Engineers at the University of California have developed a “nanosponge” that can safely remove a variety of dangerous toxins from the bloodstream. Unlike other antitoxin platforms, this technology is not limited to a single type of threat. These nanoscale sponges can “soak up” MRSA, E. coli and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria, as well as venom from snakes and bees. Studies performed on mice show that 89% of the test subjects inoculated with the sponges survived a lethal dose of MRSA. Those injected after exposure to a lethal dose still had a high survival rate of 44% .
The nanosponges are made of a biocompatible polymer core. In order to evade the immune system and remain in circulation in the bloodstream, the sponges are wrapped in red blood cell membranes. A single red blood cell membrane can generate thousands of nanosponges. The nanosponges work by outnumbering red blood cells, serving as “decoys” for the bacteria and toxins.
Somewhere between a vat of expensive face cream and a baby Neanderthal lies a probable future for synthetic biology. While synbio start-ups – large and small – struggle with the reality of scaling up microscopic cellular factories into profitable business models, stories of DIY anti-cancer research, Neanderthal cloning, limitless ‘green’ kerosene, and tumor-killing bacteria are told as outcomes of a likely future where humans have full control over biology.
Over the last decade, many diverse interests have contributed to this ambition of an easy-to-manipulate biology, as the field of synthetic biology has spread around research labs all over the world. Scientists, engineers, policymakers, industrialists, space agencies, politicians, and even designers are constructing a future defined by the grand rhetoric of a world-changing, world-saving technology.
For more than eight years artist Koert van Mensvoort has been working on a project to redefine our concept of nature. Through his platform Next Nature he has published books, held talks, ran workshops, maintained an active blog, and even developed a hoax, all in effort to communicate that there is no absolute nature, but that technology and nature are deeply intertwined; a biosynthetic nature so to speak. Can the development of a Gillette razor be considered in Darwinian terms of evolution? Is the fake nature of an indoor ski slope any less legitimate than the Alps? By fundamentally shifting the way we conceive nature, he believes we will be better able to cope with the oncoming climatic and environmental challenges ahead.
This interview is reprinted from Volume magazine #35: Everything Under Control.
Four years ago we wrote about a vision to create bioluminescent trees that would replace streetlights. This dream is getting just a little bit closer, now that a team of Stanford trained synthetic biologists led by Antony Evans launched a Kickstarter campaign to grow glowing plants.
Using Genome Compiler software, the team is ready to input bio-luminescence genes into a mustard plant and have it be naturally glowing. Natural lighting with no electricity. Hypernature ahoy!
Brand new in the Next Nature store: Volume Magazine #18, After Zero and #35, Everything Under Control.
After Zero explores the ethical and political ramifications of our society-wide acceptance of “sustainability” – whatever that is – and ways we can move beyond a mere emphasis on “zero emissions”. Everything Under Control tackles the human side of our biosynthetic future, where hacked lyre birds repeat radio broadcasts and bioluminescent trees light up cities.
These two issues feature essays from Slavoj Zizek, Rachel Armstrong, Daisy Ginsberg and our very own Koert van Mensvoort. A perfect addition to your library of bio-hacker philosophy and art. Get your hands on a copy here and here.
Who would have thought synthetic organisms would ever be employed to save endangered species? Conservation biologist worried about the extinction of exotic frog populations are calling the help of synthetic biologists to avoid disaster.
Currently, a fungus epidemics with the eerie name batrachochytrium dendrobatidis threatens more than 2,800 amphibian species. The depicted Panamanian golden frog has already been pushed close to extinction by fungal disease, but conservationists believe the tragedy could be countered by a new generation of synthetically manipulated organisms.
“We face the prospect of losing a great deal from the natural world and we have to think of solutions that could be generated by all sorts of different techniques, including those involved in synthetic biology.” conservation biologist Kent Redford told the Guardian.
Arguably the most accessible synthetic biology explanation video we have seen so far. From selective breeding to genetic modification, as our understanding of biology is merging with the principles of engineering into a new discipline called synthetic biology.
Written, animated and directed by James Hutson, Bridge8.
3D printing technology is improving quickly. The applications of these revolutionary devices are obvious regarding medicine and body science. Scientists have already created 3D-printed ears. It may be that more complex organs are only a few years away.
The medical applications are clear, but what if we thought about 3D organ printing in a more cosmetic way ? Nowadays, piercings and tattoos are not limited just to rebels, but are popular for many people. On the more extreme end, subdermal implants have appeared too, borrowing both from plastic surgery and from piercing. Changing your outside apparence is a common practice. But we could use 3D printing to change our inside appearance too.
Here is a next natural form of body modification, a 3D printed tattoo. Maria, a 23 year old girl from the Netherlands, printed her skin with a design made from stem cells. For her, two diagonal lines mean rebellion and one horizontal line means peace. For Maria, these three ambivalent lines represent the state of utopia.
During the London International Tattoo Convention, I interviewed Dr. De Jong who performed the operation. He was a tattoo artist until his 30s and has been trying to find a new form of self expression. He confidently said “Tattoo is a very ancient form of fashion and we need to use a new means to express ourselves. I am sure this 3D printed tattoo will soon be fashionable in Amsterdam and Tokyo and will spread across the world”.
This story is actually a fiction; the photo is from Ted Partin’s book Eyes Look Through You. But perhaps it is not entirely a fiction, but a fictional reality. Think about Stelarc’s Ear on Arm, or 3D printing technology branching out to bone, organs and skin. People already do astonishing things with their bodies. Why not 3D-printed modifications?