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Tentacles versus blood cells
Microbiology is really turning into the answer to pretty much every health problem. Even promising cancer cures are being based on it.

What can be seen in that photo above isn't a cure per se, though. Instead, it is more of an agent that can eliminate cancer cells.

Basically, it is a microfluidic chip coated with long strands of DNA which, like a jellyfish scoops grub in the ocean, uses the strands to dangle into the bloodstream and pluck cancerous proteins out.

Designers from Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital are behind the creation of this chip. They believe that the “jellyfish” can both diagnose and treat the disease. Human testing is the only step left before establishing whether or not the method is worthwhile.

It might be too much to hope for, but it really was about time someone found out how cancer can finally be cured completely.

 
 
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This image shows microbeads developed by SpherIngenics for cell delivery within the human body
A startup from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) has recently secured funding from the US Department of Defense (DOD), for the development of new technologies related to delivering cells to any location within the human body. 

Cell delivery is a critical step in the process of repairing damaged tissues. However, the main issue with putting new cells in the body is that the environment they encounter once they reach the bloodstream is extremely hostile. 

Any new structures inserted into the body are immediately attacked and disintegrated by the immune system. This leads to significant inflammation, a condition that poses its own set of problems. If the therapeutic cells are not destroyed by this response, they are at least scattered in all directions.


This means that the impact they were supposed to have on a particular area will be severely diminished. In most cases, the cell injections end up having no effect, but producing multiple side-effects. The new startup, called SpherIngenics, was created as a method of preventing this from happening. 

In order to do this, the company is using technology developed in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech, and at the Emory University. Their method is safe, reliable, yields no significant side-effects, and is entirely repeatable.

In addition to protecting the newly introduced cells from an untimely death, they also prevent them from migrating to other locations in the body, increasing the efficiency of cell delivery therapies by a wide margin. SpherIngenics hopes to capitalize on this approach by creating new protective capsules.

Its efforts are being supported by a two-year, $730,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the DOD. The company was funded by Coulter Department professors Franklin Bost (also the company's CEO), Barbara Boyan and Zvi Schwartz.

“When damaged tissue is being repaired by a cell-based therapy, our microbead technology ensures that cells travel to and remain in the targeted area while maintaining continued viability,” Bost explains.

“This technology has the potential to reduce the cost of treatment by eliminating the need for multiple therapeutic procedures,” the expert goes on to say. SphereIngenics was founded back in 2007.

“For the Phase II SBIR grant, we’re going to examine whether delivering microbeads full of stem cells can enhance cartilage repair and regeneration of craniofacial defects in an animal model,” Boyan adds.


 
 
Kirby-Bauer antibiotic testing (KB testing or disk diffusion antibiotic sensitivity testing) is a test which uses antibiotic-impregnated wafers to test whether particular bacteria are susceptible to specific antibiotics. A known quantity of bacteria are grown on agar plates in the presence of thin wafers containing relevant antibiotics. If the bacteria are susceptible to a particular antibiotic, an area of clearing surrounds the wafer where bacteria are not capable of growing (called a zone of inhibition).

This along with the rate of antibiotic diffusion are used to estimate the bacteria's sensitivity to that particular antibiotic. In general, larger zones correlate with smaller minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of antibiotic for that bacteria. This information can be used to choose appropriate antibiotics to combat a particular infection.


 
 
A team of experts in the United States, which took the world of genetics by storm last year, announced recently that it managed to reach a new impressive milestone in their quest to develop synthetic life. 

The group was able to create the first non-biological, self-replicating species on Earth, by synthesizing a bacterial genome from scratch, and then allowing it to take over a cell.

Investigators responsible for this feat were led by genome pioneer J. Craig Venter, the founder and leader of the J. Craig Venter Institute. This is a non-profit genomics research institute dedicated to research in genomics, its societal implications, and its potential applications.

Scientists with the Institute were also involved with the creation of the first self-replicating synthetic bacterial cell in the world.  This achievement was announced on May 20, 2010, and elicited reactions from all circles, including US President Barack Obama. 

Now, the same team strikes again. What the experts did was basically use a computer to develop a bacteria-like genome, and then constructed it from scratch. The construct was then inserted into a cell that had its own genetic material removed beforehand.

This is “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer,” Dr. Craig Venter says. But there are those who say that his line of work is dangerous, and potentially threatening for the world's future.

Unlike any other technology that came before, synthetic self-replicating organisms can, well, self-replicate. Advanced robots can do the same too, as can structures used in nanotechnology applications.

This means that it's a lot easier for experts to lose control over their own creations. But people are not accustomed to think about the individual importance of each scientific breakthrough, given the large number of innovations that are announced every single day.

Venter himself synthesized the genome of Mycoplasma mycoides, a dangerous parasite that targets vertebrates, and which is resistant to a large number of antibiotics, Daily Galaxy reports. 

But the genomics pioneer is convinced that things are looking up. “This is an important step, we think, both scientifically and philosophically,” he explained in an interview for Science. The journal is publishing his discoveries this week.

“It’s certainly changed my views of definitions of life and of how life works,” the expert concludes.

 
 
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After more than 10,000 years of absence, the mammoth may finally return to roam the Earth. The animal, which went extinct at the end of the Younger Dryas, may be engineered from the information contained in DNA found in frozen cells recovered from the Arctic permafrost. 

At this point, there is no guarantee that the research group seeking to accomplish this will succeed, but, if they do, then the achievement would undoubtedly become one of the most impressive in science. 

The group is confident in its success due to the fact that it has developed a technique to efficiently extract DNA from frozen cells. The genetic material recovered in this manner is then used with cloning technology to create a new individual. 

<Tissue samples were obtained in the summer of 2010 from a frozen mammoth carcass discovered in Siberia by a team of Russian experts. They are being preserved in a research laboratory until they can be used in cloning.

“If a cloned embryo can be created, we need to discuss, before transplanting it into the womb, how to breed [the mammoth] and whether to display it to the public,” explains Akira Iritani.

“After the mammoth is born, we'll examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors,” adds the expert, who is a professor emeritus at the Kyoto University. 

He and his team are in charge of the efforts to revive mammoths. The Japanese experts believe that, if everything goes according to plan, a live mammoth could be born within five to six years tops. 

The group plans to use an elephant as a surrogate mother for the mammoth. Cellular nuclei from the extinct beast will be inserted into an elephant egg cells, and then implanted into a female elephant.

The two creatures are theoretically similar enough to allow for a complication-free live birth, the scientists believe. They have been trying to clone a mammoth since 1997.

One of the most common problems they came across was the lack of usable mammoth cell nuclei. All the sample they retrieved from muscles or bones had their DNA damaged beyond use. A breakthrough came in 2008, when the samples that are to be used in the new study were found. 

“The mammoth has no defects except that its tail was bit off. In terms of its state of preservation, this is the world's most valuable discovery,” says of the 2008 finding Alexei Tikhonov.

The expert is the deputy director of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which keeps the samples in storage until they are used, Daily Galaxy reports.

 
 
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A collaboration of American researchers announces that it has successfully completed a long-term effort to characterize the genes and genomes of plant-digesting microbes that live in the rumen (forestomach) of cows and other ruminants. 

These microorganisms hold no intrinsic value, but they are able to break down materials in the grass cows eat that no other class of animals can process. Finding out how they do this is key to developing new biofuel technologies, experts say. 

Cellulose and hemicellulose are two materials in plants that are not only useless to humans, but also impossible to digest within our guts. In cows, they are capable of sustaining the animals, their offspring, and the human population benefiting from various food products.

The class of microbes the collaboration investigated has eluded scientific scrutiny for a very long time, as scientists found it impossible to grow and study them in the tightly-controlled confines of scientific laboratories. 

The new study was conducted by experts at the US Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), and consisted of a massive-scale DNA sequencing effort.

In a paper published in the January 28 issue of the top journal Science, the team reveals that the new data could allow for the cheaper and more energy-effective processing or plant biomass. The inability to do so is a great obstacle in the path of using biofuels widely. 

The goal of biofuel research is to turn plant biomass into sugar. But this process is tremendously energy-intensive, and requires a host of expensive technologies that make this alternative source of energy unfeasible. 

“Microbes have evolved over millions of years to efficiently degrade recalcitrant biomass,” explains the lead investigator for the study, and the director of the JGI, Eddy Rubin. 

“Communities of these organisms can be found in diverse ecosystems, such as in the rumen of cows, the guts of termites, in compost piles, as well as covering the forest floor,” he adds. 

“Microbes have solved this challenge, overcoming the plant’s protective armor to secure nutrients, the rich energy source that enables them and the cow to thrive,” the expert goes on to say.

Using the new genetic data, researchers might become able to develop new approach for plant biomass conversion, which would aid the world get rid of dirty fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal.