Can Hobbyists and Hackers Transform Biotechnology?

For most of us, managing our health means visiting a doctor. The more serious our concerns, the more specialized a medical expert we seek. Our bodies often feel like foreign and frightening lands, and we are happy to let someone with an MD serve as our tour guide. For most of us, our own DNA never makes it onto our personal reading list.

Biohackers are on a mission to change all that. These do-it-yourself biology hobbyists want to bring biotechnology out of institutional labs and into our homes. Following in the footsteps of revolutionaries like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who built the first Apple computer in Jobs’s garage, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who invented Google in a friend’s garage, biohackers are attempting bold feats of genetic engineering, drug development, and biotech research in makeshift home laboratories.

In Biopunk, journalist Marcus Wohlsen surveys the rising tide of the biohacker movement, which has been made possible by a convergence of better and cheaper technologies. For a few hundred dollars, anyone can send some spit to a sequencing company and receive a complete DNA scan, and then use free software to analyze the results. Custom-made DNA can be mail-ordered off websites, and affordable biotech gear is available on Craigslist and eBay.

via Can Hobbyists and Hackers Transform Biotechnology? – Technology Review.

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Programming Biomolecular Self-Assembly Pathways

Nature knows how to make proteins and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) dance to assemble and sustain life. Inspired by this proof of principle, researchers at the California Institute of Technology have demonstrated that it is possible to program the pathways by which DNA strands self-assemble and disassemble, and hence to control the dynamic function of the molecules as they traverse these pathways.

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Bacteria vs. Humans: Score One for Us

Researchers in San Diego announce a new molecule that stops bacteria from mutating to become resistant to antibiotics.

A biochemist at Scripps Research Institute, Dr. Romesberg has announced the discovery of a molecule that inhibits bacteria’s ability to change its DNA and fend off the mortal threat of antibiotics. The moleculer was found after the lab screened more than 100,000 possible compounds. The molecule also slips easily into a bacterial cell, which is critical to creating an effective tool to zap the bugs.

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Nano Probe May Open New Window Into Cell Behavior

Georgia Tech researchers have created a nanoscale probe, the Scanning Mass Spectrometry (SMS) probe, that can capture both the biochemical makeup and topography of complex biological objects in their normal environment — opening the door for discovery of new biomarkers and improved gene studies, leading to better disease diagnosis and drug design on the cellular level. The research was presented in the July issue of IEE Electronics Letters.

Georgia Tech’s SMS Probe gently pulls biomolecules precisely at a specific point on the cell/tissue surface, ionizes these biomolecules and produces “dry” ions suitable for analysis and then transports those ions to the mass spectrometer.
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Researchers Find New Clues To Biochemistry Of ‘Anti-Aging

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have found that sirtuins, a family of enzymes linked to a longer life span and healthier aging in humans, may orchestrate the activity of other enzymes involved in metabolic processes in the body.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study is the first to show that sirtuins directly control specific metabolic enzymes – called AceCSs – in mammalian cells.

The finding, which shines a spotlight on enzymes only recently thought to play a role in the biochemistry of “anti-aging,” has attracted the interest of biotechnology companies seeking to make drugs that delay the aging process and age-related diseases. The drugs could target the metabolic enzymes to produce health benefits.
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Decoding the cellular machinary

Researchers from Germany announce they have finished the first complete analysis of the “molecular machines” in one of biology’s most important model organisms: S. cerevisiae (baker’s yeast).

The study combined a method of extracting complete protein complexes from cells (tandem affinity purification, developed in 2001 by Bertrand Séraphin at EMBL), mass spectrometry and bioinformatics to investigate the entire protein household of yeast, turning up 257 machines that had never been observed. It also revealed new components of nearly every complex already known.
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A component of proteins acts as powerful “nanosprings”

A component of many proteins has been found to constitute one of the most powerful and resilient molecular “springs” in nature, researchers have discovered.

The scientists say their discovery could lead to a new understanding of mechanical processes within the living cell. The discovery also could provide potent nanoscale “shock absorbers” or “gate-opening springs” in tiny nanomachines.

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