stemcells

Japan Researchers Make Embryonic Stem Cells Without Embryo in Major Discovery

Researchers in Kobe, Japan and Boston have made the biggest breakthrough in stem cells yet, producing “embryonic-like” stem cells from mice by exposing differentiated cells to the stress of an acid bath. Previous methods of producing embryonic stem cells required complex genetic engineering or tedious cell sorting. This new technique simply involves bathing blood cells in a weakly acidic solution for half an hour.

The result was so surprisingly that at researcher who discovered it, the young Haruko Obokata at the Riken Institute for Developmental Biology in Kobe, didn’t believe it at first. Neither did her colleagues. “I was really surprised the first time I saw [the stem cells]… Everyone said it was an artifact – there were some really hard days,” Dr. Obokata said. The new cells have been dubbed STAP cells by the researchers.

Proposals involving embryonic stem cells are one of the basic building blocks of the field of regenerative medicine. The cells made by Dr. Obakata were shown to be capable of differentiating into dozens of specialized cells, from cardiac-muscle cells to nerve cells. Though the results were …

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Researchers Engineer Adult Stem Cells That Do Not Age

PhysOrg:

(PhysOrg.com) — Biomedical researchers at the University at Buffalo have engineered adult stem cells that scientists can grow continuously in culture, a discovery that could speed development of cost-effective treatments for diseases including heart disease, diabetes, immune disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.

UB scientists created the new cell lines – named “MSC Universal” – by genetically altering mesenchymal stem cells, which are found in bone marrow and can differentiate into cell types including bone, cartilage, muscle, fat, and beta-pancreatic islet cells.

The researchers say the breakthrough overcomes a frustrating barrier to progress in the field of regenerative medicine: The difficulty of growing adult stem cells for clinical applications.

Because mesenchymal stem cells have a limited life span in laboratory cultures, scientists and doctors who use the cells in research and treatments must continuously obtain fresh samples from bone marrow donors, a process both expensive and time-consuming. In addition, mesenchymal stem cells from different donors can vary in performance.

The cells that UB researchers modified show no signs of aging in culture, but otherwise appear to function as regular …

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Doubt Thrown on Uncle Fester’s Botulism Recipe

In the comments, Martin said:

I wonder how accurate it is. Uncle Fester became underground famous in the 90s when he published books on meth and acid manufacture, but other clandestine chemists criticized his syntheses for being inaccurate.

From this small snippet, it sounds like he wants you to go out and find the right Clostridium species and strains in soil and culture them yourself, which sounds as impractical as his suggestion in the acid book to grow acres of ergot-infested rye. :)

Any more comments on why this is impractical? It sounds much simpler than growing acres of ergot-infested rye. He describes how he would isolate spores, first by heating the culture (this kills anything that is not a spore), then encouraging growth in an anoxic environment (kills anything that is not anaerobic). This leaves only anaerobic bacteria derived from spores.

The book does claim that botulinum germs are “fussy about what they like to grow in, its pH, and its temperature” and that “This need to exclude air from the environment where the …

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Hired by Halcyon Molecular

A minor personal announcement — I’ve been hired to work half-time for Halcyon Molecular in Redwood City. I’m mostly going to be working on improving their website content. Halcyon was founded by Michael and William Andregg, who I originally met in Tucson at a Center for Responsible Nanotechnology conference in 2007.

Halcyon is developing a technology to sequence genetic material at orders of magnitude faster than anything on the market or in the pipeline. Their technology and approach, which uses electron microscopy, is really unique. I’m happy I finally get to talk about the company and technology a bit in public because I’ve been excited about them in private for a long time.

You can read more about Halcyon at their website or at this TechCrunch article.

Also keep in mind that Halcyon is actively looking for new researchers.

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WSJ: Gains in Bioscience Cause Terror Fears

From The Wall Street Journal:

Rapid advances in bioscience are raising alarms among terrorism experts that amateur scientists will soon be able to gin up deadly pathogens for nefarious uses.

Fears of bioterror have been on the rise since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, stoking tens of billions of dollars of government spending on defenses, and the White House and Congress continue to push for new measures.

But the fear of a mass-casualty terrorist attack using bioweapons has always been tempered by a single fact: Of the scores of plots uncovered during the past decade, none have featured biological weapons. Indeed, many experts doubt terrorists even have the technical capability to acquire and weaponize deadly bugs.

The new fear, though, is that scientific advances that enable amateur scientists to carry out once-exotic experiments, such as DNA cloning, could be put to criminal use. Many well-known figures are sounding the alarm over the revolution in biological science, which amounts to a proliferation of know-how—if not the actual pathogens.

Another bit later in the article:

All the government attention comes …

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Repairing the Heart

From Eurekalert:

Gladstone scientists discover new method for regenerating heart muscle by direct reprogramming

Next-generation reprogramming of native cells offers therapeutic advantages

Scientists at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease (GICD) have found a new way to make beating heart cells from the body’s own cells that could help regenerate damaged hearts. Over 5 million Americans suffer from heart failure because the heart has virtually no ability to repair itself after a heart attack. Only 2,000 hearts become available for heart transplant annually in the United States, leaving limited therapeutic options for the remaining millions. In research published in the current issue of Cell, scientists in the laboratory of GICD director Deepak Srivastava, MD, directly reprogrammed structural cells called fibroblasts in the heart to become beating heart cells called cardiomyocytes. In doing so, they also found the first evidence that unrelated adult cells can be reprogrammed from one cell type to another without having to go all the way back to a stem cell state.

The researchers, led by Masaki Ieda, MD, PhD, started off with 14 genetic …

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Terry Grossman: Rethinking the Promise of Genetics

Great article from h+ magazine from about a week ago: “Rethinking the Promise of Genomics”. This is by Terry Grossman, co-author (with Ray Kurzweil) of Fantastic Voyage:

I used to be a big believer in the enormous potential of genomics, and each of my two previous books, Fantastic Voyage and TRANSCEND: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever, had chapters devoted to this topic. The relevant chapter in the earlier book, Fantastic Voyage, published in 2004, was titled “The Promise of Genomics.” My co-author in these books, Ray Kurzweil, is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost inventors and futurists, and he has made predictions for what is likely to occur in the future in the field of genomics . Yet, these days I find that I am feeling far less confident at least for the near term about the near term prospects for this “promise.”

Here’s a key quote by Grossman:

Currently I have moved much closer to the idea of “genetic irrelevance,” the idea that in the overwhelming majority of cases, our genes are of much …

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New Book Examines the Flawed Human Body

From the Genetic Archaeology blog:

Humanity’s physical design flaws have long been apparent – we have a blind spot in our vision, for instance, and insufficient room for wisdom teeth – but do the imperfections extend to the genetic level?

In his new book, Inside the Human Genome, John Avise examines why – from the perspectives of biochemistry and molecular genetics – flaws exist in the biological world. He explores the many deficiencies of human DNA while recapping recent findings about the human genome.

Distinguished Professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at UC Irvine, Avise also makes the case that overwhelming scientific evidence of genomic defects provides a compelling counterargument to intelligent design.

Here, Avise discusses human imperfection, the importance of understanding our flaws, and why he believes theologians should embrace evolutionary science.

Our brains and bodies are both full of flaws. According to the pre-transhumanist worldview, the plan is just to sit around for the rest of eternity with these flaws, even as we colonize the Galaxy. According to the transhumanist worldview, the plan is to …

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Risk From Engineered Microorganisms, Strategies for Evolutionary Dominance

From yesterday’s list of links, I particularly want to call attention to the rotifer link. This press release is interesting because it shows how animals can survive even when they are exact genetic copies of one another. Instead of outcompeting parasites through mutation, they run away by going into cryptobiosis. I predict that a form of asexual multicellular synthetic life will be created by 2030 that can defend against parasites through aggressive defense, say silica spines, so that running away isn’t even necessary. These organisms will just sit around and reproduce. The primary method to get rid of them at first will be dessication, but this will eventually prove useless as they disperse too widely to target.

What many humans don’t realize is that we are surrounded by quintillions of organisms with very little genetic diversity that dominate us in terms of biomass and persistence. They are the status quo — we are the aberration. These are organisms that have survived every mass extinction. Culprits include the tardigrades (which can survive outer space),

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PGD-IVF Would Lead to Designer Babies

George Dvorsky at Sentient Developments points us to an op-ed at New Scientist titled “Fears over ‘designer’ babies leave children suffering”. The author writes:

Such fears are misplaced: IVF-PGD is little use for creating designer babies. You cannot select for traits the parents don’t have, and the scope for choosing specific traits is very limited. What IVF-PGD is good for is ensuring children do not end up with disastrous genetic disorders.

I, along with dozens of prominent scientists in the field, disagree — IVF-PGD would be useful for creating designer babies. Would would would. To boost this position, the author links another New Scientist article… (one that he probably edited, being biology features editor) which seems to contradict him:

Part of the problem is that only one or two cells are available for screening. Until recently this greatly restricted the tests that could be done. However, new ways of amplifying DNA are making it possible to do hundreds of tests. That means clinics will be able to screen for a much wider range of …

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Cellular engineers make multicellular tissues from the bottom up

Via Eurekalert:

BERKELEY, CA – Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory can now control how cells connect with one another in vitro and assemble themselves into three-dimensional, multicellular microtissues. The researchers demonstrated their method by constructing a tailor-made artificial cell-signaling system, analogous to natural cell systems that communicate via growth factors.

Artificial tissues are presently used in medicine for a range of applications such as skin grafts, bone marrow transplants, or blood substitutes, as well as in basic medical and biological research. Tissue engineers try to improve upon or repair natural tissues by manipulating living cells from one or more donors, sometimes in combination with synthetic materials. Unfortunately, in this “top down” approach, the cells assemble themselves randomly, losing the 3-D organization that is key to many tissue functions.

“Our method allows the assembly of multicellular structures from the ‘bottom up,’” says Carolyn Bertozzi, principal investigator in the research, who directs DOE’s Molecular Foundry nanoscience research facility at Berkeley Lab and is a member of the Lab’s Materials Sciences and Physical Biosciences Divisions. …

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Anthropobiota: Tree of Synthetic Life

A proposed name for the new kingdom of synthetic life: Anthropobiota.

(This is hardly original… see Anthropocene, but it seems most likely to catch on.)

The first member of Anthropobiota will likely be Mycoplasma laboratorium, at the J. Craig Venter Institute. The group also “hopes to eventually synthesize bacteria to manufacture hydrogen and biofuels, and also to absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases”, according to the Wikipedia page. This would lead to additional species for specific purposes. The point of Mycoplasma laboratorium is to implement a “minimal bacterial genome”, a jumping-off point for future synthetic species. All of these species would fall under Anthropobiota, as long as the genetic material is entirely synthetic. If not, that’s just genetic engineering.

Anthropobiota would be located outside the root of the Tree of Life. It would be a complementary Tree, at first much smaller than the original. The Tree of Life contains between 10 million and 1 billion bacteria species, between 10 and 30 million animal species, and some unknown quantity of archaea. So …

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