Monthly Archives: May 2019

Plant Viruses Used to Ward Off Pests

Imagine a technology that could target pesticides to treat specific spots deep within the soil, making them more effective at controlling infestations while limiting their toxicity to the environment.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego and Case Western Reserve University have taken a step toward that goal. They discovered that a biological nanoparticle—a plant virus—is capable of delivering pesticide molecules deeper below the ground, to places that are normally beyond their reach.

The work could help farmers better manage difficult pests, like parasitic nematodes that wreak havoc on plant roots deep in the soil, with less pesticide. The work is published May 20 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

It sounds counterintuitive that we can use a plant virus to treat plant health,” said Nicole Steinmetz, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and senior author of the study. “This is an emerging field of research in nanotechnology showing that we can use plant viruses as pesticide delivery systems. It’s similar to how we’re using nanoparticles in medicine to target drugs towards sites of disease and reduce their side effects in patients.

Pesticides are very sticky molecules when applied in the field, Steinmetz explained. They bind strongly to organic matter in the soil, making it difficult to get enough to penetrate deep down into the root level where pests like nematodes reside and cause damage. To compensate, farmers end up applying large amounts of pesticides, which cause harmful residues to build up in the soil and leach into groundwater.

Steinmetz and her team are working to address this problem. In a new study, they discovered that a particular plant virus, Tobacco mild green mosaic virus, can transport small amounts of pesticide deep through the soil with ease.


Gene Editing To Make Cells Immune To HIV

Some viruses, no matter how hard we try, remain resistant to vaccines. Now, researchers are using a different method, gene editing, as a way to make cells immune to mankind’s most difficult viruses. Led by Dr. Justin Taylor, a team at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has targeted four infections for which there’s no protective vaccine: HIV, influenza, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The researchers used CRISPR/Cas9 technology to modify B cells, a class of white blood cells that produce antibodies to protect us from diseases. By coding the cells with genes that create specific antibodies, the team was able to make them immune without the use of a vaccine.

The researchers tested the method in both human cells in a test tube and in living mice. On average, about 30 percent of the cells produced the desired antibody. Taylor said that the mice remained protected for 83 days following the procedure, an important benchmark given that patients who receive stem cell transplants can have weakened immune systems for three to six months. To be clear, Taylor doesn’t have anything against traditional vaccination. “Vaccines are great,” he said. “I wish we had more of them.”

Instead, Taylor thinks the gene editing method could work one day for diseases where we don’t have a vaccine. It may help patients who are immuno-compromised, meaning their bodies can no longer fight infections, as well as older patients whose bodies aren’t as receptive to vaccines. Gene-edited immunity might also be used to protect people faster than can be done with traditional vaccines, which could be useful during unexpected outbreaks.

Taylor’s team included Fred Hutch researchers and co-authors Howell Moffett, Carson Harms, Kristin Fitzpatrick, Marti Tooley and Jim Boonyaratanakornkit. The results will be published in the journal Science Immunology.


How To Offer Commercially Attractive Carbon-Capturing

Chemical engineers from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne  (EPFL ) in Switzerland have designed an easy method to achieve commercially attractive carbon-capturing with metal-organic frameworksMetal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are versatile compounds hosting nano-sized pores in their crystal structure. Because of their nanopores, MOFs are now used in a wide range of applications, including separating petrochemicalsmimicking DNA, and removing heavy metals, fluoride anions, hydrogen, and even gold from waterGas separation in particular is of great interest to a number of industries, such as biogas production, enriching air in metal working, purifying natural gas, and recovering hydrogen from ammonia plants and oil refineries.

The flexible ‘lattice’ structure of metal-organic frameworks soaks up gas molecules that are even larger than its pore window making it difficult to carry out efficient membrane-based separation,” says Kumar Varoon Agrawal, who holds the GAZNAT Chair for Advanced Separations at EPFL Valais Wallis.

Now, scientists from Agrawal’s lab have greatly improved the gas separation by making the MOF lattice structure rigid. They did this by using a novel “post-synthetic rapid heat treatment” method, which basically involved baking a popular MOF called ZIF-8 (zeolitic imidazolate framework 8) at 360°C for a few seconds. The method drastically improved ZIF-8’s gas-separation performance – specifically in ‘carbon capture’, a process that captures carbon dioxide emissions produced from the use of fossil fuels, preventing it from entering the atmosphere. “For the first time, we have achieved commercially attractive dioxide sieving performance a MOF membrane,” says Agrawal.


The Rise Of The Electric Driverless Truck

Today, DB Schenker and Einride launched the installation for the first commercial use of a T-pod, at a DB Schenker facility in Jönköping, central Sweden. The T-pod will travel continuously to and from a warehouse, paving the way for a sustainable transition of road freight transportation. The T-Pod Self-Driving Truck can carry up to 15 standard pallets or 20 tons of goods in just a 23-foot body thanks to the removal of the cab. On the highway, the all-electric truck drives itself, while a driver can take control remotely for urban driving. It has a range of 124 miles, and the company says it will be testing a prototype later this year while also building out a network of charging stations.


Heavy road transport is responsible for a substantial part of global CO2 emissions. By substituting electricity for diesel, we reduce CO2 emissions by 90 percent. We are happy and grateful that DB Schenker has chosen to be part of this revolution, disrupting a huge global market” says Robert Falck, CEO, and founder of Einride.

“We at Schenker are working at full speed on sustainable and innovative logistics. Autonomous driving will become increasingly important for this. Together with Einride, we want to bring the first autonomous, fully electric truck onto public roads in the near future and thus set new standards for tomorrow’s logistics” explains Jochen Thewes, CEO of DB Schenker.


How To Boost Batteries Conductivity And Improve Safety

In a new discovery, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new cathode coating by using an oxidative chemical vapor deposition technique that can help solve these and several other potential issues with lithium-ion batteries all in one stroke.

The coating we’ve discovered really hits five or six birds with one stone.” Khalil Amine, Argonne distinguished fellow and battery scientist. In the research, Amine and his fellow researchers took particles of Argonne’s pioneering nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) cathode material and encapsulated them with a sulfur-containing polymer called PEDOT. This polymer provides the cathode a layer of protection from the battery’s electrolyte as the battery charges and discharges.

Unlike conventional coatings, which only protect the exterior surface of the micron-sized cathode particles and leave the interior vulnerable to cracking, the PEDOT coating had the ability to penetrate to the cathode particle’s interior, adding an additional layer of shielding. In addition, although PEDOT prevents the chemical interaction between the battery and the electrolyte, it does allow for the necessary transport of lithium ions and electrons that the battery requires in order to function.

This coating is essentially friendly to all of the processes and chemistry that makes the battery work and unfriendly to all of the potential reactions that would cause the battery to degrade or malfunction,” said Argonne chemist Guiliang Xu, the first author of the research.


Pixels A Million Times Smaller

The smallest pixels yet created – a million times smaller than those in smartphones, made by trapping particles of light under tiny rocks of gold – could be used for new types of large-scale flexible displays, big enough to cover entire buildings. The colour pixels, developed by a team of scientists led by the University of Cambridge, are compatible with roll-to-roll fabrication on flexible plastic films, dramatically reducing their production cost.
It has been a long-held dream to mimic the colour-changing skin of octopus or squid, allowing people or objects to disappear into the natural background, but making large-area flexible display screens is still prohibitively expensive because they are constructed from highly precise multiple layers. At the centre of the pixels developed by the Cambridge scientists is a tiny particle of gold a few billionths of a metre across. The grain sits on top of a reflective surface, trapping light in the gap in between. Surrounding each grain is a thin sticky coating which changes chemically when electrically switched, causing the pixel to change colour across the spectrum.

The team of scientists, from different disciplines including physics, chemistry and manufacturing, made the pixels by coating vats of golden grains with an active polymer called polyaniline and then spraying them onto flexible mirror-coated plastic, to dramatically drive down production cost. The pixels are the smallest yet created, a million times smaller than typical smartphone pixels. They can be seen in bright sunlight and because they do not need constant power to keep their set colour, have an energy performance that makes large areas feasible and sustainable. “We started by washing them over aluminized food packets, but then found aerosol spraying is faster,” said co-lead author Hyeon-Ho Jeong from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory.

These are not the normal tools of nanotechnology, but this sort of radical approach is needed to make sustainable technologies feasible,” said Professor Jeremy J Baumberg of the NanoPhotonics Centre at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research. “The strange physics of light on the nanoscale allows it to be switched, even if less than a tenth of the film is coated with our active pixels. That’s because the apparent size of each pixel for light is many times larger than their physical area when using these resonant gold architectures.”

The pixels could enable a host of new application possibilities such as building-sized display screens, architecture which can switch off solar heat load, active camouflage clothing and coatings, as well as tiny indicators for coming internet-of-things devices.

The results are reported in the journal Science Advances.


Blocking Protein Curbs Memory Loss

Impeding VCAM1, a protein that tethers circulating immune cells to blood vessel walls, enabled old mice to perform as well on memory and learning tests as young mice, a Stanford study found. Mice aren’t people, but like us they become forgetful in old age. In a study  published online May 13 in Nature Medicine, old mice suffered far fewer senior moments during a battery of memory tests when Stanford University School of Medicine investigators disabled a single molecule dotting the mice’s cerebral blood vessels. For example, they breezed through a maze with an ease characteristic of young adult mice.

The molecule appears on the surfaces of a small percentage of endothelial cells, the main building blocks of blood vessels throughout the body. Blocking this molecule’s capacity to do its main job — it selectively latches onto immune cells circulating in the bloodstream — not only improved old mice’s cognitive performance but countered two physiological hallmarks of the aging brain: It restored to a more youthful level the ability of the old mice’s brains to create new nerve cells, and it subdued the inflammatory mood of the brain’s resident immune cells, called microglia.

Scientists have shown that old mice’s blood is bad for young mice’s brains. There’s a strong suspicion in the scientific community that something in older people’s blood similarly induces declines in brain physiology and cognitive skills. Just what that something is remains to be revealed. But, the new study suggests, there might be a practical way to block its path where the rubber meets the road: at the blood-brain barrier, which tightly regulates the passage of most cells and substances through the walls of blood vessels that pervade the human brain.


We may have found an important mechanism through which the blood communicates deleterious signals to the brain,” said the study’s senior author, Tony Wyss-Coray, PhD, professor of neurology and neurological sciences, co-director of the Stanford Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and a senior research career scientist at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System. The lead author of the study is Hanadie Yousef, PhD, a former postdoctoral scholar in the Wyss-Coray lab. The intervention’s success points to possible treatments that could someday slow, stop or perhaps even reverse that decline. Targeting a protein on blood-vessel walls may be easier than trying to get into the brain itself. “We can now try to treat brain degeneration using drugs that typically aren’t very good at getting through the blood-brain barrier — but, in this case, would no longer need to,” Yousef said.


AI Spacefactory Wins Mars 3D Printed Habitat Challenge

The new york-based ‘multi-planetary’ design agency, AI Spacefactory, gives us a closer look of what life on Mars might actually be like as they receive 1st place in the finale of NASA‘s 3D printed habitat challenge. After , the final phase saw structures built head to head over a duration of 30 hours and 3 days. the winning 15-foot tall prototype, called ‘MARSHA’, prevailed due to its level of autonomy and material performance, seeing the team scoop the prize of $500,000.
In addition to being built with nearly no human assistance, AI spacefactory was also awarded the top place for MARSHA’s innovative biopolymer basalt composite – a biodegradable and recyclable material derived from natural materials found on Mars. After withstanding NASA’s pressure, smoke, and impact testing, this material was found to be stronger and more durable than its concrete competitors.


‘it’s light, and it’s strong, like an airplane. that’s going to be very important for these types of habitats,’ comments Lex Akers, dean of the caterpillar college of engineering and technology at Bradley university.

AI spacefactory autonomously constructed their prototype Mars entire in-situ, lifting an industrial robot 13-feet into the air on a forklift to 3D print the vertical, egg-shape habitat After spending 2 years developing construction technologies for Mars, AI spacefactory plans to bring its space-driven technologies back to earth this year. demonstrating the sustainable nature of their biopolymer composite, they will recycle the materials from MARSHA and re-use them to 3d print TERA – the first-ever space-tech eco habitat on earth.

‘We developed these technologies for space, but they have the potential to transform the way we build on earth,’ said David Malott, CEO and founder of AI spacefactory. ‘By using natural, biodegradable materials grown from crops, we could eliminate the building industry’s massive waste of unrecyclable concrete and restore our planet.’


Transparent and Flexible Battery for Power Generation and Storage at Once

DGIST research group in South Korea  developed single-layer graphene based multifunctional transparent devices  Various use of electronics and skin-attachable devices are expected with the development of transparent battery that can both generate and store power.The scientists in the Smart Textile Research Group developed film-type graphene based multifunctional transparent energy devices.

The team actively used ‘single-layered graphene film’ as electrodes in order to develop transparent devices. Due to its excellent electrical conductivity and light and thin characteristics, single-layered graphene  film is perfect for electronics that require batteries. By using high-molecule nano-mat that contains semisolid electrolyte, the research team succeeded in increasing transparency (maximum of 77.4%) to see landscape and letters clearly.

Furthermore, the researchers designed structure for electronic devices to be self-charging and storing by inserting energy storage panel inside the upper layer of power devices and energy conversion panel inside the lower panel. They even succeeded in manufacturing electronics with touch-sensing systems by adding a touch sensor right below the energy storage panel of the upper layer.

We decided to start this research because we were amazed by transparent smartphones appearing in movies. While there are still long ways to go for commercialization due to high production costs, we will do our best to advance this technology further as we made this success in the transparent energy storage field that has not had any visible research performances”, explains Changsoon Choi from the Smart Textile Research Group, and co-author of the paper published on the online edition of ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

The findings were also conducted as a joint research with various organisations such as Yonsei University, Hanyang University, and the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology (KITECH).


How To Collect And Harvest More Solar Energy

In an article published in the SPIE Journal of Nanophotonics (JNP), researchers from a collaboration of three labs in Mexico demonstrate aninnovative nanodevice for harvesting solar energy. The paper,Thermoelectric efficiency optimization of nanoantennas for solar energy harvesting,reports that evolutive dipole nanoantennas (EDNs) generate a thermoelectric voltage three times larger than the classic dipole nanoantenna (CDN).

Capturing visible and infrared radiation using nanodevices is anessential aspect of collecting solar energy: solar cells and solar panels are common devices that utilize nanoantennas, which link electromagnetic radiation to specific optical fields. The EDNcan be useful in many areas where high thermoelectric efficiency is needed from energy harvesting to applications across the aerospace industry.

“The paper reports on a novel design and demonstration of a nanoantenna for efficient thermoelectric energy harvesting,” says Professor Ibrahim Abdulhalim, JNP Associate Editor, SPIE Fellow and a professor in the Electrooptics and Photonics Engineering Department at Ben-Gurion Universityof the Negev. “They demonstrated thermoelectric voltage three times larger than a classical antenna. This type of antenna can be useful in many fields from harvesting of energy from waste heat, in sensing and solar thermal energy harvesting.”

The nanoantennas are bimetallic, using nickel and platinum, and were fabricated using e-beam lithography. The nanoantenna design wasoptimized using simulations to determine the distance between the elements. In comparing their thermoelectric voltage to the classic dipole nanoantenna, the EDNs were 1.3 times more efficient. The characterization was done using a solar simulator analyzing the I-V curves. The results indicate that EDN arrays would be good candidates for the harvesting of waste heat energy.