Articles from April 2015

Use Your Smartphone To Analyze DNA

Fluorescence microscopes use technology that enables them to accomplish tasks not easy to achieve with normal light microscopes, including imaging DNA molecules to detect and diagnose cancer, nervous system disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, and drug resistance in infectious diseases.These microscopes work by labeling the samples with fluorescent molecules that are “excited” with a laser. This process gives off different colored light that the microscope detects and uses to build images of fluorescently labeled samples, visualizing objects that are 100 to 1000 times smaller than the diameter of human hair. These fluorescent microscopes are expensive, bulky and relatively complicated, typically making them available only in high-tech laboratories.

Now researchers from UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute have reported the first demonstration of imaging and measuring the size of individual DNA molecules using a lightweight and compact device that converts an ordinary smartphone into an advanced fluorescence microscope. Led by Aydogan Ozcan, associate director of the UCLA California NanoSystems Institute , the research team will present the device from 16:30 – 18:30, Thursday, 14 May 2015, in meeting room 212 A/C, San Jose Convention Center, San Jose, California, USA.
DNA analyzer
The mobile microscopy unit is an inexpensive, 3-D-printed optical device that uses the phone’s camera to visualize and measure the length of single-molecule DNA strands. The device includes an attachment that creates a high-contrast, dark-field imaging set-up using an inexpensive external lens, thin-film interference filters, a miniature dovetail stage and a laser diode that excites the fluorescently labeled DNA molecules. The device also includes an app that connects the smartphone to a server at UCLA, which measures the lengths of the individual DNA molecules. The molecules are labeled and stretched on disposable chips that fit in the smartphone attachment. The application transmits the raw images to the server, which rapidly measures the length of each DNA strand. The results of DNA detection and length measurement can be seen on the mobile phone and on remote computers linked to the UCLA server.

The ability to translate these and other existing microscopy and sensing techniques to field-portable, cost-effective and high-throughput instruments can make possible myriad new applications for point-of-care medicine and global health,” said Ozcan, who is also an HHMI Professor with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He went on to say that these devices could have far-reaching positive impact on research and educational efforts in developing countries or resource-limited institutions, helping democratize advanced scientific instruments and measurement tools.

Media Registration: A media room for credentialed press and analysts will be located on-site in the San Jose Convention Center, 11-14 May 2015. Media interested in attending the event should register on the CLEO website media center.


Motorbike Runs On Its Own Generated Energy

Mexican students in Oaxaca City design a motorbike that runs on its own generated energy, without using any combustion. They say their prototype model is a breakthrough invention for eco-friendly motorbikes. What if you could harvest the energy of a moving vehicle to continue to power it? That is the question asked by students of this technical high school college in Oaxaca, Mexico, one year ago. It resulted in this prototype motorcycle called R-Walker created by 17-year-old Victor Garcia.
The project is a prototype that generates its own energy as it goes along: As it goes faster and covers longer distances, it generates more energy. In that way, you don’t have to charge the battery every 6-8 hours,” says Garcia. He calls the process “auto-sustainability.” It’s based on the principle of converting energy through speed and distance travelled; the engine becomes self-sustaining, generating more than 2,000 revolutions per minute. A battery is used to spark ignition, and afterwards without using any combustion the vehicle can carry up to 110 kilograms and travel at more than 60 kilometers per hour.

Co-designer Raul Grajales said R-Walker could bring huge savings for motorcycle users, as well as the environment. “With this, we have reduced the use of 200 batteries a day and seventy percent of pollution, because it does not contaminate and has zero emissions and we use one battery every 5-10 years“, assures Grajales. They built the eco-friendly motorbike from recycled materials, bringing its final price tag to around $200 – a comparatively small sum when considering its potential benefits.

Brain Waves Command Drones Flight

Researchers demonstrate technology that allows unmanned aircraft to be controlled from the ground using only signals from the pilot’s brain.
An impressive example of mind control – a drone in the air, flown using the power of human thought. Portuguese tech company Tekever uses a special EEG cap to turn pilot’s brainwaves into commands for the drone. CEO Pedro Sinogas explains. “The brain approach that Tekever is using is based on collecting the signals from the brain, then a set of algorithms process all the brain signals and transform them into actual controls to multiple devices,” says Sinoga.
brain wavesWhile the pilot controls the drone’s flight path Tekever‘s researchers determine the mission before take-off. Tekever‘s Chief Operations Officer Ricardo Mendes is keen to apply the technology to commercial aviation – although this could take a while. “What we want to do is to get the technology more mature, prove it on the ground, work with the authorities to bring it to the aerospace and to the aviation world and that will take something like 10 years probably.” he says. And the Brainflight technology could have uses beyond flying. “If you have this technology available to you, you can enter your home and connect and disconnect devices with your mind or if you are a disabled person, for example you would be able to control your wheelchair by only using your mind, that’s our goal,” Mendes adds.Tekever engineers say their project will eventually allow pilots to free up their brains and bodies while flying a plane. In the future, pilotless planes could be more than just a flight of fancy.

How To Heal Diabetic Skin Wounds

A new high-tech but simple ointment applied to the skin may one day help diabetic patients heal stubborn and painful ulcers on their feet, Northwestern University researchers report.

Scientist and dermatologist Amy S. Paller and chemist Chad A. Mirkin are the first to develop a topical gene regulation technology that speeds the healing of ulcers in diabetic animals. They combined spherical nucleic acids (SNAs, which are nanoscale globular forms of RNA) with a common commercial moisturizer to create a way to topically knock down a gene known to interfere with wound healing.

Type 2 diabetes and its enormous associated costs are on the rise in the United States. More than one-fifth of the 27 million type 2 diabetics in the country have chronic, non-healing skin wounds, and many undergo amputation. The Northwestern discovery offers a possible solution to this serious problem.
Finding a new way to effectively heal these resistant diabetic wounds is very exciting,” said Dr. Paller, director of Northwestern’s Skin Disease Research Center. “But, in addition, this study further proved that SNAs — in nothing but common moisturizer — can penetrate the skin barrier, a challenge that other therapies have been unable to conquer.


Clean Your Teeth With Ions Instead Of Toothpaste

Japanese designer Kosho Ueshima has designed a nanotech toothbrush that cleans your teeth without toothpaste. The Misoka toothbrush, created in collaboration with Osaka technology company Yumeshokunin (Japan), features bristles coated in nano-sized mineral ions measuring one billionth of a metre in diameter. The ions pass from the bristles to the teeth during brushing, removing stains and forming a protective coating on the enamel.
The toothbrush features bristles that measure just 0.178 millimetres in thickness, and which are tapered at the ends. This allows them to clean in the gaps between the teeth.

Even without toothpaste, your teeth stay as shiny and clean as though you just walked out of a teeth-cleaning session at the dentist’s,” said the designers.


Nanoparticle Drug Reverses Parkinson’s

As baby boomers age, the number of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease is expected to increase. Patients who develop this disease usually start experiencing symptoms around age 60 or older. Currently, there?s no cure, but scientists are reporting a novel approach that reversed Parkinson’s-like symptoms in rats. Their results, published in the journal ACS Nano, could one day lead to a new therapy for human patients.
Rajnish Kumar Chaturvedi, Kavita Seth, Kailash Chand Gupta and colleagues from the CSIRIndian Institute of Toxicology Research note that among other issues, people with Parkinson’s lack dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps nerve cells communicate with each other and is involved in normal body movements. Reduced levels cause the shaking and mobility problems associated with Parkinson’s. Symptoms can be relieved in animal models of the disease by infusing the compound into their brains. But researchers haven’t yet figured out how to safely deliver dopamine directly to the human brain, which is protected by something called the blood-brain barrier that keeps out pathogens, as well as many medicines.
The researchers packaged dopamine in biodegradable nanoparticles that have been used to deliver other therapeutic drugs to the brain. The resulting nanoparticles successfully crossed the blood-brain barrier in rats, released its dopamine payload over several days and reversed the rodents’ movement problems without causing side effects.


EV: A Thin Film That Produces Oxygen and Hydrogen

A cobalt-based thin film serves double duty as a new catalyst that produces both hydrogen and oxygen from water to feed fuel cells, according to scientists at Rice University. This discovery may lower the cost of future hydrogen electric car.  The inexpensive, highly porous material invented by the Rice lab of chemist James Tour may have advantages as a catalyst for the production of hydrogen via water electrolysis. A single film far thinner than a hair can be used as both the anode and cathode in an electrolysis device.

The researchers led by Rice postdoctoral researcher Yang Yang reported their discovery  in Advanced Materials.

They determined their cobalt film is much better at producing hydrogen than most state-of-the-art materials and is competitive with (and much cheaper than) commercial platinum catalysts. They reported the catalyst also produced an oxygen evolution reaction comparable to current materials.


A side view of a porous cobalt phosphide/phosphate thin film created at Rice University. The robust film could replace expensive metals like platinum in water-electrolysis devices that produce hydrogen and oxygen for fuel cells. The scale bar equals 500 nanometers.

It is amazing that in water-splitting, the same material can make both hydrogen and oxygen,” Tour said. “Usually materials make one or the other, but not both.”

The researchers suggested applying alternating current from wind or solar energy sources to cobalt-based electrolysis could be an environmentally friendly source of hydrogen and oxygen.


Androids Interpret Real Humans Expressions

Meet Han, a humanoid robot that can smile, frown, wink, or even act drunk, all at the push of a button. Wowing crowds at an electronics fair in Hong Kong, Han’s myriad of facial expressions are controlled by 40 motors. These are covered with a unique human-like skin called “Frubber,” short for “Flesh Rubber“. The ultra-realistic android can also recognise and interpret the expressions of real humans it comes into contact with.

robot Han


So he has cameras on his eyes and on his chest, which allow him to recognize people’s face, not only that, but recognize their gender, their age, whether they are happy or sad,” says Grace Copplestone, Product Manager of  Hanson Robotics.  

Han is even able to hold simple conversations thanks to voice recognition software.  “I think you are perfect man for my wife.” said a visitor and  Han answered : “I don’t have to do whatever you say. I have my own free will.

Hanson Robotics says human-like robots could serve a range of functions, especially where face-to-face communication is important. These include behind hotel reception desks and in entertainment venues such as museums and casinos. They also see the technology helping with medical training and as interactive care robots for the elderly. “We believe a human face on a robot makes it far more approachable, and efficient, and effective in caring for older people,” comments Copplestone. Han, however, won’t be the robot to get the job. Instead, the technology is being commercialised on ‘Eva‘ – a more approachable female robot – with plans to produce hundreds of models this year.


Solar Power From Space

Collecting solar energy to convert to electricity is not a new concept. However, there are significant advantages to space solar power compared to ground solar power. Solar energy in space is seven times greater per unit area than on the ground. The collection of solar space energy is not disrupted by nightfall and inclement weather, thus avoiding the need for expensive energy storage.

Now  researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada report a novel design for electromagnetic energy harvesting based on the “full absorption concept.” This involves the use of metamaterials that can be tailored to produce media that neither reflects nor transmits any power—enabling full absorption of incident waves at a specific range of frequencies and polarizations.


The growing demand for electrical energy around the globe is the main factor driving our research,” said Thamer Almoneef, a Ph.D. student. “More than 80 percent of our energy today comes from burning fossil fuels, which is both harmful to our environment and unsustainable as well. In our group, we’re trying to help solve the energy crisis by improving the efficiency of electromagnetic energy-harvesting systems.”

Since the inception of collecting and harvesting electromagnetic energy, classical dipole patch antennas have been used. “Now, our technology introduces ‘metasurfaces’ that are much better energy collectors than classical antennas,” explained Omar M. Ramahi, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Metasurfaces are formed by etching the surface of a material with an elegant pattern of periodic shapes. The particular dimensions of these patterns and their proximity to each other can be tuned to provide “near-unity” energy absorption. This energy is then channeled to a load through a conducting path that connects the metasurface to a ground plane. The key significance of the researchers’ work is that it demonstrates for the first time that it’s possible to collect essentially all of the electromagnetic energy that falls onto a surface. Conventional antennas can channel electromagnetic energy to a load—but at much lower energy absorption efficiency levels,” said Ramahi. “We can also channel the absorbed energy into a load, rather than having the energy dissipate in the material as was done in previous works.

As you can imagine, this work has a broad range of applications. Among the most important is space solar power, an emerging critical technology that can significantly help to address energy shortages. It converts solar rays into microwaves—using conventional photovoltaic solar panels—and then beams the microwave’s energy to microwave collector farms at designated locations on Earth. Japan is way out in front of rest of the world in this realm, with plans to begin harvesting solar power from space by 2030.


Super Bendable Screen

From smartphones and tablets to computer monitors and interactive TV screens, electronic displays are everywhere. As the demand for instant, constant communication grows, so too does the urgency for more convenient portable devices — especially devices, like computer displays, that can be easily rolled up and put away, rather than requiring a flat surface for storage and transportation. A new Tel Aviv University (TAU) study, published recently in Nature Nanotechnology, suggests that a novel DNA-peptide structure can be used to produce thin, transparent, and flexible screens. The research, conducted by Prof. Ehud Gazit and doctoral student Or Berger of the Department of Molecular Microbiology at TAU‘s Faculty of Life Sciences, harnesses bionanotechnology to emit a full range of colors in one pliable pixel layer — as opposed to the several rigid layers that constitute today’s screens.
Researchers tested different combinations of peptides: short protein fragments, embedded with DNA elements which facilitate the self-assembly of a unique molecular architecture. Peptides and DNA are two of the most basic building blocks of life. Each cell of every life form is composed of such building blocks. In the field of bionanotechnology, scientists utilize these building blocks to develop novel technologies with properties not available for inorganic materials such as plastic and metal.

Our material is light, organic, and environmentally friendly,” said Prof. Gazit. “It is flexible, and a single layer emits the same range of light that requires several layers today. By using only one layer, you can minimize production costs dramatically, which will lead to lower prices for consumers as well.”
Once we discovered the DNA-like organization, we tested the ability of the structures to bind to DNA-specific fluorescent dyes,” said Berger. “To our surprise, the control sample, with no added dye, emitted the same fluorescence as the variable. This proved that the organic structure is itself naturally fluorescent.“.

How To Clean Oil Spills For $1Per Square Foot

The unassuming piece of stainless steel mesh in a lab at The Ohio State University doesn’t look like a very big deal, but it could make a big difference for future environmental cleanups. Water passes through the mesh but oil doesn’t, thanks to a nearly invisible oil-repelling coating on its surface. In tests, researchers mixed water with oil and poured the mixture onto the mesh. The water filtered through the mesh to land in a beaker below. The oil collected on top of the mesh, and rolled off easily into a separate beaker when the mesh was tilted.
The mesh coating is among a suite of nature-inspired nanotechnologies under development at Ohio State and described in two papers in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. Potential applications range from cleaning oil spills to tracking oil deposits underground.

mesh captures oil
If you scale this up, you could potentially catch an oil spill with a net,” said Bharat Bhushan, Ohio Eminent Scholar and Howard D. Winbigler Professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State.

The work was partly inspired by lotus leaves, whose bumpy surfaces naturally repel water but not oil. To create a coating that did the opposite, Bhushan and postdoctoral researcher Philip Brown chose to cover a bumpy surface with a polymer embedded with molecules of surfactant — the stuff that gives cleaning power to soap and detergent. They sprayed a fine dusting of silica nanoparticles onto the stainless steel mesh to create a randomly bumpy surface and layered the polymer and surfactant on top.
The silica, surfactant, polymer, and stainless steel are all non-toxic and relatively inexpensive, said Brown. He estimated that a larger mesh net could be created for less than a dollar per square foot.


Discovery Of Two Proteins That Suppress Cancer

A new study by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology could hold one key to control cancer cell growth and development. In a paper published in the April 9, 2015 edition of CELL, the team conducted by Profesor Aron Ciechanover reports on the discovery of two cancer-suppressing proteins.

The heretofore-undiscovered proteins were found during ongoing research on the ubiquitin system, an important and vital pathway in the life of the cell, which is responsible for the degradation of defective proteins that could damage the cell if not removed. The ubiquitin system tags these proteins and sends them for destruction in the cellular complex known as the proteasome. The system also removes functional and healthy proteins that are not needed anymore, thereby regulating the processes that these strong>proteins control.

Usually, the proteins that reach the proteasome are completely broken down, but there are some exceptions, and the current line of research examined p105, a long precursor of a key regulator in the cell called NF-κB. It turns out that p105 can be broken down completely in certain cases following its tagging by ubiquitin, but in other cases it is only cut and shortened and becomes a protein called p50.
Ubiquitin-MoleculeThe ubiquitin molecule within all living cells

NF-κB has been identified as a link between inflammation and cancer. The hypothesis of the connection between inflammatory processes and cancer was first suggested in 1863 by German pathologist Rudolph Virchow, and has been confirmed over the years in a long series of studies. Ever since the discovery (nearly 30 years ago) of NF-κB, numerous articles have been published linking it to malignant transformation. It is involved in tumors of various organs (prostate, breast, lung, head and neck, large intestine, brain, etc.) in several parallel ways, including: inhibition of apoptosis (programmed cell death) normally eliminates transformed cells; acceleration of uncontrolled division of cancer cells; formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis), which are vital to tumor growth; and increased resistance of cancerous cells to irradiation and chemotherapy.
The research was conducted in the laboratory of Distinguished Professor Aaron Ciechanover, of the Technion Rappaport Faculty of Medicine. The team was led by research associate Dr. Yelena Kravtsova-Ivantsiv and , included additional research students and colleagues, as well as physicians from the Rambam, Carmel and Hadassah Medical Centers, who are studying tumors and their treatment.