background preloader

Movie: Julian Melchiorri on the first synthetic biological leaf

Movie: Julian Melchiorri on the first synthetic biological leaf
The "first man-made biological leaf" could enable humans to colonise space Dezeen and MINI Frontiers: RCA graduate Julian Melchiorri says the synthetic biological leaf he developed, which absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen just like a plant, could enable long-distance space travel. "Plants don't grow in zero gravity," explains Melchiorri. "NASA is researching different ways to produce oxygen for long-distance space journeys to let us live in space. Melchiorri's Silk Leaf project, which he developed as part of the Royal College of Art's Innovation Design Engineering course in collaboration with Tufts University silk lab, consists of chloroplasts suspended in a matrix made out of silk protein. "The material is extracted directly from the fibres of silk," Melchiorri explains. Like the leaves of a plant, all Melchiorri's Silk Leaf needs to produce oxygen is light and a small amount of water. "Silk Leaf is the first man-made biological leaf," he claims. Related:  Synthetic Biology and metabolic engineering

Seven fabrics inspired by nature: from the lotus leaf to butterflies and sharks | Guardian Sustainable Business With technology poised to change the way we dress in the future, here are seven examples of innovative fabrics that take their cue from the natural world. Hooked on Velcro Invented in 1948, Velcro has become a textbook example of biomimicry – an emerging science that emulates nature to solve human problems. And yet Velcro's invention was something of a happy accident, for which we must thank the dog of Swiss inventor George de Mestral. After a walk in the fields, de Mestral noticed burrs stuck to his trousers and his dog's fur, which led to his creation of a new hook and loop fastening device, Velcro. Exploring the lotus effect Water spilled on a lotus leaf does not wet its surface but simply beads up and rolls off, cleaning its surface from accumulated dust and dirt in the process. Fast-as-a-shark swimsuit Golden Orb spider silk cape Although humans learned to spin silk from silkworms as early as 3500 BC, spider silk was introduced much later, in 18th century France. Nature's genius

Hagfish Slime: Biomaterial Of The Future? I don’t like to admit that there are many things that are as badass in the marine world as sharks, but hagfish definitely give them a run for their money. Hagfish are primitive, eel-like creatures that spend most of their lives slithering along the ocean floor, scavenging dead and dying fish. They’re spineless, virtually blind, have no jaws and have barely changed over the last 300 million years. They’re not sounding very tough right now, so what makes them so special? Well, hagfish have a sticky trick up their sleeves. Hagfish slime is formed when seawater interacts with two different ingredients secreted by slime glands: mucin vesicles, which rapidly swell and burst in seawater, forming a gloopy net of mucus strands, and threads that are rich in a type of fiber called an intermediate filament (IF). To produce these materials, Benthic Labs intend on inserting hagfish DNA for the filament proteins into bacteria, transforming them into filament-producing factories.

Y Combinator, Move Over For IndieBio: A Second Biotech Accelerator Bernadette Tansey10/9/14 Y Combinator, which set off a whirlwind of skeptical commentary when it opened its highly ranked tech accelerator program to biotechnology startups last spring, now has some company. SOS Ventures, the international VC firm that already holds accelerator programs for software and hardware company founders, is launching a separate accelerator called IndieBio in San Francisco and the city of Cork, Ireland, for entrepreneurial teams in fields that include synthetic biology. Like Mountain View, CA-based Y Combinator, SOS Ventures is betting that innovators in certain biotech sectors—bioinformatics, automated lab technology, and the intensive form of genetic engineering known as synthetic biology—can profit from the jumpstart delivered by accelerator programs. “These accelerators are a third way for people to build their own dreams and secure their own futures,” Gupta says. “None of us are competing,” he says. Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor.

Two New Letters for the DNA Alphabet Scientists keep getting better at rewriting the book of life. Adding, deleting, and splicing genes has become routine, and some researchers are now even designing DNA for creatures. While many are hard at work rearranging letters on the page, a new experiment is redefining the concept of synthetic biology by writing new letters. As they reported today in the journal Nature, a team of biologists led by Floyd Romesberg at the Scripps Research Institute have expanded the genetic alphabet of DNA—the As, Cs, Gs, and Ts that write the book of life—to include two new letters. The scientists showed that their letters could be integrated into the DNA of a living creature (an E. coli bacterium) and increase exponentially the amount of information the genetic code can store. “This is a very major accomplishment in our efforts to inch towards a synthetic biology," says Steven Benner, a synthetic biologist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution who was not involved in the study. Failsafe

Biodegradable Plastic Option From Shrimp Shells From the depths of the oceans to stomachs of whales waste plastics are out of control. Now there is a new entry in the quest for an alternative that won't require us to get more responsible about littering, although vegetarians may have very mixed feelings. Plastic waste is a classic tragedy of the commons problem. Even if we were able to get 90% of the people who currently dump products without thinking to mend their ways, the rest would still end up destroying marine life the rest of us love, just a little more slowly. Twenty years ago there were hopes that starch or cellulose-based plastics would solve the problem. Since bacteria have had hundreds of millions of years to work out how to break these down they've got pretty good at it. So the Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering went looking for a different bioplastic base. The Institute's substitute for plastic bags is a product made by combining chitosan with a protein from silk, which has been named Shrilk.

Scientists Engineer First Bone Marrow-On-A-Chip Scientists from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have described a method for producing a device which closely mimics the composition and architecture of actual bone marrow. This bone marrow-on-a-chip is the first of its kind and adds to the growing repertoire of organs-on-a-chip that this institute has developed. The study has been published in Nature Methods. This new device could have numerous important applications in medicine. In particular, it is hoped that it may serve as a model to investigate the effects of radiation therapy on bone marrow and in the development of treatments to subvert the damage caused by this type of therapy. At the forefront of this pioneering technology is Don Ingber, Founding Director of the Wyss Institute. This new device, however, may finally allow scientists to move away from a dependence on in vivo models. If you'd like to find out more, check out this video from the Wyss Institute:

If synthetic biologists think like scientists, they may miss their eureka moment Synthetic biology is an emerging discipline, but paradoxically it is not particularly new. Since the mid-1970s we have been developing ways of instructing pieces of biology to perform useful tasks in an ever more efficient and sustainable way. Much of this has found its expression in industrial biotechnology, manufacturing things like drugs, enzymes and proteins. It has applications in everything from biofuels to pollution sensors, from smart plastics to cutting-edge medicines. You could conceive of synthetic biology as writing little DNA programs that instruct cell behaviour, like a little genetic app. We borrow the cell’s machinery, its metabolism, and run the app. First base In first-generation biotech, the instructions were very simple, such as, “make drug”. Now most of it is manufactured by genetically modified yeast. Click to enlarge Contemporary first-generation biotech has become very good at instructions like, “make lots of drug” or “make lots of enzyme”. The known unknowns

Bioengineers Build Circuit Board Modeled On The Human Brain Stanford scientists have generated a hardware system based on the human brain that is capable of simulating, in real-time, a million neurons with billions of synaptic connections using only a similar amount of power to what is required to run a tablet computer. The results have been published in Proceedings of the IEEE. Generating models that can simulate brain activity is tricky business. Personal computer simulations of the cortex of a mouse are approximately 9,000 times slower than the real thing and consume around 40,000 times more power. In this study scientists generated system that they are calling Neurogrid, which is comprised of 16 “Neurocore” chips integrated together on a circuit board. This new system could open up new doors in robotics and brain modeling, and the scientists hope that it may eventually be transitioned into an affordable system which can be widely used by researchers without requiring extensive knowledge of the workings of the brain.

Bio-inspired transparent synthetic materials could protect cars and people A Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of the region surrounding an indentation the researchers made in a piece of shell from Placuna placenta. The image shows the localization of damage to the area immediately surrounding the stress. (Credit: Ling Li and James C. Weaver) MIT researchers have analyzed the shells of a sea creature, the mollusk Placuna placenta to determine exactly why they are so resistant to penetration and damage — even though they are 99 percent calcite, a weak, brittle mineral. The properties of this natural armor make it a promising template for the development of bio-inspired synthetic materials for both commercial and military applications — such as windows and windshields, eye and face protection for soldiers, and blast shields, says Christine Ortiz, the MIT Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. How natural exoskeletons withstand attacks Broken windshield (credit: Daniel Ramirez/Wikimedia Commons) Abstract of Nature Materials paper

DNA nanobots deliver drugs in living cockroaches - health - 08 April 2014 It's a computer – inside a cockroach. Nano-sized entities made of DNA that are able to perform the same kind of logic operations as a silicon-based computer have been introduced into a living animal. The DNA computers – known as origami robots because they work by folding and unfolding strands of DNA – travel around the insect's body and interact with each other, as well as the insect's cells. When they uncurl, they can dispense drugs carried in their folds. "DNA nanorobots could potentially carry out complex programs that could one day be used to diagnose or treat diseases with unprecedented sophistication," says Daniel Levner, a bioengineer at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. Levner and his colleagues at Bar Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, made the nanobots by exploiting the binding properties of DNA. A bug's life The team has now injected various kinds of nanobots into cockroaches. Commodore cockroach Journal reference: Nature Nanotechnology, DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2014.58

Self-healing engineered muscle grown in ‘bionic mouse’ Engineered muscle fiber stained to observe growth after implantation into a mouse (credit: Duke University) Duke University biomedical engineers have grown living skeletal muscle that resembles the real thing. It contracts powerfully and rapidly, integrates into mice quickly, and for the first time, demonstrates the ability to heal itself both inside the laboratory and inside an animal. The researchers watched the muscle growth in real time through a window on the back of a living, walking mouse. Both the lab-grown muscle and experimental techniques are important steps toward growing viable muscle for studying diseases and treating injuries, said Nenad Bursac, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke. The results appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition March 31. “The muscle we have made represents an important advance for the field,” Bursac said. “Simply implanting satellite cells or less-developed muscle doesn’t work as well,” said Juhas.

Erasing A Genetic Mutation CAMBRIDGE, MA -- Using a new gene-editing system based on bacterial proteins, MIT researchers have cured mice of a rare liver disorder caused by a single genetic mutation. The findings, described in the March 30 issue of Nature Biotechnology, offer the first evidence that this gene-editing technique, known as CRISPR, can reverse disease symptoms in living animals. CRISPR, which offers an easy way to snip out mutated DNA and replace it with the correct sequence, holds potential for treating many genetic disorders, according to the research team. "What's exciting about this approach is that we can actually correct a defective gene in a living adult animal," says Daniel Anderson, the Samuel A. The recently developed CRISPR system relies on cellular machinery that bacteria use to defend themselves from viral infection. At the same time, the researchers also deliver a DNA template strand. Disease correction

Artificial Enzymes from Artificial DNA Challenge Life As We Know It | Singularity HUB Artificial Enzymes from Artificial DNA Challenge Life As We Know It In the decade or so since the Human Genome Project was completed, synthetic biology has grown rapidly. Impressive advances include the first bacteria to use a chemically-synthesized genome and creation of a synthetic yeast chromosome. Recently, scientists from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, led by Dr. Philip Hollinger, reported creating the first completely artificial enzymes that are functional. The breakthrough was published in the journal Nature and builds on prior success by the group in creating several artificial nucleotides. Nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA and RNA, consist of a phosphate group, one of five nitrogenous bases (adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine, or uracil), and a sugar (deoxyribose in DNA and ribose in RNA). In their previous studies, Dr. Dr. Besides the novelty factor in these experiments, the results suggest exciting possibilities. Further, Dr.