Monthly Archives: August 2008

Scientists Create Blood From Stem Cells

Scientists have used embryonic stem cells to generate blood — a feat that could eventually lead to endless supplies of type O-negative blood, a rare blood type prized by doctors for its versatility.

“We literally generated whole tubes in the lab, from scratch,” said Robert Lanza, chief science officer at Advanced Cell Technologies.

People usually require blood transfusions that match their own blood type: A mismatch can be fatal. Type O-negative can be safely transferred into anyone, but is only possessed by about 7 percent of the population, leaving supplies perpetually short.

The new technique, devised by Lanza and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic and University of Illinois, is still preliminary. Its safety hasn’t yet been proved in animals, much less humans.

But because blood cells are short-lived and cannot divide, there’s reason to believe that stem cell-derived blood cells could pose fewer complications than other therapeutic stem cells, which can divide unpredictably.

“The beautiful thing is that you start with one line, expand them indefinitely and generate as many as you want,” said Lanza. “It’s a literally inexhaustible source of cells for therapy.”

Lanza’s team allowed a small culture of embryonic stem cells — naturally capable of becoming any other type of tissue in the body — to divide until it numbered a few billion cells. These they treated with a chemical cocktail that coaxed the cells into whatever type they wanted: A, B or O. If they’d started with a type O-negative line, said Lanza, they could just as easily have made that, too.

Tests showed the blood cells to be identical to each other, and able to carry oxygen as efficiently as their natural counterparts.

source

Science… well on its way to solve the dreaded donor shortage problem.

🙂

A Blueprint to Regenerate Limbs

In its own way, the axolotl salamander is a mighty beast. Chop off its leg, and the gilled creature will grow a new one. Freeze part of its heart, and the organ will form anew. Carve out half of its brain, and six months later, another half will have sprouted in its place. “You can do anything to it except kill it, and it will regenerate,” says Gerald Pao, a postdoctoral researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, in La Jolla, CA.

That extraordinary power of regeneration inspired Pao and his collaborator Wei Zhu, also at the Salk Institute, to probe the axolotl salamander’s DNA. Despite decades of research on the salamander, little is known about its genome. That began to change last year, when Pao and his collaborators won one billion bases’ worth of free sequencing from Roche Applied Science, based in Penzberg, Germany. Now that the data is in, scientists can finally begin the hunt for the genetic program that endows the animal with its unique capabilities.

While all animals can regenerate tissue to a certain extent–we can grow muscle, bone, and nerves, for example–salamanders and newts are the only vertebrates that can grow entire organs and replacement limbs as adults. When a leg is lost to injury, cells near the wound begin to dedifferentiate, losing the specialized characteristics that made them a muscle cell or bone cell. These cells then replicate and form a limb bud, or blastema, which goes on to grow a limb the same way that it forms during normal development.

Scientists have identified some of the molecular signals that play a key role in the process, but the genetic blueprint that underlies regeneration remains unknown. Researchers hope that by uncovering these molecular tricks, they can ultimately apply them to humans to regrow damaged heart or brain tissue, and maybe even grow new limbs.

source

If we can regenerage anything we like in the future, is it likely that we will stick to just limbs?

I don’t think so.

We’ll likely use this technology to ‘redecorate’ our aging, internal machinery as well… potentially prolonging our lives indefinitely.

New rays of hope for solar power’s future

From five miles away, the Nevada Solar One power plant seems a mirage, a silver lake amid waves of 110 degree F. desert heat. Driving nearer, the rippling image morphs into a sea of mirrors angled to the sun.

As the first commercial “concentrating solar power” or CSP plant built in 17 years, Nevada Solar One marks the reemergence and updating of a decades-old technology that could play a large new role in US power production, many observers say.

“Concentrating solar is pretty hot right now,” says Mark Mehos, program manager for CSP at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Co. “Costs look pretty good compared to natural gas [power]. Public policy, climate concern, and new technology are driving it, too.”

Spread in military rows across 300 acres of sun-baked earth, Nevada Solar One’s trough-shaped parabolic mirrors are the core of this CSP plant – also called a “solar thermal” plant. The mirrors focus sunlight onto receiver tubes, heating a fluid that, at 735 degrees F., flows through a heat exchanger to a steam generator that supplies 64 megawatts of electricity to 14,000 Las Vegas homes.

Today the United States has 420 megawatts of solar-thermal capacity across three installations – including Nevada Solar One. That’s just a tiny fraction (less than 1 percent) of US grid capacity. But Nevada Solar One could signal the start of a CSP building boom.

source

Emily Isn’t Real

Extraordinarily lifelike characters are to begin appearing in films and computer games thanks to a new type of animation technology.

Emily – the woman in the above animation – was produced using a new modelling technology that enables the most minute details of a facial expression to be captured and recreated.

She is considered to be one of the first animations to have overleapt a long-standing barrier known as ‘uncanny valley’ – which refers to the perception that animation looks less realistic as it approaches human likeness.

Researchers at a Californian company which makes computer-generated imagery for Hollywood films started with a video of an employee talking. They then broke down down the facial movements down into dozens of smaller movements, each of which was given a ‘control system’.

The source has a movieclip you do not want to miss out on.

How Would You Like To Live Forever?

If you think it’s important to cure aging, now would be your chance to act.

A few minutes of your time is all it takes to become a small part of a big solution.

Undergrads Fighting Age Related Disease

From the webpage:

The Methuselah Foundation needs your help. We are supporting a project named “Undergrads Fighting Age Related Disease” (http://www.membersproject.com/project/view/BVVE2C), which has been submitted as part of the Amex Members Project initiative. The Methuselah Foundation has been nominated to complete this initiative and, if enough votes are obtained, could receive a grant of up to $1.5M from American Express towards the project’s completion.

It is free to vote and should only take you a few minutes. We need to get more than 2000 votes in the next 2 weeks (by Sept 1, 2008), so please support our cause and vote now.

Here are the instructions:

1. Go to this website:  http://www.membersproject.com/project/view/BVVE2C

2. Log in either as an Amex Card Member or as a Guest Member on the top right side (any US resident can vote)

3. Complete the Registration Form, which will give you your login ID

4. Click the Nominate button at:
http://www.membersproject.com/project/view/BVVE2C and post a supportive comment

Your action or inaction can make the 1.5 million dollar difference here.

If you love your life and want to hold on to it perpetually… vote!

Artificial Cat Brain On Pentagon’s To Do List

The Pentagon’s crash program to create an artificial brain is just about up and running. And, if it all goes as planned, we could see an electronic chip that mimics the “function, size, and power consumption” of a cat’s cortex some time in the next decade. Darpa, the Defense Department’s way-out research arm, is in late-stage negotiations with Malibu’s HRL Laboratories to spearhead its Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (“SyNAPSE“) program. The goal: Build a chip with a “neuroscience-inspired architecture that can address a wide range of cognitive abilities — perception, planning, decision making, and motor control,” a company release notes.

The first nine-month phase of the program will focus on designing, fabricating, and characterizing synaptic and neural elements and combining them into a high-density, interconnecting microelectronic “fabric,” which will be incorporated into a more complex system-level fabric design…

In the following 15-month phase, HRL [a joint venture between Boeing and General Motors] will combine the synaptic and neural elements to fabricate and demonstrate “cortical microcircuits” that can model various lower-level brain functions and actually “learn” by interacting with the environment.

“The follow-on phases of the project will create a technology that functions like the brain of a cat, which comprises 108 neurons and 1012 synapses,” Dr. Narayan Srinivasa, SyNAPSE Program Manager and Senior Scientist, said. “The human brain has roughly 1011 neurons and 1015 synapses.”

The source article from Wired has plenty of interesting links in it.

This is only a few months after Henry Markram announced he wants to build an artificial rat brain and put it in a robot rat body in only two years.

Intel touts progress toward intelligent computers

I hope Intel warned the Luddites and pessimists away at the door, because the chipmaker had a lot of bullish statements Thursday about its belief that computers will become smarter than humans.

At the Intel Developer Forum here, Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner showed off a number of technologies in computing, robotics, and communication that he cited as evidence that Ray Kurzweil’s concept of “singularity,” when machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence, is impending. Demonstrations spotlighted the wireless transmission of electrical power, dextrous robots with new sensory abilities, a direct interface to the brain, programmable materials that can be used for shape-shifting devices such as resizable cell phones, and silicon photonics that enables chips to communicate with photons rather than electrons.

“We’re making steady progress toward Ray Kurzweil’s singularity,” Rattner said.

Intel of course remains at its heart a chipmaker, and Rattner began with a brief tour, assisted by Mike Garner, senior technologist for Intel’s emerging materials group, of various successors to the current complimentary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) process used to make processors. Future ideas that pack ever more computing capacity into a given volume include spintronics, quantum computing, carbon nanotubes.

It’s good to see a big name such as Intel take seriously Kurzweil’s ideas on accelerating progress, the Singularity, etc.

The more people are working towards a common goal, the better.

Startup Has E. Coli Pooping Black Gold

Genetic engineering yields hope for fossil fuel replacement

DailyTech previously covered startup LS9 Inc.’s efforts to genetically engineer microbes to produce synthetic fuels. After initial efforts to genetically modify both yeast and bacteria to produce long-chain hydrocarbons, they have since focused their efforts on a particular common bacterium — E. Coli.

E. Coli is commonly found in feces, and the LS9 researchers have succeeded in a rather ironic goal — genetically modifying the bacteria to excrete diesel fuel. After much research and genetic modification, LS9 says it has used a variety of common sugar metabolic pathways to force E. Coli to convert virtually any sugar-containing substance in part to carbon chains virtually indistinguishable with diesel.

The bacteria “poop” out this black gold, while using part of the sugar to fuel their growth and reproduction as well. The net result is that any carbon source can be turned into synthetic fuel by the economic bacteria.

Biochemist Stephen del Cardayre, LS9 vice president of research and development, says his company has come a long way. He states, “We started in my garage two years ago, and we’re producing barrels today, so things are moving pretty quickly.”

He explains the process of creating the microbes, stating, “So these are bacteria that have been engineered to produce oil. They started off like regular lab bacteria that didn’t produce oil, but we took genes from nature, we engineered them a bit [and] put them into this organism so that we can convert sugar to oil.”

source