A big step closer to nanoscale assembly

Photo (CC) jurvetson from Flickr

One of the key steps in the development of molecular-scale assembly is the creation of similarly-sized assembly tools that have sufficient accuracy and reproducibility to place atoms in exactly where they need to be, following a predefined plan.  Researchers in New York and China have been able to create a nanoscale robot that can place molecular components accurately at atomic scale.  The real breakthrough appears to be the unique error-correcting mechanisms that they implemented.

The details can be found in this paper in Nature Nanotechnology, and a nice overview is here at the NanoWerk blog.

Hack the Genome Shmoocon Presentation


Had a bunch of really interested folks at the “Hack the Genome, the age of biomolecular cryptography” talk today at Shmoocon.  Lots of fantastic ideas and great discussions afterwards with interested hackers.  It is great to see how much creative knowledge and energy there is in our community.  I was asked to share my slides, so I have put them up on my site over at Radio Free Genome, and you can download the presentation directly from here.

Hurricane hackers!

Interesting article over at the New Scientist about the possibility of using supersonic jet fighters to neutralize hurricanes.  The concept depends on our understanding of hurricanes as delicately-balanced dynamic systems that depend on that balance for self-reinforcement and building strength.  Apparently, the math supports the concept of interfering with this delicate balance using the sonic booms created by a pair of jet fighters weaving in and out of the storm.  There are challenges, of course, such as the demands of long cruising at supersonic speeds, but overall the article posits a very interesting (and probably verifiable) theory that would be very interesting to test.

Fighter Jets Battle Hurricane

Fighter Jets Battle Hurricane

Therein lies the rub, however.  The article is all about a patent. Yes, kids, a patent.  I take this to mean that if someone wanted to try and stop a hurricane from ravaging the coastline of some hapless country, they would run the risk of getting sued by the patent holder unless the licensing fees were paid.  This seems kind of crazy, especially since lives are potentially involved- are they really going to stop someone from saving lives with this approach?  Sheesh.

Yeast engineered to produce new fuel source – still some hacking left to do!

There has been some significant progress in engineering our favorite yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, (brewer’s yeast!) to produce n-Butanol rather than ethanol.  This is particularly interesting from a fuel production standpoint, since there are major advantages of n-Butanol over ethanol for fuel.  From a recent Green Car Congress post:

Butanol has a number of advantages over ethanol for use as a biofuel—it is more hydrophobic; has a higher energy density; can be transported through existing pipeline infrastructure; and can be mixed with gasoline at any ratio.

As someone who spent a lot of time genetically engineering organisms, this is an important milestone.  There remains a lot to be done, but at least the beginnings of an approach as been outlined by this research. The paper (available open access here) has a lot of follow-on information about likely approaches to improve the process and/or yield.  This is where hackers can jump in and possibly make a contribution- a lot of the basic stuff can be based on computational approaches and dynamic simulation.  Let a million flowers (or yeast) bloom!