Biotechnology in agricultural “revolutions”, issues and promises, also bananas and bacon.

One basic necessity of human life is the intake of calories or eating as its more commonly known. This necessity produced forth the agricultural “revolution”, a slow process more like an evolution, that started some 12 000 years ago and also more recently the revolution around 17th–19th century that saw the use of science and industrialization to improve the yields and viability of crops. During all this time biotechnology has been used to manipulate the plants and animals but not with that name until recently. The more modern development of agriculture has been part due to the knowledge of genetical and hereditary properties and manipulation of them. This has raised many promises but also a multitude of issues both more on hand and ethical .Genetic engineering promises the ability to freely transfer and manipulate the properties of plants and animals for the benefit of humans, which actually isn’t that new of a consept. The early adopters of agriculture used their basic understanding of hereditary properties of plants and animals to breed desirable properties into them and thus increase usefulness of them. Breeding has been used pretty much throughout the agricultural history of humans and many of the  plants and animals that we consume bear little resemblance to the humble origins that many of them had.
Take for examble bananas which in the wild are small green fruit full of hard seeds that doesn’t taste like modern curvy seedles yellow fruit that we find in our markets. Actually modern bananas are higly refined product of years of breeding and are specially engineered for human consumption. The big disadvantange of this is that the banana crop that we now grow is actually asexual clone with little genetic variety and could disappear withing couple decades or even faster if some kind of disese would come along. Which while sounding kind of apolyptical has already happened with the panama disese that killed the variant that was most commonly farmed prior to 1960, which acording to contempory accounts was yummier. There is actually a variant of panama disease going around that affects the Cavendish variant of bananas, which are genetically identical clones of each other.
This is an example of a situation where traditional methods of agriculture have simply driven themselves to a corner with no fast enough way out. The problem with traditional breeding techniques is that they are slow and random at best, thus providing no easy quick fix for many problems that modern crops have. The so called genetic engineering promises to provide was around and over these limitations by enabling us to engineer properties of different species together thus creating a better version of the orginal. We could have for example a banana that is disease resistant, grows anywhere, is full of nutrients and also possibly cures cancer and can be used as fuel in vehicles. The real issue here is not some mystical genes or toxins that come from the process ( and also exist only in the imanigation of those less informed), but the real threat of these genes spreading to the wild. For example we use plant viruses as gene vectors to facilate the trensfer of the genome. But the problem arises when these viruses that also exixt outside our labs transfer some genes out of our super bananas into some weed that then proceed to spread and negate any benefit that our genetically engineered bananas would have  given us. Thing is that we have already messed up with many plants not indigenous to where we chose to grow them and some plants that had nothing to even do with genetic engineering and were tought of as harmless have spread out of control with methods short of flamethrowers proving inefficent at couping with the decorative plant turned weeds.
The real problem of using genetical engineering to improve our agriculture is again not some mystical gene stuff or toxins often spoken in media but the possibility of repeating the mistakes that we already have made over and over and over again with plants and animals not belonging somewhere. Which could be futher upscaled by creatures with genes from complently different species or even genes themselves spreading around.
Unfortunately we don’t have much options in improving agricuture are pretty much utilizing all arable land and even though we could procure food for 12 billion people from our current farmland we suck at distributing resources evenly and from the 7 billion people of earth around 1 billion dont have stable source of food. It is not really issue of ethics but neccesity that we use genetical engineering or whatever methods possible to increase our food surpluss and variety so we can all atleast have enough food on our tables. Really its either we use ways such as
genetic engineering to improve our foodsources or we all give up bacon(or meat in general) as it actually is one the reasons thet we dont have enough food for everybody. And everybody including me loves their bacon.
Vat grown bacon anyone.

Joni Niemi

Sources:

http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/18/default.asp; http://www.answers.com/topic/biotechnology-ethical-issues; http://en.wikipedia.org

and http://bacontoday.com/international-banana-day

 

Microscopic world of food nanotechnology

Image

During the lessons and discussions we have discussed the risks of nanotech and these things lead us to think about food, nanotech and safety. Are these three things related somehow or is it impossible to combine all of them together?
 
The number of new applications of nanotech in food has grown rapidly. Around the world there is an increase in the interest towards our food, health and environment. Nanotechnology can solve many problems and it also introduces a new wave of assaults on our foods.
 
This development is not suprising. And digging further into the matter reveals that governments and private industries around the world  have already spent billions of dollars on nanotech research and  development,  and almost every major food company has quietly been  involved somehow. Of course we make progress if we have a need, money and new tools to research. But where will this progress take us?
 
Here are some visions for future:
– Tomorrow’s food will be designed by shaping molecules and atoms
– Food will be wrapped in “smart” safety packaging  that can detect spoilage or harmful contaminants
– Future products will  enhance and adjust their color, flavor, or nutrient content to  accommodate each consumer’s taste or health needs
– In agriculture,  nanotechnology promises to reduce pesticide use, improve plant and  animal breeding, and create new nano-bioindustrial products
 
If these visions became true, what will our future look like? We can buy what ever we want to eat and it will be good and healthy for us. The food won´t look the same to different people. We don´t have to eat spoiled food and we could be healthier. Our crops could grow perfectly without pesticides and our crops could be better and better.
 
That sounds good – doesn´t it?
Who wouldn’t love the idea of having for example a chocolate bar that  would give us the nutrients  our body is craving instead of all the  excess refined sugar and saturated fat? And kids would definitely be interested in a soda that changes colour!
 
Image
 
The bioavailability of nutrients in foods could also be enhanced by a nanotech delivery system. For example, tiny nanocapsules can carry substances such as antimicrobial  compounds, antioxidants, essential oils, flavor compounds, proteins, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in order to improve their  bioavailability and their ability to release these nutrients on demand.
 
If we’re thinking on a general level the bioavailability of nutrients combined with the enhanced crop yield starts to sound like one solution to famine, but then there are the still unknown short-term and long-term risks that nanoparticles present.
 
On the personal level, these nanocapsules sound somehow good, but also a bit too scientific and risky. What are those nanocapsules and what do they do inside the body? Can they be harmful?
 
Image
 
At one-billionth a meter, nanometer is invisible for the human eye. In  fact, it is so small that sometimes the existence of nanoparticles is  hard to comprehend. And how could something so small cause any harm?
 
For it is the size that gives nanoparticles their beneficial properties.  They are so small that they can enter cells, and work as capsules and  carriers. But this also presents a problem: what if we don’t want them  there? If spread freely into the environment, they can enter any cell in  a living organism. And we don’t want our cells to fill up with e.g. heavy metals, do we?
 
ImageImage
 
 
Sources:
 
[1] Investigating the microscopic world of food nanotechnology. Christine M. Palumbo. SunSentinel.com. June 25, 2010
[2] Nanotechnology – the new threat to food. Georgia Miller. Clean Food Organic. May 2007
 

Lea&Anna

Is there such a thing as too much information?

Image

(Warning: This text includes popularization and it is written highly generalized)

Genes define what we are. Do we have blond or brown hair? Are we interested in music or science? Of course environment plays its own part on what we eventually become but genes are the very foundation of us.

Today it is not uncommon to get to know your child before he/she is born. You can find out whether your child is he or she, what color are her/his eyes and most of all will he/she have some kind of defect. Maybe when you are thinking this it doesn’t seem to be such a big deal. But just think that in China about a million female fetuses are aborted every year just because they are girls. Why just stop at selection of baby’s sex? Why wouldn’t we make a customised baby with brown eyes and blond hair, athletic tendencies and an IQ of a genious? Here we would have a perfect way to create the perfect master race, which was the goal of the man named Josef Mengele.

Genetic poking does not by all means end the moment you are born into this world. You can be tested for rheumatoid arthritis or MS and then you can live your life according to your result. What could this mean? Gene tests only tell if you have the propensity to this desease but it doesn’t sentence you to a life time of misery with your desease. If gene test is positive, the desease can be controlled in the early stage. But it can also cause a great deal of anxiety and stress. What if you have been found to be positive to the test at the age of two and then you live in worry for the next 80 years? Wouldn’t you be better off not knowing?

In the USA it is not uncommon to get yourself tested to detect mutation in BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Mutation of these genes have been linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer(women). Men with these mutations have increased risk of breast cancer and, possibly, of pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer, and early-onset prostate cancer.  Even if these mutations increase the possibility of developing breast cancer, cancer diagnosis is not inevitable. Still, it is considered that for example removing at-risk tissue (breasts, ovarian) before cancer is even detected, is the best thing to do. Also chemoprevention is used to reduce the risk of cancer in BRCA positive patients. So, surgeries and chemotheraphy, and only because you have higher risk to develope cancer. And even then it is not sure that you won´t develope cancer at some point. But at least your insurance company knows that you are “high-risk” customer.

Gene testing in hereditary deseases raises a lot of questions. Should we share our test results with our entire family? They could be tested too for the same desease and maybe head start for possible treatments. Or would not knowing be a better option? Would it be better for the greater good that genetically “flawed” families would not be allowed to reproduce? Sounds familiar? Have you heard the name Adolf?

Milla & Laura

Do we want to live forever?

Image

Nanotechnology is a widening branch of science. With the help of nanotechnology, it is possible to develop various applications which can for example cure diseases and prolong your life. This discipline is developing all the time but the development isn’t necessarily only a positive thing. The novel applications involve a lot of ethical questions related to health and political aspects. The idea is to create good things but this may not be enough.

Currently, it is already possible to grow whole organs and cure diseases or tissues with the help of nanobiotechnology. Some applications replace parts of the human body and presumably the use of such treatment methods is rising. If it is possible to replace more and more parts of the human being in the future, is it ethically acceptable? How far can you go in such treatments before you turn into something else than a human?

Researchers still don’t know the long term effects of nanotechnology or nanoparticles. If you replace parts of the human or modify the genotype with nanoparticles, is it really safe or will there be consequences? Will it also affect the lives of your descendants?

Because the long term effects are still unknown, it is impossible to say how the nanoparticles in your body affect on your health or quality of life. Is it better to prolong your life with a couple of years despite the risk that nanoparticles could have a negative impact on your health?

Besides the health aspects, the use of nanoparticles also raises political questions. The prolonging of life affects the population structure. People can live longer so there are more senior citizens. This has an impact on the economy as there are less working citizens and more people that need attendance. Such treatment methods also widen the gap between the poor and the rich as poor people might not be able to finance such treatments.

If the goal is to have live beyond your natural lifespan, do you want to turn into a cyborg to achieve a couple of years more to spend with your friends and family? Is it really necessary to live forever?

Sari&Nea

Animal testings

ANIMAL TESTING IN BIOTECHNOLOGY

PETA: “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any way”

Animal testings are made worldwide and they are using mostly rats, mice, primates, dogs, zebra fishes and cats. Animal testings are making the animals suffer because of human’s vanity and the animals can’t defend themselves. These testings are usually cheaper than using human’s as ginny pigs. Human’s do not understand how many animals die in a year because of these cruel testings.

Our opinion of animal testings is that we need some of these testings for medicin research, but there are some testings that could be replace with other ways. In malaria research, it is either humans who die or the animals, because every 45 seconds one child dies because of malaria.

There are 3R principles of animal testings in biotechnology:

  • Replacement (don’t use animals if there is an another way to do it)
  • Reduction (use as few animals as possible)
  • Refinement (take as good care of the test animals than you can)

Cosmetic testings on animals is illegal in the EU since 2009 and it is illegal to bring new cosmetics to market that are animal tested.

The Cosmetics Europe Alternatives to Animal Testing is focusing on:

  • Pre-validation of ‘promising’ toolbox test methods for Skin Sensitization and data integration activities
  • Finalising development and conduct pre-validation of the already developed 3D-model for genotoxicity, and promote regulatory acceptance in this field
  • Refinement of eye irritation assays to address last remaining gaps.

Which one do you prefer???

 pic 1Pic 2

 Pic 33

 Is this fair?? Here is a picture of Iran’s space monkey!

 Pic 4

Join PETA now!!

Irina, Juho, Johanna

Rheology of subcutaneous adipose tissue and Implants

Rheological behaviour of subcutaneous adipose tissue

Subcutaneous adipose tissue is one of the tissues which have been ignored in the most of the scientific studies. There are a lot of papers existing about skin and skeletal muscle tissue but only few investigations have been made so far to get a deeper insight in the properties of the layer in between. These few experimental studies about rheological behaviour are made for the detection of breast cancer whereas the subcutaneous adipose tissue was included into the breast tissue. But to provide all required data for generating suitable implants for all tissue types the rheological behaviour of them should be studied separately. The aim of these studies is to provide an appropriate material for implantation of pre-adipocytes for regeneration and augmentation purpose.

adipose tissue1

It is not easy to get reliable data of the rheological behaviour of subcutaneous adipose tissue due to the fact that this tissue has to withstand different kinds of stress situations like breathing and body movements. Therefore it can be considered that the subcutaneous adipose tissue has to be very elastic because it experiences a greater amount of stress than the dermis.

For providing knowledge and for setting-up a constitutive model for determining the main properties of the subcutaneous adipose tissue rheological measurements are performed. For interpretation of rheological measurements the composition of the subcutaneous adipose tissue are required. The majority of this tissue consists mainly of white adipose tissue, 5-30% water and 2-3% proteins. The main component of the white adipose tissue is triglyceride with 90-99%.

adipose tissue 2

In general subcutaneous adipose tissue is a collagen network which contains white 30-70 µm adipocytes, adipocytes precursor cells, blood vessels, nerves and fibroblasts. It has to be mentioned that only a third of the total subcutaneous adipose tissue are mature adipocytes. In this picture the macroporous structure of the subcutaneous tissue can be seen which indicates that this tissue is higly elastic. These large pores are important to ensure the surveillance of the adipocytes.

 rheology adipose tissue

The rheological measurements show that the subcutaneous adipose tissue had stable viscoelastic behaviour up to 0.1% of strain. Therefore every strain higher than 0.1% resulted in a change in the rheological properties of the tested sample. This leads to the conclusion that the subcutaneous adipose tissue has a macro porous network structure.

The functions show the loss and the storage modulus. The subcutaneous adipose tissue used in this study is derived from pork.

Due to studies of the rheology the required knowledge is provided to search for an appropriate material for an implant used in subcutaneous adipose tissue. One example for a material appropriate for pre-adipocytes would be a macro porous elastic collagen sponge. By providing also a fibroblast growth factor also a vascularization of the formed adipose tissue by the implanted cells is possible. Another material also used for adipocyte implantation would be hyaluronic acid hydrogel due to its elastic behaviour. The only problem with this material is the limited differentiation of the adipocytes after the gel is implanted.

(c) Susanne Arnhold

References

[1]     Linear viscoelastic behavior of subcutaneous adipose tissue; Geerligs M., Peters G., Ackermans P. et al

[2]     Enhancement of adipose tissue formation by implantation of adipogenic-differentiated preadipocytes; Seung-Woo C., Inok K., Su-Huang K. et al

Nanorobotics

One of the most modern approaches in Nanotechnology is the use of nanorobotics. As most of them just known from science-fiction movies and literature, it has become to most people a fear or threat. Therefore I will discuss more the advantages and benefits of nanorobotics and also discuss some of the basics to give so an understanding of this new field of science.

Basics of Nanorobotics

Basically nanorobotics emerges machines or robots whose components are at or close to the scale of a nanometer (10-9 meters). More specifically, nanorobotics refers to the nanotechnology engineering discipline of designing and building nanorobots, with devices ranging in size from 0.1–10 micrometers and constructed of nanoscale or molecular components. The names nanobots, nanoids, nanites, nanomachines or nanomites have also been used to describe these devices currently under research and development.

The idea of using micromachines in medical applications and themes is dated back to 1959. Richard Feynman’s former student, Albert Hibbs, suggested in this year a medical use for Feynman’s theoretical micromachines. He suggested even that “repair” machines might one day be reduced in size to the point it would, of course in theory, be possible to “swallow the doctor”. This idea was afterwards incorporated into Fenyman’s essay There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.

One of the more modern theories about nanotechnology and nanobots was brought by Robert Freitas. But most of these discussions remain at the level of unbuildable generality and do not approach the level of detailed engineering.

Approaches

Here are some of the possible uses of nanobots in medicine or pharmacology. It will deal with the most realistic theories and also practical applications.

Biochip

The joint use of nanoelectronics, photolithography, and new biomaterials provides a possible approach to manufacturing nanorobots for common medical applications. So, practical nanorobots should be integrated as nanoelectronics devices, which will allow tele-operation and advanced capabilities for medical instrumentation.

Nubots

Nubot is an abbreviation for “nucleic acid robot.” Nubots are organic molecular machines at the nanoscale. DNA based machines can be activated using small molecules, proteins and other molecules of DNA. Biological circuit gates based on DNA materials have been engineered as molecular machines to allow in-vitro drug delivery for targeted health problems.

Bacteria-based

This approach proposes the use of biological microorganisms, like the bacterium Escherichia coli. Thus the model uses a flagellum for propulsion purposes. Electromagnetic fields normally control the motion of this kind of biological integrated device.

Fears and Threats

Of course these new technologies bring also fear and threats with them as it is the most time with new ideas and theories. On the one hand there are some realistic and possible disadvantages: Nubots and bacteria-based nanobots could cause Mutations and cellular damage and alter so the pheno- or genotype of an individiuum.

On the other hand there are also quite unrealistic fears as for example that nanobots could become some kind of a “hive-mind” and take over the control of the entire host. Well, let’s try to undo this threat with some theoretical physics.

Such a forming of a “hive-mind” would assume a real artificial intelligence. And that is exactly the point why we can exclude this fear simply due to this simply equation:

587829_html_69929b53

This is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle which basically describes that you can’t predict the location of an electron in a single atom. Ok good, that’s one point now let’s talk about the second one and combine these two afterwards.

The second point is our modern information technology is based on silicon technology. Very basic speaking our computers amend due to IT-engineers build smaller silicon chips and can therefore place more of them on a motherboard (ok I know it’s not that simple but to reduce it to a simple picture). The diameter of a nowadays silicon chip is around 20 nm and physicists have calculated that around 2020 our chips will be around 5 nm in diameter. Around that time point there will be a stop of silicon technology due to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

Cause at a diameter of 5 nm and below it’s too small to predict the location of the electrons in the molecule therefore there will be a loss of energy which is incorrigible. Physicists and mathematicians are calculating concepts of quantum computers to come across this problem but that’s the future.

So it can be seen that nowadays there will be no evil nanobots, no matrix and no terminators 😉

I hope you liked the blog entry and enjoyed reading it.

Best regards

Alexander H.

References

Sierra, D. P., Weir, N. A., Jones, J. F. (2005). “A review of research in the field of nanorobotics”. U.S. Department of Energy – Office of Scientific and Technical Information Oak Ridge, TN SAND2005-6808: 1–50. doi:10.2172/875622.

M. Kaku (2008). Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration Into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-52069-0