Tag Archives: UK

Quantum teleportation

It’s been two years (my Aug. 16, 2013 posting features a German-Japanese collaboration) since the last quantum teleportation posting here. First, a little visual stimulation,

Captain James T Kirk (credit: http://www.comicvine.com/james-t-kirk/4005-20078/)

Captain James T Kirk (credit: http://www.comicvine.com/james-t-kirk/4005-20078/)

Captain Kirk, also known as William Shatner, is from Montréal, Canada and that’s not the only Canadian connection to this story which is really about some research at York University (UK). From an Oct. 1, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Mention the word ‘teleportation’ and for many people it conjures up “Beam me up, Scottie” images of Captain James T Kirk.

But in the last two decades quantum teleportation – transferring the quantum structure of an object from one place to another without physical transmission — has moved from the realms of Star Trek fantasy to tangible reality.

A Sept. 30, 2015 York University (UK) press release, which originated the news item, describes the quantum teleportation research problem and solution,

Quantum teleportation is an important building block for quantum computing, quantum communication and quantum network and, eventually, a quantum Internet. While theoretical proposals for a quantum Internet already exist, the problem for scientists is that there is still debate over which of various technologies provides the most efficient and reliable teleportation system. This is the dilemma which an international team of researchers, led by Dr Stefano Pirandola of the Department of Computer Science at the University of York, set out to resolve.

In a paper published in Nature Photonics, the team, which included scientists from the Freie Universität Berlin and the Universities of Tokyo and Toronto [emphasis mine], reviewed the theoretical ideas around quantum teleportation focusing on the main experimental approaches and their attendant advantages and disadvantages.

None of the technologies alone provide a perfect solution, so the scientists concluded that a hybridisation of the various protocols and underlying structures would offer the most fruitful approach.

For instance, systems using photonic qubits work over distances up to 143 kilometres, but they are probabilistic in that only 50 per cent of the information can be transported. To resolve this, such photon systems may be used in conjunction with continuous variable systems, which are 100 per cent effective but currently limited to short distances.

Most importantly, teleportation-based optical communication needs an interface with suitable matter-based quantum memories where quantum information can be stored and further processed.

Dr Pirandola, who is also a member of the York Centre for Quantum Technologies, said: “We don’t have an ideal or universal technology for quantum teleportation. The field has developed a lot but we seem to need to rely on a hybrid approach to get the best from each available technology.

“The use of quantum teleportation as a building block for a quantum network depends on its integration with quantum memories. The development of good quantum memories would allow us to build quantum repeaters, therefore extending the range of teleportation. They would also give us the ability to store and process the transmitted quantum information at local quantum computers.

“This could ultimately form the backbone of a quantum Internet. The revised hybrid architecture will likely rely on teleportation-based long-distance quantum optical communication, interfaced with solid state devices for quantum information processing.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Advances in quantum teleportation by S. Pirandola, J. Eisert, C. Weedbrook, A. Furusawa, & S. L. Braunstein. Nature Photonics 9, 641–652 (2015) doi:10.1038/nphoton.2015.154 Published online 29 September 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.


Royal Institution, science, and nanotechnology 101 and #RE_IMAGINE at the London College of Fashion

I’m featuring two upcoming events in London (UK).

Nanotechnology 101: The biggest thing you’ve never seen

 Gold Nanowire Array Credit: lacomj via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/40137058@N07/3790862760

Gold Nanowire Array
Credit: lacomj via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/40137058@N07/3790862760 [downloaded from http://www.rigb.org/whats-on/events-2015/october/public-nanotechnology-101-the-biggest-thing-you]

Already sold out, this event is scheduled for Oct. 20, 2015. Here’s why you might want to put yourself on a waiting list, from the Royal Institution’s Nanotechnology 101 event page,

How could nanotechnology be used to create smart and extremely resilient materials? Or to boil water three times faster? Join former NASA Nanotechnology Project Manager Michael Meador to learn about the fundamentals of nanotechnology—what it is and why it’s unique—and how this emerging, disruptive technology will change the world. From invisibility cloaks to lightweight fuel-efficient vehicles and a cure for cancer, nanotechnology might just be the biggest thing you can’t see.

About the speaker

Michael Meador is currently Director of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, on secondment from NASA where he had been managing the Nanotechnology Project in the Game Changing Technology Program, working to mature nanotechnologies with high potential for impact on NASA missions. One part of his current job is to communicate nanotechnology research to policy-makers and the public.

Here’s some logistical information from the event page,

7.00pm to 8.30pm, Tuesday 20 October
The Theatre

Standard £12
Concession £8
Associate £6
Free to Members, Faraday Members and Fellows

For anyone who may not know offhand where the Royal Institution and its theatre is located,

The Royal Institution of Great Britain
21 Albemarle Street

+44 (0) 20 7409 2992
(9.00am – 6.00pm Mon – Fri)

Here’s a description of the Royal Institution from its Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

The Royal Institution of Great Britain (often abbreviated as the Royal Institution or RI) is an organisation devoted to scientific education and research, based in London.

The Royal Institution was founded in 1799 by the leading British scientists of the age, including Henry Cavendish and its first president, George Finch, the 9th Earl of Winchilsea,[1] for

diffusing the knowledge, and facilitating the general introduction, of useful mechanical inventions and improvements; and for teaching, by courses of philosophical lectures and experiments, the application of science to the common purposes of life.
— [2]

Much of its initial funding and the initial proposal for its founding were given by the Society for Bettering the Conditions and Improving the Comforts of the Poor, under the guidance of philanthropist Sir Thomas Bernard and American-born British scientist Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford. Since its founding it has been based at 21 Albemarle Street in Mayfair. Its Royal Charter was granted in 1800. The Institution announced in January 2013 that it was considering sale of its Mayfair headquarters to meet its mounting debts.[3]


While this isn’t a nanotechnology event, it does touch on topics discussed here many times: wearable technology, futuristic fashion, and the integration of technology into the body. The Digital Anthropology Lab (of the  London College of Fashion, which is part of the University of the Arts London) is being officially launched with a special event on Oct. 16, 2015. Before describing the event, here’s more about the Digital Anthropology Lab from its homepage,

Crafting fashion experience digitally

The Digital Anthropology Lab, launching in Autumn 2015, London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London is a research studio bringing industry and academia together to develop a new way of making smarter with technology.

The Digital Anthropology Lab, London College of Fashion, experiments with artefacts, communities, consumption and making in the digital space, using 3D printing, body scanning, code and electronics. We focus on an experimental approach to digital anthropology, allowing us to practically examine future ways in which digital collides with the human experience. We connect commercial partners to leading research academics and graduate students, exploring seed ideas for fashion tech.


We radically re-imagine this emerging fashion- tech space, exploring both the beautification of technology for wearables and critically explore the ‘why.’


Join us to experiment with, ‘The Internet of Fashion Things.’ Where the Internet of Things, invisible big data technologies, virtual fit and meta-data collide.


With the luxury of the imagination, we aim to re- wire our digital ambitions and think again about designing future digital fashion experiences for generation 2050.

Here’s information I received from the Sept. 30, 2015 announcement I received via email,

The Digital Anthropology Lab at London College of Fashion, UAL invites you to #RE_IMAGINE: A forum exploring the now, near and future of fashion technology.

#RE_IMAGINE, the Digital Anthropology Lab’s launch event, will present a fantastically diverse range of digital speakers and ask them to respond to the question – ‘Where are our digital selves heading?’

Join us to hear from pioneers, risk takers, entrepreneurs, designers and inventors including Ian Livingston CBE, Luke Robert Mason from New Bionics, Katie Baron from Stylus, J. Meejin Yoon from MIT among others. Also come to see what happened when we made fashion collide with the Internet of Things, they are wearable but not as you know it…

#RE_IMAGINE aims to be an informative, networked and enlightening brainstorm of a day. To book your place please follow this link.

To coincide with the exhibition Digital Disturbances, Fashion Space Gallery presents a late night opening event. Alongside a curator tour will be a series of interactive demonstrations and displays which bring together practitioners working across design, science and technology to investigate possible human and material futures. We’d encourage you to stay and enjoy this networking opportunity.

Friday 16th October 2015

9.30am – 5pm – Forum event 

5pm – 8.30pm – Digital Disturbances networking event

London College of Fashion

20 John Princes Street
W1G 0BJ 

Ticket prices are £75.00 for a standard ticket and £35.00 for concession tickets (more details here).

For more #RE_IMAGINE specifics, there’s the event’s Agenda page. As for Digital Disturbances, here’s more from the Fashion Space Gallery’s Exhibition homepage,

Digital Disturbances

11th September – 12th December 2015

Digital Disturbances examines the influence of digital concepts and tools on fashion. It provides a lens onto the often strange effects that emerge from interactions across material and virtual platforms – information both lost and gained in the process of translation. It presents the work of seven designers and creative teams whose work documents these interactions and effects, both in the design and representation of fashion. They can be traced across the surfaces of garments, through the realisation of new silhouettes, in the remixing of images and bodies in photography and film, and into the nuances of identity projected into social and commercial spaces.

Designers include: ANREALAGE, Bart Hess, POSTmatter, Simone C. Niquille and Alexander Porter, Flora Miranda, Texturall and Tigran Avetisyan.

Digital Disturbances is curated by Leanne Wierzba.

Two events—two peeks into the future.

Brushing your way to nanofibres

The scientists are using what looks like a hairbrush to create nanofibres ,

Figure 2: Brush-spinning of nanofibers. (Reprinted with permission by Wiley-VCH Verlag)) [downloaded from http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=41398.php]

Figure 2: Brush-spinning of nanofibers. (Reprinted with permission by Wiley-VCH Verlag)) [downloaded from http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=41398.php]

A Sept. 23, 2015 Nanowerk Spotlight article by Michael Berger provides an in depth look at this technique (developed by a joint research team of scientists from the University of Georgia, Princeton University, and Oxford University) which could make producing nanofibers for use in scaffolds (tissue engineering and other applications) more easily and cheaply,

Polymer nanofibers are used in a wide range of applications such as the design of new composite materials, the fabrication of nanostructured biomimetic scaffolds for artificial bones and organs, biosensors, fuel cells or water purification systems.

“The simplest method of nanofiber fabrication is direct drawing from a polymer solution using a glass micropipette,” Alexander Tokarev, Ph.D., a Research Associate in the Nanostructured Materials Laboratory at the University of Georgia, tells Nanowerk. “This method however does not scale up and thus did not find practical applications. In our new work, we introduce a scalable method of nanofiber spinning named touch-spinning.”

James Cook in a Sept. 23, 2015 article for Materials Views provides a description of the technology,

A glass rod is glued to a rotating stage, whose diameter can be chosen over a wide range of a few centimeters to more than 1 m. A polymer solution is supplied, for example, from a needle of a syringe pump that faces the glass rod. The distance between the droplet of polymer solution and the tip of the glass rod is adjusted so that the glass rod contacts the polymer droplet as it rotates.

Following the initial “touch”, the polymer droplet forms a liquid bridge. As the stage rotates the bridge stretches and fiber length increases, with the diameter decreasing due to mass conservation. It was shown that the diameter of the fiber can be precisely controlled down to 40 nm by the speed of the stage rotation.

The method can be easily scaled-up by using a round hairbrush composed of 600 filaments.

When the rotating brush touches the surface of a polymer solution, the brush filaments draw many fibers simultaneously producing hundred kilometers of fibers in minutes.

The drawn fibers are uniform since the fiber diameter depends on only two parameters: polymer concentration and speed of drawing.

Returning to Berger’s Spotlight article, there is an important benefit with this technique,

As the team points out, one important aspect of the method is the drawing of single filament fibers.

These single filament fibers can be easily wound onto spools of different shapes and dimensions so that well aligned one-directional, orthogonal or randomly oriented fiber meshes with a well-controlled average mesh size can be fabricated using this very simple method.

“Owing to simplicity of the method, our set-up could be used in any biomedical lab and facility,” notes Tokarev. “For example, a customized scaffold by size, dimensions and othermorphologic characteristics can be fabricated using donor biomaterials.”

Berger’s and Cook’s articles offer more illustrations and details.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Touch- and Brush-Spinning of Nanofibers by Alexander Tokarev, Darya Asheghal, Ian M. Griffiths, Oleksandr Trotsenko, Alexey Gruzd, Xin Lin, Howard A. Stone, and Sergiy Minko. Advanced Materials DOI: 10.1002/adma.201502768ViewFirst published: 23 September 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

What’s in your DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)? an art auction at Christies

For this item, I have David Bruggeman’s Sept. 24, 2015 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog to thank,

As part of a fundraising project for a building at the Francis Crick Institute, Christie’s will hold an auction for 30 double-helix sculptures on September 30 (H/T ScienceInsider).

David has embedded a video featuring some of the artists and their works in his posting. By contrast, here are a few pictures of the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) art objects from the Cancer Research UK’s DNA Trail page,

For our London Art trail, which ran from 29 June – 6 September 2015, we asked internationally renowned artists to design a beautiful double helix sculpture inspired by the question: What’s in your DNA? Take a look at their sculptures and find out more about the artists’ inspirations.

This one is called The Journey and is by Gary Portell,

DNA_The Journey

His inspiration is: “My design is based on two symbols, the swallow who shares my journey from Africa to England and the hand print. The hand print as a symbol of creation and the swallow reflects the traveller.

This one by Thiery Noir is titled Double Helix Noir.


The inspiration is: For this sculpture, Noir wanted to pay tribute to the memory of his former assistant, Lisa Brown, who was affected by breast cancer and who passed away in July 2001, at the young age of 31 years old.

Growing Stem is by Orla Kiely,


The inspiration is: I find inspiration in many things, but especially love nature with the abundance of colourful flowers, leaves, and stems. Applying our multi stem onto the DNA spiral seemed a natural choice as it represents positivity and growth: qualities that are so relevant for cancer research.

Double Dutch Delftblue DNA is by twins, Chris and Xand van Tulleken.


The inspiration is: The recurrent motifs of Delft tiles reference those of DNA. Our inspiration was the combination of our family’s DNA, drawing on Dutch and Canadian origins, and the fact that twins have shared genomes.  (With thanks to Anthony van Tulleken)

Ted Baker’s Ted’s Helix of Haberdashery,


Inspiration is: Always a fan of spinning a yarn, Ted Baker’s Helix of Haberdashery sculpture unravels the tale of his evolution from shirt specialist to global lifestyle brand. Ted’s DNA is represented as a cascading double helix of pearlescent buttons, finished with a typically playful story-telling flourish.

Finally, What Mad Pursuit is by Kindra Crick,


Inspiration is: What Mad Pursuit explores the creative possibilities achievable through the intermingling of art, science and imagination in the quest for knowledge. The piece is inspired by my family’s contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA.

Aparna Vidyasagar interviewed Kindra Crick in a Sept. 24, 2015 Q&A for ScienceInsider (Note: Links have been removed),

Kindra Crick, granddaughter of Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA’s structure, is one of more than 20 artists contributing sculptures to an auction fundraiser for a building at the new Francis Crick Institute. The auction is being organized by Cancer Research UK and will be held at Christie’s in London on 30 September. The auction will continue online until 13 October.

The new biomedical research institute, named for the Nobel laureate who died in 2004, aims to develop prevention strategies and treatments for diseases including cancer. It is a consortium of six partners, including Cancer Research UK.

Earlier this year, Cancer Research UK asked about two dozen artists—including Chinese superstar Ai Weiwei—to answer the question “What’s in your DNA?” through a sculpture based on DNA’s double helix structure. …

Q: “What’s in your DNA?” How did you build your sculpture around that question?

A: When I was given the theme, I thought this was a wonderful project for me, considering my family history. Also, in my own art practice I try to express the wonder and the process of scientific inquiry. This draws on my backgrounds; in molecular biology from when I was at Princeton [University], and in art while going to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

I was influenced by my grandparents, Francis Crick and Odile Crick. He was the scientist and she was the artist. My grandfather worked on elucidating the structure of DNA, and my grandmother, Odile, was the one to draw the first image of DNA. The illustration was used for the 1953 paper that my grandfather wrote with James Watson. So, there’s a rich history there that I can draw from, in terms of what’s in my DNA.

Should you be interested in bidding on one of the pieces, you can go to Christie’s What’s in your DNA webpage,

ONLINE AUCTION IS LIVE: 30 September – 13 October 2015

Good luck!

David Bruggeman has put in a request (from his Sept. 24, 2015 posting),

… if you become aware of human trials for 3D bioprinting, please give a holler.  I may now qualify.

Good luck David!

Safety mechanisms needed before synthetic biology moves from the labs into the real world

A Sept. 17, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now makes note of an article where experts review the state of the synthetic biology field and discuss the need for safety as synthetic biology is poised to move from the laboratory into the real world,

Targeted cancer treatments, toxicity sensors and living factories: synthetic biology has the potential to revolutionize science and medicine. But before the technology is ready for real-world applications, more attention needs to be paid to its safety and stability, say experts in a review article published in Current Opinion in Chemical Biology.

Synthetic biology involves engineering microbes like bacteria to program them to behave in certain ways. For example, bacteria can be engineered to glow when they detect certain molecules, and can be turned into tiny factories to produce chemicals.

Synthetic biology has now reached a stage where it’s ready to move out of the lab and into the real world, to be used in patients and in the field. According to Professor Pamela Silver, one of the authors of the article from Harvard Medical School in the US, this move means researchers should increase focus on the safety of engineered microbes in biological systems like the human body.

A Sept. 16, 2015 Elsevier press release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“Historically, molecular biologists engineered microbes as industrial organisms to produce different molecules,” said Professor Silver. “The more we discovered about microbes, the easier it was to program them. We’ve now reached a very exciting phase in synthetic biology where we’re ready to apply what we’ve developed in the real world, and this is where safety is vital.”

Microbes have an impact on health; the way they interact with animals is being ever more revealed by microbiome research – studies on all the microbes that live in the body – and this is making them easier and faster to engineer. Scientists are now able to synthesize whole genomes, making it technically possible to build a microbe from scratch.

“Ultimately, this is the future – this will be the way we program microbes and other cell types,” said Dr. Silver. “Microbes have small genomes, so they’re not too complex to build from scratch. That gives us huge opportunities to design them to do specific jobs, and we can also program in safety mechanisms.”

One of the big safety issues associated with engineering microbial genomes is the transfer of their genes to wild microbes. Microbes are able to transfer segments of their DNA during reproduction, which leads to genetic evolution. One key challenge associated with synthetic biology is preventing this transfer between the engineered genome and wild microbial genomes.

There are already several levels of safety infrastructure in place to ensure no unethical research is done, and the kinds of organisms that are allowed in laboratories. The focus now, according to Dr. Silver, is on technology to ensure safety. When scientists build synthetic microbes, they can program in mechanisms called kill switches that cause the microbes to self-destruct if their environment changes in certain ways.

Microbial sensors and drug delivery systems can be shown to work in the lab, but researchers are not yet sure how they will function in a human body or a large-scale bioreactor. Engineered organisms have huge potential, but they will only be useful if proven to be reliable, predictable, and cost effective. Today, engineered bacteria are already in clinical trials for cancer, and this is just the beginning, says Dr. Silver.

“The rate at which this field is moving forward is incredible. I don’t know what happened – maybe it’s the media coverage, maybe the charisma – but we’re on the verge of something very exciting. Once we’ve figured out how to make genomes more quickly and easily, synthetic biology will change the way we work as researchers, and even the way we treat diseases.”

Lucy Goodchild van Hilten has written a Sept. 16, 2015 article for Elsevier abut this paper,

In January, the UK government announced a funding injection of £40 million to boost synthetic biology research, adding three new Synthetic Biology Research Centres (SBRCs) in Manchester, Edinburgh and Warwick. The additional funding takes the UK’s total public spending on synthetic biology to £200 million – an investment that hints at the commercial potential of synthetic biology.

In fact, according to the authors of a new review published in Current Opinion in Chemical Biology, synthetic biology has the potential to revolutionize science and medicine. …

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Synthetic biology expands chemical control of microorganisms by Tyler J Ford, Pamela A Silver. Current Opinion in Chemical Biology Volume 28, October 2015, Pages 20–28  doi:10.1016/j.cbpa.2015.05.012

I believe this paper is open access until January 16, 2016.

As the paper has a nice introductory description of synthetic biology, I thought I’d include it here, as well as, the conclusion which is not as safety-oriented as I expected,

Synthetic biology allows scientists to re-program interactions between genes, proteins, and small molecules. One of the goals of synthetic biology is to produce organisms that predictably carry out desired functions and thereby perform as well-controlled so-called biological devices. Together, synthetic and chemical biology can provide increased control over biological systems by changing the ways these systems respond to and produce chemical stimuli. Sensors, which detect small molecules and direct later cellular function, provide the basis for chemical control over biological systems. The techniques of synthetic biology and metabolic engineering can link sensors to metabolic processes and proteins with many different activities. In this review we stratify the activities affected by sensors to three different levels: sensor-reporters that provide a simple read-out of small molecule levels, sensor-effectors that alter the behavior of single organisms in response to small molecules, and sensor effectors that coordinate the activities of multiple organisms in response to small molecules …


We have come to the point in synthetic biology where there are many lab-scale or proof-of-concept examples of chemically controlled systems useful to sense small molecules, treat disease, and produce commercially useful compounds. These systems have great potential, but more attention needs to be paid to their stability, efficacy, and safety. Being that the sensor-effectors discussed above function in living, evolving organisms, it is unclear how well they will retain function when distributed in a patient or in a large-scale bioreactor. Future efforts should focus on developing these sensor-effectors for real-world application. Engineered organisms will only be useful if we can prove that their functions are reliable, predictable, and cost effective.

Complex networks to provide ‘grand unified theory’

Trying to mesh classical physics and quantum physics together in one theory which accounts for behaviour on the macro and quantum scales has occupied scientists for decades and it seems that mathematicians have discovered a clue so solving the mystery. A Sept. 13, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now describes the findings,

Mathematicians investigating one of science’s great questions — how to unite the physics of the very big with that of the very small — have discovered that when the understanding of complex networks such as the brain or the Internet is applied to geometry the results match up with quantum behavior.

A Sept. 9, 2015 Queen Mary University of London press release, which originated the news item, describes the collaboration between Queen Mary and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology mathematicians,

The findings, published today (Thursday) in Scientific Reports, by researchers from Queen Mary University of London and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, could explain one of the great problems in modern physics.

Currently ideas of gravity, developed by Einstein and Newton, explain how physics operates on a very large scale, but do not work at the sub-atomic level. Conversely, quantum mechanics works on the very small scale but does not explain the interactions of larger objects like stars. Scientists are looking for a so called ‘grand unified theory’ that joins the two, known as quantum gravity.

Several models have been proposed for how different quantum spaces are linked but most assume that the links between quantum spaces are fairly uniform, with little deviation from the average number of links between each space. The new model, which applies ideas from the theory of complex networks, has found that some quantum spaces might actually include hubs, i.e. nodes with significantly more links than others, like a particularly popular Facebook user.

Calculations run with this model show that these spaces are described by well-known quantum Fermi-Dirac, and Bose-Einstein statistics, used in quantum mechanics, indicating that they could be useful to physicists working on quantum gravity.

Dr Ginestra Bianconi, from Queen Mary University of London, and lead author of the paper, said:

“We hope that by applying our understanding of complex networks to one of the fundamental questions in physics we might be able to help explain how discrete quantum spaces emerge.

“What we can see is that space-time at the quantum-scale might be networked in a very similar way to things we are starting to understand very well like biological networks in cells, our brains and online social networks.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Complex Quantum Network Manifolds in Dimension d > 2 are Scale-Free by Ginestra Bianconi & Christoph Rahmede. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 13979 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep13979 Published online: 10 September 2015

This is an open access paper.

Watching motor proteins at work

Researchers in the UK and in Japan have described these motor proteins as ‘swinging on monkey bars’,

A Sept. 14, 2015 news item on Nanowerk provides more information about the motor protein observations,

These proteins are vital to complex life, forming the transport infrastructure that allows different parts of cells to specialise in particular functions. Until now, the way they move has never been directly observed.

Researchers at the University of Leeds and in Japan used electron microscopes to capture images of the largest type of motor protein, called dynein, during the act of stepping along its molecular track.

A Sept 14, 2015 Leeds University press release, (also on EurekAlert*) which originated the news item, expands on the theme with what amounts to a transcript of sorts for the video (Note: Links have been removed),

Dr Stan Burgess, at the University of Leeds’ School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, who led the research team, said: “Dynein has two identical motors tied together and it moves along a molecular track called a microtubule. It drives itself along the track by alternately grabbing hold of a binding site, executing a power stroke, then letting go, like a person swinging on monkey bars.

“Previously, dynein movement had only been tracked by attaching fluorescent molecules to the proteins and observing the fluorescence using very powerful light microscopes. It was a bit like tracking vehicles from space with GPS. It told us where they were, their speed and for how long they ran, stopped and so on, but we couldn’t see the molecules in action themselves. These are the first images of these vital processes.”

An understanding of motor proteins is important to medical research because of their fundamental role in complex cellular life. Many viruses hijack motor proteins to hitch a ride to the nucleus for replication. Cell division is driven by motor proteins and so insights into their mechanics could be relevant to cancer research. Some motor neurone diseases are also associated with disruption of motor protein traffic.

The team at Leeds, working within the world-leading Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology, combined purified microtubules with purified dynein motors and added the chemical fuel ATP (adenosine triphosphate) to power the motor.

Dr Hiroshi Imai, now Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Chuo University, Japan, carried out the experiments while working at the University of Leeds.

He explained: “We set the dyneins running along their tracks and then we froze them in ‘mid-stride’ by cooling them at about a million degrees a second, fast enough to prevent the water from forming ice crystals as it solidified. Then using a cryo-electron microscope we took many thousands of images of the motors caught during the act of stepping. By combining many images of individual motors, we were able to sharpen up our picture of the dynein and build up a dynamic idea of how it moved. It is a bit like figuring out how to swing along monkey bars by studying photographs of many people swinging on them.”

Dr Burgess said: “Our most striking discovery was the existence of a hinge between the long, thin stalk and the ‘grappling hook’, like the wrist between a human arm and hand. This allows a lot of variation in the angle of attachment of the motor to its track.

“Each of the two arms of a dynein motor protein is about 25 nanometres (0.000025 millimetre) long, while the binding sites it attaches to are only 8 nanometres apart. That means dynein can reach not only the next rung but the one after that and the one after that and appears to give it flexibility in how it moves along the ‘track’.”

Dynein is not only the biggest but also the most versatile of the motor proteins in living cells and, like all motor proteins, is vital to life. Motor proteins transport cargoes and hold many cellular components in position within the cell. For instance, dynein is responsible for carrying messages from the tips of active nerve cells back to the nucleus and these messages keep the nerve cells alive.

Co-author Peter Knight, Professor of Molecular Contractility in the University of Leeds’ School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, said: “If a cell is like a city, these are like the truckers on its road and rail networks. If you didn’t have a transport system, you couldn’t have specialised regions. Every part of the cell would be doing the same thing and that would mean you could not have complex life.”

“Dynein is the multi-purpose vehicle of cellular transport. Other motor proteins, called kinesins and myosins, are much smaller and have specific functions, but dynein can turn its hand to a lot of different of functions,” Professor Knight said.

For instance, in the motor neurone connecting the central nervous system to the big toe—which is a single cell a metre long— dynein provides the transport from the toe back to the nucleus. Another vital role is in the movement of cells.

Dr Burgess said: “During brain development, neurones must crawl into their correct position and dynein molecules in this instance grab hold of the nucleus and pull it along with the moving mass of the cell. If they didn’t, the nucleus would be left behind and the cytoplasm would crawl away.”

The study involved researchers from the University of Leeds and Japan’s Waseda and Osaka universities, as well as the Quantitative Biology Center at Japan’s Riken research institute and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). The research was funded by the Human Frontiers Science Program and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Direct observation shows superposition and large scale flexibility within cytoplasmic dynein motors moving along microtubules by Hiroshi Imai, Tomohiro Shima, Kazuo Sutoh, Matthew L. Walker, Peter J. Knight, Takahide Kon, & Stan A. Burgess. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 8179  doi:10.1038/ncomms9179 Published 14 September 2015

This paper is open access.

*The EurekAlert link added Sept. 15, 2015 at 1200 hours PST.

Lloyd’s Register and nanotechnology-enabled safety on the high seas, on land, and in the air

On seeing the name Lloyd’s Register and noting the funding is for a university in the UK, Lloyd’s of London, the venerable insurance company leaped to mind. Although there is a connection of sorts, it is somewhat attenuated. First, here’s the news from a Sept. 4, 2015 news item on Azonano,

The University of Southampton has been awarded a multi-million grant from Lloyd’s Register Foundation to bring together some of the world’s brightest early career researchers to find new ways of using nanotechnologies to improve safety at sea, on land and in the air.

A Sept. 3, 2015 University of Southampton press release, which originated the news item, describes plans for the funding,

Dr Themis Prodromakis, from the Nanoelectronics and Nanotechnologies Group at Southampton, is leading the £3m programme, which will receive match funding from partner organisations. He says: “Researchers are always looking for funding for high risk, high reward ideas. They want to collaborate with the best scientists and engineers in the world and gain access to state-of-art facilities. The Lloyd’s Register Foundation International COnsortium in Nanotechnologies (ICON) [Note: This is not to be confused with the now defunct {since Sept. 2014} International Council on Nanotechnology {ICON} at Rice University in Texas, US] will assemble the world’s leading universities, research institutions and innovative companies to help them tackle many of today’s most challenging issues by recruiting talented PhD students from every continent.”

Applications will soon be invited from scientists and engineers keen to pioneer research across a range of industries. Nanotechnologies are already widely used, for example in smart phones, cameras and gadgets. Breakthroughs already being developed include cars, boats and planes built from lightweight materials stronger than steel with new functions such as self-cleaning and repairing; flexible textiles that can become rigid and shockproof to protect the wearer; sensors in hostile environments such as the deep ocean and space; tiny implants for real-time monitoring to aid diagnoses for doctors; and smart devices that harvest energy from their environment.

ICON will support more than 50 PhD students to undertake research at leading global universities, aided by matched funding. They will work together with partners from industry on interdisciplinary projects and access world-leading facilities, such as the £120m Southampton Nanofabrication Centre. The doctoral researchers will meet every year to present their findings and share ideas and concepts, becoming part of a global doctoral cohort addressing the Foundation’s safety mission.

Professor Richard Clegg, Managing Director of Lloyd’s Register Foundation, said: “We are pleased to support the University of Southampton in developing this global cohort of scientists. Their research will develop applications to further the Foundation’s safety goals whilst also providing training and building technical capacity in support of our educational mission. The doctoral students joining this consortium will gain an understanding of how their research can benefit society whilst developing international research networks at an early stage in their careers.”

“The support of Lloyd’s Register Foundation is key to our mission,” adds Dr Prodromakis. “Lloyd’s Register itself is well-known for promoting safety worldwide for more than 250 years. Its Global Technology Centre is now based in Southampton and its Foundation has become a catalyst to support research, training and education for the benefit of society. We are delighted to work alongside them.”

As for the connection between Lloyd’s Register and Lloyd’s of London, let’s start with the Lloyd’s Register Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

The organisation’s name came from the 17th-century coffee house in London [emphasis mine] frequented by merchants, marine underwriters, and others, all associated with shipping. The coffee house owner, Edward Lloyd [emphasis mine], helped them to exchange information by circulating a printed sheet of all the news he heard. In 1760, the Register Society was formed by the customers of the coffee house who assembled the Register of Shipping, the first known register of its type. Between 1800 and 1833, a dispute between shipowners and underwriters caused them to publish a list each—the “Red Book” and the “Green Book”.[3] This brought both parties to the verge of bankruptcy. Agreement was reached in 1834 when they united to form Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping, establishing a General Committee and charitable values. In 1914, with an increasingly international outlook, the organisation changed its name to Lloyd’s Register of Shipping.

Now here’s what Lloyd’s of London has to say on its History webpage,

In the 17th century, London’s importance as a trade centre led to an increasing demand for ship and cargo insurance. Edward Lloyd’s coffee house [emphasis mine] became recognised as the place for obtaining marine insurance and this is where the Lloyd’s that we know today began.

From those beginnings in a coffee house in 1688, Lloyd’s has been a pioneer in insurance and has grown over 325 years to become the world’s leading market for specialist insurance

Today, Lloyd’s Register describes itself this way (from the Lloyd’s Register homepage),

Lloyd’s Register (LR) is a global engineering, technical and business services organisation wholly owned by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a UK charity dedicated to research and education in science and engineering. Founded in 1760 as a marine classification society, LR now operates across many industry sectors, with over 9,000 employees based in 78 countries.

We have a long-standing reputation for integrity, impartiality and technical excellence. Our compliance, risk and technical consultancy services give clients confidence that their assets and businesses are safe, sustainable and dependable. Through our global technology centres and research network, we are at the forefront of understanding the application of new science and technology to future-proof our clients’ businesses.

Well, future-proofing sounds good doesn’t it? It seems like a way of saying you might be able to ‘insure’ yourself against future turmoil.

Weirdly fascinating account of malaria-carrying mosquitoes and insecticide-treated bed nets

Researchers at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) have tracked mosquitoes to observe how they interact with insecticide-laden nets. From a Sept. 1, 2015 LSTM press release (also on EurekAlert),

LSTM vector biologists Dr Philip McCall and Ms Josie Parker worked with optical engineers Prof David Towers, Dr Natalia Angarita and Dr Catherine Towers from the University of Warwick’s School of Engineering to develop infrared video tracking technology that follows individual mosquitoes in flight as they try to reach a human sleeper inside a bed net. This system allowed the scientists to measure, define and characterise in fine detail, the behavioural events and sequences of the main African malaria vector, Anopheles gambiae, as it interacts with the net. Funded as part of the €12M AvecNet research consortium, the team’s initial results are published today in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Dr Philip McCall, senior author on the paper, said: “Essentially, the results demonstrated that an LLIN [Long-lasting insecticidal bed net] functions as a highly efficient, fast-acting, human-baited insecticidal trap. LLINs do not repel mosquitoes – they deliver insecticide very rapidly after the briefest contact: LLIN contact of less than 1 minute per mosquito during the first ten minutes can reduce mosquito activity such that after thirty minutes, virtually no mosquitoes are still flying. Surprisingly, mosquitoes were able to detect nets of any kind while still in flight, allowing them to decelerate before they ‘collided’ with the net surface.”

The use of this innovative approach to mosquito behaviour has provided unprecedented insight into the mode of action of our most important tool for preventing malaria transmission, under conditions that are as close to natural as possible. The findings potentially could influence many aspects of mosquito control, ranging from how we test mosquito populations for insecticide resistance to the design of a next generation of LLINs. An MRC Confidence in Concept grant has funded the team to use the tracking system to explore a number of novel LLIN designs, already patented as an outcome from the current research.

The tracking system also has been deployed in a rural Tanzania, results of which will be reported shortly. The team recently was awarded £0.9M support from the Medical Research Council (MRC) for the next stage of this project, where they will use a larger three-dimensional system to track mosquitoes throughout the entire domestic environment, in experimental houses in Tanzania.

Dr McCall continued: “preliminary results in field tests indicate that these laboratory findings are consistent with behaviour of wild mosquito populations which is very encouraging. We are at the early stages of this research, but we hope that our findings, and the use of this cutting edge technology, can contribute to the development of new and advanced vector control tools that will continue to save lives in endemic countries throughout the world.”

The fascinating part follows the link to and citation for the paper,

Infrared video tracking of Anopheles gambiae at insecticide-treated bed nets reveals rapid decisive impact after brief localised net contact by Josephine E.A. Parker, Natalia Angarita-Jaimes, Mayumi Abe, Catherine E. Towers, David Towers, & Philip J. McCall. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 13392 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep13392 Published online: 01 September 2015

This open access paper provides an explanation for why this work was undertaken,

Delivering the ‘next generation’ of LLINs or similar tools will require a thorough understanding of how LLINs function, yet remarkably little is known of the mode of action or of precisely how mosquitoes behave at the LLIN interface. Recent studies using ‘sticky-nets’ reported that host-seeking female Anopheles spp. landed preferentially on the top surface of bed nets7,8 but that lethal capture method recorded only a single landing event and no other behaviours before or after. Although clustering at the net roof is likely to be a response to an attractant ‘plume’ rising from the human beneath [emphasis mine], this too remains speculative because knowledge of mosquito flight behaviour prior to blood-feeding and of the identity and location of the key attractants that mediate the host-seeking response is limited9,10,11,12. Importantly, how insecticide treatments influence that response is unclear. Some studies reported that insecticide residues repelled mosquitoes prior to contact13,14, which would reduce or eliminate the chance of mosquitoes receiving an effective dose and potentially divert them to unprotected hosts15. Others found no evidence for such repellency16,17,18,19 indicating that LLINs attract and impact on mosquitoes by direct contact.

A further complication is the existence of what is termed ‘contact-irritancy’ or ‘excito-repellency’ [emphasis miine], whereby brief exposure to an insecticide can result in mosquitoes exhibiting avoidance behaviour, potentially before a lethal dose has been delivered13,20. Remarkably, some basic details are missing: e.g. the minimum duration of LLIN contact necessary to deliver an effective dosage is not known. Despite these phenomena being recognised for decades20,21,22, when and how they occur and their relative importance in selecting for insecticide resistance have never been fully elucidated.

Consequently, behavioural resistance [emphasis mine] to insecticides remains poorly understood and rarely reported in mosquitoes, though the risk of vector populations switching blood-feeding times, locations or host preferences in order to avoid LLINs is recognized and closely monitored today23,24,25. However, additional but less apparent or detectable behavioural changes also might exist, potentially conferring partial or complete insecticide resistance (e.g. changes in sensitivity to repellents, attractants, or modified flight or resting behaviours). In the absence of definitions or quantifications of the basic behavioural events likely to be affected26,27, these changes cannot be investigated, let alone monitored.

I am fascinated by the ‘attractant plume’, ‘excito-repellency’, and the (new to me) notion that mosquitoes can exhibit behavioural resistance.

‘Hotel for cells’ or minuscule artificial scaffolding units for plant tissue engineering

This is the first time I’ve seen an item about tissue engineering which concerns plant life.  An August 27, 2015 news item on Azonano describes the latest development with plant cells,

Miniscule artificial scaffolding units made from nano-fibre polymers and built to house plant cells have enabled scientists to see for the first time how individual plant cells behave and interact with each other in a three-dimensional environment.

These “hotels for cells” mimic the ‘extracellular matrix’ which cells secrete before they grow and divide to create plant tissue. [Note: Human and other cells also have extracellular matrices] This environment allows scientists to observe and image individual plant cells developing in a more natural, multi-dimensional environment than previous ‘flat’ cell cultures.

An August 26, 2015 University of Cambridge press release, which originated the news item, describes the research and mentions the pioneering technologies which made it possible,

The research team were surprised to see individual plant cells clinging to and winding around their fibrous supports; reaching past neighbouring cells to wrap themselves to the artificial scaffolding in a manner reminiscent of vines growing.

Pioneering new in vitro techniques combining recent developments in 3-D scaffold development and imaging, scientists say they observed plants cells taking on growth and structure of far greater complexity than has ever been seen of plant cells before, either in living tissue or cell culture.

“Previously, plant cells in culture had only been seen in round or oblong forms. Now, we have seen 3D cultured cells twisting and weaving around their new supports in truly remarkable ways, creating shapes we never thought possible and never seen before in any plant,” said plant scientist and co-author Raymond Wightman.

“We can use this tool to explore how a whole plant is formed and at the same time to create new materials.”

This ability for single plant cells to attach themselves by growing and spiralling around the scaffolding suggests that cells of land plants have retained the ability of their evolutionary ancestors – aquatic single-celled organisms, such as Charophyta algae – to stick themselves to inert structures.

While similar ‘nano-scaffold’ technology has long been used for mammalian cells, resulting in the advancement of tissue engineering research, this is the first time such technology has been used for plant cells – allowing scientists to glimpse in 3-D the individual cell interactions that lead to the forming of plant tissue.

The scientists say the research “defines a new suite of techniques” for exploring cell-environment interactions, allowing greater understating of fundamental plant biology that could lead to new types of biomaterials and help provide solutions to sustainable biomass growth.

“While we can peer deep inside single cells and understand their functions, when researchers study a ‘whole’ plant, as in fully formed tissue, it is too difficult to disentangle the many complex interactions between the cells, their neighbours, and their behaviour,” said Wightman.

“Until now, nobody had tried to put plant cells in an artificial fibre scaffold that replicates their natural environment and tried to observe their interactions with one or two other cells, or fibre itself,” he said.

Co-author and material scientist Dr Stoyan Smoukov suggests that a possible reason why artificial scaffolding on plant cells had never been done before was the expense of 3D nano-fibre matrices (the high costs have previously been justified in mammalian cell research due to its human medical potential).

However, Smoukov has co-discovered and recently helped commercialise a new method for producing polymer fibres for 3-D scaffolds inexpensively and in bulk. ‘Shear-spinning’ produces masses of fibre, in a technique similar to creating candy-floss in nano-scale. The researchers were able to adapt such scaffolds for use with plant cells.

This approach was combined with electron microscopy imaging technology. In fact, using time-lapse photography, the researchers have even managed to capture 4-D footage of these previously unseen cellular structures. “Such high-resolution moving images allowed us to follow internal processes in the cells as they develop into tissues,” said Smoukov, who is already working on using the methods in this plant study to research mammalian cancer cells.

Here’s an image illustrating the research,

Plant cells twisting and weaving in 3-D cultures Credit: Smoukov/Wightman

Plant cells twisting and weaving in 3-D cultures
Credit: Smoukov/Wightman

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

A 3-dimensional fibre scaffold as an investigative tool for studying the morphogenesis of isolated plant pells [cells?] by CJ Luo, Raymond Wightman, Elliot Meyerowitz, and Stoyan K. Smoukov. BMC Plant Biology 2015, 15:211 doi:10.1186/s12870-015-0581-7

This paper is open access.