Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

MacGregor Campbell reports in the New Scientist that DNA can stretch to nearly twice its length without breaking and explains how this feature can lead to the development of new drugs to fight cancer. Ferris Jabr in the same magazine reports about the first discovery of a virus infecting nematode Caenorhabdis elegans, a workhorse of developmental biology. The discovery will now enable biologists to study virus-host interactions in this model organism.

The Economist introduces a technology developed by Planar Energy (Orlando, Florida) which turns rechargeable batteries into thin, solid devices by printing lithium-ion batteries onto sheets of metal or plastic. The magazine quotes the company by saying the cells will be more reliable than conventional lithium-ion cells, will be able to store two to three times more energy in the same weight and will last for tens of thousands of recharging cycles. They could also be made for a third of the cost. The trick is done by using a ceramic electrolyte which can be printed and appears solid while it allows free passage to lithium ions.

Matthew Herper in Forbes reports on PerkinElmer’s entry into the DNA sequencing market by creating a service business. Researchers can send in DNA for sequencing by PerkinElmer and subsequently access and analyze the genetic data in a computer cloud. Focus will be on human exam sequencing. Matthew also features a video interview with Mischa Angrist, author of “Here is a Human Being: At the dawn of personal genomics” about what it means to look at one’s own sequence data and whether these data should be private or be available for science.

Also in Forbes, Robert Langreth introduces research by William DeGrado, of the University of Pennsylvania trying to breath new life in peptide drugs to fight infectious diseases. DeGrado uses supercomputer simulation to create antibiotics that mimic natural ones but are far simpler to produce and more stable. The first drug designed by DeGrado, PMX-30063 by PolyMedix to treat staphylococcus skin infections is now in clinical trials.

The New York Times also deals with infectious diseases. Sindya N. Bhanoo outlines efforts of researchers from seven countries to analyze how a single strain of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria has morphed over 30 years and spread across the world, as a result of evolutionary pressure by antibiotics and vaccines. Within three decades, the strain turned over about 75% of its genome by recombination and mutation. The study appeared in Science.

German papers feature two stories on drugs that surprisingly show efficacy in indications they have not been developed for: Cinthia Briseno in Der Spiegel reports on a study featured in Science on cancer drug Taxol paclitaxel which is able to stimulate the growth of nerve fibers that have been cut in two. The researchers are now planning clinical studies in paraplegics. Nicola von Lutterotti in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports a Lancet Neurology study on Prozac fluxetin which is able support the recovery from palsy in stroke patients.