Human longevity companies, reprogramming neurons, self-assembling nanotubes, electron gases, boosting healthspan, better optical tweezers, gene editing HIV, multiferroics, weaponised drones.
1. Private Longevity Initiatives: Big Data & Big Genomics.
Craig Venter announced the launch of his latest venture, Human Longevity Inc., to increase human lifespan and healthspan http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-03-04/craig-venter-starts-dna-scanning-company-to-boost-longevity. Human Longevity is aiming to make 100 years old the new 60 (and 50 the new 30?) and will build the world’s largest human genome sequencing facility; the company hopes to sequence the DNA of 100,000 people per year and will promote healthy aging using genomics and stem cell therapies. More here: http://www.humanlongevity.com/. In Silico Medicine Inc. also launched this week with similiar goals http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/03/prweb11644588.htm, aiming to exploit big data approaches to gene expression analysis and young vs old comparisons to design therapeutics that alter gene networks to shift towards younger states. More here: http://www.insilicomedicine.com/#!/. These two join Calico as a group of big, well-funded efforts to tackle human lifespan and healthspan.
2. Reprogramming Astrocytes to Generate Neurons.
In recent work astrocyte cells were reprogrammed / turned into functional neurons that formed networks in mice; scar-forming astrocytes in the spinal cords of adult mice were also turned into neurons http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/newsroom/news-releases/year-2014/feb/stemcells-zhang.html. This in vivo cellular reprogramming was accomplished via a simple two step process of (i) introducing a specific transcription factor into the area of interest and (ii) administering a drug - valproic acid - to encourage neuron survival. Such an intervention might finally repair broken spinal cords and nerves. No tumours were observed but the change did take 12 weeks to finish; further work hopes to increase the number and rate of neuron formation.
3. Nanotube Scaffolds with Peptides and Carbon Nanotubes.
Cyclic peptides have been engineered to self-assemble via hydrogen bonding into with stacked tubular nanotubes whose diameter and functionalisation can be completely controlled; functionalising with a suitable peptide linker molecule results in carbon nanotubes binding to the linker in whatever orientation the cyclic peptides have adopted http://www.nanowerk.com/nanotechnology_news/newsid=34581.php. I like such complementary self-assembly approaches because I can imagine a suitably patterned surface onto which the cyclic peptides bind in a controlled manner - the subsequent binding of the carbon nanotubes produces an identical pattern of nanotubes whose conduction and other properties can be used.
4. Manipulating Exotic Matter: Electron Gases.
The material strontium titanate has been engineered to create an electron gas just below the surface http://www.tuwien.ac.at/en/news/news_detail/article/8663/. Irradiating the surface of the material with intense electromagnetic radiation causes oxygen atoms to be removed from the surface, which causes oxygen atoms within the bulk of the material to migrate to the surface, building up an oxygen deficiency and a surplus of electrons. The electrons form a two-dimensional freely-moving “gas” close to the surface - the first time a stable, durable electron gas has been possible. The properties of the gas can be finely tuned and controlled and future work will explore magnetic, superconducting, and other phenomena.
5. Boosting Health- & Lifespan by 8.8%
Recent animal trials with a compound that activates the sirtuin1 protein in cells was found to increase average lifespan by 8.8% http://www.cell.com/cell-reports/retrieve/pii/S2211124714000655. The animals were fed a standard diet supplemented with the drug and benefited from (i) extension of mean lifespan, (ii) improvement to healthspan, (iii) reduction in risk factors for metabolic diseases, and (iv) anti-inflammatory benefits in tissues. Sirtuin1 research has been a little controversial over the last few years, announcing big promises and then encountering a few failures; hopefully this latest promising effort results in more substantial benefits for humans. While the small molecule is nice I wonder how long until more targeted approaches such as CRISPR are used to activate sirtuin1?
6. Optical Tweezers get a Boost in Capabilities.
The latest developments in optical tweezers seeks to address problems of particle size, three dimensional manipulation, and particle overheating http://gizmodo.com/worlds-tiniest-tweezers-grab-nanoparticles-using-nothi-1536205601. The latest optical nano-tweezer is able to manipulate particles down to just 50nm in size, can accurately in three dimensions across several micrometers, and does not overheat the particle. The device accomplishes this via a novel metal-coated optical fiber architecture that is able to focus light to induce stable particle capture.
7. Clinically Proving the Effectiveness of Gene Editing Versus HIV.
A recent clinical trial demonstrated that editing the genes of T-Cells with zinc-finger nuclease (ZFN) enzymes was a safe and effective treatment against HIV http://www.nature.com/news/gene-editing-method-tackles-hiv-in-first-clinical-test-1.14813. ZFNs targeting the CCR5 gene was added to blood taken from HIV patients, which successfully disabled the gene in 25% of cells; when added back to the patient HIV killed untreated cells and allowed the population of cells resistant to HIV to expand. Pretty exciting, especially considering that now this method has been clinically proven to be safe we can expect similar methods to be applied to other patients in need of genetic tweaks to regain health. The newer CRISPR method would also seem to be applicable in this case.
8. Computing with Multiferroics and Electron Spin Waves.
New magnetic multiferroic materials have been formed into a functional prototype chip that use alternating voltages to send cascading spin waves along the material rather than the electrons themselves http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/ucla-engineering-team-increases-267293.aspx. Think of a travelling water wave in which the water molecules are approximately stationary; these are “waves” of uniform electron spin in which the electrons are stationary. This is a promising form of computing because the phenomenon does away with most of the issues of heat and power requirements of conventional chips: faster and much more energy efficient computing could result.
9. Weaponised Semi-Autonomous Drone Hexacopter.
CUPID is a new semi-autonomous hexacopter drone system equipped with surveillance hardware, object recognition, targeting unit, and an 80,000 volt taser http://www.theverge.com/2014/3/8/5483774/the-cupid-drone-strikes-with-80000-volts-to-the-chest. An example use case is (i) set the drone to monitor a particular area, (ii) trespasser enters area and drone flies close to issue a warning via speaker, (iii) trespasser ignores drone and continues or attacks drone, (iv) drone activates targeting laser and shoots trespasser with the taser, disabling person and all electronics within 5 feet due to EMP burst, (iv) drone calls for assistance. At this stage CUPID is more for demonstration purposes but the possibilities are clear. And if the trespasser damages one or more of the drone rotors then software like this http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/aerial-robots/every-quadrotor-needs-this-amazing-failsafe-software will keep it flying.
10. The Benefits of Fleets of Small Satellites.
Planet Labs is a company that builds small breadbox-sized satellites designed to image the Earth, and recently launched and deployed a fleet of 28 such satellites to orbit the Earth http://singularityhub.com/2014/03/02/fleet-of-toaster-sized-satellites-will-orbit-earth-provide-near-real-time-surveillance/. The average age of images in Google Earth is 36 months; Planet Earth’s system can cheaply cut this down to 3 months and provide, for the first time, a single homogenous view of what is happening on Earth. It seems that continuing advances in miniaturisation are making space ever-more accessible for remote satellites - this is just one of a large number of projects launching cheap satellites into space - and applications like these are sure to expand.
An archive of the SciTech Digests can also be found here: http://www.scitechdigest.net
, with your hosts , , , , and