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.
Ulrike von Leszczynski in Die Welt introduces a novel submersible which can dive up to 6 kilometers deep but weighs only 500 kg. The 3,5 meter long “autonomous underwater vehicle” named DNS Pegel does not need a pressure chamber as it is being flooded when diving. Instruments and electronics have been developed to withstand the conditions and most are protected by silicone.
In Der Spiegel,Steve Ayan, editor-in-chief of Gehirn & Geist, interviews Florian Holsboer, director of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry who explains how and why psychiatry will be revolutionized by tailor-made, personalized medicine to treat conditions such as anxiety, depression and others. Holsboer explains that psychiatric diseases are caused by a complex interplay between genes and environment in which the environment also influences the pattern of genes involved in a certain condition at a certain point in time. In the future, he predicts, “we will be able to generate biochemical snapshots using genetic tests and biomarkers.”
Marc-Denis Weitze in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) introduces efforts by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried, the Natural and Medical Sciences Institute (NMI) at the University of Tuebingen and the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering of ETH Zurich in Basle to record the activity of neurons in neuronal networks – a challenging task as chips and electronics elements need to withstand salty solutions for months. The latest innovation is a chip providing 32,000 contact points on a 2.6 square millimeter area. Nicola von Lutterotti, also in NZZ, reports on US and Swiss studies looking into the causes of hospitalizations. In Switzerland, up to 7% were due to overdosing of medications (either by doctors or accidentally by patients) or prescriptions of medications without observing warnings on potential interactions given on the label.
In the New York Times (NYT), Nicholas Wade reports on the successful genetic therapy of six patients with hemophilia B. The disease was corrected by transferring a working version of the factor IX gene via the adeno-associated virus-8 (AAV-8). The article points out that the therapy did not work or ceased to work in some of the patients. In other patients, the factor IX is produced in sufficient quantities for up to 22 months so that they can live without medications.
The New Scientist this week features a study by researchers from the University of Freiburg, Germany, in which symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) have been reverted in mice by injecting RNA oligonucleotides that stimulate the expression of interferon-B (IFNb). IFNb is known to be efficacious in humans with MS. However, 80% of people treated with IFNb injections develop antibodies against IFNb. If produced by the body itself the problem might be avoided.
And finally, “self-hacking” can be dangerous to your health, reports Klaus Vogt in Die Welt. Self hackers are promoting the “Quantified Self” movement and are recording, rating and sharing a wealth of body functions – from weight and blood pressure to feelings and data on sex and meditation – on a daily or even more frequent basis. While the movement already finds interest among medtech companies and data providers, medical professionals now warn that the underlying condition can become addictive. The akampioneer recommends software developers should program a meta app analyzing the quantified self data so that an addiction value can be posted on top.
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.
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.