of genetically engineered human blood protein.
Biotech

Medical Milestone: Scientists Reset Human Stem Cells 75

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-power-cycle-them dept.
SternisheFan sends news that researchers from the University of Cambridge have made a breakthrough in the production of human pluripotent stem cells. The goal when developing this kind of stem cell is to have them as early in the cell's lifecycle as possible, so that they're more like true embryonic stem cells and can fulfill whatever role is needed. But all of them made so far are advanced slightly down their developmental pathway. The new work, published in the journal Cell (abstract), has found a way to "reset" the cells by introducing two genes that induce a developmental "ground state."
Biotech

The Grassroots Future of Biohacking 68

Posted by samzenpus
from the building-a-better-you dept.
An anonymous reader writes Forget about some kid engineering a virulent microbe in their bedroom. As the assistant director of the Maurice Kanbar Center for Biomedical Engineering, Oliver Medvedik, puts it, "It's extremely difficult to 'improve' on the lethality of nature. The pathogens that already exist are more legitimate cause for worry.” If anything, you're better off putting energy into wrenching away your desire for McDonalds, and making sure the government doesn't impose draconian laws about DIY-bio. Here's a look at the grassroots future of biohacking and the problems with government overreach.
Biotech

Scientists Regenerate Rat Muscle Tissue 26

Posted by samzenpus
from the building-a-better-mouse dept.
Zothecula writes Muscle lost through traumatic injury, congenital defect, or tumor ablation may soon be regenerated from within. A team of researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has shown how stem cells in the body of mice and rats can be mobilized to form new muscle in damaged regions. "Working to leverage the body’s own regenerative properties, we designed a muscle-specific scaffolding system that can actively participate in functional tissue regeneration," explains Sang Jin Lee, senior author on the study. This scaffold was implanted in the rats' tibialis anterior muscle (which is found below the knee), serving as a kind of home for the muscle progenitor cells to grow and develop.
United Kingdom

New DNA Analysis On Old Blood Pegs Aaron Kosminski As Jack the Ripper 135

Posted by timothy
from the everybody's-got-a-theory dept.
It surely won't be the last theory offered, but a century and a quarter after the notorious crimes of Jack the Ripper, an "armchair detective" has employed DNA analysis on the blood-soaked shawl of one of the Ripper's victims, and has declared it in a new book an unambiguous match with Jewish immigrant Aaron Kosminski, long considered a suspect. Kosminski died in 1919 in an insane asylum. The landmark discovery was made after businessman Russell Edwards, 48, bought the shawl at auction and enlisted the help of Dr Jari Louhelainen, a world-renowned expert in analysing genetic evidence from historical crime scenes. Using cutting-edge techniques, Dr Louhelainen was able to extract 126-year-old DNA from the material and compare it to DNA from descendants of [Ripper victim Catherine] Eddowes and the suspect, with both proving a perfect match. (Also at The Independent.) It's not the first time DNA evidence has been used to try to pin down the identity of Jack the Ripper, but the claimed results in this case are far less ambiguous than another purported mitochondrial DNA connection promoted by crime novelist Patricia Cornwell in favor of artist Walter Sickert as the killer in a 2002 book. Update: 09/07 16:03 GMT by T : Corrected Sickert's first name, originally misstated as "William."
Biotech

Scientists Sequence Coffee Genome, Ponder Genetic Modification 167

Posted by Soulskill
from the can-you-modify-it-so-it-doesn't-taste-like-coffee dept.
nbauman sends word that researchers have completed a project to sequence the genome of Coffea canephora, a species of plant responsible for roughly 30% of the world's coffee production. In the course of their genetic mapping, the researchers "pinpointed genetic attributes that could help in the development of new coffee varieties better able to endure drought, disease and pests, with the added benefit of enhancing flavor and caffeine levels." They also discovered a broad range of genes that contribute to the production of flavor-related compounds and caffeine. Plant genomist Victor Albert said, "For any agricultural plant, having a genome is a prerequisite for any sort of high technology breeding or molecular modification. Without a genome, we couldn't do any real advanced research on coffee that would allow us to improve it — not in this day and age."
Biotech

Researchers Harness E. Coli To Produce Propane 82

Posted by samzenpus
from the fill-the-tank dept.
Rambo Tribble writes A team of British and Finnish scientists have used the common bacteria Escherichia coli to produce the environmentally-friendly fuel propane. By introducing enzymes to modify the bacteria's process for producing cell membranes, they were able directly produce fuel-grade propane. While commercial application is some years off, the process is being hailed as a cheap, sustainable alternative to deriving the gas from fossil fuel production. As researcher Patrik Jones is quoted as saying, "Fossil fuels are a finite resource and...we are going to have to come up with new ways to meet increasing energy demands."
Biotech

CPU's Heat Output to Amplify DNA Could Make Drastically Cheaper Tests 27

Posted by timothy
from the only-waste-heat-is-wasted dept.
MTorrice (2611475) writes "Researchers have harnessed that heat from a computer CPU to run the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify DNA in a blood sample. The team developed software that cycles the temperature of the CPU to drive PCR's three distinct steps.The method allowed them to detect miniscule amounts of DNA from a pathogenic parasite that causes Chagas disease. They hope their technique will lead to low-cost diagnostic tests in developing countries." (Always good to put waste heat to a practical purpose.)
Biotech

The Passenger Pigeon: A Century of Extinction 108

Posted by samzenpus
from the coming-soon dept.
An anonymous reader writes On September 1, 1914, Martha, the last passenger pigeon was found dead in her aviary at the Cincinnati Zoo. When the first European settlers arrived in North America at least one of every four birds on the continent was a passenger pigeon, making them the most numerous birds in North America, and perhaps in the world. From the article: "But extinction apparently doesn't ring with the finality it used to. Researchers are working to 'de-extinct' the bird. They got their hands on some of the 1,500 or so known passenger pigeon specimens and are hoping to resurrect the species through some Jurassic Park-like genetic engineering. Instead of using frog DNA to fill out the missing parts of a dinosaur's genetic code as in Michael Crichton's story, the real-life 'bring-back-the-passenger pigeon' researchers are using the bird's closest relative, the band-tailed pigeon.
Medicine

Scientists Found the Origin of the Ebola Outbreak 86

Posted by Soulskill
from the it-was-the-butler-with-the-candlestick-in-the-library dept.
Taco Cowboy sends this report from Vox: One of the big mysteries in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is where the virus came from in the first place — and whether it's changed in any significant ways. ... In a new paper in Science (abstract), researchers reveal that they have sequenced the genomes of Ebola from 78 patients in Sierra Leone who contracted the disease in May and June. Those sequences revealed some 300 mutations specific to this outbreak. Among their findings, the researchers discovered that the current viral strains come from a related strain that left Central Africa within the past ten years. ... Using genetic sequences from current and previous outbreaks, the researchers mapped out a family tree that puts a common ancestor of the recent West African outbreak some place in Central Africa roughly around 2004. This contradicts an earlier hypothesis that the virus had been hanging around West Africa for much longer than that. Researchers are also planning to study the mutations to see if any of them are affecting Ebola's recent behavior. For example, this outbreak has had a higher transmission rate and lower death rate than others, and researchers are curious if any of these mutations are related to that. ... The scientific paper on Ebola is also a sad reminder of the toll that the virus has taken on those working on the front lines. Five of the authors died of Ebola before it was published.
Biotech

Anti-Ebola Drug ZMapp Makes Clean Sweep: 18 of 18 Monkeys Survive Infection 91

Posted by timothy
from the not-that-kind-of-monkey-trial dept.
Scientific American reports, based on a study published today in Nature, that ZMapp, the drug that has been used to treat seven patients during the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa, can completely protect monkeys against the virus, research has found. ... The drug — a cocktail of three purified immune proteins, or monoclonal antibodies, that target the Ebola virus — has been given to seven people: two US and three African health-care workers, a British nurse and a Spanish priest. The priest and a Liberian health-care worker who got the drug have since died. There is no way to tell whether ZMapp has been effective in the patients who survived, because they received the drug at different times during the course of their disease and received various levels of medical care. NPR also has an interview with study lead Gary Kobinger, who says that (very cautious) human trials are in the works, and emphasizes the difficulites of producing the drug in quantity.
Biotech

Islamic State "Laptop of Doom" Hints At Plots Including Bubonic Plague 369

Posted by timothy
from the theocrat's-cookbook dept.
Foreign Policy has an in-depth look at the contents of a laptop reportedly seized this year in Syria from a stronghold of the organization now known as the Islamic State, and described as belonging to a Tunisian national ("Muhammed S."). The "hidden documents" folder of the machine, says the report, contained a vast number of documents, including ones describing and justifying biological weapons: The laptop's contents turn out to be a treasure trove of documents that provide ideological justifications for jihadi organizations -- and practical training on how to carry out the Islamic State's deadly campaigns. They include videos of Osama bin Laden, manuals on how to make bombs, instructions for stealing cars, and lessons on how to use disguises in order to avoid getting arrested while traveling from one jihadi hot spot to another. ... The information on the laptop makes clear that its owner is a Tunisian national named Muhammed S. who joined ISIS in Syria and who studied chemistry and physics at two universities in Tunisia's northeast. Even more disturbing is how he planned to use that education: The ISIS laptop contains a 19-page document in Arabic on how to develop biological weapons and how to weaponize the bubonic plague from infected animals. ... "The advantage of biological weapons is that they do not cost a lot of money, while the human casualties can be huge," the document states.
Biotech

China Pulls Plug On Genetically Modified Rice and Corn 152

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-on-my-plate dept.
sciencehabit writes China's Ministry of Agriculture has decided not to renew biosafety certificates that allowed research groups to grow genetically modified (GM) rice and corn. The permits, to grow two varieties of GM rice and one transgenic corn strain, expired on 17 August. The reasoning behind the move is not clear, and it has raised questions about the future of related research in China.
Announcements

Introducing Slashdot's New Build Section 34

Posted by timothy
from the show-us-your-basement dept.
Along with the rest of the mix that makes this site work, Slashdot has nearly two decades now of spotting and showing off interesting projects, inventions, technologies, and hobbies. Some of them are strictly personal, some are frankly commercial, and some are the fruits of ambitious organizations (or tiny teams) motivated by curiosity and passion (or even politics, or just plain fun). As outlined earlier, we've been gathering a lot of these into our new Build section; read on to learn a bit more about what that includes. (And watch out later today for the first part of our conversation with technology-inspiring Rennaisance Man Tim O'Reilly, and later in the week for answers to the questions you asked Bunnie Huang.)

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