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Category Archives: Human Genetic Engineering

This Regenerative Building Material is Made From Sand and Bacteria – Discover Magazine

(Inside Science) -- Castles made of sand could, with the help of bacteria, grow copies of themselves and become as strong as the cement that commonly holds bricks together, a new study suggests.

Such living materials could one day help people colonize Mars, scientists added.

After water, concrete is the most used material on Earth, at a rate of about 3 metric tons used per year for every person in the world. Cement, the primary component of concrete, is the oldest artificial construction material, dating back to the Roman Empire.

Cement and concrete have changed little as technology for more than a century. Now scientists are seeking inspiration from natural processes, such as the way colonies of coral polyps build reefs.

"We want to blur the boundaries between the natural world and the built environment, between what is nonliving and what is living, and create a material that displays both structural and biological functions," said materials scientist Wil Srubar, who heads the Living Materials Laboratory at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The researchers started with sand, gelatin and a kind of photosynthetic bacteria known asSynechococcusthat is widespread in ocean surface waters. The gelatin retained moisture and nutrients for the bacteria to proliferate and mineralize calcium carbonate in a way that is similar to how seashells form.

In experiments, the resulting material was roughly as strong as typical cement-based mortars.

"I have a small cube of the material on my desk that is 2 inches across that I can stand on," Srubar said.

The material not only is alive, but can reproduce. When researchers halve one of the bricks, the bacteria can help grow those halves into two complete bricks when supplied with extra sand and gelatin. Instead of manufacturing bricks one by one, the researchers showed they could grow up to eight bricks from one.

"Conventional manufacturing approaches make one widget at a time," Srubar said. "By using one brick to grow two bricks, and then four, and then so on, we can explore the idea of exponential manufacturing of building materials. Given that time is money, I think anyone involved in manufacturing would find speeding up manufacturing time very interesting."

Previous research used bacteria to repair cracks in concrete and oil and gas wells by mineralizing calcium carbonate. However, such work typically used microbes that fare very poorly in typical materials used like cement, which are highly acidic -- only 0.1 percent to 0.4 percent of such bacteria survived after 30 days. In contrast, in this new work, 9% to 14 percent of the bacteria remained viable after 30 days assuming at least 50 percent humidity was maintained.

One challenge the scientists face is that the material needs to get completely dried out to reach its maximum strength, but such drying stresses out the bacteria. To help keep the microbes alive, the researchers currently have to control the humidity surrounding the material.

"We're looking to create a desiccation-tolerant strain of bacteria so that we can get full structural capacity while also enhancing microbial viability in super-dry conditions," Srubar said.

All in all, "we're particularly excited about the possibilities of this material technology in austere environments with limited resources," Srubar said. "If you have microorganisms that can grow structural materials in remote places, that could help build everything from a military installation to human settlements on other planets."

Srubar said the current research acts as a proof of concept for the stronger compounds that could be made with the technique.

Ultimately the scientists envision using microbes that not only help build materials but impart structures with extra biological functions.

"You can imagine bacteria that provide materials with self-healing capabilities, or can sense and respond to toxins in the air, or can interact with the environment in other ways," Srubar said. "The sky's the limit with creativity."

"I find it exciting that this new work develops materials that are truly living, in that the microorganisms incorporated into their materials survived at very high rates over time periods of weeks," said Anne Meyer, a synthetic biologist at the University of Rochester in New York, who did not take part in this research. "Creating a truly living material allows the possibility of using genetic engineering techniques to add additional behaviors to the microbes living within the material. Could you incorporate a microbe that could respond to environmental cues to change the toughness or stiffness of the bacteria?"

She added that it might be possible to combine the new research with work from her lab that uses 3D printers to build shapes from bacteria.

The scientists detailedtheir findingsonline Jan. 15 in the journalMatter.

[This article originally appeared on Inside Science. Read the original here.]

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Dengue breakthrough: Scientists develop genetically engineered mosquito to combat the disease – International Business Times, Singapore Edition

A nearly invisible bite delivered by a tiny mosquito has the capacity to trigger the fear of dengue in a human being who is millions of times larger than the insect. Such is the deadliness of the disease. However, one may not have to be harrowed by the fear of contracting the disease anymore.

In an effort to combat the spread of dengue, and counter the virus causing it, scientists at CSIRO, and the University of California San Diego have created a breed of genetically modified mosquito that is resistant to spreading all the four serotypes of the disease.

Talking about the research that is the first engineered approach towards targeting all the four serotypes, Dr Prasad Paradkar, senior research scientist, said in a statement, "In this study we used recent advances in genetic engineering technologies to successfully genetically modify a mosquito, the Aedes aegypti, with reduced ability to acquire and transmit the dengue virus."

Why genetically engineer a mosquito?

Over 390 million people are infected with dengue every year. It is caused by the Dengue virusDENV. Mosquitoes are the only known vectors carrying the disease, only other exception being transmission from mother to foetus. The virus has four serotypes: DENV1, DENV2, DENV3 and DENV4. Therefore, an individual can contract the disease four times due to the prevalence of four distinct strains.

Over half of the world population is at the risk of infection, and the rate of infection has seen an alarming rise over the years. Globally, nearly be $40 billion are lost as a result of dengue every year. This the primary motivation behind the development of the new mosquito, as a resistant vector will be unable to carry the virus.

"Mosquito-transmitted viruses are expected to climb over the coming years, which is why CSIRO is focussed on developing new ways to help solve this global challenge," said Paradkar.

Unlike previous attempts at synthetically engineering mosquitoes that were limited by the ability to target only one or two of the major serotypes, this breed of mosquito has shown the ability to resist all the four. As the scientists point out, this presents the future potential to fight all forms of mosquito-borne illnesses.

"This breakthrough work also has the potential to have broader impacts on controlling other mosquito-transmitted viruses," said Omar Akbari, co-author of the study.

Akbari also added that the research is in the preliminary stages of testing procedures to simultaneously negate mosquitoes against dengue and an array of mosquito-borne viruses such as chikungunya, Zika, and yellow fever.

The disease is typically characterised by symptoms such as severe fever, muscle aches, and headaches. More severe forms of the disease can cause shock, vomiting, haemorrhage, and sometimes, death.

There is no known treatment for specific neutralisation of the disease. Also, there are no vaccinations available against the disease. Treatment includes prescription of drugs such as acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, to soothe the pain. Hydration through intake of fluids and occasionally intravenously is another remedy.

Stressing on this immediate need for a cure, Paradkar concluded, "There is a pressing global demand for effective strategies to control the mosquitoes that spread the dengue virus, as there are currently no known treatments and the vaccine that is available is only partially effective."

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Dengue breakthrough: Scientists develop genetically engineered mosquito to combat the disease - International Business Times, Singapore Edition

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The Chinese Scientist Who Made The First Genetically Engineered Babies Is Going To Prison – BuzzFeed News

A Chinese court sentenced biomedical scientist He Jiankui and two accomplices to prison on Monday for illegal medical practice for genetically engineering three babies.

In November 2018, He announced the birth of the first two children, twin girls named Lulu and Nana, as well as the pregnancy of a second woman carrying a genetically engineered fetus. The news created a scientific firestorm, with human genetic engineering experiments widely viewed as dangerous and unethical by scientific organizations worldwide. The third baby has now been born, according to reporting from Chinas state news agency.

The genetic engineering team fabricated an ethics review of their experiment, according to the Nanshan District People's Court of Shenzhen City ruling. They used the faked permissions to recruit couples living with HIV in hopes of helping them to conceive children genetically engineered to receive a mutation giving them immunity to some forms of the disease.

He, formerly a biomedical scientist at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzen, received a prison sentence of three years and a fine equivalent to $480,000. His associates, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, received jail terms of two years and 18 months with a two-year reprieve, according to the ruling, for practicing medicine without a license and violating Chinese regulations governing assisted reproduction.

The prison sentence and stiff financial penalty sends a message to other Chinese scientists that unsanctioned efforts at human germline editing will not be tolerated, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine researcher Kiran Musunuru told BuzzFeed News, by email. I expect that it will have a deterrent effect, certainly in China and possibly elsewhere.

At an October conference, Musunuru had reported that a draft study submitted to a scientific journal about the twins by Hes team suggested that the genetic engineering attempt had badly misfired, targeting the wrong location for the mutation and potentially seeding other mutations throughout the DNA of the children.

Science academies worldwide formed an oversight commission in March, following widespread condemnation of the experiments.

The court ruling found the three sentenced scientists acted "in the pursuit of personal fame and gain" and have seriously "disrupted medical order, according to Chinese state media.

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Society can be controlled through its means of communication – The Conversation CA

Venezuelan philosopher, Antonio Pasquali, who wrote extensively about how media and society affected each other, passed away on Oct. 5, 2019, in Spain.

In 1984, Pasquali was appointed Deputy Director General of the Communications Sector of UNESCO and Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean of UNESCO from 1986-1989. He played an important role in UNESCOs New World Information and Communication discussions.

Pasqualis contributions to media studies are well-known in Latin America, but his research is less known in the English-speaking world. His research on media and communication inspired many Latin American scholars and media practitioners including myself who place ethics at the centre of the discussion.

Pasquali was a fierce critic of Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhans view that the medium is the message that the medium in which things are disseminated determines their meaning. Always returning to human communication as the basis of relationships betwwen people, Pasquali warned us about the necessary conceptual and practical difference between communication and media.

For Pasquali, the ability to communicate is inherent to the formation of society. And so, any modification or control of communications becomes to a modification or control of society itself. He argued that technological changes, with their benefits and disruptions, have yet to transform the essence of human communication.

Pasqualis work is important to consider because he warned us about some troubling challenges that we can see around us.

Pasquali wrote about the ethics of communication, or what he called the moral dimension of communication. In his book 18 essays about communications, he identified six hard trends that would mark humanitys future:

1) A process of human-made environmental degradation that approaches the point of no return, as in the impending ecological crisis brought about by climate change and its consequences;

Read more: Dealing with the absurdity of human existence in the face of converging catastrophes

2) Human interference in natural evolutionary processes. He warned that advances in genetic engineering that bring hope for the treatment of diseases and also open the door to sophisticated mechanisms of social engineering and control;

3) Challenging the very idea of what being human is by: a) machines combined with living beings (cyborgs), and b) by the shift of human decision-making to artificial intelligence that could make humans irrelevant and even disposable. This will require new ways of understanding the relations between digital machines and human;

4) The persistence of nuclear, bacteriological, chemical and terrorist dangers, in a context of political polarization coupled with the emergence of extremist ideologies that could lead to internal and external violent confrontations;

5) The consolidation of the disparity between rich and poor that is already generating social unrest in different regions, as we have seen recently in Latin America and the Middle East;

6) The transformation of democracy into a plutocratic dictatorship (the government by the wealthy) based on the technological manipulation of social consensus, as illustrated in the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal.

Pasquali was persistent in his struggle to establish a public broadcasting service in Latin American countries. His passion in defence of the need for a public media service never declined, and seems to be more relevant than ever in the midst of the Internet explosion.

Pasquali observed that the internet is now largely controlled by monopolies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, and manipulated by big emerging powers like China. He vehemently denounced the communication hegemony of the authoritarian government of Hugo Chvez and his successor Nicols Maduro. Pasquali documented the setbacks that the regime has inflicted on Venezuelan society from the point of view of telecommunications, the media and transportation infrastructure.

At the end of his essay Will we communicate or inform ourselves?, Pasquali wondered if we are ready to give up a fundamental condition for our existence the ability and experience of communication. For him, communication was a mixture of intellect, passions and will that was intrinsic to how people and made meaning, personally and socially. He asked: Are we going to give up without a fight the possibility of communicating to another human being that we love him/her?

The great body of work that Pasquali produced will help us to answer these fundamental questions about the future of communication. Pasqualis intellectual legacy will live on through his writings and teachings.

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Genetically engineered salmon: An update on how they are growing in Albany – The Star Press

The first batch of genetically engineered salmon at a fish farm in Albany has grown from the size of a thread to 60 grams, or about two ounces, as shown here through a portal.(Photo: AquaBounty Technologies)

ALBANY, Ind. The first batch of genetically engineered salmon eggs that arrived here in May/Junehasmade it from thehatchery into nursery tanks the size of backyard swimming pools and then into grow-out tanks that hold up to 70,000 gallons of water apiece.

The formerly threadlike salmon,the size of the end of your thumbnail, had grown to a length of about 8 inches and a weight of around60 grams (about two ounces) by early December and is increasing in size daily, according to AquaBounty Farms-Indianaowner AquaBounty Technologies.

"The first cohort of AquAdvantage Salmon that hatched in our Albany farm in June are healthy and growing well," AquaBounty spokesman Dave Conley told The Star Press via email.

The fish, engineeredto grow faster than conventional Atlantic salmon,are attracting attention because they're the first genetically modified animals approved for human consumption in the U.S.

The fish were mentioned Dec. 20 by U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., when he recapped the farm and agribusiness stops he made in the Hoosier state, including Albany, during 2019.

Young learned about regulatory challenges facing the fish from fellow Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who reportedly has used riders to single-handedly block genetically engineered (GE)salmon for years. Murkowski's office told The Star Press her efforts are all about ensuring clear labeling of GE salmon before they go to market.

The batch of conventional Atlantic salmon that AquaBountystarted farming in June of 2018 is growing well and is expected to be harvested beginning in the third quarter of2020, followed by the first harvest of the GE AquAdvantage Salmon in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to Conley.

A second batch of AquAdvantage Salmon eggsarrived at the land-based farm in Albany in mid-October, has now hatched and is almost ready to be moved to the nursery for their first feeding.

AquaBounty Technologies CEO Sylvia Wulf talks to reporters at the company's Albany facility.(Photo: Seth Slabaugh, The Star Press)

Sylvia Wulf,AquaBounty's CEO, said in a prepared statement:We are thrilled with the progress of our salmon at our Indiana farm. The fish are growing extremely well, and they look fantastic."

In its most recent quarterly report, AquaBounty notes that its AquAdvantage salmon remains the subject of a federal lawsuit pending in the northern district of California, brought by Friends of the Earth and other plaintiffs, versus the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Issues include the risk of AquAdvantage Salmon escaping and threatening endangered wild salmon stocks.

But last month, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria ruled in favor of the FDA, writing, "The lawsuit is both a broadside attack on the FDAs authority to regulate the genetic engineering of animals and a targeted attack on the particular process by which the agency approved the salmon.

(Netting covers the Albany farm'snursery fish tanks to prevent the salmon from jumping out. If any got through the netting, they would land on a concrete floor that drains to a trench containing screens to prevent them from advancing.

(As the fish grow in size and move to larger tanks, they encounter a number of screens, filters, gates, grates and cages to prevent an escape into the wild the chances of which AquaBountysays are zero. But even if a breakout occurred, the fish couldn't breed, the company says, because they're all sterilized females).

FDA has approved the production of the GE salmon eggs in a hatchery in Canada and the grow-out of the eggs in Albany.

The quarterly report also notes that legislative action could result in restrictions on or delays in commercialization of the GE salmon: "We could be subject to increasing or more onerous regulatory hurdles as we attempt to commercialize our product, which could require us to incur significant additional capital and operating expenditures and other costs in complying with these laws and regulations.

Murkowski included a provision within the Agriculture Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020 to postpone the introduction of GE salmon to the U.S. market until a consumer label comprehension study is completed, to determine the effectiveness of USDAs new labeling guidelines for bioengineered foods, the senator's spokesperson, Karina Borger, told The Star Press earlier this month.

That bill advanced out of the full Appropriations Committee unanimously and then passed in the full Senate at the end of October as part of a funding package.

"Her efforts are all about ensuring clear labeling of GE salmon before they go to the U.S. market," Borger went on. "Murkowski has said we owe it to American consumers to ensure that the standards put in place for labeling GE salmon are clear, effective, and understandable. Murkowski believes that a clear, text-based label is the high standard that American consumers deserve, and has also introduced stand-alone legislation to that effect. That bill is the Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act."

Sen. Todd Young talks to AquaBounty's Peter Bowyer during a tour.(Photo: Jordan Kartholl / The Star Press)

Sen. Young and fellow Hoosier Sen. Mike Braun have said in a letter the legislation would set "a troubling precedent regarding the function and authority of federal regulatory agencies. There are a great number of important agriculture innovations in the research, development and regulatory pipeline behind the bioengineered salmon. To effectively ban a first-in-class product for no legitimate reason will cast a chilling effect on the willingness or ability of other researchers and developers to invest in the United States."

Responding to Murkowski's position, Wulf, the CEO of AquaBounty, told The Star Press, "The senators feigned attempt at consumer concern is a smokescreen for her decade-long campaign to financially cripple a small company with an innovative way to combat the negative effects of climate change, which is a more significant threat to Alaskas salmon fishery than a faster-growing salmon. Putting 30 people out of work in Indiana will not solve her problem."

Because fresh and frozen fish are flown to markets all over the world, seafood has a large carbon footprint, AquaBounty says, adding that itsAquAdvantage Salmon can be grown in land-based facilities built closer to consumers to reduce the need for energy-intensive air freight shipping and transportation.

In September, the farm hosted a visit from Cornell University's Alliance for Science, which in turn was hosting a group of Turkish government regulators through a United States Department of Agriculture-funded program.

Since July 1, AquaBounty Farms-Indiana hashired 22 new people to work at the Albany farm, which now employs 30, according to Conley, who added the new hirescome from backgrounds in manufacturing, security andteaching. Some are recent Ball State graduates.

The farm also has added a lot of new equipment, including an automobile disinfecting system to improve bio-security, and has worked with local companies on farm improvements, including Versatile Metal Works of Muncie, which designed and fabricated fish handling equipment.

Fish manure is being spread as fertilizer on local crops.

The farm hosted a presentation for the town of Albany at the farm in October and sponsored a carriage ride for the Albany Christmas Festival on Dec. 8.

Non-genetically altered Atlantic salmon are raised in tanks at AquaBounty Technologies in Albany. The company began raising unmodified Atlantic salmon at the facility while waiting for FDA approval to transport genetically modified eggs across the Canadian border. (Photo: Jordan Kartholl/The Star Press)

Genetically engineered fish hatched in Albany

AquaBounty farm in Albany first of its kind endeavor

Contact Seth Slabaugh at (765) 213-5834 or

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How innovation works: ‘A perfect human being is the danger that genetic manipulation poses’ – Innovation Origins

The days when an inventor sat behind closed doors tinkering with groundbreaking technology are over. Nowadays, scientists from a variety of backgrounds work together to come up with an invention or a product. They also dare to bring it to the market at an ever-increasing rate. By no means are all innovations a success, but one invention is enough to change the world.

Innovation Origins regularly speaks to innovation leaders, trendsetters who are high on the innovation ladder. Steef Blok has the floor today. The director of TU/e Innovation Lab is responsible at Eindhoven University of Technology for valorization. That entails bringing knowledge from the university back to society. He has to deal on a daily basis with technologies that the rest of the world might not become acquainted with until ten years from now. Technology forms the foundation for the growth of prosperity in the Netherlands. Our daily lives are wholly influenced by it, Blok states.

He talks about the impact of technology in the past and its importance for the future: Our ancestors used to spend all day collecting and preparing food. Technology made it possible for food to be produced on a greater scale. As a result, not everyone had to deal with food and people started providing services. This is how the economy as we know it today came into being. Later on, machines began to take over more and more of the heavy work that people had to do, for example on farms. As a result, the economy grew and so did prosperity.

Sticking with that example for a moment, the advent of machines meant that the farms had to continue to grow as well. You cant put a large machine on one hectare of land. More space is needed for that. Besides that, farmers have to produce more in order to recoup the cost of those machines. Thats how mass production came about.

Although Blok believes that this type of mass production is now going to be phased out again with the advent of intelligent systems. We can connect machines through these intelligent systems. This allows us to remotely switch on the heating at home, but it also enables ASMLs machines to communicate with each other. The possibilities are unimaginable. Even for the aforementioned farmers. For example, a Brabant potato farmer flies drones over his land in order to measure the amount of manure and water thats on the land. He only fertilizes the soil that actually needs it. That saves time and money and is also better for the environment. The harvest will be better as a result too.

A potato is still a potato, but this farmer takes care of his land in a tailor-made way. Thanks to smart technologies, the more of the same mentality is a thing of the past. This can have several meanings. As an example, in the future, a machine could make a different product for one customer than for another.

Universities are indispensable when it comes to these kinds of developments. This is where such systems are conceived. Universities are about ten years ahead of the market. But not everything that is designed at a university will survive on the market. Some projects dont even get further developed into a product. If that does happen, it sometimes doesnt yield the results you envisage. Weve come up with inventions that I thought would make the world a better place. And nobody on the market cared.

I heard, for example, that early menopause is one of the main reasons why some women cant have children. Women are already really reduced in their reproductive ability ten years before the onset of menopause. For example, if someone starts menopause prematurely, at around 40 years of age, they would have already had low fertility from the age of 30. The average age at which a woman has a child in The Netherlands is now over 29 years of age. Technology might offer a solution to this problem.

At the university, we designed a diagnostic chip that allows us to detect the gene that can predict a womans early onset of menopause. As a result, women know at an early age whether they will start menopause early, and they can tailor the time when they can begin to have children. The chip costs about 6 million. So it seemed like the ideal solution. Expensive and often unpleasant treatments with hormones and IVF would be used less as a result. But in the end nobody wanted it. Women didnt want to know at all when they were going to go through menopause. Oh well. The world is full of surprises.

Consumers will ultimately use a product. Naturally, they have to want to do that. This is not only true in the field of healthcare, but also in the field of sustainability and circularity. Things are already improving in those areas. For example, we are already using more and more refurbished computers instead of immediately throwing away all our electronics. We are also handling food more carefully. If we dont want to burn waste anymore, but want to re-use everything instead, that should already be taken into account during the production process. In order to achieve this, entire production processes need to change.

Genetic engineering is also one of the topics that we do a lot of research on at the university, but on which public opinion is really divided. Bananas grow in a greenhouse under controlled conditions at the University of Wageningen. This way the plants are no longer affected by disease. This allows for a constant supply of bananas. These plants are genetically manipulated. I wouldnt hesitate for a second to use that on a large scale.

Genetic engineering in humans is also being explored more extensively. Ive worked in the hospital sector. Here Ive seen people suffer from diseases like cancer and Ive seen people die. Suppose theres a child on its way who has a disease or disability. But when you remove one gene, its completely healthy. Id do it. Although genetic manipulation does pose a risk to people. Imagine, for example, that over time youve designed a perfect human being. But thats true for other technologies: Atomic energy isnt bad, but an atomic bomb is. I admit that the engineered human being is a bit scary. But we can t stop technological progress.

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