Monday, 23 April 2018

Testing water for coliforms using a rapid method

Microbial control of pharmaceutical water systems is not only about numbers of microorganisms estimated to be present, as recovered through bioburden testing of a given volume of sampled water; microbiologists additionally need to know the types of organisms present within water.

With this a new article of interest has been published:

Marflitt, A. and Sandle, T. (2018): Evaluation of Readycult® Coliforms 100 Presence/Absence Test for the screening of coliforms and Escherichia coli in pharmaceutical water samples, European Journal of Parenteral and Pharmaceutical Science, 22 (4): 118-125

The abstract is:

The microbiological monitoring of water systems in pharmaceutical facilities requires an assessment of total microbial count, with an action level applicable to the water grade. It is also considered good practice in many facilities to assess water for the presence/absence of identified objectionable microorganisms. Included among these ‘objectionables’ are coliforms, as indicators of substandard water. The traditional approach for assessing for coliforms in water is using a specialised agar. This approach requires an incubation time within the region of 3 to 5 days. This paper assesses an alternative method, which provides a result within 18 to 24 hours. The method evaluated was the Readycult® Coliforms 100, which contains both a chromogenic substrate (to show the presence of coliforms) and a fluorogenic substrate (to show the presence of Escherichia coli). Through a series of experimental tests involving different grades of pharmaceutical water and different microorganisms, the Readycult® Coliforms 100 was shown to be suitable as a rapid microbiological method for screening water, with reactions produced comparable to conventional methods.

For further details, contact Tim Sandle

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Gut bacteria drive autoimmune disease

Bacteria found in the small intestines of mice and humans can travel to other organs and trigger an autoimmune response, according to a new study.

The findings suggest promising new approaches for treating chronic autoimmune conditions, including systemic lupus and autoimmune liver disease, the researchers said.

Gut bacteria have been linked to a range of diseases, including autoimmune conditions characterized by immune system attack of healthy tissue. To shed light on this link, a Yale research team focused on Enterococcus gallinarum, a bacterium they discovered is able to spontaneously "translocate" outside of the gut to lymph nodes, the liver, and spleen.

In models of genetically susceptible mice, the researchers observed that in tissues outside the gut, E. gallinarum initiated the production of auto-antibodies and inflammation -- hallmarks of the autoimmune response. They confirmed the same mechanism of inflammation in cultured liver cells of healthy people, and the presence of this bacterium in livers of patients with autoimmune disease.

Through further experiments, the research team found that they could suppress autoimmunity in mice with an antibiotic or a vaccine aimed at E. gallinarum. With either approach, the researchers were able to suppress growth of the bacterium in the tissues and blunt its effects on the immune system.


S. Manfredo Vieira, M. Hiltensperger, V. Kumar, D. Zegarra-Ruiz, C. Dehner, N. Khan, F. R. C. Costa, E. Tiniakou, T. Greiling, W. Ruff, A. Barbieri, C. Kriegel, S. S. Mehta, J. R. Knight, D. Jain, A. L. Goodman, M. A. Kriegel. Translocation of a gut pathobiont drives autoimmunity in mice and humans. Science, 2018; 359 (6380): 1156 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar7201

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Saturday, 21 April 2018

New Code of Practice on Product Recalls

The U.K. Government’s new Office for Product Safety and Standards has teamed up with BSI to launch the first Government-backed Code of Practice (PAS 7100) for product safety related recall and other corrective action in the UK. This new guidance will help businesses understand what they need to do if something goes wrong with their product. The Code of Practice includes details on how a business can monitor the safety of products and plan for a recall, and how Market Surveillance Authorities such as local authority Trading Standards can support businesses in their monitoring of incidents and their implementation of corrective action.

The Code of Practice, developed by BSI, is the first major initiative for the new Office which was launched by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in January. It follows a recommendation by the Working Group on Products Recalls and Safety to introduce such a Code to further strengthen the UK’s already tough product safety regime.

The Code of Practice comes in two parts. The first part is focused on non-food consumer products and is intended for use by manufacturers, importers and distributors. The second part is aimed at regulators, specifically Market Surveillance Authorities including local authority Trading Standards. It details how they can carry out their role in ensuring businesses meet their responsibilities in respect of consumer product safety issues.

Consumer Minister Andrew Griffiths said:

“This new Code of Practice will support businesses in dealing with product safety issues swiftly and effectively, ensuring people can continue to buy secure in the knowledge there is an effective system in place if products need to be repaired or replaced.

“Effective regulation is a key element of our Industrial Strategy, which is creating the conditions for businesses to succeed in the UK and to compete in the global economy.”

Use the link to learn more about the Code of Practice.

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Friday, 20 April 2018

Taking aim at cholera

In 1854, John Snow's work on cholera in London immortalised the power of mapping as a tool for disease prevention and control. Over 160 years later, a more ambitious effort to map cholera has been reported in The Lancet. Forgoing so-called shoe leather epidemiology in favour of big data, Justin Lessler and colleagues2 used 279 cholera datasets covering 2283 locations in 37 countries, and cluster-level maps of access to improved water and sanitation in 41 countries, to map cholera incidence across sub-Saharan Africa at a 20 km × 20 km grid scale.

An interesting article from The Lancet by Eric Mintz.

"Sustainable water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH) infrastructure is crucial for ending transmission of cholera and other diseases transmitted by the faecal–oral route, and is a Sustainable Development Goal 2030 target in its own right, but its construction is costly and time consuming. Oral cholera vaccines, which are effective at reducing cholera transmission in the short term (3–5 years), remain in short supply relative to global demand despite substantial success in increasing their production and accessibility."

See: The Lancet

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Thursday, 19 April 2018

BSI Brexit Position Paper

British Standards Instiutte (BSI) has consulted its members and stakeholders about the possible implications of Brexit for standards. The BSI Brexit Position Statement sets out the eight key principles on which BSI’s post-Brexit position is based.

Since the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016, BSI, in its capacity as the UK’s National Standards Body, has consulted its members and stakeholders about the possible implications of Brexit for standards.

As a result, BSI’s post-Brexit position is to continue to provide UK experts with the standards development framework to support trade in the UK, across Europe and globally. To enable this, our stakeholders are clear that BSI should remain a full member of the European Standards Organizations.

The Brexit Position Paper sets out the eight key principles on which our position is based. These principles are supported by statements from a range of BSI’s stakeholders, including industry associations and individual companies, consumer groups, users of standards and professional institutions.

Use this link to download aPDF of the paper now.

Webinar: Fungal Contamination and Pharmaceutical Products Recall

Over the past decade, the number of pharmaceutical product recalls due to fungi has increased significantly, with many different product groups affected. Data suggests a link between product contamination and the process environment. A key concern is a lack of knowledge, even among microbiologists, about identifying fungi and understanding their origins. This webinar will explain different types of fungi, risks to products, guidance on identification, and a focus on remediation measures to remove, eliminate and to prevent fungi.

In this webinar Tim Sandle will examine the risks posed by fungi to pharmaceutical products and has emphasized how this is an issue of growing importance (as seen by the extent of product recalls relating to fungal contamination). The webinar has further considered where fungi pose a risk within the manufacturing process and also to argue that recalls relating to fungal contamination can be reduced through improved cleanroom design; risk assessment; and developing greater specialism’s within quality control departments in order to be able to characterize, identify and to trace fungi. This way, the risks posed by fungi to pharmaceutical processes should receive the level of attention necessary, especially in light of the potential for certain products to become contaminated.

  • Learn about fugal risks
  • Appreciate the extent of pharmaceutical product recalls relating to fungi
  • Understand which types of medicinal products are most at risk
  • Learn about the common types of fungi associated with cleanrooms
  • Understand the main points of contamination
  • Learn about monitoring techniques
  • Learn about good disinfection practices
  • Understand other remediation activities
For details, see Online Compliance Webinar.

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Formation of bacterial spores

Bacterial spores store information about the individual growth history of their progenitor cells, thus retaining a "memory" that links the different stages of the bacterial life cycle. This phenomenon was demonstrated in a recent study.

The researchers studied the adaptive bacterial life cycle using Bacillus subtilis as a model organism. Through the use of time-lapse microscopy, they were able for the first time in this context to observe and to study sporulation and spore revival at the single-cell level -- and how they correlate. They discovered that the spores responded very differently to the influx of new nutrients: The spores that formed earlier during a nutrient down-shift revived more quickly.

The metabolic enzyme alanine dehydrogenase contributes to this effect, according to the researchers. Bacteria produce the enzyme when the amino acid L-alanine is available and stop synthesis once it runs out. Dr Bischofs explains that the enzyme is passed down from one generation of bacteria to the next by carry-over until spores are formed. The enzyme is then stored in the new spores, where it remains inactive until new nutrients arrive that facilitate spore revival and re-growth.


Alper Mutlu, Stephanie Trauth, Marika Ziesack, Katja Nagler, Jan-Philip Bergeest, Karl Rohr, Nils Becker, Thomas Höfer, Ilka B. Bischofs. Phenotypic memory in Bacillus subtilis links dormancy entry and exit by a spore quantity-quality tradeoff. Nature Communications, 2018; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02477-1

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Social stress leads to changes in gut bacteria

Exposure to psychological stress in the form of social conflict alters gut bacteria in Syrian hamsters, according to a new study by Georgia State University.

It has long been said that humans have "gut feelings" about things, but how the gut might communicate those "feelings" to the brain was not known. It has been shown that gut microbiota, the complex community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of humans and other animals, can send signals to the brain and vice versa.

In addition, recent data have indicated that stress can alter the gut microbiota. The most common stress experienced by humans and other animals is social stress, and this stress can trigger or worsen mental illness in humans. Researchers at Georgia State have examined whether mild social stress alters the gut microbiota in Syrian hamsters, and if so, whether this response is different in animals that "win" compared to those that "lose" in conflict situations.

Hamsters are ideal to study social stress because they rapidly form dominance hierarchies when paired with other animals. In this study, pairs of adult males were placed together and they quickly began to compete, resulting in dominant (winner) and subordinate (loser) animals that maintained this status throughout the experiment. Their gut microbes were sampled before and after the first encounter as well as after nine interactions. Sampling was also done in a control group of hamsters that were never paired and thus had no social stress.

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Monday, 16 April 2018

Heat shock system brings insect 'back to life'

The larva of the sleeping chironomid, Polypedilum vanderplanki -- a mosquito-like insect that inhabits semi-arid areas of Africa -- is well known for being able to come back to life after being nearly completely desiccated, losing up to 97 percent of its body's water content. Now, researchers have discovered that a gene called heat shock factor -- which is present in some form in nearly all living organisms on earth -- has been coopted by the species to survive desiccation.

Heat shock factor -- which exists in a single form in invertebrates but multiple forms in vertebrates -- is an essential part of the ability of living cells to survive stressful conditions such as heat, cold, radiation, and, it turns out, desiccation. In desert insects, the researchers found, the gene is able in certain conditions to upregulate itself, and this upregulation leads to a number of downstream processes, including the synthesis of heat shock proteins that are able to protect proteins in the cell from misfolding.

To perform the research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers compared data on RNA expression in the sleeping chironomid with a closely related species, Polypedilum nubifer, which is not capable of surviving desiccation. They found that in the sleeping chironomid, hundreds of genes, including genes known to be involved in forming a "molecular shield" against damage due to dehydration, were already expressed during the early stages of desiccation. They discovered that a certain DNA motif, TCTAGAA, which is the binding site for HSF, was strongly enriched around the transcription start site of the genes activated by desiccation in the sleeping chironomid, but not the other species. Intriguingly, they found that in the desiccation-tolerant species, but not the other, genes responsible for the synthesis of trehalose -- a sugar that can stabilize cells in a dry state -- contained the TCTAGAA motif.

To shed further light on the role of trehalose, they treated a cultured cell line from the sleeping chironomid with the sugar, and found that many of the genes activated by desiccation were also activated, and further, that the trehalose treatment led to the activation of the HSF gene. This effect of trehalose was prevented by knocking down the HSF gene, showing the HSF was clearly involved in the response. 


Pavel V. Mazin, Elena Shagimardanova, Olga Kozlova, Alexander Cherkasov, Roman Sutormin, Vita V. Stepanova, Alexey Stupnikov, Maria Logacheva, Aleksey Penin, Yoichiro Sogame, Richard Cornette, Shoko Tokumoto, Yugo Miyata, Takahiro Kikawada, Mikhail S. Gelfand, Oleg Gusev. Cooption of heat shock regulatory system for anhydrobiosis in the sleeping chironomidPolypedilum vanderplanki. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018; 115 (10): E2477 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1719493115

 Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Sunday, 15 April 2018

U.S. E. coli outbreak

The CDC, the FDA, several states, and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service are investigating a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 infections.

The investigation started by the New Jersey Department of Health, working together with the CDC and FDA. In New Jersey, ill people included in the outbreak had test results showing the presence of E. coli bacteria. Laboratory testing is ongoing to link their illnesses to the outbreak using DNA fingerprinting.

See: Bio Exoert for further details

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

European Pharmacopeia: Works programme

The European Pharmacopeia intends to assess the following during 2018:
  • 2.6.40. Monocyte-activation test for vaccines containing inherently pyrogenic components
  • 5.26. Implementation of pharmacopoeial methods
  • 5.27. Cross validation
  • N-Boc-O-dimethoxytrityl-O’-nosyl-thymidine precursor for radiopharmaceutical preparations (3091)
  • Erlotinib hydrochloride (3094)
  • Eschscholzia herb (3088)
  • (S)-3-(5-Formyl-4-methoxymethoxy-2-nitrophenyl)-2-(trityl-amino)-propionic acid tert-butyl ester precursor for radiopharmaceutical preparations (3093)
  • Fulvestrant injection (3096)
  • Helichrysi flos (3089)
  • (2S)-O-(2‘-O’-Tosyloxyethyl)-N-trityl-tyrosine tert-butyl ester precursor for radiopharmaceutical preparations (3092)
  • Vibriosis vaccine (inactivated) for sea bass (3090)
  • Vincamine (1800)

Furthermore, the following text is due to be revised:

2.6.27. Microbiological examination of cell-based preparations: “Clarification of the section 3-1-2 dealing with method suitability.”

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Microbiology Data for Systemic Antibacterial Drugs

A new FDA guidance document of interest has been issued. The title is “Microbiology Data for Systemic Antibacterial Drugs — Development, Analysis, and Presentation Guidance for Industry.”

The introduction runs: “The purpose of this guidance is to assist sponsors in the development, analysis, and presentation of microbiology data during antibacterial drug development. Specifically, this guidance addresses the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) current thinking regarding the overall microbiology development program needed to support clinical development and approval of antibacterial drugs administered systemically as well as microbiology information collected after approval.”

To view the document, see: FDA

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Friday, 13 April 2018

Work plan for the GMP/GDP Inspectors Working Group for 2018

The European Medicines Agency has published its work plan for 2018:

“The activities outlined in the work plan for 2018 have been agreed in view of preparation for the Agency’s relocation as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU and its impact on the Agency’s business continuity, and may be subject to further review and reprioritisation in accordance with the business continuity plan of the Agency.”

Included in the plan is:
  • GMP Guide: Annex 21 (Importation of medicinal products) - Target date Q4 2018: “To provide the European Commission with a final text for publication.” 
  • Guideline on the sterilisation of the medicinal product, active substance, excipient and primary container, EMA/CHMP/CVMP/QWP/BWP/850374/2015 (H/V). Target date Final guideline to be published Q2 2018: “Public consultation of the draft guideline ended 13 October 2016”.
  • GMP Guide: Chapter 1 (Pharmaceutical Quality System). Target date Q4 2018: “To draft a proposal to amend the chapter in order to encourage industry adoption of risk-based approaches to prevention of shortages, taking account initiatives such as HMA-EMA Taskforce and the industry inter-association guidelines.
  • GMP Guide: Chapter 4 (Documentation). Target date Q4 2018: “To draft a proposal to amend the chapter in order to assure data integrity in the context of GMP. This would be in parallel with similar consideration of Annex 11 (Computerised Systems).”
  • GMP Guide: Annex 11 (Computerised Systems). Target date Q4 2018: “To draft a proposal to amend the chapter in order to assure data integrity in the context of GMP. This would be in parallel with similar consideration of Chapter 4.”
  • Guideline on quality of water for pharmaceutical use (H+V) Target date Draft guideline to be released for 6 month public consultation Q3 2018.
  • ICH Q12 (Lifecycle Management). Step 2b initiated in November 2017 - developing the guideline with particular emphasis on GMP inspection and Pharmaceutical Quality System aspects.

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Drug-producing bacteria possible with synthetic biology

Bacteria could be programmed to efficiently produce drugs, thanks to breakthrough research into synthetic biology using engineering principles, from the University of Warwick and the University of Surrey.

Led by the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre at Warwick’s School of Engineering and the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Surrey, new research has discovered how to dynamically manage the allocation of essential resources inside engineered cells - advancing the potential of synthetically programming cells to combat disease and produce new drugs.

The researchers have developed a way to efficiently control the distribution of ribosomes – microscopic ‘factories’ inside cells that build proteins that keep the cell alive and functional – to both the synthetic circuit and the host cell.

Synthetic circuitry can be added to cells to enhance them and make them perform bespoke functions – providing vast new possibilities for the future of healthcare and pharmaceuticals, including the potential for cells specially programmed to produce novel antibiotics and other useful compounds.

A cell only has a finite amount of ribosomes, and the synthetic circuit and host cell in which the circuitry is inserted both compete for this limited pool of resources. It is essential that there are enough ribosomes for both, so they can survive, multiply and thrive. Without enough ribosomes, either the circuit will fail, or the cell will die – or both.

Using the engineering principal of a feedback control loop, commonly used in aircraft flight control systems, the researchers have developed and demonstrated a unique system through which ribosomes can be distributed dynamically - therefore, when the synthetic circuit requires more ribosomes to function properly, more will be allocated to it, and less allocated to the host cell, and vice versa.

Declan Bates, Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Warwick’s School of Engineering and Co-Director, Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre (WISB) commented:

“Synthetic Biology is about making cells easier to engineer so that we can address many of the most important challenges facing us today - from manufacturing new drugs and therapies to finding new biofuels and materials. It’s been hugely exciting in this project to see an engineering idea, developed on a computer, being built in a lab and working inside a living cell.”

Ribosomes live inside cells, and construct proteins when required for a cellular function. When a cell needs protein, the nucleus creates mRNA, which is sent to the ribosomes – which then synthesise the essential proteins by bonding the correct amino acids together in a chain.

Based on an original idea arising from discussions between Alexander Darlington, a PhD candidate at the University of Warwick, and Dr. Jiménez, the theory of dynamically allocating resources in cells was tested and analysed with mathematical modelling at Warwick, and then built and demonstrated in the laboratory at the University of Surrey.

Notes to editors:

The research, ‘Dynamic allocation of orthogonal ribosomes facilitates uncoupling of co-expressed genes’, is published Open Access in Nature Communications.


Wednesday, 11 April 2018

New weapons in the battle against superbugs

Scientists have developed a new therapy to combat deadly bacteria that is infecting hospital patients worldwide.

The new therapy—a biocide that is able to target antibiotic-defiant bacteria such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—was developed by scientists at the University of Waterloo and University of Manitoba.

“We wanted to be able to help vulnerable patients suffering from chronic infections,” said Emmanuel Ho, a professor in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Waterloo. “Once they’re infected with a resistant strain of bacteria it’s very difficult to get them well again.”

This latest development provides hope in an age where bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics faster than researchers can develop new ones. The World Health Organization estimates 700,000 people die annually from antibiotic-resistant infections and they expect this toll to climb to 10 million by 2050, higher than the current death rate from cancer.

University of Manitoba researcher Song Liu created a potent biocide that kills all bacterial cells - even the antibiotic-resistant ones - that it comes in contact with. The biocide was limited to surface wounds due to its poor selectivity between bacterial and mammalian cells, but if they could deliver the biocide to a target inside the body, it would kill even the most resistant superbug.

Complementing Liu’s work, Ho encased the biocide in solid-lipid nanoparticles (SLN) and then added an antibody, a protein that would seek out MRSA bacteria over other cells. Much like a Trojan Horse, when the SLNs reach the bacteria, they release the biocide, killing the target but leaving healthy cells unaffected.

“The results from our initial experiments are very promising,” said Ho. “Still, we have a lot of work to do before this is available as an alternative to antibiotics. Our next step is to find out whether the biocide gets released outside or inside the cell.”

The researchers say bacterial resistance is unlikely to develop with their SLN particles because the antibodies that are being used to target MSRA won’t cause the bacteria to develop an enzyme or other defence mechanisms in response.

The article appeared recently in Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine.

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

New tool tells bioengineers when to build microbial teams

The framework guides complex bioengineering tasks between multiple cell populations.

Researchers have created a framework for helping bioengineers determine when to use multiple lines of cells to manufacture a product. The work could help a variety of industries that use bacteria to produce chemicals ranging from pharmaceuticals to fragrances.

Every cell in the world is constantly absorbing nutrients and raw materials and transforming them into something more useful. Often the process provides the cells with energy or some other vital vitamin or mineral, while leaving behind byproducts that can be beneficial for other cells. This is especially true in complex multicellular organisms and ecosystems, where several different types or species of cells can work together to generate a single complex final product.

Scientists have been harnessing these abilities since the 1970s to produce useful substances like human growth hormone, pharmaceuticals, fragrances and biofuels. Most of the time they rely on a single type of cell for such endeavors for the sake of simplicity. But sometimes the process becomes too complicated.

Researchers put together a system of equations to model how important variables interact in these types of systems. For example, they can model the strain that complex tasks put on a single cell's growth rate or the inefficiencies introduced when cells must pass signals, enzymes and proteins back and forth in a division-of-labor scheme.

They put together more than 20 different variations of how these systems could be built and how they might interact. When they ran the simulations, they discovered that every trial boiled down to how the variables affected two factors -- how fast the cells are able to grow and how much efficiency is lost when two types of cells share resources while transporting molecules between them.


Ryan Tsoi, Feilun Wu, Carolyn Zhang, Sharon Bewick, David Karig, Lingchong You. Metabolic division of labor in microbial systemsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018; 201716888 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1716888115

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Monday, 9 April 2018

Fabric bacteria powered battery invented

Researchers have constructed a textile-based, bacteria-powered biobattery. The aim of the flexible battery is for incorporation into wearable electronic devices.

The invention of the battery comes from Binghamton University, State University of New York. The prototype can produce a sufficient level of power to operate a typical wearable device. The technology behind the battery is a microbial fuel cell.

A microbial fuel cell is a type of bio-electrochemical system that drives an electric current through using bacteria. The cell uses the types of bacterial interactions found in nature. With the cell a chemical that transfers electrons from the bacteria in the cell to the anode.

Most microbial fuel cells are used for wastewater treatment. The Binghamton researchers, however, have found a different application. The researchers found, in contrast to traditional batteries, microbial fuel cells are an effective power sources for wearable electronics. This is because the all microbial cells act together as a biocatalyst to provide a stable enzymatic reaction.

One key design feature, and something useful to the growing wearables market, is the ability of the battery to continue to produce a consistent level of electricity and remain stable when twisted and stretched multiple times.

Interviewed by Controlled Environments magazine, lead researcher Professor Seokheun Choi explains that his stretchable, twistable power device could become the standard platform for textile-based biobatteries.

Professor Choi explains: “There is a clear and pressing need for flexible and stretchable electronics that can be easily integrated with a wide range of surroundings to collect real-time information.”

The researcher adds: “Those electronics must perform reliably even while intimately used on substrates with complex and curvilinear shapes, like moving body parts or organs. We considered a flexible, stretchable, miniaturized biobattery as a truly useful energy technology because of their sustainable, renewable and eco-friendly capabilities.”

This study has been published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials. The research is titled “Flexible and Stretchable Biobatteries: Monolithic Integration of Membrane-Free Microbial Fuel Cells in a Single Textile Layer.”

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Designer Proteins Could Help Gene Therapy

Gene therapy, or the idea of introducing new genes into the body to treat injuries or illnesses, is still in its infancy, but human genome editing could potentially provide treatment options for previously untreatable conditions. Instead of relying on currently existing proteins, scientists have started experimenting with designer proteins — customized lab designed cells that can complete a certain task.

Guest post by Megan Ray Nichols

What could these designer proteins mean for the future of gene therapy?

Playing With Designer Proteins

Gene therapy normally takes place in a lab, but the future of this practice might rely on computer power instead of genetic samples. Designer proteins are created on a computer and can be modified and adjusted as needed before created in a physical setting.

This isn’t a new practice. In 2000, Stanford University started their Folding@Home program which allowed users to lend their processing power to a protein folding program. Over the last 18 years, the program has helped make breakthroughs in cancer research and infectious and neurological diseases — all using donated processing power from home computers, phones and gaming consoles.

In 2006, Rosetta created the FoldIt game which allowed users to actively modify and fold digital proteins rather than allowing the program to passively do it for them. This later evolved into Cyrus Biotech, which created a commercial cloud platform for projects like FoldIt. This game is still active and updated to this day.

Designer Gene Therapy

The human body contains more than 20,000 different kinds of proteins, so it can be difficult to know how modifying one will change the body — even though we’ve studied them for more than 200 years. That’s where designer gene therapy comes in — scientists can play with an infinite number of permutations without potentially harming a test subject by introducing a designer gene or protein into their body.

These genes, once tested, could potentially have a variety of benefits, from correcting autoimmune disorders like celiac disease, to fighting the flu. The flu virus already utilizes a protein to fuel an infection — the ‘key’ protein to open a door in the cell, allowing it to grow and thrive. By introducing a protein that disables the protein key in the flu virus, gene therapy could effectively nullify the flu’s greatest tool — its ability to spread and infect new cells.

Folded Protein Nanomachines

These folded proteins aren’t just made from cells — some scientists utilize them to create folded protein nanocomputers. These microscopic cellular computers can perform a number of different calculations simultaneously, making them capable of solving problems very quickly. They may not be as powerful as quantum computers, but they may provide some organic processing power that will be vital in the future.

It’s entirely possible that these folded protein nanomachines will be ready for use sometime in the next 10 years.

This might sound like science fiction, but it’s quickly becoming science fact — which is the best kind of fact, if we're honest. There is also the possibility that these sorts of designer genes could be used for evil, a la Gattica, the movie where genetic perfection determines your place in society. Time will tell what these discoveries hold for us in the future.

It might be a while before you can pop down to your local pharmacy for some anti-flu gene therapy, but the last 20 years of protein folding programs have started to shape the way we look at gene therapy and human genome manipulation. It might not be long before we can modify our own genomes to improve health, stop disease and help us become our best selves.

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