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Medicine

Canada's Ebola Vaccine Nets Millions For Tiny US Biotech Firm 70

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-fun-and-games-until-somebody-loses-several-internal-organs dept.
Anita Hunt (lissnup) writes: Iowa-based NewLink Genetics has secured a US$50million deal with pharmaceutical giant Merck for the experimental Ebola vaccine developed by Canadian government scientists. NewLink bought the exclusive commercial licensing rights to Canada's VSV-EBOV in 2010 with a milestone payment of just US$205,000. This is an interesting new twist in a story we've discussed previously, and which continues to draw media attention.
The Military

How the Pentagon's Robots Would Automate War 117

Posted by Soulskill
from the peace-reigns-when-the-war-servers-are-down-for-scheduled-maintenance dept.
rossgneumann writes: Pentagon officials are worried that the U.S. military is losing its edge compared to competitors like China, and are willing to explore almost anything to stay on top—including creating robots capable of becoming fighting machines. A 72-page document throws detailed light on the far-reaching implications of the Pentagon's plan to monopolize imminent "transformational advances" in biotechnology, robotics and artificial intelligence, information technology, nanotechnology, and energy.
Biotech

Group Tries To Open Source Seeds 100

Posted by samzenpus
from the lettuce-for-linux dept.
jenwike writes The Open Source Seed Initiative is a passionate group that wants to ensure their seeds are never patented, but making sure seeds are free for use and distribution by anyone isn't as easy as you might think. Part of the equation are plant characteristics, like an extended head on lettuce — is that an invention? Or, would you argue that it is the product of the collective sharing of material that improves the whole crop over time? In this report, one farmer says, "If you're not exchanging germplasm, you're cutting your own throat."
Biotech

Researchers Use DNA To Record a Cell's Life History 48

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-have-you-done? dept.
sciencehabit writes If cells could talk, they'd have quite a story to tell: Their life history would include what molecules they'd seen passing by, which signals they'd sent to neighbors, and how they'd grown and changed. Researchers haven't quite given cells a voice, but they have now furnished them with a memory of sorts—one that's designed to record bits of their life history over the span of several weeks. The new method uses strands of DNA to store the data in a way that scientists can then read. Eventually, it could turn cells into environmental sensors, enabling them to report on their exposure to particular chemicals, among other applications.
Biotech

How 4H Is Helping Big Ag Take Over Africa 377

Posted by samzenpus
from the white-elephant dept.
Lasrick writes 4H is in Africa, helping to distribute Big Ag products like DuPont's Pioneer seeds through ostensibly good works aimed at youth. In Africa, where the need to produce more food is especially urgent, DuPont Pioneer and other huge corporations have made major investments. But there are drawbacks: "DuPont's nutritious, high-yielding, and drought-tolerant hybrid seed costs 10 times as much. While Ghanaians typically save their own seeds to plant the next year, hybrid seeds get weaker by the generation; each planting requires another round of purchasing. What's more, says Devlin Kuyek, a researcher with the sustainable-farming nonprofit Genetic Resources Action International, because hybrid seeds are bred for intensive agriculture, they typically need chemicals to thrive."
Biotech

Study: Body Weight Heavily Influenced By Heritable Gut Microbes 297

Posted by samzenpus
from the passing-it-on dept.
FirephoxRising writes Our genetic makeup influences whether we are fat or thin by shaping which types of microbes thrive in our body, according to a new study. Scientists identified a specific, little known bacterial family that is highly heritable and more common in individuals with low body weight. So we are what we eat, and what we got from out parents. From the article: "The study, funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers sequenced the genes of microbes found in more than 1,000 fecal samples from 416 pairs of twins. The abundances of specific types of microbes were found to be more similar in identical twins, who share 100 per cent of their genes, than in non-identical twins, who share on average only half of the genes that vary between people. These findings demonstrate that genes influence the composition of gut microbes."
Biotech

Black Swan Author: Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin 432

Posted by samzenpus
from the won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-world? dept.
KentuckyFC writes It's 20 years since the FDA approved the Flavr Savr tomato for human consumption, the first genetically engineered food to gain this status. Today, roughly 85 per cent of corn and 90 per cent of soybeans produced in the US are genetically modified. So it's easy to imagine that the scientific debate over the safety of genetically modified organisms has been largely settled. Not for Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and several academic colleagues who say that the risks have been vastly underestimated. They say that genetically modified organisms threaten harm on a global scale, both to ecosystems and to human health. That's different from many conventional risks that threaten harm on a local scale, like nuclear energy for example. They argue that this global threat means that the precautionary principle ought to be applied to severely limit the way genetically modified organisms can be used.
Medicine

The Man With the Golden Blood 75

Posted by samzenpus
from the rarest-of-the-rare dept.
First time accepted submitter Torontoman points out this story of a man with one of the rarest blood types in the world. Forty years ago, when ten-year-old Thomas went into the University Hospital of Geneva with a routine childhood infection, his blood test revealed something very curious: he appeared to be missing an entire blood group system. There are 35 blood group systems, organized according to the genes that carry the information to produce the antigens within each system. The majority of the 342 blood group antigens belong to one of these systems. The Rh system (formerly known as ‘Rhesus’) is the largest, containing 61 antigens. The most important of these Rh antigens, the D antigen, is quite often missing in Caucasians, of whom around 15 per cent are Rh D negative (more commonly, though inaccurately, known as Rh-negative blood). But Thomas seemed to be lacking all the Rh antigens. If this suspicion proved correct, it would make his blood type Rhnull – one of the rarest in the world, and a phenomenal discovery for the hospital hematologists.
Medicine

Scientists Engineer Cancer-Killing Stem Cells 46

Posted by Soulskill
from the stem-cell-rambo dept.
SternisheFan writes with news that medical researchers from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital have successfully cultivated stem cells that will kill brain cancer cells in mice without damaging healthy cells. "They used genetic engineering to make stem cells that spewed out cancer-killing toxins, but, crucially, were also able to resist the effects of the poison they were producing. ... In animal tests, the stem cells were surrounded in gel and placed at the site of the brain tumor after it had been removed. Their cancer cells then died as they had no defense against the toxins (abstract)." The next step in the research is to try the treatment on humans. Chris Mason, a professor of regenerative medicine, said, "This is a clever study, which signals the beginning of the next wave of therapies. It shows you can attack solid tumors by putting mini pharmacies inside the patient which deliver the toxic payload direct to the tumor. Cells can do so much. This is the way the future is going to be."
Medicine

Stem Cells Grown From Patient's Arm Used To Replace Retina 56

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-and-what-arm-eye dept.
BarbaraHudson writes: The Globe and Mail is reporting the success of a procedure to implant a replacement retina grown from cells from the patient's skin. Quoting: "Transplant doctors are stepping gingerly into a new world, one month after a Japanese woman received the first-ever tissue transplant using stem cells that came from her own skin, not an embryo. On Sept. 12, doctors in a Kobe hospital replaced the retina of a 70-year-old woman suffering from macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. The otherwise routine surgery was radical because scientists had grown the replacement retina in a petri dish, using skin scraped from the patient's arm.

The Japanese woman is fine and her retinal implant remains in place. Researchers around the world are now hoping to test other stem-cell-derived tissues in therapy. Dr. Jeanne Loring from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., expects to get approval within a few years to see whether neurons derived from stem cells can be used to treat Parkinson's disease."
Biotech

Companies Genetically Engineer Spider Silk 82

Posted by Soulskill
from the spider-goat-spider-goat-does-whatever-a-spider-goat-does dept.
gthuang88 writes: Spider silk is touted for its strength and potential to be used in body armor, sports gear, and even artificial tendons and implants. Now several companies including EntoGenetics, Kraig Labs, and Araknitek have developed genetic approaches to producing commercial quantities of the stuff. One method is to implant spider genes into silkworms, which then act as spider-silk factories. Another is to place the gene that encodes spider web production into the DNA of goats; these "spidergoats" then produce milk containing spider-silk proteins that can be extracted. There's still a long way to go, however, and big companies like DuPont and BASF have tried and failed to commercialize similar materials.
Medicine

Scientists Coax Human Embryonic Stem Cells Into Making Insulin 100

Posted by samzenpus
from the closer-to-the-cure dept.
First time accepted submitter kwiecmmm writes A group of Harvard scientists reported that they have figured out how to turn embryonic stem cells into beta cells capable of producing insulin. This discovery could cure diabetes. From the article: "'It's a huge landmark paper. I would say it's bigger than the discovery of insulin,' says Jose Olberholzer, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois. 'The discovery of insulin was important and certainly saved millions of people, but it just allowed patients to survive but not really to have a normal life. The finding of Doug Melton would really allow to offer them really something what I would call a functional cure. You know, they really wouldn't feel anymore being diabetic if they got a transplant with those kind of cells.'"
Medicine

Device Allows Paralyzed Rats To Walk, Human Trials Scheduled Next Summer 85

Posted by samzenpus
from the walking-again dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A new technique pioneered by scientists working on project NEUWalk at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology (EPFL) have figured out a way to reactivate the severed spinal cords of fully paralyzed rats, allowing them to walk again via remote control. Human trials are scheduled for next summer. "We have complete control of the rat's hind legs," EPFL neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine said. "The rat has no voluntary control of its limbs, but the severed spinal cord can be reactivated and stimulated to perform natural walking. We can control in real-time how the rat moves forward and how high it lifts its legs."
Biotech

US Asks Universities To Flag Risky Pathogen Experiments 39

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-little-notice-please dept.
sciencehabit writes 'Academic scientists with federal funding who work with any of 15 dangerous microbes or toxins will soon have to flag specific studies that could potentially be used to cause harm and work with their institutions to reduce risks, according to new U.S. government rules released today. The long-awaited final rule is similar to a February 2013 draft and is "about what we expected," says Carrie Wolinetz, a deputy director of federal relations at the Association of American Universities (AAU) in Washington, D.C., which represents more than 60 major research universities. Those schools see the rules as replicating other federal security and safety rules, Wolinetz says, but will adjust to them. But some observers have concerns, such as that the rules do not apply to other risky biological agents. In a conference call with reporters today, a White House official said the government is open to a "broader discussion" about whether it should expand the list of 15 regulated agents.
Biotech

Researchers Report Largest DNA Origami To Date 36

Posted by timothy
from the never-date-origami-it-won't-respect-you dept.
MTorrice (2611475) writes Bioengineers can harness DNA's remarkable ability to self-assemble to build two- and three-dimensional nanostructures through DNA origami. Until now, researchers using this approach have been limited to building structures that are tens of square nanometers in size. Now a team reports the largest individual DNA origami structures to date, which reach sizes of hundreds of square nanometers. What's more, they have developed a less expensive way to synthesize the DNA strands needed, overcoming a tremendous obstacle to scaling up the technology.
Biotech

The Myths and Realities of Synthetic Bioweapons 36

Posted by samzenpus
from the microwave-safe-anthrax dept.
Lasrick writes Three researchers from King's College, London, walk through the security threats posed by synthetic and do-it-yourself biology, assessing whether changes in technology and associated costs make it any easier for would-be terrorists to pursue biological weapons for high-consequence, mass- casualty attacks (and even whether they would want to). "Those who have overemphasized the bioterrorism threat typically portray it as an imminent concern, with emphasis placed on high-consequence, mass-casualty attacks, performed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This is a myth with two dimensions."
Medicine

Artificial Spleen Removes Ebola, HIV Viruses and Toxins From Blood Using Magnets 106

Posted by samzenpus
from the cleaning-the-system dept.
concertina226 writes Harvard scientists have invented a new artificial spleen that is able to clear toxins, fungi and deadly pathogens such as Ebola from human blood, which could potentially save millions of lives. When antibiotics are used to kill them, dying viruses release toxins in the blood that begin to multiply quickly, causing sepsis, a life-threatening condition whereby the immune system overreacts, causing blood clotting, organ damage and inflammation. To overcome this, researchers have invented a "biospleen", a device similar to a dialysis machine that makes use of magnetic nanobeads measuring 128 nanometres in diameter (one-five hundredths the width of a single human hair) coated with mannose-binding lectin (MBL), a type of genetically engineered human blood protein.
Biotech

Medical Milestone: Scientists Reset Human Stem Cells 75

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-power-cycle-them dept.
SternisheFan sends news that researchers from the University of Cambridge have made a breakthrough in the production of human pluripotent stem cells. The goal when developing this kind of stem cell is to have them as early in the cell's lifecycle as possible, so that they're more like true embryonic stem cells and can fulfill whatever role is needed. But all of them made so far are advanced slightly down their developmental pathway. The new work, published in the journal Cell (abstract), has found a way to "reset" the cells by introducing two genes that induce a developmental "ground state."
Biotech

The Grassroots Future of Biohacking 68

Posted by samzenpus
from the building-a-better-you dept.
An anonymous reader writes Forget about some kid engineering a virulent microbe in their bedroom. As the assistant director of the Maurice Kanbar Center for Biomedical Engineering, Oliver Medvedik, puts it, "It's extremely difficult to 'improve' on the lethality of nature. The pathogens that already exist are more legitimate cause for worry.” If anything, you're better off putting energy into wrenching away your desire for McDonalds, and making sure the government doesn't impose draconian laws about DIY-bio. Here's a look at the grassroots future of biohacking and the problems with government overreach.
Biotech

Scientists Regenerate Rat Muscle Tissue 26

Posted by samzenpus
from the building-a-better-mouse dept.
Zothecula writes Muscle lost through traumatic injury, congenital defect, or tumor ablation may soon be regenerated from within. A team of researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has shown how stem cells in the body of mice and rats can be mobilized to form new muscle in damaged regions. "Working to leverage the body’s own regenerative properties, we designed a muscle-specific scaffolding system that can actively participate in functional tissue regeneration," explains Sang Jin Lee, senior author on the study. This scaffold was implanted in the rats' tibialis anterior muscle (which is found below the knee), serving as a kind of home for the muscle progenitor cells to grow and develop.

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