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Bacteria That Eat Carbon Dioxide

Bacteria in the lab of Prof. Ron Milo of the Weizmann Institute of Science have not just sworn off sugar – they have stopped eating all of their normal solid food, existing instead on carbon dioxide (CO2) from their environment. That is, they were able to build all of their biomass from air. This feat, which involved nearly a decade of rational design, genetic engineering and a sped-up version of evolution in the lab, was reported this week in Cell. The findings point to means of developing, in the future, carbon-neutral fuels.

The study began by identifying crucial genes for the process of carbon fixation – the way plants take carbon from CO2 for the purpose of turning it into such biological molecules as protein, DNA, etc. The research team added and rewired the needed genes. They found that many of the “parts” for the machinery that were already present in the bacterial genome could be used as is. They also inserted a gene that allowed the bacteria to get energy from a readily available substance called formate that can be produced directly from electricity and air and which is apt to “give up” electrons to the bacteria.

Just giving the bacteria the “means of production” was not enough, it turned out, for them to make the switch. There was still a need for another trick to get the bacteria to use this machinery properly, and this involved a delicate balancing act. Together with Roee Ben-Nissan, Yinon Bar-On and other members of Milo’s team in the Institute’s Plant and Environmental Sciences Department, Gleizer used lab evolution, as the technique is known; in essence, the bacteria were gradually weaned off the sugar they were used to eating. At each stage, cultured bacteria were given just enough sugar to keep them from complete starvation, as well as plenty of CO2 and formate. As some “learned” to develop a taste for CO2 (giving them an evolutionary edge over those that stuck to sugar), their descendants were given less and less sugar until after about a year of adapting to the new diet some of them eventually made the complete switch, living and multiplying in an environment that served up pure CO2.

The researchers believe that the bacteria’s new “health kick” could ultimately be healthy for the planet. Milo points out that today, biotech companies use cell cultures to produce commodity chemicals. Such cells – yeast or bacteria – could be induced to live on a diet of CO2 and renewable electricity, and thus be weaned from the large amounts of corn syrup they live on today. Bacteria could be further adapted so that rather than taking their energy from a substance such as formate, they might be able to get it straight up — say electrons from a solar collector – and then store that energy for later use as fuel in the form of carbon fixed in their cells. Such fuel would be carbon-neutral if the source of its carbon was atmospheric CO2.

Our lab was the first to pursue the idea of changing the diet of a normal heterotroph (one that eats organic substances) to convert it to autotrophism (‘living on air’),” says Milo. “It sounded impossible at first, but it has taught us numerous lessons along the way, and in the end we showed it indeed can be done. Our findings are a significant milestone toward our goal of efficient, green scientific applications.

Source: https://wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il/
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https://newatlas.com/

Gut Microbiome Unlocks The Secrets Of Aging

A new study has shown how the gut microbiota of older mice can promote neural growth in young mice, leading to promising developments in future treatments. The research group, based in Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, transferred the gut microbiota of older mice into the gut of younger mice with less developed gut fauna. This resulted in enhanced neurogenesis (neuron growth) in the brain and altered aging, suggesting that the symbiotic relationship between bacteria and their host can have significant benefits for health.

The past 20 years have seen a significant increase in the amount of research into the relationship between the host and the bacteria that live in or on it. The results of these studies have established an important role for this relationship in nutrition, metabolism, and behavior. The medical community hopes that these latest results could lead to the development of food-based treatment to help slow down the aging process.

In this study, the research team attempted to uncover the functional characteristics of the gut microbiota of an aging host. The researchers transplanted gut microbiota from old or young mice into young, germ-free mouse recipients.

Using mice, the team led by Professor Sven Pettersson from the NTU Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, transplanted gut microbes from old mice (24 months old) into young, germ-free mice (6 weeks old). After eight weeks, the young mice had increased intestinal growth and production of neurons in the brain, known as neurogenesis.
The team showed that the increased neurogenesis was due to an enrichment of gut microbes that produce a specific short chain fatty acid, called butyrate.
 We’ve found that microbes collected from an old mouse have the capacity to support neural growth in a younger mouse,” said Prof Pettersson. “This is a surprising and very interesting observation, especially since we can mimic the neuro-stimulatory effect by using butyrate alone.”
 “These results will lead us to explore whether butyrate might support repair and rebuilding in situations like stroke, spinal damage and to attenuate accelerated ageing and cognitive decline”.
The study was published in Science Translational Medicine, and was undertaken by researchers from Singapore, UK, and Australia.

Source: https://media.ntu.edu.sg/
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 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/

The Invisible Military Becomes A Reality

Canadian camouflage company Hyperstealth Biotechnology has patented the technology behind a material that bends light to make people and objects near invisible to the naked eye. The material, called Quantum Stealth, is currently still in the prototyping stage, but was developed by the company’s CEO Guy Cramer primarily for military purposes, to conceal agents and equipment such as tanks and jets in the field. As well as making objects close to invisible to the naked eye, the material also conceals them from infrared and ultraviolet imagers. Unlike traditional camouflage materials, which are limited to specific conditions such as forests or deserts, according to Cramer this “invisibility cloakworks in any environment or season, at any time of day. This is made possible through something called a lenticular lens – a corrugated sheet in which each ridge is made up of a convex – or outward-curvinglens. These are most commonly found in 3D bookmarks or collectable football cards but in this case, they are left clear rather than being printed on.

When multiple of these lenticular sheets with different lens distributions are layered in just the right way, they are able to refract light at a myriad different angles to create “dead spots“. Light is no longer able to pass through these points, hiding the subject behind them from view while the background remains unchanged.

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It bends light like a glass of water does when a spoon or straw inside it looks bent,” Cramer said. “Except I figured out how to do it with a much smaller volume and thickness of material.

Videos released by the company demonstrate Quantum Stealth‘s ability to work even when the material is the thickness of a sheet of paper, staying lightweight and inexpensive to produce while being substantial enough to also block thermal imagers.

There remain, however, some restrictions to the effectiveness of the material, as it requires the subject or object to stand a certain distance away in order to be concealed, and the effect might be more or less convincing when viewed from different angles.

Source: http://www.hyperstealth.com/
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https://www.dezeen.com/

Devices Made Of DNA Detect Cancer

A new cancer-detecting tool uses tiny circuits made of DNA to identify cancer cells by the molecular signatures on their surfaceDuke University researchers fashioned the simple circuits from interacting strands of synthetic DNA that are tens of thousands of times finer than a human hair. Unlike the circuits in a computer, these circuits work by attaching to the outside of a cell and analyzing it for proteins found in greater numbers on some cell types than others. If a circuit finds its targets, it labels the cell with a tiny light-up tag. Because the devices distinguish cell types with higher specificity than previous methods, the researchers hope their work might improve diagnosis, and give cancer therapies better aim.

A team led by Duke computer scientist John Reif and his former Ph.D. student Tianqi Song described their approach in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The cell membrane is studded with proteins that researchers can use to discriminate between tumor cells and normal cells, or among cancer cells of different types or disease stages.

Similar techniques have been used previously to detect cancer, but they’re more prone to false alarmsmisidentifications that occur when mixtures of cells sport one or more of the proteins a DNA circuit is designed to screen for, but no single cell type has them all. For every cancer cell that is correctly detected using current methods, some fraction of healthy cells also get mislabeled as possibly cancerous when they’re not. Each type of cancer cell has a characteristic set of cell membrane proteins on its cell surface. To cut down on cases of mistaken identity, the Duke team designed a DNA circuit that must latch onto that specific combination of proteins on the same cell to work. As a result they’re much less likely to flag the wrong cells, Reif said.

The technology could be used as a screening tool to help rule out cancer, which could mean fewer unnecessary follow-ups, or to develop more targeted cancer treatments with fewer side effects.

Source: https://today.duke.edu/

Tesla Electric Cybertruck

About an hour or so after Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed an absurd, futuristic, brutalist electric pickup called Cybertruck to the world, I pulled myself up into its passenger seat. A Tesla employee then took me and three others for a short joy ride down a temporarily closed-off road that lines one side of SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

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We were riding in the midlevel, dual-motor version of the truck, which is supposed to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds and will eventually start at $49,900. But while the prototype truck was quick, the sensation of speed was dulled by its size and (undisclosed) weight. It didn’t really provide that thrilling jolt forward that Teslas are known for.

Instead, the most stunning thing about my ride in the Cybertruck was how big and roomy it was. Say what you will about the outside of the Cybertruck, but I (and the rear-seat passengers) had more space to spread out than previously seemed possible in a vehicle of this size, almost as if Tesla had pulled off some sort of magic trick.

And that’s sort of the whole deal with the Cybertruck, as far as I could tell by the end of the night. Yeah, it looks outrageous, with a design that’s more at home on the surface of Mars than in a Walmart parking lot. But if you’re willing to accept that, the truck could be more than meets the eye when it goes into production in late 2021.

For instance, the single-motor base model of the Cybertruck will allegedly get 250 miles or more on a full battery, with a 3,500-pound payload limit and 7,500-pound towing capacity — all for basically the same price as the entry-level Model 3 and Model Y.

While the price goes up from there, so do the specs, all the way to a version with a proposed 500-plus mile range and 14,000-pound towing capacity, which is powered by the same three-motor “Plaid powertrainthe company has been testing at Laguna Seca and the Nürburgring. Musk promised the Cybertruck will crush any off-road scenario, too, thanks to adaptive air suspension and up to 16 inches of ground clearance. Tesla also showed off photos of the truck on its website with an accompanying trailer as well as camping gear, hinting at possible accessories (though, let’s see the production trucks first). There are even some table stakes features for a modern truck, like 110V and 220V outlets, and lockable storage, and some more unique touches, like an onboard air compressor.

Source: https://www.tesla.com/
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https://www.theverge.com/

China Now Launches More Rockets Than Anyone In The World

In recent weeks, China‘s space program has made news by revealing some of its long-term ambitions for spaceflight. These include establishing an Earth-Moon space economic zone by 2050, which, if successful, could allow the country to begin to dictate the rules of behavior for future space exploration. Some have questioned whether China, which has flown six human spaceflights in the last 16 years, can really build a large low-Earth space station, send taikonauts to the Moon, return samples from Mars, and more in the coming decade or two. But what seems clear is that the country’s authoritarian government has long-term plans and is taking steps toward becoming a global leader in space exploration.

By one important metric—orbital launchesChina has already reached this goal. In 2018, the country set a goal of 35 orbital launches and ended up with 39 launch attempts. That year, the United States (29 flights) and Russia (20) trailed China, according to Space Launch Report. It marked the first time China led the world in the number of successful orbital launchesThis year, China is set to pace the world again. Through Sunday, the country has launched 27 orbital missions, followed by Russia (19), and the United States (16). Although nearly a month and a half remain in this year, a maximum of six additional orbital launches are likely from the United States in 2019.

To be fair, China’s space launch program has not been without hiccups. The country’s space program is still trying to bring its large Long March 5 vehicle back into service after a catastrophic failure during just its second mission, in July 2017. And the country had three failures in 2018 and 2019, compared to just one in the United States and Russia combined.

The United States has taken a step back this year in part due to decreased activity by SpaceX. The company launched a record 21 missions last year but has so far launched 11 rockets in 2019. A flurry of missions remains possible in the next six weeks for the company, including a space station resupply mission in early December, a commercial satellite launch, and additional Starlink flights.

Another big factor has been a slow year for United Launch Alliance. The Colorado-based company has launched just two Delta IV-Medium rockets this year, one Delta IV-Heavy, and a single Atlas V mission. The company may launch Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft before the end of 2019, giving the Atlas V rocket a second launch. It is possible that Rocket Lab, which has flown its Electron rocket from New Zealand five times in 2019 and is planning at least one more mission before the end of the year, will have more launches than United Launch Alliance for the first time. Sometime next year, Rocket Lab should also begin to add to the US tally for orbital launches as it opens a new facility at Wallops Island, Virginia.

Source: https://arstechnica.com/

How Gene-edited White Blood Cells Are Helping Fight Cancer

For the first time in the United States, a gene editing tool has been used to treat advanced cancer in three patients and showed promising early results in a pilot phase 1 clinical trial. So far the treatment appears safe, and more results are expected soon. To develop a safer and more effective treatment for cancer patients, scientists from the University of Pennsylvania, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in San Francisco and Tmunity Therapeutics, a biotech company in Philadelphia, developed an advanced version of immunotherapy. In this treatment, a patient’s own immune cells are removed from the body, trained to recognize specific cancer cells and then finally injected back into the patient where they multiply and destroy them.

Unlike chemotherapy or radiation therapy, which directly kills cancer cells, immunotherapy activates the body’s own immune system to do the work. This team used a gene editing tool called CRISPR to alter immune cells, turning them into trained soldiers to locate and kill cancer cells. By using this technique, the team hoped to develop a more effective form of immunotherapy with minimal side effects.

Better CRISPR-based gene editors for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other disorders, . combining chemistry, biology and nanotechnology, are used to engineer, control and deliver gene editing tools more efficiently and precisely.

The first step in making these tumor-killing cells used in the cancer drug trial was to isolate the T-cells – a type of white blood cells that fights pathogens and cancer cells – from the blood of the cancer patients. Two patients with advanced multiple myeloma and one patient with myxoid/round cell liposarcomav were enrolled for this study.

To arm the T-cells and bolster their tumor-fighting skills without harming normal cells, scientists genetically engineered the T-cellsdisabling three genes and adding one gene – before returning them to the patients.

The first two of these deleted genes encode T-cell receptors, which are proteins found on the surface of the T-cells that can recognize and bind specific molecules, known as antigens, on cancer cells. When these engineered T-cells bind to these antigens, it allows them to attack and directly kill the cancer cells. But the problem is that a single T-cell can recognize multiple different antigens in the body, making them less focused on finding the cancer cells. By eliminating these two genes, the T-cells are less likely to attack the wrong target or the host, a phenomenon called autoimmunity, In addition, they disrupted a third gene, called programmed cell death protein 1, which slows down the immune response. Disabling the programmed cell death protein 1 gene improves the efficiency of T-cells.

The final step in the transformation of these cells was adding a gene which produces a new T-cell receptor that recognizes and grabs onto a specific marker on the cancer cells called NY-ESO-1. With three genes deleted and one added, the T-cells are now ready to fight cancer.

Source: https://theconversation.com/

How To Divide By 4 The Risk Of Gastric Cancer

While it is well known within the medical community that there is a link between the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) and rates of gastric cancer—commonly referred to as stomach cancer—the rates and risk among Americans has been largely understudied. Now, after analyzing records of close to 400,000 patients, researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, have found that successfully eliminating H pylori from the gastrointestinal tract led to a 75 percent reduction in the risk of gastric cancer. Researchers also found that rates of gastric cancer after detection of H pylori infection are higher among specific populations, suggesting that people who fall into these groups could benefit from more careful monitoring. The study is published in the journal GastroenterologyH pylori is estimated to infect half of the world’s population, largely those in the eastern parts of the world. It can cause ulcers and other gastrointestinal issues but does not cause issues in the majority of people, and so many people are unaware they have it.

3D illustration of Helicobacter pylori, bacterium which causes gastric and duodenal ulcer

The problem was that all research out of the U.S. used to study gastric cancer and determine American’s risk of developing it did not take into account H pylori infection, and studies worldwide have shown this infection is actually the leading risk factor for this type of cancer,” says the study’s lead author Shria Kumar, a fellow in the division of Gastroenterology.

The research team found that African American, Asian, Hispanic and Latin, American Indian, and Inuit Americans have a significantly higher risk of H pylori infection and of developing gastric cancer. Risks, when compared to the general population, are also higher among men, those who smoke, and among those whose H pylori infection is detected at an older age.

Source: https://penntoday.upenn.edu/

Bone Tissue Just Needs A Little Bit Of Encouragement To Regenerate

Regrowing bones is no easy task, but the world’s lightest solid might make it easier to achieve. Researchers have figured out a way to use hybrid aerogels, strong but ultralight materials, to prompt new bone tissue to grow and replace lost or damaged tissue. Although bone cancer is a relatively rare disease (it accounts for less than 1% of all cancers), people who suffer from it often end up losing a lot of bone tissue and in extreme cases, undergo amputation. The cancerous tissue has to be cut out, taking with it a large chunk of nearby healthy tissue to make sure that the cancer does not spread. This effectively removes the cancer, but also leaves the patient with a lot less bone than they started out with.

A recent study has used hybrid aerogels to restore the lost tissue by prompting bone regeneration. Aerogels are basically a combination of solid and gas. Think Jell-O, but one where the water has been slowly dried out and replaced completely by air. This slow and careful removing of liquid is what allows the gel to retain its shape instead of shriveling into a hard lump. The pairing of solid and gas makes aerogels extremely light and very porous. These two qualities make them exceptionally suitable to use as scaffolds, which can be used as physical roadmaps for the developing bone to follow as it grows.

A section of bone with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. This is one of the cases where lost tissue could be restored by prompting bone regeneration.

Currently, the most common methods of bone regeneration either graft new bone on to the repair site or slowly pull two bits of bone further and further apart to allow new bone to grow in the gap. If you think that these methods sound painful, complicated, and expensive, you are right.

It turns out that bone tissue just needs a little bit of encouragement to regenerate. Most of the time, simple mechanical pressure will do the trick. The fiddly bit is getting the new bone tissue to grow in the right direction and for the right amount of time. Stop it too early and the bone will be too weak to actually serve a purpose. Let it grow too much and it will end up as painful projections. This balanced growth can be achieved by using a scaffold, which is where hybrid aerogels come in. A scaffold is a structure that is placed at the site of bone repair, where it guides the growing tissue along its destined path. A good scaffold is strong but not too stiff, lasts just long enough for fresh tissue to develop, and has a lot of pores for the growing bone to snake through. This last bit is what makes a scaffold very similar to real bone. Hybrid aerogels happen to be a magic material that hits all these notes.

There are a lot of different kinds of scaffolds to choose from, ranging from ceramic and metals to cellulose hydrogels. So what makes hybrid aerogels any better than other scaffolds? For one, they are half made of proteins (that’s the “hybrid” bit), which are eventually broken down by the body. The other half, silica, slowly melts away as orthosilicic acid, which is known to hasten wound healing. Their pore size can be controlled during the manufacturing process, making it easy to adapt them to different uses. They are also being tested as drug delivery systems, meaning that the material could be spiked with medicines or growth factors before using it as a scaffold.

Earlier this year, three research labs based out of Iran, Germany, and Austria got together and decided to fuse a very strong protein with a very light and porous aerogel. The very strong protein is silk fibroin, the stuff found in silkworm cocoons and used to make fancy fabrics. It makes the aerogel strong and just stiff enough to use for bone growth. With the raw materials ready, the scientists started with Phase I: make the hybrid aerogel. Throw a source of silica, silk fibroin, some acid and a touch of detergent into a pot. Bake for an hour and voilà! You have yourself a silica-silk fibroin hybrid aerogel.

 Hybrid aerogels are strong but ultralight materials. Here, the flower is protected from the fire by the insulating properties of the aerogel
The researchers made the perfect hybrid aerogel – hydrophilic (water-loving), not too stiff, and adequately biodegradable.

Having made the material, they now moved to Phase II: check if the hybrid aerogels are in any way harmful to human cells. In fact, the cells seemed to really like the material. When the hybrid aerogel was placed in a dish containing bone cells, they readily grew on its surface, depositing the proteins and minerals required for bone growth along the way.

On to Phase III: implant the hybrid aerogel in mice and check if it stimulates bone regeneration. The researchers made small bone injuries in two groups of mice and implanted the hybrid aerogel in one of them. After 25 days, they saw that the mice with the implants showed faster and better healing than the mice without implants. The aerogel was not just allowing new bone to grow, but also making it grow faster than normal.

This ability of the hybrid aerogel to speed up bone regeneration places it on the forefront of new therapeutic technologies. Imagine having bone fractures healing in a span of days, as opposed to weeks. Or being able to tell a bone cancer patient that, “Yes, you have to cut out a section of their leg but it can be easily grown back, no worries.” Hybrid aerogels are possibly the biomaterial that could make such conversations a reality.

Source: https://massivesci.com/

Thin Heat Shield For Superfast Aircraft

The world of aerospace increasingly relies on carbon fiber reinforced polymer composites to build the structures of satellites, rockets and jet aircraft. But the life of those materials is limited by how they handle heat.

A team of FAMU-FSU College of Engineering researchers from Florida State University’s High-Performance Materials Institute (HPMI) is developing a design for a heat shield that better protects those extremely fast machines. Their work will be published in the November edition of Carbon .

Right now, our flight systems are becoming more and more high-speed, even going into hypersonic systems, which are five times the speed of sound,” said Professor Richard Liang, director of HPMI. “When you have speeds that high, there’s more heat on a surface. Therefore, we need a much better thermal protection system.”

The team used carbon nanotubes, which are linked hexagons of carbon atoms in the shape of a cylinder, to build the heat shields. Sheets of those nanotubes are also known as “buckypaper,” a material with incredible abilities to conduct heat and electricity that has been a focus of study at HPMI. By soaking the buckypaper in a resin made of a compound called phenol, the researchers were able to create a lightweight, flexible material that is also durable enough to potentially protect the body of a rocket or jet from the intense heat it faces while flying.

Existing heat shields are often very thick compared to the base they protect, said Ayou Hao, a research faculty member at HPMI. This design lets engineers build a very thin shield, like a sort of skin that protects the aircraft and helps support its structure. After building heat shields of varying thicknesses, the researchers put them to the test.

One test involved applying a flame to the samples to see how they prevented heat from reaching the carbon fiber layer they were meant to protect. After that, the researchers bent the samples to see how strong they remained. They found the samples with sheets of buckypaper were better than control samples at dispersing heat and keeping it from reaching the base layer. They also stayed strong and flexible compared to control samples made without protective layers of nanotubes.

That flexibility is a helpful quality. The nanotubes are less vulnerable to cracking at high temperatures compared to ceramics, a typical heat shield material. They’re also lightweight, which is helpful for engineers who want to reduce the weight of anything on an aircraft that doesn’t help the way it flies.