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Showing posts from December, 2005

21st Century Lego: Synthetic Biology and Molecular Engineering

As long as I can remember, I've always enjoyed designing and building stuff. I have clear memories of building things with tinkertoy when I was around 3 years old, and as I grew up I made the usual progression through Lego, mechano, balsa wood models, electronics, software, ... The stuff you can build is limited only by the properties of the building materials, your skill level and knowledge, and your imagination. Well, wouldn't it be cool if you could build stuff out of molecules? If, through synthetic biology, you could craft some DNA to create the necessary infrastructure within a cell to create a tiny manufacturing plant for, say, carbon nanotubes?

First thing to do when some far out idea like this pops into your head is to see if someone else has thought of it too (which is almost always the case).
c.f.: http://ej.iop.org/links/q30/2N8tYInWNdqdYgCQ2+AZJg/nano5_1_R01.pdf

As we become more adept at modifying proteins not just for binding but for catalysis, the nanotechnologi…

Live long and prosper...

Genetically Engineered Mice Defy Aging Process
Scientists have prolonged the lives of laboratory mice by 20 percent using a technique that boosts the natural antioxidants of the body.

Scientists Find Anti-Aging Gene in Mice
The discovery was triggered by a study Kuro-o and his colleagues published in 1997. That study identified a gene in mice that, when damaged, caused the animals to experience all the hallmarks of aging in humans -- hardening of the arteries, thinning bones, withered skin, weak lungs -- and to die prematurely. They dubbed the gene Klotho, for the Greek goddess who spins the thread of life.

Suspecting the gene may play a role in regulating life span, Kuro-o and his colleagues genetically engineered mice with overactive Klotho genes. In the latest experiments, they found that these animals lived an average of 20 to 30 percent longer than normal -- 2.4 to 2.6 years vs. a normal life span of about two years -- without any signs of ill effects, according to the new report.…

Here comes the bio-electronics revolution...

Adam Heller at the University of Texas at Austin has developed an implantable electrode module, the first component of a biofuel cell in which glucose is electro-oxidized at the anode and oxygen is electroreduced at the cathode at neutral pH. The volumetric power density of the cell, including the liquid passing through it, will be around 1mW/cm at the glucose and oxygen concentraions of arterial blood.

The secret to the fuel cell's size and performance is the use of microfibers rather than flat electrodes and the enzyme-based electroactive coatings. This electrode design avoids glucose oxidation at the cathode and O2 reduction at the anode, Heller points out, eliminating the need for an electrode-separating membrane, which is difficult to produce and enclose when small.

The anode coating is glucose oxidase covalently bound to a reducing-potential copolymer that has osmium complexes tethered to its backbone. The cathode coating is similar but contains the enzyme laccase and an oxidi…