Stories tagged biotechnology


Bloodshed happens

Bags of blood
Bags of bloodCourtesy spike55151

A lot of blood is shed every day. Many lives are being saved when that shed blood is replaced. Donated blood is only good for a few weeks. Also there is the worry about contamination (HIV, Aids, etc.). What the world needs is a way to manufacture and deliver blood as needed.

Wanted-fresh blood on tap

Our Defense Department's research division (DARPA) wants a a self-contained system that could turn out 100 units of universal blood a week for eight weeks. The system needs to withstand war front conditions and be not much bigger than a refrigerator.

$2 million awarded

That task and $1.95 million was assigned to Arteriocyte less than two years ago. (see Popular Mechanics, Dec 2008 - Bringing Stem Cells to War: Meet the Blood Pharmers). The technology, called Nanex, uses a nanofiber-based structure that mimics bone marrow in which blood cells multiply, according to the company. (cnet News)

FDA approval sought

This week an initial shipment of their pharmed blood product was sent to the Food and Drug Administration for an independent evaluation. If approved, their cost of $5000 per unit of manufactured blood will need to be reduced.

Still, given the price tag of transporting and storing donated blood, Darpa’s betting that a unit of pharmed blood will make financial sense once it costs less than $1,000. Wired


It's an important job I've got for you...: That's right: pump my gas. I'm not getting out of the car.
It's an important job I've got for you...: That's right: pump my gas. I'm not getting out of the car.Courtesy thefiveten77
Using microorganisms to do our dirty work is all the rage these days. And, you know, they deserve it—they’ve spent so much time making us sick that they’re due for a little bit of productive action (and don’t bring up gut microbes, water treatment, or natural decomposition. I’m just not interested in anything that contradicts me).

It’s encouraging, then, to see that scientists in California have genetically engineered microorganisms (like yeast and strains of e. coli that eat organic garbage and poop crude oil. Is “poop” the right verb? It is? It’s exactly the right verb? Oh, good.

Currently the process requires a lot of equipment for a pretty small output. A room-sized computer and fermenting machine produces about a barrel of oil a week—America consumes about 143 million barrels of oil each week. And, at the moment, the process isn’t super cheap.

However, the scientists involved are hopeful that the necessary equipment can be shrunk, and the product can be produced more efficiently. With a commercial-scale facility (planned construction in 2011), using Brazilian sugarcane as feedstock (not the best crop, but that’s another post), oil could be produced at a cost of about $50 a barrel. Not bad, compared to the current price of oil hovering around $140 a barrel.

The process should be carbon neutral or negative too. That is to say, the CO2 produced by burning the fuel produced should be less than that pulled from the air by the feedstock materials.

It’s all very interesting, but I’m afraid that this sort of technology is forcing biotechnology away from its true purpose—microorganisms working for us in the very literal sense. The day e. coli wanders out into my yard and mows my lawn is the day I’ll get excited. Otherwise, what’s the point?


Green green grass: Is genetically engineered grass a form of nanotechnology?Photo courtesy StarMama
Green green grass: Is genetically engineered grass a form of nanotechnology?
Photo courtesy StarMama

A type of grass created by bioengineers in a lab has escaped out into the environment for the first time--at least that we've noticed.

The grass is being developed to resist the common herbicide Roundup. Scotts Miracle-Gro Company and Monsanto, who are engineering this grass, hope to use it on golf courses so that Roundup could be sprayed to kill weeds without killing the grass.

So what's this got to do with nanotechnology?

Well, I've been doing lots of research into nanotechnology and the social concerns around its use. Just like bioengineered crops, people worry that we don't have a clue what could happen if these plants or particles, in the case of nanotechnology, escape into the environment.

Could the genes from this Roundup resistant grass find their way into wild grasses? If they do it might be that much harder to eliminate weeds that grow wild in our environment.

Okay, but really, what about this nanotech stuff?

Well, this story got me and some of my coworkers thinking about the definitions of genetic engineering and nanotech. In genetics we are manipulating DNA at the nanoscale. In nanotechnology we are manipulating molecules and atoms at the nanoscale. Despite having many people tell me that they are unique I still don't totally get it.

I think it mostly lies in the methods with which the different sciences go about manipulating things. The processes that genetic engineers use to create a new kind of grass are unique from those that nanotech scientists use to engineer something like carbon nanotubes.

So what do you think? I will ask around and see if I can get some answers to the question, "Is genetic engineering a type of nanotechnology?"