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.


Additional Resources:

The article first appeared here.

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


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.


[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.


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]

AGW Believers Replace Scientific Method With Dogma Pt. 2: Suppressing Dissent

by H. Sterling Burnett


People caught in the grips of the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), the idea that human activities, primarily fossil fuel use, are causing catastrophic change in the world’s climate, seem to live with blinders on, unable to admit evidence to the contrary. 

I don’t begrudge the opinion of scientists who believe their own research shows, or who believe the dominant number of peer-reviewed papers indicates, humans are causing dangerous climate change. But I do disagree with many of the assumptions made by proponents of AGW. So far, evidence shows most of their projections concerning temperatures, ice, hurricanes, species extinction, etc. have failed. As a result, their projections of future climate conditions are not nearly trustworthy enough to make the kind of fundamental, wrenching, and costly changes to our economy and systems of government AGW proponents have proposed to fight climate change. I don’t think climate scientists can foretell the future any better than the average palm reader.

Making matters worse, AGW proponents discount, or ignore entirely, powerful studies that seem to undermine many of their assumptions and refute most of their conclusions.

Admittedly, I start with a position of skepticism, and indeed suspicion, when well-known researchers release a new study purporting to reinforce or provide further evidence AGW is true. This isn’t because I don’t want to hear what those who disagree with my assessment have to say. Rather, it’s based on my understanding of the lengths to which AGW true believers have gone to manipulate temperature data and try to shoehorn or force this and other data to match their dire projections.  It is reasonable, and even expected, for educated people to disagree with one another on this issue. This back-and-forth exchange of points and counterpoints shows the scientific method functioning as it should.

Many AGW believers, however, have seemingly abandoned the scientific method.

Progress is made in science by proposing a hypothesis, and developing a theory, to explain or understand certain phenomena, and then testing the hypothesis against reality. A particular hypothesis is considered superior to others when, through testing, it is shown to have more explanatory power than competing theories or hypotheses and when other scientists running the same testing regime can reproduce the results of the original test. Every theory or hypothesis must be disconfirmable in principle, such that if the theory predicts ‘A’ will occur under certain conditions, but instead sometimes ‘B’ or ‘C’ results, then the theory has problems. The more a hypothesis’ predictions prove inconsistent with results that occur during testing or real-world data, the less likely the hypothesis is to be correct.

AGW theory does not work this way. No matter what the climate phenomenon, if it can in some way be presented as being unusual by AGW proponents, it is argued to be “further evidence of global warming,” even if it contradicts earlier phenomena pointed to by the same people as evidence of global warming. {The same technique evolutionists use to defend their theory. A Theory so inaccurate the courts rule ex cathedra in favor of it - ED}  

What effects AGW will have seem to depend on which scientist one consults and which model they use. In realm of climate change research, different models looking at the same phenomenon applying the same laws of physics with the same inputs produce dramatically varied results.

Another indication AGW advocates have thrown over the scientific method is how they revert to various logical fallacies to manipulate peoples’ emotions in order to have the public dismiss climate realists’ arguments and research. AGW advocates commit the fallacy of ad hominem when they call researchers who disagree with their assessment of the strength of the case for AGW “deniers”—an obvious attempt to link them in the public’s mind with despicable Holocaust deniers. That is not science, it’s rhetoric. I know of no one who denies the fact climate changes, but there are significant uncertainties and legitimate disagreements regarding the extent of humanity’s role in recent climate changes and whether these will be disastrous. Those who refuse to acknowledge highly regarded scientists disagree with AGW are the real “deniers,” and they should suffer the opprobrium rightfully attached to that label.

AGW proponents commit the fallacy of appeal to numbers when they say the case for dangerous human-caused climate change is settled because some high percentage of a subset of scholars agrees humans are causing dangerous climate change. Consensus is a political, not a scientific, term. People once thought Earth was flat. Galileo disagreed, saying he believed it was round—and he was persecuted for saying so. And you know what? Galileo was right, and the consensus of the time was wrong. At one time, people, including the intellectual elite, believed Earth was the center of the universe and the Sun revolved around it. Copernicus said just the opposite. He was right, and everyone else was wrong.

Knowledge acquisition succeeds not through bowing to some purported consensus in thought and opinion, but through questioning previously received wisdom and continuously testing scientific theories against data. “Because the vast majority of us said so,” is not a legitimate scientific response to research raising questions about all or some part of AGW.

AGW researchers commit the fallacy of appeal to motive when they say a particular study or the work of a particular scientist or group of scientists should not be taken seriously because of who funded them. Both sides commit this fallacy, with climate skeptics often arguing AGW research is biased based on the fact it was funded by government, which history shows is predisposed toward finding reasons grow and exert ever more control over people.

Research should be judged based on the validity of its assumptions, whether its premises are true, and whether its conclusions follow from its premises, not on who funded the research. Data, evidence, and logic are the hallmarks of science, not motives.

Beyond the routine data manipulation and logical fallacies, AGW advocates’ own e-mails show they have tried to suppress the publication of research skeptical toward AGW. And they have routinely attempted to interfere with the career advancement of scholars who refuse to completely toe the AGW line, even stooping on occasion to try to get scholars fired for producing research undermining AGW.

AGW fanatics also try to suppress the teaching of a balanced, accurate understanding of the current state of climate science, with all its uncertainties, in the nation’s schools. This is the tool of the propagandist, not the scientist seeking the truth.

All these reflections came to a head in recent years, as AGW true believers have fought in court to prevent the release of the data underpinning their own research, attempted to suppress free speech by accusing those with whom they disagree of committing libel, and even on occasion called for the prosecution and incarceration of climate skeptics for daring to question AGW orthodoxy. Some AGW proponents have openly admired various authoritarian regimes for their ability to “get things done” without the interference of democratic institutions. Real scientists know truths do not bloom under authoritarianism.

When a theory does not comport with the facts, data, and evidence, it is the theory that should be questioned, not the data or the motives of those bringing such evidence to the world’s attention. Consider this my plea for AGW true believers to embrace, once again, the scientific method, to follow the evidence in the field of climate research where it leads even if it proves inconvenient or inconsistent with their earlier beliefs. To the extent I myself have failed to live up to this ideal, I will try and do the same, approaching AGW arguments with an open mind.

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

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:  

--  Richard Smith: Should scientific fraud be a criminal offence?, at:  

--  Call the cops;  The long arm of the law has reached into an investigation of alleged scientific misconduct, at:

See also: 

-- 'Designer Sperm' Inserts Custom Genes Into Offspring, at:

--  Scientist create 'robotic sperm' to help with fertilisation and drug delivery, at:;  Abstract at: .

--  News from Abroad: EPO Clarifies Extent to which Methods Involving Use of Human Embryos Are Excluded from Patentability, at: article first appeare

The article first appeared here. --  DNI]