I have two bits about prosthetics, one which focuses on how most of us think of them and another about science fiction fantasies.
Better motor control
This new technology comes via a collaboration between the University of Alberta, the University of New Brunswick (UNB) and Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic, from a March 18, 2018 article by Nicole Ireland for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) news online,
Rob Anderson was fighting wildfires in Alberta when the helicopter he was in crashed into the side of a mountain. He survived, but lost his left arm and left leg.
More than 10 years after that accident, Anderson, now 39, says prosthetic limb technology has come a long way, and he feels fortunate to be using “top of the line stuff” to help him function as normally as possible. In fact, he continues to work for the Alberta government’s wildfire fighting service.
His powered prosthetic hand can do basic functions like opening and closing, but he doesn’t feel connected to it — and has limited ability to perform more intricate movements with it, such as shaking hands or holding a glass.
Anderson, who lives in Grande Prairie, Alta., compares its function to “doing things with a long pair of pliers.”
“There’s a disconnect between what you’re physically touching and what your body is doing,” he told CBC News.
Anderson is one of four Canadian participants in a study that suggests there’s a way to change that. …
Six people, all of whom had arm amputations from below the elbow or higher, took part in the research. It found that strategically placed vibrating “robots” made them “feel” the movements of their prosthetic hands, allowing them to grasp and grip objects with much more control and accuracy.
All of the participants had all previously undergone a specialized surgical procedure called “targeted re-innervation.” The nerves that had connected to their hands before they were amputated were rewired to link instead to muscles (including the biceps and triceps) in their remaining upper arms and in their chests.
For the study, researchers placed the robotic devices on the skin over those re-innervated muscles and vibrated them as the participants opened, closed, grasped or pinched with their prosthetic hands.
While the vibration was turned on, the participants “felt” their artificial hands moving and could adjust their grip based on the sensation. …
I have an April 24, 2017 posting about a tetraplegic patient who had a number of electrodes implanted in his arms and hands linked to a brain-machine interface and which allowed him to move his hands and arms; the implants were later removed. It is a different problem with a correspondingly different technological solution but there does seem to be increased interest in implanting sensors and electrodes into the human body to increase mobility and/or sensation.
Anderson describes how it ‘feels,
“It was kind of surreal,” Anderson said. “I could visually see the hand go out, I would touch something, I would squeeze it and my phantom hand felt like it was being closed and squeezing on something and it was sending the message back to my brain.
“It was a very strange sensation to actually be able to feel that feedback because I hadn’t in 10 years.”
The feeling of movement in the prosthetic hand is an illusion, the researchers say, since the vibration is actually happening to a muscle elsewhere in the body. But the sensation appeared to have a real effect on the participants.
“They were able to control their grasp function and how much they were opening the hand, to the same degree that someone with an intact hand would,” said study co-author Dr. Jacqueline Hebert, an associate professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta.
Although the researchers are encouraged by the study findings, they acknowledge that there was a small number of participants, who all had access to the specialized re-innervation surgery to redirect the nerves from their amputated hands to other parts of their body.
The next step, they say, is to see if they can also simulate the feeling of movement in a broader range of people who have had other types of amputations, including legs, and have not had the re-innervation surgery.
This is a bit longer than most of the embedded audio pieces that I have here but it’s worth it. Sadly, I can’t identify the interviewer who did a very good job with Jon Sensinger, associate director of UNB’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering. One more thing, I noticed that the interviewer made no mention of the University of Alberta in her introduction or in the subsequent interview. I gather regionalism reigns supreme everywhere in Canada. Or, maybe she and Sensinger just forgot. It happens when you’re excited. Also, there were US institutions in Ohio and Virginia that participated in this work.
Here’s a link to and a citation for the team’s paper,
Illusory movement perception improves motor control for prosthetic hands by Paul D. Marasco, Jacqueline S. Hebert, Jon W. Sensinger, Courtney E. Shell, Jonathon S. Schofield, Zachary C. Thumser, Raviraj Nataraj, Dylan T. Beckler, Michael R. Dawson, Dan H. Blustein, Satinder Gill, Brett D. Mensh, Rafael Granja-Vazquez, Madeline D. Newcomb, Jason P. Carey, and Beth M. Orzell. Science Translational Medicine 14 Mar 2018: Vol. 10, Issue 432, eaao6990 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aao6990
Assistive devices may soon allow people to perform virtually superhuman feats. According to Robert Riener, however, there are more pressing goals than developing superhumans.
What had until recently been described as a futuristic vision has become a reality: the first self-declared “cyborgs” have had chips implanted in their bodies so that they can open doors and make cashless payments. The latest robotic hand prostheses succeed in performing all kinds of grips and tasks requiring dexterity. Parathletes fitted with running and spring prostheses compete – and win – against the best, non-impaired athletes. Then there are robotic pets and talking humanoid robots adding a bit of excitement to nursing homes.
Some media are even predicting that these high-tech creations will bring about forms of physiological augmentation overshadowing humans’ physical capabilities in ways never seen before. For instance, hearing aids are eventually expected to offer the ultimate in hearing; retinal implants will enable vision with a sharpness rivalling that of any eagle; motorised exoskeletons will transform soldiers into tireless fighting machines.
Visions of the future: the video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution highlights the emergence of physiological augmentation. (Visualisations: Square Enix) Courtesy: ETH Zurich
Professor Robert Riener uses the image above to illustrate the notion of superprosthese in his March 20, 2018 essay on the ETH Zurich website,
All of these prophecies notwithstanding, our robotic transformation into superheroes will not be happening in the immediate future and can still be filed under Hollywood hero myths. Compared to the technology available today, our bodies are a true marvel whose complexity and performance allows us to perform an extremely wide spectrum of tasks. Hundreds of efficient muscles, thousands of independently operating motor units along with millions of sensory receptors and billions of nerve cells allow us to perform delicate and detailed tasks with tweezers or lift heavy loads. Added to this, our musculoskeletal system is highly adaptable, can partly repair itself and requires only minimal amounts of energy in the form of relatively small amounts of food consumed.
Machines will not be able to match this any time soon. Today’s assistive devices are still laboratory experiments or niche products designed for very specific tasks. Markus Rehm, an athlete with a disability, does not use his innovative spring prosthesis to go for walks or drive a car. Nor can today’s conventional arm prostheses help a person tie their shoes or button up their shirt. Lifting devices used for nursing care are not suitable for helping with personal hygiene tasks or in psychotherapy. And robotic pets quickly lose their charm the moment their batteries die.
Solving real problems
There is no denying that advances continue to be made. Since the scientific and industrial revolutions, we have become dependent on relentless progress and growth, and we can no longer separate today’s world from this development. There are, however, more pressing issues to be solved than creating superhumans.
On the one hand, engineers need to dedicate their efforts to solving the real problems of patients, the elderly and people with disabilities. Better technical solutions are needed to help them lead normal lives and assist them in their work. We need motorised prostheses that also work in the rain and wheelchairs that can manoeuvre even with snow on the ground. Talking robotic nurses also need to be understood by hard-of-hearing pensioners as well as offer simple and dependable interactivity. Their batteries need to last at least one full day to be recharged overnight.
In addition, financial resources need to be available so that all people have access to the latest technologies, such as a high-quality household prosthesis for the family man, an extra prosthesis for the avid athlete or a prosthesis for the pensioner. [emphasis mine]
Breaking down barriers
What is just as important as the ongoing development of prostheses and assistive devices is the ability to minimise or eliminate physical barriers. Where there are no stairs, there is no need for elaborate special solutions like stair lifts or stairclimbing wheelchairs – or, presumably, fully motorised exoskeletons.
Efforts also need to be made to transform the way society thinks about people with disabilities. More acknowledgement of the day-to-day challenges facing patients with disabilities is needed, which requires that people be confronted with the topic of disability when they are still children. Such projects must be promoted at home and in schools so that living with impairments can also attain a state of normality and all people can partake in society. It is therefore also necessary to break down mental barriers.
The road to a virtually superhuman existence is still far and long. Anyone reading this text will not live to see it. In the meantime, the task at hand is to tackle the mundane challenges in order to simplify people’s daily lives in ways that do not require technology, that allow people to be active participants and improve their quality of life – instead of wasting our time getting caught up in cyborg euphoria and digital mania.
I’m struck by Riener’s reference to financial resources and access. Sensinger mentions financial resources in his CBC radio interview although his concern is with convincing funders that prostheses that mimic ‘feeling’ are needed.
I’m also struck by Riener’s discussion about nontechnological solutions for including people with all kinds of abilities and disabilities.
There was no grand plan for combining these two news bits; I just thought they were interesting together.
With all the talk about artificial intelligence (AI), a lot more attention seems to be paid to apocalyptic scenarios: loss of jobs, financial hardship, loss of personal agency and privacy, and more with all of these impacts being described as global. Still, there are some folks who are considering and working on ‘AI for good’.
If you’d asked me, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) would not have been my first guess (my choice would have been United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO]) as an agency likely to host the 2018 AI for Good Global Summit. But, it turns out the ITU is a UN (United Nations agency) and, according to its Wikipedia entry, it’s an intergovernmental public-private partnership, which may explain the nature of the participants in the upcoming summit.
First, there’s a May 4, 2018 ITU media advisory (received via email or you can find the full media advisory here) about the upcoming summit,
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now widely identified as being able to address the greatest challenges facing humanity – supporting innovation in fields ranging from crisis management and healthcare to smart cities and communications networking.
The second annual ‘AI for Good Global Summit’ will take place 15-17 May  in Geneva, and seeks to leverage AI to accelerate progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and ultimately benefit humanity.
WHAT: Global event to advance ‘AI for Good’ with the participation of internationally recognized AI experts. The programme will include interactive high-level panels, while ‘AI Breakthrough Teams’ will propose AI strategies able to create impact in the near term, guided by an expert audience of mentors representing government, industry, academia and civil society – through interactive sessions. The summit will connect AI innovators with public and private-sector decision-makers, building collaboration to take promising strategies forward.
A special demo & exhibit track will feature innovative applications of AI designed to: protect women from sexual violence, avoid infant crib deaths, end child abuse, predict oral cancer, and improve mental health treatments for depression – as well as interactive robots including: Alice, a Dutch invention designed to support the aged; iCub, an open-source robot; and Sophia, the humanoid AI robot.
WHEN: 15-17 May 2018, beginning daily at 9 AM
WHERE: ITU Headquarters, 2 Rue de Varembé, Geneva, Switzerland (Please note: entrance to ITU is now limited for all visitors to the Montbrillant building entrance only on rue Varembé).
WHO: Confirmed participants to date include expert representatives from: Association for Computing Machinery, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Cambridge University, Carnegie Mellon, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Consumer Trade Association, Facebook, Fraunhofer, Google, Harvard University, IBM Watson, IEEE, Intellectual Ventures, ITU, Microsoft, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Partnership on AI, Planet Labs, Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, University of California at Berkeley, University of Tokyo, XPRIZE Foundation, Yale University – and the participation of “Sophia” the humanoid robot and “iCub” the EU open source robotcub.
Frederic Werner, Senior Communications Officer at the International Telecommunication Union and** one of the organizers of the AI for Good Global Summit 2018 kindly took the time to speak to me and provide a few more details about the upcoming event.
Werner noted that the 2018 event grew out of a much smaller 2017 ‘workshop’ and first of its kind, about beneficial AI which this year has ballooned in size to 91 countries (about 15 participants are expected from Canada), 32 UN agencies, and substantive representation from the private sector. The 2017 event featured Dr. Yoshua Bengio of the University of Montreal (Université de Montréal) was a featured speaker.
“This year, we’re focused on action-oriented projects that will help us reach our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. We’re looking at near-term practical AI applications,” says Werner. “We’re matchmaking problem-owners and solution-owners.”
Academics, industry professionals, government officials, and representatives from UN agencies are gathering to work on four tracks/themes:
ITU has just launched an AI Repository where anyone working in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) can contribute key information about how to leverage AI to help solve humanity’s greatest challenges.
This is the only global repository that identifies AI-related projects, research initiatives, think-tanks and organizations that aim to accelerate progress on the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
To submit a project, just press ‘Submit’ on the AI Repository site and fill in the online questionnaire, providing all relevant details of your project. You will also be asked to map your project to the relevant World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) action lines and the SDGs. Approved projects will be officially registered in the repository database.
Benefits of participation on the AI Repository include:
Your project details will become visible to the world on the website.
You will be connected with AI stakeholders, world-wide.
WSIS Prizes recognize individuals, governments, civil society, local, regional and international agencies, research institutions and private-sector companies for outstanding success in implementing development oriented strategies that leverage the power of AI and ICTs.
If you have any questions, please send an email to: email@example.com
“Your project won’t be visible immediately as we have to vet the submissions to weed out spam-type material and projects that are not in line with our goals,” says Werner. That said, there are already 29 projects in the repository. As you might expect, the UK, China, and US are in the repository but also represented are Egypt, Uganda, Belarus, Serbia, Peru, Italy, and other countries not commonly cited when discussing AI research.
Werner also pointed out in response to my surprise over the ITU’s role with regard to this AI initiative that the ITU is the only UN agency which has 192* member states (countries), 150 universities, and over 700 industry members as well as other member entities, which gives them tremendous breadth of reach. As well, the organization, founded originally in 1865 as the International Telegraph Convention, has extensive experience with global standardization in the information technology and telecommunications industries. (See more in their Wikipedia entry.)
The AI for Good series is the leading United Nations platform for dialogue on AI. The action-oriented 2018 summit will identify practical applications of AI and supporting strategies to improve the quality and sustainability of life on our planet. The summit will continue to formulate strategies to ensure trusted, safe and inclusive development of AI technologies and equitable access to their benefits.
While the 2017 summit sparked the first ever inclusive global dialogue on beneficial AI, the action-oriented 2018 summit will focus on impactful AI solutions able to yield long-term benefits and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. ‘Breakthrough teams’ will demonstrate the potential of AI to map poverty and aid with natural disasters using satellite imagery, how AI could assist the delivery of citizen-centric services in smart cities, and new opportunities for AI to help achieve Universal Health Coverage, and finally to help achieve transparency and explainability in AI algorithms.
Teams will propose impactful AI strategies able to be enacted in the near term, guided by an expert audience of mentors representing government, industry, academia and civil society. Strategies will be evaluated by the mentors according to their feasibility and scalability, potential to address truly global challenges, degree of supporting advocacy, and applicability to market failures beyond the scope of government and industry. The exercise will connect AI innovators with public and private-sector decision-makers, building collaboration to take promising strategies forward.
“As the UN specialized agency for information and communication technologies, ITU is well placed to guide AI innovation towards the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are providing a neutral close quotation markplatform for international dialogue aimed at building a common understanding of the capabilities of emerging AI technologies.” Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of ITU
Should you be close to Geneva, it seems that registration is still open. Just go to the ITU’s AI for Good Global Summit 2018 webpage, scroll the page down to ‘Documentation’ and you will find a link to the invitation and a link to online registration. Participation is free but I expect that you are responsible for your travel and accommodation costs.
For anyone unable to attend in person, the summit will be livestreamed (webcast in real time) and you can watch the sessions by following the link below,
For those of us on the West Coast of Canada and other parts distant to Geneva, you will want to take the nine hour difference between Geneva (Switzerland) and here into account when viewing the proceedings. If you can’t manage the time difference, the sessions are being recorded and will be posted at a later date.
*’132 member states’ corrected to ‘192 member states’ on May 11, 2018 at 1500 hours PDT.
In no particular order, here are some Frankenstein bits and bobs in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s book.
The Frankenstein Bicentennial Project
This project at Arizona State University has been featured here a few times and most recently in a October 26, 2016 posting about an artist using a Roomba (robotic vacuum cleaner) in an artistic query and about the Frankenstein at 200 online exhibition.
A free, interactive, multiplatform experience for kids designed to inspire deeper engagement with STEM topics and promote the development of 21st century skills related to creative collaboration and critical thinking.
A collaborative, multimedia reading experiment with Mary Shelley’s timeless tale examining the the scientific, technological, political, and ethical dimensions of the novel, its historical context, and its enduring legacy.
A set of hands-on STEM making activities that use the Frankenstein story to inspire deeper conversations about scientific and technological creativity and social responsibility.
How to Make a Monster
Kathryn Harkup in a February 22, 2018 article about her recent book for the Guardian delves into the science behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Note: Links have been removed),
The bicentenary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus has meant a lot of people are re-examining this brilliant work of science fiction. My particular interest is the science fact behind the science fiction. How much real science influenced Mary Shelley? Could a real-life Victor Frankenstein have constructed a creature?
In terms of the technical aspects of building a creature from scraps, many people focus on the collecting of the raw materials and reanimation stages. It’s understandable as there are many great stories about grave-robbers and dissection rooms as well as electrical experiments that were performed on recently executed murderers. But there quite a few stages between digging up dead bodies and reanimating a creature.
The months of tedious and fiddly surgery to bring everything together are often glossed over, but what virtually no one mentions is how difficult it would have been to keep the bits and pieces in a suitable state of preservation while Victor worked on his creation. Making a monster takes time, and bodies rot very quickly.
Preservation of anatomical material was of huge interest when Frankenstein was written, as it is now, though for very different reasons. Today the interest is in preserving organs and tissues suitable for transplant. Some individuals even want to cryogenically freeze their entire body in case future scientists are able to revive them and cure whatever disease caused their original death. In that respect the aims are not so different from what the fictional Victor Frankenstein was attempting two hundred years ago.
At the time Frankenstein is set, the late 18th century, few people were really thinking about organ transplant. Instead, tissue preservation was of concern for anatomy professors who wanted to maintain collections of interesting, unusual or instructive specimens to use as teaching aids for future students.
She provides fascinating insight into preservation techniques of the 18th century and their dangers,
To preserve soft tissues, various substances were injected into or used to coat or soak the dissected specimen. The substance in question had to be toxic enough to destroy mould and bacteria that could decompose the sample, but not corrosive or damaging to the tissues of the specimen itself.
Substances such as turpentine, mercury metal and mercury salts (which are even more toxic than the pure element) were all employed stop the decay process in its tracks. Killing off bacteria and mould means that some vital process within them has been stopped; however, many processes that are critical to mould and bacteria are also necessary for humans, making these substances toxic to us.
Working in cramped, poorly ventilated conditions with minimal regard for health and safety, the substances anatomical curators were using day in and day out took a serious toll on their health. Anatomical curators were described as emaciated, prematurely aged and with a hacking cough. …
One of the most successful techniques for tissue preservation was bottling in alcohol. …
In the 18th century the University of Edinburgh handed over twelve gallons of whisky annually to the anatomy museum for the preservation of specimens. Possible not all of those twelve gallons made it into the specimen jars. The nature of the curator’s work – the smell, the problems with vermin and toxic fumes – must have made the odd sip of whisky very tempting. Indeed, more than one curator was dismissed for being drunk on the job.
Shelley described Frankenstein working in a small attic room using candlelight to illuminate his work. Small rooms, toxic vapours, alcohol fumes and naked flames are not a healthy combination. No wonder Shelley wrote the work took such a toll on Frankenstein’s health.
The year 1818 saw the publication of one of the most influential science-fiction stories of all time. Frankenstein: Or, Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley had a huge impact on gothic horror and science-fiction genres, and her creation has become part of our everyday culture, from cartoons to Hallowe’en costumes. Even the name ‘Frankenstein’ has become a by-word for evil scientists and dangerous experiments. How did a teenager with no formal education come up with the idea for an extraordinary novel such as Frankenstein?
Clues are dotted throughout Georgian science and popular culture. The years before the book’s publication saw huge advances in our understanding of the natural sciences, in areas such as electricity and physiology, for example. Sensational science demonstrations caught the imagination of the general public, while the newspapers were full of lurid tales of murderers and resurrectionists.
Making the Monster explores the scientific background behind Mary Shelley’s book. Is there any science fact behind the science fiction? And how might a real-life Victor Frankenstein have gone about creating his monster? From tales of volcanic eruptions, artificial life and chemical revolutions, to experimental surgery, ‘monsters’ and electrical experiments on human cadavers, Kathryn Harkup examines the science and scientists that influenced Shelley, and inspired her most famous creation.
The Frankenstein 2018 project is based at Volda University College in Norway, but aims to engage and include people from elsewhere in Norway and around the world.
The project is led by Timothy Saunders, an Associate Professor of English Literature and Culture at Volda University College.
If you would like to get in touch, either to offer comments on the website, to provide information about related projects or activities taking place around the world, or even to offer relevant material of your own, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What a great idea and I wish the folks at Volda University College all the best.
The Monster Challenge
Washington University in St. Louis (WUSL; Missouri, US) is hosting a competition to create a ‘new Frankenstein’, from WUSL’s The Monster Challenge webpage,
On June 16, 1816, a 19-year-old woman sat quietly listening as her lover (the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley) and a small group of friends — including celebrated poet Lord Byron — discussed conducting a ghost-story contest. The couple was spending their holiday in a beautiful mansion on the banks of scenic Lake Geneva in Switzerland. As the conversation about ghost stories heated up, a discussion arose about the principle of life. Not surprisingly, the ensuing talk of graves and corpses led to a sleepless night filled with horrific nightmares for Mary Shelley. Later, she recalled her own contest entry began with eight words; “It was on a dreary night in November…” Just two years later, in 1818, that young woman, Mary Shelley, published her expanded submission as the novel Frankenstein, not only a classic of 19th-century fiction, but a work that has enjoyed immense influence on popular culture, science, medicine, philosophy and the arts all the way up to the present day.
THE MONSTER CHALLENGE
Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the novel’s publication in 1818, Washington University is hosting a competition open to WU students (full time and registered in fall 2018), both undergraduate and graduate. The submission deadline is October 15, 2018.
The prompt for our own WU “Monster Challenge” is “The New Frankenstein”:
If you learned of a contest today, similar to the one that inspired the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818, what new Frankenstein would you create? Winning entries will be those best exemplifying the spirit, tone and feeling of Frankenstein for our age.
Submissions are eligible in two categories: written (including poetry, fiction, nonfiction and theater; 5000 word limit) and visual (including new media, experimental media, sound art, performance art, and design). Only one submission is allowed per student or student collaboration group. The winners will be determined by a jury of faculty members and announced in the fall 2018 semester. Winning entries will also be featured on the Frankenstein Bicentennial website (frankenstein200.wustl.edu).
Through the generosity of Provost Holden Thorpe’s office, winners will receive a cash prize as well as the opportunity to have their submission read, exhibited, and/or performed during the fall 2018 semester. Prizes are as follows:
WRITTEN CATEGORY VISUAL CATEGORY
Grand Prize: $1000 Grand Prize: $1000
2nd Prize: $500 2nd Prize: $500
3rd Prize: $250 3rd Prize: $250
HOW TO SUBMIT
Please review the guidelines below and download the appropriate submission form … for your project.
All submissions are due by 3 pm on October 15, 2018.
Only one submission is allowed per student or student collaboration group.
Electronic submissions should be emailed to email@example.com along with the appropriate submission form (right).
Non-electronic submissions should be dropped off at the Performing Arts Department in Mallinckrodt Center, Room 312 (specific dates and times to be determined). All applicants submitting work here must also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a digital image of the work and the appropriate submission form (right). Entries should fit into a case 74″ w x 87″ h x 23″ d. For exceptions, please contact Professor Patricia Olynyk (email@example.com).
For additional information about the contest, please contact the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities: firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the most famous literary works of the last two centuries, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) permeates our cultural imagination. A man of science makes dead matter live yet abandons his own creation. A creature is composed of human body parts yet denied a place in human society. The epic struggle that ensues between creator and creature poses enduring questions to all of us. What do we owe our non-human creations? How might the pursuit of scientific knowledge endanger or empower humanity? How do we combine social responsibility with our technological power to alter living matter? These moral quandaries drive the novel as well as our own hopes and fears about modernity.
Over the last 200 years, Frankenstein has also become one of our most culturally productive myths. The Black Frankenstein became a potent metaphor for racial otherness in the 19th century and remains so to this day. From Boris Karloff as the iconic Monster of 1931 to the transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show of 1975, the novel has inspired dozens of films and dramatizations. Female poets from Margaret Atwood to Liz Lochhead and Laurie Sheck continue to wrestle with the novel’s imaginative possibilities. And Frankenstein, of course, permeates our material culture. Think no further than Franken Berry cereal, Frankenstein action figures, and Frankenstein bed pillows.
Please join us at Washington University in St. Louis as we celebrate Mary Shelley’s iconic novel and its afterlives with a series of events organized by faculty, students and staff from across the arts, humanities and life sciences. Highlights include the conference Frankenstein at 200, sponsored by the Center for the Humanities; a special Frankenstein issue of The Common Reader; a staging of Nick Dear’s play Frankenstein; the symposium The Curren(t)cy of Frankenstein, sponsored by the Medical School; a film series; several lectures; and exhibits designed to showcase the university’s museum and library collections.
This site aggregates all events related to the celebration. Please visit again for updates!
They do have a page for Global Celebrations and while the listing isn’t really global at this point (I’m sure they’re hoping that will change) it does open up a number of possibilities for Frankenstein aficionados, experts, and enthusiasts,
Technologies of Frankenstein
Stevens Institute of Technology, College of Arts and Letters and IEEE History Center
The 200th anniversary year of the first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus has drawn worldwide interest in revisiting the novel’s themes. What were those themes and what is their value to us in the early twenty-first century? In what ways might our tools of science and communication serve as an “elixir of life” since the age of Frankenstein?
Frankenstein@200 is a year-long series of academic courses and programs including a film festival, a play, a lecture series and an international Health Humanities Conference that will examine the numerous moral, scientific, sociological, ethical and spiritual dimensions of the work, and why Dr. Frankenstein and his monster still capture the moral imagination today..
San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, and University of San Francisco
During 2018, the San Francisco Bay area partners will host The Frankenstein Bicentennial. The novel brings together STEM fields with humanities & the arts in such a way to engage almost every discipline and major. The project’s events will address timely issues of our world in Silicon Valley and the advent of technology – a critical topic with questions important to our academic, regional and world communities. The novel, because it has been so popular for 200 years, lives on in discussions about what it means to be human in a digital world.
Next performance: Monday Feb. 26, 2018; 7 PM
Extended through 2018!
“..it is a success of a show that should be considered
something great in the realm of musical theater.”
“A musical love letter”
– Local Theatre NY
“…infused with enough emotion to send chills down the spine…”
– Local Theatre NY
““ an ambitious theater piece that is refreshingly buoyed up by its music””
– Theater Scene
a new Off-Broadway musical by Eric B. Sirota
based on Mary Shelley’s classic novel
Presented by John Lant, Tamra Pica & Write Act Repertory
at St. Luke’s Theater in the heart of the theatre district
. . . a sweeping romantic musical, about the human need for love and companionship,
which honors its source material.
Performances Monday nights at 7 PM
tickets to performances into March currently on sale
(scroll down for performance schedule)
Contact us for Special Group Sales and Buyouts at: info@TheFrankensteinMusical.com
St. Luke’s Theatre
an Off-Broadway venue in the heart of the theatre district on “Restaurant Row”
308 West 46th Street (btwn. 8th and 9th Ave.)
– Book, Music & Lyrics: Eric B. Sirota
-Additional lyrics: Julia Sirota
– Director: Clint Hromsco
– Music Director: Austin Nuckols
(original music direction by Anessa Marie)
– Producer: John Lant, Tamra Pica and Write Act Repertory
– CAST: Jon Rose, Erick Sanchez-Canahuate, Gabriella Marzetta, Stephan Amenta, Cait Kiley, Adam Kee, Samantha Collette, Amy Londyn, Stephanie Lourenco Viegas, Bryan S. Walton
Eric Sirota developed Frankenstein under the working title of “Day of Wrath”, an Official Selection of the 2015 New York Musical Theatre Festival’s Reading Series
Feb 26, Mon; 7 PM
Mar 5, Mon; 7 PM
Tickets to later dates on sale soon. . .
March 12, 19, 24
April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
May . . .
Jun . . .
running though 2018
2018 – Frankenstein bicentennial year!
The Purgatory Press*
The Purgatory Press blog’s* John Culbert (author and lecturer at the University of British Columbia) wrote a January 1, 2018 essay celebrating and examining Mary Shelley’s classic,
She was born in 1797, toward the end of the Little Ice Age. Wolves had been extirpated from the country, but not so long ago that one could forget. Man’s only predator in the British Isles was now a mental throwback. Does the shadow of extinction fall on the children of perpetrators? What strange gap is left in the mind of men suddenly raised from the humble status of prey?
In the winter of her sixteenth year, the river Thames froze in London for the last time. The final “Frost Fair,” a tradition dating back centuries, was held February 1814 on the river’s hard surface.
The following year, a volcano in present-day Indonesia erupted. It was the most powerful and destructive event of its kind in recorded history. Fallout caused a “volcanic winter” across the Northern Hemisphere. In 1816 – “the year without a summer” – she was in Switzerland, where she began writing her first novel, Frankenstein, published 200 years ago today — on January 1st, 1818.
Fascinating, yes? I encourage you to read the whole piece.
3–8 April (with special events on 28 March and 27–28 April)
The Science Museum is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus with a free festival exploring the science behind this cultural phenomenon.
Through immersive theatre, experimental storytelling and hands-on activities visitors can examine the ethical and scientific questions surrounding the artificial creation of life. Families can step in Doctor Frankenstein’s shoes, creating a creature and bringing it to life using stop motion animation at our drop-in workshops.
In the Mystery at Frankenstein’s Lab visitors can solve puzzles and conduct experiments in an escape room-like interactive experience. Visitors are also invited to explore the Science Museum as you’ve never heard it before in It’s Alive, an immersive Frankenstein-themed audio tour. Both these activities have limited availability so pre-booking is advised.
In Pandemic, you decide how far Dr Victor should go to tackle a virus sweeping the world. Is it right to create new life to save others? You decide where to draw the line in this choose-your-own-adventure experience. Visitors can also see Humanity 2.0, a play created and performed by actor Emily Carding. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the play examines what could happen if a benevolent AI recreated humanity.
As part of the festival, visitors will meet researchers at the cutting-edge of science—from bio chemists who manipulate DNA to engineers creating artificial intelligence—and discover fascinating scientific objects with our curators which could have influenced Shelley.
The Frankenstein Festival will run daily from 3–8 April at the Science Museum and is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. Tickets for activities with limited availability are available from sciencemuseum.org.uk/Frankenstein.
Our free adult-only Frankenstein Lates on 28 March will focus on the darker themes of Shelley’s iconic novel, with the Promethean Tales Weekend on 27–28 April, featuring panel discussions and special screenings of Terminator 2: Judgement Day and The Curse of Frankenstein in our IMAX cinema.
Frankenstein Festival activities include:
An immersive audio tour created by Cmd+Shift in collaboration with the Science Museum. The tour takes 45 minutes and is limited to 15 people per session. Recommended for ages 8+. Tickets cost £3 and are available here.
Mystery at Frankenstein’s Lab
This interactive, theatrical puzzle experience has been created by Atomic Force Productions, in collaboration with the Science Museum. Each session lasts 45 minutes and is limited to 10 people per session. Recommended for ages 12+, under 16s must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets cost £10 and are available here.
Create Your Own Creature
Get hands on at our drop-in workshops and create your very own creature. Then bring your creature to life with stop motion animation. This activity takes approximately 20 minutes and is suitable for all ages.
Humanity 2.0 (3–5 April)
Step into a dystopian future and help shape the future of humanity in this unique interactive play created and performed by Emily Carding. Her full body make-up was created by award winning body painter Victoria Gugenheim in collaboration with the Science Museum. The play has a run time of 45 minutes and is recommended for ages 12+.
Pandemic (5–8 April)
This choose-your-own-adventure film puts you in control of a psychological thriller. Your decisions will guide Dr Victor on their quest to create artificial life.
Pandemic was created by John Bradburn in collaboration with the Science Museum. The film contains moderate psychological threat and horror sequences that some people may find disturbing. The experiences lasts 45 minutes and is recommended for ages 14+. Tickets are free and are available here.
Frankenstein Festival events include:
Wednesday 28 March, 18.45–22.00
Join us for a fun free evening of events, workshops and screenings as we ask the question ‘should we create life’.
Lates is a free themed-event for adults at the Science Museum on the last Wednesday of each month. Find out more about Lates at sciencemuseum.org.uk/Lates.
Artificial Life: Should We, Could We, Will We?
Wednesday 28 March as part of the Frankenstein Lates
A panel of expert scientists and researchers will discuss artificial life. Just how close are we to creating fully synthetic life and will this be achieved by biological or digital means?
Discussing those questions will be Professor of Cognitive Robotics at Imperial College and scientific advisor for the hit movie Ex Machina Murray Shanahan, Vice President of the International Society for Artificial Life Susan Stepney and Lead Curator of the Science Museum’s acclaimed 2017 exhibition Robots Ben Russell. Further speakers to be announced.
Promethean Tales Weekend
Terminator 2: Judgement Day + Panel Discussion
Friday 27 April, 19.30–22.35 (Doors open 19.00)
Tickets: £8, £6 Concessions
Age 15 and above
In part one of our Promethean Tales Weekend celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we will be joined by a panel of experts in science, film and literature to discuss the topic of ‘Promethean Tales through the ages’ ahead of a screening of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
The Curse of Frankenstein and Q&A with Sir Christopher Frayling
Saturday 28 April, 18.00–20.30 (Doors open 17.30)
Tickets: £8, £6 Concessions
In part two of our Promethean Tales Weekend, we are joined by Sir Christopher Frayling, author of Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years, to discuss the life and work of Shelley, the origins of her seminal story and its cultural impact.
The screening of The Curse of Frankenstein will be followed by a book signing with copies of Sir Christopher’s book available to purchase on the night.
You can find out more about the festival and get tickets to events, here.
This initiative seems like a lot of fun, from the Frankenreads homepage,
Frankenreads is an NEH [US National Endowment for the Humanitities]-funded initiative of the Keats-Shelley Association of America and partners to hold a series of events and initiatives in honor of the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, featuring especially an international series of readings of the full text of the novel on Halloween 2018.
They have a very open approach as their FAQs webpage attests to,
Why host a Frankenreads event?
Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus appeals to both novice and expert readers alike and is a work that remains highly relevant to contemporary issues. Thus it is perhaps no surprise that (according to the Open Syllabus project) Frankenstein is the most frequently taught work of literature in college English courses and the fifth most frequently taught book in college courses in all disciplines. It is certainly one of the most read British novels in the world. Hosting a Frankenreads event is an easy way both to celebrate the 200th anniversary of this important work and to foster discussion about issues such as ethics in science and the human tendency to demonize the unfamiliar. By participating in Frankenreads, you can make sure that your thoughts about Frankenstein are part of a global conversation.
What kind of event can I host?
You can host any kind of event you like! Below are some suggestions. Click on the event type for further guidance.
Complete Reading — A live, all-day reading (about 9 hours) of the full text of Frankenstein
Viewing — A community viewing on Halloween 2018 of the livestream of the NEH reading or other online events
Other — Whatever other kind of in-person or online event you can think of!
Should I hold in-person events or online events?
Either or both! We encourage you to record in-person events and upload video to our YouTube channel. We will also be providing advice on holding events via Google Hangouts.
When should I hold the event?
You can hold a Frankenreads event any time you like, but we encourage you to schedule an event during Frankenweek: October 24-31, 2018.
Why post my event on the Frankenreads website?
Posting your event on the Frankenreads website enables the Frankenreads team to publicize your event widely, to give you help with your event, and to connect you with others who are holding nearby or similar events.
How do I post my event on the Frankenreads website?
It seems a Swiss team from the École Polytechnique de Lausanne (EPFL) have collaborated with American companies Twist Bioscience and Microsoft, as well as, the University of Washington (state) to preserve two iconic jazz pieces on DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) according to a Sept. 29, 2017 news item on phys.org,,
Thanks to an innovative technology for encoding data in DNA strands, two items of world heritage – songs recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival [held in Switzerland] and digitized by EPFL – have been safeguarded for eternity. This marks the first time that cultural artifacts granted UNESCO heritage status have been saved in such a manner, ensuring they are preserved for thousands of years. The method was developed by US company Twist Bioscience and is being unveiled today in a demonstrator created at the EPFL+ECAL Lab.
“Tutu” by Miles Davis and “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple have already made their mark on music history. Now they have entered the annals of science, for eternity. Recordings of these two legendary songs were digitized by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) as part of the Montreux Jazz Digital Project, and they are the first to be stored in the form of a DNA sequence that can be subsequently decoded and listened to without any reduction in quality.
This feat was achieved by US company Twist Bioscience working in association with Microsoft Research and the University of Washington. The pioneering technology is actually based on a mechanism that has been at work on Earth for billions of years: storing information in the form of DNA strands. This fundamental process is what has allowed all living species, plants and animals alike, to live on from generation to generation.
The entire world wide web in a shoe box
All electronic data storage involves encoding data in binary format – a series of zeros and ones – and then recording it on a physical medium. DNA works in a similar way, but is composed of long strands of series of four nucleotides (A, T, C and G) that make up a “code.” While the basic principle may be the same, the two methods differ greatly in terms of efficiency: if all the information currently on the internet was stored in the form of DNA, it would fit in a shoe box!
Recent advances in biotechnology now make it possible for humans to do what Mother Nature has always done. Today’s scientists can create artificial DNA strands, “record” any kind of genetic code on them and then analyze them using a sequencer to reconstruct the original data. What’s more, DNA is extraordinarily stable, as evidenced by prehistoric fragments that have been preserved in amber. Artificial strands created by scientists and carefully encapsulated should likewise last for millennia.
To help demonstrate the feasibility of this new method, EPFL’s Metamedia Center provided recordings of two famous songs played at the Montreux Jazz Festival: “Tutu” by Miles Davis, and “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. Twist Bioscience and its research partners encoded the recordings, transformed them into DNA strands and then sequenced and decoded them and played them again – without any reduction in quality.
The amount of artificial DNA strands needed to record the two songs is invisible to the naked eye, and the amount needed to record all 50 years of the Festival’s archives, which have been included in UNESCO’s [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] Memory of the World Register, would be equal in size to a grain of sand. “Our partnership with EPFL in digitizing our archives aims not only at their positive exploration, but also at their preservation for the next generations,” says Thierry Amsallem, president of the Claude Nobs Foundation. “By taking part in this pioneering experiment which writes the songs into DNA strands, we can be certain that they will be saved on a medium that will never become obsolete!”
A new concept of time
At EPFL’s first-ever ArtTech forum, attendees got to hear the two songs played after being stored in DNA, using a demonstrator developed at the EPFL+ECAL Lab. The system shows that being able to store data for thousands of years is a revolutionary breakthrough that can completely change our relationship with data, memory and time. “For us, it means looking into radically new ways of interacting with cultural heritage that can potentially cut across civilizations,” says Nicolas Henchoz, head of the EPFL+ECAL Lab.
Quincy Jones, a longstanding Festival supporter, is particularly enthusiastic about this technological breakthrough: “With advancements in nanotechnology, I believe we can expect to see people living prolonged lives, and with that, we can also expect to see more developments in the enhancement of how we live. For me, life is all about learning where you came from in order to get where you want to go, but in order to do so, you need access to history! And with the unreliability of how archives are often stored, I sometimes worry that our future generations will be left without such access… So, it absolutely makes my soul smile to know that EPFL, Twist Bioscience and their partners are coming together to preserve the beauty and history of the Montreux Jazz Festival for our future generations, on DNA! I’ve been a part of this festival for decades and it truly is a magnificent representation of what happens when different cultures unite for the sake of music. Absolute magic. And I’m proud to know that the memory of this special place will never be lost.
Twist Bioscience, a company accelerating science and innovation through rapid, high-quality DNA synthesis, today announced that, working with Microsoft and University of Washington researchers, they have successfully stored archival-quality audio recordings of two important music performances from the archives of the world-renowned Montreux Jazz Festival.
These selections are encoded and stored in nature’s preferred storage medium, DNA, for the first time. These tiny specks of DNA will preserve a part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Archive, where valuable cultural heritage collections are recorded. This is the first time DNA has been used as a long-term archival-quality storage medium.
Quincy Jones, world-renowned Entertainment Executive, Music Composer and Arranger, Musician and Music Producer said, “With advancements in nanotechnology, I believe we can expect to see people living prolonged lives, and with that, we can also expect to see more developments in the enhancement of how we live. For me, life is all about learning where you came from in order to get where you want to go, but in order to do so, you need access to history! And with the unreliability of how archives are often stored, I sometimes worry that our future generations will be left without such access…So, it absolutely makes my soul smile to know that EPFL, Twist Bioscience and others are coming together to preserve the beauty and history of the Montreux Jazz Festival for our future generations, on DNA!…I’ve been a part of this festival for decades and it truly is a magnificent representation of what happens when different cultures unite for the sake of music. Absolute magic. And I’m proud to know that the memory of this special place will never be lost.”
“Our partnership with EPFL in digitizing our archives aims not only at their positive exploration, but also at their preservation for the next generations,” says Thierry Amsallem, president of the Claude Nobs Foundation. “By taking part in this pioneering experiment which writes the songs into DNA strands, we can be certain that they will be saved on a medium that will never become obsolete!”
The Montreux Jazz Digital Project is a collaboration between the Claude Nobs Foundation, curator of the Montreux Jazz Festival audio-visual collection and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to digitize, enrich, store, show, and preserve this notable legacy created by Claude Nobs, the Festival’s founder.
In this proof-of-principle project, two quintessential music performances from the Montreux Jazz Festival – Smoke on the Water, performed by Deep Purple and Tutu, performed by Miles Davis – have been encoded onto DNA and read back with 100 percent accuracy. After being decoded, the songs were played on September 29th  at the ArtTech Forum (see below) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Smoke on the Water was selected as a tribute to Claude Nobs, the Montreux Jazz Festival’s founder. The song memorializes a fire and Funky Claude’srescue efforts at the Casino Barrière de Montreux during a Frank Zappa concert promoted by Claude Nobs. Miles Davis’ Tutu was selected for the role he played in music history and the Montreux Jazz Festival’s success. Miles Davis died in 1991.
“We archived two magical musical pieces on DNA of this historic collection, equating to 140MB of stored data in DNA,” said Karin Strauss, Ph.D., a Senior Researcher at Microsoft, and one of the project’s leaders. “The amount of DNA used to store these songs is much smaller than one grain of sand. Amazingly, storing the entire six petabyte Montreux Jazz Festival’s collection would result in DNA smaller than one grain of rice.”
Luis Ceze, Ph.D., a professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, said, “DNA, nature’s preferred information storage medium, is an ideal fit for digital archives because of its durability, density and eternal relevance. Storing items from the Montreux Jazz Festival is a perfect way to show how fast DNA digital data storage is becoming real.”
Nature’s Preferred Storage Medium
Nature selected DNA as its hard drive billions of years ago to encode all the genetic instructions necessary for life. These instructions include all the information necessary for survival. DNA molecules encode information with sequences of discrete units. In computers, these discrete units are the 0s and 1s of “binary code,” whereas in DNA molecules, the units are the four distinct nucleotide bases: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T).
“DNA is a remarkably efficient molecule that can remain stable for millennia,” said Bill Peck, Ph.D., chief technology officer of Twist Bioscience. “This is a very exciting project: we are now in an age where we can use the remarkable efficiencies of nature to archive master copies of our cultural heritage in DNA. As we develop the economies of this process new performances can be added any time. Unlike current storage technologies, nature’s media will not change and will remain readable through time. There will be no new technology to replace DNA, nature has already optimized the format.”
DNA: Far More Efficient Than a Computer
Each cell within the human body contains approximately three billion base pairs of DNA. With 75 trillion cells in the human body, this equates to the storage of 150 zettabytes (1021) of information within each body. By comparison, the largest data centers can be hundreds of thousands to even millions of square feet to hold a comparable amount of stored data.
The Elegance of DNA as a Storage Medium
Like music, which can be widely varied with a finite number of notes, DNA encodes individuality with only four different letters in varied combinations. When using DNA as a storage medium, there are several advantages in addition to the universality of the format and incredible storage density. DNA can be stable for thousands of years when stored in a cool dry place and is easy to copy using polymerase chain reaction to create back-up copies of archived material. In addition, because of PCR, small data sets can be targeted and recovered quickly from a large dataset without needing to read the entire file.
How to Store Digital Data in DNA
To encode the music performances into archival storage copies in DNA, Twist Bioscience worked with Microsoft and University of Washington researchers to complete four steps: Coding, synthesis/storage, retrieval and decoding. First, the digital files were converted from the binary code using 0s and 1s into sequences of A, C, T and G. For purposes of the example, 00 represents A, 10 represents C, 01 represents G and 11 represents T. Twist Bioscience then synthesizes the DNA in short segments in the sequence order provided. The short DNA segments each contain about 12 bytes of data as well as a sequence number to indicate their place within the overall sequence. This is the process of storage. And finally, to ensure that the file is stored accurately, the sequence is read back to ensure 100 percent accuracy, and then decoded from A, C, T or G into a two-digit binary representation.
Importantly, to encapsulate and preserve encoded DNA, the collaborators are working with Professor Dr. Robert Grass of ETH Zurich. Grass has developed an innovative technology inspired by preservation of DNA within prehistoric fossils. With this technology, digital data encoded in DNA remains preserved for millennia.
About UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register
UNESCO established the Memory of the World Register in 1992 in response to a growing awareness of the perilous state of preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage in various parts of the world. Through its National Commissions, UNESCO prepared a list of endangered library and archive holdings and a world list of national cinematic heritage.
A range of pilot projects employing contemporary technology to reproduce original documentary heritage on other media began. These included, for example, a CD-ROM of the 13th Century Radzivill Chronicle, tracing the origins of the peoples of Europe, and Memoria de Iberoamerica, a joint newspaper microfilming project involving seven Latin American countries. These projects enhanced access to this documentary heritage and contributed to its preservation.
“We are incredibly proud to be a part of this momentous event, with the first archived songs placed into the UNESCO Memory of the World Register,” said Emily Leproust, Ph.D., CEO of Twist Bioscience.
The ArtTech Foundation, created by renowned scientists and dignitaries from Crans-Montana, Switzerland, wishes to stimulate reflection and support pioneering and innovative projects beyond the known boundaries of culture and science.
Benefitting from the establishment of a favorable environment for the creation of technology companies, the Foundation aims to position itself as key promoter of ideas and innovative endeavors within a landscape of “Culture and Science” that is still being shaped.
Several initiatives, including our annual global platform launched in the spring of 2017, are helping to create a community that brings together researchers, celebrities in the world of culture and the arts, as well as investors and entrepreneurs from Switzerland and across the globe.
EPFL, one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, based in Lausanne, is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.
About Twist Bioscience
At Twist Bioscience, our expertise is accelerating science and innovation by leveraging the power of scale. We have developed a proprietary semiconductor-based synthetic DNA manufacturing process featuring a high throughput silicon platform capable of producing synthetic biology tools, including genes, oligonucleotide pools and variant libraries. By synthesizing DNA on silicon instead of on traditional 96-well plastic plates, our platform overcomes the current inefficiencies of synthetic DNA production, and enables cost-effective, rapid, high-quality and high throughput synthetic gene production, which in turn, expedites the design, build and test cycle to enable personalized medicines, pharmaceuticals, sustainable chemical production, improved agriculture production, diagnostics and biodetection. We are also developing new technologies to address large scale data storage. For more information, please visit www.twistbioscience.com. Twist Bioscience is on Twitter. Sign up to follow our Twitter feed @TwistBioscience at https://twitter.com/TwistBioscience.
If you hadn’t read the EPFL press release first, it might have taken a minute to figure out why EPFL is being mentioned in the Twist Bioscience news release. Presumably someone was rushing to make a deadline. Ah well, I’ve seen and written worse.
I haven’t been able to find any video or audio recordings of the DNA-preserved performances but there is an informational video (originally published July 7, 2016) from Microsoft and the University of Washington describing the DNA-based technology,
I also found this description of listening to the DNA-preserved music in an Oct. 6, 2017 blog posting for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Day 6 radio programme,
To listen to them, one must first suspend the DNA holding the songs in a solution. Next, one can use a DNA sequencer to read the letters of the bases forming the molecules. Then, algorithms can determine the digital code those letters form. From that code, comes the music.
It’s complicated but Ceze says his team performed this process without error.
Psychedelic drugs seems to be enjoying a ‘moment’. After decades of being vilified and declared illegal (in many jurisdictions), psychedelic (or hallucinogenic) drugs are once again being tested for use in therapy. A Sept. 1, 2017 article by Diana Kwon for The Scientist describes some of the latest research (I’ve excerpted the section on molecules; Note: Links have been removed),
All the classic psychedelic drugs—psilocybin, LSD, and N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the active component in ayahuasca—activate serotonin 2A (5-HT2A) receptors, which are distributed throughout the brain. In all likelihood, this receptor plays a key role in the drugs’ effects. Krähenmann [Rainer Krähenmann, a psychiatrist and researcher at the University of Zurich]] and his colleagues in Zurich have discovered that ketanserin, a 5-HT2A receptor antagonist, blocks LSD’s hallucinogenic properties and prevents individuals from entering a dreamlike state or attributing personal relevance to the experience.12,13
Other research groups have found that, in rodent brains, 2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine (DOI), a highly potent and selective 5-HT2A receptor agonist, can modify the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)—a protein that, among other things, regulates neuronal survival, differentiation, and synaptic plasticity. This has led some scientists to hypothesize that, through this pathway, psychedelics may enhance neuroplasticity, the ability to form new neuronal connections in the brain.14 “We’re still working on that and trying to figure out what is so special about the receptor and where it is involved,” says Katrin Preller, a postdoc studying psychedelics at the University of Zurich. “But it seems like this combination of serotonin 2A receptors and BDNF leads to a kind of different organizational state in the brain that leads to what people experience under the influence of psychedelics.”
This serotonin receptor isn’t limited to the central nervous system. Work by Charles Nichols, a pharmacology professor at Louisiana State University, has revealed that 5-HT2A receptor agonists can reduce inflammation throughout the body. Nichols and his former postdoc Bangning Yu stumbled upon this discovery by accident, while testing the effects of DOI on smooth muscle cells from rat aortas. When they added this drug to the rodent cells in culture, it blocked the effects of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), a key inflammatory cytokine.
“It was completely unexpected,” Nichols recalls. The effects were so bewildering, he says, that they repeated the experiment twice to convince themselves that the results were correct. Before publishing the findings in 2008,15 they tested a few other 5-HT2A receptor agonists, including LSD, and found consistent anti-inflammatory effects, though none of the drugs’ effects were as strong as DOI’s. “Most of the psychedelics I have tested are about as potent as a corticosteroid at their target, but there’s something very unique about DOI that makes it much more potent,” Nichols says. “That’s one of the mysteries I’m trying to solve.”
After seeing the effect these drugs could have in cells, Nichols and his team moved on to whole animals. When they treated mouse models of system-wide inflammation with DOI, they found potent anti-inflammatory effects throughout the rodents’ bodies, with the strongest effects in the small intestine and a section of the main cardiac artery known as the aortic arch.16 “I think that’s really when it felt that we were onto something big, when we saw it in the whole animal,” Nichols says.
The group is now focused on testing DOI as a potential therapeutic for inflammatory diseases. In a 2015 study, they reported that DOI could block the development of asthma in a mouse model of the condition,17 and last December, the team received a patent to use DOI for four indications: asthma, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome. They are now working to move the treatment into clinical trials. The benefit of using DOI for these conditions, Nichols says, is that because of its potency, only small amounts will be required—far below the amounts required to produce hallucinogenic effects.
In addition to opening the door to a new class of diseases that could benefit from psychedelics-inspired therapy, Nichols’s work suggests “that there may be some enduring changes that are mediated through anti-inflammatory effects,” Griffiths [Roland Griffiths, a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins University] says. Recent studies suggest that inflammation may play a role in a number of psychological disorders, including depression18 and addiction.19
“If somebody has neuroinflammation and that’s causing depression, and something like psilocybin makes it better through the subjective experience but the brain is still inflamed, it’s going to fall back into the depressed rut,” Nichols says. But if psilocybin is also treating the inflammation, he adds, “it won’t have that rut to fall back into.”
If it turns out that psychedelics do have anti-inflammatory effects in the brain, the drugs’ therapeutic uses could be even broader than scientists now envision. “In terms of neurodegenerative disease, every one of these disorders is mediated by inflammatory cytokines,” says Juan Sanchez-Ramos, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida who in 2013 reported that small doses of psilocybin could promote neurogenesis in the mouse hippocampus.20 “That’s why I think, with Alzheimer’s, for example, if you attenuate the inflammation, it could help slow the progression of the disease.”
For anyone who was never exposed to the anti-hallucinogenic drug campaigns, this turn of events is mindboggling. There was a great deal of concern especially with LSD in the 1960s and it was not entirely unfounded. In my own family, a distant cousin, while under the influence of the drug, jumped off a building believing he could fly. So, Kwon’s story opening with a story about someone being treated successfully for depression with a psychedelic drug was surprising to me . Why these drugs are being used successfully for psychiatric conditions when so much damage was apparently done under the influence in decades past may have something to do with taking the drugs in a controlled environment and, possibly, smaller dosages.
As malicious hackers find ever more sophisticated ways to launch attacks, China is about to launch the Jinan Project, the world’s first unhackable computer network, and a major milestone in the development of quantum technology.
Named after the eastern Chinese city where the technology was developed, the network is planned to be fully operational by the end of August 2017. Jinan is the hub of the Beijing-Shanghai quantum network due to its strategic location between the two principal Chinese metropolises.
“We plan to use the network for national defence, finance and other fields, and hope to spread it out as a pilot that if successful can be used across China and the whole world,” commented Zhou Fei, assistant director of the Jinan Institute of Quantum Technology, who was speaking to Britain’s Financial Times.
By launching the network, China will become the first country worldwide to implement quantum technology for a real life, commercial end. It also highlights that China is a key global player in the rush to develop technologies based on quantum principles, with the EU and the United States also vying for world leadership in the field.
The network, known as a Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) network, is more secure than widely used electronic communication equivalents. Unlike a conventional telephone or internet cable, which can be tapped without the sender or recipient being aware, a QKD network alerts both users to any tampering with the system as soon as it occurs. This is because tampering immediately alters the information being relayed, with the disturbance being instantly recognisable. Once fully implemented, it will make it almost impossible for other governments to listen in on Chinese communications.
In the Jinan network, some 200 users from China’s military, government, finance and electricity sectors will be able to send messages safe in the knowledge that only they are reading them. It will be the world’s longest land-based quantum communications network, stretching over 2 000 km.
Also speaking to the ‘Financial Times’, quantum physicist Tim Byrnes, based at New York University’s (NYU) Shanghai campus commented: ‘China has achieved staggering things with quantum research… It’s amazing how quickly China has gotten on with quantum research projects that would be too expensive to do elsewhere… quantum communication has been taken up by the commercial sector much more in China compared to other countries, which means it is likely to pull ahead of Europe and US in the field of quantum communication.’
However, Europe is also determined to also be at the forefront of the ‘quantum revolution’ which promises to be one of the major defining technological phenomena of the twenty-first century. The EU has invested EUR 550 million into quantum technologies and has provided policy support to researchers through the 2016 Quantum Manifesto.
Moreover, with China’s latest achievement (and a previous one already notched up from July 2017 when its quantum satellite – the world’s first – sent a message to Earth on a quantum communication channel), it looks like the race to be crowned the world’s foremost quantum power is well and truly underway…
Quantum entanglement—physics at its strangest—has moved out of this world and into space. In a study that shows China’s growing mastery of both the quantum world and space science, a team of physicists reports that it sent eerily intertwined quantum particles from a satellite to ground stations separated by 1200 kilometers, smashing the previous world record. The result is a stepping stone to ultrasecure communication networks and, eventually, a space-based quantum internet.
“It’s a huge, major achievement,” says Thomas Jennewein, a physicist at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “They started with this bold idea and managed to do it.”
Entanglement involves putting objects in the peculiar limbo of quantum superposition, in which an object’s quantum properties occupy multiple states at once: like Schrödinger’s cat, dead and alive at the same time. Then those quantum states are shared among multiple objects. Physicists have entangled particles such as electrons and photons, as well as larger objects such as superconducting electric circuits.
Theoretically, even if entangled objects are separated, their precarious quantum states should remain linked until one of them is measured or disturbed. That measurement instantly determines the state of the other object, no matter how far away. The idea is so counterintuitive that Albert Einstein mocked it as “spooky action at a distance.”
Starting in the 1970s, however, physicists began testing the effect over increasing distances. In 2015, the most sophisticated of these tests, which involved measuring entangled electrons 1.3 kilometers apart, showed once again that spooky action is real.
Beyond the fundamental result, such experiments also point to the possibility of hack-proof communications. Long strings of entangled photons, shared between distant locations, can be “quantum keys” that secure communications. Anyone trying to eavesdrop on a quantum-encrypted message would disrupt the shared key, alerting everyone to a compromised channel.
But entangled photons degrade rapidly as they pass through the air or optical fibers. So far, the farthest anyone has sent a quantum key is a few hundred kilometers. “Quantum repeaters” that rebroadcast quantum information could extend a network’s reach, but they aren’t yet mature. Many physicists have dreamed instead of using satellites to send quantum information through the near-vacuum of space. “Once you have satellites distributing your quantum signals throughout the globe, you’ve done it,” says Verónica Fernández Mármol, a physicist at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid. …
Popkin goes on to detail the process for making the discovery in easily accessible (for the most part) writing and in a video and a graphic.
Russell Brandom writing for The Verge in a June 15, 2017 article about the Chinese quantum satellite adds detail about previous work and teams in other countries also working on the challenge (Note: Links have been removed),
Quantum networking has already shown promise in terrestrial fiber networks, where specialized routing equipment can perform the same trick over conventional fiber-optic cable. The first such network was a DARPA-funded connection established in 2003 between Harvard, Boston University, and a private lab. In the years since, a number of companies have tried to build more ambitious connections. The Swiss company ID Quantique has mapped out a quantum network that would connect many of North America’s largest data centers; in China, a separate team is working on a 2,000-kilometer quantum link between Beijing and Shanghai, which would rely on fiber to span an even greater distance than the satellite link. Still, the nature of fiber places strict limits on how far a single photon can travel.
According to ID Quantique, a reliable satellite link could connect the existing fiber networks into a single globe-spanning quantum network. “This proves the feasibility of quantum communications from space,” ID Quantique CEO Gregoire Ribordy tells The Verge. “The vision is that you have regional quantum key distribution networks over fiber, which can connect to each other through the satellite link.”
China isn’t the only country working on bringing quantum networks to space. A collaboration between the UK’s University of Strathclyde and the National University of Singapore is hoping to produce the same entanglement in cheap, readymade satellites called Cubesats. A Canadian team is also developing a method of producing entangled photons on the ground before sending them into space.
I wonder if there’s going to be an invitational event for scientists around the world to celebrate the launch.
A novel bandage alerts the nursing staff as soon as a wound starts healing badly. Sensors incorporated into the base material glow with a different intensity if the wound’s pH level changes. This way even chronic wounds could be monitored at home.
Using a UV lamp, the pH level in the wound can be verified without removing the bandage and the healing process can continue unimpeded. Image: Empa / CSEM
All too often, changing bandages is extremely unpleasant, even for smaller, everyday injuries. It stings and pulls, and sometimes a scab will even start bleeding again. And so we prefer to wait until the bandage drops off by itself.
It’s a different story with chronic wounds, though: normally, the nursing staff has to change the dressing regularly – not just for reasons of hygiene, but also to examine the wound, take swabs and clean it. Not only does this irritate the skin unnecessarily; bacteria can also get in, the risk of infection soars. It would be much better to leave the bandage on for longer and have the nursing staff “read” the condition of the wound from outside.
The idea of being able to see through a wound dressing gave rise to the project Flusitex (Fluorescence sensing integrated into medical textiles), which is being funded by the Swiss initiative Nano-Tera. Researchers from Empa teamed up with ETH Zurich, Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique (CSEM) and University Hospital Zurich to develop a high-tech system that is supposed to supply the nursing staff with relevant data about the condition of a wound. As Luciano Boesel from Empa’s Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles, who is coordinating the project at Empa, explains: “The idea of a smart wound dressing with integrated sensors is to provide continuous information on the state of the healing process without the bandages having to be changed any more frequently than necessary.” This would mean a gentler treatment for patients, less work for the nursing staff and, therefore, lower costs: globally, around 17 billion $ were spent on treating wounds last year.
When wounds heal, the body produces specific substances in a complex sequence of biochemical processes, which leads to a significant variation in a number of metabolic parameters. For instance, the amount of glucose and oxygen rises and falls depending on the phase of the healing process; likewise does the pH level change. All these variations can be detected with specialized sensors. With this in mind, Empa teamed up with project partner CSEM to develop a portable, cheap and easy-to-use device for measuring fluorescence that is capable of monitoring several parameters at once. It should enable nursing staff to keep tabs on the pH as well as on glucose and oxygen levels while the wound heals. If these change, conclusions about other key biochemical processes involved in wound healing can be drawn.
The bandage reveals ist measurings in UV light.
A high pH signals chronic wounds
The pH level is particularly useful for chronic wounds. If the wound heals normally, the pH rises to 8 before falling to 5 or 6. If a wound fails to close and becomes chronic, however, the pH level fluctuates between 7 and 8. Therefore, it would be helpful if a signal on the bandage could inform the nursing staff that the wound pH is permanently high. If the bandage does not need changing for reasons of hygiene and pH levels are low, on the other hand, they could afford to wait.
But how do the sensors work? The idea: if certain substances appear in the wound fluid, “customized” fluorescent sensor molecules respond with a physical signal. They start glowing and some even change color in the visible or ultra-violet (UV) range. Thanks to a color scale, weaker and stronger changes in color can be detected and the quantity of the emitted substance be deduced.
Empa chemist Guido Panzarasa from the Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles vividly demonstrates how a sample containing sensor molecules begins to fluoresce in the lab. He carefully drips a solution with a pH level of 7.5 into a dish. Under a UV light, the change is plain to see. He adds another solution and the luminescence fades. A glance at the little bottle confirms it: the pH level of the second solution is lower.
Luminous molecules under UV
The Empa team designed a molecule composed of benzalkonium chloride and pyranine. While benzalkonium chloride is a substance also used for conventional medical soap to combat bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms, pyranine is a dye found in highlighters that glows under UV light. “This biomarker works really well,” says Panzarasa; “especially at pH levels between 5.5 and 7.5. The colors can be visualized with simple UV lamps available in electronics stores.” The Empa team recently published their results in the journal “Sensors and Actuators”.
The designer molecule has another advantage: thanks to the benzalkonium chloride, it has an antimicrobial effect, as researchers from Empa’s Laboratory for Biointerfaces confirmed for the bacteria strain Staphylococcus aureus. Unwelcome bacteria might potentially also be combatted by selecting the right bandage material in future. As further investigations, such as on the chemical’s compatibility with cells and tissues, are currently lacking, however, the researchers do not yet know how their sensor works in a complex wound.
Keen interest from industry
In order to illustrate what a smart wound dressing might actually look like in future, Boesel places a prototype on the lab bench. “You don’t have to cover the entire surface of wound dressings with sensors,” he explains. “It’s enough for a few small areas to be impregnated with the pyranine benzalkonium molecules and integrated into the base material. This means the industrial wound dressings won’t be much pricier than they are now – only up to 20% more expensive.” Empa scientists are currently working on this in the follow-up project FlusiTex-Gateway in cooperation with industrial partners Flawa, Schöller, Kenzen and Theranoptics.
Panzarasa now drips various liquids with different pH levels onto all the little cylinders on the wound pad prototype. Sure enough, the lighter and darker dots are also clearly discernible as soon as the UV lamp is switched on. They are even visible to the naked eye and glow in bright yellow if liquids with a high pH come into contact with the sensor. The scientists are convinced: since the pH level is so easy to read and provides precise information about the acidic or alkaline state of the sample, this kind of wound dressing is just the ticket as a diagnostic tool. Using the fluorescence meter developed by CSEM, more accurate, quantitative measure-ments of the pH level can be accomplished for medical purposes.
According to Boesel, it might one day even be possible to read the signals with the aid of a smartphone camera. Combined with a simple app, nursing staff and doctors would have a tool that enables them to easily and conveniently read the wound status “from outside”, even without a UV lamp. And patients would then also have the possibility of detecting the early onset of a chronic wound at home.
I wonder how long or even if this innovation will ever make its way into medical practice. I’m guessing this stage would be described as ‘proof of concept’ and that clinical testing is still many years away.
The metaphor in the press release’s title helped to wake me up. Thank you to whoever wrote it.
I have two brain news bits, one about neural networks and quantum entanglement and another about how the brain operates on more than three dimensions.
Quantum entanglement and neural networks
A June 13, 2017 news item on phys.org describes how machine learning can be used to solve problems in physics (Note: Links have been removed),
Machine learning, the field that’s driving a revolution in artificial intelligence, has cemented its role in modern technology. Its tools and techniques have led to rapid improvements in everything from self-driving cars and speech recognition to the digital mastery of an ancient board game.
Now, physicists are beginning to use machine learning tools to tackle a different kind of problem, one at the heart of quantum physics. In a paper published recently in Physical Review X, researchers from JQI [Joint Quantum Institute] and the Condensed Matter Theory Center (CMTC) at the University of Maryland showed that certain neural networks—abstract webs that pass information from node to node like neurons in the brain—can succinctly describe wide swathes of quantum systems.
An artist’s rendering of a neural network with two layers. At the top is a real quantum system, like atoms in an optical lattice. Below is a network of hidden neurons that capture their interactions (Credit: E. Edwards/JQI)
Dongling Deng, a JQI Postdoctoral Fellow who is a member of CMTC and the paper’s first author, says that researchers who use computers to study quantum systems might benefit from the simple descriptions that neural networks provide. “If we want to numerically tackle some quantum problem,” Deng says, “we first need to find an efficient representation.”
On paper and, more importantly, on computers, physicists have many ways of representing quantum systems. Typically these representations comprise lists of numbers describing the likelihood that a system will be found in different quantum states. But it becomes difficult to extract properties or predictions from a digital description as the number of quantum particles grows, and the prevailing wisdom has been that entanglement—an exotic quantum connection between particles—plays a key role in thwarting simple representations.
The neural networks used by Deng and his collaborators—CMTC Director and JQI Fellow Sankar Das Sarma and Fudan University physicist and former JQI Postdoctoral Fellow Xiaopeng Li—can efficiently represent quantum systems that harbor lots of entanglement, a surprising improvement over prior methods.
What’s more, the new results go beyond mere representation. “This research is unique in that it does not just provide an efficient representation of highly entangled quantum states,” Das Sarma says. “It is a new way of solving intractable, interacting quantum many-body problems that uses machine learning tools to find exact solutions.”
The result was a more complete account of the capabilities of certain neural networks to represent quantum states. In particular, the team studied neural networks that use two distinct groups of neurons. The first group, called the visible neurons, represents real quantum particles, like atoms in an optical lattice or ions in a chain. To account for interactions between particles, the researchers employed a second group of neurons—the hidden neurons—which link up with visible neurons. These links capture the physical interactions between real particles, and as long as the number of connections stays relatively small, the neural network description remains simple.
Specifying a number for each connection and mathematically forgetting the hidden neurons can produce a compact representation of many interesting quantum states, including states with topological characteristics and some with surprising amounts of entanglement.
Beyond its potential as a tool in numerical simulations, the new framework allowed Deng and collaborators to prove some mathematical facts about the families of quantum states represented by neural networks. For instance, neural networks with only short-range interactions—those in which each hidden neuron is only connected to a small cluster of visible neurons—have a strict limit on their total entanglement. This technical result, known as an area law, is a research pursuit of many condensed matter physicists.
These neural networks can’t capture everything, though. “They are a very restricted regime,” Deng says, adding that they don’t offer an efficient universal representation. If they did, they could be used to simulate a quantum computer with an ordinary computer, something physicists and computer scientists think is very unlikely. Still, the collection of states that they do represent efficiently, and the overlap of that collection with other representation methods, is an open problem that Deng says is ripe for further exploration.
Blue Brain is a Swiss government brain research initiative which officially came to life in 2006 although the initial agreement between the École Politechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and IBM was signed in 2005 (according to the project’s Timeline page). Moving on, the project’s latest research reveals something astounding (from a June 12, 2017 Frontiers Publishing press release on EurekAlert),
For most people, it is a stretch of the imagination to understand the world in four dimensions but a new study has discovered structures in the brain with up to eleven dimensions – ground-breaking work that is beginning to reveal the brain’s deepest architectural secrets.
Using algebraic topology in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.
The research, published today in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, shows that these structures arise when a group of neurons forms a clique: each neuron connects to every other neuron in the group in a very specific way that generates a precise geometric object. The more neurons there are in a clique, the higher the dimension of the geometric object.
“We found a world that we had never imagined,” says neuroscientist Henry Markram, director of Blue Brain Project and professor at the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, “there are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to eleven dimensions.”
Markram suggests this may explain why it has been so hard to understand the brain. “The mathematics usually applied to study networks cannot detect the high-dimensional structures and spaces that we now see clearly.”
If 4D worlds stretch our imagination, worlds with 5, 6 or more dimensions are too complex for most of us to comprehend. This is where algebraic topology comes in: a branch of mathematics that can describe systems with any number of dimensions. The mathematicians who brought algebraic topology to the study of brain networks in the Blue Brain Project were Kathryn Hess from EPFL and Ran Levi from Aberdeen University.
“Algebraic topology is like a telescope and microscope at the same time. It can zoom into networks to find hidden structures – the trees in the forest – and see the empty spaces – the clearings – all at the same time,” explains Hess.
In 2015, Blue Brain published the first digital copy of a piece of the neocortex – the most evolved part of the brain and the seat of our sensations, actions, and consciousness. In this latest research, using algebraic topology, multiple tests were performed on the virtual brain tissue to show that the multi-dimensional brain structures discovered could never be produced by chance. Experiments were then performed on real brain tissue in the Blue Brain’s wet lab in Lausanne confirming that the earlier discoveries in the virtual tissue are biologically relevant and also suggesting that the brain constantly rewires during development to build a network with as many high-dimensional structures as possible.
When the researchers presented the virtual brain tissue with a stimulus, cliques of progressively higher dimensions assembled momentarily to enclose high-dimensional holes, that the researchers refer to as cavities. “The appearance of high-dimensional cavities when the brain is processing information means that the neurons in the network react to stimuli in an extremely organized manner,” says Levi. “It is as if the brain reacts to a stimulus by building then razing a tower of multi-dimensional blocks, starting with rods (1D), then planks (2D), then cubes (3D), and then more complex geometries with 4D, 5D, etc. The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates.”
The big question these researchers are asking now is whether the intricacy of tasks we can perform depends on the complexity of the multi-dimensional “sandcastles” the brain can build. Neuroscience has also been struggling to find where the brain stores its memories. “They may be ‘hiding’ in high-dimensional cavities,” Markram speculates.
About Blue Brain
The aim of the Blue Brain Project, a Swiss brain initiative founded and directed by Professor Henry Markram, is to build accurate, biologically detailed digital reconstructions and simulations of the rodent brain, and ultimately, the human brain. The supercomputer-based reconstructions and simulations built by Blue Brain offer a radically new approach for understanding the multilevel structure and function of the brain. http://bluebrain.epfl.ch
Frontiers is a leading community-driven open-access publisher. By taking publishing entirely online, we drive innovation with new technologies to make peer review more efficient and transparent. We provide impact metrics for articles and researchers, and merge open access publishing with a research network platform – Loop – to catalyse research dissemination, and popularize research to the public, including children. Our goal is to increase the reach and impact of research articles and their authors. Frontiers has received the ALPSP Gold Award for Innovation in Publishing in 2014. http://www.frontiersin.org.
I am going to have take the researchers’ word that these somehow lead to healthy heart valve tissue,
In rotary jet spinning technology, a rotating nozzle extrudes a solution of extracellular matrix (ECM) into nanofibers that wrap themselves around heart valve-shaped mandrels. By using a series of mandrels with different sizes, the manufacturing process becomes fully scalable and is able to provide JetValves for all age groups and heart sizes. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University
The human heart beats approximately 35 million times every year, effectively pumping blood into the circulation via four different heart valves. Unfortunately, in over four million people each year, these delicate tissues malfunction due to birth defects, age-related deteriorations, and infections, causing cardiac valve disease.
Today, clinicians use either artificial prostheses or fixed animal and cadaver-sourced tissues to replace defective valves. While these prostheses can restore the function of the heart for a while, they are associated with adverse comorbidity and wear down and need to be replaced during invasive and expensive surgeries. Moreover, in children, implanted heart valve prostheses need to be replaced even more often as they cannot grow with the child.
A team lead by Kevin Kit Parker, Ph.D. at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering recently developed a nanofiber fabrication technique to rapidly manufacture heart valves with regenerative and growth potential. In a paper published in Biomaterials, Andrew Capulli, Ph.D. and colleagues fabricated a valve-shaped nanofiber network that mimics the mechanical and chemical properties of the native valve extracellular matrix (ECM). To achieve this, the team used the Parker lab’s proprietary rotary jet spinning technology — in which a rotating nozzle extrudes an ECM solution into nanofibers that wrap themselves around heart valve-shaped mandrels. “Our setup is like a very fast cotton candy machine that can spin a range of synthetic and natural occurring materials. In this study, we used a combination of synthetic polymers and ECM proteins to fabricate biocompatible JetValves that are hemodynamically competent upon implantation and support cell migration and re-population in vitro. Importantly, we can make human-sized JetValves in minutes — much faster than possible for other regenerative prostheses,” said Parker.
To further develop and test the clinical potential of JetValves, Parker’s team collaborated with the translational team of Simon P. Hoerstrup, M.D., Ph.D., at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, which is a partner institution with the Wyss Institute. As a leader in regenerative heart prostheses, Hoerstrup and his team in Zurich have previously developed regenerative, tissue-engineered heart valves to replace mechanical and fixed-tissue heart valves. In Hoerstrup’s approach, human cells directly deposit a regenerative layer of complex ECM on biodegradable scaffolds shaped as heart valves and vessels. The living cells are then eliminated from the scaffolds resulting in an “off-the-shelf” human matrix-based prostheses ready for implantation.
In the paper, the cross-disciplinary team successfully implanted JetValves in sheep using a minimally invasive technique and demonstrated that the valves functioned properly in the circulation and regenerated new tissue. “In our previous studies, the cell-derived ECM-coated scaffolds could recruit cells from the receiving animal’s heart and support cell proliferation, matrix remodeling, tissue regeneration, and even animal growth. While these valves are safe and effective, their manufacturing remains complex and expensive as human cells must be cultured for a long time under heavily regulated conditions. The JetValve’s much faster manufacturing process can be a game-changer in this respect. If we can replicate these results in humans, this technology could have invaluable benefits in minimizing the number of pediatric re-operations,” said Hoerstrup.
In support of these translational efforts, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the University of Zurich announced today a cross-institutional team effort to generate a functional heart valve replacement with the capacity for repair, regeneration, and growth. The team is also working towards a GMP-grade version of their customizable, scalable, and cost-effective manufacturing process that would enable deployment to a large patient population. In addition, the new heart valve would be compatible with minimally invasive procedures to serve both pediatric and adult patients.
The project will be led jointly by Parker and Hoerstrup. Parker is a Core Faculty member of the Wyss Institute and the Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). Hoerstrup is Chair and Director of the University of Zurich’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine (IREM), Co-Director of the recently founded Wyss Translational Center Zurich and a Wyss Institute Associate Faculty member.
Since JetValves can be manufactured in all desired shapes and sizes, and take seconds to minutes to produce, the team’s goal is to provide customized, ready-to-use, regenerative heart valves much faster and at much lower cost than currently possible.
“Achieving the goal of minimally invasive, low-cost regenerating heart valves could have tremendous impact on patients’ lives across age-, social- and geographical boundaries. Once again, our collaborative team structure that combines unique and leading expertise in bioengineering, regenerative medicine, surgical innovation and business development across the Wyss Institute and our partner institutions, makes it possible for us to advance technology development in ways not possible in a conventional academic laboratory,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at HMS and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as Professor of Bioengineering at SEAS.
This scanning electron microscopy image shows how extracellular matrix (ECM) nanofibers generated with JetValve technology are arranged in parallel networks with physical properties comparable to those found in native heart tissue. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University
The nanotech industry is booming. Every year, several thousands of tonnes of man-made nanoparticles are produced worldwide; sooner or later, a certain part of them will end up in bodies of water or soil. But even experts find it difficult to say exactly what happens to them there. It is a complex question, not only because there are many different types of man-made (engineered) nanoparticles, but also because the particles behave differently in the environment depending on the prevailing conditions.
Researchers led by Martin Scheringer, Senior Scientist at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences, wanted to bring some clarity to this issue. They reviewed 270 scientific studies, and the nearly 1,000 laboratory experiments described in them, looking for patterns in the behaviour of engineered nanoparticles. The goal was to make universal predictions about the behaviour of the particles.
However, the researchers found a very mixed picture when they looked at the data. “The situation is more complex than many scientists would previously have predicted,” says Scheringer. “We need to recognise that we can’t draw a uniform picture with the data available to us today.”
Nicole Sani-Kast, a doctoral student in Scheringer’s group and first author of the analysis published in the journal PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences], adds: “Engineered nanoparticles behave very dynamically and are highly reactive. They attach themselves to everything they find: to other nanoparticles in order to form agglomerates, or to other molecules present in the environment.”
To what exactly the particles react, and how quickly, depends on various factors such as the acidity of the water or soil, the concentration of the existing minerals and salts, and above all, the composition of the organic substances dissolved in the water or present in the soil. The fact that the engineered nanoparticles often have a surface coating makes things even more complicated. Depending on the environmental conditions, the particles retain or lose their coating, which in turn influences their reaction behaviour.
To evaluate the results available in the literature, Sani-Kast used a network analysis for the first time in this research field. It is a technique familiar in social research for measuring networks of social relations, and allowed her to show that the data available on engineered nanoparticles is inconsistent, insufficiently diverse and poorly structured.
More method for machine learning
“If more structured, consistent and sufficiently diverse data were available, it may be possible to discover universal patterns using machine learning methods,” says Scheringer, “but we’re not there yet.” Enough structured experimental data must first be available.
“In order for the scientific community to carry out such experiments in a systematic and standardised manner, some kind of coordination is necessary,” adds Sani-Kast, but she is aware that such work is difficult to coordinate. Scientists are generally well known for preferring to explore new methods and conditions rather than routinely performing standardized experiments.
Distinguishing man-made and natural nanoparticles
In addition to the lack of systematic research, there is also a second tangible problem in researching the behaviour of engineered nanoparticles: many engineered nanoparticles consist of chemical compounds that occur naturally in the soil. So far it has been difficult to measure the engineered particles in the environment since it is hard to distinguish them from naturally occurring particles with the same chemical composition.
However, researchers at ETH Zurich’s Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences, under the direction of ETH Professor Detlef Günther, have recently established an effective method that makes such a distinction possible in routine investigations. They used a state-of-the-art and highly sensitive mass spectrometry technique (called spICP-TOF mass spectrometry) to determine which chemical elements make up individual nanoparticles in a sample.
In collaboration with scientists from the University of Vienna, the ETH researchers applied the method to soil samples with natural cerium-containing particles, into which they mixed engineered cerium dioxide nanoparticles. Using machine learning methods, which were ideally suited to this particular issue, the researchers were able to identify differences in the chemical fingerprints of the two particle classes. “While artificially produced nanoparticles often consist of a single compound, natural nanoparticles usually still contain a number of additional chemical elements,” explains Alexander Gundlach-Graham, a postdoc in Günther’s group.
The new measuring method is very sensitive: the scientists were able to measure engineered particles in samples with up to one hundred times more natural particles.
The researchers have produced a visualization of their network analysis,
The researchers evaluated the experimental data published in the scientific literature using a network analysis. This analysis reveals which types of nanoparticles (blue) have been studied under which environmental conditions (red). (Visualisations: Thomas Kast)
Here are links and citation for two papers associated with this research,