Tag Archives: US

Quantum dots cycling through the food chain

Rice University (Texas, US) researchers have published a study which follows quantum dot nanoparticles as they enter the water supply and are taken up by plant roots and leaves and eaten by caterpillars. From a Dec. 16, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

In one of the most comprehensive laboratory studies of its kind, Rice University scientists traced the uptake and accumulation of quantum dot nanoparticles from water to plant roots, plant leaves and leaf-eating caterpillars.

The study, one of the first to examine how nanoparticles move through human-relevant food chains, found that nanoparticle accumulation in both plants and animals varied significantly depending upon the type of surface coating applied to the particles. The research is available online in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology.

A Dec. 16, 2014 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides insight into some of the issues being addressed with this research (Note: Links have been removed),

“With industrial use of nanoparticles on the rise, there are increasing questions about how they move through the environment and whether they may accumulate in high levels in plants and animals that people eat,” said study co-author Janet Braam, professor and chair of the Department of BioSciences at Rice.

Braam and colleagues studied the uptake of fluorescent quantum dots by Arabidopsis thaliana, an oft-studied plant species that is a relative of mustard, broccoli and kale. In particular, the team looked at how various surface coatings affected how quantum dots moved from roots to leaves as well as how the particles accumulated in leaves. The team also studied how quantum dots behaved when caterpillars called cabbage loopers (Trichoplusia ni) fed upon plant leaves containing quantum dots.

“The impact of nanoparticle uptake on plants themselves and on the herbivores that feed upon them is an open question,” said study first author Yeonjong Koo, a postdoctoral research associate in Braam’s lab. “Very little work has been done in this area, especially in terrestrial plants, which are the cornerstone of human food webs.”

Some toxins, like mercury and DDT, tend to accumulate in higher concentrations as they move up the food chain from plants to animals. It is unknown whether nanoparticles may also be subject to this process, known as biomagnification.

While there are hundreds of types of nanoparticles in use, Koo chose to study quantum dots, submicroscopic bits of semiconductors that glow brightly under ultraviolet light. The fluorescent particles — which contained cadmium, selenium, zinc and sulfur — could easily be measured and imaged in the tests. In addition, the team treated the surface of the quantum dots with three different polymer coatings — one positively charged, one negatively charged and one neutral.

“In industrial applications, nanoparticles are often coated with a polymer to increase solubility, improve stability, enhance properties and for other reasons,” said study co-author Pedro Alvarez, professor and chair of Rice’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “We expect surface coatings to play a significant role in whether and how nanomaterials may accumulate in food webs.”

Previous lab studies had suggested that the neutral coatings might cause the nanoparticles to aggregate and form clumps that were so large that they would not readily move from a plant’s roots to its leaves. The experiments bore this out. Of the three particle types, only those with charged coatings moved readily through the plants, and only the negatively charged particles avoided clumping altogether. The study also found that the type of coating impacted the plants’ ability to biodegrade, or break down, the quantum dots.

Koo and colleagues found caterpillars that fed on plants containing quantum dots gained less weight and grew more slowly than caterpillars that fed on untainted leaves. By examining the caterpillar’s excrement, the scientists were also able to estimate whether cadmium, selenium and intact quantum dots might be accumulating in the animals. Again, the coating played an important role.

“Our tests were not specifically designed to measure bioaccumulation in caterpillars, but the data we collected suggest that particles with positively charged coatings may accumulate in cells and pose a risk of bioaccumulation,” Koo said. “Based on our findings, more tests should be conducted to determine the extent of this risk under a broader set of ecological conditions.”

The researchers have a couple of images illustrating their work,

The buildup of fluorescent quantum dots in the leaves of Arabidopsis plants is apparent in this photograph of the plants under ultraviolet light. Credit: Y. Koo/Rice University

The buildup of fluorescent quantum dots in the leaves of Arabidopsis plants is apparent in this photograph of the plants under ultraviolet light. Credit: Y. Koo/Rice University

And, there’s a caterpillar,

Cabbage looper

Cabbage looper

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

Fluorescence Reports Intact Quantum Dot Uptake into Roots and Translocation to Leaves of Arabidopsis thaliana and Subsequent Ingestion by Insect Herbivores by Yeonjong Koo, Jing Wang, Qingbo Zhang, Huiguang Zhu, E. Wassim Chehab, Vicki L. Colvin, Pedro J. J. Alvarez, and Janet Braam. Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/es5050562 Publication Date (Web): December 1, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is open access but you must be registered on the website.

One final thought about the research, it did take place in a laboratory environment and there doesn’t seem to have been any soil involved so the uptake can not be directly compared (as I understand matters) to the uptake characteristics where plant cultivation requires soil. This seems to have been a study involving hydroponic framing practices.

Projecting beams of light from contact lenses courtesy of Princeton University (US)

Princeton University’s 3D printed contact lenses with LED (light-emitting diodes) included are not meant for use by humans or other living beings but they are a flashy demonstration. From a Dec. 10, 2014 news item on phys.org,

As part of a project demonstrating new 3-D printing techniques, Princeton researchers have embedded tiny light-emitting diodes into a standard contact lens, allowing the device to project beams of colored light.

Michael McAlpine, the lead researcher, cautioned that the lens is not designed for actual use—for one, it requires an external power supply. Instead, he said the team created the device to demonstrate the ability to “3-D print” electronics into complex shapes and materials.

“This shows that we can use 3-D printing to create complex electronics including semiconductors,” said McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. “We were able to 3-D print an entire device, in this case an LED.”

A Dec. 9, 2014 Princeton University news release by John Sullivan, which originated the news item, describes the 3D lens, the objectives for this project, and an earlier project involving a ‘bionic ear’ in more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

The hard contact lens is made of plastic. The researchers used tiny crystals, called quantum dots, to create the LEDs that generated the colored light. Different size dots can be used to generate various colors.

“We used the quantum dots [also known as nanoparticles] as an ink,” McAlpine said. “We were able to generate two different colors, orange and green.”

The contact lens is also part of an ongoing effort to use 3-D printing to assemble diverse, and often hard-to-combine, materials into functioning devices. In the recent past, a team of Princeton professors including McAlpine created a bionic ear out of living cells with an embedded antenna that could receive radio signals.

Yong Lin Kong, a researcher on both projects, said the bionic ear presented a different type of challenge.

“The main focus of the bionic ear project was to demonstrate the merger of electronics and biological materials,” said Kong, a graduate student in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Kong, the lead author of the Oct. 31 [2014] article describing the current work in the journal Nano Letters, said that the contact lens project, on the other hand, involved the printing of active electronics using diverse materials. The materials were often mechanically, chemically or thermally incompatible — for example, using heat to shape one material could inadvertently destroy another material in close proximity. The team had to find ways to handle these incompatibilities and also had to develop new methods to print electronics, rather than use the techniques commonly used in the electronics industry.

“For example, it is not trivial to pattern a thin and uniform coating of nanoparticles and polymers without the involvement of conventional microfabrication techniques, yet the thickness and uniformity of the printed films are two of the critical parameters that determine the performance and yield of the printed active device,” Kong said.

To solve these interdisciplinary challenges, the researchers collaborated with Ian Tamargo, who graduated this year with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry; Hyoungsoo Kim, a postdoctoral research associate and fluid dynamics expert in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department; and Barry Rand, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.

McAlpine said that one of 3-D printing’s greatest strengths is its ability to create electronics in complex forms. Unlike traditional electronics manufacturing, which builds circuits in flat assemblies and then stacks them into three dimensions, 3-D printers can create vertical structures as easily as horizontal ones.

“In this case, we had a cube of LEDs,” he said. “Some of the wiring was vertical and some was horizontal.”

To conduct the research, the team built a new type of 3-D printer that McAlpine described as “somewhere between off-the-shelf and really fancy.” Dan Steingart, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center, helped design and build the new printer, which McAlpine estimated cost in the neighborhood of $20,000.

McAlpine said that he does not envision 3-D printing replacing traditional manufacturing in electronics any time soon; instead, they are complementary technologies with very different strengths. Traditional manufacturing, which uses lithography to create electronic components, is a fast and efficient way to make multiple copies with a very high reliability. Manufacturers are using 3-D printing, which is slow but easy to change and customize, to create molds and patterns for rapid prototyping.

Prime uses for 3-D printing are situations that demand flexibility and that need to be tailored to a specific use. For example, conventional manufacturing techniques are not practical for medical devices that need to be fit to a patient’s particular shape or devices that require the blending of unusual materials in customized ways.

“Trying to print a cellphone is probably not the way to go,” McAlpine said. “It is customization that gives the power to 3-D printing.”

In this case, the researchers were able to custom 3-D print electronics on a contact lens by first scanning the lens, and feeding the geometric information back into the printer. This allowed for conformal 3-D printing of an LED on the contact lens.

Here’s what the contact lens looks like,

Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, is leading a research team that uses 3-D printing to create complex electronics devices such as this light-emitting diode printed in a plastic contact lens. (Photos by Frank Wojciechowski)

Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, is leading a research team that uses 3-D printing to create complex electronics devices such as this light-emitting diode printed in a plastic contact lens. (Photos by Frank Wojciechowski)

Also, here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper,

3D Printed Quantum Dot Light-Emitting Diodes by Yong Lin Kong, Ian A. Tamargo, Hyoungsoo Kim, Blake N. Johnson, Maneesh K. Gupta, Tae-Wook Koh, Huai-An Chin, Daniel A. Steingart, Barry P. Rand, and Michael C. McAlpine. Nano Lett., 2014, 14 (12), pp 7017–7023 DOI: 10.1021/nl5033292 Publication Date (Web): October 31, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

I’m always a day behind for Dexter Johnson’s postings on the Nanoclast blog (located on the IEEE [institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]) so I didn’t see his Dec. 11, 2014 post about these 3Dprinted LED[embedded contact lenses until this morning (Dec. 12, 2014). In any event, I’m excerpting his very nice description of quantum dots,

The LED was made out of the somewhat exotic nanoparticles known as quantum dots. Quantum dots are a nanocrystal that have been fashioned out of semiconductor materials and possess distinct optoelectronic properties, most notably fluorescence, which makes them applicable in this case for the LEDs of the contact lens.

“We used the quantum dots [also known as nanoparticles] as an ink,” McAlpine said. “We were able to generate two different colors, orange and green.”

I encourage you to read Dexter’s post as he provides additional insights based on his long-standing membership within the nanotechnology community.

Dumbbells at the nanoscale according to researchers at the (US) Argonne National Laboratory

Researchers at the US Dept. of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory are providing new insight into how nanoparticles ‘grow’. From a Dec. 5, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Like snowflakes, nanoparticles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The geometry of a nanoparticle is often as influential as its chemical makeup in determining how it behaves, from its catalytic properties to its potential as a semiconductor component.

Thanks to a new study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, researchers are closer to understanding the process by which nanoparticles made of more than one material – called heterostructured nanoparticles – form. This process, known as heterogeneous nucleation, is the same mechanism by which beads of condensation form on a windowpane.

The scientists have provided an image which illustrates their findings,

This picture combines a transmission electron microscope image of a nanodumbbell with a gold domain oriented in direction. The seed and gold domains in the dumbbell in the image on the right are identified by geometric phase analysis. Image credit: Soon Gu Kwon.

This picture combines a transmission electron microscope image of a nanodumbbell with a gold domain oriented in direction. The seed and gold domains in the dumbbell in the image on the right are identified by geometric phase analysis. Image credit: Soon Gu Kwon.

A Dec. 4, 2014 Argonne National Laboratory news release by Jared Sagoff, which originated the news item, describes the structures being examined and the reason for doing so,

Heterostructured nanoparticles can be used as catalysts and in advanced energy conversion and storage systems. Typically, these nanoparticles are created from tiny “seeds” of one material, on top of which another material is grown.  In this study, the Argonne researchers noticed that the differences in the atomic arrangements of the two materials have a big impact on the shape of the resulting nanoparticle.

“Before we started this experiment, it wasn’t entirely clear what’s happening at the interface when one material grows on another,” said nanoscientist Elena Shevchenko of Argonne Center for Nanoscale Materials, a DOE Office of Science user facility.

In this study, the researchers observed the formation of a nanoparticle consisting of platinum and gold.  The researchers started with a platinum seed and grew gold around it. Initially, the gold covered the platinum seed’s surface uniformly, creating a type of nanoparticle known as “core-shell.” However, as more gold was deposited, it started to grow unevenly, creating a dumbbell-like structure.

Thanks to state-of-the-art X-ray analysis provided by Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source (APS), a DOE Office of Science user facility, the researchers identified the cause of the dumbbell formation as “lattice mismatch,” in which the spacing between the atoms in the two materials doesn’t align.

“Essentially, you can think of lattice mismatch as having a row of smaller boxes on the bottom layer and larger boxes on the top layer.  When you try to fit the larger boxes into the space for a smaller box, it creates an immense strain,” said Argonne physicist Byeongdu Lee.

While the lattice mismatch is only fractions of a nanometer, the effect accumulates as layer after layer of gold forms on the platinum. The mismatch can be handled by the first two layers of gold atoms – creating the core-shell effect – but afterwards it proves too much to overcome. “The arrangement of atoms is the same in the two materials, but the distance between atoms is different,” said Argonne postdoctoral researcher Soon Gu Kwon. “Eventually, this becomes unstable, and the growth of the gold becomes unevenly distributed.”

As the gold continues to accumulate on one side of the seed nanoparticle, small quantities “slide” down the side of the nanoparticle like grains of sand rolling down the side of a sand hill, creating the dumbbell shape.

The advantage of the Argonne study comes from the researchers’ ability to perform in situ observations of the material in realistic conditions using the APS. “This is the first time anyone has been able to study the kinetics of this heterogeneous nucleation process of nanoparticles in real-time under realistic conditions,” said Argonne physicist Byeongdu Lee. “The combination of two X-ray techniques gave us the ability to observe the material at both the atomic level and the nanoscale, which gave us a good view of how the nanoparticles form and transform.” All conclusions made based on the X-ray studies were further confirmed using atomic-resolution microscopy in the group of Professor Robert Klie of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This analysis of nanoparticle formation will help to lay the groundwork for the formation of new materials with different and controllable properties, according to Shevchenko. “In order to design materials, you have to understand how these processes happen at a very basic level,” she said.

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

Heterogeneous nucleation and shape transformation of multicomponent metallic nanostructures by Soon Gu Kwon, Galyna Krylova, Patrick J. Phillips, Robert F. Klie, Soma Chattopadhyay, Tomohiro Shibata, Emilio E. Bunel, Yuzi Liu, Vitali B. Prakapenka, Byeongdu Lee, & Elena V. Shevchenko. Nature Materials (2014) doi:10.1038/nmat4115 Published online 02 November 2014

This paper is behind a paywall but there is a free preview via ReadCube Access.

December 2014 issue of the Nano Bite (from the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) features last day (Dec. 1, 2014) to apply for NanoDays 2015 physical kit and a bit about a medieval cleric who* ‘unwove’ light

Depending on your timezone, there are still a few hours left to submit an online application for a NanoDays 2015 physical kit. From a Sept. 15, 2014 posting by Catherine McCarthy for NISENet (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network),

Apply now for a NanoDays 2015 physical kit!
NanoDays 2015 will be held from March 28 through April 5, 2015. NanoDays is a week of community-based educational outreach events to raise public awareness of nanoscale science, technology and engineering throughout the United States. NanoDays kits are currently in production and will be ready for distribution in early 2015. We invite you to fill out an online application for a physical kit containing all of the materials and resources you need to start planning your community events; applications are due December 1, 2014.

 

We’re in Year 10 of funding for NISE Net, what’s going to happen to NanoDays?

This is the final NanoDays physical kit that will be funded through the current NISE Net award. Beyond 2015, we encourage you to continue to host NanoDays and strengthen local partnerships by using this kit (and any previous kits you have). We’ve set dates for the next five years to promote national participation in NanoDays in the years to come.

Future NanoDays will be held:

  • 2016: March 26-April 3
  • 2017: March 25-April 2
  • 2018: March 31-April 8
  • 2019: March 30-April 7
  • 2020: March 28-April 5

The NISE Network leadership is seeking opportunities to continue NanoDays after 2015, so stay tuned for further information!

Who can participate in NanoDays?
NanoDays kits are intended for use in public events; most host organizations are informal science education institutions and public outreach programs of nanoscience research centers. We invite you and your organization to participate in NanoDays 2015, whether or not you have previous experience with nano-related public outreach activities.

For anyone unfamiliar with the NanoDays programs, the post goes on to provide more details.

Here’s more about the upcoming International Year of Light (IYL)  mentioned in my Nov. 7, 2014 post,

What’s Nano about Light?
The United Nations has declared that 2015 is the International Year of Light (IYL) and light-based technologies. This global initiative helps to highlight for the public the importance of light and optical technologies in ones’ everyday life and it’s role in the development of society and the future. Endorsed by the International Council of Science, the International Year of Light 2015 has more than 100 partners from more than 85 countries!

Are you looking for ways to get involved?

There’s this tidbit about a special event featuring the University of Vermont physics department, light, and a local watershed (from the newsletter),

A Bi-Polar Affair Captivates Visitors with EnLIGHTening Nanoscale Science

By Luke Donforth, The University of Vermont

The University of Vermont (UVM) Physics Department and ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center have a long collaborative relationship, through which the NISE Network has provided an excellent framework to help strengthen and deepen. Although an institution of formal learning, UVM values and contributes to informal education in the surrounding community.

Recently, the UVM Physics Department and ECHO received a NISE Net mini-grant to develop a daylong event outside the purview of NanoDays. ECHO focuses on the Lake Champlain watershed, and the Physics Department wanted to show how basic science is a useful tool for investigating, understanding, and caring for the lake and world around us. Light, and specifically polarization, gave us a unifying theme to bring a number of activities and concepts to ECHO. Visible light, something most museum visitors have experience with, has wavelengths in the hundreds of nanometers. This provides a comfortable entry point to familiarize visitors with “nano,” and from there we can highlight how interacting with light at the length scale of its wavelength allows us to investigate both light and the world around us.

….

Polarization, the orientation of components of light, provides a tool with uses ranging from telling the time of day to monitoring invasive species in Lake Champlain. As an example of the later, Professor J. Ellen Marsden (an ichthyologist with UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and long-time ECHO collaborator) supplied samples of larval zebra mussels from Lake Champlain. Zebra mussels, an invasive species actively monitored in the lake, are more easily distinguished and detected earlier with the thoughtful application polarized light.

We’re going to be hearing a lot more about light as we gear up for 2015. Meanwhile, you can read the entire December 2014 issue of the Nano Bite here.

In keeping with my previous comment, there’s this bit about a medieval cleric who helped us to understand light and optics. From a Nov. 27, 2014 posting by Michael Brooks, on the Guardian science blog, concerning his recent participation in a Festival of Humanities event held at the medieval Durham Cathedral,

Robert Grosseteste was a medieval pioneer of science. And, despite having died in 1253, the good bishop is up for an award on Thursday night [Nov. 27, 2014]. The shortlist for the Times Higher Education’s 2014 Research Project of the Year includes the researchers from Durham University who laid on last week’s activities in the cathedral’s Chapter House and Deanery, and they openly describe Grosseteste as one of their collaborators.

They made this clear in a paper they published in the prestigious journal Nature Physics in July. The scientists are re-examining Grosseteste’s work, and finding he made contributions to the field of optics that have yet to be assimilated into the canon of science. So they’ve come on board to help complete the record.

Grosseteste’s insight into the physics of rainbows has, for instance, enabled the researchers in the Ordered Universe collaboration to create a new co-ordinate system for colour. Anyone who has tried to calibrate a computer monitor knows that we now talk in terms of hue (a particular ratio of red, green and blue), saturation and brightness. Examination of Grosseteste’s writings has inspired an equally valid rainbow-based colour system.

It is based on the angle through which sunlight is scattered by the water drops, the “purity” of the medium – related to the size of the water drops – and the distance of the sun above the horizon. Grosseteste’s three-dimensional scheme outlines what Durham physicist Tom McLeish calls “the space of all possible rainbows”.

Here’s an image of a rainbow over Durham Cathedral,

 Rainbow over Durham Cathedral by StephieBee [downloaded from https://www.flickr.com/photos/visitengland/galleries/72157625178514241/]


Rainbow over Durham Cathedral
by StephieBee [downloaded from https://www.flickr.com/photos/visitengland/galleries/72157625178514241/]

Here’s where you can find more of StephieBee‘s work.

Sadly, GrosseTeste did not win top prize but I’m sure if he were still around, he’d say something like, “It was an honour to be nominated and I thank God.” As for the Festival of Humanities (Being Human), there’s more here about its 2014 inaugural year.

*Changed ‘on’ to ‘who’ in headline on Dec. 2, 2014.

Legos, geckos (van der Waals force), and single-atom sheets at the University of Kansas (US)

A Nov. 25, 2014 news item on Nanowerk describes the achievement,

Physicists at the University of Kansas have fabricated an innovative substance from two different atomic sheets that interlock much like Lego toy bricks. The researchers said the new material — made of a layer of graphene and a layer of tungsten disulfide — could be used in solar cells and flexible electronics. …

Hsin-Ying Chiu, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, and graduate student Matt Bellus fabricated the new material using “layer-by-layer assembly” as a versatile bottom-up nanofabrication technique. Then, Jiaqi He, a visiting student from China, and Nardeep Kumar, a graduate student who now has moved to Intel Corp., investigated how electrons move between the two layers through ultrafast laser spectroscopy in KU’s Ultrafast Laser Lab, supervised by Hui Zhao, associate professor of physics and astronomy.

“To build artificial materials with synergistic functionality has been a long journey of discovery,” Chiu said. “A new class of materials, made of the layered materials, has attracted extensive attention ever since the rapid development of graphene technology. One of the most promising aspects of this research is the potential to devise next-generation materials via atomic layer-level control over its electronic structure.”

A Nov. 25, 2014 University of Kansas news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the problems and the new technique in more detail,

According to the researchers, the approach is to design synergistic materials by combining two single-atom thick sheets, for example, acting as a photovoltaic cell as well as a light-emitting diode, converting energy between electricity and radiation. However, combining layers of atomically thin material is a thorny task that has flummoxed researchers for years.

“A big challenge of this approach is that, most materials don’t connect together because of their different atomic arrangements at the interface — the arrangement of the atoms cannot follow the two different sets of rules at the same time,” Chiu said. “This is like playing with Legos of different sizes made by different manufacturers. As a consequence, new materials can only be made from materials with very similar atomic arrangements, which often have similar properties, too. Even then, arrangement of atoms at the interface is irregular, which often results in poor qualities.”

Layered materials such as those developed by the KU researchers provide a solution for this problem. Unlike conventional materials formed by atoms that are strongly bound in all directions, the new material features two layers where each atomic sheet is composed of atoms bound strongly with their neighbors — but the two atomic sheets are themselves only weakly linked to each other by the so-called van der Waals force, the same attractive phenomenon between molecules that allows geckos to stick to walls and ceilings.

“There exist about 100 different types of layered crystals — graphite is a well-known example,” Bellus said. “Because of the weak interlayer connection, one can choose any two types of atomic sheets and put one on top of the other without any problem. It’s like playing Legos with a flat bottom. There is no restriction. This approach can potentially product a large number of new materials with combined novel properties and transform the material science.”

Chiu and Bellus created the new carbon and tungsten disulfide material with the aim of developing novel materials for efficient solar cells. The single sheet of carbon atoms, known as graphene, excels at moving electrons around, while a single-layer of tungsten disulfide atoms is good at absorbing sunlight and converting it to electricity. By combining the two, this innovative material can potentially perform both tasks well.

The team used scotch tape to lift a single layer of tungsten disulfide atoms from a crystal and apply it to a silicon substrate. Next, they used the same procedure to remove a single layer of carbon atoms from a graphite crystal. With a microscope, they precisely laid the graphene on top of the tungsten disulfide layer. To remove any glue between the two atomic layers that are unintentionally introduced during the process, the material was heated at about 500 degrees Fahrenheit for a half-hour. This allowed the force between the two layers to squeeze out the glue, resulting in a sample of two atomically thin layers with a clean interface.

Doctoral students He and Kumar tested the new material in KU’s Ultrafast Laser Lab. The researchers used a laser pulse to excite the tungsten disulfide layer.

“We found that nearly 100 percent of the electrons that absorbed the energy from the laser pulse move from tungsten disulfide to graphene within one picosecond, or one-millionth of one-millionth second,” Zhao said. “This proves that the new material indeed combines the good properties of each component layer.”

The research groups led by Chiu and Zhao are trying to apply this Lego approach to other materials. For example, by combining two materials that absorb light of different colors, they can make materials that react to diverse parts of the solar spectrum.

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

Electron transfer and coupling in graphene–​tungsten disulfide van der Waals heterostructures by Jiaqi He, Nardeep Kumar, Matthew Z. Bellus,     Hsin-Ying Chiu, Dawei He, Yongsheng Wang, & Hui Zhao. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 5622 doi:10.1038/ncomms6622 Published 25 November 2014

This paper is behind a paywall but there is a few preview available through ReadCube Access.

Norway and degradable electronics

It’s a bit higgledy-piggledy but a Nov. 20, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights some work with degradable electronics taking place in Norway,

When the FM frequencies are removed in Norway in 2017, all old-fashioned radios will become obsolete, leaving the biggest collection of redundant electronics ever seen – a mountain of waste weighing something between 25,000 and 30,000 tonnes.

The same thing is happening with today’s mobile telephones, PCs and tablets, all of which are constantly being updated and replaced faster than the blink of an eye. The old devices end up on waste tips, and even though we in the west recover some materials for recycling, this is only a small proportion of the whole.

And nor does the future bode well with waste in mind. Technologists’ vision of the future is the “Internet of Things”. Electronics are currently printed onto plastics. All products are fitted with sensors designed to measure something, and to make it possible to talk to other devices around them. Davor Sutija is General Manager at the electronics firm Thin Film, and he predicts that in the course of a few years each of us will progress from having a single sensor to having between a hundred and a thousand. This in turn will mean that billions of devices with electronic bar codes will be released onto the market.

Researchers are now getting to grips with this problem. Their aim is to develop processes in which electronics are manufactured in such a way that their entire life cycle is controlled, including their ultimate disappearance.

A Nov. 20, 2014 article by Åse Dragland for the Gemini newsletter (also found as a Nov. 20, 2014 news release on SINTEF [Norwegian: Stiftelsen for industriell og teknisk forskning]), describes the inspiration for the work in Norway while pointing out some signficant differences from US researchers in the approach to creating a commercial application,

In New Orleans in the USA, researchers have made electronic circuits which they implant into surgical wounds following operations on rats. Each wound is sewn up and the electricity in the circuits then accelerates the healing process. After a few weeks, the electronics are dissolved by the body fluids, making it unnecessary to re-open the wound to remove them manually.

In Norway, researchers at SINTEF have now succeeded in making components containing magnesium circuits designed to transfer energy. These are soluble in water and disappear after a few hours.

“We make no secret of the fact that we are putting our faith in the research results coming out of the USA”, says Karsten Husby at SINTEF ICT. “The Americans have made amazing contributions both in relation to medical applications, and towards resolving the issue of waste. We want to try to find alternative approaches to the same problem”, he says.

The circuit containing the small components is printed on a silicon wafer. At only a few nanometres thick, the circuits are extremely thin, and this enables them to dissolve more effectively. Some of the circuit components are made of magnesium, others of silicon, and others of silicon with a magnesium additive.

But the journey to the researchers’ goal from their current position leaves them with more than enough work to do. Making the ultra-thin circuits is a challenge enough in itself, but they also have to find a “coating” or “film” which will act as a protective packaging around the circuits.

The Americans use silk as their coating material, but the Norwegians are not in favour of this. The silk used is made as part of a process which involves the substance lithium, which is banned at MiNaLab – the laboratory where the SINTEF researchers work.

“Lithium generates a technical problem for our lab”, says Geir Uri Jensen, “so we’re considering alternatives, including a variety of plastics”, he says. “In order to achieve this, we’ve brought in some materials scientists here at SINTEF who are very skilled in this field”, he says.

The nature of the coating must be tailored to the time at which the electronics are required to degrade. In some cases this is just one week – in others, four. For example, if the circuit package is designed to be used in seawater, and fitted with sensors for taking measurements from oil spills, the film must be made so that it remains in place for the weeks in which the measurements are being taken.

“When the external fluids penetrate to the “guts” inside the packaging, the circuits begin to degrade. The job must be completed before this happens”, says Karsten Husby.

Geir Uri Jensen makes a sketch and explains how the nano researchers use horizontal and vertical etching processes in the lab to deposit all the layers onto the silicon circuits. And then – how they have to etch and lift the circuit loose from the silicon wafer in order later to transfer it across to the film.

“This works well enough using sensors at full scale”, he says, “but when the wafers are as thin as this, things become more tricky”. Jensen shrugs. “Even if the angle is just a little off, the whole assembly will snap”, he says.

There’s no doubt that as the use of consumer electronics increases, so too does the need to remove obsolete electronic products. Just think of all the cheap electronics built into children’s toys which are thrown away every year.

The removal of “outdated electronics” can also be a very labour-intensive process. Every day, surgeons place implants fitted with sensors into our bodies in order to measure everything from blood pressure and pressure on the brain, to how our hip implants are working. Some weeks later they have to operate again in order to remove the electronics.

But not everyone is interested in the new technologies developing in this field. Electronics companies which manufacture circuits are more interested in selling their products than in investing in research that results in their products disappearing. And companies which rely on recycling for their revenues may regard these new ideas as a threat to their existence.
Eco-friendly electronics are on the way

“It’s important to make it clear that we’re not manufacturing a final product, but a demo that can show that an electronic component can be made with properties that make it degradable”, says Husby. “Our project is now in its second year, but we’ll need a partner active in the industry and more funding in the years ahead if we’re to meet our objectives. There’s no doubt that eco-friendly electronics is a field which will come into its own, also here in Norway. And we’ve made it our mission to reach our goals”, he says.

Here’s an image of dissolving electronic circuits made available by the researchers,

Electronic circuits can be implanted into surgical wounds and assist the healing process by accelerating wound closure. After a few weeks, the electronics are dissolved by the body fluids, making it unnecessary to re-open the wound to remove them manually. Photos: Werner Juvik/SINTEF - See more at: http://gemini.no/en/2014/11/tomorrows-degradable-electronics/#sthash.Erh1sZp2.dpuf

Electronic circuits can be implanted into surgical wounds and assist the healing process by accelerating wound closure. After a few weeks, the electronics are dissolved by the body fluids, making it unnecessary to re-open the wound to remove them manually. Photos: Werner Juvik/SINTEF – See more at: http://gemini.no/en/2014/11/tomorrows-degradable-electronics/#sthash.Erh1sZp2.dpuf

The researcher most associated with this kind of work is John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and you can read more about biodegradable/dissolving electronics in a Sept. 27, 2012 article (open access) by Katherine Bourzac for Nature magazine. You can find more information about Thin Film Electronics or Thinfilm Electronics (mentioned in the third paragraph of the news item on Nanowerk) website here.

RNA interference: a Tekmira deal and a new technique births Solstice Biologics

I have two news items concerning ribonucleic acid interference (RNAi). The first item features Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation (a Canadian company located in the Vancouver area) and a licencing deal with Dicerna Pharmaceuticals (Massachusetts, US), according to a Nov. 18, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation a leading developer of RNA interference (RNAi) therapeutics, today announces a licensing and collaboration agreement with Dicerna Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Tekmira has licensed its proprietary lipid nanoparticle (LNP) delivery technology for exclusive use in Dicerna’s primary hyperoxaluria type 1 (PH1) development program.

Under the agreement, Dicerna will pay Tekmira $2.5 million upfront and payments of $22 million in aggregate development milestones, plus a mid-single-digit royalty on future PH1 sales. This new partnership also includes a supply agreement with Tekmira providing clinical drug supply and regulatory support in the rapid advancement of the product candidate.

The agreement announced today follows the successful testing and demonstration of positive results combining Tekmira’s LNP technology with DCR-PH1 in pre-clinical animal models.

I don’t entirely understand what they mean by “pre-clinical animal models” as I’ve not noticed the term “pre-clinical” applied to animal testing before this. It’s possible they mean they’ve run tests on animals (in vivo) and are now proceeding to human clinical trials or it could mean they’ve run in silico (computer modeling) or in vitro (test tube/test slide) tests and are now proceeding to animal tests. If anyone should have some insights, please do share them with me in the comments section.

A Nov. 17, 2014 Tekmira news release, which originated the news item, describes the deal in more detail,

Dicerna will use Tekmira’s third generation LNP technology for delivery of DCR-PH1, Dicerna’s Dicer substrate RNA (DsiRNA) molecule, for the treatment of PH1, a rare, inherited liver disorder that often results in kidney failure and for which there are no approved therapies.

“This new agreement validates our leadership position in RNAi delivery with LNP technology, and it underscores the significant value we can bring to partners who leverage our technology. Our LNP technology is enabling the most advanced applications of RNAi therapeutics in the clinic, and it continues to do so. We are excited to be working with Dicerna to be able to advance a needed therapeutic for the treatment of PH1,” said Dr. Mark J. Murray, Tekmira’s President and CEO.

“As a core pillar of our business strategy, we continue to engage in partnerships where our technology improves the risk profile and accelerates the development programs of our collaborators and provides meaningful non-dilutive financing to TKMR,” added Dr. Murray.

“Dicerna is focused on realizing the full clinical potential of our proprietary pipeline of highly targeted RNAi therapies by applying proven technologies,” said Douglas Fambrough, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of Dicerna. “By drawing on Tekmira’s extensive and deep experience with lipid nanoparticle delivery to the liver, the agreement will streamline the development path for DCR-PH1. We look forward to initiating Phase 1 trials of DCR-PH1 in 2015, aiming to fill a high unmet medical need for patients with PH1.”

The news release also provides a high level description of the various technologies being researched and brought to market and a bit more information about the liver disorder being addressed by this research,

About RNAi

RNAi therapeutics have the potential to treat a number of human diseases by “silencing” disease-causing genes. The discoverers of RNAi, a gene silencing mechanism used by all cells, were awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. RNAi trigger molecules often require delivery technology to be effective as therapeutics.

AboutTekmira’s LNP Technology

Tekmira believes its LNP technology represents the most widely adopted delivery technology for the systemic delivery of RNAi triggers. Tekmira’s LNP platform is being utilized in multiple clinical trials by Tekmira and its partners. Tekmira’s LNP technology (formerly referred to as stable nucleic acid-lipid particles, or SNALP) encapsulates RNAi triggers with high efficiency in uniform lipid nanoparticles that are effective in delivering these therapeutic compounds to disease sites. Tekmira’s LNP formulations are manufactured by a proprietary method which is robust, scalable and highly reproducible, and LNP-based products have been reviewed by multiple regulatory agencies for use in clinical trials. LNP formulations comprise several lipid components that can be adjusted to suit the specific application.

About Primary Hyperoxaluria Type 1 ( PH1)

PH1 is a rare, inherited liver disorder that often results in severe damage to the kidneys. The disease can be fatal unless the patient undergoes a liver-kidney transplant, a major surgical procedure that is often difficult to perform due to the lack of donors and the threat of organ rejection. In the event of a successful transplant, the patient must live the rest of his or her life on immunosuppressant drugs, which have substantial associated risks. Currently, there are no FDA approved treatments for PH1.

PH1 is characterized by a genetic deficiency of the liver enzyme alanine:glyoxalate-aminotransferase (AGT), which is encoded by the AGXT gene. AGT deficiency induces overproduction of oxalate by the liver, resulting in the formation of crystals of calcium oxalate in the kidneys. Oxalate crystal formation often leads to chronic and painful cases of kidney stones and subsequent fibrosis (scarring), which is known as nephrocalcinosis. Many patients progress to end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and require dialysis or transplant. Aside from having to endure frequent dialysis, PH1 patients with ESRD may experience a build-up of oxalate in the bone, skin, heart and retina, with concomitant debilitating complications. While the true prevalence of primary hyperoxaluria is unknown, it is estimated to be one to three cases per one million people.1 Fifty percent of patients with PH1 reach ESRD by their mid-30s.2

About DCR-PH1

Dicerna is developing DCR-PH1, which is in preclinical development, for the treatment of PH1. DCR-PH1 is engineered to address the pathology of PH1 by targeting and destroying the messenger RNA (mRNA) produced by HAO1, a gene implicated in the pathogenesis of PH1. HAO1 encodes glycolate oxidase, a protein involved in producing oxalate. By reducing oxalate production, this approach is designed to prevent the complications of PH1. In preclinical studies, DCR-PH1 has been shown to induce potent and long-term inhibition of HAO1 and to significantly reduce levels of urinary oxalate, while demonstrating long-term efficacy and tolerability in animal models of PH1.

About Dicerna’s Dicer Substrate Technology

Dicerna’s proprietary RNAi molecules are known as Dicer substrates, or DsiRNAs, so called because they are processed by the Dicer enzyme, which is the initiation point for RNAi in the human cell cytoplasm. Dicerna’s discovery approach is believed to maximize RNAi potency because the DsiRNAs are structured to be ideal for processing by Dicer. Dicer processing enables the preferential use of the correct RNA strand of the DsiRNA, which may increase the efficacy of the RNAi mechanism, as well as the potency of the DsiRNA molecules relative to other molecules used to induce RNAi.

You can find more information about Tekmira here and about Dicerna here. I mentioned Tekmira previously in a Sept. 28, 2014 post about Ebola and treatments.

Further south at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), researcher and founder of Solstice Biologics, Dr Steven Dowdy has developed and patented a new technique for delivering RNAi drugs into cells according to a Nov. 18, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Small pieces of synthetic RNA trigger a RNA interference (RNAi) response that holds great therapeutic potential to treat a number of diseases, especially cancer and pandemic viruses. The problem is delivery — it is extremely difficult to get RNAi drugs inside the cells in which they are needed. To overcome this hurdle, researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have developed a way to chemically disguise RNAi drugs so that they are able to enter cells. Once inside, cellular machinery converts these disguised drug precursors — called siRNNs — into active RNAi drugs. …

A Nov. 17, 2014 UCSD news release (also on EurekAlert) by Heather Buschman, which originated the news item, describes the issues with delivering RNAi drugs to cells and the new technique,

“Many current approaches use nanoparticles to deliver RNAi drugs into cells,” said Steven F. Dowdy, PhD, professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and the study’s principal investigator. “While nanotechnology protects the RNAi drug, from a molecular perspective nanoparticles are huge, some 5,000 times larger than the RNAi drug itself. Think of delivering a package into your house by having an 18-wheeler truck drive it through your living room wall — that’s nanoparticles carrying standard RNAi drugs. Now think of a package being slipped through the mail slot — that’s siRNNs.”

The beauty of RNAi is that it selectively blocks production of target proteins in a cell, a finding that garnered a Nobel Prize in 2006. While this is a normal process that all cells use, researchers have taken advantage of RNAi to inhibit specific proteins that cause disease when overproduced or mutated, such as in cancer. First, researchers generate RNAi drugs with a sequence that corresponds to the gene blueprint for the disease protein and then delivers them into cells. Once inside the cell, the RNAi drug is loaded into an enzyme that specifically slices the messenger RNA encoding the target protein in half. This way, no protein is produced.

As cancer and viral genes mutate, RNAi drugs can be easily evolved to target them. This allows RNAi therapy to keep pace with the genetics of the disease — something that no other type of therapy can do. Unfortunately, due to their size and negatively charged chemical groups (phosphates) on their backbone, RNAi drugs are repelled by the cellular membrane and cannot be delivered into cells without a special delivery agent.

It took Dowdy and his team, including Bryan Meade, PhD, Khirud Gogoi, PhD, and Alexander S. Hamil, eight years to find a way to mask RNAi’s negative phosphates in such a way that gets them into cells, but is still capable of inducing an RNAi response once inside.

In the end, the team added a chemical tag called a phosphotriester group. The phosphotriester neutralizes and protects the RNA backbone — converting the ribonucleic acid (RNA) to ribonucleic neutral (RNN), and thus giving the name siRNN. The neutral (uncharged) nature of siRNNs allows them to pass into the cell much more efficiently. Once inside the cell, enzymes cleave off the neutral phosphotriester group to expose a charged RNAi drug that shuts down production of the target disease protein. siRNNs represent a transformational next-generation RNAi drug.

“siRNNs are precursor drugs, or prodrugs, with no activity. It’s like having a tool still in the box, it won’t work until you take it out,” Dowdy said. “Only when the packaging — the phosphotriester groups — is removed inside the cells do you have an active tool or RNAi drug.”

The findings held up in a mouse model, too. There, Dowdy’s team found that siRNNs were significantly more effective at blocking target protein production than typical RNAi drugs — demonstrating that once siRNNs get inside a cell they can do a better job.

“There remains a lot of work ahead to get this into the clinics. But, in theory, the therapeutic potential of siRNNs is endless,” Dowdy said. “Particularly for cancer, viral infections and genetic diseases.”

The siRNN technology forms the basis for Solstice Biologics, a biotech company in La Jolla, Calif. that is now taking the technique to the next level. Dowdy is a co-founder of Solstice Biologics and serves as a Board Director.

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

Efficient delivery of RNAi prodrugs containing reversible charge-neutralizing phosphotriester backbone modifications by Bryan R Meade, Khirud Gogoi, Alexander S Hamil, Caroline Palm-Apergi, Arjen van den Berg, Jonathan C Hagopian, Aaron D Springer, Akiko Eguchi, Apollo D Kacsinta, Connor F Dowdy, Asaf Presente, Peter Lönn, Manuel Kaulich, Naohisa Yoshioka, Edwige Gros, Xian-Shu Cui, & Steven F Dowdy. Nature Biotechnology (2014) doi:10.1038/nbt.3078 Published online 17 November 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

I have not been able to locate a website for Solstice Biologics but did find a rather curious item about Dr. Dowdy and a shooting incident last year. From a Sept. 18, 2013 news article by Kat Robinson for thewire.sheknows.com,

A wealthy San Diego community is shaken after a man opens fire on his former neighborhood early Wednesday morning. Police say Hans Petersen, a 48-year-old man, is the prime suspect in the shooting of Steven Dowdy and Michael Fletcher.

There’s also a Nov. 8, 2013 article about the incident by Lucas Laursen for Nature magazine,

On September 18 [2013], former Traversa Therapeutics CEO Hans Petersen went on a shooting spree. One of two people wounded was molecular biologist Steven Dowdy, a professor at University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, in La Jolla, and cofounder of Traversa, according to a San Diego police report.…

The rest of the article is behind a paywall.

India, Lockheed Martin, and canal-top solar power plants

Apparently the state of Gujarat (India) has inspired at least one other state, Punjab, to build (they hope) a network of photovoltaic (solar energy) plants over top of their canal system (from a Nov. 16, 2014 article by Mridul Chadha for cleantechnica.com),

India’s northern state of Punjab plans to set up 1,000 MW of solar PV projects to cover several kilometres of canals over the next three years. The state government has announced a target to cover 5,000 km of canals across the state. Through this program, the government hopes to generate 15% of the state’s total electricity demand.

Understandably, the construction of canal-top power plants is technically and structurally very different from rooftop or ground-based solar PV projects. The mounting structures for the solar PV modules cannot be heavy, as it could adversely impact the structural integrity of the canal itself. The structures should be easy to work with, as they are to be set up over a slope.

This is where the Punjab government has asked Lockheed Martin for help. The US-based company has entered into an agreement with the Punjab government to develop lightweight mounting structures for solar panels using nanotechnology.

Canal and rooftop solar power projects are the only viable options for Punjab as it is an agricultural state and land availability for large-scale ground-mounted projects remains an issue. As a result, the state government has a relatively lower (compared to other states) capacity addition target of 2 GW.

There’s more about the Punjab and current plans to increase its investment in solar photovoltaics in the article.

Here’s an image of a canal-top solar plant near Kadi (Gujarat),

Canal_Top_Solar_Power_PlantImage Credit: Hitesh vip | CC BY-SA 3.0

A Nov. 15, 2014 news item by Kamya Kandhar for efytimes.com provides a few more details about this Memorandum of Understanding (MOU),

Punjab government had announced its tie up with U.S. aerospace giant Lockheed Martin to expand the solar power generation and overcome power problems in the State. As per the agreement, the state will put in 1,000 MW solar power within the next three years. Lockheed Martin has agreed to provide plastic structures for solar panels on canals by using nano technology.

While commenting upon the agreement, a spokesperson said, “The company would also provide state-of-the-art technology to convert paddy straw into energy, solving the lingering problem of paddy straw burning in the state. The Punjab government and Lockheed Martin would ink a MoU in this regard [on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014].”

The decision was taken during a meeting between three-member team from Lockheed Martin, involving the CEO Phil Shaw, Chief Innovation Officer Tushar Shah and Regional Director Jagmohan Singh along with Punjab Non-Conventional Energy Minister Bikram Singh Majithia and other senior Punjab officials.

As for paddy straw and its conversion into energy, there’s this from a Nov. 14, 2014 news item on India West.com,

Shaw [CEO Phil Shaw] said Lockheed has come out with waste-to-energy conversion solutions with successful conversion of waste products to electricity, heat and fuel by using gasification processes. He said it was an environmentally friendly green recycling technology, which requires little space and the plants are fully automated.

Getting back to the nanotechnology, I was not able to track down any information about nanotechnology-enabled plastics and Lockheed Martin. But, there is a Dec. 11, 2013 interview with Travis Earles, Lockheed Martin Advanced materials and nanotechnology innovation executive and policy leader, written up by Kris Walker for Azonano. Note: this is a general interview and focuses largely on applications for carbon nanotubes and graphene.

Nano and stem cell differentiation at Rutgers University (US)

A Nov. 14, 2014 news item on Azonano features a nanoparticle-based platform for differentiating stem cells,

Rutgers University Chemistry Associate Professor Ki-Bum Lee has developed patent-pending technology that may overcome one of the critical barriers to harnessing the full therapeutic potential of stem cells.

A Nov. 1, 2104 Rutgers University news release, which originated the news item, describes the challenge in more detail,

One of the major challenges facing researchers interested in regenerating cells and growing new tissue to treat debilitating injuries and diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and spinal cord trauma, is creating an easy, effective, and non-toxic methodology to control differentiation into specific cell lineages. Lee and colleagues at Rutgers and Kyoto University in Japan have invented a platform they call NanoScript, an important breakthrough for researchers in the area of gene expression. Gene expression is the way information encoded in a gene is used to direct the assembly of a protein molecule, which is integral to the process of tissue development through stem cell therapeutics.

Stem cells hold great promise for a wide range of medical therapeutics as they have the ability to grow tissue throughout the body. In many tissues, stem cells have an almost limitless ability to divide and replenish other cells, serving as an internal repair system.

Transcription factor (TF) proteins are master regulators of gene expression. TF proteins play a pivotal role in regulating stem cell differentiation. Although some have tried to make synthetic molecules that perform the functions of natural transcription factors, NanoScript is the first nanomaterial TF protein that can interact with endogenous DNA. …

“Our motivation was to develop a highly robust, efficient nanoparticle-based platform that can regulate gene expression and eventually stem cell differentiation,” said Lee, who leads a Rutgers research group primarily focused on developing and integrating nanotechnology with chemical biology to modulate signaling pathways in cancer and stem cells. “Because NanoScript is a functional replica of TF proteins and a tunable gene-regulating platform, it has great potential to do exactly that. The field of stem cell biology now has another platform to regulate differentiation while the field of nanotechnology has demonstrated for the first time that we can regulate gene expression at the transcriptional level.”

Here’s an image illustrating NanoScript and gold nanoparticles,

Courtesy Rutgers University

Courtesy Rutgers University

The news release goes on to describe the platform’s use of gold nanoparticles,

NanoScript was constructed by tethering functional peptides and small molecules called synthetic transcription factors, which mimic the individual TF domains, onto gold nanoparticles.

“NanoScript localizes within the nucleus and initiates transcription of a reporter plasmid by up to 30-fold,” said Sahishnu Patel, Rutgers Chemistry graduate student and co-author of the ACS Nano publication. “NanoScript can effectively transcribe targeted genes on endogenous DNA in a nonviral manner.”

Lee said the next step for his research is to study what happens to the gold nanoparticles after NanoScript is utilized, to ensure no toxic effects arise, and to ensure the effectiveness of NanoScript over long periods of time.

“Due to the unique tunable properties of NanoScript, we are highly confident this platform not only will serve as a desirable alternative to conventional gene-regulating methods,” Lee said, “but also has direct employment for applications involving gene manipulation such as stem cell differentiation, cancer therapy, and cellular reprogramming. Our research will continue to evaluate the long-term implications for the technology.”

Lee, originally from South Korea, joined the Rutgers faculty in 2008 and has earned many honors including the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. Lee received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Northwestern University where he studied with Professor Chad. A. Mirkin, a pioneer in the coupling of nanotechnology and biomolecules. Lee completed his postdoctoral training at The Scripps Research Institute with Professor Peter G. Schultz. Lee has served as a Visiting Scholar at both Princeton University and UCLA Medical School.

The primary interest of Lee’s group is to develop and integrate nanotechnologies and chemical functional genomics to modulate signaling pathways in mammalian cells towards specific cell lineages or behaviors. He has published more than 50 articles and filed for 17 corresponding patents.

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

NanoScript: A Nanoparticle-Based Artificial Transcription Factor for Effective Gene Regulation by Sahishnu Patel, Dongju Jung, Perry T. Yin, Peter Carlton, Makoto Yamamoto, Toshikazu Bando, Hiroshi Sugiyama, and Ki-Bum Lee. ACS Nano, 2014, 8 (9), pp 8959–8967 DOI: 10.1021/nn501589f Publication Date (Web): August 18, 2014
Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Killing mosquitos and other pests with genetics-based technology

Having supplied more than one tasty meal for mosquitos (or, as some prefer, mosquitoes), I am not their friend but couldn’t help but wonder about unintended consequences (as per Max Weber) on reading about a new patent awarded to Kansas State University (from a Nov. 12, 2014 news item on Nanowerk),

Kansas State University researchers have developed a patented method of keeping mosquitoes and other insect pests at bay.

U.S. Patent 8,841,272, “Double-Stranded RNA-Based Nanoparticles for Insect Gene Silencing,” was recently awarded to the Kansas State University Research Foundation, a nonprofit corporation responsible for managing technology transfer activities at the university. The patent covers microscopic, genetics-based technology that can help safely kill mosquitos and other insect pests.

A Nov. 12, 2014 Kansas State University news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the research,

Kun Yan Zhu, professor of entomology; Xin Zhang, research associate in the Division of Biology; and Jianzhen Zhang, visiting scientist from Shanxi University in China, developed the technology: nanoparticles comprised of a nontoxic, biodegradable polymer matrix and insect derived double-stranded ribonucleic acid, or dsRNA. Double-stranded RNA is a synthesized molecule that can trigger a biological process known as RNA interference, or RNAi, to destroy the genetic code of an insect in a specific DNA sequence.

The technology is expected to have great potential for safe and effective control of insect pests, Zhu said.

“For example, we can buy cockroach bait that contains a toxic substance to kill cockroaches. However, the bait could potentially harm whatever else ingests it,” Zhu said. “If we can incorporate dsRNA specifically targeting a cockroach gene in the bait rather than a toxic substance, the bait would not harm other organisms, such as pets, because the dsRNA is designed to specifically disable the function of the cockroach gene.”

Researchers developed the technology while looking at how to disable gene functions in mosquito larvae. After testing a series of unsuccessful genetic techniques, the team turned to a nanoparticle-based approach.

Once ingested, the nanoparticles act as a Trojan horse, releasing the loosely bound dsRNA into the insect gut. The dsRNA then triggers a genetic chain reaction that destroys specific messenger RNA, or mRNA, in the developing insects. Messenger RNA carries important genetic information.

In the studies on mosquito larvae, researchers designed dsRNA to target the mRNA encoding the enzymes that help mosquitoes produce chitin, the main component in the hard exoskeleton of insects, crustaceans and arachnids.

Researchers found that the developing mosquitoes produced less chitin. As a result, the mosquitoes were more prone to insecticides as they no longer had a sufficient amount of chitin for a normal functioning protective shell. If the production of chitin can be further reduced, the insects can be killed without using any toxic insecticides.

While mosquitos were the primary insect for which the nanoparticle-based method was developed, the technology can be applied to other insect pests, Zhu said.

“Our dsRNA molecules were designed based on specific gene sequences of the mosquito,” Zhu said. “You can design species-specific dsRNA for the same or different genes for other insect pests. When you make baits containing gene-specific nanoparticles, you may be able to kill the insects through the RNAi pathway. We see this having really broad applications for insect pest management.”

The patent is currently available to license through the Kansas State University Institute for Commercialization, which licenses the university’s intellectual property. The Institute for Commercialization can be contacted at 785-532-3900 and [email protected]

Eight U.S. patents have been awarded to the Kansas State University Research Foundation in 2014 for inventions by Kansas State University researchers.

Here’s an image of the ‘Trojan horse’ nanoparticles,

The nanoparticles, pictured as gold colored, are less than 100 nanometers in diameter. photo credit: bogdog Dan via photopincc

The nanoparticles, pictured as gold colored, are less than 100 nanometers in diameter. photo credit: bogdog Dan via photopincc

My guess is that the photographer has added some colour such as the gold and the pink to enhance the image as otherwise this would be a symphony of grey tones.

So, if this material will lead to weakened chitin such that pesticides and insecticides are more effective, does this mean that something else in the food chain will suffer because it no longer has mosquitos and other pests to munch on?

One last note, usually my ‘mosquito’ pieces concern malaria and the most recent of those was a Sept. 4, 2014 posting about a possible malaria vaccine being developed at the University of Connecticut.