Brain mapping, microfluidics, molecular isotope storage, DNA origami boxes, artificial muscles, neuromorphic computing, CRISPR disease cure, metamaterials, manufacturing graphene.
1. Latest Brain Advances by the Allen Institute.
The Allen Institute for Brain Science announced two big developments this week. First, there was the publication of the first comprehensive large-scale dataset on the wiring of a mammalian brain, created using engineered viruses to trace and illuminate individual neurons in 1,700 mouse brains, the sections of which were scanned at sub-micro resolution to produce a collective average brain connectome map comprising some 1.8 petabytes of data http://www.alleninstitute.org/news-events/press/press-release/publication-nature-showcases-most-comprehensive-wiring-diagram-mammalian-brain-date. Secondly, the publication of the first major report from the BrainSpan Atlas of the developing human brain, a map of the transcriptome (expression of specific genes in different regions of the brain) across the course of human brain development http://www.alleninstitute.org/news-events/press/press-release/critical-window-developing-human-brain-profiled-nature.
2. Simple & Effective Microfluidics with Valves.
I’m really impressed with these deceptively simple microfluidic chip devices made out of double-sided tape cut with channels, a PDMS membrane, and plastic film that include air-controlled valves for the first time
http://phys.org/news/2014-04-nist-simple-microfluidic-devices-valves.html. This technology allows cheap, functional microfluidic devices to be built in hours rather than days, and can even be used to create chips that fold together into complex three dimensional shapes. Great DIY Bio applications here.
3. Safe Molecular Storage of Radioactive Isotopes.
Small peptides have been made to self-assemble into tiny double-layer spheres containing a hollow cavity that can hold and contain desired radioactive isotopes http://phys.org/news/2014-04-nontoxic-molecule.html. The radioisotopes of particular interest are those that emit alpha-particles for use in medical research and treatments, and which can breakdown into radioactive daughter ions that end up in undesirable places in the body. These capsules are much more stable compared to those currently used; they don’t break down and were shown to hold onto / contain daughter ions while allowing the release of alpha particles.
4. Smallest DNA Origami Container with Lockable Door.
The smallest ever DNA origami container has been constructed and contains a door linked to a molecular actuator that controllably, and programmably, pulls the door open and closed http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=35045.php. The container measures 14nm x 14nm x 48nm and can fit inside the capsid of viruses that could be used for delivery; the door 9nm x 5nm and linked to a programmable segment (lock) of single stranded DNA that coils and contracts when a complementary strand (key) binds. The group seeks other methods of control for the device, the opening of which can release or expose drugs, enzymes, or other molecules at particular sites and times.
5. Strong, Functional, Implantable Engineered Muscles.
Living artificial muscles have been engineered that closely resemble real muscles, and which contracts powerfully and rapidly, quickly integrates into mice when implanted and even heals itself when in a lab or a mouse http://www.pratt.duke.edu/news/self-healing-engineered-muscle-grown-laboratory. The success of this technique depends on well-developed contractile muscle fibers, muscle satellite stem cells and, crucially, creating supportive microenvironment niches for the satellite cells. The result was natural muscle fibers ten times stronger than any previously created, which were imaged and observed via windows implanted into the backs of mice. Great work for repairing & enhancing muscles, and also for lab-grown meat-as-food applications. Related muscle tissue engineering news involved the creation of “mini-hearts” around blood vessels to help pump blood http://smhs.gwu.edu/news/gw-researcher-invents-%E2%80%98mini-heart%E2%80%99-help-return-venous-blood.
6. Chip Processing Architectures that Mimic the Human Brain.
This article http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=35084.php is a nice overview of the many projects underway that are developing computational systems, chips, and programming languages that mimic or simulate the processing of the human brain - promising future computer systems capable of out-performing human cognition across a range of areas. Such systems are different to the conventional transistor arrays processing 1s and 0s that power our current systems and is worth a read for anyone interested in the space. A new approach not mentioned was this recent prototype neuromorphic photonics chip that carries out basic brain-like computing with light http://www.ugent.be/en/news/bulletin/optical-information-processing-on-chips-inspired-by-human-brain and realises extremely fast information processing and extremely low energy requirements.
7. A Directional Filter for Light.
A stack of alternative layers of glass and titanium oxide of precise thickness produces a selective light filter that reflects all light except that incident at a particular angle, which is allowed to pass through http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/a-new-angle-on-controlling-light. 80 layers were used in the demonstration device, but by adding more layers the angular selectivity can be made even more precise and narrow. Possible applications include selective filters for telescopes to help view faint objects that are close to bright objects, solar power especially in solar thermophotovoltaics, and possibly even in optical communications. What other applications can you think of for such a directional light filter?
8. CRISPR Cures Genetic Disease in Living Animals.
For the first time a genetic disease has been cured in living animals via the CRISPR gene-targeting system http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/erasing-genetic-mutation. The liver disease, affecting about 1 / 10,000 people results from a mutation in a single gene that prevents the breakdown of tyrosine. In mouse models a high-pressure injection introduced the CRISPR construct and a correct version of the gene sequence into cells; although only 1 in 250 cells was successfully repaired this way these cells proliferated over the next month at the expense of diseased cells and eventually comprised one third of the liver, enough to functionally cure the disease. The group are investigating improved delivery methods but this is incredibly promising for human genetic disease treatments in the near future.
9. Cracking Large Scale Visible Spectrum Metamaterial Cloaks.
New nano-transfer printing techniques allow the creation of large area multilayer 3D metamaterials that operate in the visible spectrum http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2014/04/could-us-military-soon-have-invisibility-cloaks/81772/. Previous techniques were limited to micro-scale areas for such visible metamaterials, but this new printing technique allows for the relatively cheap production of arbitrarily large area metamaterials with negative refractive indices able to bend and cloak visible light. Even the prototype created to demonstrate the technique, at 4” by 4”, shows incredible promise at that scale for producing advanced lenses for cameras, microscopes, and telescopes, better fibers for optics communications, etc. Real invisibility cloaks just took another big step towards realisation.
10. Samsung’s Graphene Manufacturing Breakthrough.
A new technique developed by Samsung to grow high-quality single-crystal graphene on silicon wafers appears to be a major breakthrough in enabling the mass-production of commercial scale graphene http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/179874-samsungs-graphene-breakthrough-could-finally-put-the-wonder-material-into-real-world-devices. According to Samsung This is one of the most significant breakthroughs in graphene research in history. The process basically uses a standard chemical vapour deposition process to grow a uniform layer of graphene on a germanium-coated silicon substrate; further masking and photolithography processes allowed the creation of graphene field effect transistors (GFETs) and the re-use of the underlying substrate. The realisation of consumer graphene-powered devices just got much closer.
The weekly SciTech Digests are also available as a Google Newsstand Magazine Edition here:
, with your hosts , , , , , , and