by Francie Diep
‘Scientists have made an embryonic clone of a person, using DNA from that person’s skin cells. In the future, such a clone could be a source of stem cells, for super-personalized therapies made from people’s own DNA.
It’s unlikely that this clone could develop into a human, say the scientists, a team of biologists from the U.S. and Thailand. The team plans to publish a paper in the future detailing why not, Nature reported. Previously, the team conducted this entire process, including a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer, in monkeys. Those monkey embryo clones always died before they could grow into adult monkeys.’
by Sandy Kleffman
‘No matter what else is happening in his life, David Anderson knows he cannot go far from the dialysis machine that sustains him. Jobs, vacations, get-togethers with friends — everything takes a back seat to his thrice-weekly treatments that do the work of his failing kidneys.
But across town, UC San Francisco researchers are using Silicon Valley technology to create a device they hope can untether the 63-year-old San Franciscan and 380,000 other Americans who rely on dialysis to cope with kidney disease.
They’re developing an implantable, artificial kidney that would shrink the refrigerator-size dialysis machine into a device the size of a coffee cup and perform functions a dialysis machine cannot do.’
by Andy Coghlan
For the first time, complete lab-grown kidneys have been successfully transplanted into rats, filtering and discharging urine as a normal kidney would.
The breakthrough paves the way for human-scale versions, which could potentially provide an inexhaustible supply of organs, eliminating the need for recipients to wait for a matching donor kidney.
Similar techniques have already been applied successfully in people with simpler tissue, such as windpipes. But the kidney is by far the most complex organ successfully recreated.
The US Supreme Court is about to hear arguments in a case challenging patents on breast and ovarian cancer genes. If the court upholds the company’s right to patent human genes, the course of US medical research could forever be altered.
The case involves the Utah biotech firm Myriad Genetics, which for years has been facing a lawsuit for placing patents on human genes and restricting cancer patients’ treatment options.
The molecular diagnostic company, which is based in Salt Lake City, holds a number of patents on genes related to breast cancer and ovarian cancer, two of which US District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet ruled invalid in 2010, the decision that Myriad appealed. The genes in question, BRCA1 an BRCA2, often appear in cancer patients, sometimes before the cancer has even developed. With methods to diagnose these genes patented by Myriad Genetics, patients are unable to go to any other doctors for a second opinion before seeking treatment.
Reaching into a stainless steel tray, Francisco Fernandez-Aviles lifted up a gray, rubbery mass the size of a fat fist.
It was a human cadaver heart that had been bathed in industrial detergents until its original cells had been washed away and all that was left was what scientists call the scaffold.
Next, said Dr. Aviles, “We need to make the heart come alive.”
Inside a warren of rooms buried in the basement of Gregorio Marañón hospital here, Dr. Aviles and his team are at the sharpest edge of the bioengineering revolution that has turned the science-fiction dream of building replacement parts for the human body into a reality.
Since a laboratory in North Carolina made a bladder in 1996, scientists have built increasingly more complex organs. There have been five windpipe replacements so far. A London researcher, Alex Seifalian, has transplanted lab-grown tear ducts and an artery into patients. He has made an artificial nose he expects to transplant later this year in a man who lost his nose to skin cancer.
“The work has been extraordinarily pioneering,” said Sir Roy Calne, an 82-year-old British surgeon who figured out in the 1950s how to use drugs to prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs.
Now, with the quest to build a heart, researchers are tackling the most complex organ yet. The payoff could be huge, both medically and financially, because so many people around the world are afflicted with heart disease. Researchers see a multi-billion-dollar market developing for heart parts that could repair diseased hearts and clogged arteries.
In additional to the artificial nose, Dr. Seifalian is making cardiovascular body parts. He sees a time when scientists would grow the structures needed for artery bypass procedures instead of taking a vein from another part the body. As part of a clinical trial, Dr. Seifalian plans to transplant a bioengineered coronary artery into a person later this year. His employer, University College London, has designated a person to oversee any future commercialization of it and other man-made organs.
The development of lab-built body parts is being spurred by a shortage of organ donors amid rising demand for transplants. Also, unlike patients getting transplants, recipients of lab-built organs won’t have to take powerful anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives. That’s because the bioengineered organs are built with the patients’ own cells.
Until the late 1980s, few scientists believed it would be possible to make human organs because it was a struggle to grow human cells in the laboratory. The task became easier once scientists figured out the chemicals—known as growth factors—that the body itself uses to promote cellular growth.
Scientists started out growing simple organs. In 1999, Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., implanted lab-grown bladders into the first of several children with severely dysfunctional bladders. The organs have continued to function well for several years. Dr. Atala’s team now is trying to grow a whole range of bioengineered parts, from simple blood vessels to human livers.
“You can see the acceleration in the field,” Dr. Atala said.
by Robin McKie
It was the scientific surprise of 2012. Researchers announced they had found that long stretches of human DNA – previously dismissed as “junk” – were in fact crucial to the working of our bodies. The assumption that our cells are controlled by only a few genes was wrong.
Scientists on the Encode project – an international public consortium researching the human genome – argued that most of our DNA has a part to play.
But this idea is now the subject of an astonishingly vitriolic attack from other scientists, who say that Encode’s “absurd” ideas are the work of people who know nothing about evolutionary biology. “News concerning the death of junk DNA has been greatly exaggerated,” they insist.
The row divides scientists over the most fundamental of questions – is most of our DNA devoid of purpose or does it play a major role in our cells? The debate has been triggered by a critique in the Genome Biology and Evolution journal that is striking for its strident language.
“Everything that Encode claims is wrong. Their statistics are horrible, for a start,” the lead author of the paper, Professor Dan Graur, of Houston University, Texas, told the Observer. “This is not the work of scientists. This is the work of a group of badly trained technicians.”
The scientists responsible for Encode – whose findings were published in more than 30 papers in Nature, Science, Genome Biology and other journals last September – reject the criticisms.
“The nature of the attacks against us is quite unfair and uncalled-for,” said Dr Ewan Birney, of the European Bioinformatics Institute, near Cambridge, a principal investigator in the five-year project. “Our work has very important implications for understanding disease susceptibility.”
When the human genome was sequenced in 2000, only 26,000 genes appeared to be directing the manufacture of proteins and growth control, and 98% of our DNA was written off.
But Encode researchers claimed to have identified more than 10,000 new genes and suggested that up to 18% of our DNA is responsible for regulating other genes. They said about 80% of DNA had a biochemical function. The group also identified where defects in DNA could leave a person susceptible to illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, diabetes and bipolar disorder, discoveries that could help treat such ailments.
This is dismissed as “absurd” by Graur and others, including scientists from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. They accuse Encode of using “analytical methods that yield biased errors and inflate estimates of functionality” and say it reveals a basic misunderstanding of evolutionary biology.
“Just because a piece of DNA has biological activity does not mean it has an important function in a cell,” said Graur. “The Encode people don’t seem to have grasped that point. They completely exaggerated the amount of human DNA that has a role to play inside our cells. Most of the human genome is devoid of function and these people are wrong to say otherwise.”
The Encode project involved 442 researchers, based at 32 institutes, who used 300 years of computer time and five years in the lab to get their results.
Grauer said: “This is big science and big science should, if nothing else, generate masses of reliable data. They haven’t done that. When they published their results, it was claimed its conclusions would necessitate the rewriting of textbooks. Well, yes, but only those textbooks about marketing, mass-media hype and public relations.”
But Birney said: “I think this attack is really a complaint about big science, about big projects that absorb lots of money. These people don’t like that.”
by Dan Nosowitz
In 1983, the world lost one of its weirdest frogs. The gastric-brooding frog, native to tiny portions of Queensland, Australia, gave birth through its mouth, the only frog to do so (in fact, very few other animals in the entire animal kingdom do this–it’s mostly this frog and a few fish). It succumbed to extinction due to mostly non-human-related causes–parasites, loss of habitat, invasive weeds, a particular kind of fungus. There were two subspecies, the northern and souther gastric-brooding frog, and they both became extinct in the mid-80s sometime.
Except–what if they didn’t?
Taking place at the University of Newcastle, the quest to revive the gastric-brooding frog became known as the Lazarus Project. Using somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a method for cloning, the project has achieved the major step forward of creating an early embryo of the extinct frog. Essentially, they found a related frog–the great barred frog, which also lives in Queensland and has cool eye markings, like it’s wearing sunglasses–deactivated its eggs, and replaced them with eggs taken from the extinct frog.
Even though the gastric-brooding frog has been extinct for decades, it’s possible to do this because individual specimens were kept preserved in, believe it or not, everyday deep freezers. When going through somatic-cell nuclear transfer, the eggs began to divide and form into the early embryo stage.
The embryos didn’t survive much longer than that, but it was confirmed that these embryos contain genetic information from the gastric-brooding frog–that yes, in fact, they have brought it back to life. The researchers are confident that this is a “technical, not biological” problem at this stage to breed gastric-brooding frogs to adulthood. This is a big step forward for the worldwide attempts to revive extinct animals–the Lazarus Project researchers will soon meet with those working to revive the woolly mammoth, dodo, and other extinct beasties to share what they’ve learned.
Oh, and in case you were wondering: the gastric-brooding frog lays eggs, which are coated in a substance called prostaglandin. This substance causes the frog to stop producing gastric acid in its stomach, thus making the frog’s stomach a very nice place for eggs to be. So the frog swallows the eggs, incubates them in her gut, and when they hatch, the baby frogs crawl out her mouth. How delightfully weird!
Speaking from the prestigious TED Conference in Long Beach Wednesday, Sausalito activist Stewart Brand said scientists are developing the ability to reassemble an extinct animal’s genome, and even recreate the animal itself.
Brand, who gained fame after he campaigned to have the original NASA space photos of earth published, and subsequently created the Whole Earth Catalog, said Wednesday that “de-extinction” could be used to help restore organisms and habitats damaged human activity, according to a report in the Marin Independent Journal.
A team of Harvard geneticists are currently working to bring back the passenger pigeon, which has been extinct since 1914, according to the TED website. The passenger pigeon is considered a keystone species because it aided the survival of the buffalo, according to TED. Researchers believe it may now be possible to alter the genetic makeup of a close relative, the band-tailed pigeon, to re-engineer the passenger pigeon.
The Jurassic Park-like science was already used to recreate an extinct variety of wild mountain goat in 2010, but the animal died after just minutes due to a lung defect, reports TED.
Brand said he hopes advancements in the field will help reverse some of the damage done to earth by humans.
“Humans have made a huge hole in nature in the last 10,000 years,” Brand said. “We have the ability now, and maybe the moral obligation, to repair some of the damage.”
Scientists at the University of Southern California have found a way to turn off the neuron responsible for sensing cold in mice, and it could help humans who have extreme sensitivities to cold temperatures.
The neuron channel, called TRPM8, is responsible for sensing “normal cold responses in mammals,” according to David McKenny, the neurobiologist responsible for the study, which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience Tuesday. By turning it off in mice, the animals turned “insensitive to cool and painfully cold temperatures” and “did not distinguish between cold and a preferred warm temperature.” The mice were still able to feel warm temperatures and pain.
Though the process is currently irreversible, McKenny says if pharmaceutical companies can develop a drug that will make the effect temporary, it could be useful for patients with certain conditions that make them hypersensitive to cold temperatures.
by Jacob Sloan
The day is approaching in which we will be GMOs. KurzweilAI recently reported:
European regulators have approved the first therapy in the western world that can correct errors in a person’s genetic code, according to Amsterdam-based uniQure.
Europe has approved Glybera for treatment of Lipoprotein Lipase Deficiency, a rare, inherited disease. Patients with LPLD are unable to metabolize the fat particles carried in their blood, which leads to inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). Glybera introduces a normal, healthy LPL gene into the body so that it can make functional LPL protein.
Glybera will be available in the second half of 2013, according Glybera will be available in the second half of 2013, according to uniQure, which is preparing to apply for regulatory approval in the U.S., Canada, and other markets.
by Alex Renton
The future feast is laid out around a cool white room at Eindhoven’s University of Technology . There is a steak tartare of in-vitro beef fibre, wittily knitted into the word “meat”. There are “fruit-meat” amuse-gueules. The green- and pink-striped sushi comes from a genetically modified vegetarian fish called the biccio that, usefully, has green- and pink-striped flesh. To wash this down, there’s a programmable red wine: with a microwave pulse you can turn it into anything from Montepulciano to a Syrah. For the kids, there are sweet fried crickets, programmable colas and “magic meatballs”. These are made from animal-friendly artificial meat grown from stem cells: packed with Omega 3 and vitamins, they “crackle in your mouth”. Yum.
None of this is quite ready to dish up. The meatballs at the Eindhoven future food show are made from Plasticine; the knitted steak, appropriately, from pinky-red wool. But the ideas aren’t fantasy. Koert van Mensvoort, assistant professor at the university, calls them “nearly possible”. Van Mensvoort – who is also the brains behind nextnature.net, a must-see website for technological neophiliacs – put his industrial design undergraduates together with bio-tech engineers, marketing specialists and a moral philosopher, tasking them to come up with samples of food that is, technologically, already on our doorstep.
The truth, though, is that artificial steak is still a way off. Pizza toppings are closer. The star of the Dutch research into in-vitro meat, Dr Mark Post, promised that the first artificial hamburger, made from 10bn lab-grown cells, would be ready for “flame-grilling by Heston Blumenthal” by the end of 2012. At the time of writing it is still on the back burner. Post (who previously produced valves for heart surgery) and other Dutch scientists are currently working over the problem of how to turn the “meat” from pieces of jelly into something acceptably structured: an old-fashioned muscle. Electric shocks may be the answer.
This quest is key to the future of food. It’s not what can be done but what we will accept. Some scientists warn that trying to copy the meats humans are used to is futile – another symptom of our ignorant and unsustainable nostalgia about food. “It’s simplistic to say ‘natural is good’, to reject globalisation and hark back to a mythical past when food was still ‘true and honest’,” says the Dutch intellectual Louise Fresco, a former head of food- innovation research and an advisor to the UN.
“It’s the default thing to do, to try and replicate what you know,” warns van Mensvoort. “It’s not how you innovate. We started with horseless carriages, but in the end what we got was cars. ‘Natural’ is the biggest marketing scam, and the most successful, of all.”
We may never have our flying cars, but the future is here. From creating fully functioning artificial leaves to hacking the human brain, science made a lot of breakthroughs this year.
1. QUADRIPLEGIC USES HER MIND TO CONTROL HER ROBOTIC ARM
At the University of Pittsburgh, the neurobiology department worked with 52-year-old Jan Scheuermann over the course of 13 weeks to create a robotic arm controlled only by the power of Scheuermann’s mind.
The team implanted her with two 96-channel intracortical microelectrodes. Placed in the motor cortex, which controls all limb movement, the integration process was faster than anyone expected. On the second day, Jan could use her new arm with a 3-D workspace. By the end of the 13 weeks, she was capable of performing complex tasks with seven-dimensional movement, just like a biological arm.
To date, there have been no negative side effects.
2. DARPA ROBOT CAN TRAVERSE AN OBSTACLE COURSE
Once the robot figures out how to do that without all the wires, humanity is doomed.
DARPA was also hard at work this year making robots to track humans and run as fast as a cheetah, which seems like a great combination with no possibility of horrible side effects.
3. GENETICALLY MODIFIED SILK IS STRONGER THAN STEEL
Photo Courtesy of Indigo Moon Yarns.
At the University of Wyoming, scientists modified a group of silkworms to produce silk that is, weight for weight, stronger than steel. Different groups hope to benefit from the super-strength silk, including stronger sutures for the medical community, a biodegradable alternative to plastics, and even lightweight armor for military purposes.
4. DNA WAS PHOTOGRAPHED FOR THE FIRST TIME
Using an electron microscope, Enzo di Fabrizio and his team at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa snapped the first photos of the famous double helix.
Source: newscientist.com / via: davi296
5. INVISIBILITY CLOAK TECHNOLOGY TOOK A HUGE LEAP FORWARD
British Columbia company HyperStealth Biotechnology showed a functioning prototype of its new fabric to the U.S. and Canadian military this year. The material, called Quantum Stealth, bends light waves around the wearer without the use of batteries, mirrors, or cameras. It blocks the subject from being seen by visual means but also keeps them hidden from thermal scans and infrared.
6. SPRAY-ON SKIN
ReCell by Avita Medical is a medical breakthrough for severe-burn victims. The technology uses a postage stamp–size piece of skin from the patient, leaving the donor site with what looks like a rug burn. Then the sample is mixed with an enzyme harvested from pigs and sprayed back onto the burn site. Each tiny graft expands, covering a space up to the size of a book page within a week. Since the donor skin comes from the patient, the risk of rejection is minimal.
7. JAMES CAMERON REACHED THE DEEPEST KNOWN POINT IN THE OCEAN
Cameron was the first solo human to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench. At 6.8 miles deep, it is perhaps more a more alien place to scientists than some foreign planets are. The 2.5-story “vertical torpedo” sub descended over a period of two and a half hours before taking a variety of samples.
8. STEM CELLS COULD EXTEND HUMAN LIFE BY OVER 100 YEARS
When fast-aging elderly mice with a usual lifespan of 21 days were injected with stem cells from younger mice at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Pittsburgh, the results were staggering. Given the injection approximately four days before they were expected to die, not only did the elderly mice live — they lived threefold their normal lifespan, sticking around for 71 days. In human terms, that would be the equivalent of an 80-year-old living to be 200.
9. 3-D PRINTER CREATES FULL-SIZE HOUSES IN ONE SESSION
The D-Shape printer, created by Enrico Dini, is capable of printing a two-story building, complete with rooms, stairs, pipes, and partitions. Using nothing but sand and an inorganic binding compound, the resulting material has the same durability as reinforced concrete with the look of marble. The building process takes approximately a fourth of the time as traditional buildings, as long as it sticks to rounded structures, and can be built without specialist knowledge or skill sets.
10. SELF-DRIVING CARS ARE LEGAL IN NEVADA, FLORIDA, AND CALIFORNIA
Google started testing its driverless cars in the beginning of 2012, and by May, Nevada was the first state to take the leap in letting them roam free on the roads. With these cars logging over 300,000 autonomous hours so far, the only two accidents involving them happened when they were being manually piloted.
11. VOYAGER I LEAVES THE SOLAR SYSTEM
Launched in 1977, Voyager I is the first manmade object to fly beyond the confines of our solar system and out into the blackness of deep space. It was originally designed to send home images of Saturn and Jupiter, but NASA scientists soon realized eventually the probe would float out into the great unknown. To that end, a recording was placed on Voyager I with sounds ranging from music to whale calls, and greetings in 55 languages.
12. CUSTOM JAW TRANSPLANT CREATED WITH 3-D PRINTER
A custom working jawbone was created for an 83-year-old patient using titanium powder and bioceramic coating. The first of its kind, the successful surgery opens the door for individualized bone replacement and, perhaps one day, the ability to print out new muscles and organs.
13. ROGUE PLANET FLOATING THROUGH SPACE
Until this year, scientists knew planets orbited a star. Then, in came CFBDSIR2149. With four to seven times the mass of Jupiter, it is the first free-floating object to be officially defined as an exoplanet and not a brown dwarf.
14. CHIMERA MONKEYS CREATED FROM MULTIPLE EMBRYOS
While all the donor cells were from rhesus monkeys, the researchers combined up to six distinct embryos into three baby monkeys. According to Dr. Mitalipov, “The cells never fuse, but they stay together and work together to form tissues and organs.” Chimera species are used in order to understand the role specific genes play in embryonic development and may lead to a better understanding of genetic mutation in humans.
15. ARTIFICIAL LEAVES GENERATE ELECTRICITY
Using relatively inexpensive materials, Daniel G. Nocera created the world’s first practical artificial leaf. The self-contained units mimic the process of photosynthesis, but the end result is hydrogen instead of oxygen. The hydrogen can then be captured into fuel cells and used for electricity, even in the most remote locations on Earth.
16. GOOGLE GOGGLES BRING THE INTERNET EVERYWHERE
Almost everyone has seen the video of Google’s vision of the future. With their Goggles, everyday life is overlaid with a HUD (Head’s Up Display). Controlled by a combination of voice control and where the user is looking, the Goggles show pertinent information, surf the web, or call a loved one.
17. THE HIGGS-BOSON PARTICLE WAS DISCOVERED
Over the summer, multinational research center CERN confirmed it had discovered a particle that behaved enough like a Higgs boson to be given the title. For scientists, this meant there could be a Higgs field, similar to an electromagnetic field. In turn, this could lead to the scientists’ ability to interact with mass the same way we currently do with magnetic fields.
18. FLEXIBLE, INEXPENSIVE SOLAR PANELS CHALLENGE FOSSIL FUEL
At half the price of today’s cheapest solar cells, Twin Creeks’ Hyperion uses an ion canon to bombard wafer-thin panels. The result is a commercially viable, mass-produced solar panel that costs around 40 cents per watt.
19. DIAMOND PLANET DISCOVERED
An exoplanet made entirely of diamonds was discovered this year by an international research team. Approximately five times the size of Earth, the small planet had mass similar to that of Jupiter. Scientists believe the short distance from its star coupled with the exoplanet’s mass means the planet, remnants of another star, is mostly crystalline carbon.
20. EYE IMPLANTS GIVE SIGHT TO THE BLIND
Two blind men in the U.K. were fitted with eye implants during an eight-hour surgery with promising results. After years of blindness, both had regained “useful” vision within weeks, picking up the outlines of objects and dreaming in color. Doctors expect continued improvement as their brains rewire themselves for sight.
21. WALES BARCODES DNA OF EVERY FLOWERING PLANT SPECIES IN THE COUNTRY
Photo Courtesy of Virtual Tourist.
Led by the National Botanic Garden’s head of research and conversation, a database of DNA for all 1,143 native species of Wales has been created. With the use of over 5,700 barcodes, plants can now be identified by photos of their seeds, roots, wood, or pollen. The goal is to help researchers track things such as bee migration patterns or how a plant species encroaches on a new area. The hope is to eventually barcode both animal and plant species across the world.
22. FIRST UNMANNED COMMERCIAL SPACE FLIGHT DOCKS WITH THE ISS
SpaceX docked its unmanned cargo craft, the Dragon, with the International Space Station. It marked the first time in history a private company had sent a craft to the station. The robotic arm of the ISS grabbed the capsule in the first of what will be many resupply trips.
23. ULTRA-FLEXIBLE “WILLOW” GLASS WILL ALLOW FOR CURVED ELECTRONIC DEVICES
Created by New York–based developer Corning, the flexible glass prototype was shown off at an industry trade show in Boston. At only 0.05mm thick, it’s as thin as a sheet of paper. Perhaps Sony’s wearable PC concept will actually be possible before 2020.
24. NASA BEGINS USING ROBOTIC EXOSKELETONS
The X1 Robotic Exoskeleton weighs in at 57 lbs. and contains four motorized joints along with six passive ones. With two settings, it can either hinder movement, such as when helping astronauts exercise in space, or aid movement, assisting paraplegics with walking.
25. HUMAN BRAIN IS HACKED
Usenix Security had a team of researchers use off-the-shelf technology to show how vulnerable the human brain really is. With an EEG (electroencephalograph) headset attached to the scalp and software to figure out what the neurons firing are trying to do, it watches for spikes in brain activity when the user recognizes something like one’s ATM PIN number or a child’s face.
26. FIRST PLANET WITH FOUR SUNS DISCOVERED
Discovered by amateur astronomers, the planet closely orbits a pair of stars, which in turn orbit another set of more distant stars. It’s approximately the size of Neptune, so scientists are still trying to work out how the planet has avoided being pulled apart by the gravitational force of that many stars.
27. MICROSOFT PATENTED THE “HOLODECK”
The patent suggests Microsoft wants to take gaming beyond a single screen and turn it into an immersive experience — beaming images all over the room, accounting for things like furniture, and bending the graphics around them to create a seamless environment.
Over the decades, technology has progressed faster than any other time in human history. Electronic machines are being used to improve our everyday lives and it is believed that by 2045 humans will become one with machines.
An artificial brain created by neuroscientists at the Unviersity of Waterloo in Canada can pass a basic IQ test according to researchers, reported ExtremeTech.
The Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network — SPAUN — contains 2.5 million simulated neurons. It can complete eight different tasks, and an attached arm can even write.
Not only does it simulate the human brain’s abilities, but it even simulates the brain’s limits, as it has difficulty remembering more than a few numbers.
The researchers hope to further develop the artificial brain by creating more adaptability — that is, by creating an artificial brain that can learn by actually doing things, rather than being limited by what it has been programmed to do.
Researchers in Dubai hope to create the first genetically modified (GM) camels capable of producing pharmaceutical proteins in their milk,which can then be processed to manufacture cheaper drugs for the region.
The project aims to slash the prices of life-saving drugs — including insulin, and clotting factors for treating haemophilia — in the Middle East and North Africa, according to Nisar Wani, head of the Reproductive Biology Laboratory at Dubai’s Camel Reproduction Center, in the United Arab Emirates.
The cost of camel milk in the region is comparable to that of cow’s milk, but the former is more suited to local climates, said Wani. Camels are highly resistant to disease, easier to maintain in the region’s arid climate, and are more efficient in converting food [into body mass] than cows.
“We are establishing camel cells modified with exogenous [foreign] DNA, for use in producing transgenic cloned animals, or GM camels,” Wani toldSciDev.Net. “Hopefully we will transfer camel transgenic embryos to surrogate mothers for the first time later this year.”
Wani said he was unable to pinpoint when the first transgenic animal would be born, as the calving rate for cloned embryos was only five per cent, and “this rate gets even smaller when transgenic cells are used”.
“We have crossed some critical barriers but still need to do a lot of work to reach the final destination,” he added.
When Sherrie Walter lost her ear to cancer two years ago, she told herself she’d never be one of those survivors attaching a prosthetic ear every day.
“The concept of having to tape something to my skin every day didn’t feel like that was who I was,” the 42-year-old mother of two told ABC News. “I could just see my kids running around with it, yelling, ‘I have mommy’s ear!’”
But doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore offered Walter a chance at a new ear — a permanent one built from her own tissue.
The groundbreaking procedure, described as one of the most complicated ear constructions in the U.S., involves removing cartilage from the rib cage to form a new ear, which is then placed under the skin of the forearm to grow.
“It was under my arm for about four months,” Walter said. “I just thought I was something from science fiction.”
This week, Walter received some of the finishing touches on her ear, with doctors sculpting and carving tissue to reposition it.
“Family and friends say it looks great,” Walter said. “I’m not looking until the big reveal.”
Walter’s journey began in 2010, when a sore in her left ear was diagnosed as basal-cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
“My dermatologist looked at it for less than five minutes and said, ‘You have cancer,’” Walter said.
In October 2012, Walter was told the cancer had spread to her ear canal. She went through a 16-hour procedure to have the entire ear, neck glands, lymph nodes tissue and part of her skull removed.
That’s when a team of doctors stepped in and told Walter she had options.
Members of the public are being asked for their verdict on allowing the creation of IVF babies with three genetic parents.
What they say could pave the way to a landmark change in the law as early as next year that would affect future generations.
The controversy surrounds “uncharted territory” techniques aimed at preventing a special category of diseases caused by inherited genes.
They involve children being conceived with the help of a third genetic “parent” – a woman whose donated egg provides a source of replacement healthy DNA. A baby created this way would have a full compliment of nuclear DNA from its mother and father, plus a tiny amount of donated mitochondrial DNA.
Mitochondria are rod-like bodies in the cell which act as powerhouses, supplying energy. They have their own set of genes, separate from those in the cell nucleus, which are only passed on by mothers.
Defects in mitochondrial DNA give rise to a range of serious and potentially life-threatening diseases including a form of muscular dystrophy and conditions leading to the loss of hearing and vision, heart problems and intestinal disorders.
The new mitochondrial replacement treatments would remove the damaged DNA, thereby breaking the generational chain of disease. But they are banned because any tampering with inherited genetic material in clinics is illegal.
A window has deliberately been left in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, allowing this blanket rule to be changed by Parliament in certain circumstances. But first ministers must be satisfied that the techniques are ethically acceptable to the public.
Regulators have now launched a large-scale public consultation exercise aimed at canvassing the opinions of ordinary people rather than experts. It runs until December 7, with a report being submitted to the Government next spring.
A change in the law voted in by Parliament could quickly follow. But it is unlikely that this would see the immediate introduction of mitochondrial replacement. The final say on whether treatments can go ahead will lie with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) which regulates IVF clinics and fertility research.
They beat like real heart cells, but the rat cardiomyocytes in a dish at Harvard University are different in one crucial way. Snaking through them are wires and transistors that spy on each cell’s electrical impulses. In future, the wires might control their behaviour too.
Versions of this souped-up, “cyborg” tissue have been created for neurons, muscle and blood vessels. They could be used to test drugs or as the basis for more biological versions of existing implants such as pacemakers. If signals can also be sent to the cells, cyborg tissue could be used in prosthetics or to create tiny robots.
“It allows one to effectively blur the boundary between electronic, inorganic systems and organic, biological ones,” says Charles Lieber, who leads the team behind the cyborg tissue.
Artificial tissue can already be grown on three-dimensional scaffolds made of biological materials that are not electrically active. And electrical components have been added to cultured tissue before, but not integrated into its structure, so they were only able to glean information from the surface.
Professor Julian Savulescu said that creating so-called designer babies could be considered a “moral obligation” as it makes them grow up into “ethically better children”.
The expert in practical ethics said that we should actively give parents the choice to screen out personality flaws in their children as it meant they were then less likely to “harm themselves and others”.
The academic, who is also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, made his comments in an article in the latest edition of Reader’s Digest.
He explained that we are now in the middle of a genetic revolution and that although screening, for all but a few conditions, remained illegal it should be welcomed.
He said that science is increasingly discovering that genes have a significant influence on personality – with certain genetic markers in embryo suggesting future characteristics.
By screening in and screening out certain genes in the embryos, it should be possible to influence how a child turns out.
In the end, he said that “rational design” would help lead to a better, more intelligent and less violent society in the future.
The US military’s future technology division is reportedly eyeing tampering with soldiers’ genes, allowing them to go for days without food or sleep and re-grow limbs lost in battle or due to landmines.
Scientists at the Pentagon’s high-tech Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency hope to find a way to affect certain genes to make the human body do amazing things, like using body fat more efficiently, says British newspaper Sunday Express.
The journalists talked to novelist Simon Conway, who was given a behind-the-scenes glimpse of DARPA’s research, which may seem like it comes straight out of a science fiction novel.
“If you can efficiently convert fat into energy you don’t need to feed your soldiers as often,” Conway said. “So you can send them into battle in remote areas plump and they live off their own fat.
“It is all about improving efficiency of energy creation in the body. Soldiers would be able to run at Olympic speeds, carry large weights and go without sleep and without food,” he said.
Another possible chilling breakthrough is a drug that can make people go for hours without sleep and stay alert, Professor Joel Garreau, of Arizona State University told the tabloid.
“It was tested by the US army on helicopter pilots. They found that after 40 hours, pilots actually had better concentration levels than if they had rested. It is much better than amphetamines, which affect decision making and have led to many so-called friendly fire incidents,” he said.
There is also a project to make soldiers regenerate lost limbs.
“There are well-documented cases of young children losing a finger and it grows back. The trick is how to identify the trigger. Now it’s a well-funded area of research,” he said.
The agency, sometimes dubbed Pentagon’s “mad scientists division”, is known for reaching for far-fetched, eyebrow-raising technology. But it has its record of breakthroughs, including the creation of the precursors of the modern internet.
Among other things, DARPA’s $2 billion-a-year budget is used for a hypersonic unmanned vehicle, insect-sized spy drones, mini-satellites that can cannibalize other spacecraft and new brands of cyber weapons.
Using rat heart cells and silicone polymer, researchers have bioengineered a “jellyfish” that knows how to swim.
The odd jellyfish mimic, dubbed a “Medusoid” by its creators, is more than a curiosity. It’s a natural biological pump, just like the human heart. That makes it a good model to use to study cardiac physiology, said study researcher Kevin Kit Parker, a bioengineer at Harvard University.
“The idea is to look at a muscular pump other than the heart or other muscular organ and see if there are some fundamental similarities, or design principles, that are conserved across them,” Parker told LiveScience. “This study revealed that there are.”
The language of life is about to expand its vocabulary. An international team of researchers discovered that the body’s copying machine for DNA works in the same way for manmade, artificial building blocks of DNA as it does for the natural kind.
If scientists find artificial DNA building blocks work well and are safe to use, the extra building materials could create DNA that codes for new molecules that the body can’t make now. The artificial DNA could also form the basis of a partly synthetic organism.
The DNA code in living things is made of four different molecules, called bases, that are nicknamed A, T, C and G. In a double row of DNA, the bases always link up to each other in a specific way, with A’s matching with T’s and C’s matching with G’s. In 2008, a team of researchers created a third, artificial pair of DNA molecules made to match with each other, named NaM and 5SICS. In this new study, some of the same researchers used a technique called X-ray crystallography to take pictures of A, T, C, G, NaM and 5SICS while they were getting copied in a test tube.
The first human eggs grown from human stem cells could be fertilized with human sperm cells later this year, potentially adding one more peg in the ladder toward reproduction sans human interaction. In this case it would entirely bypass a woman’s donation of her eggs. But it could also turn stem cells into an infinite loop, of egg cells into embryos into stem cells, and on and on, in a fractal-like repetition of reproduction.
In February, a study was announced involving Japanese women whose reproductive stem cells were donated because they were undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital were able to coax these ovarian stem cells into becoming immature human egg cells, which were then incubated in mice so they’d have the proper ovarian structures. Now these same scientists, working with a team at Edinburgh University, want to fertilize them.
After sperm implantation, the scientists would watch the blastocysts develop into embryos for two weeks — the legal limit — and determine if they’re viable. Then these embryos would either be frozen or “allowed to perish,” according to the Independent. The tests would validate the stem-cell-derived human eggs, more properly called oocytes, and could serve as an early indicator of whether they could be used to eradicate human sexual activity and infertility.
Stem-cell derived oocytes could replenish the stocks of women undergoing menopause, or they could be used to allow infertile women to reproduce. The Independent goes so far as to mention an “elixir of youth,” wherein women of any age are full of stem-cell derived oocytes, remaining fertile and youthfully healthy forever.
The scientists argue that using stem cells to grow eggs in lab dishes might one day help preserve cancer patients’ fertility. Today, Woodruff’s lab and others freeze pieces of girls’ ovaries before they undergo fertility-destroying chemotherapy or radiation. They’re studying how to coax the immature eggs inside to mature so they could be used for in vitro fertilization years later when the girls are grown.
Still, this potential stem cell-based embryo construction still faces some hurdles — reproductive biologists are applying for a license to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in the UK. But if it’s approved, the eggs could be fertilized this year, according to the Independent.
Stem cells on one hand hold such great promise because they can differentiate into any cell, potentially replacing neurons, islet cells, kidney cells and more.
On the other hand serious ethical questions are being raised as to the source and procurement of the stem cells. While some experts in the medical community forecast unlimited potential for fetal tissue technology, others have expressed deep concern as to the limits to the ethical and moral dynamics of the issue.
This research conceivably turns stem cells into an infinite supply of cellular material. The stem cell eggs may be used to help women conceive a child, but it’s not a huge leap to much more frightening scenarios: Stem cells turned into human egg cells, which could be fertilized to grow embryos, which would contain more stem cells, which could in turn be harvested …. and so on, as self-contained stem cell factories.
Scientists have created artificial genetic material that can store information and evolve over generations in a similar way to DNA – a feat expected to drive research in medicine and biotechnology, and shed light on how molecules first replicated and assembled into life billions of years ago.
Ultimately, the creation of alternatives to DNA could enable scientists to make novel forms of life in the laboratory.
Researchers at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in Cambridge, developed chemical procedures to turn DNA and RNA, the molecular bases for all known life, into six alternative genetic polymers called XNAs.
The material could provide self-healing surfaces for a multitude of products ranging from mobile phones and laptops to cars, say researchers.
When cut, the plastic turns from clear to red along the line of the damage, mimicking what happens to skin.
It reacts to ordinary light, or changes in temperature or acidity, by mending broken molecular ‘bridges’ to heal itself.
U.S. scientists told how they created the material at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting in San Diego, California.
Lead researcher Professor Marek Urban, from the University of Southern Mississippi, said: ‘Mother Nature has endowed all kinds of biological systems with the ability to repair themselves.
‘Some we can see, like the skin healing and new bark forming in cuts on a tree trunk. Some are invisible, but help keep us alive and healthy, like the self-repair system that DNA uses to fix genetic damage to genes.
‘Our new plastic tries to mimic nature, issuing a red signal when damaged and then renewing itself when exposed to visible light, temperature or pH changes.’
The material could flag up damage to critical aircraft structures, said Prof Urban. A decision could then be taken whether to replace the component or ‘heal’ it with a burst of intense light.
Scratches on vehicle fenders could be repaired the same way.
Prof Urban’s team is now working on incorporating the technology into plastics that can withstand high temperatures.
So did you hear the one about the fetal tissue in your soda?
Oklahoma State Senator Ralph Shortey is being widely mocked for a bill to ban the use of human embryonic tissue in the production or research of food. Or, in the language of the bill:
No person or entity shall manufacture or knowingly sell food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients.
I think this bill is anti-medicine, anti-biotech, and anti-business, but I also think that Shortey has a point, and that his effort highlights a deep divide in the way people understand and feel about science that no amount of mocking on Twitter or Andy-Kaufman-esque stunt articles on Gawker will change. So let’s take a look at what Shortey is actually talking about.
No person or entity is manufacturing food or other products intended for human consumption that contain aborted human fetuses. But some food companies are using cell lines that were originally derived from human fetuses in order to develop new food products. Moreover, many medicines and vaccines, which I suppose could be seen as “meant for human consumption.” The Children of God For Life, which according to press reports inspired Shortey’s bill, also opposes standard vaccines for chickenpox, rubella and hepatitis A and drugs such as Roche’s Pulmozyme for cystic fibrosis andAmgen‘s Enbrel for rheumatoid arthritis. (See a list of products Children of God For Life say are unethical.)
The fetus-derived cell line we’re talking about was also created around the time I was born. This is 35-year-old technology. And it is widely used in cell biology. And there is no way you’ll consume them or that the cells would cause any health problems.