Biotechnology

Category: Biotechnology

In the on-going effort to develop advanced biofuels as a clean, green and sustainable source of liquid transportation fuels, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have identified microbial genes that can improve both the tolerance and the production of biogasoline in engineered strains of Escherichia coli.


'Our premise is that mechanics play a role in almost all biological processes, and with these DNA-based tension probes we're going to uncover, measure and map those forces,' says biomolecular...
Adherent cells, the kind that form the architecture of all multi-cellular organisms, are mechanically engineered with precise forces that allow them to move around and stick to things. Proteins called integrin receptors act like little hands and feet to pull these cells across a surface or to anchor them in place. When groups of these cells are put into a petri dish with a variety of substrates they can sense the differences in the surfaces and they will "crawl" toward the stiffest one they can find.


Encapsulated toxin-producing stem cells (in blue) help kill brain tumor cells in the tumor resection cavity (in green).
Harvard Stem Cell Institute scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital have devised a new way to use stem cells in the fight against brain cancer. A team led by neuroscientist Khalid Shah, MS, PhD, who recently demonstrated the value of stem cells loaded with cancer-killing herpes viruses, now has a way to genetically engineer stem cells so that they can produce and secrete tumor-killing toxins.

Molecular studies of plants often depend on high-quantity and high-quality DNA extractions. This can be quite difficult in plants, however, due to a diversity of compounds and physical properties found in plants. "Tannins, tough fibrous material, and/or secondary compounds can interfere with DNA isolation," explains Dr. Thomas Givnish, principal investigator of a new study published by Jackson Moeller et al. in the October issue of Applications in Plant Sciences (available for free viewing at http://www.bioone.org/doi/pdf/10.3732/apps.1400048).

Printing whole new organs for transplants sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but the real-life budding technology could one day make actual kidneys, livers, hearts and other organs for patients who desperately need them. In the ACS journal Langmuir, scientists are reporting new understanding about the dynamics of 3-D bioprinting that takes them a step closer to realizing their goal of making working tissues and organs on-demand.

Viruses designed to target and kill cancer cells could boost the effectiveness of chemotherapy to the arms and legs and help avoid amputation, a new study reports.

CRISPR, a system of genes that bacteria use to fend off viruses, is involved in promoting antibiotic resistance in Francisella novicida, a close relative of the bacterium that causes tularemia. The finding contrasts with previous observations in other bacteria that the CRISPR system hinders the spread of antibiotic resistance genes.


QUT Distinguished Professor James Dale's research has resulted in provitamin A-enriched bananas that are about to undergo a world-first human trial in the US.
The world's first human trial of pro-vitamin A-enriched banana, expected to lift the health and well-being of millions of Ugandans and other East Africans will start very soon.


The 3-D lung tumor model helps researchers to test medications.
Lung cancer is a serious condition. Once patients are diagnosed with it, chemotherapy is often their only hope. But nobody can accurately predict whether or not this treatment will help. To start with, not all patients respond to a course of chemotherapy in exactly the same way. And then there's the fact that the systems drug companies use to test new medications leave a lot to be desired. "Animal models may be the best we have at the moment, but all the same, 75 percent of the drugs deemed beneficial when tested on animals fail when used to treat humans," explains Prof. Dr. Heike Walles, head of the Würzburg-based "Regenerative Technologies for Oncology" project group belonging to the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB.


The image shows a) on the left hand side, aggregates of E coli labelled blue by in situ activated polymers, and b) on the right hand side E. coli clusters in suspension with bacterial-instructed polymers Schematics of the binding process are shown in the enlargement boxes of the image.

Credit: Professor Cameron Alexander The University of Nottingham UK The breakthrough, published in the journal Nature Materials, could offer an easier way of detecting pathogenic bacteria outside of a clinical setting and could be particularly important for the developing world, where access to more sophisticated laboratory techniques is often limited.


This is a full section of a tissue construct with cartilage at the top and bone substrate underneath.
Researchers at Columbia Engineering announced today that they have successfully grown fully functional human cartilage in vitro from human stem cells derived from bone marrow tissue. Their study, which demonstrates new ways to better mimic the enormous complexity of tissue development, regeneration, and disease, is published in the April 28 Early Online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

A next-generation genome editing system developed by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators substantially decreases the risk of producing unwanted, off-target gene mutations. In a paper receiving online publication in Nature Biotechnology, the researchers report a new CRISPR-based RNA-guided nuclease technology that uses two guide RNAs, significantly reducing the chance of cutting through DNA strands at mismatched sites.

Using magnetically controlled nanoparticles to force tumour cells to 'self-destruct' sounds like science fiction, but could be a future part of cancer treatment, according to research from Lund University in Sweden.

Nanotechnology and Functional Materials, Uppsala University have developed a paper filter, which can remove virus particles with the efficiency matching that of the best industrial virus filters. The paper filter consists of 100 percent high purity cellulose nanofibers, directly derived from nature.


Georgia Tech researchers examine the production of the hydrocarbon pinene in a series of laboratory test tubes.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Joint BioEnergy Institute have engineered a bacterium to synthesize pinene, a hydrocarbon produced by trees that could potentially replace high-energy fuels, such as JP-10, in missiles and other aerospace applications. With improvements in process efficiency, the biofuel could supplement limited supplies of petroleum-based JP-10, and might also facilitate development of a new generation of more powerful engines.


With the new SIF-seq technique, mouse embryonic stem cells can be used to identify human embryonic stem cell enhancers even when the human enhancers are not present in the mouse.
An international team led by researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has developed a new technique for identifying gene enhancers - sequences of DNA that act to amplify the expression of a specific gene – in the genomes of humans and other mammals. Called SIF-seq, for site-specific integration fluorescence-activated cell sorting followed by sequencing, this new technique complements existing genomic tools, such as ChIP-seq (chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by sequencing), and offers some additional benefits.

Small protein fragments, also called peptides, are promising as drugs because they can be designed for very specific functions inside living cells. Insulin and the HIV drug Fuzeon are some of the earliest successful examples, and peptide drugs are expected to become a $25 billion market by 2018.

Sometimes it only takes a quick jolt of electricity to get a swarm of cells moving in the right direction.

Lentiviruses, which belong to the family of retroviruses, are used as vectors to exchange genetic material in cells and can be used to replace a defective gene as defined by gene therapy. Increasing the efficiency of such a treatment poses a major medical challenge: the virus should specifically track the target cells, but the number of virus used should be as low as possible.

Göttingen-based scientists working at DESY's PETRA III research light source have carried out the first studies of living biological cells using high-energy X-rays. The new method shows clear differences in the internal cellular structure between living and dead, chemically fixed cells that are often analysed. "The new method for the first time enables us to investigate the internal structures of living cells in their natural environment using hard X-rays," emphasises the leader of the working group, Prof. Sarah Köster from the Institute for X-Ray Physics of the University of Göttingen. The researchers present their work in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

Stars, diamonds, circles. Rather than your average bowl of Lucky Charms, these are three-dimensional cell cultures generated by an exciting new digital microfluidics platform, the results of which have been published in Nature Communications this week by researchers at the University of Toronto. The tool, which can be used to study cells in cost-efficient, three-dimensional microgels, may hold the key to personalized medicine applications in the future.

Photoreactive compounds developed by scientists of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich directly modulate nerve-cell function, and open new routes to the treatment of neurological diseases, including chronic pain and certain types of visual impairment.

A biologist at the University of York is part of an international team which has shown that advanced DNA sequencing technologies can be used to accurately measure the levels of inbreeding in wild animal populations.

Engineers like to make things that work. And if one wants to make something work using nanoscale components—the size of proteins, antibodies, and viruses—mimicking the behavior of cells is a good place to start since cells carry an enormous amount of information in a very tiny packet. As Erik Winfree, professor of computer science, computation and neutral systems, and bioengineering, explains, "I tend to think of cells as really small robots. Biology has programmed natural cells, but now engineers are starting to think about how we can program artificial cells. We want to program something about a micron in size, finer than the dimension of a human hair, that can interact with its chemical environment and carry out the spectrum of tasks that biological things do, but according to our instructions."

The power of regenerative medicine now allows scientists to transform skin cells into cells that closely resemble heart cells, pancreas cells and even neurons. However, a method to generate cells that are fully mature—a crucial prerequisite for life-saving therapies—has proven far more difficult. But now, scientists at the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), have made an important breakthrough: they have discovered a way to transform skin cells into mature, fully functioning liver cells that flourish on their own, even after being transplanted into laboratory animals modified to mimic liver failure.


Duckweed is a relatively simple plant with fronds that float on the surface of the water and roots that extend into the water.
Duckweed is a tiny floating plant that's been known to drive people daffy. It's one of the smallest and fastest-growing flowering plants that often becomes a hard-to-control weed in ponds and small lakes. But it's also been exploited to clean contaminated water and as a source to produce pharmaceuticals. Now, the genome of Greater Duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza) has given this miniscule plant's potential as a biofuel source a big boost. In a paper published February 19, 2014 in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from Rutgers University, the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute and several other facilities detailed the complete genome of S. polyrhiza and analyzed it in comparison to several other plants, including rice and tomatoes.


This image shows the microbattery, created by Jie Xiao and Daniel Deng and colleagues, amid grains of rice.
Scientists have created a microbattery that packs twice the energy compared to current microbatteries used to monitor the movements of salmon through rivers in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.

Inspired by tiny particles that carry cholesterol through the body, MIT chemical engineers have designed nanoparticles that can deliver snippets of genetic material that turn off disease-causing genes.

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and Carnegie Mellon University have introduced a unique micro-robotic technique to assemble the components of complex materials, the foundation of tissue engineering and 3D printing.


Illustration: Green artificial vesicle is loaded with a basic cellular machinery derived from bacterial cells. This enables it to translate an encapsulated genetic blueprint into a functional protein.
It is a big dream in science: To start from scratch with simple artificial microskopic building blocks and end up with something much more complex: living systemts, novel computers or every-day materials. For decades scientists have pursied the dream of creating artificial building blocks that can self-assemble in large numbers and reassemble to take on new tasks or to remedy defects. Now researchers from University of Southern Denmark have taken a step forward to make this dream come true.

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