Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Thomas Jüngling in Die Welt introduces auxetic materials which have the unique property of becoming broader when stretched and more tight when crushed. The effect is not depending on the material used, but on the inner structure, so that auxetic materials can be designed from metals as well as plastics. Applications span from improved bulletproof vests to seals to better sofa cushions. In medicine, auxetic materials may be used as dressing, filters, e. g. for artificial lungs, or for the delivery of drugs from plasters.

Jürgen Rees in Wirtschaftswoche introduces a technology developed by car manufacturer Volkswagen which lets an electrically powered delivery van drive autonomously and by acclamation of its driver from outside. The car is designed for courier services.

The Economist this week takes a look at personal manufacturing as the potential “next big thing”. Could be, at least in areas of the world where industrial infrastructure is poor and capital rare, the paper says. Prices for 3D printers came down from more than $100,000 to $2,500; kits may amount to $500, thanks to start-ups in the field. Add costs for the thermoplastics ($1 a pound), free software and even freely available blueprints, and personal manufacturing seems to be at the same stage as the personal computer world was when Apple introduced the Apple II.

Jörg Albrecht and Volker Stollorz in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) report on a simple method to combine the deadly, but barely contagious bird flu virus with the highly infectious, but rarely lethal swine flu variant to a deadly and highly contagious novel flu virus. The new virus with an alleged mortality rate of 70% has been designed in the Netherlands and was reported by Science. Albrecht and Stollorz mention various other combination experiments to create deadly and highly contagious viruses, raising the question of whether the data should be published or not.

Valentin Frimmer in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reveals the mechanism of endoreduplication common in plants to multiply chromosomes without subsequent cell division. Endoreduplication allows for faster synthesis of enzymes and cell components and is economically and commercially very important as it contributes to about half of the global biomass growth.

In Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) Nicola von Lutterotti summarizes the biological and medical importance of nitric oxide, an important signaling molecule of the body. She explains successes and failures in developing nitric oxide-based drugs for the treatment of pain, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, and others.

Ärzte Zeitung reports latests insights into the EHEC epidemic which in Germany this summer caused 3,842 infections, including 855 cases of hemolytic-uraemic syndrome and 53 deaths. Ultimately the bacteria were discovered in a 15 metric ton charge of fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt; however, it was unclear why only the 75 kg of this lot delivered to an organic farm in Northern Germany and a few kilograms bought by a French farm led to outbreaks of the disease. Ärzte Zeitung writes that Martin Exner, director of the Institute for Hygiene at the University Clinic Bonn, Germany, believes that the bacteria were in a viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state in the charge.  Already it has been shown that the EHEC strain causing the outbreak can adopt the VBNC state. It is also known that under certain circumstances infectious bacteria in VBNC state can be activated, e.g. by transit of the intestine. At least at one of the farms, workers regularly ate sprouts cultivated on the site and five of the workers were identified as eliminators. Exner speculates that a well used on the farm as a water source might have spread the bacteria as the toilets are located at the well house. As a result, Exner calls for improving hygiene standards in sprout-cultivating factories similar to clinics.