Manfred Lindinger in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) introduces a giant molecule the size of a virus. It is not a macromolecule – instead, it consists of just two rubidium atoms glued together by one electron.
Forget about “good” cholesterol, writes Nicola von Lutterotti, also in FAZ. Latest studies revealed that drug therapies to increase HDL failed to reduce the risk for cardiovascular events and did not prolong life.
Klaus Sievers in Die Welt explains how sewage plants can be used to produce electricity. The trick is done by microbial fuel cells populated by metal-reducing bacteria.
Garage biotech is approaching fast, writes Ted Greenwald in Forbes. He introduces OpenPCR, a $599 build-it-yourself PCR machine and PersonalPCR, a $149 2-tube PCR thermocycler by a company called Cofactor Bio. The DNA analysis is performed by Cofactor. Already, the machines have been used by high school students to identify tilapia fish sold as white tuna in a sushi restaurant.
The Economistfeatures Ron DePinho, the new president of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, a serial entrepreneur who us planning to use the results of the International Cancer Genome Consortium to develop new drugs against five cancers. The effort is financed by a $3 billion cancer-research fund created by the state of Texas and local philanthropists.
In the New York Times (NYT),Gina Kolata profiles Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and the MIT, who excelled as a mathematician but then was attracted by fruit flies and nematodes so that he finally decided to become a geneticist.
Susanne Kutter introduces in Wirtschaftswoche the latest, indispensable winter outfit: gloves that allow for the handling of smartphone and camera touch screens.
Last not least, Hanna Wick in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) introduces “Science Ink”, a book by US science writer Carl Zimmer which features tattoos worn by researchers and science enthusiastics, e. g. Schroedinger’s cat, a geological cross section or a piece of DNA.
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 Zeitungreports 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.
When German pharma company Boehringer Ingelheim on November 12 said that 260 cases of fatal bleeding have been linked to its new stroke prevention pill Pradaxa, the figures were taken up by many media as evidence that Pradaxa dabigatran, which was launched in Europe in September this year, was a dangerous drug.
In a courageous move, Boehringer Ingelheim yesterday released detailed data from the drug safety database, data that are usually submitted to regulatory agencies only.
Now that the figures are out, several media have taken up the issue again to put it into perspective. Hartmut Wewetzer in Der Tagesspiegel writes that every drug inhibiting blood coagulation poses the risk of bleeding. Wewetzer cites Christoph Bode, a heart specialist from University Clinic Freiburg, as saying that Pradaxa is lowering the risk of fatal bleeding in the brain to 25%, which is a superior value compared to vitamin K antagonists such as Marcumar and Warfarin, the therapeutic standard of previous decades.
Wewetzer also features Boehringer’s calculation that – based on current data – Pradaxa each year can prevent 3,490 of 4,500 stroke cases among 100,000 patients with atrial fibrillation, but may cause 230 cases of fatal bleeding. In comparison, Warfarin is causing 330 deaths. Based on the sum total treatment duration of Pradaxa, which amounts to 410,000 patient years since market authorization, Pradaxa is causing 63 fatal cases among 100,000 patients and year, much less than the figures to be expected from the clinical study data.
Martina Lenzen-Schulte in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) states that the figures reported do not constitute a scandal: “For one, it is in the nature of things that application of blood thinners can cause severe and sometimes fatal bleedings. And the bigger the number of patients treated, the more such complications are to be seen. … Second, it has to be asked whether the incidence of fatal bleedings following dabigatran administration is within the expected limits and – more importantly – whether conventional anticoagulants would have performed better.”
In her article “Deadly Speculations” Lenzen-Schulte also makes clear that competitors are often keen to scandalize side effects of novel drugs and mentions Bayer’s cholesterol-lowering drug cerivastatin as an example. Cerivastatin was withdrawn from the market by Bayer in 2001 following reports of fatal rhabdomyolysis. These cases mostly were due to combination with fibrate drugs – despite warnings on the label.
“It amounts to incapacitation, if one believes that patients always have to be dictated what it best for them”, she writes. “It would be better to put one’s cards on the table and let the patient decide what he wants and what not.”
Boehringer Ingelheim certainly has been quick to do just this, so that patients now can make an informed decision.
Solar cells can become cheap bulk ware, even for developing countries, writes Manfred Lindinger in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). He introduces a technology for printing a sheet of zinc oxide, a polymer containing fullerenes and an electrode made from polymers on paper. The technology developed at Technical University Chemnitz can use ordinary printing machines and paper, and the resulting solar paper can be bended and folded. However, the efficiency is still very poor (1.3% at 5 V compared to 10 or more with conventional ones). Life span will amount to a few months. For other approaches to make cheaper solar cells, see this post.
Martina Lenzen-Schulte, also in FAZ, explains how measle viruses leave cells to enter the airway. Today it is known that they do not proliferate in the outer epithelium cells but in lymph nodes. The way back is facilitated by the membrane protein nectin-4, which acts as a transporter carrying the virus through epithelial cells. Lenzen-Schulte also reports that the effect may explain why cancer cells, which often overexpress nectin-4, are vulnerable to measle and other viruses. This might pave a way to develop new oncolytic viruses.
Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, the nestor of the German biotechnology industry, makes the case for green biotechnology in the weekly Die Zeit. Winnacker criticizes the concept of coexistence that tries to avoid a blending of genetically modified and conventionally bred plants by defining a minimum distance between cultivated areas. In Germany, a farmer cultivating GMOs is liable for every case of cross-breeding, a provision that effectively prohibits GMO cultivation as there is a zero threshold for “contamination”. Winnacker also criticizes the strategy of patenting genetically modified plants instead of protecting them with the traditional plant variety rights that allow for exemptions for the further use of GMOs by breeders and farmers. Green biotechnology, he writes, has – at least in Europe – become the scapegoat for everything that is wrong with modern agriculture, from monoculture to declining biodiversity to the death of bees, although Europe is almost free from GM plants. As 25 years of research into the risk of green biotechnology have not been able to reveal any real danger, Winnacker proposes to amend the German law on genetic engineering and to simply omit the measures restricting the cultivation of GMOs.
Diabetics may soon be able to measure blood sugar without pricking, reportsDer Spiegel. A new technology developed by researchers of John’s Hopkins University enables measuring of blood sugar in tear fluid.
In Wirtschaftswoche,Matthias Hohensee introduces US-based 23andme company which offers genetic testing at a rate of $99 plus a flat fee of $9 per month for access to the data. The company, which was criticized for exaggerating the benefits of personal genetic testing, also changed its business model and is now offering its records comprising the data of 125,000 people for research purposes, e.g. to find out why certain hereditary diseases display incomplete penetrance in different carriers of the respective genes.
Theres Lüthi in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) reports on clinical studies by Roche and Novartis in people suffering from Down’s or fragile X syndrome in an attempt to improve cognitive abilities.
Alyson Krueger in Forbes reports on a talk on synthetic biology given by Andrew Hessel of Singularity University during the Technonomy 2011 conference. Hessel describes synthetic biology as computer-assisted genetic design that goes from an idea to printing DNA to ultimately booting DNA and forecasts it will render the task of engineering life as straightforward as programming software, or creating a vaccine as simple as Tweeting.
Alex Knapp, also in Forbes, describes a “cyborg yeast” designed by researchers from the University of California at San Francisco and ETH Zurich, Switzerland. In the yeast, the expression of a certain gene can be switched on and off by different shades of red light. The technique may lead to advances in the production of proteins by yeast cultures.
The Economistreports on the first computational pathologist which can can distinguish between grades of breast-cancer cells to provide a more accurate prognosis than a human pathologist can manage.
And finally, scientists found a single gene which can make you appear kinder, reports Catherine de Lange in New Scientist. In experiments conducted at the University of Toronto, people with the so-called GG version of the oxytocin receptor gene were judged to be kinder than those with GA or AA versions. Those with GG variations used significantly more non-verbal empathetic gestures in their storytelling such as smiling and nodding which made them appear kinder.