Cotton and jelly sandwich?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service approved the growing of a new kind of cotton plant that's been genetically modified to be edible. The toxic chemical gossypol in the plant usually makes the cotton dangerous for humans to eat. Texas A&M biotechnologist Keerti Rathore and colleagues genetically stopped the production of gossypol in the cottonseed while not interfering with it elsewhere in the plant where it acts as a natural insecticide. From Reuters:

“To me, personally, it tastes somewhat like chickpea and it could easily be used to make a tasty hummus,” Rathore said of gossypol-free cottonseed.

After cottonseed oil, which can be used for cooking, is extracted, the remaining high-protein meal from the new cotton plant can find many uses, Rathore said.

It can be turned into flour for use in breads, tortillas and other baked goods and used in protein bars, while whole cottonseed kernels, roasted and salted, can be consumed as a snack or to create a peanut butter type of paste, Rathore added.

(via Daily Grail) Read the rest

The case for storing digital data in DNA

Using DNA to store digital data has been a classic forecast in infotech futurism for more than two decades. The basic concept is that you could synthesize strands of DNA encoded with digital information and then decode it with DNA sequencing techniques. While several amazing experiments have demonstrated that DNA data storage is possible, it's mostly been thought of as too expensive and impractical. But as researchers continue to make technical strides in the technology, and the price of synthesizing and sequencing DNA has dropped exponentially, systems for backing up to the double helix may actually be closer than you think. From IEEE Spectrum:

Even as our data storage needs surge, traditional mass-storage technologies are starting to approach their limits. With hard-disk drives, we’re encountering a limit of 1 terabyte—1,000 GB—per square inch. Past that point, temperature fluctuations can induce the magnetically charged material of the disk to flip, corrupting the data it holds. We could try to use a more heat-resistant material, but we would have to drastically alter the technology we use to read and write on hard-disk drives, which would require huge new investments. The storage industry needs to look elsewhere....

It still may not match other data storage options for cost, but DNA has advantages that other options can’t match. Not only is it easily replicated, it also has an ultrahigh storage density—as much as 100 trillion (1012) GB per gram. While the data representing a human genome, base pair by base pair, can be stored digitally on a CD with room to spare, a cell nucleus stores that same amount of data in a space about 1/24,000 as large.

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"Smart" athletic clothing laden with bacteria (on purpose)

MIT researchers designed athletic clothing that's laden with bacterial cells that enable vents in the garment to automatically open up when you start to sweat. From Smithsonian:

(MIT bioengineer Wen) Wang and her team found the optimal construction was a layer of latex sandwiched by two thin layers of bacterial cells, each 1 to 5 microns thick, around the diameter of a red blood cell and 1/15th the width of a human hair. These were formed into flaps, and attached to the back of a workout garment. When the wearer sweats, the cells on the outside remain the same, but the cells on the side facing the body absorb moisture and expand, forcing the flaps open.

initially, they used a bacteria called Bacillus subtilis natto, better known as the main component of the gooey, stringy, pungent Japanese food called nattō. Ozgur Sahin, an associate professor of biological sciences and physics at Columbia University, has been using B. subtilis natto in his (unrelated) research into bacteria-using materials because of its tough, strong spores. Wang adopted it because she saw it worked, and because it’s safe enough to be used in food....

One big challenge though is that it doesn't hold up to a wash cycle. Still, Wang says, "This kind of thinking, that cloth can actually be dynamic and responsive, and that response is better for its functions, is generally an exciting aspect of the work, and it can potentially be applied in many other areas.”

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Edible barcodes to prevent food fraud

The idea of "spray DNA" sounded very sci-fi when I first read it, until further investigation showed me how behind-the-times I was. Read the rest

Van Gogh's missing ear "regrown" as art

Artist Diemut Strebe and scientist collaborators have "regrown" Vincent van Gogh's missing ear using cells from one of the painter's distant living relatives. The project, which reminds me of artist Stelarc's "Third Earl." Van Gogh's ear is currently on display at the ZKM Museum in Karlsruhe, Germany. From the ZKM:

The ear is grown from tissue engineered cartilage and is “identical” in shape to van Gogh’s ear by using computer imaging technology. It is composed of living cells that contain natural genetic information about him as well as engineered components, replicating in the ear as a “living art-piece”.

From NBC News:

The U.S.-based artist said the ear, which was grown at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, is being kept alive inside a case containing a nourishing liquid and could theoretically last for years.

Convincing Lieuwe van Gogh to take part was easy. "He loved the project right away," said Strebe.

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Video: Bringing back extinct species

In recent years, the possibility of reviving extinct species by recreating their genomes has become a reality. First on deck for "de-extinction" are the woolly mammoth and passenger pigeon. But is this a good idea? KQED's QUEST takes a look: "Reawakening Extinct Species" Read the rest

Visiting the Center for PostNatural History

Back in 2011, I posted about the planned Center for PostNatural History, the Pittsburgh, PA wunderkammer of organisms altered by humans, from GloFish® to GMO corn to a genetically engineered goat. It's the brainchild of Carnegie Mellon University art professor Richard Pell. This week's Science News includes a feature about the museum, now open to the public. Read the rest

How an aborted fetus may have saved your life (and the lives of many other fetuses)

Cell culture lines are cells, taken from donor tissue, that have been divided and separated over and over and over — providing researchers with reliably identical "families" of cells that can be used to biomedical research. Some, like the now-famous HeLa line, are derived from cancerous tissue and replicate indefinitely. Others, like WI-38, will only divide a set number of times (in the case of WI-38, it's 50), but new cells can be frozen at any point and stored. When you thaw them out later, they'll pick back up dividing from the point in the 50-division cycle where they were when frozen.

WI-38 is a particularly important cell culture line. Used extensively in the development of vaccines, these are the cells that helped create the vaccine for Rubella, a disease that, just a few decades ago, used to kill and maim many fetuses whose mothers' became infected. Between 1962 and 1965, it's estimated that rubella infections caused 30,000 stillbirths and left 20,000 children with life-long disabilities.

But WI-38 is controversial. That's partly because the cells that founded the line came from the lung tissue of a fetus that was legally aborted during the fourth month of pregnancy by a woman in Sweden in 1962. At Nature News, Meredith Wadman has a fascinating long read about the moral and ethical issues surrounding WI-38. This isn't just about the abortion question. Also at issue: Did the fetus' mother consent to tissue donation? And are we okay with the fact that she and her family have never received compensation, despite the money that's been made off selling WI-38 cell cultures? Read the rest