28 January 2010

Genetics Magic: Two Examples of a Startling Future

Here are two fascinating examples of genetics magic:

Brain cells from skin cells
Skin cells called fibroblasts can be transformed into neurons quickly and efficiently with just a few genetic tweaks, according to new research. The surprisingly simple conversion, which doesn't require the cells to be returned to an embryonic state, suggests that differentiated adult cells are much more flexible than previously thought.

If the research, published in the journal Nature yesterday, can be repeated in human cells, it would provide an easier method for generating replacement neurons from individual patients. Brain cells derived from a skin graft would be genetically identical to the patient and therefore remove the risk of immune rejection--such an approach might one day be used to treat Parkinson's or other neurodegenerative diseases.

"It's almost scary to see how flexible these cell fates are," says Marius Wernig, a biologist at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford, who led the research. "You just need a few factors, and within four to five days you see signs of neuronal properties in these cells." _TechnologyReview
Humans will soon be living longer, but in order for those longer lives to be meaningful, humans must have ways to keep their brains and other organs young and fully functional. Using common skin fibroblasts to provide replacement cells for aging brains would be the bare beginning steps to the regenerative society.

Diesel from bacteria
Jay Keasling, professor of chemical engineering and bioengineering at UC Berkeley and one of LS9's founders, and scientists at LS9 report engineering E. coli bacteria to synthesize and excrete the enzyme hemicellulase, which breaks down cellulose into sugars. The bacteria can then convert those sugars into a variety of chemicals--diesel fuel among them. The final products are excreted by the bacteria and then float to the top of the fermentation vat before being siphoned off.

Using these methods, it's possible to create a range of fuels from biomass, but LS9 is focusing on diesel rather than fuels similar to gasoline for the time being, says Stephen del Cardayre, the company's vice president of research and development. Diesel specifications are easier to meet and the market for diesel is growing by 2 to 4 percent a year, while that for gasoline is flat. Last May, LS9 partnered with Procter & Gamble to develop fuels as well as commodity chemicals. _TechnologyReview

Biomass can be grown in the oceans, in the deserts, on land, and in all ranges of climate. If a microbe can easily convert biomass to fuels on a large enough scale, you can say goodbye to fears of energy depletion.

The reprogramming of cellular genetic mechanisms allows humans to use living cells as molecular manufacturing plants, and as cell replication factories.   Programmed replacement brain cells can perform their normal functions plus secrete neuroprotective molecules to preserve their neighbors.  Re-programmed probiotics in the gut can provide a full range of nutrients and supplementary molecules to promote full body regeneration.  Programmed cells in the skin can use sunlight to synthesise a wide range of energy-providing molecules to power the body and brain.   Programmed biomass can turn itself into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, etc. with a minimum of post-harvest processing.

When you look at all of the phantom fears held over our heads by the zombies in government, the UN, the media, and the rest of our fearful culture,  you need to understand that there are solutions to virtually every problem.  More importantly, you need to learn to distinguish problems that are fabricated to control your behaviour from problems that desperately require your attention to be solved.

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