Archive for January, 2006

Synthetic Biology Offers New Hope For Malaria Victims

January 26, 2006

Synthetic Biology Offers New Hope For Malaria Victims

In a preview of things to come from the fledgling scientific field of “synthetic biology,” researchers with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Physical Biosciences Division (PBD) and the University of California at Berkeley’s Chemical Engineering Department are developing a simple and much less expensive means of making one of the most promising and potent of all the new antimalarial drugs.

By adding new genes and engineering a new metabolic pathway in Escherichia coli bacteria, the researchers can quickly and cheaply synthesize a precursor to the chemical compound artemisinin. This next-generation antimalarial drug has proven to be effective against strains of the malaria parasite that are resistant to current front-line drugs, but it is far too expensive right now for the countries in Africa and South America where it is needed most.

“By inserting genes from three separate organisms into the E. coli, we’re creating a bacterial strain that can produce the artemisinin precursor, amorphadiene,” says chemical engineering professor Jay Keasling, who is leading the research. “We are now attempting to clone the remaining genes needed for the E. coli to produce artemisinin.”

Now they need to get compounds that give resistance to express in corn or something that people eat so they don’t get the disease in the first place.

Inventor develops anti-malaria wristwatch – Yahoo! News

January 18, 2006

Inventor develops anti-malaria wristwatch – Yahoo! News: “Gervans Trading”

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – A South African inventor has developed an anti-malaria wristwatch to help combat one of Africa’s biggest killers by monitoring the blood of those who wear it and sounding an alarm when the parasite is detected.

Gervan Lubbe said his “Malaria Monitor” wristwatch, due to launch next month, could save lives and keep millions out of hospital by heading off the disease before patients even feel ill.

“It picks up the parasite and destroys it so early that the possibility of dying is absolutely zero and you don’t even feel the early cold symptoms,” Lubbe told Reuters in a telephone interview this week.

The sturdy digital timepiece pricks the wrist with a tiny needle four times a day and tests the blood for malaria parasites.

I’m dubious. I’ve worked with malaria and with microfluidic detectors for pathogenic organisms, and I’ve not seen anything that small. Malaria is hard to spot, though there are a few tricks you can use. Still, I’d like to see some testing. The website offers no info:

NEJM — Bioterrorism — Preparing to Fight the Next War

January 17, 2006

NEJM — Bioterrorism — Preparing to Fight the Next War: “Furthermore, large-scale industrial processes are not necessary for the development of potent biologic weapons. Increasingly, the means for propagating biologic agents under controlled conditions are being made accessible to anyone. Even our traditional concept of ‘weaponization’ is misleading: nature provides mechanisms for packaging and preserving many infectious agents that can be manipulated through biologic and genetic engineering — for example, by enhancing the virulence of naturally sporulating organisms. Materials science and nanoscale science — advances in encapsulation technology, for instance — will provide new ways to package such agents. And self-replicating agents that are highly transmissible among humans, such as variola virus and influenza virus, need little or no alteration in order to be disseminated efficiently by terrorists.”

Hmm, did someone get a sneak peak at my current work-in-progress?

Taiwan breeds transgenic, fluorescent, green pig – Yahoo! News

January 12, 2006

Taiwan breeds transgenic, fluorescent, green pig – Yahoo! News

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan, home to the world’s first transgenic glowing fish, has successfully bred fluorescent green pigs that researchers hope will boost the island’s stem cell research, a professor said on Thursday.

By injecting fluorescent green protein into embryonic pigs, a research team at the island’s leading National Taiwan University managed to breed three male transgenic pigs, said professor Wu Shinn-Chih of the university’s Institute and Department of Animal Science and Technology.

“There are partially fluorescent green pigs elsewhere, but ours are the only ones in the world that are green from inside out. Even their hearts and internal organs are green,” Wu said on Thursday.

Hmmm, they’re leaving something out. Injecting the protein into the cell wouldn’t cause the pigs to be able to express the protein. Maybe they meant the gene for the protein.

See, this is why science writing should be left to the experts.

Report: Face Transplant Patient Goes Out – Yahoo! News

January 11, 2006

Report: Face Transplant Patient Goes Out – Yahoo! News

PARIS – The woman who received a new nose, chin and mouth in a groundbreaking transplant operation in November has taken strolls in public without drawing stares, her surgeon said in an interview published Wednesday.

The world’s first partial face transplant patient is doing well and is focused on the future — the prospect of returning home from the hospital and restarting normal life, Dr. Bernard Devauchelle told Le Courrier Picard, a regional newspaper in northern France. Because of privacy laws, the woman can be identified only as Isabelle.

The 38-year-old divorced mother of two received her new features from a brain-dead donor on Nov. 27. She was mauled by her pet Labrador last year, leaving her with severe injuries that her doctors said made it difficult for her to speak and eat.

Wow, that’s pretty wild that you can transplant a face. It brings up all sorts of questions about what distinguishes one person from another. Increasingly it isn’t physical. It’s all about the mind (or soul if you hold certain beliefs). That just goes to show all the racicsts out there how wrong they are. Richard Morgan has a book where people’s consciousness can be uploaded from one body and downloaded in another. The body is just a “sleeve”. Perhaps it will come true one day…

Todd C Edwards Science and Writing: Remote Control Device ‘Controls’ Humans – Yahoo! News

January 7, 2006

Todd C Edwards Science and Writing: Remote Control Device ‘Controls’ Humans – Yahoo! News

In this one, I joked that I should get my girlfriend an iPod for Christmas since they are hoping to put the human remote control devices in the iPods. They didn’t, so I didn’t, but she got me one. Hmmm. Suddenly I feel like taking out the trash…

Scientists say magnet therapy is a waste of money – Yahoo! News

January 6, 2006

Scientists say magnet therapy is a waste of money – Yahoo! News

LONDON (Reuters) – The use of magnetic devices to cure a variety of ills has soared in recent years but there is no evidence they work, according to an editorial in the British Medical Journal.

The market for magnetic bracelets, knee pads and the like may now be worth about one billion dollars a year, but two American scientists argue in the journal on Friday that many people are being fooled as to their therapeutic benefits.

“Money spent on expensive and unproved magnet therapy might be better spent on evidence-based medicine,” professors Leonard Finegold and Bruce Flamm wrote.

They said the many studies that purport to show magnets do work are suspect because a magnet’s main characteristic — to be attracted or repelled by metals — would betray it compared with placebos.

But they said magnet wearers may feel better even if there is no supporting evidence.

“Perhaps subjects with magnetic bracelets subconsciously detected a tiny drag when the bracelets were near ferromagnetic surfaces (which are ubiquitous in modern life), and this distracted or otherwise influenced the perceived pain.”

Hold on, did they say one billion dollers per year? Man, and when I did malaria biomagnetic research, everyone worried that we would be doing damage by putting people in magnetic fields. I may have to add MagnaSpa’s to my biotech thriller. Templeton Pierce can sneer derisively at them.