22 Sep 2018
Ever wondered how groups of cells managed to build your tissues and organs while you were just an embryo?
Using state-of-the-art techniques he developed, UC Santa Barbara researcher Otger Campàs and his group have cracked this longstanding mystery, revealing the astonishing inner-workings of how embryos are physically constructed.
Not only does it bring a century-old hypothesis into the modern age, the study and its techniques provide the researchers a foundation to study other questions key to human health, such as how cancers form and spread or how to engineer organs.
“In a nutshell, we discovered a fundamental physical mechanism that cells use to mold embryonic tissues into their functional 3D shapes,” said Campàs, a professor of mechanical engineering in UCSB’s College of Engineering who holds the Duncan & Suzanne Mellichamp Chair in Systems Biology. His group investigates how living systems self organize to build the remarkable structures and shapes found in nature.
Cells coordinate by exchanging biochemical signals, but they also hold to and push on each other to build the body structures we need to live, such as the eyes, lungs and heart. And, as it turns out, sculpting the embryo is not far from glass molding or 3D printing. In their new work,”A fluid-to-solid jamming transition underlies vertebrate body axis elongation,” published in the journal Nature, Campàs and colleagues reveal that cell collectives switch from fluid to solid states in a controlled manner to build the vertebrate embryo, in a way similar to how we mold glass into vases or 3D print our favorite items. Or, if you like, we 3D print ourselves, from the inside.
Most objects begin as fluids. From metallic structures to gelatin desserts, their shape is made by pouring the molten original materials into molds, then cooling them to get the solid objects we use.
A fluid-to-solid jamming transition underlies vertebrate body axis elongation
As in a Chihuly glass sculpture, made by carefully melting portions of glass to slowly reshape it into life, cells in certain regions of the embryo are more active and ‘melt’ the tissue into a fluid state that can be restructured. Once done, cells ‘cool down’ to settle the tissue shape, Campàs explained.
“The transition from fluid to solid tissue states that we observed is known in physics as ‘jamming’,” Campàs said. “Jamming transitions are a very general phenomena that happens when particles in disordered systems, such as foams, emulsions or glasses, are forced together or cooled down.”
This discovery was enabled by techniques previously developed by Campàs and his group to measure the forces between cells inside embryos, and also to exert miniscule forces on the cells as they build tissues and organs. Using zebrafish embryos, favored for their optical transparency but developing much like their human counterparts, the researchers placed tiny droplets of a specially engineered ferromagnetic fluid between the cells of the growing tissue.
The spherical droplets deform as the cells around them push and pull, allowing researchers to see the forces that cells apply on each other. And, by making these droplets magnetic, they also could exert tiny stresses on surrounding cells to see how the tissue would respond.
“We were able to measure physical quantities that couldn’t be measured before, due to the challenge of inserting miniaturized probes in tiny developing embryos,” said postdoctoral fellow Alessandro Mongera, who is the lead author of the paper.
“Zebrafish, like other vertebrates, start off from a largely shapeless bunch of cells and need to transform the body into an elongated shape, with the head at one end and tail at the other,” Campàs said.
The physical reorganization of the cells behind this process had always been something of a mystery. Surprisingly, researchers found that the cell collectives making the tissue were physically like a foam (yes, as in beer froth) that jammed during development to ‘freeze’ the tissue architecture and set its shape.
These observations confirm a remarkable intuition made by Victorian-era Scottish mathematician D’Arcy Thompson 100 years ago in his seminal work “On Growth and Form.”
Read About: D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson
“He was convinced that some of the physical mechanisms that give shapes to inert materials were also at play to shape living organisms. Remarkably, he compared groups of cells to foams and even the shaping of cells and tissues to glassblowing,” Campàs said. A century ago, there were no instruments that could directly test the ideas Thompson proposed, Campàs added, though Thompson’s work continues to be cited to this day.
The new Nature paper also provides a jumping-off point from which the Campàs Group researchers can begin to address other processes of embryonic development and related fields, such as how tumors physically invade surrounding tissues and how to engineer organs with specific 3D shapes.
“One of the hallmarks of cancer is the transition between two different tissue architectures. This transition can in principle be explained as an anomalous switch from a solid-like to a fluid-like tissue state,” Mongera explained. “The present study can help elucidate the mechanisms underlying this switch and highlight some of the potential druggable targets to hinder it.”
Alessandro Mongera, Payam Rowghanian, Hannah J. Gustafson, Elijah Shelton, David A. Kealhofer, Emmet K. Carn, Friedhelm Serwane, Adam A. Lucio, James Giammona & Otger Campàs
22 Sep 2018
Lithium-based battery could make use of greenhouse gas before it ever gets into the atmosphere.
A new type of battery developed by researchers at MIT could be made partly from carbon dioxide captured from power plants. Rather than attempting to convert carbon dioxide to specialized chemicals using metal catalysts, which is currently highly challenging, this battery could continuously convert carbon dioxide into a solid mineral carbonate as it discharges.
While still based on early-stage research and far from commercial deployment, the new battery formulation could open up new avenues for tailoring electrochemical carbon dioxide conversion reactions, which may ultimately help reduce the emission of the greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.
The battery is made from lithium metal, carbon, and an electrolyte that the researchers designed. The findings are described today in the journal Joule, in a paper by assistant professor of mechanical engineering Betar Gallant, doctoral student Aliza Khurram, and postdoc Mingfu He.
Currently, power plants equipped with carbon capture systems generally use up to 30 percent of the electricity they generate just to power the capture, release, and storage of carbon dioxide. Anything that can reduce the cost of that capture process, or that can result in an end product that has value, could significantly change the economics of such systems, the researchers say.
However, “carbon dioxide is not very reactive,” Gallant explains, so “trying to find new reaction pathways is important.” Generally, the only way to get carbon dioxide to exhibit significant activity under electrochemical conditions is with large energy inputs in the form of high voltages, which can be an expensive and inefficient process. Ideally, the gas would undergo reactions that produce something worthwhile, such as a useful chemical or a fuel. However, efforts at electrochemical conversion, usually conducted in water, remain hindered by high energy inputs and poor selectivity of the chemicals produced.
Gallant and her co-workers, whose expertise has to do with nonaqueous (not water-based) electrochemical reactions such as those that underlie lithium-based batteries, looked into whether carbon-dioxide-capture chemistry could be put to use to make carbon-dioxide-loaded electrolytes — one of the three essential parts of a battery — where the captured gas could then be used during the discharge of the battery to provide a power output.
This approach is different from releasing the carbon dioxide back to the gas phase for long-term storage, as is now used in carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS. That field generally looks at ways of capturing carbon dioxide from a power plant through a chemical absorption process and then either storing it in underground formations or chemically altering it into a fuel or a chemical feedstock.
Instead, this team developed a new approach that could potentially be used right in the power plant waste stream to make material for one of the main components of a battery.
While interest has grown recently in the development of lithium-carbon-dioxide batteries, which use the gas as a reactant during discharge, the low reactivity of carbon dioxide has typically required the use of metal catalysts. Not only are these expensive, but their function remains poorly understood, and reactions are difficult to control.
By incorporating the gas in a liquid state, however, Gallant and her co-workers found a way to achieve electrochemical carbon dioxide conversion using only a carbon electrode. The key is to pre-activate the carbon dioxide by incorporating it into an amine solution.
“What we’ve shown for the first time is that this technique activates the carbon dioxide for more facile electrochemistry,” Gallant says. “These two chemistries — aqueous amines and nonaqueous battery electrolytes — are not normally used together, but we found that their combination imparts new and interesting behaviors that can increase the discharge voltage and allow for sustained conversion of carbon dioxide.”
They showed through a series of experiments that this approach does work, and can produce a lithium-carbon dioxide battery with voltage and capacity that are competitive with that of state-of-the-art lithium-gas batteries. Moreover, the amine acts as a molecular promoter that is not consumed in the reaction.
The key was developing the right electrolyte system, Khurram explains. In this initial proof-of-concept study, they decided to use a nonaqueous electrolyte because it would limit the available reaction pathways and therefore make it easier to characterize the reaction and determine its viability. The amine material they chose is currently used for CCS applications, but had not previously been applied to batteries.
This early system has not yet been optimized and will require further development, the researchers say. For one thing, the cycle life of the battery is limited to 10 charge-discharge cycles, so more research is needed to improve rechargeability and prevent degradation of the cell components. “Lithium-carbon dioxide batteries are years away” as a viable product, Gallant says, as this research covers just one of several needed advances to make them practical.
But the concept offers great potential, according to Gallant. Carbon capture is widely considered essential to meeting worldwide goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but there are not yet proven, long-term ways of disposing of or using all the resulting carbon dioxide. Underground geological disposal is still the leading contender, but this approach remains somewhat unproven and may be limited in how much it can accommodate. It also requires extra energy for drilling and pumping.
The researchers are also investigating the possibility of developing a continuous-operation version of the process, which would use a steady stream of carbon dioxide under pressure with the amine material, rather than a preloaded supply the material, thus allowing it to deliver a steady power output as long as the battery is supplied with carbon dioxide. Ultimately, they hope to make this into an integrated system that will carry out both the capture of carbon dioxide from a power plant’s emissions stream, and its conversion into an electrochemical material that could then be used in batteries. “It’s one way to sequester it as a useful product,” Gallant says.
“It was interesting that Gallant and co-workers cleverly combined the prior knowledge from two different areas, metal-gas battery electrochemistry and carbon-dioxide capture chemistry, and succeeded in increasing both the energy density of the battery and the efficiency of the carbon-dioxide capture,” says Kisuk Kang, a professor at Seoul National University in South Korea, who was not associated with this research.
“Even though more precise understanding of the product formation from carbon dioxide may be needed in the future, this kind of interdisciplinary approach is very exciting and often offers unexpected results, as the authors elegantly demonstrated here,” Kang adds.
MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering provided support for the project.
Image: REUTERS/Nick Carey
Graphene is a modern marvel. It is comprised of a single, two-dimensional layer of carbon, yet is 200 times stronger than steel and more conductive than any other material, according to the University of Manchester, where it was first isolated in 2004.
Graphene also has multiple potential uses, including in biomedical applications such as targeted drug delivery, and for improving the lifespan of smartphone batteries.
Now, a team of researchers at the University of Arkansas has found evidence to suggest graphene could also be used to provide an unlimited supply of clean energy.
The team says its research is based on graphene’s ability to “ripple” into the third dimension, similar to waves moving across the surface of the ocean. This motion, the researchers say, can be harvested into energy.
To study the movement of graphene, lead researcher Paul Thibado and his team laid sheets of the material across a copper grid that acted as a scaffold, which allowed the graphene to move freely.
Thibado says graphene could power biomedical devices such as pacemakers.
Image: Russell Cothren
The researchers used a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) to observe the movements, finding that narrowing the focus to study individual ripples drew clearer results.
In analysing the data, Thibado observed both small, random fluctuations, known as Brownian motion, and larger, coordinated movements.
A scanning tunnelling microscope.
Image: University of Arkansas
As the atoms on a sheet of graphene vibrate in response to the ambient temperature, these movements invert their curvature, which creates energy, the researchers say.
“This is the key to using the motion of 2D materials as a source of harvestable energy,” Thibado says.
“Unlike atoms in a liquid, which move in random directions, atoms connected in a sheet of graphene move together. This means their energy can be collected using existing nanotechnology.”
The pieces of graphene in Thibado’s laboratory measure about 10 microns across (more than 20,000 could fit on the head of a pin). Each fluctuation exhibited by an individual ripple measures only 10 nanometres by 10 nanometres, and could produce 10 picowatts of power, the researchers say.
As a result, each micro-sized membrane has the potential to produce enough energy to power a wristwatch, and would never wear out or need charging.
Sheet of graphene as seen through Thibado’s STM
Image: University of Arkansas
Thibado has created a device, called the Vibration Energy Harvester, that he claims is capable of turning this harvested energy into electricity, as the below video illustrates.
This self-charging power source also has the potential to convert everyday objects into smart devices, as well as powering more sophisticated biomedical devices such as pacemakers, hearing aids and wearable sensors.
Thibado says: “Self-powering enables smart bio-implants, which would profoundly impact society.”
Have you read?
A new cancer therapy using nanoparticles to deliver a combination therapy direct to cancer cells could be on the horizon, thanks to research from the University of East Anglia.
And scientists at UEA’s Norwich Medical School have confirmed that it can be mass-produced, making it a viable treatment if proved effective in human trials.
Using nanoparticles to get drugs directly into a tumour is a growing area of cancer research. The technology developed at UEA is the first of its kind to use nanoparticles to deliver two drugs in combination to target cancer cells.
The drugs, already approved for clinical use, are an anti-cancer drug called docetaxel, and fingolimod, a multiple sclerosis drug that makes tumours more sensitive to chemotherapy.
Fingolimod cannot currently be used in cancer treatment because it also supresses the immune system, leaving patients with dangerously low levels of white blood cells.
And while docetaxel is used to treat many cancers, particularly breast, prostate, stomach, head and neck and some lung cancers, its toxicity can also lead to serious side effects for patients whose tumours are chemo-resistant.
Because the nanoparticles developed by the UEA team can deliver the drugs directly to the tumour site, these risks are vastly reduced. In addition, the targeted approach means less of the drug is needed to kill off the cancer cells.
“So far nobody has been able to find an effective way of using fingolimod in cancer patients because it’s so toxic in the blood,” explains lead researcher, Dr. Dmitry Pshezhetskiy from the Norwich Medical School at UEA.
“We’ve found a way to use it that solves the toxicity problem, enabling these two drugs to be used in a highly targeted and powerful combination.”
The UEA researchers worked with Precision NanoSystems’ Formulation Solutions Team who used their NanoAssemblr technology to investigate if it was possible to synthesise the different components of the therapy at an industrial scale.
Following successful results on industrial scale production, and a published international patent application, the UEA team is now looking for industrial partners and licensees to move the research towards a phase one clinical trial.
Also included within the nanoparticle package are molecules that will show up on an MRI scan, enabling clinicians to monitor the spread of the particles through the body.
The team has already carried out trials in mice that show the therapy is effective in reducing breast and prostate tumours. These results were published in 2017.
“Significantly, all the components used in the therapy are already cleared for clinical use in Europe and the United States,” says Dr. Pshezhetskiy. “This paves the way for the next stage of the research, where we’ll be preparing the therapy for patient trials.”
“New FTY720-docetaxel nanoparticle therapy overcomes FTY720-induced lymphopenia and inhibits metastatic breast tumour growth,” by Heba Alshaker, Qi Wang, Shyam Srivats, Yimin Chao, Colin Cooper and Dmitri Pchejetski was published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment on 10 July 2017.
“Core shell lipid-polymer hybrid nanoparticles with combined docetaxel and molecular targeted therapy for the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer,” by Qi Wang, Heba Alshaker, Torsten Böhler, Shyam Srivats, Yimin Chao, Colin Cooper and Dmitri Pchejetski was published in Scientific Reports on 19 July 2017.
Explore further: Lipid molecules can be used for cancer growth
More information: Heba Alshaker et al. New FTY720-docetaxel nanoparticle therapy overcomes FTY720-induced lymphopenia and inhibits metastatic breast tumour growth, Breast Cancer Research and Treatment (2017). DOI: 10.1007/s10549-017-4380-8
Qi Wang et al. Core shell lipid-polymer hybrid nanoparticles with combined docetaxel and molecular targeted therapy for the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-06142-x
25 Aug 2018
Northeast Atlantic bathymetry, with Porcupine Bank and the Porcupine Seabight labelled.
A research expedition to a huge underwater canyon off the Irish coast has shed light on a hidden process that sucks the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere.
Researchers led by a team from the University College Cork (UCC) took an underwater research drone by boat out to Porcupine Bank Canyon — a massive, cliff-walled underwater trench where Ireland’s continental shelf ends — to build a detailed map of its boundaries and interior. Along the way, the researchers reported in a statement, they noted a process at the edge of the canyon that pulls CO2 from the atmosphere and buries it deep under the sea.
All around the rim of the canyon live cold-water corals, which thrive on dead plankton raining down from the ocean surface. Those tiny, surface-dwelling plankton build their bodies out of carbon extracted from CO2 in the air. Then, when they die, the coral on the seafloor consume them and build their bodies out of the same carbon. Over time, as the coral die and the cliff faces shift and crumble, which sends the coral falling deep into the canyon. There, the carbon pretty much stays put for long periods. [ In Photos: ROV Explores Deep-Sea Marianas Trench
There’s evidence that a lot of carbon is moving this way; the researchers said they found “significant” dead coral buildup at the canyon bottom.
This process doesn’t move nearly enough carbon dioxide to prevent climate change, the researchers said. But it does shed light on yet another mechanism that keeps the planet’s CO2 levels regulated when human industry doesn’t interfere.
“Increasing CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere are causing our extreme weather,” Andy Wheeler, a UCC geoscientist and one of the researchers on the expedition, said in the statement. “Oceans absorb this CO2 and canyons are a rapid route for pumping it into the deep ocean where it is safely stored away.”
The mapping expedition covered an area about the size of Chicago and revealed places where the canyon has moved and shifted significantly in the past.
“We took cores with the ROV, and the sediments reveal that although the canyon is quiet now, periodically it is a violent place where the seabed gets ripped up and eroded,” Wheeler said.
The expedition will return to shore today (Aug. 10).
One of the biggest challenges to the recovery of someone who has experienced a major physical trauma such as a heart attack is the growth of scar tissue.
As scar tissue builds up in the heart, it can limit the organ’s functions, which is obviously a problem for recovery.
However, researchers from the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) Centre have revealed a new biomaterial that actually ‘grows’ healthy tissue – not only for the heart, but also for people with extensive nerve damage.
In a paper published to Advanced Materials, the team said its biomaterial regenerating tissue responds to electrical stimuli and also eliminates infection.
The new material developed by the multidisciplinary research team is composed of the protein collagen, abundant in the human body, and the atom-thick ‘wonder material’ graphene.
The resulting merger creates an electroconductive ‘biohybrid’, combining the beneficial properties of both materials and creating a material that is mechanically stronger, with increased electrical conductivity.
This biohybrid material has been shown to enhance cell growth and, when electrical stimulation is applied, directs cardiac cells to respond and align in the direction of the electrical impulse.
Could repair spinal cord
It is able to prevent infection in the affected area because the surface roughness of the material – thanks to graphene – results in bacterial walls being burst, simultaneously allowing the heart cells to multiply and grow.
For those with extensive nerve damage, current repairs are limited to a region only 2cm across, but this new biomaterial could be used across an entire affected area as it may be possible to transmit electrical signals across damaged tissue.
Speaking of the breakthrough, Prof Fergal O’Brien, deputy director and lead investigator on the project, said: “We are very excited by the potential of this material for cardiac applications, but the capacity of the material to deliver physiological electrical stimuli while limiting infection suggests it might have potential in a number of other indications, such as repairing damaged peripheral nerves or perhaps even spinal cord.
“The technology also has potential applications where external devices such as biosensors and devices might interface with the body.”
The study was led by AMBER researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in partnership with Trinity College Dublin and Eberhard Karls University in Germany.
21 Feb 2018
University of Texas at Austin. This is the world’s thinnest wearable Health Monitor, designed and developed by the researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, in the form of a “Graphene-Ink Tattoo”.
Most health monitors in use today are bulky and tend to restrict patients movements. This graphene tattoo will eliminate these restrictions. It picks up electric signal given off by the body and transmits it to a smartphone app.
Rice University scientists who introduced laser-induced graphene (LIG) have enhanced their technique to produce what may become a new class of edible electronics.
The Rice lab of chemist James Tour, which once turned Girl Scout cookies into graphene, is investigating ways to write graphene patterns onto food and other materials to quickly embed conductive identification tags and sensors into the products themselves.
“This is not ink,” Tour said. “This is taking the material itself and converting it into graphene.” Read More: Rice University Expands LIG (laser induced graphene) Research
Automated, unmanned drones are poised to revolutionize the package delivery industry, with a number of companies already testing drone-based delivery methods.
A new study in Nature Communications looks at the climate impact of a shift from truck-based to drone-based package delivery. It finds that while small drones carrying packages weighing less than 0.5 kg would reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to diesel or electric trucks anywhere in the U.S., the same is not true for larger drones carrying heavier packages.
Watch Our New Tenka Energy Video:
Tenka Energy, Inc. Building Ultra-Thin Energy Dense SuperCaps and NexGen Nano-Enabled Pouch & Cylindrical Batteries – Energy Storage Made Small and POWERFUL! YouTube Video
Despite being a promising electrode material, bulk cobalt oxide (Co3O4) exhibits poor lithium ion storage properties. Nanostructuring, e.g. making Co3O4 into ultrathin nanosheets, shows improved performance, however, Co3O4-based nanomaterials still lack long-term stability and high rate capability due to sluggish ion transport and structure degradation. Read More …
MIT: Device makes power conversion more efficient New design could dramatically cut energy waste in electric vehicles, data centers, and the power grid
Power electronics, which do things like modify voltages or convert between direct and alternating current, are everywhere. They’re in the power bricks we use to charge our portable devices; they’re in the battery packs of electric cars; and they’re in the power grid itself, where they mediate between high-voltage transmission lines and the lower voltages of household electrical sockets. Read More …
Elon Musk and Tesla have made some bold claims for the new Tesla Semi and Roadster. Those who understand batteries have been scratching their heads trying to figure out how the company can deliver the specs it’s promising – and concluding that the only possible way is some as-yet-unannounced advancement in battery technology. Read More …
Watch Our Video on New Energy Storage Technology: Supercapacitors and Batteries
20 Jul 2017
Genesis Nanotechnology, Inc.
“Great Things from Small Things” ~ GNT™
Read this edition of Genesis Nanotechnology Online featuring: