Stories tagged pharmacology


Human medicine extracted from rabbit milk

Drugs from rabbit milk
Drugs from rabbit milkCourtesy Hardyplants
Almost three years ago, I wrote about how farm animals were being modified genetically to produce milk and eggs containing pharmaceuticals.

Pharming rabbits

A Dutch biotech firm, appropriately named Pharming, has been milking rabbits experimentally for years. They recently developed a drug called Rhucin, which they extract from rabbit milk. The rabbits have been outfitted with a human gene that produces a protein called C1 inhibitor in their milk. Rhucin can be used to treat people with hereditary angioedema.

"Human C1 inhibitor can be obtained from donor blood, but our … product can be produced in unlimited quantities from a scalable and stable production system, and there are no safety issues in terms of [blood] viruses National Geographic."

If the drug is approved, Pharming will start milking a herd of about a thousand rabbits. The method is similar to milking cows except that the milk sucking attachments are smaller.

Miniature mouse milking machine

Mice are being milked in Russia for lactoferrin which normally is found in the breast milk of humans. Lactoferrin protects babies from viruses and bacteria while the infants' immune systems are still developing. Milking mice is very difficult, and is only a step toward larger animals such as rabbits, goats, or cows being bioengineered.

The ultimate aim of the Russian team, and of similar research projects in other countries, is to extract lactoferrin from the milk and use the protein to create healthier baby formula. National Geographic


Synthetic biology pioneer, Andrew Hessel, explains how building blocks of DNA snippets will be assembled into customized living organisms


Medicine without patents

Andrew Hessel hopes that an open source approach in pharmacology will produce safe, effective, and individually personalized medicines quickly and inexpensively. Hessel likens the exponential advances in synthetic biology to the boom in the electronics industry.

Test tube sized factories

One big difference, though, is that biological manufacuring does not require expensive refining, huge factories, or expensive tools. Biological organisms are alive and can self assemble complex structures from basic ingredients.

Foundational work, including the standardization of DNA-encoded parts and devices, enables them to be combined to create programs to control cells.

  • Cells are being engineered to consume agricultural products and produce liquid fuels.
  • Bacteria and yeast can be re-engineered for the low cost production of drugs. (Artemisinin, Lipitor)
  • Bacteria and T-cells can be rewired to circulate in the body and identify and treat diseased cells and tissues.

DIY BIO 4 Beginners

Eric Fernandez has a blog for do-it-yourself types like 23-year-old Kay Aull who set up a do it yourself DNA lab for genotyping her GFE gene in her closet! Be sure to check the archives for more than a hundred informative DIY Bio posts like this one by Make's, Mac Cowell.

Gene hacking and biofabs

Costs are coming down fast and genetic synthesis or gene fabrication is a cottage industry. Biofabs like GeneArt, Blue Heron, DNA2.0, and Codon Devices can deliver a synthesized product from an e-mailed description almost over night. Synthetic biologists envision writing the DNA code for such products the way computer programmers write software.

Catolog for genetic parts

Genetic programming now has several well developed languages allowing large data bases of biological modules.

The Registry of Standard Biological Parts is a continuously growing collection of genetic parts that can be mixed and matched to build synthetic biology devices and systems. Founded in 2003 at MIT, the Registry is part of the Synthetic Biology community's efforts to make biology easier to engineer. It provides a resource of available genetic parts to iGEM teams and academic labs.

iGEM synthetic biology contest for students

The International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) is the premiere undergraduate Synthetic Biology competition. Teams participating and over 1200 participants will all specify, design, build, and test simple biological systems made from standard, interchangeable biological parts. If you go to this iGEM results page you will find video links for the winning presentations. You can read team abstracts of the iGEM projects here.


John Snow: Eats only vegetables, drinks only boiled water... dies of a stroke at age 41. Nuts.
John Snow: Eats only vegetables, drinks only boiled water... dies of a stroke at age 41. Nuts.Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Here we are again, languishing in the long hours of June 17, enjoying a leisurely Snow day. A John Snow day.

Wait, you say, fractionally raising your heads from your overstuffed couches and baths full of tepid water. Didn’t John Snow actually die in June? And, like, didn’t he die on June 16, not on the 17th?

Well, yes, June 16, 1858, was in fact the day John Snow died. But I only just made up Snow day, and I wasn’t paying attention yesterday. Plus, do y’all even know who John Snow was?

Oh, John Snow was the most marvelous man! He drugged queen Victoria! He deprived thirsty communities of pump handles! He saved London from tiny invisible monsters! Oh, what a man!

John Snow was the sort of guy that posthumously gets the Cleverboots Award for Correct Thinking. Sort of like how I will surely be recognized with a Cleverboots Award years after I die, for how strikingly accurate my public ranting on the subjects of invisible lasers, lizard people, and “stay away from me, wizards!” will prove to be.

Snow was one of the first people to study the used of ether and chloroform as anesthetics. Which is to say, people had used those compounds as anesthesia before, but Snow calculated doses that would leave you somewhere between horrible pain and drugged to death. That was important. Everybody’s favorite queen of England (Victoria, duh) had Snow personally administer her anesthesia during the births of her eighth and ninth children. Once people saw Victoria doing it, everybody wanted in on anesthesia.

Snow’s greatest achievement, perhaps, came in an episode I like to call “Johnny Snow vs. Cholera.”

See, in the middle of 19th century in London, people were sort of split into three groups. There was the “Cholera is caused by poisonous gases” group. Most everybody thought that theory was the best, and it was called the “miasma theory.” There was also the “Cholera is caused by something tiny or invisible in water” group. This was pretty much what we call “germ theory,” and most everybody was all, “Germs? That’s stupid. Check your head!” And, finally, there was the “Hey, we’re actually dying of cholera over here” group, and most everybody thought they were gross.

But not John Snow! Instead of arguing and making up theories based on what seemed reasonable, he actually went out and looked at stuff. Gasp!

Without knowing for certain exactly how cholera was being transmitted (germs or miasma, or whatever), Snow began to record who in London was getting the disease, and he plotted cases on city street maps. He saw clusters of the disease in certain areas of the map, and so he looked for common elements. In the case of one outbreak, Snow realized that the majority of infected people were getting their water from one of two water companies, both of which were pulling water from a dirty (read: full of sewage) section of the Thames river. In another outbreak, Snow found that most of the victims of the disease were getting their water from a particular public pump. When John Snow had the handle of the pump removed, so that nobody could get water from anymore, the outbreak ended.

Snow’s discoveries from studying the cholera outbreaks added to the evidence for germ theory, and, perhaps more importantly, constituted a huge stride forward in the science of epidemiology. Snow wasn’t just figuring out how to cure diseases, he was tracking down where they start, and learning about how they move through populations. These are the same basic principles behind the actions health organizations still take today when dealing with outbreaks in the much larger population pools (or pool) of the 21st century.

It’s pretty interesting stuff. Check out this Snow-stravaganza: UCLA’s comprehensive page on John Snow and the cholera outbreaks.

Now enjoy what’s left of your Snow day.


Bakers Yeast: Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Bakers Yeast: Saccharomyces cerevisiaeCourtesy Hellahulla

To easily manufacture drugs

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have developed a novel way to churn out large quantities of drugs, including antiplaque toothpaste additives, antibiotics, nicotine, and even morphine, using mini biofactories--in yeast.

Take one part baker's yeast

Christina D. Smolke, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Caltech, along with graduate student Kristy Hawkins, genetically modified common baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) so that it contained the genes for several plant enzymes.

Add some plant genetics

The enzymes allow the yeast to produce a chemical called reticuline, which is a precursor for many different classes of benzylisoquinoline alkaloid (BIA) molecules.

One step away from pharmacologically useful molecules

BIA molecules exhibit a wide variety of pharmacological activities, including antispasmodic effects, pain relief, and hair growth acceleration. Other BIAs have shown anticancer, antioxidant, antimalarial, and anti-HIV potential.

Learn more

A paper describing the research, now available online, will be featured as the cover article of the September issue of Nature Chemical Biology: Production of benzylisoquinoline alkaloids in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Source: e! Science News