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First man-made biological leaf

RCA graduate Julian Melchiorri says the synthetic biological leaf he developed, which absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen just like a plant, could enable long-distance space travel.

 

"Plants don't grow in zero gravity," explains Melchiorri. "NASA is researching different ways to produce oxygen for long-distance space journeys to let us live in space. This material could allow us t0 explore space much further than we can now."

 

"The material is extracted directly from the fibres of silk," Melchiorri explains. "This material has an amazing property of stabilising molecules. I extracted chloroplasts from plant cells and placed them inside this silk protein. As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does."

 

Read more here:

http://www.dezeen.com/2014/07/25/movie-silk-leaf-first-man-made-synthetic-biological-leaf-space-travel/

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Really interesting union of science and art. Previous attempts to create artificial leaves resulted solar powered fuel cells.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_photosynthesis

 

Unfortunately, I have yet to find a peer reviewed article scrutinizing the functionality of Melchiorri's "Silk Leaf".  Nonetheless, below is one of his earlier inventions featured in an academic journal:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0094576514001477

 

MIT researchers have also attempted to enhance the photosynthesis of plant leaves and add additional functionalities to leaves using nanotechnology http://sco.lt/8rBN69

 

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A Message From The Curator

A Message From The Curator | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Biotech and Beyond comprises a series of articles on a range of topics which include novel therapies, research and of course, biotechnology.

 

My first degree was BSc. Biotechnology which was awarded by Monash University. However, I have moved on to phytochemistry and food science for my PhD and currently teach chemistry at UCSI University. Nonetheless, I still find biotechnology issues, discoveries and therapies fascinating.

 

Please follow my topic and share my scoops if you found the curated articles interesting, and check out the popular tags listed in the post above. I also welcome suggested scoops related to this topic and give credit where credit is due.

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

I teach chemistry at UCSI University, Malaysia and most of my research is centered around phytochemistry.


My research interests can be viewed here:
http://scholar.google.com.my/citations?user=iVv3xbAAAAAJ&hl=en


I manage the Facebook and Google+ pages belonging to the Faculty of Applied Sciences, UCSI University. Curated scoops are shared here:
https://www.facebook.com/Applied.Sciences.UCSI

https://plus.google.com/117901649282247944098/posts

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Cane toad poison kills prostate cancer cells

Cane toad poison kills prostate cancer cells | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Researchers find cane toad poison kills off prostate cancer cells while sparing healthy cells.

 

Cane toads were deliberately introduced to Queensland in 1935 but multiplied quickly and became a pest. They arrived in the Northern Territory in 1984, and in 2001 moved into Kakadu National Park where they have caused major environmental damage. The toads are poisonous to many native animals and have also crossed into Western Australia and northern New South Wales.

 

Dr Harendra Parekh from the University of Queensland said a student had discovered Australia's toad to be similar to the Asiatic toad which has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. "We have what we believe is a selectively toxic agent which can kill tumour cells but spare healthy cells," he said.

 

In China medicine made from toad poison is called chan su and is used to treat heart failure, sore throats, skin conditions and other ailments. During her studies PhD student Dr Jing Jing was able to show that the poison from cane toads was very effective at killing cancer cells, and in particular prostate cancer cells, Dr Parekh said.

 

But while the drug has been used for a long time in Asia it can be dangerous in its raw form, and Dr Parekh and his team had been trying to make the drug more soluble. "Once we determine that the toxicity has been sustained, even after increasing solubility, the next stage will involve packaging it in innovative drug delivery systems, sent to cancer tissue," he said.

 

Read more here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-17/cane-toad-venom-attacks-cancer-cells/5750114

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Interesting how a traditional remedy can be developed into a potential therapy.

 

Read more scoops on novel therapies here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Novel+Therapies

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How Your Brain Works: Jumping to Conclusions

Ever wonder how your brain processes information? These brain tricks and illusions help to demonstrate the two main systems of Fast and Slow Thinking in your brain. 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Really cool video illustrating why we often jump to conclusions. 

 

More science trivia scooped here:

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Bacteria found in bees show potential as an alternative to antibiotics

Bacteria found in bees show potential as an alternative to antibiotics | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Scientists have shown that a unique group of bacteria found in the stomach of bees can fight antibiotic-resistant superbugs in the lab.

 

Antibiotic resistance is an increasingly serious problem in the western world, and in April this year, the World Health Organisation declared it a major threat to public health. For centuries, people have used raw honey to help fight infections, but scientists have struggled to figure out what gives it its antimicrobial properties.

 

Now a team of researchers from Lund University in Sweden has identified a unique group of 13 lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that come from the honey stomach of bees, and are found in fresh honey, that have an impressive ability to fight pathogens. The honey stomach is one of two stomachs found in bees, and it stores nectar, which worker bees later suck out and store in the hive.

 

Together, these live bacteria produce a number of active microbial compounds, such as hydrogen peroxide, fatty acids and anaesthetics, that can kill other harmful bacteria - it’s believed that this is the formula that protects the bee colony against collapse. Unfortunately, these LAB are processed out of the honey we buy in shops, but the researchers now believe they could be used to help treat anitibiotic resistance.

 

The team tested the bee bacteria in the lab against pathogen strains that cause serious infections in humans, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can lead to fatal staph infections. The LAB was added to these superbugs and, impressively, it counteracted all of them.

 

The results are published in the International Wound Journal.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/iwj.12345/full

 

Read more here:

http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20141009-26155.html

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

A fairly interesting study given the rise of antibiotic resistance. Scoops on other alternatives to antibiotics can be read here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Post-Antibiotic

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Alzheimer’s to be treated with the blood of those under-30

Alzheimer’s to be treated with the blood of those under-30 | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Alzheimer’s patients in the US will be given transfusions of young people's blood as part of a promising new treatment that’s nowhere near as crazy as it sounds.

 

This October, people with mild to moderate levels of Alzheimer’s disease will receive a transfusion of blood plasma from donors aged under 30.  The trial, run by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine in the US, follows their revolutionary study involving lab mice, where the blood plasma of young mice was injected into old mice, resulting in a marked improvement in their physical endurance and cognitive function. Completed earlier this year, their research, combined with independent studies by a handful of research teams around the world, pin-pointed a plasma-borne protein called growth differentiation factor 11 - or GDF11 - as a key factor in the young blood’s powers of rejuvenation.


"We saw these astounding effects,” lead researcher and professor of neurology at Stanford, Tony Wyss-Coray, told Helen Thomson at New Scientist. "The human blood had beneficial effects on every organ we've studied so far."

 

Getting approval for their October trial has been fairly straightforward, he said, because blood transfusion therapy has such a long history of safe use in medical procedures, but the team will still keep a very careful eye on how the patients are progressing once they’ve received the young blood. "We will assess cognitive function immediately before and for several days after the transfusion, as well as tracking each person for a few months to see if any of their family or carers report any positive effects," he told Thomson at New Scientist. "The effects might be transient, but even if it's just for a day it is a proof of concept that is worth pursuing.”

 

Read more here:

http://sciencealert.com.au/news/20142108-26046.html


Research article published in Nature Medicine can be read here:

http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v20/n6/full/nm.3569.html

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Weird but true, the findings sound almost like the premise for a science fiction film. 

 

Read more scoops on novel therapies here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Novel+Therapies

 

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Brain regeneration: Crayfish turn blood into neurons

Brain regeneration: Crayfish turn blood into neurons | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Think crayfish and you probably think supper, perhaps with mayo on the side. You probably don’t think of their brains. Admittedly, crayfish aren’t known for their grey matter, but that might be about to change: they can grow new brain cells from blood.

 

Humans can make new neurons, but only from specialised stem cells. Crayfish, meanwhile, can convert blood to neurons that resupply their eyestalks and smell circuits. Although it’s a long way from crayfish to humans, the discovery may one day help us to regenerate our own brain cells.

 

Olfactory nerves are continuously exposed to damage and so naturally regenerate in many animals, from flies to humans, and crustaceans too. It makes sense that crayfish have a way to replenish these nerves. To do so, they utilise what amounts to a “nursery” for baby neurons, a little clump at the base of the brain called the niche.

 

In crayfish, blood cells are attracted to the niche. On any given day, there are a hundred or so cells in this area. Each cell will split into two daughter cells, precursors to full neurons, both of which migrate out of the niche. Those that are destined to be part of the olfactory system head to two clumps of nerves in the brain called clusters 9 and 10. It’s there that the final stage of producing new smell neurons is completed.

 

Read more here:

https://richarddawkins.net/2014/08/brain-regeneration-crayfish-turn-blood-into-neurons/

 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

More scoops on science trivia can be read here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Trivia

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Riots in Liberia and recovery of both US Ebola patients

Riots in Liberia and recovery of both US Ebola patients | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

One of the US aid workers who recovered from an Ebola infection is "thrilled to be alive" as he and another patient are discharged from hospital. Dr Kent Brantly, 33, thanked supporters for their prayers at a news conference in Atlanta. Nancy Writebol, 59, was discharged on Tuesday.

 

Meanwhile, South Africa on Thursday said non-citizens arriving from Ebola-affected areas of West Africa - the countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - would not be allowed into the country.

And police in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, fired live rounds and tear gas during protests after a quarantine was imposed to contain the spread of the deadly virus. 

 

The attack on the quarantine centre in Liberia, in Monrovia's densely populated West Point township, took place on Saturday evening. There are conflicting reports over what sparked the riot, in which medical supplies were stolen.

 

While scientists are rushing to develop a drug that combats or prevents an Ebola infection, there is currently no cure on the market. It is one of the deadliest diseases in the world, and during this outbreak - which has killed 1,300 people in West Africa alone - the fatality rate has been between 50 and 60 percent. If left untreated, the rate skyrockets to around 90 percent.

 

But both Dr Brantly and Mrs Writebol received an experimental treatment known as ZMapp. The drug, which has only been made in extremely limited quantities, had never been tested on humans and it remains unclear if it is responsible for their recovery. ZMapp was also given to a Spanish priest, who died, and three Liberian health workers, who are showing signs of improvement.

 

Read more about Dr Brantly and Mrs Writebol's recovery as well as the riots in Liberia below:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-28885753

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-28841040

http://sciencealert.com.au/news/20142208-26053.html

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Dr Brantly and Mrs Writebol were the first two patients who recovered after receiving ZMapp treatment. With so little evidence, it would not be prudent to assume that the drug produced in limited quantities would be able to curb the outbreak.

 

Nonetheless, the treatment offer hope and there is need of hope as given the fear, desperation and anguish taking hold of West Point, Liberia.

 

Read more scoops on the recent Ebola outbreak here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Ebola

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Why do Bats Transmit so many Diseases like Ebola?

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Really cool video simplifying the science of epidemiology. The describes why bats are especially good vectors, carriers of diseases. 

 

Diseases spread when there is a change to either the host, environment or vector. Therefore, any change to the environment could potentially result in dire consequences.

 

Watch more videos on featuring more light hearted trivia here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Trivia

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Scientists think they've found Patient Zero in the Ebola outbreak

Scientists think they've found Patient Zero in the Ebola outbreak | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
A new study suggests the origin of the worldwide Ebola outbreak was a two-year-old African boy who passed away last year.

 

The two-year-old boy identified as Patient Zero died on 6 December 2013 in a village in Guéckédou in southeastern Guinea in Africa. The region borders Sierra Leone and Liberia, making it an ideal entry point for an epidemic. There have since been at least 1,779 cases of the disease, as Denise Grady and Sheri Fink explain in The New York Times, and 961 deaths - including the boy's mother, sister and grandmother. 

 

At the time of their deaths, no one was sure what had sickened the family, despite the fever, vomiting and diarrhoea characteristic of the disease, so no special procedures were put into place when it came to treating them. And, within a few weeks, the study shows that contaminated healthcare workers who had supported the family and mourners at their funerals then spread the disease to surrounding villages and hospitals. By early March it had appeared across southern Guinea. Cases have now been reported in Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

 

The international team of researchers managed to trace the disease's origins by looking at the way the new strain spread through Africa. Although the toddler and his family were never officially diagnosed with Ebola, their symptoms match the disease and, according to The New York Times, "fit into a pattern of transmission that included other cases confirmed by blood tests".

 

So how did this Ebola outbreak get so out of control, when we've generally been able to get a hold of them quite quickly in the past?

 

Read more here: http://sciencealert.com.au/news/20141208-26004.html

 

The associated research article can be read here:

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1404505

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Poor hygiene and infrastructure was quoted as one of the causes of the outbreak. However, from my experience with airport health officials during the H1N1 outbreak, some countries have very lax enforcement of quarantine.


Others like China had very strict enforcement. Health officers would measure the temperature of every passenger before anyone is allowed to leave the plane. If anyone had a fever, the whole plane would be disinfected even if it causes a delay in flights.


Read other scoops on epidemiology here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Epidemiology

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Stem cell stroke therapy shows promise after first human trial

Stem cell stroke therapy shows promise after first human trial | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Treatment with CD34+ hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells has been shown before to improve functional recovery in non-human models of ischemic stroke via promotion of angiogenesis and neurogenesis. A pilot study undertaken by researchers from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London has now shown promise in rapid treatment of serious strokes. The study, the first of its kind published in the UK, treated patients using stem cells from bone marrow.

 

According to the Stroke Association, about 152,000 people suffer a stroke in the UK alone each year. However, the five patients treated in the recent Imperial College pilot study all showed improvements. According to doctors, four of those had suffered the most severe kind of stroke, which leaves only four percent of people alive or able to live independently six months after the event. All four of the patients were alive after six months.

 

A particular set of CD34+ stem cells was used, as they help with the production of blood cells and blood vessels’ lining cells. These same cells have been found to improve the effects of stroke in animals, and they assist in brain tissue and blood growth in the affected areas of the brain. The CD34+ cells were isolated from samples taken from patients’ bone marrow and then infused into the affected area via an artery that leads to the brain, using keyhole surgery.

 

The innovative stem cell treatment differs from others in one important way: patients are treated within seven days of their stroke, rather than six months hence. The stroke sufferers all recorded improvements in terms of clinical measures of disability, despite four of the five having suffered the most severe kind of stroke.

 

Autologous CD34+ selected stem/progenitor cell therapy delivered intra-arterially into the infarct territory can be achieved safely in patients with acute ischemic stroke. Future studies that address eligibility criteria, dosage, delivery site, and timing and that use surrogate imaging markers of outcome are desirable before larger scale clinical trials.

 

Read more here:

http://www.gizmag.com/stroke-treatment-stem-cell-bone-marrow/33258/

 

A paper detailing the research was published in journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine: 

http://stemcellstm.alphamedpress.org/content/early/2014/08/07/sctm.2013-0178.abstract



Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald, Jocelyn Stoller
Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

A groundbreaking therapy in regenerative medicine. A stroke can cause permanent neurological damage or death and is in some ways it is more debilitating than a heart attack.

 

Any therapy which can repair some of the neurological damage is significant. The major challenge in preventing neurological damage is early detection, which can be difficult because there is often little discomfort and suffers may not know they are experiencing a stroke.

 

Recently, researchers have also mapped the functions of different regions of the brain. This forms part of the evidence against the "10% myth". Read more here: http://sco.lt/7aOUyn

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High throughput organic synthesis

High throughput organic synthesis | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

A lab in 2014 boasts a battery of fume cupboards and analytical instruments — and no one is smoking a pipe. But the essence of what researchers are doing is the same. Organic chemists typically plan their work on paper, sketching hexagons and carbon chains on page after page as they think through the sequence of reactions they will need to make a given molecule. Then they try to follow that sequence by hand — painstakingly mixing, filtering and distilling, stitching together molecules as if they were embroidering quilts.

 But a growing band of chemists is now trying to free the field from its artisanal roots by creating a device with the ability to fabricate any organic molecule automatically. “I would consider it entirely feasible to build a synthesis machine which could make any one of a billion defined small molecules on demand,” declares Richard Whitby, a chemist at the University of Southampton, UK.

True, even a menu of one billion compounds would encompass just an infinitesimal fraction of the estimated 1060 moderately sized carbon-based molecules that could possibly exist. But it would still be at least ten times the number of organic molecules that have ever been synthesized by humans. Such a device could thus offer an astonishing diversity of compounds for investigation by researchers developing drugs, agrochemicals or materials.

 

“A synthesis machine would be transformational,” says Tim Jamison, a chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “I can see challenges in every single area,” he adds, “but I don't think it's impossible”.

 

A British project called Dial-a-Molecule is laying the groundwork. Led by Whitby, the £700,000 (US$1.2-million) project began in 2010 and currently runs until May 2015. So far, it has mostly focused on working out what components the machine would need, and building a collaboration of more than 450 researchers and 60 companies to help work on the idea. The hope, says Whitby, is that this launchpad will help team members to attract the long-term support they need to achieve the vision.

 

Read more here: 

http://www.nature.com/news/organic-synthesis-the-robo-chemist-1.15661


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

From high throughput sequencing and screening, we are moving to high throughput organic synthesis. In the near future, personalized medication may be viable after all. 

 

Read more scoops on novel therapies here:

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Mapping the social and cognitive functions of the brain

Mapping the social and cognitive functions of the brain | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

By studying the injuries and aptitudes of Vietnam War veterans who suffered penetrating head wounds during the war, researchers have found that brain regions that contribute to optimal social functioning are also vital to general intelligence and emotional intelligence.

 

“We are trying to understand the nature of general intelligence and to what extent our intellectual abilities are grounded in social cognitive abilities,” said Aron Barbey, a University of Illinois professor of neuroscience, psychology, and speech and hearing science. Barbey, an affiliate of the Beckman Institute and he Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois, led the new study with an international team of collaborators. 

 

The study involved 144 Vietnam veterans injured by shrapnel or bullets that penetrated the skull, damaging distinct brain tissues while leaving neighboring tissues intact. Using CT scans, the scientists painstakingly mapped the affected brain regions of each participant, then pooled the data to build a collective map of the brain. They then looked for damage in specific brain regions tied to deficits in the participants’ ability to navigate intellectual, emotional or social realms. Social problem solving in this analysis primarily involved conflict resolution with friends, family and peers at work.

 

As in their earlier studies of general intelligence and emotional intelligence, the researchers found that regions of the frontal cortex (at the front of the brain), the parietal cortex (further back near the top of the head) and the temporal lobes (on the sides of the head behind the ears) are all implicated in social problem solving. The regions that contributed to social functioning in the parietal and temporal lobes were located only in the brain’s left hemisphere, while both left and right frontal lobes were involved.

 

Read the full article here:

http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-social-origins-of-intelligence-in-the-brain

 

Findings were reported in the journal Brain and can be read here:

http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/07/27/brain.awu207


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

There is a popular myth that humans use no more than 10% of their brains throughout their entire life. This has been shown to be untrue as brain damage consistently results in loss of function. Nonetheless, this myth provided the premise for some great movies such as the 2014 film, Lucy 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_(2014_film)

 

Read more scoops on the brain here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Brain

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Helen Teague's curator insight, August 3, 9:32 AM

From Dr. Stefan Gruenwald:

By studying the injuries and aptitudes of Vietnam War veterans who suffered penetrating head wounds during the war, researchers have found that brain regions that contribute to optimal social functioning are also vital to general intelligence and emotional intelligence.

 

This finding, reported in the journal Brain, bolsters the view that general intelligence emerges from the emotional and social context of one’s life.

“We are trying to understand the nature of general intelligence and to what extent our intellectual abilities are grounded in social cognitive abilities,” said Aron Barbey, a University of Illinois professor of neuroscience, psychology, and speech and hearing science.

 

Barbey, an affiliate of the Beckman Institute and he Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois, led the new study with an international team of collaborators.

 

The study involved 144 Vietnam veterans injured by shrapnel or bullets that penetrated the skull, damaging distinct brain tissues while leaving neighboring tissues intact. Using CT scans, the scientists painstakingly mapped the affected brain regions of each participant, then pooled the data to build a collective map of the brain.

 

The researchers used a battery of carefully designed tests to assess participants’ intellectual, emotional and social capabilities. They then looked for damage in specific brain regions tied to deficits in the participants’ ability to navigate intellectual, emotional or social realms. Social problem solving in this analysis primarily involved conflict resolution with friends, family and peers at work.

 

As in their earlier studies of general intelligence and emotional intelligence, the researchers found that regions of the frontal cortex (at the front of the brain), the parietal cortex (further back near the top of the head) and the temporal lobes (on the sides of the head behind the ears) are all implicated in social problem solving. The regions that contributed to social functioning in the parietal and temporal lobes were located only in the brain’s left hemisphere, while both left and right frontal lobes were involved.

Jocelyn Stoller's curator insight, August 13, 4:55 AM

Strange that CT scans were used. High resolution Functional MRI would show both structure and activity. Other imaging methods such as optogenetics, MEG, TMS, BOLD, etc. could also help to pinpoint these areas without using radiation on an already-injured brain.

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First man-made biological leaf

RCA graduate Julian Melchiorri says the synthetic biological leaf he developed, which absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen just like a plant, could enable long-distance space travel.

 

"Plants don't grow in zero gravity," explains Melchiorri. "NASA is researching different ways to produce oxygen for long-distance space journeys to let us live in space. This material could allow us t0 explore space much further than we can now."

 

"The material is extracted directly from the fibres of silk," Melchiorri explains. "This material has an amazing property of stabilising molecules. I extracted chloroplasts from plant cells and placed them inside this silk protein. As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does."

 

Read more here:

http://www.dezeen.com/2014/07/25/movie-silk-leaf-first-man-made-synthetic-biological-leaf-space-travel/

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Really interesting union of science and art. Previous attempts to create artificial leaves resulted solar powered fuel cells.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_photosynthesis

 

Unfortunately, I have yet to find a peer reviewed article scrutinizing the functionality of Melchiorri's "Silk Leaf".  Nonetheless, below is one of his earlier inventions featured in an academic journal:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0094576514001477

 

MIT researchers have also attempted to enhance the photosynthesis of plant leaves and add additional functionalities to leaves using nanotechnology http://sco.lt/8rBN69

 

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Our brains can make decisions while we're sleeping

Our brains can make decisions while we're sleeping | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Your brain doesn’t shut down when you go to sleep, in fact, a recent study has shown that it remains quietly active, and can process information to help you make decisions, just like when you're awake.

 

A new study led by senior research scientist Sid Kouider and PhD student Thomas Andrillon at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris in France has investigated how active our brains are when we’re asleep, and the results could have implications for the Holy Grail of humanity's quest to become ever-smarter - learning in our sleep.

 

Previous studies have shown that rather than switching off from our environment when we sleep, our brains ‘keep one eye open’, so they can catch important information that's relevent to us. This means we’re more likely to wake up when we hear someone say our names, or when our alarms go off in the morning, than to the less-pressing sounds of an ally cat scratching around the bins outside, cars driving past, or the periodic chime of a cuckoo clock. 

 

Kouider and Andrillon wanted to take this finding a step further and found that complex stimuli from our environment can not only be processed by our brains when we sleep, but can actually be used to make decisions. It's just like what's going on in your brain when you're driving your car home every day - you have to process so much information all at once and very quickly in order to safely operate your vehicle, but you’re so used to it, you barely even notice it happening. The same concept appears to apply to our decision-making processes when we're asleep.

 

Of course, the parts in our brain associated with paying attention to and following instructions are shut down when we sleep, so we can’t start performing a new task, but what Kouider and Andrillon wanted to find out is if a task was implemented right before sleep, would the brain continue working on it even after the participant dozed off?

 

Read more here: http://sciencealert.com.au/news/20141909-26203.html

 

The associated research article In published in Current Biology can be read here: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(14)00994-4

 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

An interesting piece of research. Other researchers have studied the potential of using dreams to come up with solutions to cognitive tasks as described here: http://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/IJoDR/article/view/6167

 

Read more scoops on the human brain here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Brain

 

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The Secret to a Perfect Body: Genetics

This Infomercial Parody Is the Perfect Answer to Every Weight Loss Ad 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

A humorous parody featuring nature vs nurture. A more sciency video on talent vs training scooped here: http://sco.lt/9JBRRZ ;

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Research explains why you can’t remember being a baby

Research explains why you can’t remember being a baby | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Scientists have found the first evidence of a physical mechanism that may stop us from remembering our early childhood.

 

Researchers have long puzzled over why we can form memories when we’re babies, but then go on to have no recollection of those years - a phenomenon known as infantile amnesia. Now recent research in rodents may have found the answer. It turns out all the new cells that are constantly being formed in young brains may actually be messing with our memories.

 

Mammals generate new brain cells all the time, but when we’re babies the rate of this process, known as neurogenesis, is at its highest. Because of all the new things we experience as infants, there’s a lot of early-life action in the hippocampus in particular - the region of the brain that is associated with memories and learning.

 

Usually this type of hippocampus activity is associated with improved memory, as Susannah Locke writes for Vox. But a study led by scientists from the University of Toronto in Canada has found that in babies, the extremely high rates of neurogenesis is actually having the opposite effect and increasing forgetfulness.

 

Their research, published in Science, suggests that the new neurons being formed could be pushing out established memory circuits.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6184/598

 

Read more about how the research was conducted:

http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20140107-25789.html

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Interesting research which explains why my earliest memories began at around 4 years of age. 

 

More fascinating scoops on the human brain here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Brain

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Obama: Ebola 'Could Be a Serious Danger' If U.S. Doesn't Act

Obama: Ebola 'Could Be a Serious Danger' If U.S. Doesn't Act | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
'We have to make this a national security priority'

 

President Barack Obama said the United States must lead the international community in containing the spread of Ebola in Africa, warning there could be a long-term threat to the homeland if the country doesn’t act.

 

“Americans shouldn’t be concerned about the prospects of contagion here in the United States short term, because it’s not an airborne disease,” Obama said in an interview airing Sunday with NBC’s Meet The Press. But he warned that the U.S. must make the disease a priority. “If we don’t make that effort now, and this spreads not just through Africa but other parts of the world, there’s the prospect then that the virus mutates,” he said. “It becomes more easily transmittable. And then it could be a serious danger to the United States.”

 

Obama said U.S. troops would likely be needed to help establish isolation units and to protect aid workers. “If we do that it will still be months before it is controllable for much of Africa, but it shouldn’t hit our shores,” he said.

 

“What I’ve said, and I said this two months ago to our National Security Team, is we have to make this a national security priority,” Obama added.

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

US intervention is often not welcomed by most nations. However, this is one of the few instances where the intervention is not tied to geopolitics.

 

Read previous scoops on the current ebola outbreak:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Ebola

 

On the plus side, progress is being made with new HIV therapies:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=HIV

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Australian scientists develop photosynthetic enzyme for producing hydrogen fuel

Australian scientists develop photosynthetic enzyme for producing hydrogen fuel | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Plants use photosynthesis to turn water, carbon dioxide and sunlight into oxygen and the energy they need to power their systems. And for decades scientists have been trying to replicate this reaction in order to create biological systems that can produce cheap, clean hydrogen fuel.

 

Now, for the first time ever, scientists from the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, have managed to modify a naturally occurring protein, and use it to capture energy from sunlight, a key step in photosynthesis.

 

Hydrogen has the potential to be a zero-carbon replacement for the petroleum products that we currently rely on. But up until now, we haven’t been able to find a way to create it as safely and efficiently as plants do. To replicate this step in the reaction in plants, the research team took a naturally occurring protein called ferritin, and modified it slightly. 

 

Ferritin is found in almost all living organisms, and it usually stores iron. But the team replaced iron with the common metal manganese, so that it closely resembled the water splitting site in photosynthesis. They also replaced another binding site with a light-sensitive pigment, Zinc Chlorin.

 

One of the most exciting things about this research is that, because this protein is powered by the Sun and does not require batteries or expensive metals, the entire process could be affordable for developing countries. “That carbon-free cycle is essentially indefinitely sustainable. Sunlight is extraordinarily abundant, water is everywhere – the raw materials we need to make the fuel. And at the end of the usage cycle it goes back to water

 

Their results have been published in BBA Bioenergetics.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000527281400557X

 

Read more here: http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20142708-26074.html

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Other similar systems have been developed to convert sunlight into fuel efficiently. All of them still need to pass the most challenging hurdle i.e. economic viability. Read the scoops below:

http://www.scoop.it/t/world-of-tomorrow/?tag=Energy+Generation

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Scientists have “unexpectedly” found a vaccine that completely blocks HIV infection in monkeys

Scientists have “unexpectedly” found a vaccine that completely blocks HIV infection in monkeys | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Human trials of the surprisingly simple vaccine are now planned.

 

A new oral vaccine has been found to completely stop rhesus macaque monkeys from being infected with SIV, the monkey equivalent of HIV. The vaccine also reduced the number of SIV particles that were present in monkeys who were already infected with SIV.

The international research team, involving scientists from the Paris-Descartes University in France and the University of Chinese Medicine in Guangzhou, China, described the success of the vaccine as “surprising” and “unexpected”, mainly because it's so simple.

The new vaccine works in the opposite way to most vaccines - by suppressing, rather than triggering, an immune response. This is because HIV and SIV actually require immune cells known as CD4 T-cells in order to proliferate and establish an infection in the body.

So one of the goals in HIV prevention has been to develop a vaccine that introduces the body to the virus without causing an immune response. This requires the vaccine to somehow trick the body into thinking HIV is harmless, causing an ‘immune tolerance’ to the virus.

The scientists have now managed to do just that in monkeys, and their results are published inFrontiers in Immunology.
http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fimmu.2014.00297/abstract

 

Read more here:
http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20142908-26093.html

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Exciting news indeed. Previously, an article describing gene therapy for HIV was scooped here: http://sco.lt/7yg3g9

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The heart makers, regenerating a human heart

How do you make a working human heart? Scientists can turn stem cells into beating heart cells, but getting them to organize into a 3D heart requires a scaffold. 


Dr. Harald Ott, medical researcher from Massachusetts General Hospital, discovered a method of essentially refurbishing organs that were otherwise not suitable for transplantation. In a series of dramatic findings reported since then, he has demonstrated that he can clean an organ of all its cells and use what’s left as scaffolding for new functioning tissue that can be regrown from a patient’s own stem cells. Because they are created by using a patient’s own cells, such regenerated organs won’t be rejected as foreign tissue by the body

 

This laborious technique, known as whole organ decellularization, is like knocking down a house’s walls to reveal its frame, only to replaster it again. It works because the frame is perfect—it retains the complicated three-dimensional architecture of the organ, including the branching network of blood vessels that provide the cells with nutrients and oxygen. It also preserves the array of complex sugars and growth factors that covers the matrix and provides signposts for growing cells, nudging them into the right shapes and structures.

 

“These organs are so much like a real one that eventually the body should be able to maintain it,” Dr. Ott says. They’ve demonstrated in animal models that the new heart can beat, a lung can exchange oxygen and a kidney can produce urine. He and his colleagues have recently scaled up their technology to work with human organs. With the lung, they are now at the stage of seeding human lungs with human cells. With the heart, they are also seeding human hearts with human cells. The kidney requires further work before they reach the stage of using human organs.

 

Read more below and donate to support organ regeneration research:
https://giving.massgeneral.org/regenerated-organs-made-to-order/


Associated research articles from Nature here:

http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v14/n2/full/nm1684.html

http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v16/n8/full/nm.2193.html

http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v19/n5/full/nm.3154.html

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

A really simple yet elegant solution in giving stem cells a proper scaffold to grow into an organ. 

 

Read more scoops on regenerative medicine here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Regeneration

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WHO: Evidence shows Ebola crisis 'vastly' underestimated

WHO: Evidence shows Ebola crisis 'vastly' underestimated | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
The magnitude of the Ebola crisis in West Africa is "vastly' underestimated, the World Health Organization said, as the death toll rose to more than 1,000.

 

Ebola has infected at least 1,975 people in Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since the outbreak began this year. Of those, 1,069 have died, according to the WHO. It said the number reflects the count as of Monday.

 

"The outbreak is expected to continue for some time," the WHO said in a statement Thursday. "Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak."

 

It did not provide an estimate of unreported cases.

 

The United Nations agency said it's teaming up with the affected countries to gather more on-the-ground intelligence for a coordinated response. "WHO is mapping the outbreak, in great detail, to pinpoint areas of ongoing transmission and locate treatment facilities and supplies," it said.

 

The new numbers come as health officials are considering the use of experimental treatments and vaccines since no proven ones exist. Ebola spreads through contact with organs and bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, urine and other secretions of infected people.

 

Read more here: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/15/health/ebola-outbreak/index.html

 

Read the official statement from WHO here: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/ebola/overview-20140814/en/

 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Affected countries are in desperate need of better quarantine enforcement, hygiene and healthcare infrastructure.

 

Recently, scientists believe they have traced the source of the infection and identified "patient zero" http://sco.lt/5PtlK5

 

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Secrets of the Creative Brain

Secrets of the Creative Brain | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
A leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity shares her research on where genius comes from, whether it is dependent on high IQ—and why it is so often accompanied by mental illness. 

 

Dr. Nancy Andreasen  and her research team conducted a study in 1995 using positron-emission tomography, or PET, scanning. PET turned out to be unexpectedly useful in advancing the understanding of association cortices of the brain and their role in the creative process. Subjects were asked to lie quietly with their eyes closed, to relax, and to think about whatever came to mind, a state of mind called "random episodic silent thought", or REST. The association cortices of creative individual were found to be wildly active during REST.

 

Andreasen also notes that having too many ideas can be dangerous. Part of what comes with seeing connections no one else sees is that not all of these connections actually exist. In another more recent study, Andreasen studied subjects from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop searching for a connection between mood disorders and creative writing. To participate in the study, each subject spends three days in Iowa City, since it is important to conduct the research using the same MRI scanner. After the MRI scans, subjects were scheduled for an in-depth interview. The study found a strong association between creativity and mood disorders.

 

Read more here:
http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/06/secrets-of-the-creative-brain/372299/

 

Dr. Nancy Andreasen's research articles can be read here:
http://www.pnas.org/content/93/18/9985.full.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181877/

 

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

This article was written not long before actor Robin Williams killed himself. This resonates with Andreasen's warning that individuals who are able to form associations too easily can be overwhelmed with the number of hypothetical scenarios constructed in their minds, some of which are not real.

 

More scoops on the human brain can be read here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Brain

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Eric Chan Wei Chiang's comment, August 13, 3:57 AM
@Jocelyn Stoller, @Jeff Morris and @Sepp Hasslberger, a scoop you may be interested in.
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Researchers May Have Discovered The Consciousness On/Off Switch

Researchers May Have Discovered The Consciousness On/Off Switch | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Researchers from the George Washington University have managed to switch consciousness on and off in an epileptic woman by stimulating a single region of the brain with electrical impulses. While this is a single case study, it provides an exciting insight into the neural mechanisms behind consciousness, a subject of great interest that is poorly understood despite decades of research.

 

Consciousness is a fascinating topic that has both intrigued and puzzled scientists and philosophers for centuries. Despite significant advances in our understanding of the brain, little is known about the neural networks that underpin consciousness. However, research has hinted that consciousness is likely the result of an integration of activity from numerous different areas of the brain, marrying all of our perceptions together into one experience. But what is the central hub to this process?

 

A few years back, Francis Crick, one of the scientists involved in deciphering the structure of DNA, and colleague Christof Koch proposed that a brain region known as the claustrum may be at the heart of consciousness, stringing together the constant input of information arriving from different brain networks. 

 

Now, in the latest study, researchers demonstrate that their hypothesis might be correct after all. The scientists stumbled upon this finding whilst stimulating different areas of the brain of an epileptic woman and measuring resultant activity in order to find the epicenter of her seizures. They discovered that electrical stimulation with an electrode placed between the left claustrum and anterior-dorsal insula caused the woman to lose consciousness. She completely stopped moving, became unresponsive and her breathing slowed.


Read more at http://www.iflscience.com/brain/researchers-may-have-discovered-consciousness-onoff-switch

 

The associated research article can be viewed here:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1525505014002017

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Scientists have also mapped the functions of different areas of the brain http://sco.lt/7aOUyn; and stimulated cognitive ability with a short electrical current http://sco.lt/5K3RqL

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Underwater self-healing polymer mimics biological self-repair of mussels

Underwater self-healing polymer mimics biological self-repair of mussels | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

A common acrylic polymer used in biomedical applications and as a substitute for glass has been given the ability to completely self-heal underwater by US researchers. The method, which takes inspiration from the self-healing abilities of adhesive proteins secreted by mussels, could allow for longer lasting biomedical implants. Temporary hydrogen bonding network stitches damage as the material fuses together.


"Polymer self-healing research is about 10 years old now and many different strategies have been developed," says Herbert Waite, who conducted the work with colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 'None, however, address the need for healing in a wet medium – a critical omission as all biomaterials function, and fail, in wet environments.' The idea of mimicking the biological self-healing ability of mussel adhesive proteins is not new, and previous attempts have involved polymer networks functionalised with catechols – synthetic water-soluble organic molecules that mimic mussel adhesive proteins – and metal-ion mediated bonding.


Now, Waite and colleagues have discovered a new aspect of catechols after they were simply 'goofing around' in the lab and found a new way to modify the surface of poly(methyl methacrylate), or PMMA, with catechols. This led them to explore the material's properties and discover that hydrogen bonding enables the polymer to self-heal underwater after being damaged. 'Usually, catechols in wet adhesives are associated with covalent or coordination mediated cross-linking. Our results argue that hydrogen bonding can also be critical, especially as an initiator of healing,' he says.


The healing process begins because catechols provide multidentate hydrogen-bonding faces that trigger a network of hydrogen bonds to fix any damage – the interaction is strong enough to resist interference by water but reversible. Acting a bit like dissolvable stitches, hydrogen bonding between the catechols appears to stitch the damaged area, which allows the underlying polymer to fuse back together. Phillip Messersmith, a biomaterials expert at the University of California, Berkeley, US, says that this is ‘really creative work’.

 

Read more here: 

http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2014/07/underwater-self-healing-polymer-mimics-mussels

 

Read the research article from Nature Materials here:

http://www.nature.com/nmat/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nmat4037.html


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Chemistry is making a comeback with the rise of regenerative medicine. After all, stem cells need a scaffold to grow upon. 

 

Read more scoops on novel therapies here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/biotech-and-beyond/?tag=Novel+Therapies

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Neuroscientists say handwriting activates the brain

Neuroscientists say handwriting activates the brain | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it
Writing by hand activates areas in the brain that help you learn faster and better.

 

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain,” Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris.


A study conducted at Indiana University, in the US, reported that when children write by hand three areas of the brain are activated—the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex. These are the same areas that are set in motion when adults read and write. Kids who typed or just traced letters didn’t show any activation in these areas.


“This is one of the first demonstrations of the brain being changed because of the practice,” explained Karin James, who was involved in the study, told The New York Times.


Taking notes by hand can help you learn faster and better—you should try it next time you have an exam or need to deliver a presentation. Studies suggest this is due to the fact that one needs to process and reframe all the information before writing it down. “We don’t write longhand as fast as we type these days, but people who were typing just tended to transcribe large parts of lecture content verbatim,” Pam Mueller, teaching assistant at Princeton University


Read more here:

http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20141906-25707.html


The research article featuring the Indiana University study can be read here: http://indianapublicmedia.org/stateimpact/2011/09/29/why-schools-should-keep-teaching-handwriting-even-if-typing-is-more-useful/


Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

Handwriting has many cognitive advantages, but typing fast can also help improve our cognitive and creative processes. 


Typing won't help you learn better or faster, but improving your typing skills can help you improve your written communication and facilitate exchange of ideas.


Read about the benefits of typing here: http://sco.lt/88ExJx

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Biofortified probiotics could prevent obesity and insulin resistance

Biofortified probiotics could prevent obesity and insulin resistance | Biotech and Beyond | Scoop.it

Scientists were able to reduce weight gain in mice by feeding them a genetically modified version of E. coli, a common intestinal bacterium. The biofortified microbes were designed to produce N-acylphosphatidylethanolamine (NAPE)  which the bodies of mice and humans convert into N-acylethanolamide (NAE) a hormone that signals the brain to reduce appetite. 

 

In the study, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, mice given the microbe and un-dosed animals were both put on a high-fat diet. The animals fed the bacteria via their drinking water ate less and gained less weight, and also showed less insulin resistance, a marker for diabetes. 

 

The finding raises the possibility that these bacteria, which basically amount to an engineered probiotic, could be imported into humans to do the same thing. That's obviously a ways off and hypothetical at this point, since mice are not humans.

 

However, if the biofortified microbe is deemed safe for consumption, it would have several advantages of current treatments for obesity (of which there are few). E. coli colonizes the human gastrointestinal tract better than most probiotics and the genetically modified bacterium has been shown to exert its effects for at least four weeks between interventions. This would negate the need for taking a pill everyday.

 

Read more here:

http://www.kurzweilai.net/study-suggests-probiotics-could-prevent-obesity-and-insulin-resistance

 

Read the research article from The Journal of Clinical Investigation here: http://www.jci.org/articles/view/72517


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
Eric Chan Wei Chiang's insight:

The term biofortification is often applied to the nutritional enhancement of crops via selective breeding or genetic modification. I felt that term was suitable for describing the genetic enhancement of probiotics as these bacteria confer nutritional benefits and are often incorporated into functional foods.

 

I also find this technology fascinating because it much simpler and than other comparable therapies such as a bionic pancrease http://sco.lt/6W8BuL

 

Functional foods are another topic which interest me and more scoops on the topic can be read here:

http://www.scoop.it/t/food-health-and-nutrition/?tag=Functional+Foods

 

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Deborah Verran's comment, July 26, 10:31 AM
NB This research was performed in mice. The value of probiotics as for eg in some manufactured brands of yoghurt remains to be seen.
Pierre-André Marechal's curator insight, July 28, 12:23 PM

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