Molecular sized machines could in the future be used to control important mechanisms in the body.
In a recent study, researchers at University of California, Berkeley and Umeå University show how a nanoballoon comprising a single carbon molecule ten thousand times thinner than a human hair can be controlled electrostatically to switch between an inflated and a collapsed state.
Inﬂatable balloon actuators are commonly used for macroscopic applications to lift buildings, as impact protection in cars or to widen narrowed or obstructed arteries or veins. At the micro scale they are used as micro pumps and in nature jumping spiders create microformat fluid-filled cushions to power their legs in explosive jumps.
Interestingly, at the nanoscale, balloon actuators are virtually unknown. However, a few years ago researchers at the Penn State University theoretically proposed a charge controlled nanoballoon actuator based on the collapsing and reinﬂation of a carbon nanotube.
Now, this has been realized experimentally by Hamid Reza Barzegar and his colleagues. In a study published in the journal of Nano Letters they show how a carbon nanotube, which can be visualized as a cylindrical tube of carbon atoms, can be controlled to transform from a collapsed to an inflated state and vice versa by applying a small voltage. The defect-free nature of carbon nanotubes imply that such an actuator would be able to work without wear or fatigue. This is also shown by the researchers who run the actuator over several cycles with no signs of loss in performance.
“The work is conceptually interesting and gives insight into the complexity of how to control motion at the nanoscale by external stimuli” says Hamid Reza Barzegar, doctor of Physics at Umeå University, now working at UC Berkeley in professor Alex Zettl’s research group. “It also gives insight into fundamental physics such as how the capacitance effect and in general the electrostatic forces can be used to control the dynamics of molecular structures.”
“In a longer perspective one can also envision how our findings could be used for pneumatic control on molecular level or for designing molecular containers that can open or close by controlling the surface charges of the molecules, by for example tuning the pH of the solution in which the molecules are dispersed. This could for example be of use for medical applications such as for delivering medicine to internal organs or tumors” says Thomas Wågberg, associate professor of Physics at Umeå University.
The discovery of molecular machines was awarded this year’s Nobel prize in Chemistry. Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L Feringa got the prize for having developed molecules with controllable movements, which can perform a task when energy is added.
For (probably) the first time ever, plants modified with the “genetic scissors” CRISPR-Cas9 has been cultivated, harvested and cooked.
Stefan Jansson, professor in Plant Cell and Molecular Biology at Umeå University, served pasta with “CRISPRy” vegetable fry to a radio reporter. Although the meal only fed two people, it was still the first step towards a future where science can better provide farmers and consumers across the world with healthy, beautiful and hardy plants.
CRISPR (Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-Cas9 is a complicated name for an easy, but targeted, way of changing the genes of an organism. The decisive discovery was published in 2012 by researchers at Umeå University, and the ”Swiss army knife of genetic engineering” has been predicted to change the world. With CRISPR-Cas9, researchers can either replace one of the billions of “letters” present in an organism’s genome (i.e. the entire gene pool consisting of DNA) or remove short segments, similar to when you edit a written text in a word processor. The technology is called “gene editing” or “genome editing”.
The first clinical applications are underway; maybe we can soon cure hereditary disease using this technology. However, the situation differs somewhat in the agricultural field. There, the issue is not IF researchers can create plants leading to a more sustainable land management, but rather if these will be allowed in farming. Will plants whose genome has been edited using CRISPR-Cas9 fall under GMO legislation or not? If they do, it makes them illegal to plant in great parts of the world. If not, they will – just like other plants – be allowed to be grown at the farmers own discretion.
Can be cultivated legally
The EU has avoided answering the question, but in November 2015 the Swedish Board of Agriculture interpreted the law as if only a segment of DNA has been removed and no “foreign DNA” has been inserted, it is not to be regarded as a genetically modified organism – a GMO. That also means that the plant can be cultivated without prior permission. In spring 2016, American authorities stated that they agreed. The organism in question there was a mushroom who had lost the part of its DNA that made it go brown. This opens up for using the technology to develop plants of the future.
This summer has been the first time that plants that have been gene-edited using CRISPR-Cas9 – in a way that does not classify the plant as GMO – have been allowed to be cultivated outside of the lab. This is definitely the first time in Europe, and even if it been done before in other parts of the world, it has been kept secret. This time, it was a cabbage plant and the Radio Sweden gardening show “Odla med P1” took part in the harvest leading to the probably first-ever meal of CRISPR-Cas9 genome-edited plants. The first CRISPR meal to have been enjoyed was “Tagliatelle with CRISPRy fried vegetables”.
“The CRISPR-plants in question grew in a pallet collar in a garden outside of Umeå in the north of Sweden and were neither particularly different nor nicer looking than anything else,” says plant scientist Stefan Jansson. But they represent both a new phase of agriculture where scientific advances will be implemented in new plant species and that to a small or large extent will be made available to farmers across the world. In other words: a meal for the future.
Scientists delineate molecular details of a new bacterial CRISPR-Cpf1 system and open possible avenue for alternative gene editing uses like targeting several genes in parallel
Only a few years after its discovery, it is difficult to conceive of genetics without the CRISPR-Cas9 enzyme scissors, which allow for a very simple, versatile and reliable modification of DNA of various organisms. Since its discovery, scientists throughout the world have been working on ways of further improving or adjusting the CRISPR-Cas9 system to their specific needs.
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, the Umeå University in Sweden and the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig have now discovered a feature of the CRISPR-associated protein Cpf1 that has previously not been observed in this family of enzymes: Cpf1 exhibits dual, RNA and DNA, cleavage activity. In contrast to CRISPR-Cas9, Cpf1 is able to process the pre-crRNA on its own, and then using the processed RNA to specifically target and cut DNA. Not requiring a host derived RNase and the tracrRNA makes this the most minimalistic CRISPR immune system known to date.
The mechanism of combining two separate catalytic moieties in one allows for possible new avenues for sequence specific genome engineering, most importantly facilitation of targeting multiple sites at once, the so-called multiplexing.
CRISPR-Cas is part of the immune system of bacteria and is used to fight viruses. In the CRISPR-Cas9 system, the enzyme Cas9 cuts the virus DNA at a location specified by an RNA molecule – known as CRISPR RNA (crRNA) in complex with another RNA, the so-called tracrRNA. This puts the pathogens out of action.
Umeå University (Swedish: Umeå universitet) is a university in Umeå in the mid-northern region of Sweden.
The university was founded in 1965 and is the fifth oldest within Sweden’s present borders.
As of 2013, Umeå University has over 32,000 registered students (approximately 16,000 full-time students), including those at the postgraduate and doctoral level. It has more than 4,000 employees, half of which are teachers/researchers, including 368 professors.
Internationally, the university is known for research relating to the genome of the Populus tree and the Norway Spruce, and its highly ranked Institute of (industrial) Design.
Umeå University has research departments and education in a broad range of academic disciplines, with more than thirty university departments conducting most teaching and research. Since the 1990s there are also several research centers, mostly local but some in partnership with other Swedish universities, such as the neighbouring Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Luleå University of Technology.
The university is home to more than 2,000 researchers and teachers, many of them with international background. Important research areas include ageing and population studies, infections, and forest research.
- Ageing and population studies have access to the new and unique Linnaeus database, which covers the entire Swedish population between 1960 and 2009. It links information from four existing databases, enabling researchers to find new connections between health, lifestyle and aging. The Demographic Data Base also gives access to extensive databases with population statistics from old Swedish parish records, dating back to the 18th century, and from 2012 a Department of Biobank Research, providing data management for research in large biological sample collections collected since the 1990.
- The infection biology research focuses on microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, and their molecular infection mechanisms – microbial pathogenesis and virulence. Umeå Centre for Microbial Research (UCMR), offer a qualified environment for the development of new strategies against infectious diseases. The centre also hosts The Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS), which is the Swedish’s node in the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine.
- The forest research includes plant and forest biotechnology within the Umeå Plant Science Centre (UPSC) – a collaborative effort between the Department of Plant Physiology at Umeå University and the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), and one of the strongest research environments for basic plant research in Europe, known for its research relating to the genome of the Populus tree and the Norway Spruce. The mapping of the spruce genome, in collaboration with the Swedish SciLifeLab, was the first complete sequencing of a gymnosperm and notable because it is seven times the size of the human genome, with some 20 billion base pairs.
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