Monthly Archives: November 2008

Purple ‘super tomato’ that can fight against cancer

It looks like a cross between an orange and a black pudding, but this genetically modified purple ‘super tomato’ could be the latest weapon in the fight against cancer.

The fruit, which tastes and smells like a normal red tomato, has been given two genes from a snapdragon flower that produce the dark colour.

The distinctive hue is created by antioxidant pigments that protect against diseases including cancer, heart problems and diabetes.

British scientists behind the crop believe their purple tomato is the respectable face of genetic modification and could help convince the public of the benefits of GM food.

But critics say the potential health benefits are a distraction from the harmful environmental side effects of GM farming.

The tomato – developed by the John Innes Centre in Norwich – contains high concentrations of anthocyanins, pigments found in blackberries and cranberries.

Anthocyanins are chemicals called flavonoids which mop up potentially harmful oxygen molecules in the body. Although they are produced naturally by tomato plants, they are normally found only in the leaves.

The scientists transferred the genes from the snapdragons using specially adapted bacteria.


3D Printers Now as Cheap As Laser Printers Were in 1985

We do go on about the possibilities of downloadable designs, where you can pick the best from around the world and get it printed up at some form of 3D Kinko that might some day be in every neighbourhood.

Perhaps that vision isn’t wild enough; the Ponoko blog notes that the desktop publishing revolution was born when the Apple LaserWriter was released in 1985 for $6995. Now Desktop Factory is launching a 3D printer that isn’t much bigger than that laser printer, and at $5,000 in 2008 dollars a whole lot cheaper.


Rainforest Fungus Naturally Synthesizes Diesel

A fungus that lives inside trees in the Patagonian rain forest naturally makes a mix of hydrocarbons that bears a striking resemblance to diesel, biologists announced today. And the fungus can grow on cellulose, a major component of tree trunks, blades of grass and stalks that is the most abundant carbon-based plant material on Earth.

“When we looked at the gas analysis, I was flabbergasted,” said Gary Strobel, a plant scientist at Montana State University, and the lead author of a paper in Microbiology describing the find. “We were looking at the essence of diesel fuel.”

While genetic engineers have been trying a variety of techniques and genes to get microbes to create fuel out of sugars and starches, almost all commercial biofuel production uses the century-old dry mill grain process. Ethanol plants ferment corn ears into alcohol, which is simple, but wastes the vast majority of the biomatter of the corn plant.

Using the cellulose from plants — the stalk instead of the ear, or simply wood from poplars — to make liquid fuel is a long-held dream because it would be more environmentally efficient and cheaper, but is far more difficult.


20 megapixel cellphones shooting Full HD video in 4 years

It’s tough to predict the future, especially with cutbacks to R&D budgets in the face of a global economic slowdown. Still, it’s always nice to see a forward-looking corporate-slide related to mobile handsets from the taller, blonder half of that Sony Ericsson partnership. LTE and fast CPUs are certainly no surprise, nor is that 1,024 x 768 XGA screen resolution that Japan’s superphones are already bumping up against. The most compelling vision is that of the embedded camera sensors: 12-20 megapixels capable of recording Full HD video by 2012. Adding more fuel to firey speculation that handsets are about to find themselves embroiled in a megapixel war.


Computing power to equal human brain by 2025

Dubai: By 2025 you will be able to buy the computing power of the human brain for $1,000 (Dh3,672), according to Dr Colin Harrison, a director and “Master Inventor” for IBM.

Harrison, who recently took some time to speak to Gulf News on a trip to the UAE, said the estimate is based on the current state of super-computers, which IBM has a long history with.

The company built Deep Blue, a machine designed to beat Russian Chess Champion Gary Kasparov, about 12 years ago and it is currently producing a line of high-performance machines called Blue Gene.

“Deep Blue has roughly the processing capacity of a lizard, and the early Blue Genes has roughly the processing capacity of small rodent,” said Dr Harrison. “If you want to get to the processing capacity of a human being, I think you need something like 10 petaFLOPS.”

How fast it that? The fastest version on the Blue Gene runs at 500 teraFLOPS, which means about 500 trillion mathematical operations per second.

Harrison said that there are some people at IBM who think it would be possible to run the entire internet on Blue Gene, although he says that would only cover “the front end on the internet,” such as websites, and not the large behind-the-scenes computations done in data centers.


Living computers within your body

Project leaders Maung Nyan Win and Christina Smolke have revealed that, so far, they have tested the living computer on a living yeast cell.

The researchers believe that future models of the computer, made from the DNA-like molecule RNA, may be helpful in running calculations inside human cells to release drugs, or prime the immune system, at the first hint of illness.

They have revealed that the RNA device processes input signals in the form of natural cell proteins and produces an output in the form of green fluorescent protein (GFP).

At the computers heart is a ribozyme, a short RNA molecule able to catalyse changes to other molecules, which is attached to an RNA sequence that the cell can translate into GFP, and a third RNA molecule that acts like a trigger for the ribozyme.

The team say that the trigger can be designed to bind to specific molecules inside the cell like proteins or antibiotics.

When it does, the catalytic ribozyme destroys the GFP sequence, and prevents the cell from making any more glowing protein.

The presence of an input protein stops the production of GFP. Using two trigger sections produces a NAND gate, the output of which depends on the presence or absence of two input proteins.


Computing With RNA

Scientists in California have created molecular computers that are able to self-assemble out of strips of RNA within living cells. Eventually, such computers could be programmed to manipulate biological functions within the cell, executing different tasks under different conditions. One application could be smart drug delivery systems, says Christina Smolke, who carried out the research with Maung Nyan Win and whose results are published in the latest issue of Science.

The use of biomolecules to perform computations was first demonstrated by the University of Southern California’s Leonard Adleman in 1994, and the approach was later developed by Ehud Shapiro of the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel. But according to Shapiro, “What this new work shows for the first time is the ability to detect the presence or absence of molecules within the cell.”

That opens up the possibility of computing devices that can respond to specific conditions within the cell, he says. For example, it may be possible to develop drug delivery systems that target cancer cells from within by sensing genes used to regulate cell growth and death. “You can program it to release the drug when the conditions are just right, at the right time and in the right place,” Shapiro says.