Birth of ‘living materials’ at MIT combines synthetic biology, materials engineering

by Kenrick Vezina

Illustration by Yan Liang, via MIT News.

A team at MIT has combined techniques from synthetic biology and materials engineering to create hybrid “living materials”: bacteria engineered to take up functional nanoparticles and grow into thin layers with usable properties, like electrical conduction or light emission. This achievement is a perfect follow-up to news from earlier this month that another group at MIT had successfully created bionic plants   [Emphasis Others] (Read our Gene-ius post on the news here.)

Anne Trafton, writing for MIT News, reports: 

These “living materials” combine the advantages of live cells, which respond to their environment, produce complex biological molecules, and span multiple length scales, with the benefits of nonliving materials, which add functions such as conducting electricity or emitting light. 

The organic analog of choice is bone. As Amina Kahn at the Los Angeles Times puts it:

 Our bones are remarkable feats of engineering; strong and yet light, shot through with holes and yet able to bear incredible loads. This super-strong natural material is built as cells incorporate hard minerals like calcium into living tissue

The MIT team, led by assistant professor of electrical engineering and biological engineering Timothy Lu, was inspired by this interplay of living cells with nonliving components.

The process Lu and his team used begins with the bacteria E. coli and genetic engineering. They chose E. coli because it naturally produces thin, slimy films that adhere to surfaces — it’s this adhesion that’s key. In order to adhere to surfaces, E. coli produces “curli fibers”, comprised of repeating protein chains.

The MIT team replaced the bacteria’s ability to produce curli fibers with an engineered genetic circuit that only produces curli fibers if given a certain molecule. Now the team essentially has an on-off switch for the bacteria and can control the formation of biofilms: supply the bacteria with the trigger molecule and they produce curli fibers and form biofilms.

On top of this, the team engineered another set of E. coli with a similar on-off switch but based on a different molecular trigger. And these bacteria were modified one step further: researchers altered the genes coding for the creation of curli fibers so that the protein chains would grab on to gold nanoparticles

So they had two varieties of engineered bacteria, both controllable via distinct molecule of their choosing, and one of the two’s ability to latch onto its environment with curli fibers has been co-opted to make the bacteria gather tiny bits of gold from its environment. 

Take both varieties, grow them together; manage their growth relative to one another with the two on-off molecules; and supply some nanoscale bits of gold. The researchers did just this and managed to coax the bacteria to build a tiny film laced through with gold nanowires: a conductive surface comprised of living cells

And the conductive biofilm is just one of several proofs-of-concept to come out of this project. 

The team was also able to embed quantum dots — semiconductor nanoparticles that glow a particular color after being illuminated by light — in their biofilm through a similar technique.

The final success lies in getting their modified cells to communicate with one another, as emphasized by the Christian Science Monitor. The molecular “on-off switches” described above don’t necessarily need to be supplied manually; in fact the researchers produced a third variety of E. coli which naturally produced the chemical trigger, activating the generation of gold-locking curli fibers in the second variety.

The potential applications for these living materials include batteries and solar cells, diagnostic devices and scaffolds for tissue engineering. According to Trafton, “The researchers are also interested in coating the biofilms with enzymes that catalyze the breakdown of cellulose, which could be useful for converting agricultural waste to biofuels.”

This latest breakthrough is sure to be one of many similar efforts that blurs the perceived boundaries between living and nonliving, artificial and organic. We’re increasingly able, as Lu and his team demonstrate, to manipulate our world at the level of molecules and atoms — whether those are DNA molecules or gold nanowiring.

 
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The article first appeared here.

How to build your very own Self-Directed Immortality Avatar for 2045!

by 2045.com


International Manifesto of the "2045" Strategic Social Initiative

Mankind has turned into a consumer society standing at the edge of a total loss of the conceptual guidelines necessary for further evolution. The majority of people are almost exclusively absorbed  in merely maintaining their own comfortable lives.

Modern civilization, with its space stations, nuclear submarines, iPhones and Segways cannot save mankind from the limitations in the physical abilities of our bodies, nor from diseases and death.

We are not satisfied with modern achievements of scientific and technical progress. Science working for the satisfaction of consumer needs will not be able to ensure a technological breakthrough towards a radically different way of life.

We believe that the world needs a different ideological paradigm. Within its framework it is necessary to form a major objective  capable of pointing out a new direction for the development of all mankind and ensuring the achievement of a scientific and technical revolution.  The new ideology should assert, as one of its priorities, the necessity of using breakthrough technology for an improvement of man himself and not only of his environment.

We believe that it is possible and necessary to eliminate aging and even death, and to overcome the fundamental limits of the physical and mental capabilities currently set by the restrictions of the physical body.

Scientists from various countries in the world are already developing technology that ensures the creation of an artificial human body prototype within the next decade. We believe the biggest technological project of our times will become the creation of such artificial human body and a subsequent transfer of individual human consciousness to such a body.

Implementation of this technological project will inevitably result in an explosive development of innovations and global changes in our civilization and will improve human life.

We believe that before 2045 an artificial body will be created that will not only surpass the existing body in terms of functionality, but will achieve perfection of form and be no less attractive than the human body. People will make independent decisions about the extension of their lives and the possibilities for personal development in a new body after the resources of the biological body have been exhausted.

The new human being will receive a huge range of abilities and will be capable of withstanding extreme external conditions easily: high temperatures, pressure, radiation, lack of oxygen, etc. Using a neural-interface humans will be able to operate several bodies of various forms and sizes remotely.

We suggest the implementation of not just a mechanistic project to create an artificial body, but a whole system of views, values and technology which will render assistance to humankind in intellectual, moral, physical, mental and spiritual development.

We invite all interested specialists: scientists, politicians, mass media personalities, philosophers, futurologists and businessmen to join the "2045" strategic social initiative. We welcome all who share our vision of the future and are ready to make the next jump.


THE AVATAR R&D NETWORK OF THE 2045 INITIATIVE

[To the right of the main page, click on “Immortality Button”:  “Click this button to start the development of your personalized immortal Avatar”]

The main objectives of our movement are:

1. To achieve the support of the International community and create conditions for international co-operation of interested specialists around the "2045" Initiative.  

2. To create an international research center for cybernetic immortality to advance practical implementations of the main technical project – the creation of the artificial body and the preparation for subsequent transfer of individual human consciousness to such a body. 
 
3. To engage experts in the selection and support of the most interesting projects in the quest to ensure technological breakthroughs.

4. To support innovative industries and create special scientific education programs for schools and institutes of higher education.

5. To create educational programs for television, radio and internet, to hold forums, conferences, congresses and exhibitions, and to establish awards and produce books, movies and computer games with the view of raising the profile of the initiative and spreading its ideas.

6. To form a culture connected with the ideology of the future, promoting technical progress, artificial intellect, “multi-body”, immortality, and cyborgization.


REQUIREMENTS:


For the registration of your pre-order, please answer the following questions:

Are you 18 or older?

Are you of sound mind so as to bear legal responsibility for your actions?

Do you personally -- yourself or as legal representative -- dispose of the funds required for the development (> $3M) for your avatar?

Have you decided to commission the development of your custom-made immortal avatar?

If you answer “no” to a question, you cannot proceed further 

[Note:  Guess this is yet another way to de-populate the world -- Russian-style.  Note that the Russians charge in U.S. dollars! -- DNI]


New Ways to Engineer the Germline

by Jessica Cussins


In 1998, a UCLA conference called "Engineering the Human Germline" brought together more than 1,000 people to discuss various emerging technologies and the challenges they faced. Gregory Stock, a co-organizer of the conferencetold Nature at the time that, really, the goal of the event was to make the inheritable genetic modification (IGM) of humans “acceptable” to the public

O
ver forty countries, and multiple international treaties, prohibit IGM due to the profound safety, social, and ethical implications of making permanent changes to the human germline. Opposition to IGM is widespread; the Center for Genetics and Society, for example, has long argued that “the case for allowing it is not compelling, and the potential harms of doing so are immense.” 

Disturbingly, 2013 has seen a deluge of new efforts, more explicit than any since 1998, to ease public opinion towards allowing human germline engineering. 

The big one for 2013, which I have written about before, is mitochondrial replacement. This is a technology that would in theory allow a woman with a particular kind of severe mitochondrial disease the chance to have a non-affected and mostly genetically related child. It would extract the nucleus from one of her eggs and insert it into an enucleated egg from a second woman, and then allow the resulting egg, containing nuclear DNA from the intended mother and mitochondrial DNA from a donor woman, to be fertilized. This crude technique poses severe risks to any resulting child, yet, with both the United Kingdom and the United States currently considering policy changes to allow clinical trials, it seems to be the world’s current forerunner for violating the international consensus against IGM.

But there are other developments worth keeping an eye on. One, a gene editing technique known as CRIPSR, has gotten a lot of attention recently because of its potential for permitting much more specific genetic alterations than can be accomplished with currently used methods. Researchers have had some success in mice and human stem cells, and a company called Editas that just launched intends to investigate and commercialize its human possibilities. Fortunately, the focus of CRIPSR is likely to dwell in the realm of gene therapy for critically ill consenting persons. Unfortunately, some scientists are also touting the possibilities of applying CRISPR to IVF embryos – in other words, of moving ahead to full-fledged inheritable genetic modification.  

It is still too early to know how effective and safe CRISPR could be; so called off-target mutations” caused by its high mutagenic efficiency could mean that the technique would fix one problem, but introduce others. Furthermore, epigenetic changes caused by this technique seem inevitable, and yet would be very difficult to understand or predict ahead of time. However, if it is found to be safe and effective, it would be the most powerful tool for producing “designer babies” the world has seen to date. Unlike mitochondrial replacement, with its crude wholesale swap of one woman’s mitochondrial DNA for another’s, CRISPR could make it possible at least to try to alter specific genes for specific purposes.

Another procedure that was recently in the news is a method to genetically modify sperm. Scientists from the Royal Veterinary College in the United Kingdom used a viral vector to insert genetic material into mouse spermatozoa and found that it was still functional three generations later. However, while this technique introduces another method for creating transgenic animals, it seems that any human applications are vague and hypothetical at this point.

All of these techniques are biologically extreme processes that carry unknown impacts. But it’s important to remember that, even if they can be made to work, none of them alleviate the illnesses of people alive today. Instead, they are proposals for creating new people. They are often justified as a way to help couples who desperately want a genetically related child, but are concerned about passing on a debilitating illness to their children.  ...

It remains to be seen how the policy cards will fall on these novel attempts at IGM, and whether technical limitations or the impressive outpouring of criticism from varied sources around the world this year could be enough to fight back this particular wave of enthusiasm.


Previously on Biopolitical Times:





[Note:  Again, what is rarely mentioned in terms of the injected genes and resultant damaged immunology of the future children involved, it is not just the foreign “desired” genes that are passed down through the generations, but also the foreign genes from the viral or bacterial vectors used, the genes that produce the transcription factors used (e.g., Oct4), and actually any other foreign genes the researchers might “desire” for experimental purposes.   What about all those genes and how they might function in future generations of human beings?  How do those foreign genes interact with the future children’s normal genes?  Where do those foreign genes end up after they’re injected?  They don’t know.  The current epidemic in scientific fraud is finally being met by calls even within the various scientific fields for turning such cases over for police work and jail time.  Perhaps researchers in genetic engineering/synthetic biology/nanotechnology who damage future generations of human beings because of their fraud and lack of professional credentials should also be held to legal accountability for their actions.  See: 

--  [Junk DNA] Never-Seen-Before Secret DNA Code And An 'Unusual Meaning'-Scientists Find, at: http://www.designntrend.com/articles/9627/20131214/never-seen-before-secret-dna-code-unusual-meaning-scientists-find.htm  

--  Richard Smith: Should scientific fraud be a criminal offence?, at:  http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2013/12/09/richard-smith-should-scientific-fraud-be-a-criminal-offence/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+bmj%2Fblogs+(Latest+BMJ+blogs)  

--  Call the cops;  The long arm of the law has reached into an investigation of alleged scientific misconduct, at:  http://www.nature.com/news/call-the-cops-1.14288


See also: 

-- 'Designer Sperm' Inserts Custom Genes Into Offspring, at:  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131202171926.htm

--  Scientist create 'robotic sperm' to help with fertilisation and drug delivery, at:  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/scientist-create-robotic-sperm-to-help-with-fertilisation-and-drug-delivery-8999796.html;  Abstract at:  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.201302544/abstract .

--  News from Abroad: EPO Clarifies Extent to which Methods Involving Use of Human Embryos Are Excluded from Patentability, at:  http://www.patentdocs.org/2013/12/news-from-abroad-epo-clarifies-extent-to-which-methods-involving-use-of-human-embryos-are-excluded-f.htmlThe article first appeare

The article first appeared here. --  DNI]


Beware - Web Spying Companies Recording all User Keystrokes

by Allen Williams


A few weeks ago, I decided to have a look at one of the web visitor data recording companies out there to see what kind of information they could collect.. Motherboard reports that a Princeton study revealed that over 400 companies (so far) record your every keystroke and them transmit it to a third party website.  

Typical companies providing this service are FullStory, SessionCam, SmartLookUserReplay, etc.  I opted to try SmartLook simply because the ’geniuses’ at Webnode provided a convenient widget to insert their tracking code.

It just isn’t enough today that American Intelligence agencies are spying on everyone with their Prism software, but they are partnering with major business and social media like the CIA’s 600 million contract with Amazon .com  for cloud access.  We already know that Facebook and until recently Twitter provide information to the CIA.  The bad news here is that all purchases through Amazon are retained on their cloud servers and the CIA will have access.  You can be certain that any cloud service that your application communicates with will be available to the intelligence services as well as a host of unknown third parties because the data is NOT encrypted.

It’s far better to get the ‘mark’ to provide personalized data on him or herself to the tracking recorder thinking that he’s browsing anonymously or at least ignored  but “…many of these companies have dashboards where clients can playback the recordings they collect.   Yandex, Hotjar, and Smartlook’s dashboards run non-encrypted HTTP pages, rather than much more secure, encrypted HTTPS pages.”  The biggest liability is that once the data is removed from your site all control is lost, virtually anyone could have access to this data and you’d never know.

I was curious to find out just what could be collected by SmartLook.  However, I was surprised to find that the actual service is quite haphazard.  Either SmartLook is developing their recording software ‘on the fly’ as the saying goes or you really don’t get much on the ‘free’ side.  But upgrading the service means you’re paying to have your readers spied on.

Fortunately, the SmartLook collected data is not totally accurate or reliable.  Primarily because the staff is not well organized, knowledgeable or well versed in English.  After adding their code to The Patriot’s header and getting nothing, I contacted SmartLook support where a woman named Sofie informed me by email that  “In one case Only in webnode premium you can add code directly to the HTML header of the whole website.  In webnode free, you need to install the code in all pages you wish to track.”   Anyone, who is remotely conscious or understands the language, knows that free websites don’t have custom registered URLs as we do, ergo, we are a premium user!   So this individual is likely responding with canned phrases from the company’s data forum without any understanding of what was conveyed because they can’t communicate beyond an elementary level in English.

In another case, two different users known to me personally, one residing in Kansas and the other in Ohio accessed our site but showed the same IP address in the data collection set.  Upon questioning one of the support staff as to how this could happen, I was told that “The only explanation is that it was the same person and the two different names appeared because you have wrong code settings.”  The company’s help link indicates that if you want to track a particular user, you have to type their email address directly into the tracking code and they give an example case. The SmarLook tracking code is ‘paste-in’ and Webnode provides the widget access so unless you can’t type an address within the two apostrophe markers, you can’t have wrong code settings unless either SmartLook or Webnode made them.  

Individual email identification is no better as I have seen a whole day of data collection of 6 or more people with the same email but different IP addresses. Guess the user has multiple identities so he or she switches every couple of hours throughout the day.  The responses I’ve received from their support staff are disingenuous and you can’t really trust their assessments.

After some dickering back and forth with their support personnel to get things working the way SmartLook advertised,  I indeed found that I could watch a visitor enter our site and view virtually everything he or she clicked on.  This kind of information can and will be abused down the road and It's already happening as "The CBS report suggests in no uncertain terms that the personal information pertaining to millions of Americans collected by one of the World’s largest ad agencies is sold to the CIA." 

Smartlook claimed their software only retained three days worth of data but that’s because I wasn’t paying them to collect it.  Data was collected from approximately Nov 3rd to Nov 24th obviously more than 3 days. There was no data collected beyond Nov 24th, 2017 by their system even though I still had their code installed on the site for several more days.  At first, I thought it was yet another glitch but when nothing more was recorded, I removed the code.  On Nov. 27th, all archived data subsequently disappeared from the SmartLook control panel or at least was interred somewhere where I couldn’t access it.  You can be reasonably certain that it’s still archived there even if I no longer have access to it.

UPDATE  12/12/17 Why Have you Stopped Using SmartLook?

Hi,

I have noticed you removed our code from your website. Can you tell me why did you stop using Smartlook? Just pick a letter:

A) Smartlook doesn't record my website properly
B) I don’t have time to watch the recordings / I find no added value in Smartlook
C) I just removed Smartlook temporarily - plan to use it again
D) I am missing feature X (please fill in)
E) Neither of those, let me tell you why...

I will be glad for any feedback, even if it's negative.


Best regards,


Vladimir Sandera
cofounder, optimist
Smartlook


I received this correspondence from one of the SmartLook co-founders in early December after removing their code from our header.  Why was this an issue? Could it be that they wanted me to leave the code installed to keep recording visitor data whether or not I chose to use it?


Update 1/24/2018

 “We're excited to tell you we're migrating all our data to more powerful cloud service (AWS)! Your account included. The process is time-intensive, but we're working hard to complete the migration by the end of next week.

While the long-term benefits will be great, we wanted to let you know you might experience a few bumps and minor interruptions along the way. (Might.)

The good news:

  • AWS provides us with more safety, stability, and speed
  • Your data will be better serviced and stored securely
  • Smartlook features will run faster
  • This migration is a lot of work, and we appreciate your patience during the next few days while we finish up”

Your Smartlook Team

Long term benefits for whom? This move simply presents more opportunities for data to be accessed by more persons unknown as it’s unlikely that Smarlook’s new AWS storage is any more secure than Yahoo who experienced a major hack. 

I recommend readers give serious consideration to a good AD blocker:  “If you want to block session replay scripts, popular ad-blocking tool AdBlock Plus will now protect you against all of the ones documented in the Princeton study.