CONTENTS Biotechnology ------------------------------------------------------------------------
4-5 - Biotech Hack Mice healed three times faster than normal after their broken bones were flooded by proteins naturally used to regrow new tissues. ------------------------------------------------------------------------
6-7 - Genetic Secrets of living to 100 A massive genetic study of people who lived for more than 100 years has found dozens of new clues to the biology of aging. ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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Mice healed three times faster than normal after their broken Semi-Natural Biotech Hack Makes bones were flooded by proteins naturally used to regrow new tissues. The discovery raises the possibility of a stem cell–free Bones Heal 3 Times Faster route to regeneration. The Wnt family of proteins used in the mice are involved in healing many other types of tissue; the researchers hope they will find many other uses for them. “Gut, skin, brain, muscle, cardiac muscle, corneas, retinas — people have studied the role of Wnt signals in all those tissues,” said Stanford University reconstructive surgeon and study co-author Jill Helms. “Maybe there could be a therapeutic approach to all this.” The experiment, published April 28 in Science Translational Medicine, is rooted in two decades of research on Wnt genes and proteins, which play a variety of regenerative roles. They help embryonic stem cells make copies of themselves, keeping a body’s supply fresh, and guide the maturation of stem cells into specific cell types. Wnt proteins are found throughout the animal kingdom, from sponges and flatworms to mice and humans, and their function seems to be consistent. When tissues are injured, Wnt genes in surrounding cells become more active, pumping out extra Wnt proteins. Arriving repair cells divide faster and grow more rapidly. Study co-author Roel Nusse, a cell biologist at Stanford, has pioneered much of the Wnt research. He was responsible for cloning the Wnt family genes, allowing proteins to be produced in tissue cultures in a lab. His success encouraged the study’s other authors to see if the proteins could be used therapeutically.
“In cancer, mutations cause the pathway to be always on. Delivering the protein only causes the pathway to be turned on for a moment,” she said. “Mutations in the insulin pathway also cause cancer, but insulin treatments do not.” According to Thomas Einhorn, a Boston University biochemist and orthopedic surgeon who wasn’t involved in the study, Wnt is an alluring therapeutic target. Malfunctions in Wnt regulation have been linked to human bone disorders, underscoring their importance. But he cautioned that “animal studies are animal studies, and human conditions are something else.” In mice, challenges still remain. A broken bone is relatively easy to target with an injection, but many conditions are less localized, involving entire organs or large amounts of tissue. The researchers are now conducing mouse tests of Wnt proteins for skin wounds, stroke and heart-attack recovery, and cartilage injuries. “Nature uses this recipe over and over again,” said Helms.
“This pathway may be the key to regenerating, or at least rapidly repairing, tissues,” said Helms. “We’re augmenting nature’s own response to injury.” The researchers started their tests by genetically engineering a strain of mice that produced exceptionally high amounts of Wnt Image Below: Healing in the skeletal tissues of mice given a placebo proteins. Three days after their bones were broken, they grew three (top) and Wnt proteins (bottom). and half times more new bone tissue than regular mice. Science Translational Medicine. That test’s purpose wasn’t to investigate a role for genetic engineering, but rather to see if extra Wnt had an effect. The researchers next injected lab-grown Wnt proteins into mice with broken bones. These again healed three times faster. There were no obvious side effects from the treatment, though the tests were preliminary. Somewhat disturbingly, Wnt genes were originally identified while malfunctioning in cancerous cells. The likelihood of causing cancer is also a major obstacle to developing safe stem cell therapies. But Helms is confident that it won’t be a problem with potential Wnt therapies.
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GENETIC SECRETS OF LIVING TO 100 A massive genetic study of people who lived for more than 100 years has found dozens of new clues to the biology of aging.
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The findings won’t be turned overnight into longevity elixirs or lifespan tests, nor do they untangle the complex interactions between biology, lifestyle and environment that ultimately determine how long — and how well — one lives.
People who’ve reached that mark tend to have lives that are not only exceptionally long, but unusually healthly. Unlike most people, they rarely develop diseases of aging — such as heart disease, metabolic disease, cancer and dementia — until well into their 90s. They’re also more likely But they do offer much-needed toeholds for sci- to bounce back from disease, rather than enterentists studying the basic mechanisms of aging, ing a spiral of declining health. which remain largely unexplained. That manner of aging is a goal for most people, “It shows that genetics plays an extremely im- and a public health necessity. Modern medicine portant role at these extreme ages. And it begins has had success in slowing individual aging disto be a not-unsolvable puzzle,” said Boston Uni- eases, but when one is postponed another soon versity gerontologist Thomas Perls. “If we start emerges. Americans are living longer but not looking at these genes and what they do, we bet- healthier. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. health ter understand the biology of extreme longevity.” spending now goes to treating diseases of aging. That proportion is rising. The findings come from gene tests of 801 people enrolled in the Perls-founded New England Cen- In the last decade, scientists using animal modtenarian Study, the largest study in the world of els of disease have identified numerous genes people who’ve lived past 100. and biological pathways implicated in aging. That animal research is valuable, but the gold People who’ve reached that mark tend to have standard of longevity science involves long-lived lives that are not only exceptionally long, but un- people. usually healthly. Unlike most people, they rarely develop diseases of aging — such as heart disease, metabolic disease, cancer and dementia — until well into their 90s. They’re also more likely to bounce back from disease, rather than entering a spiral of declining health.
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Researchers at the University of Arizona's Controlled Environment Agriculture Center have devised a "lunar greenhouse" that "could be the key to growing fresh and healthy food to sustain future lunar or Martian colonies," Space reported back in October.
Inflatable Greenhouses on the Moon 7 - Emerging Technologies - 2011
Under the guidance of Gene Giacomelli, “The team built a prototype lunar greenhouse in the CEAC Extreme Climate Lab that is meant to represent the last 18 feet (5.5 meters) of one of several tubular structures that would form part of a proposed lunar base. The tubes would be buried beneath the moon’s surface to protect the plants and astronauts from deadly solar flares, micrometeorites and cosmic rays. As such, the buried greenhouse would differ from conventional greenhouses that let in and capture sunlight as heat. Instead, these underground lunar greenhouses would shield the plants from harmful radiation.” As Popular Science describes it: The 18-foot, membrane-sheathed system collapses into a 4-foot wide disk for easy packing on an interplanetary mission. When extended,
it is fitted with water-cooled lamps and seed packets prepped to sprout without soil. They hydroponic system needs little oversight, relying on automated systems and control algorithms to analyze data gathered by embedded sensors that optimize the controlled ecosystem. The whole system takes just ten minutes to set up and produces vegetables within a month.
Interestingly, Antarctica supplied a kind of natural test-environment for this architectural experiment: “the extreme conditions of the South Pole helped his team fine-tune their lunar greenhouse, and also allowed them to figure out how to remotely control conditions like temperature, humidity and light. He said similar technologies could also be used someday in cities—in a greenhouse in the middle floor of a skyscraper, for example. He added that, at least right now, the Giacomelli himself explains that lunar rovers—or “robotic bulldozers”— technology, and lighting, especially, are too expensive for daily comwould first bury the greenhouses, installing them in advance of human mercial use.” arrival. Then, “When the spacecraft sets down, the idea is that [the buried greenhouse] expands outwards, opens by itself, like a robot would. The seeds are already in place. We start it up, turn on the lights, turn on the water, and the plants can begin to grow, even in advance of when the astronauts arrive.”
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ISLANDS AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT A recent paper published in the Physical Review has some astonishing suggestions for the geographic future of financial markets.
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Its authors, Alexander Wissner-Grossl and Cameron Freer, discuss the spatial implications of speed-of-light trading. Trades now occur so rapidly, they explain, and in such fantastic quantity, that the speed of light itself presents limits to the efficiency of global computerized trading networks. These limits are described as “light propagation delays.” It is thus in traders’ direct financial interest, they suggest, to install themselves at specific points on the Earth’s surface—a kind of light-speed financial acupuncture—to take advantage both of the planet’s geometry and of the networks along which trades are ordered and filled.
They conclude that “the construction of relativistic statistical arbitrage trading nodes across the Earth’s surface” is thus economically justified, if not required. Amazingly, their analysis—seen in the map, below—suggests that many of these financially strategic points are actually out in the middle of nowhere: hundreds of miles offshore in the Indian Ocean, for instance, on the shores of Antarctica,