New CRISPR-like Defense Strategy Discovered in Giant Viruses

When scientists first encountered Mimivirus within amoebae, they thought it was a bacterium because of its size. Much to their surprise, electron microscopy revealed that the organism infecting these amoebae was in fact giant viruses. “A giant virus is like a bacterium but with a capsid and without ribosomes. This is the only difference,” said Bernard La Scola from Aix-Marseille University, who helped discover the virus.

Seven years ago, La Scola’s team realized that this giant virus could be infected by a smaller virus—a virophage called Sputnik. Later they discovered another virophage called Zamilon. Now, using this virophage as a unique tool, the team has discovered a CRISPR-like defense system, the Mimivirus virophage resistance element (MIMIVIRE), which they described in Nature. Rest

Alzheimer’s fibrils

Two research teams have independently obtained atomic-resolution structures of fully formed amyloid-β peptide fibrils that may be involved in Alzheimer’s disease. These fibrils or similar onesform aggregates called “senile plaques” in the brains of patients with the memory- and identity-loss disease.

The fibrils the teams studied are made of a 42-amino-acid peptide, Aβ-42, which is one of two major forms of amyloid-β peptide. It is more neurotoxic, aggregates faster, and is more predominant in senile plaques than the other type, Aβ-40. Scientists have structurally analyzed Aβ-40 fibrils before. But structural analysis of full Aβ-42 fibrils—thought to be the main bad actors in Alzheimer’s disease and therefore the more important of the two types—has been elusive. Rest

Programming language for biological circuits in organisms

MIT-Program-Bacteria_0MIT biological engineers have created a programming language that allows them to rapidly design complex, DNA-encoded circuits that give new functions to living cells.

Using this language, anyone can write a program for the function they want, such as detecting and responding to certain environmental conditions. They can then generate a DNA sequence that will achieve it.

“It is literally a programming language for bacteria,” says Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering. “You use a text-based language, just like you’re programming a computer. Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell.” Rest

Interesting Stuff

Precision Medicine: Health Care Tailored to You

Summary: On the anniversary of the launch of the Precision Medicine Initiative, the President participates in a panel discussion with PMI stakeholders. Rest

Building Computers Within Cells

Cells may eventually compete with silicon as synthetic biologists engineer them to perform increasingly complicated computing operations. Researchers can now harness molecular components such as DNA, RNA, and proteins to create circuitry that allows mammalian and bacterial cells to sense and respond to different signals. Rest

Engineering nanoparticles that can change their shape to deliver cancer drugs to tumours

Chemotherapy isn’t supposed to make your hair fall out – it’s supposed to kill cancer cells. A new molecular delivery system created at U of T Engineering could help ensure that chemotherapy drugs get to their target while minimizing collateral damage. Rest

“Swiss army knife” molecule

Scientists at ETH Zurich and an ETH spin-off have developed a novel polymer for coating materials, in order to prevent biofilms from forming on their surfaces. Thanks to the technological platform developed, it is now possible to coat durably a variety of different materials using the same polymeric molecule. Such coatings are of relevance for medical applications, among others.  Rest

Harvard student develops technique to diagnose cancer from a single drop of blood

NEIL DAVEY, A.B. ’18, WINS SILVER MEDAL AT COLLEGIATE INVENTORS COMPETITION

January 5, 2016
  • Harvard student Neil Davey worked in the lab of mentor David Weitz, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics.

Harvard student Neil Davey, A.B. ’18, has developed a technique that pushes the possibility of non-invasive cancer diagnosis one step closer to reality. Davey recently won a silver medal in the undergraduate section of the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s Collegiate Inventors Competition for his research project, “Early Cancer Diagnosis by the Detection of Circulating Tumor Cells using Drop-based Microfluidics.”

His technique involves injecting a tiny amount of blood into a microfluidic device to encapsulate single cells from the blood stream in individual microfluidic drops. Once the cells have been encapsulated, Davey uses a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a common technique in molecular biology, to target and amplify fragments of cancer DNA within the drops.  Rest

Scientists Take Key Step Toward Custom-made Nanoscale Chemical Factories

[Our BioNano future depends on our ability to make many more types of these nanoscale chemical factories!]

Scientists have for the first time reengineered a building block of a geometric nanocompartment that occurs naturally in bacteria. They introduced a metal binding site to its shell that will allow electrons to be transferred to and from the compartment. This provides an entirely new functionality, greatly expanding the potential of nanocompartments to serve as custom-made chemical factories.

Scientists hope to tailor this new use to produce high-value chemical products, such as medicines, on demand.

The sturdy nanocompartments, which are polyhedral shells composed of triangle-shaped sides and resemble 20-sided dice, are formed by hundreds of copies of just three different types of proteins. Their natural counterparts, known as bacterial microcompartments or BMCs, encase a wide variety of enzymes that carry out highly specialized chemistry in bacteria.

The shell of a bacterial microcompartment (or BMC) is mainly composed of hexagonal proteins, with pentagonal proteins capping the vertices, similar to a soccer ball (left). Scientists have engineered one of these hexagonal proteins, normally devoid of any metal center, to bind an iron-sulfur cluster (orange and yellow sticks, upper right). This cluster can serve as an electron relay to transfer electrons across the shell. Introducing this new functionality in the shell of a BMC greatly expands their possibilities as custom-made bio-nanoreactors. (Credit: Clément Aussignargues/MSU, Cheryl Kerfeld and Markus Sutter/Berkeley Lab)

The shell of a bacterial microcompartment (or BMC) is mainly composed of hexagonal proteins, with pentagonal proteins capping the vertices, similar to a soccer ball (left). Scientists have engineered one of these hexagonal proteins, normally devoid of any metal center, to bind an iron-sulfur cluster (orange and yellow sticks, upper right). This cluster can serve as an electron relay to transfer electrons across the shell. Introducing this new functionality in the shell of a BMC greatly expands their possibilities as custom-made bio-nanoreactors. (Credit: Clément Aussignargues/MSU, Cheryl Kerfeld and Markus Sutter/Berkeley Lab)

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The Race is On: One Month Left to Submit

The National Cancer Institute and Center for Advancing Innovation are sponsoring a challenge to accelerate translation and commercialization of nanomedicines. The Challenge is open to the public and asks entrants to form teams to develop a business plan around cancer nanotechnology inventions. These inventions can originate from an intramural NIH program or can be brought forward by the entering team. Details on the challenge can be found at http://www.nscsquared.org/.NSC2 nano cancer challenge logo

Teams that enter the NSC2 Challenge will be advised and evaluated by a group of experienced researchers, industry leaders, and investors with an ultimate goal to commercialize these inventions. It is expected that the Challenge will help to accelerate and increase the volume of commercialized cancer nanotechnologies, bringing hope and health to millions of families affected by cancer.

The deadline has been extended to March 1st; submissions are due one month from today! A direct link to the Letter of Intent to join the Challenge can be found at: http://www.jotformpro.com/form/52454438639969. For a complete submission, you will need … Rest

Inspiring with Nano – Education & Outreach

As highlighted in the White House blog today, the National Science Foundation (NSF), in partnership with NBC Learn, has launched Nanotechnology: Super Small Science, a series of videos for middle and high school students.  This video series features six areas where nanotechnology has a significant impact, including advanced electronics, renewable energy, and human health. The content, which was developed for classroom use, will reach a potential audience of 9 million students across the country. Highlights will also be shared with the more than 200 NBC affiliate stations for use in news segments. The videos are also available through NSF’s Science360 website and Nano.gov.

NBC Learn Nanotechnology title slide with lettering and logosOver the past 15 years, the Federal Government has invested over $22 billion in R&D under the auspices of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) to understand and control matter at the nanoscale and develop applications that benefit society. As these nanotechnology-enabled applications become a part of everyday life, it is important for students to have a basic understanding of material behavior at the nanoscale, and some states have even incorporated nanotechnology concepts into their K-12 science standards. Furthermore, application of the novel properties that exist at the nanoscale, from gecko-inspired climbing gloves and invisibility cloaks, to water-repellent coatings on clothes or cellphones, can spark students’ excitement about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The “Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroes” contest, hosted by NSF and the NNI, aims to do just that by asking high school students to design nanotechnology-enabled gear for an original superhero. Submissions (due February 2, 2016) include a brief technical description of the gear and either a video or comic showing their superhero using that gear. Three semi-finalists will win a trip to the 2016 USA Science & Engineering Festival on April 16-17, 2016, in Washington, D.C., where they will present their entries and compete for cash prizes.

Nanotechnology: Super Small Science videos and the Generation Nano contest are just two examples of how the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) is promoting nanoscale science and engineering education across the country. Other activities include expanding teacher resources on Nano.gov and working with nanoHUB to develop a searchable database for nanoeducation; collaborating with a local school district to develop educational videos that were distributed nationwide (Innovation Workshop: Nanotechnology); providing guidance to students making animations about nanotechnology featured on Science Matters, Community Idea Stations; coordinating a growing, national Nano & Emerging Technologies Student Network; and providing outreach via presentations, workshops, participation in trade shows, and the administration of contests, including EnvisioNano and Tiny Science. Big Impacts. Cool Videos on behalf of the NNI agencies.

Activities like the ones described above are critical to our future, as a highly skilled and motivated workforce with increasing knowledge of STEM will be required to ensure America’s global competitiveness.

We at the NNCO look forward to working with colleagues from across the educational spectrum to promote STEM education and awareness of nanotechnology. If you’d like more information about any of these activities or to share opportunities to advance nanoeducation, contact us at nanoed@nnco.nano.gov.

Lisa E. Friedersdorf
Deputy Director, National Nanotechnology Coordination Office
www.Nano.gov


Media contact:
Marlowe Newman, NNCO Communications Director
mnewman@nnco.nano.gov