Researchers in Switzerland have developed a method for writing vast amounts of information in DNA and storing it inside a synthetic fossil, potentially for thousands of years. In past centuries, books and scrolls preserved the knowledge of our ancestors, even though they were prone to damage and disintegration. In the digital era, most of humanity's collective knowledge is stored on servers and hard drives. But these have a limited lifespan and need constant maintenance. Scientists from ETH Zurich have taken inspiration from the natural world in a bid to devise a storage medium that could last for potentially thousands of years. They say that genetic material found in fossils hundreds of thousands of years old can be isolated and analyzed as it has been protected from environmental stresses. "(The) fascination of having this very, extremely old information - a hundred thousand years, older than anything else humanity knows - in DNA. So it kind of tells us that it's a really stable material which can endure nature or the environment for a very long time," said Dr. Robert Grass, a senior scientist at ETH Zurich's Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences. In order to protect information-bearing DNA they encapsulated it in a synthetic 'fossil' shell made from a microscopic silica glass particle with diameter of roughly 150 nanometers. "We looked at ways of stabilizing DNA, and we developed a method of encapsulating DNA into small glass particles. And we've shown that in these particles traces are more stable, these DNA traces are more stable than they are otherwise in the environment," added Grass. The researchers say that encapsulation in silica is roughly comparable to that of fossilized bones. The long-term stability of the DNA can be estimated by comparisons to other DNA storage facilities, such as Norway's Svalbard Global Seed Vault, where genetic material is stored at minus 18 degrees Celsius and can survive for more than a million years. To demonstrate the technology, the researchers encoded in DNA "The Methods of Mechanical Theorems" written by ancient Greek scientist Archimedes at least two thousand years ago. Grass explained how his team devised a method for translating the written word into DNA. "We decide how a letter is translated to a sequence of, let's say, nucleotides - so the building blocks of DNA. And so we then generate an enormous file that instead of letters and spaces and numbers, it's just a sequence of A, C, T and G," he said. "This file we send to a company and that company synthesizes that DNA according to our file we sent them. So they then synthesize DNA sequences with exactly the sequence of the nucleotides that we predefined." They then simulated the degradation of the DNA over a long period of time by storing it at a temperature between 60 and 70 degrees Celsius for up to a month, replicating the chemical degradation that takes place over hundreds of years within a few weeks. The glass shells turned out to be particularly robust and, through the use of a fluoride solution, the DNA could be easily separated from the glass so the information can be read. Successfully decoding the DNA-encoded information required a built in fail-safe mechanism. New algorithms designed by Reinhard Heckel from ETH Zurich's Communication Technology Laboratory added extra layers of information to the actual data so that it was still accurate and error-free even if one part of the data got lost or shifted. Despite proving the technology at their lab in Zurich, the team concedes that viable DNA data storage will need significant investment to become a reality. While the hardware to decode the DNA has become cheaper, the cost of actually manufacturing DNA with the information encoded inside is still very expensive. Grass said it will take investment from governments and large corporations to make it possible. But he added that the prospect of storing mankind's collective knowledge in a sprinkling of synthetic DNA could eventually mean information security for future generations. "If you, for example, think of a tablespoon filled with DNA; that would include all of the information on Facebook and Wikipedia and Twitter - and all that just in that small heap of DNA. Whereas nowadays you need enormous server farms and cooling and maintenance because the current methods decay over time," said Grass. "In that tablespoon you would have everything very stable in a very small space with a guaranteed stability for a very long time."
« $67 Oil Has All The Majors Converging in Argentina | Main | Fleet of 150 Renault ZOE EVs for smart solar charging project » The US Department of Energy is soliciting applications (DE-FOA-0001542) for the formation of a Consortium to pursue five identified R&D topic areas related to improving the operating efficiency of medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The Consortium that is funded through this solicitation will form a new technical track under the US-China Clean Energy Research Center, a bilateral initiative to encourage R&D collaboration and accelerate technology development and deployment in both countries. Funding available is $12.5 million, and will support the US Consortium. In parallel, and with equivalent resources, Chinese funding will support a collaborative counterpart Chinese Consortium. The US consortium will pursue five topics; responsive application will address all five. These are: In the 5 topics areas of the FOA, the proposed project will focus on cost-effective measures to improve the on-road freight efficiency of medium- and heavy-duty trucks by greater than 50% (compared to the 2016 baseline truck) to reduce transportation’s fuel use and climate change impacts. To the extent that advanced technologies will be demonstrated to improve freight efficiency, they will conform to a customer-tailored drive cycle that meets the needs of the particular customer application and the EPA Phase 2 GHG/fuel efficiency regulatory cycles for the appropriate vocation. Additionally, vehicle freight efficiency improvement must be achieved within the constraint of prevailing federal emission standards and applicable vehicle safety and regulatory requirements. Projects that demonstrate systems-level fuel efficient technologies must be matched with the duty cycle of the specific truck application to deliver the expected fuel savings. Background. To encourage the rapid development and commercialization of technologies with strong climate change applications, the US DOE, Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and Chinese National Energy Administration (NEA) agreed in November 2009 to establish a US-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC). (Earlier post.) Over the six years since this agreement, the CERC has successfully conducted joint research and development on clean energy topics by teams of scientists and engineers from the US and China. Under CERC, 4 pairs of US and Chinese consortia are operating collaboratively on 4 technical tracks: Each track comprises the equivalent of a $50 million bilateral commitment over 5 years, that is, $25 million for the US effort and $25 million for the China effort. In the US, this is broken down per track as $5 million per year, composed of $2.5 million per year in DOE funds, which is matched by another $2.5 million per year in non-Federal cost-share by the non-Federal partners in each consortium. President Obama and President Xi Jinping announced a renewal and expansion of the CERC in November 2014. (Earlier post.) In September 2015, Obama and Xi announced a fifth CERC track on improving the energy efficiency of medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks. The current funding opportunity is the US’ effort to operationalize this new track. The US consortium selected under this announcement will be funded by DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Program, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The principal DOE coordinator of CERC activities within DOE, and internationally with the Chinese, is DOE’s Office of International Affairs (IA). Both IA and EERE will work in collaboration with the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) for the administration of this award.
A new technique invented at MIT can precisely measure the growth of many individual cells simultaneously. The advance holds promise for fast drug tests, offers new insights into growth variation across single cells within larger populations, and helps track the dynamic growth of cells to changing environmental conditions. The technique, described in a paper published in Nature Biotechnology, uses an array of suspended microchannel resonators (SMR), a type of microfluidic device that measures the mass of individual cells as they flow through tiny channels. A novel design has increased throughput of the device by nearly two orders of magnitude, while retaining precision. The paper’s senior author, MIT professor Scott Manalis, and other researchers have been developing SMRs for nearly a decade. In the new study, the researchers used the device to observe the effects of antibiotics and antimicrobial peptides on bacteria, and to pinpoint growth variations of single cells among populations, which has important clinical applications. Slower-growing bacteria, for instance, can sometimes be more resistant to antibiotics and may lead to recurrent infections. “The device provides new insights into how cells grow and respond to drugs,” says Manalis, the Andrew (1956) and Erna Viterbi Professor in the MIT departments of Biological Engineering and Mechanical Engineering and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. The paper’s lead authors are Nathan Cermak, a recent PhD graduate from MIT’s Computational and Systems Biology Program, and Selim Olcum, a research scientist at the Koch Institute. There are 13 other co-authors on the paper, from the Koch Institute, MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratory, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Innovative Micro Technology, and CEA LETI in France. Manalis and his colleagues first developed the SMR in 2007 and have since introduced multiple innovations for different purposes, including to track single cell growth over time, measure cell density, weigh cell-secreted nanovesicles, and, most recently, measure the short-term growth response of cells in changing nutrient conditions. All of these techniques have relied on a crucial scheme: One fluid-filled microchannel is etched in a tiny silicon cantilever sensor that vibrates inside a vacuum cavity. When a cell enters the cantilever, it slightly alters the sensor’s vibration frequency, and this signal can be used to determine the cell’s weight. To measure a cell’s growth rate, Manalis and colleagues could pass an individual cell through the channel repeatedly, back and forth, over a period of about 20 minutes. During that time, a cell can accumulate mass that is measurable by the SMR. But while the SMR weighs cells 10 to 100 times more accurately than any other method, it has been limited to one cell at a time, meaning it could take many hours, or even days, to measure enough cells. The key to the new technology was designing and controlling an array of 10 to 12 cantilever sensors that act like weigh stations, recording the mass of a cell as it flows through the postage-stamp-sized device. Between each sensor are winding “delay channels,” each about five centimeters in length, through which the cells flow for about two minutes, giving them time to grow before reaching the next sensor. Whenever one cell exits a sensor, another cell can enter, increasing the device’s throughput. Results show the mass of each cell at each sensor, graphing the extent to which they’ve grown or shrunk. In the study, the researchers were able to measure about 60 mammalian cells and 150 bacteria per hour, compared to single SMRs, which measured only a few cells in that time. “Being able to rapidly measure the full distribution of growth rates shows us both how typical cells are behaving, and also lets us detect outliers — which was previously very difficult with limited throughput or precision,” Cermak says. One comparable method for measuring masses of many individual cells simultaneously is called quantitative phase microscopy (QPM), which calculates the dry mass of cells by measuring their optical thickness. Unlike the SMR-based approach, QPM can be used on cells that grow adhered to surfaces. However, the SMR-based approach is significantly more precise. “We can reliably resolve changes of less than one-tenth of a percent of a cancer cell’s mass in about 20 minutes. This precision is proving to be essential for many of the clinical applications that we’re pursuing,” Olcum says. In one experiment using the device, the researchers observed the effects of an antibiotic, called kanamycin, on E. coli. Kanamycin inhibits protein synthesis in bacteria, eventually stopping their growth and killing the cells. Traditional antibiotic tests require growing a culture of bacteria, which could take a day or more. Using the new device, within an hour the researchers recorded a change in rate in which the cells accumulate mass. The reduced recording time is critical in testing drugs against bacterial infections in clinical settings, Manalis says: “In some cases, having a rapid test for selecting an antibiotic can make an important difference in the survival of a patient.” Similarly, the researchers used the device to observe the effects of an antimicrobial peptide called CM15, a relatively new protein-based candidate for fighting bacteria. Such candidates are increasingly important as bacteria strains become resistant to common antibiotics. CM15 makes microscopic holes in bacteria cell walls, such that the cell’s contents gradually leak out, eventually killing the cell. However, because only the mass of the cell changes and not its size, the effects may be missed by traditional microscopy techniques. Indeed, the researchers observed the E. coli cells rapidly losing mass immediately following exposure to CM15. Such results could lend validation to the peptide and other novel drugs by providing some insight into the mechanism, Manalis says. The researchers are currently working with members of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, through the the Koch Institute and Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center Bridge Project, to determine if the device could be used to predict patient response to therapy by weighing tumor cells in the presence of anticancer drugs. Marc Kirschner, a professor and chair of the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study, said the new microfluidics device will open up new avenues for studying the “physiology and pharmacology of cell growth. … Since growth is related to proliferation and to the stress a cell is under, it is a natural feature to study, but it has been difficult before this method.” “The technical problems to get this working were significant and it is still incredible for me to think that they pulled this off,” Kirschner adds. “I expect that when it is … into biology labs it will be useful for many problems in cancer, metabolism, cell death, and cell stress.” The research was sponsored, in part, by the U.S. Army Research Office, the Koch Institute and Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center Bridge Project, the National Science Foundation, and the National Cancer Institute.
The high energy density of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries make them a popular energy storage technology, especially in mobile applications such as personal electronics and electric cars. However, the materials currently used in Li-ion batteries are expensive, while many of them, like lithium cobalt oxide, are also difficult to handle and dispose of. What is more, batteries using these materials have relatively short lifetimes. These shortcomings have led scientists to develop novel materials for next generation Li-ion batteries: two promising electrode materials are lithium titanate and lithium iron phosphate. The materials are readily available, safe to use, and easy to dispose of or recycle. Most importantly, batteries manufactured using these materials have significantly longer cycle and calendar lifetimes compared to current battery technologies. However, these new materials are currently hampered by their low electrical conductivity. Scientists at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) in Kuopio have now come up with a potential solution to this low conductivity problem, which is reported in a paper in the Journal of Alloys and Compounds. "The electric conductivity problem can be solved by producing nanosized, high surface area crystalline materials, or by modifying the material composition with highly conductive dopants, " explains Tommi Karhunen, a researcher in the UEF Fine Particle and Aerosol Technology Laboratory. "We have succeeded in doing both for lithium titanate in a simple, one-step gas phase process developed here at the UEF Fine Particle and Aerosol Technology Laboratory." "The electrochemical performance of Li-ion batteries made out of the above mentioned material is very promising," says Jorma Jokiniemi, director of the UEF Fine Particle and Aerosol Technology Laboratory. "The electrochemical properties were studied in collaboration with Professor Ulla Lassi's group from Kokkola University Consortium Chydenius. The most important applications lie in batteries featuring, for example, fast charging required for electric buses, or high power needed for hybrid and electric vehicles." This story is adapted from material from the University of Eastern Finland, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.
News Article | July 3, 2016
A massive gray reflector now lies between the hills of Pingtang County as China on July 3, Sunday, hoisted its finishing touches on the world's largest radio telescope after five years of construction. Like a highly sensitive ear, the radio telescope known as Five-Hundred-Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) is designed to eavesdrop on white noise in the universe and detect any potential presence of alien life. On Sunday morning, the last of the 4,450 triangular panels was fitted into the center of the telescope's big dish, which is roughly the size of 30 football fields. The dish has a diameter of 500 yards (457 meters). The $180-million FAST project was first conceived in 1994 and its construction began in March 2011. Wang Qiming, the project's chief technologist, says most of the materials used were made domestically. Among the seven FAST receivers, five were from China while two were co-produced by Chinese, American and Australian developers. The radio telescope was finished two months ahead of schedule. This was a monumental step for FAST's planned launch in September this year. A crowd of 300 people, including developers, builders, and reporters, witnessed the feat on Sunday. Liu Cixin, a prominent science fiction writer who witnessed the installation, believes the telescope can help humans explore the universe and extraterrestrial civilizations. "I hope scientists can make epoch-making discoveries," adds Liu, who is a recipient of the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Deputy Head Zheng Xiaonian of the National Astronomical Observation (NAO) says scientists will start debugging and trial observation of FAST months before the launch. NAO is under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which constructed the radio telescope. Zheng says FAST can potentially reach more strange objects to better understand the universe's origins and boost the hunt for alien life. He believes the radio telescope will become the global leader in the next 10 to 20 years. After FAST's launch, it will go through further adjustment. For a year or two, Chinese scientists will use the radio telescope for early-stage research. Afterwards, FAST will then be open to astronomers all over the world, says Peng Bo, the director of the NAO Radio Astronomy Technology Laboratory. Peng says experts can perform observations in other cities such as Beijing, located about 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) away from the telescope. As soon as it is launched, FAST will dwarf the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which has a diameter of 300 meters (328 yards). Peng says FAST will also be 10 times more sensitive than the 100-meter (109 yards) steerable telescope in Germany. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.