Tag: Wetware


Chrysler Looks to Human Lungs for a Better Gas Tank

Compressed Natural Gas  (CNG) has one major benefit over traditional gasoline – it’s cheap. About 1/3 of the cost, to be exact. Unfortunately, it also has to be kept under very high pressure, which means that traditional gas tanks simply can’t stand up to it. Until now, the only way to store CNG fuel has been in reinforced plain geometric cylinders. Used for their strength, they also take up valuable space and weigh quite a lot. Chrysler is trying to find a better way, using human lungs as inspiration. Enrico Pisino, Chrysler’s senior manager of innovation, explains that human lungs store oxygen in numerous small sacs called alveoli, and that his researchers are using this method to design new, stronger storage tanks.

Story via Ciprian Florea at Autoevolution.com. Image via The Courier.

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Is the Human Body Redundant?

The increasing ‘liveliness’ of machines and accessibility to the virtual world has raised questions about whether it is possible to uncouple the mind from the body in through a host of different strategies. The basic idea is that if we are able to escape the ties of our own flesh then we can upgrade them and even replace them with immortal ones. Performance artist Stelarc has made some of the most extreme and enduring work on this subject. The artist characteristically depersonalises his anatomy and claims that it is not only an object that can be subjected to re-designing but is also ‘obsolete’. During his performances, Stelarc mentally ‘vacates’ his own body to prove its obsolescence, and claims that his body is no more than a site for redesigning and re-engineering the human form.

In my view, Stelarc’s work paradoxically highlights the profound importance that embodiment holds for being human. When Stelarc dissociates his mind from his body he demonstrates its sheer plasticity and robustness. The artist then recolonizes the body with robots, communications technologies and soft prostheses as proof of this inbuilt physical redundancy. Yet the machines he hosts are given context by the presence of a body – for in its absence, they are just a collection of machines devoid of meaning. Moreover, redundancy is a characteristic of complex systems, which are a form of organization that does not obey the Cartesian, dualistic laws that govern machines. The artist’s rejection of these qualities simply highlights that the human body is not a machine.

There is nothing liberating about having an anesthetized body, nor one that is functionally redundant. While Stelarc’s suspensions and performances demonstrate that we can temporarily ‘forget’ our bodies in order to explore a transcendent state of being, there are those who live in a permanent state of disconnection.

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How to Grow an Organ

Buckle up for the state of the art in the fusion of the made & the born. Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine presented footage of his bio-engineers growing human organs at TEDMED – from muscles to blood vessels to bladders, and more.  Thanks Michèle.

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3D Bioprinter promises tissue on demand

Behold “the world’s first production model 3D bio-printer.” A machine capable of arranging human cells and artificial scaffolds into complex three-dimensional structures, which result in such wonderful things as printed design meat, replacement organ tissue, or perhaps artificially grown teeth.

“Scientists and engineers can use the 3D bio printers to enable placing cells of almost any type into a desired pattern in 3D,” says Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo – the San Diego based company who will supply the devices institutions investigating human tissue repair and organ replacement.

“Researchers can place liver cells on a preformed scaffold, support kidney cells with a co-printed scaffold, or form adjacent layers of epithelial and stromal soft tissue that grow into a mature tooth. Ultimately the idea would be for surgeons to have tissue on demand for various uses, and the best way to do that is get a number of bio-printers into the hands of researchers and give them the ability to make three dimensional tissues on demand.”

Building human organs cell-by-cell was considered science fiction not that long ago, but now rapidly becomes science faction. Yet another step in the blending of the ‘made’ and the ‘born’.

Via: Livescience.com.

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Computer versus bacteria

Are bacteria faster than a computer? According a group of biological engineers they are. The scientists have done a research in which they have used the well-known bacteria Escherichia coli to solve a mathematical problem.

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Ear on your arm? Why not?!

For over 40 years Australian artist Stelios Arcadious Stelarc has made art with medical instruments, prosthetics, robots, virtual reality systems and biotechnology to investigate alternate, intimate and involuntary interfaces with the body. In one of the interviews he says: The assumption being that if the body was altered it might mean adjusting its awareness.

His ‘Ear on the Arm’ piece is a full sized ear constructed of the living cells permanently placed under the skin of Stelarc’s forearm – a clear homage to the famous tissue engineered ear mouse. The microphone and sound transmitter were supposed to be inserted inside his body within the ear shaped scaffold. This ended up to be not feasible yet due to infections that electronics caused.

The vision behind the project was to generate an alternative electronically enhanced organ to better interact and operate within the World. At the same time it provokes a debate about a desire to redesign and alternate human’s body evolutionary structure.

Stelarc points out: Now we can engineer additional and external organs to better function in the technological and media terrain we now inhabit. All very well, allthough it’s perhaps a better strategy to redesign our technological environment so that it fits our existing human physique.

Related: Phone Tooth, USB finger, High Heels, How biotech will drive our evolution, Homo desktopus, Humans are the sex organs of technology.

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Craig Venter – Catalyst of evolution

If the six hour crash course on synthetic genomics is a bit too much for you, there is always a more snappy TED lecture in which Craig Venter ponders on whether we can create new life out of our digital universe. Needles to ask what his answer is.

Dr. Venter now has a database now with about 20 million genes and thinks of them as the design components of the future. In little over half an hour the audience is walked through the latest endevours in synthetic genomics.

His talk covers topics like: How to boot up a chromosome. How he plans to replace the petrochemical energy with bacteria that turn CO2 into energy. How to take security measures. Why people who think of evolution as just one gene changing at the time have missed much of biology. And why it is a mistake to think they are trying to create life from scratch, as they are merely playin on one of the key principles of nature: all life derives from other life.

Nature changes along with us and it is changing fast. Buckle up for a catalyst of evolution.

Related: Build a better being, DNA Synthesizer, Top 10 new organisms, Mapping the DNA world, Google DNA, Poetry of Genetics, Crash course on synthetic genomics, How biotech will drive our evolution, Human genetic DNA sequencing soon child play?.

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Crash course on synthetic genomics

Next Monday when your colleagues ask you what you have been doing for the weekend, you might answer you something default like you went out with friends, danced, biked to the beach, etc… Or you could answer you took Edge’s crash course on synthetic genomics.

It’s only six hours of video and deals with questions like “What is life, origins of life, in vitro synthetic life, mirror-life, metabolic engineering for hydrocarbons & pharmaceuticals, computational tools, electronic-biological interfaces, nanotech-molecular-manufacturing, biosensors, accelerated lab evolution, engineered personal stem cells, multi-virus-resistant cells, humanized-mice, bringing back extinct species, safety/security policy.”

The masterclass is guided by George Church and Craig Venter. Participants include scientists, entrepreneurs, cultural impresarios, journalists and architects of the some of the leading companies of our time including Microsoft, Google, Facebook and PayPal – yes, good company indeed.

It is especially sweet how all the ‘students’ introduce themselves in the beginning – “I am Larry Page, of Google, I am waiting for the fully designed synthetic pets.” – and continuously intervene with witty questions and remarks throughout the lectures. Well done Edge! Next time you might want to add a few artists and designers in the mix as well.

Via Beyond the Beyond. See als: How biotech will drive our evolution, DNA Synthesizer, Epidermits – the tissue engineered toy.

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Guided Growth

Reprogramming Skin Cells into Stem Cells

skincells stemcells embryos

A major breakthrough in the world of genetics: Researchers have successfully reprogrammed skin cells into stem cells. Using a technique called iPS cell reprogramming (developed in Japan 2006) they were able to modify skin cells from mice and grow embryos:

“The mice seem to have a high death rate, with some dying after just two days, and others displaying physical abnormalities, details of which the team would not reveal. But some of their mice passed one of the most fundamental tests of health: all 12 mice that were mated produced offspring, and the offspring showed no abnormalities. The team says it now has hundreds of second-generation, and more than 100 third-generation, mice.

iPS mouse

“Unlike embryonic stem cells, iPS cells can be generated without the destruction of a human embryo and thus circumvent the ethical issues that have mired much of stem cell research. While iPS cells have been shown to be capable of developing into many different cell types, they had not been shown to be equal to embryonic stem cells — until today.” 

It was 1993 that Spielberg directed Jurassic Park in which he envisioned the possibility of reviving the dinosaur through cell-cloning. Less than twenty years later science gives the beginning of an answer. It will probably take another twenty years to even speak of reviving the dodo or mammoth, but the way things are looking now; in the Next Nature life will be programming itself.

Via: technologyreview.com | see also: nature.com | whitehead.mit.edu | image credits: Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research & Nature | Related: Green Glowing Monkeys | Forefather Ox Cloned to Revive Delicious Steak

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The Next Hacking Frontier: Your Brain

WiredScience writes: Hackers who commandeer your computer are bad enough. Now scientists worry that someday, they’ll try to take over your brain. In the past year, researchers have developed technology that makes it possible to use thoughts to operate a computer, maneuver a wheelchair or even use Twitter — all without lifting a finger. But as neural devices become more complicated — and go wireless — some scientists say the risks of “brain hacking” should be taken seriously.

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