Monthly Archives: May 2021

Video storytelling workshops presented by the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST)

There are two upcoming ‘Story Telling Through Video: Elevate Your Online Presence’ workshops, part one on June 8, 2021 (Tuesday) and part two on June 11, 2021 (Friday). Here’s more about what each online session will cover and how much it will cost.

Session 1,

Learn how to create videos to structure and present the message you want to convey to promote your business, portfolio or campaign

Since 1981, SCWIST has made great strides in promoting and empowering women in STEM. When you register, please consider adding a small donation to support our programs so all interested women and girls can see where a future in STEM can take them.

Story Telling Through video: Elevate Your Online Presence – Part 1

In this workshop you will learn how to edit video in Davinci Resolve. (A free editing software available for both Mac and PC.) We will start with the basics on how to use the program, along with an introduction to the modules that will make editing easier and more efficient. Next we will have a chance to edit a video interview that will be shared prior to the workshop. And finally we will have a chance to re-purpose that clip to create content for multiple platforms. This is a hands-on workshop that will require participants to download the program and follow along with ample opportunity to share their screens for tech support.

Speaker [Ida Adamowicz]

Ida is a Digital Course Video Producer who offers and teaches Video Production to service providers and educators. With her Television Broadcasting Diploma and over 10 years of experience creating online content for organizations like; Dress for Success, Minerva, Iskwew Air, City of Vancouver, and Heart of Ontario. She prides herself in sharing her knowledge with others in a way that is straightforward, yet entertaining.

Date and time

Tue, June 8, 2021

3:00 PM – 5:00 PM PDT

$30 – $60


No refunds. However, you may request for a transfers to a another person or a credit towards your participation in a future event happening within three (3) months from the date of this event.


By registering for the event, you understand that the session may be video recorded and/ or photos will be taken for use in SCWIST digital communication platforms, including but not limited to: the SCWIST website, e-newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and others. You therefore are providing consent for your image and voice to be used by SCWIST for free and in perpetuity.If you do not want your image to be captured in video or photographically, please ensure that your camera is off during the session.


Contact Dr. Khristine Cariño, Director for Events, at or Dr Noeen Malik, Acting Director Events, SCWIST, at

Session 2, which is almost identical to part 1 (the fees differ somewhat and it’s held on a different day),

Story Telling Through video: Elevate Your Online Presence – Part 2

In this workshop you will learn how to edit video in Davinci Resolve. (A free editing software available for both Mac and PC.) We will start with the basics on how to use the program, along with an introduction to the modules that will make editing easier and more efficient. Next we will have a chance to edit a video interview that will be shared prior to the workshop. And finally we will have a chance to re-purpose that clip to create content for multiple platforms. This is a hands-on workshop that will require participants to download the program and follow along with ample opportunity to share their screens for tech support.

Date and time

Fri, June 11, 2021

3:00 PM – 5:00 PM PDT

$0 – $60

If you have questions, you can contact these folks,

Contact Dr. Khristine Cariño, Director for Events, at or Dr Noeen Malik, Acting Director Events, SCWIST, at

I attended one of their other workshops (visual storytelling) and it was accessible for someone (me) who’d forgotten a lot and didn’t know that much in the first place.

For anyone interested in SCWIST, their website is here.

InterAction; 2021 congress (congrès) and Science Writers & Communicators of Canada (SWCC) 2021 conference

I’m a little late to the congrès (May 27 -29, 2021) but they’re still taking registrations. Of course, you will need some French language skills.


It might be worth testing those French language skills, as the organizers (L’Association des communicateurs scientifiques du Québec [ACS]) have arranged a fairly lively programme (PDF),


13 h 00 à 13 h 30 – Kiosques

13 h 30 à 13 h 45 – Plénière Allocutions d’ouverture du congrès

13 h 45 à 14 h 30 – Plénière Discussion avec Nicolas Martin, animateur de La méthode scientifique à France Culture

14 h 30 à 14 h 45 – Pause

14 h 45 à 16 h 00 – Ateliers

(1) Laboratoire artistique
(2) La polarisation dans les communicationssur les réseaux sociaux en lien avec la COVID: bilan et perspectives

16 h 00 à 16 h 15 – Pause

16 h 15 à 17 h 00 – Plénière Discussion avec Louis T, humoriste


13 h 30 à 14 h 00 – Kiosques

14 h 00 à 15 h 00 – Plénière Comment communiquer la science en temps de pandémie ?

15 h 00 à 15 h 30 – Pause

15 h 30 à 16 h 45 – Ateliers

(1) Discours et pensée critique
(2) Science et savoirs autochtones

16 h 45 à 17 h 30 – Pause

Dès 17 h 30 – Remise des prix 2021 de l’ACS

You can register here and there’s more information about L’Association des communicateurs scientifiques du Québec (ACS) here.

They’re also promoting the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s upcoming Science Literacy Week September 20 -26, 2021 or Semaine de la culture scientifique.

2021 Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) Conference

In comparison with ‘Interaction’, the SWCC 2021 conference is titled: “Resilience: COVID-19. Pandemic life. Racial tension. Political unrest. Climate Change.” (The organizers have arranged a virtual conference that runs from June 7, 2021 to June 17, 2021 on nonconsecutive days.

Both organizations are covering many of the same topics but they’ve adopted different tones for approaching them as evidenced in the titles. While I’ve characterized the congrès programme as lively, I’d characterize this conference programme as earnest.

You can find the 2021 conference programme here and you can find registration details here.

A standard for determining what it means to be graphene

How do you know if your ‘graphene’ light bulb has any graphene in it? How do you know if your orange juice is 100% orange juice? The answer to those questions is that you don’t. So, you must hope there are standards and regulations governing the answers. You must also hope that there are incentives (fines and/or jail time) for obeying those regulations.

In a March 15, 2021 news item on Nanowerk, you’ll find an announcement from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory about an international standard for graphene (Note: A link has been removed),

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the UK in collaboration with international partners, have developed an ISO/IEC [International Standards Organization/International Electrotechnical Commission] standard, ISO/TS 21356-1:2021, for measuring the structural properties of graphene, typically sold as powders or in a liquid dispersion. The ISO/IEC standard allows the supply chain to answer the question ‘what is my material?’ and is based on methods developed with The University of Manchester in the NPL Good Practice Guide 145.

A March ??, 2021 NPL press release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

Over the last few years, graphene, a 2D material with many exciting properties and just one atom thick, has moved from the laboratory into real-world products such as cars and smartphones. However, there is still a barrier affecting the rate of its commercialisation, namely, understanding the true properties of the material. There is not just one type of material, but many, each with different properties that need matching to the many different applications where graphene can provide an improvement.

With hundreds of companies across the globe selling different materials labelled as ‘graphene’, and manufacturing it in different ways, end users who want to improve their products by incorporating few-layer graphene flakes are unable to compare and subsequently select the right material for their product.

Through standardised methods to enable the reliable and repeatable measurement of properties, such as the lateral flake size, flake thickness, level of disorder and specific surface area, industry will be able to compare the many materials available and instil trust in the supply chain.  In conjunction with the international ISO/IEC terminology standard led by NPL, ISO/TS 80004-13:2017, it will be possible for commercially available material to be correctly measured and labelled as graphene, few-layer graphene or graphite.

As the UK’s National Metrology Institute, NPL has been developing and standardising the required metrologically-robust methods for the measurement of graphene and related 2D materials to enable industry to use these materials and realise novel and improved products across many application areas.

The continuation of the NPL-led standardisation work within ISO TC229 (nanotechnologies) will allow the chemical properties of graphene related 2D materials to be determined, as well as the structural properties for different forms of graphene material, such as CVD-grown graphene. This truly international effort to standardise the framework of measurements for graphene is described in more detail in Nature Reviews Physics, including further technical discussion on the new ISO graphene measurement standard.

Dr Andrew J Pollard, Science Area Leader at NPL said: “It is exciting to see this new measurement standard now available for the growing graphene industry worldwide. Based on rigorous metrological research, this standard will allow companies to confidently compare technical datasheets for the first time and is the first step towards verified quality control methods.”

Dr Charles Clifford, Senior Research Scientist at NPL said: “It is fantastic to see this international standard published after several years of development.  To reach international consensus especially across the 37 member countries of ISO TC229 (nanotechnologies) is a testament both to the global interest in graphene and the importance of international cooperation.”

James Baker, CEO of Graphene@Manchester said: “Standardisation is crucial for the commercialisation of graphene in many different applications such as construction, water filtration, energy storage and aerospace. Through this international measurement standard, companies in the UK and beyond will be able to accelerate the uptake of this 21st Century material, now entering many significant markets.”

Here are links to the new standard ISO/TS 21356-1:2021 (Nanotechnologies — Structural characterization of graphene — Part 1: Graphene from powders and dispersions} and the NPL/University of Manchester’s 2017 edition of the Good Practice Guide.

Here’s a second link to the article along with a citation,

The importance of international standards for the graphene community by Charles A. Clifford, Erlon H. Martins Ferreira, Toshiyuki Fujimoto, Jan Herrmann, Angela R. Hight Walker, Denis Koltsov, Christian Punckt, Lingling Ren, Gregory J. Smallwood & Andrew J. Pollard. Nature Reviews Physics (2021) DOI: Published 15 March 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

Memristor artificial neural network learning based on phase-change memory (PCM)

Caption: Professor Hongsik Jeong and his research team in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UNIST. Credit: UNIST

I’m pretty sure that Professor Hongsik Jeong is the one on the right. He seems more relaxed, like he’s accustomed to posing for pictures highlighting his work.

Now on to the latest memristor news, which features the number 8.

For anyone unfamiliar with the term memristor, it’s a device (of sorts) which scientists, involved in neuromorphic computing (computers that operate like human brains), are researching as they attempt to replicate brainlike processes for computers.

From a January 22, 2021 Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) press release (also on EurekAlert but published March 15, 2021),

An international team of researchers, affiliated with UNIST has unveiled a novel technology that could improve the learning ability of artificial neural networks (ANNs).

Professor Hongsik Jeong and his research team in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UNIST, in collaboration with researchers from Tsinghua University in China, proposed a new learning method to improve the learning ability of ANN chips by challenging its instability.

Artificial neural network chips are capable of mimicking the structural, functional and biological features of human neural networks, and thus have been considered the technology of the future. In this study, the research team demonstrated the effectiveness of the proposed learning method by building phase change memory (PCM) memristor arrays that operate like ANNs. This learning method is also advantageous in that its learning ability can be improved without additional power consumption, since PCM undergoes a spontaneous resistance increase due to the structural relaxation after amorphization.

ANNs, like human brains, use less energy even when performing computation and memory tasks, simultaneously. However, the artificial neural network chip in which a large number of physical devices are integrated has a disadvantage that there is an error. The existing artificial neural network learning method assumes a perfect artificial neural network chip with no errors, so the learning ability of the artificial neural network is poor.

The research team developed a memristor artificial neural network learning method based on a phase-change memory, conceiving that the real human brain does not require near-perfect motion. This learning method reflects the “resistance drift” (increased electrical resistance) of the phase change material in the memory semiconductor in learning. During the learning process, since the information update pattern is recorded in the form of increasing electrical resistance in the memristor, which serves as a synapse, the synapse additionally learns the association between the pattern it changes and the data it is learning.

The research team showed that the learning method developed through an experiment to classify handwriting composed of numbers 0-9 has an effect of improving learning ability by about 3%. In particular, the accuracy of the number 8, which is difficult to classify handwriting, has improved significantly. [emphasis mine] The learning ability improved thanks to the synaptic update pattern that changes differently according to the difficulty of handwriting classification.

Researchers expect that their findings are expected to promote the learning algorithms with the intrinsic properties of memristor devices, opening a new direction for development of neuromorphic computing chips.

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

Spontaneous sparse learning for PCM-based memristor neural networks by Dong-Hyeok Lim, Shuang Wu, Rong Zhao, Jung-Hoon Lee, Hongsik Jeong & Luping Shi. Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 319 (2021) DOI: Published 12 January 2021

This paper is open access.

Submersible dandelions and the materials they could inspire

Before launching into the news item and if you’re as ignorant about the term as I was, here’s what it means to be a dandelion clock, from the dandelion clock definition on Wiktionary [Note: Links have been removed]),

A single stem of a dandelion in its post-flowering state with the downy covering of its head intact. The term is applied when the flower is used, or is thought of as suitable for use, in a children’s pastime by which the number of puffs needed to blow the filamentous achenes from a dandelion is supposed to tell the time.

A March 3, 2021 news item on announces dandelion research (Note: A link has been removed),

Fields are covered with dandelions in spring, a very common plant with yellow-gold flowers and toothed leaves. When they wither, the flowers turn into fluffy white seed heads that, like tiny parachutes, are scattered around by the wind. Taraxacum officinale—its scientific name—inspired legends and poems and has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for many ailments.

Now, thanks to a study conducted at the University of Trento [Università di Trento], dandelions will inspire new engineered materials. The air trapping capacity of dandelion clocks [emphasis mine] submerged in water has been measured in the lab for the first time. The discovery paves the way for the development of new and advanced devices and technologies that could be used in a broad range of applications, for example, to create devices or materials that retain air bubbles under water.

I found the dandelion squeezing sequence to be quite fascinating.

A March 3, 2021 Università di Trento press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The study was coordinated by Nicola Pugno, professor of the University of Trento and coordinator of the Laboratory of Bio-inspired, Bionic, Nano, Meta Materials & Mechanics at the Department of Civil, Environmental and Mechanical Engineering.
The discovery was given international prominence by “Materials Today Bio”, a multidisciplinary journal focused on the interface between biology and materials science, chemistry, physics, engineering, and medicine.

Nicola Pugno outlined how the research unfolded: “Diego Misseroni and I started to work on a discovery that my daughter made, in her first year in high school. She noticed that dandelion clocks, when submerged by water, turn silvery because they trap air. We have quantified this discovery. For the first time, we have measured the air trapping capacity of dandelion clocks in a laboratory setting. This paper demonstrated that kids and young adults can make significant discoveries by observing nature”.

When submerged in water, the research team observed, the soft seed heads turn silver in color, become thinner and take on a rhombus-like shape. The team then developed an analytical model to measure the mechanical properties of the flower, in order to mimic them and create re-engineered dandelion-like materials.

Bioinspired engineering can explore different opportunities thanks to this discovery, such as miniaturized parachute-like elements to develop innovative devices and advanced, light and low-cost technological solutions to trap and transport air bubbles underwater. These materials could be used, for example, in underwater operations.

It’s been a while (see my Nov. 21, 2018 posting ‘Regenerating tooth enamel’) since I’ve featured research from Nicola Pugno here.

Here’s a link to and a citation for Pugno’s dandelion-ispired work

Air-encapsulating elastic mechanism of submerged Taraxacum blowballs by M.C.Pugno, D.Misseroni, N.M.Pugno. Materials Today Bio Volume 9, January 2021, 100095 DOI: 10.1016/j.mtbio.2021.100095

This paper is open access.

Making carbon capture more efficient and cheaper with graphene filters

Years ago someone asked me if there was any nanotechnology research into carbon capture. I couldn’t answer the question at the time but since then I’ve been on the lookout for more on the topic. So, I’m happy to add this February 25, 2021 news item on Nanowerk to my growing number of carbon capture posts (Note: A link has been removed),

One of the main culprits of global warming is the vast amount of carbon dioxide pumped out into the atmosphere mostly from burning fossil fuels and the production of steel and cement. In response, scientists have been trying out a process that can sequester waste carbon dioxide, transporting it into a storage site, and then depositing it at a place where it cannot enter the atmosphere.

The problem is that capturing carbon from power plants and industrial emissions isn’t very cost-effective. The main reason is that waste carbon dioxide isn’t emitted pure, but is mixed with nitrogen and other gases, and extracting it from industrial emissions requires extra energy consumption – meaning a pricier bill.

Scientists have been trying to develop an energy-efficient carbon dioxide-filter. Referred to as a “membrane”, this technology can extract carbon dioxide out of the gas mix, which can then be either stored or converted into useful chemicals. “However, the performance of current carbon dioxide filters has been limited by the fundamental properties of currently available materials,” explains Professor Kumar Varoon Agrawal at EPFL’s School of Basic Sciences (EPFL Valais Wallis).

Now, Agrawal has led a team of chemical engineers to develop the world’s thinnest filter from graphene, the world-famous “wonder material” that won the Physics Nobel in 2010. But the graphene filter isn’t just the thinnest in the world, it can also separate carbon dioxide from a mix of gases such as those coming out of industrial emissions and do so with an efficiency and speed that surpasses most current filters.

A March 3, 2021 Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) press release (also on EurekAlert but published February 25, 2021), which originated the news item, delves further into the topic,

“Our approach was simple,” says Agrawal. “We made carbon dioxide-sized holes in graphene, which allowed carbon dioxide to flow through while blocking other gases such as nitrogen, which are larger than carbon dioxide.” The result is a record-high carbon dioxide-capture performance.

For comparison, current filters are required to exceed 1000 gas permeation units (GPUs), while their carbon-capturing specificity, referred to as their “carbon dioxide/nitrogen separation factor” must be above 20. The membranes that the EPFL scientists developed show more than ten-fold higher carbon dioxide permeance at 11,800 GPUs, while their separation factor stands at 22.5.

“We estimate that this technology will drop the cost of carbon capture close to $30 per ton of carbon dioxide, in contrast to commercial processes where the cost is two-to-four time higher,” says Agrawal. His team is now working on scaling up the process by developing a pilot plant demonstrator to capture 10 kg carbon dioxide per day, in a project funded by the Swiss government and Swiss industry.

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

Millisecond lattice gasification for high-density CO2– and O2-sieving nanopores in single-layer graphene by Shiqi Huang, Shaoxian Li, Luis Francisco Villalobos, Mostapha Dakhchoune, Marina Micari, Deepu J. Babu, Mohammad Tohidi Vahdat, Mounir Mensi, Emad Oveisi and Kumar Varoon Agrawal. Science Advances 24 Feb 2021: Vol. 7, no. 9, eabf0116 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf0116

This paper appears to be open access.

Plug me in: how to power up ingestible and implantable electroncis

From time to time I’ve featured ‘vampire technology’, a name I vastly prefer to energy harvesting or any of its variants. The focus has usually been on implantable electronic devices such as pacemakers and deep brain stimulators.

In this February 16, 2021 Nanowerk Spotlight article, Michael Berger broadens the focus to include other electronic devices,

Imagine edible medical devices that can be safely ingested by patients, perform a test or release a drug, and then transmit feedback to your smartphone; or an ingestible, Jell-O-like pill that monitors the stomach for up to a month.

Devices like these, as well as a wide range of implantable biomedical electronic devices such as pacemakers, neurostimulators, subdermal blood sensors, capsule endoscopes, and drug pumps, can be useful tools for detecting physiological and pathophysiological signals, and providing treatments performed inside the body.

Advances in wireless communication enable medical devices to be untethered when in the human body. Advances in minimally invasive or semi-invasive surgical implantation procedures have enabled biomedical devices to be implanted in locations where clinically important biomarkers and physiological signals can be detected; it has also enabled direct administration of medication or treatment to a target location.

However, one major challenge in the development of these devices is the limited lifetime of their power sources. The energy requirements of biomedical electronic devices are highly dependent on their application and the complexity of the required electrical systems.

Berger’s commentary was occasioned by a review article in Advanced Functional Materials (link and citation to follow at the end of this post). Based on this review, the February 16, 2021 Nanowerk Spotlight article provides insight into the current state of affairs and challenges,

Biomedical electronic devices can be divided into three main categories depending on their application: diagnostic, therapeutic, and closed-loop systems. Each category has a different degree of complexity in the electronic system.

… most biomedical electronic devices are composed of a common set of components, including a power unit, sensors, actuators, a signal processing and control unit, and a data storage unit. Implantable and ingestible devices that require a great deal of data manipulation or large quantities of data logging also need to be wirelessly connected to an external device so that data can be transmitted to an external receiver and signal processing, data storage, and display can be performed more efficiently.

The power unit, which is composed of one or more energy sources – batteries, energy-harvesting, and energy transfer – as well as power management circuits, supplies electrical energy to the whole system.

Implantable medical devices such as cardiac pacemakers, neurostimulators and drug delivery devices are major medical tools to support life activity and provide new therapeutic strategies. Most such devices are powered by lithium batteries whose service life is as low as 10 years. Hence, many patients must undergo a major surgery to check the battery performance and replace the batteries as necessary.

In the last few decades, new battery technology has led to increases in the performance, reliability, and lifetime of batteries. However, challenges remain, especially in terms of volumetric energy density and safety.

Electronic miniaturization allows more functionalities to be added to devices, which increases power requirements. Recently, new material-based battery systems have been developed with higher energy densities.

Different locations and organ systems in the human body have access to different types of energy sources, such as mechanical, chemical, and electromagnetic energies.

Energy transfer technologies can deliver energy from outside the body to implanted or ingested devices. If devices are implanted at the locations where there are no accessible endogenous energies, exogenous energies in the form of ultrasonic or electromagnetic waves can penetrate through the biological barriers and wirelessly deliver the energies to the devices.

Both images embedded in the February 16, 2021 Nanowerk Spotlight article are informative. I’m particularly taken with the timeline which follows the development of batteries, energy harvesting/transfer devices, ingestible electronics, and implantable electronics. The first battery was in 1800 followed by ingestible and implantable electronics in the 1950s.

Berger’s commentary ends on this,

Concluding their review, the authors [in Advanced Functional Materials] note that low energy conversion efficiency and power output are the fundamental bottlenecks of energy harvesting and transfer devices. They suggest that additional studies are needed to improve the power output of energy harvesting and transfer devices so that they can be used to power various biomedical electronics.

Furthermore, durability studies of promising energy harvesters should be performed to evaluate their use in long-term applications. For degradable energy harvesting devices, such as friction-based energy harvesters and galvanic cells, improving the device lifetime is essential for use in real-life applications.

Finally, manufacturing cost is another factor to consider when commercializing novel batteries, energy harvesters, or energy transfer devices as power sources for medical devices.

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

Powering Implantable and Ingestible Electronics by So‐Yoon Yang, Vitor Sencadas, Siheng Sean You, Neil Zi‐Xun Jia, Shriya Sruthi Srinivasan, Hen‐Wei Huang, Abdelsalam Elrefaey Ahmed, Jia Ying Liang, Giovanni Traverso. Advanced Functional Materials DOI: First published: 04 February 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

It may be possible to receive a full text PDF of the article from the authors. Try here.

There are others but here are two of my posts about ‘vampire energy’,

Harvesting the heart’s kinetic energy to power implants (July 26, 2019)

Vampire nanogenerators: 2017 (October 19, 2017)

Precision targeting of the liver for gene editing

Apparently the magic is in the lipid nanoparticles. A March 1, 2021 news item on Nanowerk announced research into lipid nanoparticles as a means to deliver CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) to specific organs (Note: A link has been removed),

The genome editing technology CRISPR has emerged as a powerful new tool that can change the way we treat disease. The challenge when altering the genetics of our cells, however, is how to do it safely, effectively, and specifically targeted to the gene, tissue and organ that needs treatment.

Scientists at Tufts University and the Broad Institute of Harvard [University] and MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] have developed unique nanoparticles comprised of lipids — fat molecules — that can package and deliver gene editing machinery specifically to the liver.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS] (“Lipid nanoparticle-mediated codelivery of Cas9 mRNA and single-guide RNA achieves liver-specific in vivo genome editing of Angptl3”), they have shown that they can use the lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) to efficiently deliver the CRISPR machinery into the liver of mice, resulting in specific genome editing and the reduction of blood cholesterol levels by as much as 57% — a reduction that can last for at least several months with just one shot.

A March 2, 2021 Tufts University news release (also on EurekAlert but published March 1, 2021), which originated the news item, provides greater insight into and technical detail about the research,

The problem of high cholesterol plagues more than 29 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition is complex and can originate from multiple genes as well as nutritional and lifestyle choices, so it is not easy to treat. The Tufts and Broad researchers, however, have modified one gene that could provide a protective effect against elevated cholesterol if it can be shut down by gene editing.

The gene that the researchers focused on codes for the angiopoietin-like 3 enzyme (Angptl3). That enzyme tamps down the activity of other enzymes – lipases – that help break down cholesterol. If researchers can knock out the Angptl3 gene, they can let the lipases do their work and reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood. It turns out that some lucky people have a natural mutation in their Angptl3 gene, leading to consistently low levels of triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, commonly called “bad” cholesterol, in their bloodstream without any known clinical downsides.

“If we can replicate that condition by knocking out the angptl3 gene in others, we have a good chance of having a safe and long term solution to high cholesterol,” said Qiaobing Xu, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Tufts’ School of Engineering and corresponding author of the study. “We just have to make sure we deliver the gene editing package specifically to the liver so as not to create unwanted side effects.”

Xu’s team was able to do precisely that in mouse models. After a single injection of lipid nanoparticles packed with mRNA coding for CRISPR-Cas9 and a single-guide RNA targeting Angptl3, they observed a profound reduction in LDL cholesterol by as much as 57% and triglyceride levels by about 29 %, both of which remained at those lowered levels for at least 100 days. The researchers speculate that the effect may last much longer than that, perhaps limited only by the slow turnover of cells in the liver, which can occur over a period of about a year. The reduction of cholesterol and triglycerides is dose dependent, so their levels could be adjusted by injecting fewer or more LNPs in the single shot, the researchers said.

By comparison, an existing, FDA [US Food and Drug Administration]-approved version of CRISPR mRNA-loaded LNPs could only reduce LDL cholesterol by at most 15.7% and triglycerides by 16.3% when it was tested in mice, according to the researchers.

The trick to making a better LNP was in customizing the components – the molecules that come together to form bubbles around the mRNA. The LNPs are made up of long chain lipids that have a charged or polar head that is attracted to water, a carbon chain tail that points toward the middle of the bubble containing the payload, and a chemical linker between them. Also present are polyethylene glycol, and yes, even some cholesterol – which has a normal role in lipid membranes to make them less leaky – to hold their contents better.

The researchers found that the nature and relative ratio of these components appeared to have profound effects on the delivery of mRNA into the liver, so they tested LNPs with many combinations of heads, tails, linkers and ratios among all components for their ability to target liver cells. Because the in vitro potency of an LNP formulation rarely reflects its in vivo performance, they directly evaluated the delivery specificity and efficacy in mice that have a reporter gene in their cells that lights up red when genome editing occurs. Ultimately, they found a CRISPR mRNA-loaded LNP that lit up just the liver in mice, showing that it could specifically and efficiently deliver gene-editing tools into the liver to do their work.

The LNPs were built upon earlier work at Tufts, where Xu and his team developed LNPs with as much as 90% efficiency in delivering mRNA into cells. A unique feature of those nanoparticles was the presence of disulfide bonds between the long lipid chains. Outside the cells, the LNPs form a stable spherical structure that locks in their contents. When they are inside a cell, the environment within breaks the disulfide bonds to disassemble the nanoparticles. The contents are then quickly and efficiently released into the cell. By preventing loss outside the cell, the LNPs can have a much higher yield in delivering their contents.

“CRISPR is one of the most powerful therapeutic tools for the treatment of diseases with a genetic etiology. We have recently seen the first human clinical trail for CRISPR therapy enabled by LNP delivery to be administered systemically to edit genes inside the human body. Our LNP platform developed here holds great potential for clinical translation,” said Min Qiu, post-doctoral researcher in Xu’s lab at Tufts.  “We envision that with this LNP platform in hand, we could now make CRISPR a practical and safe approach to treat a broad spectrum of liver diseases or disorders,” said Zachary Glass, graduate student in the Xu lab. Qiu and Glass are co-first authors of the study.

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

Lipid nanoparticle-mediated codelivery of Cas9 mRNA and single-guide RNA achieves liver-specific in vivo genome editing of Angptl3 by Min Qiu, Zachary Glass, Jinjin Chen, Mary Haas, Xin Jin, Xuewei Zhao, Xuehui Rui, Zhongfeng Ye, Yamin Li, Feng Zhang, and Qiaobing Xu. PNAS March 9, 2021 118 (10) e2020401118 DOI:

This paper appears to be behind a paywall.

Transplanting healthy neurons could be possible with walking molecules and 3D printing

A February 23, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily announces work which may lead to healing brain injuries and diseases,

Imagine if surgeons could transplant healthy neurons into patients living with neurodegenerative diseases or brain and spinal cord injuries. And imagine if they could “grow” these neurons in the laboratory from a patient’s own cells using a synthetic, highly bioactive material that is suitable for 3D printing.

By discovering a new printable biomaterial that can mimic properties of brain tissue, Northwestern University researchers are now closer to developing a platform capable of treating these conditions using regenerative medicine.

A February 22, 2021 Northwestern University news release (also received by email and available on EurekAlert) by Lila Reynolds, which originated the news item, delves further into self-assembling ‘walking’ molecules and the nanofibers resulting in a new material designed to promote the growth of healthy neurons,

A key ingredient to the discovery is the ability to control the self-assembly processes of molecules within the material, enabling the researchers to modify the structure and functions of the systems from the nanoscale to the scale of visible features. The laboratory of Samuel I. Stupp published a 2018 paper in the journal Science which showed that materials can be designed with highly dynamic molecules programmed to migrate over long distances and self-organize to form larger, “superstructured” bundles of nanofibers.

Now, a research group led by Stupp has demonstrated that these superstructures can enhance neuron growth, an important finding that could have implications for cell transplantation strategies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as spinal cord injury.

“This is the first example where we’ve been able to take the phenomenon of molecular reshuffling we reported in 2018 and harness it for an application in regenerative medicine,” said Stupp, the lead author on the study and the director of Northwestern’s Simpson Querrey Institute. “We can also use constructs of the new biomaterial to help discover therapies and understand pathologies.

Walking molecules and 3D printing

The new material is created by mixing two liquids that quickly become rigid as a result of interactions known in chemistry as host-guest complexes that mimic key-lock interactions among proteins, and also as the result of the concentration of these interactions in micron-scale regions through a long scale migration of “walking molecules.”

The agile molecules cover a distance thousands of times larger than themselves in order to band together into large superstructures. At the microscopic scale, this migration causes a transformation in structure from what looks like an uncooked chunk of ramen noodles into ropelike bundles.

“Typical biomaterials used in medicine like polymer hydrogels don’t have the capabilities to allow molecules to self-assemble and move around within these assemblies,” said Tristan Clemons, a research associate in the Stupp lab and co-first author of the paper with Alexandra Edelbrock, a former graduate student in the group. “This phenomenon is unique to the systems we have developed here.”

Furthermore, as the dynamic molecules move to form superstructures, large pores open that allow cells to penetrate and interact with bioactive signals that can be integrated into the biomaterials.

Interestingly, the mechanical forces of 3D printing disrupt the host-guest interactions in the superstructures and cause the material to flow, but it can rapidly solidify into any macroscopic shape because the interactions are restored spontaneously by self-assembly. This also enables the 3D printing of structures with distinct layers that harbor different types of neural cells in order to study their interactions.

Signaling neuronal growth

The superstructure and bioactive properties of the material could have vast implications for tissue regeneration. Neurons are stimulated by a protein in the central nervous system known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps neurons survive by promoting synaptic connections and allowing neurons to be more plastic. BDNF could be a valuable therapy for patients with neurodegenerative diseases and injuries in the spinal cord but these proteins degrade quickly in the body and are expensive to produce.

One of the molecules in the new material integrates a mimic of this protein that activates its receptor known as Trkb, and the team found that neurons actively penetrate the large pores and populate the new biomaterial when the mimetic signal is present. This could also create an environment in which neurons differentiated from patient-derived stem cells mature before transplantation.

Now that the team has applied a proof of concept to neurons, Stupp believes he could now break into other areas of regenerative medicine by applying different chemical sequences to the material. Simple chemical changes in the biomaterials would allow them to provide signals for a wide range of tissues.

“Cartilage and heart tissue are very difficult to regenerate after injury or heart attacks, and the platform could be used to prepare these tissues in vitro from patient-derived cells,” Stupp said. “These tissues could then be transplanted to help restore lost functions. Beyond these interventions, the materials could be used to build organoids to discover therapies or even directly implanted into tissues for regeneration since they are biodegradable.”

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

Superstructured Biomaterials Formed by Exchange Dynamics and Host–Guest Interactions in Supramolecular Polymers by Alexandra N. Edelbrock, Tristan D. Clemons, Stacey M. Chin, Joshua J. W. Roan, Eric P. Bruckner, Zaida Álvarez, Jack F. Edelbrock, Kristen S. Wek, Samuel I. Stupp. Advanced Science DOI: First published: 22 February 2021

This paper is open access.

Edible nano-structured holograms could decorate food one day

Caption Nanostructures (yellowish-green images; scale bar, 5 μm) were patterned onto dried corn syrup films, producing edible, rainbow-colored holograms (scale bar, 2 mm). Credit Adapted from ACS Nano 2021, DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.0c02438

Where food safety is concerned, much of the research I’ve seen is focused on adding senors to the packaging rather than direct application to the foodstuff but this is different, from a February 17, 2021 news item on,

Holograms are everywhere, from driver’s licenses to credit cards to product packaging. And now, edible holograms could someday enhance foods. Researchers reporting in ACS [American Chemical Society] Nano have developed a laser-based method to print nanostructured holograms on dried corn syrup films. The edible holograms could also be used to ensure food safety, label a product or indicate sugar content, the researchers say.

A February 17, 2021American Chemical Society news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item,

Most holograms are imprinted with lasers onto metal surfaces, such as aluminum, but the materials aren’t edible. For foods, holograms made with nanoparticles have been proposed, but the tiny particles can generate reactive oxygen species, which might be harmful for people to eat. In a different approach, food scientists have molded edible holograms onto chocolate, but the process only works for certain types of the confection, and a different mold is needed for each hologram design. Bader AlQattan, Haider Butt and colleagues wanted to find a safe, fast and versatile way to pattern edible holograms onto a variety of foods.

To develop their method, the researchers made a solution of corn syrup, vanilla and water and dried it into a thin film. They coated the film with a fine layer of non-toxic black dye. Then, they used a technique called direct laser interference patterning to etch off most of the dye, leaving behind raised, nanoscale lines that formed a diffraction grating. When struck by light, the nanostructure diffracted the light into a rainbow pattern, with different colors appearing at different angles of viewing. The team could control the intensity and range of colors by varying the spacing between lines in the grating or the sugar content of the corn syrup film. Before edible holograms are ready to hit store shelves, however, the researchers want to adapt the method to a food-grade dye that could replace the synthetic black dye used in these pilot experiments.

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

Direct Printing of Nanostructured Holograms on Consumable Substrates by Bader AlQattan, Joelle Doocey, Murad Ali, Israr Ahmed, Ahmed E. Salih, Fahad Alam, Magdalena Bajgrowicz-Cieslak, Ali K. Yetisen, Mohamed Elsherif, and Haider Butt. ACS Nano 2021, 15, 2, 2340–2349 DOI: Publication Date:February 1, 2021 Copyright © 2021 American Chemical Society

This paper appears to be open access.

It seems these scientists are also considering the aesthetic possibilities. Ffrom the paper, Note: Links have been removed,

The use of holograms in food could potentially improve sensory appeal [emphasis mine] and, through biosensing, could increase health and safety.(1,2) Holograms can even be used to store information as edible microtags.(3) They are also attractive to the eye as they produce rainbow patterns with light. Using edible holograms on foods, not only as decoration but also to sense harmful bacteria, could improve food quality/lifetime monitoring.(4,5) Food holograms which signify a qualitative information about the sugar contents could be of value in controlling the sugar consumption, that is challenging to be measured at the moment.(6)

As it is, I find food pretty attractive. So, I’m not sure why there’s a need to improve its sensory appeal. On the other hand, I can’t argue with increased food safety.

Should you be interested in more about holograms and their current applications, including chocolate decoration, you can check out Michael Berger’s February 17, 2021 Nanowerk Spotlight article.

Holographic chocolate surfaces. (Image: Morphotonix) [downloaded from]

What do you think about decorating food with holograms? If you feel inclined, do let me know in the comments.