E. coli vaccine? Aisle 2, next to the apples
The World Bank has been sponsoring research to develop edible vaccines
in fruit. The effort stems mostly from the desire to overcome inadequate
transportation and medical delivery systems in poor countries.
Researchers are developing bananas that produce antigens for use as edible
vaccines against the diarrhea induced by E. coli. First, researchers developed
an E. coli protein in potatoes that would produce an immune response in
humans. Now they are working to transplant that protein into the more
easily eaten banana.
Want nerves of steel? Try a little goat's milk
Scientists have long marveled at the combination of strength and flexibility
of spider silk. Several years ago already, researchers with the Montreal
firm Nexia Biotechnologies discovered that the protein in spider silk
is very similar to a protein found in the milk of goats. It then created
a genetically altered goat that could produce the spider silk protein,
which is extracted to produce fibers. In January of this year, Nexia announced
it had developed a commercial spinning process for the fibers.
The next step for the firm is to complete the last leg to weaveable fiber,
which it hopes to accomplish this year. After regulatory approval, Nexia
is planning to spin its productBioSteel()into the medical
Diamonds are a bioterrorist's worst friend
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin appear to have found a way
to arm airports and other terrorist targets with better security without
the look of martial law.
Chemists there have developed a highly stable DNA-modified diamond film
thatat least in the labcan be integrated with microelectronic
devices. The "platform" between biology and microelectronics
has long plagued surface-chemistry scientists, but the diamond film appears
to be the bridge scientists were looking for.
When fully developed, such a bio-chip can perform bio-sensing (or sniff
biological agents) around the clock wherever installedbus depots,
airports, subways, stadiums, even battlefieldsand in sizes no larger
than a postage stamp. While significant product development is still necessary,
scientists involved say the hardest scientific work is behind them.
Emergency biomass to the rescue
Bioscience may lead to fuel production on the battlefield, offering the
military both emergency fuel options and an alternative to long supply
lines that are often difficult to defend.
Though a long way from ever being tested, the processbeing studied
at Purdue University's Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineeringinvolves
the collection of any biomass, including food wastes, wood, grass, paper
and cartons, and then adds enzymes to begin the process of breaking those
materials down to simple sugarsa process not far removed from the
production of ethanol.
Anaerobic digesters: the smell of power
Anaerobic digesters are becoming more common on farms and other places
that have to deal with large volumes of waste. These systems harvest the
methane that emanates from farm animal manure or municipal waste and then
burn that natural gas for power.
Digesters are also a simple demonstration of the broad (some might say
low-tech) applicability of bioscience: Bacteria (living organisms) generate
chemical reactions as they digest the solids in manure, and that chemical
reaction produces methanethat's the bio part of it. The secondary
science part of itengineeringis learning how to capture the
released gas and funnel it for reuse.
Buddy, can I bum a biotech heater?
Want to light up, but just don't have the urge? That day might be coming,
as last year Vector Tobacco unveiled a low-nicotine cigarette, accomplished
by genetically modifying tobacco to block the production of nicotine in
the plant's roots.
But that doesn't mean anti-smoking groups are blowing rings of praise.
In fact, they argue that it might lead to increased smoking because of
the perception that smoking is less dangerous, when in fact the biotech
cigarette only lessens one of numerous dangerous elements. Farmers of
nonbiotech tobacco also have the same fears as Midwest corn and soybean
farmers regarding possible contamination of, or cross-pollination with,
regular tobacco plants.
A discotheque in your fish tank
A Taiwanese scientist has genetically modified the zebrafish to glow in
the dark, a development that could ripple through the pet industry. The
scientist stumbled upon the application by accident. In the process of
doing research on genetically modified fish for medical purposes, a fluorescent
protein found in jellyfish was used as a genetic marker so scientists
could see specific genes more easily, which is a common practice. In fact,
scientists elsewhere have created partially fluorescent mice, insects,
even pigs. But the glowing fish are the first application to exhibit the
fluorescent color in every cell.
Taikong, a Taiwanese company, saw an immediate market in the pet industry
for the small fish. However, initial market sentiment over the fish varies.
A U.S. company is already reportedly working on distribution here, while
pet stores in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe have allegedly
been very cool to the genetically modified novelty. The company said it
has developed a process that sterilizes 90 percent of the fish, which
they claimand some marine biologists refuteis enough to protect
native species should the novelty pet get released into nature's ecosystems.