20 New Biotech Breakthroughs that Will Change Medicine
Fungus straight out of science fiction.
Just in case you’re too lazy or unable to watch the YouTube video, the fungus spreads through the insect and compels it to go somewhere high up to attach itself and die. Then the fungus sprouts from the corpse and spreads its spores upon the insect populations below. Badass! (Watch the clip.)
After doing a little research, I discovered that the genus Cordyceps includes one kind called Cordyceps sinensis (AKA caterpillar fungus), which is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Apprently according to Wiki (Which is not academically accepted)
In Tibetan it is known as Yartsa Gunbu [Wylie: dbyar rtswa dgun ‘bu], source of Nepali: यार्सागुम्बा, Yarshagumba, Yarchagumba. It is also known as “keera jhar” in India. Its name in Chinese “dong chong xia cao” (冬虫夏草) means “winter worm, summer grass” (meaning “worm in the winter, (turns to) plant in the summer”). The Chinese name is a literal translation of the original Tibetan name, which was first recorded in the 15th Century by the Tibetan doctor Zurkhar Namnyi Dorje….
Here are some pictures via Flickr of 冬虫夏草 as it may look in a TCM store (click through the second one for more info):
It is very interesting to finding a fungus reminiscent of Giger’s Alien, only to learn that its used as a traditional medicine and foodstuff by the Chinese many other peoples for hundreds of years.
It does make me think of the different medical methods the old traditional medicine vs the modern western medicine.
The old traditional remedy:
- Normally has Thousands of years of use.
- Works in synergy with many other secondary metabolites.
- more often then not can take years (more than the clinical trial period) to discover and decipher the many ways it works.
- Sometimes difficult to ascertain the effectiveness.
The modern medicine:
- Generally only has 20 years of clinical trial research into its effectiveness
- Mechanisms are generally well known
- sometimes they have really bad side effects as there has only been 20 years of research.
Please bear in mind this is not a definitive our wholly accurate comparison it is just what I’ve seen whilst doing research.
Bacteria turn toxins into gold
What do bacteria and metal have in common? In fact they may share a complex relationship. Recent exciting research findings by microbiologists at the MLU show evidence of this. News that, for example, copper door handles in hospitals help reduce the spread of bacteria or that bacteria allow gold to “grow” is making headlines in the media (see scientia halensis 3/09) and was published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.
Prof. Dietrich Nies at work in his lab, photo: Maike Glöckner Research groups led by Prof. Dietrich Nies at the Institute of Biology discovered a while ago how “clever” bacteria are able to deactivate the toxins that are directed at them. Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics even possess various ways of making an antibiotic ineffective. Either they transport it right out of their cells, alter it or don’t even absorb it in the first place. Bacteria work in the same way when it comes to tackling heavy metals. Many of these metals, for example zinc, are important trace elements in small amounts, however large quantities of them are toxic. Bacteria that are resistant to heavy metals survive in highly contaminated locations where the heavy metals have denatured all other organisms. These bacteria easily dispose of the heavy metal cations by ejecting them from their cells or by transforming them into base metals.
A painkiller as powerful as morphine, but without most of the side-effects, has been found in the deadly venom of the black mamba, say French scientists.
The predator, which uses neurotoxins to paralyse and kill small animals, is one of the fastest and most dangerous snakes in Africa.
However, tests on mice, reported in the journal Nature, showed its venom also contained a potent painkiller.
They admit to being completely baffled about why the mamba would produce it.
The researchers looked at venom from 50 species before they found the black mamba’s pain-killing proteins - called mambalgins.
Venomous species inflict poisonous wounds by stinging, scratching or biting their victims and injecting the toxin.
Some snakes are venomous creatures which loom large in the public consciousness, but nature also throws up some surprising species with toxic bites
Dr Eric Lingueglia, from the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology near Nice, told the BBC: “When it was tested in mice, the analgesia was as strong as morphine, but you don’t have most of the side-effects.”
Morphine acts on the opioid pathway in the brain. It can cut pain, but it is also addictive and causes headaches, difficulty thinking, vomiting and muscle twitching. The researchers say mambalgins tackle pain through a completely different route, which should produce few side-effects.
He said the way pain worked was very similar in mice and people, so he hoped to develop painkillers that could be used in the clinic. Tests on human cells in the laboratory have also showed the mambalgins have similar chemical effects in people.
But he added: “It is the very first stage, of course, and it is difficult to tell if it will be a painkiller in humans or not. A lot more work still needs to be done in animals.”
Dr Nicholas Casewell, an expert in snake venom at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, has recently highlighted the potential of venom as a drug source.
Commenting on this study he said: “It’s very exciting, it’s a really great example of drugs from venom, we’re talking about an entirely new class of analgesics.”
Dr Lingueglia said it was “really surprising” that black mamba venom would contain such a powerful painkiller.
Dr Casewell agreed that it was “really, really odd”. He suggested the analgesic effect may work in combination “with other toxins that prevent the prey from getting away” or may just affect different animals, such as birds, differently to mice.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Dr Roger Knaggs said: “We are witnessing the discovery of a novel mechanism of action which is not a feature of any existing painkillers.”
He cautioned that the mambalgins worked by injections into the spine so would need “significant development” before they could be used in people.
Scientists learn camouflage techniques from cuttlefish
Engineers at the University of Bristol in the UK have created soft materials that mimic the cuttlefish’s colour-changing skin, leading to the design of “smart clothing,” which would take camouflage to a new level.
What allows the cuttlefish to blend into nearly any background – whether it is by turning a light tan when swimming along the sandy seafloor or displaying crude black and white squares on its skin when placed in a tank with a black-and-white checkerboard pattern – are millions of specialised cells packed under its skin called chromatophores. These contain miniature sacs full of black, brown, yellow or other coloured pigment.
As the cuttlefish’s brain instructs the skin to change colour, muscles surrounding the sacs quickly contract, stretching the sacs and letting the pigment inside extend across a larger surface area, thus changing the colour and pattern of the skin. Cuttlefish are able to transform in this way at lightning speed to evade predators, sneak up on prey or attract mates.
Again brought to my attention via Patrick Burgoyne. With over 1.1 million people in the world who don’t have access to clean drinking water, water-borne pathogens are a huge problem for the environment and for human health. Fortunately a clever little design has come to the rescue in the form of the Lifestraw The cigar-sized plastic tool is both a feat of engineering and an inexpensive way to deliver potable water to those who need it.Lifestraw delivers the most basic needs and purifies water from potential pathogens like typhoid, cholera, dysentery and diarrhea, becoming one of the icons of humanitarian product design- by the time the water hits your lips, it’s completely safe and potable. The Lifestraw is one of the highlights of the Cooper Hewitt’s Design for the Other 90% exhibition, which highlights products, architecture, and technology that benefits under-privileged demographics across the globe.
Bio-engineered ‘bulletproof’ human skin reinforced with spider silk
Human skin can stop a bullet - with a little help from genetically modified goats. The skin is mixed with goat ‘milk’ from goats ‘tweaked’ to produce the same protein found in spider silk. Woven spider silk is four times stronger than Kevlar, the material used in bulletproof vests. The ‘silk’ is layered with bio-engineered human skin grown in laboratory, and can withstand a direct impact from a bullet - although not one fired at full speed, yet.
Chip “Sees” in 3D to Diagnose HIV, Leukemia
Inexpensive, portable devices that can rapidly screen cells for leukemia or HIV may soon be possible thanks to a chip that can produce three-dimensional focusing of a stream of cells, according to researchers. “HIV is diagnosed based on counting CD4 cells,” says Tony Jun Huang, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State. “Ninety percent of the diagnoses are done using flow cytometry.”
Huang and his colleagues designed a mass-producible device that can focus particles or cells in a single stream and performs three different optical assessments for each cell. They believe the device represents a major step toward low-cost flow cytometry chips for clinical diagnosis in hospitals, clinics and in the field.
Read more: http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news-Chip-Sees-in-3D-to-Diagnose-HIV-Leukemia-053112.aspx
Leafcutter ants (Acromyrmex and Atta) are known commonly as the labouring population of the insect world, often seen carrying green leaves through the tropical forests of the world. Though this is the common view of the majority of the worldwide population, they are hiding a secret that can be harnessed for the good of the overall world sustainability plans.
Leafcutter ants are talented farmers, cultivating fungi, and as such, bacteria to feed their colonies. The bacteria they grow in their fungal gardens naturally decomposes the leaves in the forest, converting dead litter into important nutrients that not only sustain the fungi but in turn the ants.
The emerging research, published in the ISME Journal and conducted by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, could be a useful aid in the production of biofuel.
Kristin Burnum, a bioanalytical chemist at the institution, says ”This research provides some of the first tangible details about the fascinating symbiotic relationship between leafcutter ants, fungi and bacteria.
“Understanding how bacteria turn plant matter into a source of energy in ant fungal gardens could also help improve biofuel production.”
These gardens, sowed by the ants, feature the Leucoagaricus gonglyophorus fungus, traditionally though of as the ants’ food, but the late 1990s revealed the various bacteria colonies growing in the gardens.
Frank Aylward of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Burnum and their co-authors travelled to a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute near Gamboa to gather samples of fungal gardens tended by ant species Atta colombica and Atta cephalotes, which included samples of bits of leaves, ants, fungi and bacteria intermixed to provide a more accurate representation of the diversity of the gardens. This also allowed the researchers to better examine the entire community of bacteria living in the gardens, so they did not miss any bacterial species.
Proteins found involved a number of different metabolic pathways, including:
- Breaking down complex sugars that make plants tough and durable, but difficult to digest.
- Transporting sugars, allowing broken-down sugars to be used for energy.
- Making amino acids, the buildings blocks of proteins.
- Making vitamin B5, which is needed to both break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats and to make energy from nutrients.
“Our results show that calling these ‘fungal gardens’ is pretty misleading; ‘fungus-bacterial communities’ would be far more accurate,” Burnum says.
“Bacteria are not only integral residents of these communities, but they perform essential tasks that keep the communities - and the ants that help cultivate them - living.”
Next, the team plans to analyze the fungi, lipids and various metabolic products found in the gardens.
This study’s findings and future results could advance the work of scientists who are looking at fungal enzymes to make biofuel out of plants. The enzymes, or biological catalysts, of fungi are exceptionally talented at breaking down cellulose in plants, making them a good model for large-scale biofuel production.
Read more at Laboratory Equipment