One in 500 people are born with polydactyly, extra fingers or toes. Researchers at University of Freiburg in Germany, Imperial College London and Université de Lausanne / EPFL in Switzerland studied two people with well-formed usable sixth fingers between the thumb and first fingers on both hands to understand how their brains deal with the "extra workload" of controlling those digits. According to Imperial College bioengineer Etienne Burdet, high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) revealed that "the polydactyl individual's brains were well adapted to controlling extra workload, and even had dedicated areas for the extra fingers. It's amazing that the brain has the capacity to do this seemingly without borrowing resources from elsewhere." From Imperial College London:
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Polydactyl participants also performed better at many tasks than their non-polydactyl counterparts. For instance, they were able to perform some tasks, like tying shoelaces, with only one hand, where two are usually needed... (See video above.)
The international team of authors say the findings might serve as blueprint for the developing artificial limbs and digits to expand our natural movement abilities. For example, giving a surgeon control over an extra robotic arm could enable them to operate without an assistant...
However, (lead author Carsten Mehring of Freiburg University) warned that people with robotic extra limbs may not achieve as good control as observed in the two polydactyl subjects. Any robotic digits or limbs wouldn’t have dedicated bone structure, muscles, tendons or nerves.
In addition, subjects would need to learn to use extra fingers or limbs, much like how an amputee learns how to use a prosthetic arm.
Bioengineer David Aguilar (aka "Hand Solo") continues to upgrade his DIY LEGO prosthetic arms that we posted about previously with this fantastic fourth generation model. From Reuters:
All the versions are on display in his room in the (Universitat Internacional de Catalunya) residence on the outskirts of Barcelona. The latest models are marked MK followed by the number - a tribute to comic book superhero Iron Man and his MK armor suits....
After graduating from university, he wants to create affordable prosthetic solutions for people who need them.
“I would try to give them a prosthetic, even if it’s for free, to make them feel like a normal person, because what is normal, right?”
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Bioengineering future Martian colonists may be easier than taking the many difficult steps to reduce radiation exposure. But is it ethical? Read the rest
Printable human skin analogues have a number of important real-world uses, particularly as current replacements for animal models used in testing things like cosmetics. Read the rest
Researchers "accidentally" engineered a natural enzyme found in a Japanese waste recycling plant to eat plastic waste. According to the scientists from the UK's University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the enzyme, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, degrades polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the material used to make plastic bottles and other crap. The photo above is an electron microscope image of the enzyme degrading PET plastic.
"We hoped to determine (the enzyme's) structure to aid in protein engineering, but we ended up going a step further and accidentally engineered an enzyme with improved performance at breaking down these plastics," NREL's lead researcher Gregg Beckham told CNN. From the University of Portsmouth:
“Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception,” Professor McGeehan said.
“Although the improvement is modest, this unanticipated discovery suggests that there is room to further improve these enzymes, moving us closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics.”
"Engineering a plastic-eating enzyme" (UOP) Read the rest
Bioengineers are developing methods to grow new arms for monkeys using human progenitor cells that can become blood cells, vessels, and other tissue. Read the rest
Researchers partially restored hearing in deaf mice with a certain kind of genetic hearing loss by inserting working copies of the mutated genes. Eventually the technique could lead to gene therapy for certain causes of human deafness. Read the rest
Biotech startup Pembient devised a system for printing bioengineered synthetic rhino horns they hope will kill the big business of poaching. Read the rest