In world first, artificial mouse ’embryos’ were grown without the need for a womb, sperm, or egg

Synthetic mouse embryos are shown in the container where they are grown. 

By Marianne Guenot

  • Scientists were able to grow “synthetic embryos” without the need sperm, eggs, or a womb.
  • Studying these structures in mice could teach us how to grow organs for transplantation.
  • Making human babies that way remains a distant prospect, fraught with ethical problems.

Scientists grew “synthetic embryos” from mice cells without using sperm, eggs, or a womb. 

The process, a world first, was described in an issue of the peer-reviewed journal Cell on August 1.

 The technology could be a starting point to grow organs from scratch, Jacob Hanna of Weizmann’s Molecular Genetics Department, who headed the research team, said in a statement.

Independent experts said a lot more research would be needed before even considering growing a human embryo this way.

Still, this research makes this possibility a little more feasible, adding urgency to the ethical question, they said.

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US poised to release 2.4bn genetically modified male mosquitoes to battle deadly diseases

Some advocates have raised alarms about the experiments, suggesting that hybrids could develop that might be even more difficult to control.

By Gabrielle Canon

The future isn’t female, at least not for the invasive Aedes aegypti: the altered males are engineered to produce only male offspring.

Genetically modified male mosquitoes may soon be buzzing across areas of California, in an experiment to stop the spread of invasive species in a warming climate.

Earlier this month, the EPA cleared the UK-based biotech company Oxitec to release a maximum of roughly 2.4bn of its genetically modified mosquitoes through 2024, expand its existing trial in Florida and start a new pilot project in California’s Central Valley, where mosquito numbers are on the rise.

Oxitec’s modified mosquitoes are male, and therefore don’t bite. They were developed with a special protein so that when they pair with a female mosquito the only viable offspring they produce are also non-biting males. The project specifically targets the Aedes aegypti mosquito, one of more than 3,500 mosquito species and a dangerous invasive insect that has spread diseases like dengue, Zika, Chikungunya, and yellow fever in other countries.

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Trailblazing Rice bioengineer is turning cells into disease fighters

Viruses come in many flavors, and Rice University bioengineer Isaac Hilton has long been fascinated by the kind that take control of cells without rewriting their genetic code.

“Some non-integrating episomal DNA viruses have evolved sophisticated ways to hide inside human immune cells without altering our DNA,” said Hilton, a geneticist, synthetic biologist and cellular engineer. “These types of viruses can exist as circular minichromosomes that we call episomes, and some of these viral episomes can silently persist in human immune cells for a person’s entire life.”

In addition to helping viruses hide from the immune system, those circles can produce molecules that viruses use to hijack host cells and alter their behavior. But as their name implies, non-integrating episomal DNA viruses accomplish their takeover without making permanent changes to their host’s genome. From an engineer’s perspective, Hilton said the ability to program immune cell behaviors and safely erase that programming when it is no longer useful or necessary “makes these viruses very attractive for use in gene– and cell-therapy platforms.”

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Smart farming: The growing role of precision agriculture and biotech

BY FASTCO WORKS

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EFFICIENCY AND SUSTAINABILITY GO HAND-IN-HAND, WITH AN ADDED BONUS: FARMERS IMPROVE CROP YIELDS 

Farming has always involved risk. Risk of pestilence, water shortages or excess, and weather events are only a few of the conditions affecting successful crop growth. Applied nutrients and crop protectors help plants thrive but can result in environmental harm. Given sustainability concerns, growing tomorrow’s food supply is even more fraught with challenges. The world’s population continues expanding, but available farming land is actually shrinking, inside and outside the U.S. And the demands are growing. Currently the planet contains 7.6 billion inhabitants, but the population is expected to expand to 9.8 billion by 2050. Farmers are tasked with feeding the world, but increasingly, they need to do so with fewer resources.ADVERTISEMENT

The good news is that agricultural technology designed to address this growing need is booming. Smart farming technologies are gaining steam, with innovations ranging from seed breeding to seed feeding to the ability to monitor crops and conditions in real time using sensors and internet of things (IoT) capabilities. Farmers can incorporate current and past weather data and field performance history, weaving in localized data for planning and crop management.

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Designing Artificial Microswimmers for Targeted Drug Delivery

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Many types of motile cells, such as the bacteria in our guts, need to propel themselves through confined spaces filled with viscous liquid. Mathematical models of this cell motion are guiding the design of artificial microswimmers for targeted drug delivery.

Many types of motile cells, such as the bacteria in our guts and spermatozoa in the female reproductive tracts, need to propel themselves through confined spaces filled with viscous liquid. In recent years, the motion of these ‘microswimmers’ has been mimicked in the design of self-propelled micro- and nano-scale machines for applications including targeted drug delivery. Optimising the design of these machines requires a detailed, mathematical understanding of microswimmers in these environments. A large, international group of physicists led by Abdallah Daddi-Moussa-Ider of Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Germany has now generated mathematical models of microswimmers in clean and surfactant-covered viscous drops, showing that the surfactant significantly alters the swimmers’ behaviour. They have published their work in EPJ E.

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‘Like having billions of tiny 3D printers’: Scientists train BACTERIA to build complex microscopic structures

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Researchers at Finland’s Aalto University have successfully turned bacteria into a microscopic workforce of nanobots, using molds made of hydrophobic material to create incredibly intricate three-dimensional objects.

The researchers placed the Komagataeibacter medellinensis bacteria in a mould with water and the requisite amount of nutrients like sugar, proteins and air. Once sufficiently fuelled-up, the bacteria begin to produce nano cellulose structures, in line with the hydrophobic (water repellant) mold in which they were placed.

Cellulose is the main component found in the cell walls of plants and substances like wood and cotton.

This type of guided growth through the use of superhydrophobic materials, which also minimize the accumulation of dust and microorganisms, could soon be used for extremely intricate tissue regeneration and organ repair in the human body.

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Revolutionary synthetic DNA disk could hold key to future of storage

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Synthetic DNA could solve the world’s storage problems

 A new proof of concept that would see data stored on synthetic DNA could hold the key to the world’s storage problems. In theory, if the concept is successful, all the world’s accumulated data would fit inside a shoebox.

By 2025, it is estimated that 463 exabytes of data will be produced every day – equivalent to 212,765,957 DVDs – and data center providers are constantly expanding to provide storage for this deluge of information. A single gram of DNA, however, can hold 455 exabytes of information – a fact that has drawn the attention of computer scientists.

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Experts fear lab-grown brains will become sentient, which is upsetting

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Well, we don’t want that … or do we?

The idea of sentient, lab-created “organoids” raises ethical questions that ripple through science.

Tests could include physical scans, mathematical models, and more.

Scientists say there are reasons it could be necessary to create consciousness … and destroy it.

A thought-provoking new article poses some hugely important scientific questions: Could brain cells initiated and grown in a lab become sentient? What would that look like, and how could scientists test for it? And would a sentient, lab-grown brain “organoid” have some kind of rights?

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Scientists create artificial, ‘living aneurysm’ outside the human brain in extraordinary first

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 For the first time, researchers have 3D printed a ‘living’ model of an aneurysm outside the body, using human brain cells. The breakthrough could one day assist brain surgeons in both training and high-risk decision-making.

An aneurysm occurs when a bulge or bubble develops at a weak point in a given blood vessel, which can take place in the heart or brain. The weakened wall can eventually rupture, with catastrophic and life-threatening consequences for the patient.

Given the highly sensitive and delicate areas in which aneurysms take place, they are often extremely difficult to both find and treat.

As a potential solution, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), including scientists from Duke University and Texas A&M, have created an external, artificial replica which mimics the particular environment in which aneurysms occur.

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Artificial ‘mini-lungs’ grown in a lab allow scientists to watch how the coronavirus infects human cells in ‘major breakthrough’

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Tiny artificial lungs grown in a lab from adult stem cells have allowed scientists to watch how coronavirus infects the lungs in a new ‘major breakthrough’.

Researchers from Duke University and Cambridge University produced artificial lungs in two independent and separate studies to examine the spread of Covid-19.

  • Researchers took stem cells and had them grow into cells found in the lungs
  • They then had them produce 3D models of the lung cells Covid-19 infects
  • They can use their new models to track the spread of the deadly virus in lungs
  • It’s hoped doing so will allow them to develop new drugs to help treat the virus

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Scientists claim to invent hydrogel that heals nerve damage

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THEY SAY THE GEL CAN PROPAGATE NEURAL SIGNALS WHERE NERVES ARE INJURED.

A team of doctors and engineers have developed a new hydrogel that they say might be able to repair nerve damage more quickly and reliably than any other methods.

The hydrogel is essentially a porous and water-saturated material that can stretch, bend, and — most importantly — propagate neural signals. In animal trials, the team of Nanjing University researchers found that the hydrogel restored lost bodily function and helped the animals heal faster, according to research published Wednesday in the journal ACS NANO. Now, they’re hoping the gel will work in human medicine as well.

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Biochip innovation combines AI and nanoparticles to analyze tumors

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Electrical engineers, computer scientists and biomedical engineers at the University of California, Irvine have created a new lab-on-a-chip that can help study tumor heterogeneity to reduce resistance to cancer therapies.

In a paper published today in Advanced Biosystems, the researchers describe how they combined artificial intelligence, microfluidics and nanoparticle inkjet printing in a device that enables the examination and differentiation of cancers and healthy tissues at the single-cell level.

“Cancer cell and tumor heterogeneity can lead to increased therapeutic resistance and inconsistent outcomes for different patients,” said lead author Kushal Joshi, a former UCI graduate student in biomedical engineering. The team’s novel biochip addresses this problem by allowing precise characterization of a variety of cancer cells from a sample.

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