Technology Roundup: Stem Cells, Antimatter, Ten Minute Blood Test, Biosynthetic Fuel

1. A Colombian woman has become the world’s first recipient of windpipe tissue constructed from a combination of donated tissue and her own cells.

Stem cells harvested from the woman’s bone marrow were used to populate a stripped-down section of windpipe received from a donor, which was then transplanted into her body in June. The construction of the windpipe is the second organ produced outside the body using stem cells or cells from the patient’s own body. In 2006, Anthony Atalaat Wake Forest University Medical School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, revealed that his team had fitted seven children with bladders reconstructed from their own tissue.

This is part of the ongoing progress in recellularization.

much of the published recellularization work to date has focused on building new heart valves – or even complete hearts. It seems that any comparatively simple tissue structures are well within reach of present day tissue engineering, however. A decade from now, this sort of replacement for damaged organs will be commonplace.

2. Laser production of anti-matter has made progress. Livermore researchers detected anti-matter about 10 years ago in experiments on the since-decommissioned Nova “petawatt” laser – about 100 particles. But with a better target and a more sensitive detector, this year’s experiments directly detected more than 1 million particles. From that sample, the scientists infer that around 100 billion positron particles were produced in total.

Chen and her colleagues used a short, ultra-intense laser to irradiate a millimeter-thick gold target. “Previously, we concentrated on making positrons using paper-thin targets,” said Scott Wilks, who designed and modeled the experiment using computer codes. “But recent simulations showed that millimeter-thick gold would produce far more positrons. We were very excited to see so many of them.”

3. A microfluidic chip identifies 35 proteins in a drop of blood within 10 minutes. The entire analysis process is performed on the chip. First, blood cells are separated from protein-rich serum, which travels down the narrow channels. These channels are coated with protein-capturing bar codes that light up under a fluorescent microscope if the blood drop contained the protein of interest.
Credit: James Heath

Researchers hope to make bedside diagnostics based on blood proteins a reality by bringing down the cost of such tests by at least an order of magnitude.

4. Several startups are working on different appraochges with synthetic biology to make fuel.

Most of these companies are launching their pilot programs now, with the average time to market being three to four years

– Amryis’ aim is to quickly deliver its renewable fuels to market and rapidly achieve the scale needed to make a difference globally, with plans for commercially available fuel by 2011. “No Compromise™ fuels are renewable fuels that demand no sacrifice in performance or penalty in price, and offer a superior environmental profile by reducing lifecycle emissions of 80% or more compared to petroleum fuels
– Mascoma’s production facility is expected to produce 40 million gallons of ethanol and other valuable fuel products per year.
– LS9 has launched a pilot program this year and plans to be producing biofuel on a commercial scale in three to five years. LS9 developed new metabolic pathways that efficiently convert fatty acids to a broad portfolio of petroleum replacements.
– Gevo develops advanced biofuels technology based on butanol and its derivatives.
– Agrivida’s seed and process technologies allow the entire plant to be converted into biofuels as a result of improved liquefaction and saccharification characteristics.