AI Tailors Artificial DNA

With the help of an AI, researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have succeeded in designing synthetic DNA that controls the cells’ protein production. The technology can contribute to the development and production of vaccines, drugs for severe diseases, as well as alternative food proteins much faster and at significantly lower costs than today.

How our genes are expressed is a process that is fundamental to the functionality of cells in all living organisms. Simply put, the genetic code in DNA is transcribed to the molecule messenger RNA (mRNA), which tells the cell’s factory which protein to produce and in which quantities.

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The Quantum Gravity

How can Einstein‘s theory of gravity be unified with quantum mechanics? It is a challenge that could give us deep insights into phenomena such as black holes and the birth of the universe. Now, a new article in Nature Communications, written by researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, and MIT, U.S., presents results that cast new light on important challenges in understanding quantum gravity.

We strive to understand the laws of nature and the language in which these are written is mathematics. When we seek answers to questions in physics, we are often led to new discoveries in mathematics too. This interaction is particularly prominent in the search for quantum gravity—where it is extremely difficult to perform experiments,” explains Daniel Persson, Professor at the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Chalmers university of technology.

An example of a phenomenon that requires this type of unified description is . A black hole forms when a sufficiently heavy star expands and collapses under its own gravitational force, so that all its mass is concentrated in an extremely small volume. The quantum mechanical description of black holes is still in its infancy but involves spectacular advanced mathematics.

The challenge is to describe how gravity arises as an ’emergent’ phenomenon. Just as everyday phenomena—such as the flow of a liquid—emerge from the chaotic movements of individual droplets, we want to describe how gravity emerges from quantum mechanical system at the microscopic level,” says Robert Berman, Professor at the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Chalmers University of Technology.

In an article recently published in the journal Nature Communications, Daniel Persson and Robert Berman, together with Tristan Collins of MIT in the U.S., showed how gravity emerges from a special quantum mechanical system in a simplified model for quantum gravity called the holographic principle.

Using techniques from the mathematics that I have researched before, we managed to formulate an explanation for how gravity emerges by the holographic principle, in a more precise way than has previously been done,” explains Robert Berman.

The new article may also offer new insight into mysterious dark energy. In Einstein’s general theory of relativity, gravity is described as a geometric phenomenon. Just as a newly made bed curves under a person’s weight, heavy objects can bend the geometric shape of the universe. But according to Einstein’s theory, even the empty space—the “vacuum state” of the universe—has a rich geometric structure. If you could zoom in and look at this vacuum on a microscopic level, you would see quantum mechanical fluctuations or ripples, known as dark energy. It is this mysterious form of energy that, from a larger perspective, is responsible for the accelerated expansion of the universe.

Source: Nature

Electronic Paper with Optimal Colors and Minimal Energy Consumption

Imagine sitting out in the sun, reading a digital screen as thin as paper, but seeing the same image quality as if you were indoors. Thanks to research from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, it could soon be a reality.  A new type of reflective screen – sometimes described as ‘electronic paper’ – offers optimal colour display, while using ambient light to keep energy consumption to a minimum.​​ Traditional digital screens use a backlight to illuminate the text or images displayed upon them. This is fine indoors, but we’ve all experienced the difficulties of viewing such screens in bright sunshine. Reflective screens, however, attempt to use the ambient light, mimicking the way our eyes respond to natural paper.

Electronic paper using ambient light. A new design from Chalmers University of Technology could help produce e-readers, advertising signs and other digital screens with optimal colour display and minimal energy consumption. ​​​​​​

For reflective screens to compete with the energy-intensive digital screens that we use today, images and colours must be reproduced with the same high quality. That will be the real breakthrough. Our research now shows how the technology can be optimised, making it attractive for commercial use,” says Marika Gugole, Doctoral Student at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology.

The researchers had already previously succeeded in developing an ultra-thin, flexible material that reproduces all the colours an LED screen can display, while requiring only a tenth of the energy that a standard tablet consumes. But in the earlier design the colours on the reflective screen did not display with optimal quality. Now the new study, published in the journal Nano Letters takes the material one step further. Using a previously researched, porous and nanostructured material, containing tungsten trioxide, gold and platinum, they tried a new tactic – inverting the design in such a way as to allow the colours to appear much more accurately on the screen.The inversion of the design represents a great step forward. They placed the component which makes the material electrically conductive underneath the pixelated nanostructure that reproduces the colours – instead of above it, as was previously the case. This new design means you look directly at the pixelated surface, therefore seeing the colours much more clearly.

In addition to the minimal energy consumption, reflective screens have other advantages. For example, they are much less tiring for the eyes compared to looking at a regular screen.


Nanostructured rubber-like material could replace human tissue

Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have created a new, rubber-like material with a unique set of properties, which could act as a replacement for human tissue in medical procedures. The material has the potential to make a big difference to many people’s lives.

​In the development of medical technology products, there is a great demand for new naturalistic materials suitable for integration with the body. Introducing materials into the body comes with many risks, such as serious infections, among other things. Many of the substances used today, such as Botox, are very toxic. There is a need for new, more adaptable materials. In the new study, the Chalmers researchers developed a material consisting solely of components that have already been shown to work well in the body.

The foundation of the material is the same as plexiglass, a material which is common in medical technology applications. Through redesigning its makeup, and through a process called nanostructuring, they gave the newly patented material a unique combination of properties. The researchers’ initial intention was to produce a hard bone-like material, but they were met with surprising results.

Chalmers researchers have developed a new material that could be suitable for various medical applications. The 3D printed ‘nose’ above, for example, shows how the material could act as a possible replacement for cartilage.​
We were really surprised that the material turned to be very soft, flexible and extremely elastic. It would not work as a bone replacement material, we concluded. But the new and unexpected properties made our discovery just as exciting,” says Anand Kumar Rajasekharan, PhD in Materials Science and one of the researchers behind the study.
The results showed that the new rubber-like material may be appropriate for many applications which require an uncommon combination of properties high elasticity, easy processability, and suitability for medical uses.

The first application we are looking at now is urinary catheters. The material can be constructed in such a way that prevents bacteria from growing on the surface, meaning it is very well suited for medical uses,” says Martin Andersson, research leader for the study and Professor of Chemistry at Chalmers.

The structure of the new nano-rubber material allows its surface to be treated so that it becomes antibacterial, in a natural, non-toxic way. This is achieved by sticking antimicrobial peptides – small proteins which are part of our innate immune system – onto its surface. This can help reduce the need for antibiotics, an important contribution to the fight against growing antibiotic resistance.
Because the new material can be injected and inserted via keyhole surgery, it can also help reduce the need for drastic surgery and operations to rebuild parts of the body. The material can be injected via a standard cannula as a viscous fluid, so that it forms its own elastic structures within the body. Or, the material can also be 3D printed into specific structures as required.
There are many diseases where the cartilage breaks down and friction results between bones, causing great pain for the affected person. This material could potentially act as a replacement in those cases,” Martin Andersson continues.
A further advantage of the material is that it contains three-dimensionally ordered nanopores. This means it can be loaded with medicine, for various therapeutic purposes such as improving healing and reducing inflammation. This allows for localised treatment, avoiding, for example, having to treat the entire body with drugs, something that could help reduce problems associated with side effects. Since it is non-toxic, it also works well as a filler – the researchers see plastic surgery therefore as another very interesting potential area of application for the new material.

The research was recently published in the scientific journal ACS Nano.