Tag Archives: University of Nottingham

Low-cost carbon sequestration and eco-friendly manufacturing for chemicals with nanobio hybrid organisms

Years ago I was asked about carbon sequestration and nanotechnology and could not come up with any examples. At last I have something for the next time the question is asked. From a June 11, 2019 news item on ScienceDaily,

University of Colorado Boulder researchers have developed nanobio-hybrid organisms capable of using airborne carbon dioxide and nitrogen to produce a variety of plastics and fuels, a promising first step toward low-cost carbon sequestration and eco-friendly manufacturing for chemicals.

By using light-activated quantum dots to fire particular enzymes within microbial cells, the researchers were able to create “living factories” that eat harmful CO2 and convert it into useful products such as biodegradable plastic, gasoline, ammonia and biodiesel.

A June 11, 2019 University of Colorado at Boulder news release (also on EurekAlert) by Trent Knoss, which originated the news item, provides a deeper dive into the research,

“The innovation is a testament to the power of biochemical processes,” said Prashant Nagpal, lead author of the research and an assistant professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. “We’re looking at a technique that could improve CO2 capture to combat climate change and one day even potentially replace carbon-intensive manufacturing for plastics and fuels.”

The project began in 2013, when Nagpal and his colleagues began exploring the broad potential of nanoscopic quantum dots, which are tiny semiconductors similar to those used in television sets. Quantum dots can be injected into cells passively and are designed to attach and self-assemble to desired enzymes and then activate these enzymes on command using specific wavelengths of light.

Nagpal wanted to see if quantum dots could act as a spark plug to fire particular enzymes within microbial cells that have the means to convert airborne CO2 and nitrogen, but do not do so naturally due to a lack of photosynthesis.

By diffusing the specially-tailored dots into the cells of common microbial species found in soil, Nagpal and his colleagues bridged the gap. Now, exposure to even small amounts of indirect sunlight would activate the microbes’ CO2 appetite, without a need for any source of energy or food to carry out the energy-intensive biochemical conversions.

“Each cell is making millions of these chemicals and we showed they could exceed their natural yield by close to 200 percent,” Nagpal said.

The microbes, which lie dormant in water, release their resulting product to the surface, where it can be skimmed off and harvested for manufacturing. Different combinations of dots and light produce different products: Green wavelengths cause the bacteria to consume nitrogen and produce ammonia while redder wavelengths make the microbes feast on CO2 to produce plastic instead.

The process also shows promising signs of being able to operate at scale. The study found that even when the microbial factories were activated consistently for hours at a time, they showed few signs of exhaustion or depletion, indicating that the cells can regenerate and thus limit the need for rotation.

“We were very surprised that it worked as elegantly as it did,” Nagpal said. “We’re just getting started with the synthetic applications.”

The ideal futuristic scenario, Nagpal said, would be to have single-family homes and businesses pipe their CO2 emissions directly to a nearby holding pond, where microbes would convert them to a bioplastic. The owners would be able to sell the resulting product for a small profit while essentially offsetting their own carbon footprint.

“Even if the margins are low and it can’t compete with petrochemicals on a pure cost basis, there is still societal benefit to doing this,” Nagpal said. “If we could convert even a small fraction of local ditch ponds, it would have a sizeable impact on the carbon output of towns. It wouldn’t be asking much for people to implement. Many already make beer at home, for example, and this is no more complicated.”

The focus now, he said, will shift to optimizing the conversion process and bringing on new undergraduate students. Nagpal is looking to convert the project into an undergraduate lab experiment in the fall semester, funded by a CU Boulder Engineering Excellence Fund grant. Nagpal credits his current students with sticking with the project over the course of many years.

“It has been a long journey and their work has been invaluable,” he said. “I think these results show that it was worth it.”

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

Nanorg Microbial Factories: Light-Driven Renewable Biochemical Synthesis Using Quantum Dot-Bacteria Nanobiohybrids by Yuchen Ding, John R. Bertram, Carrie Eckert, Rajesh Reddy Bommareddy, Rajan Patel, Alex Conradie, Samantha Bryan, Prashant Nagpal. J. Am. Chem. Soc.2019XXXXXXXXXX-XXX DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/jacs.9b02549 Publication Date:June 7, 2019
Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Antibiotic synthetic spider silk

I have a couple of questions, what is ‘click’ chemistry and how does a chance meeting lead to a five-year, interdisciplinary research project on synthetic spider silk? From a Jan. 4, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily,

A chance meeting between a spider expert and a chemist has led to the development of antibiotic synthetic spider silk.

After five years’ work an interdisciplinary team of scientists at The University of Nottingham has developed a technique to produce chemically functionalised spider silk that can be tailored to applications used in drug delivery, regenerative medicine and wound healing.

The Nottingham research team has shown for the first time how ‘click-chemistry’ can be used to attach molecules, such as antibiotics or fluorescent dyes, to artificially produced spider silk synthesised by E.coli bacteria. The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is published today in the online journal Advanced Materials.

A Jan. 3, 2016 University of Nottingham press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides a few more details about ‘click’ chemistry (not enough for me) and more information about the research,

The chosen molecules can be ‘clicked’ into place in soluble silk protein before it has been turned into fibres, or after the fibres have been formed. This means that the process can be easily controlled and more than one type of molecule can be used to ‘decorate’ individual silk strands.

Nottingham breakthrough

In a laboratory in the Centre of Biomolecular Sciences, Professor Neil Thomas from the School of Chemistry in collaboration with Dr Sara Goodacre from the School of Life Sciences, has led a team of BBSRC DTP-funded PhD students starting with David Harvey who was then joined by Victor Tudorica, Leah Ashley and Tom Coekin. They have developed and diversified this new approach to functionalising ‘recombinant’ — artificial — spider silk with a wide range of small molecules.

They have shown that when these ‘silk’ fibres are ‘decorated’ with the antibiotic levofloxacin it is slowly released from the silk, retaining its anti-bacterial activity for at least five days.

Neil Thomas, a Professor of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry, said: “Our technique allows the rapid generation of biocompatible, mono or multi-functionalised silk structures for use in a wide range of applications. These will be particularly useful in the fields of tissue engineering and biomedicine.”

Remarkable qualities of spider silk

Spider silk is strong, biocompatible and biodegradable. It is a protein-based material that does not appear to cause a strong immune, allergic or inflammatory reaction. With the recent development of recombinant spider silk, the race has been on to find ways of harnessing its remarkable qualities.

The Nottingham research team has shown that their technique can be used to create a biodegradable mesh which can do two jobs at once. It can replace the extra cellular matrix that our own cells generate, to accelerate growth of the new tissue. It can also be used for the slow release of antibiotics.

Professor Thomas said: “There is the possibility of using the silk in advanced dressings for the treatment of slow-healing wounds such as diabetic ulcers. Using our technique infection could be prevented over weeks or months by the controlled release of antibiotics. At the same time tissue regeneration is accelerated by silk fibres functioning as a temporary scaffold before being biodegraded.”

The medicinal properties of spider silk recognised for centuries.

The medicinal properties of spider silk have been recognised for centuries but not clearly understood. The Greeks and Romans treated wounded soldiers with spider webs to stop bleeding. It is said that soldiers would use a combination of honey and vinegar to clean deep wounds and then cover the whole thing with balled-up spider webs.

There is even a mention in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I shall desire you of more acquaintance, good master cobweb,” the character ‘Bottom’ said. “If I cut my finger, I shall make bold of you.”

The press release goes on to describe the genesis of the project and how this multidisciplinary team was formed in more detail,

The idea came together at a discipline bridging university ‘sandpit’ meeting five years ago. Dr Goodacre says her chance meeting at that event with Professor Thomas proved to be one of the most productive afternoons of her career.

Dr Goodacre, who heads up the SpiderLab in the School of Life Sciences, said: “I got up at that meeting and showed the audience a picture of some spider silk. I said ‘I want to understand how this silk works, and then make some.’

“At the end of the session Neil came up to me and said ‘I think my group could make that.’ He also suggested that there might be more interesting ‘tweaks’ one could make so that the silk could be ‘decorated’ with different, useful, compounds either permanently or which could be released over time due to a change in the acidity of the environment.”

The approach required the production of the silk proteins in a bacterium where an amino acid not normally found in proteins was included. This amino acid contained an azide group which is widely used in ‘click’ reactions that only occur at that position in the protein. It was an approach that no-one had used before with spider silk — but the big question was — would it work?

Dr Goodacre said: “It was the start of a fascinating adventure that saw a postdoc undertake a very preliminary study to construct the synthetic silks. He was a former SpiderLab PhD student who had previously worked with our tarantulas. Thanks to his ground work we showed we could produce the silk proteins in bacteria. We were then joined by David Harvey, a new PhD student, who not only made the silk fibres, incorporating the unusual amino acid, but also decorated it and demonstrated its antibiotic activity. He has since extended those first ideas far beyond what we had thought might be possible.”

David Harvey’s work is described in this paper but Professor Thomas and Dr Goodacre say this is just the start. There are other joint SpiderLab/Thomas lab students working on uses for this technology in the hope of developing it further.

David Harvey, the lead author on this their first paper, has just been awarded his PhD and is now a postdoctoral researcher on a BBSRC follow-on grant so is still at the heart of the research. His current work is focused on driving the functionalised spider silk technology towards commercial application in wound healing and tissue regeneration.

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

Antibiotic Spider Silk: Site-Specific Functionalization of Recombinant Spider Silk Using “Click” Chemistry by David Harvey, Philip Bardelang, Sara L. Goodacre, Alan Cockayne, and Neil R. Thomas. Advanced Materials DOI: 10.1002/adma.201604245 Version of Record online: 28 DEC 2016

© 2016 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.

I imagine Mr. Cockayne’s name has led to much teasing over the years. People who have names with that kind of potential tend to either change them or double down and refuse to compromise.

Prawn (shrimp) shopping bags and saving the earth

Using a material (shrimp shells) that is disposed of as waste to create a biodegradable product (shopping bags) can only be described as a major win. A Jan. 10, 2017 news item on Nanowerk makes the announcement,

Bioengineers at The University of Nottingham are trialling how to use shrimp shells to make biodegradable shopping bags, as a ‘green’ alternative to oil-based plastic, and as a new food packaging material to extend product shelf life.

The new material for these affordable ‘eco-friendly’ bags is being optimised for Egyptian conditions, as effective waste management is one of the country’s biggest challenges.

An expert in testing the properties of materials, Dr Nicola Everitt from the Faculty of Engineering at Nottingham, is leading the research together with academics at Nile University in Egypt.

“Non-degradable plastic packaging is causing environmental and public health problems in Egypt, including contamination of water supplies which particularly affects living conditions of the poor,” explains Dr Everitt.

Natural biopolymer products made from plant materials are a ‘green’ alternative growing in popularity, but with competition for land with food crops, it is not a viable solution in Egypt.

A Jan. 10, 2017 University of Nottingham press release, which originated the news item,expands on the theme,

This new project aims to turn shrimp shells, which are a part of the country’s waste problem into part of the solution.

Dr Everitt said: “Use of a degradable biopolymer made of prawn shells for carrier bags would lead to lower carbon emissions and reduce food and packaging waste accumulating in the streets or at illegal dump sites. It could also make exports more acceptable to a foreign market within a 10-15-year time frame. All priorities at a national level in Egypt.”

Degradable nanocomposite material

The research is being undertaken to produce an innovative biopolymer nanocomposite material which is degradable, affordable and suitable for shopping bags and food packaging.

Chitosan is a man-made polymer derived from the organic compound chitin, which is extracted from shrimp shells, first using acid (to remove the calcium carbonate “backbone” of the crustacean shell) and then alkali (to produce the long molecular chains which make up the biopolymer).

The dried chitosan flakes can then be dissolved into solution and polymer film made by conventional processing techniques.

Chitosan was chosen because it is a promising biodegradable polymer already used in pharmaceutical packaging due to its antimicrobial, antibacterial and biocompatible properties. The second strand of the project is to develop an active polymer film that absorbs oxygen.

Enhancing food shelf life and cutting food waste

This future generation food packaging could have the ability to enhance food shelf life with high efficiency and low energy consumption, making a positive impact on food wastage in many countries.

If successful, Dr Everitt plans to approach UK packaging manufacturers with the product.

Additionally, the research aims to identify a production route by which these degradable biopolymer materials for shopping bags and food packaging could be manufactured.

I also found the funding for this project to be of interest (from the press release),

The project is sponsored by the Newton Fund and the Newton-Mosharafa Fund grant and is one of 13 Newton-funded collaborations for The University of Nottingham.

The collaborations, which are designed to tackle community issues through science and innovation, with links formed with countries such as Brazil, Egypt, Philippines and Indonesia.

Since the Newton Fund was established in 2014, the University has been awarded a total of £4.5m in funding. It also boasts the highest number of institutional-led collaborations.

Professor Nick Miles Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement said: “The University of Nottingham has a long and established record in global collaboration and research.

The Newton Fund plays to these strengths and enables us to work with institutions around the world to solve some of the most pressing issues facing communities.”

From a total of 68 universities, The University of Nottingham has emerged as the top awardee of British Council Newton Fund Institutional Links grants (13) and is joint top awardee from a total of 160 institutions competing for British Council Newton Fund Researcher Links Workshop awards (6).

Professor Miles added: “This is testament to the incredible research taking place across the University – both here in the UK and in the campuses in Malaysia and China – and underlines the strength of our research partnerships around the world.”

That’s it!

Promethean Particles claims to be world’s largest nanomaterial production plant

It’s a bit puzzling initially as both the SHYMAN (Sustainable Hydrothermal Manufacturing of Nanomaterials) project and Promethean Particles are claiming to be the world’s biggest nanomaterials production facility. In a battle of press release titles (one from CORDIS and one from the University of Nottingham) it becomes clear after reading both that the SHYMAN project is the name for a European Commission 7th Framework Programme funded project and Promethean Particles, located at the University of Nottingham (UK), is a spinoff from that project. So, both claims are true, although confusing at first glance.

An Aug. 1, 2016 news item on Nanowerk breaks the news about the ‘SHYMAN project’s’ production facility (Note: A link has been removed),

The European SHYMAN project aims to establish continuous hydrothermal synthesis as the most flexible and sustainable process to create nanomaterials at industrial scale. After demonstrating this potential in the lab, the project has now announced the opening of its first facility in Nottingham.

An (Aug. 1, 2016?) CORDIS press release, which originated the news item,

‘This new facility opens up a significant amount of new opportunities for us,’ says Professor Ed Lester, Technical Coordinator of Promethean Particles. This spin-out of the University of Nottingham is in charge of operating the new plant, which is expected to produce over 1 000 tonnes of nanomaterials every year. The production cost is lower than that of other facilities and the chosen production method – continuous hydrothermal synthesis – is expected to impact even markets for which sale prices had so far been an obstacle.

‘We have already had a lot of interest from companies in a diverse range of sectors. From healthcare, where nano-particles can be used in coatings on medical devices, to enhanced fabrics, where nano-materials can add strength and flexibility to textiles, and in printed electronics, as we are able to print materials such as copper,’ Prof. Lester continues. Solvay, Fiat, PPG and Repsol are among the major companies already set to benefit from the plant’s products.

To reach these impressive levels of production, the plant notably relies on high pressure triplex plunger pumps manufactured by Cat Pumps. These pumps have helped the 18-strong consortium to overcome engineering issues related to the mixing of the heated fluid and the aqueous metal salt flow, by creating the continuous pressure and fluid flow necessary to achieve continuous production.

Another enabling technology is the Nozzle Reactor, a customised design that uses buoyancy-induced eddies to produce an ‘ideal’ mixing scenario in a pipe-in-pip concentric configuration in which the internal pipe has an open-ended nozzle. This technology allows Promethean Particles to dramatically improve reproducibility and reliability whilst controlling particles properties such as size, composition and shape.

Betting on hydrothermal synthesis

Started in 2012, SHYMAN built upon the observation that hydrothermal synthesis had numerous advantages compared to alternatives: it doesn’t resort to noxious chemicals, uses relatively simple chemistry relying on cheap precursors, allows straightforward downstream processing, can avoid agglomeration and allows for narrow and well-controlled size and shape distribution.

The optimisation of hydrothermal synthesis has been a key objective of the University of Nottingham for the past 14 years, and SHYMAN is the pinnacle: the project began with the development of bench scale reactors, followed by a 30-times-larger pilot scale reactor. The reactor at the heart of the new production plant is 80 times larger than the latter and features four Cat Pumps Model 3801 high pressure triplex plunger pumps.

‘These are very exciting times for Promethean Particles,’ said Dr Susan Huxtable, Director of Intellectual Property and Commercialisation at the University of Nottingham. ‘The new facility opens up a myriad of opportunities for them to sell their services into new markets right across the world. It is a great example of how many of the technologies developed by academics here at the University of Nottingham have the potential to benefit both industry and society.’

The July 12, 2016 University of Nottingham press release, while covering much of the same ground, offers some additional detail,

The plant [Promethean Particles] was developed as part of a pan-European nano-materials research programme, known as SHYMAN (Sustainable Hydrothermal Manufacturing of Nanomaterials). The project, which had a total value of €9.7 million Euros, included partner universities and businesses from 12 European countries.

The outcome of the project was the creation of the largest multi-material nano-particle plant in the world, based in Nottingham. The plant is now operated by Promethean, and it is able to operate at supercritical conditions, producing up to 200 kg of nano-particles per hour.

You can find out more about the SHYMAN project here and Promethean Particles here.

A grant for regenerating bones with injectable stem cell microspheres

I have a longstanding interest in bones partly due to my introduction to a skeleton in a dance course and to US artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. In any event, it’s been too long since I’ve featured any research on bones here.

This news comes from the UK’s University of Nottingham. A July 25, 2016 news item on Nanowerk announced a grant for stem cell research,

The University of Nottingham has secured £1.2m to develop injectable stem cell-carrying materials to treat and prevent fractures caused by osteoporosis and other bone-thinning diseases.

A July 25, 2016 University of Nottingham press release, which originated the news item, offers more information about the proposed therapy and the research project (Note: Links have been removed),

The experimental materials consist of porous microspheres produced from calcium phosphates – a key component in bones – to be filled with stem cells extracted from the patient.

The targeted therapy could offer a quick, easy and minimally-invasive treatment that is injected into areas considered to be at high-risk of fracture to promote bone regeneration.

The funding grant, from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR i4i Challenge Award), also supports the development of a prototype delivery device to inject these stem cell loaded microspheres to the sites of interest.

In addition, project partners will investigate how well the materials stay in place once they have been injected inside the body.

Research leads, Dr Ifty Ahmed and Professor Brigitte Scammell explained that the aim was to develop a preventive treatment option to address the growing issue of fractures occurring due to bone-thinning diseases, which is exacerbated due to the worldwide ageing population.

Osteoporosis-related conditions affect some three million Britons, and cost the NHS over £1.73bn each year, according to the National Osteoporotic Society.

Dr Ahmed, from the Faculty of Engineering at The University of Nottingham, said, “We would advocate a national screening program, using a DEXA scan, which measures bone mineral density, to identify people at high risk of fracture due to osteoporosis.

“If we could strengthen these peoples bone before they suffered from fractures, using a simple injection procedure, it would save people the pain and trauma of broken bones and associated consequences such as surgery and loss of independence.”

The NIHR grant will also fund a Patient and Public Involvement study on the suitability of the technology, gauging the opinions and personal experience of people affected by osteoporosis as sufferers or carers, for example.

The project has already undertaken proof-of-concept work to test the feasibility of manufacturing the microsphere materials and lab work to ensure that stem cells attach and reside within these novel microsphere carriers.

The research is still at an early stage and the project team are working towards next phase pre-clinical trials.

This work reminded me of an unfinished piece of science fiction where I developed a society that had the ability to grow bone to replace lost limbs, replace lost bone matter, and restructure faces. I should get back to it one of these days. In the meantime, here’s an image of a microsphere,

A close-up of a injectable stem-cell carrying microsphere made of calcium phosphate which are injected to prevent and treat fractures caused by bone-thinning diseases. (Image: Ifty Ahmed; University of Nottingham)

A close-up of a injectable stem-cell carrying microsphere made of calcium phosphate which are injected to prevent and treat fractures caused by bone-thinning diseases. (Image: Ifty Ahmed; University of Nottingham)

One final note, fragile bones are no joke but there does seem to be a movement to diagnose more and more people with osteoporosis. Alan Cassels, in his July/August 2016 article for Common Ground magazine, points out that the guidelines for diagnosis have changed and more healthy people are being targeted,

… Americans, the experts tell us, are suffering an epidemic of osteoporosis. A new US osteoporosis guideline says that 72% of women over 65 are considered ‘diseased’ – a number which rises to 93% for those over 75 years old – and hence in need of drug therapy.

What is going on here?

Clearly, the only real ‘epidemic’ is the growing phenomenon where risks for disease are being turned into diseases, in and of themselves. In this racket, ‘high’ blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, low bone density, fluctuating blood sugars, high eyeball pressure and low testosterone, among other things, become worrying signs of chronic, lifelong conditions that demand attention and medication. As I’ve said in the past, “If you want to know why pharma is increasingly targeting healthy people with ‘preventive medicine,’ it’s because that’s where the money is.”

One thing all these risks-as-disease models have in common is they are shaped and supported by clinical practice guidelines. In these guidelines, doctors are told to measure their patients’ parameters. If your measurements are outside some preset levels deemed ‘high risk’ by the expert guidelines, you know what that means: more frequent trips to the pharmacy. The main downside of guidelines is they slap labels on people who aren’t sick and instill in physicians the constant idea their healthy patients are really disease-ridden.

But this is a good news story and if you haven’t sensed it, there’s a rising backlash against medical guidelines, mostly led by doctors, researchers and even some patients outraged at what they see going on. …

I don’t wish to generalize from the situation in the US to the situation in the UK. The medical systems and models are quite different but since at least some of my readership is from the US, I thought this digression might prove helpful. Regardless of where you live, it never hurts to ask questions.

Nano and food discussion for beginners

I try to make sure there are a range of posts here for various levels of ‘nanotechnology sophistication’ but over time I’ve given less attention to ‘beginner’ posts, i.e., pieces where nanotechnology basics are explained as best as possible. This is largely due to concerns about repetition; I mean, how many times do you want to read that nano means one billionth?

In that spirit, this June 22, 2016 news item on Nanowerk about food and nanotechnology provides a good entry piece that is not terribly repetitive,

Every mouthful of food we eat is teeming with chemical reactions. Adding ingredients and cooking helps us control these reactions and makes the food taste better and last longer. So what if we could target food at the molecular level, sending in specially designed particles to control reactions even more tightly? Well, this is exactly what scientists are trying to do and it has already produced some impressive results – from food that tastes salty without the health risks of adding salt, to bread that contains healthy fish oil but without any fishy aftertaste.

But while this nanotechnology could significantly enhance our food, it also raises big questions about safety. We only have to look at the strong reaction against genetically modified foods to see how important this issue is. How can we ensure that nanotechnology in food will be different? Will our food be safe? And will people accept these new foods?

Nanotechnology is an emerging technology that creates and uses materials and particles at the scale of a nanometre, one billionth of a metre. To get an understanding of just how small this is, if you imagine a nanoparticle was the size of a football then an animal like a sheep would be as big as our planet.

Working with such small particles allows us to create materials and products with improved properties, from lighter bicycles and more durable beer bottles to cosmetic creams with better absorption and toothpastes that stop bacteria from growing. Being able to change a material’s properties means nanotechnology can help create many innovative food products and applications that change the way we process, preserve and package foods.

For example, nanotechnology can be used for “smart” packaging that can monitor the condition of foods while they are stored and transported. When foods are contaminated or going off, the sensors on the packaging pick up gases produced by bacteria and change colour to alert anyone who wants to eat the food.

A June 22, 2016 essay by Seda Erdem (University of Stirling; UK) on The Conversation, which originated the news item, provides more information in this excerpt,

Silver is already used in healthcare products such as dental equipment for its antibacterial properties. Nano-sizing silver particles improves their ability to kill bacteria because it increases the surface area of silver the bacteria are exposed to. Israeli scientists found that also coating packaging paper with nano-sized silver particles [also known as silver nanoparticles] combats bacteria such as E. coli and extends product shelf life.

Another example of nanotechnology’s use in food manufacturing is nano-encapsulation. This technology has been used to mask the taste and odour of tuna fish oil so that it could be used to enrich bread with heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil particles are packed into a film coating that prevents the fish oil from reacting with oxygen and releasing its smell. The nanocapsules break open only when they reach the stomach so you can receive the health benefits of eating them without experiencing the odour.

Meanwhile, researchers at Nottingham University are looking into nanoscale salt particles than can increase the saltiness of food without increasing the amount of salt.

As with silver, breaking salt into smaller nanosize increases its surface area. This means its flavour can be spread more efficiently. The researchers claim this can reduce the salt content of standard crisps by 90% while keeping the same flavour.

Despite all the opportunities nanotechnology offers the food industry, most developments remain at the research and development stage. This slow uptake is due to the lack of information about the health and environmental impacts of the technology. For example, there is a concern whether ingested nanomaterials migrate to different parts of the body and accumulate in certain organs, such as liver and kidneys. This may then affect the functionality of these organs in the medium to long term.

Unknown risks

However, our knowledge of the risks associated with the use of nanomaterials is incomplete. These issues need to be better understood and addressed for the public to accept nanotechnology in food. This will also depend on the public’s understanding of the technology and how much they trust the food industry and the regulatory process watching over it.

Research has shown, for example, that consumers are more likely to accept nanotechnology when it is used in food packaging rather than in food processing. But nanotechnology in food production was seen as more acceptable if it increased the food’s health benefits, although consumers weren’t necessarily willing to pay more for this.

In our recent research, we found no strong attitudes towards or resistance to nanotechnology in food packaging in the UK. But there was still concern among a small group of consumers about the safety of foods. This shows how important it will be for food producers and regulators to provide consumers with the best available information about nanotechnology, including any uncertainties about the technology.

There you have it.

Remotely controlling bone regeneration with metallic nanoparticles

A Nov. 24, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily heralds some bone regeneration research which was published back in Sept. 2014,

Researchers in bone tissue regeneration believe they have made a significant breakthrough for sufferers of bone trauma, disease or defects such as osteoporosis.

Medical researchers from Keele University and Nottingham University have found that magnetic nanoparticles coated with targeting proteins can stimulate stem cells to regenerate bone. Researchers were also able to deliver the cells directly to the injured area, remotely controlling the nanoparticles to generate mechanical forces and maintain the regeneration process through staged releases of a protein growth stimulant.

A Nov. 17, 2014 Keele University (UK) press release, which originated the news item, describes the issues the researchers are addressing and their research approach,

The current method for repairing bone that can’t heal itself is through a graft taken from the patient. Unfortunately, this can be a painful, invasive procedure, and when the area that needs repair is too large or the patient has a skeletal disorder such as there can sometimes be a lack of healthy bone for grafting.

For this reason, spurring the growth of new bone through injected stem cells is an area of great interest to medical researchers. Much progress has been made, but a major hurdle remains – finding an appropriate means to stimulate the differentiation of the stem cells so they become the quality of bone tissue needed in a quantity large enough to treat patients effectively.

James Henstock, Ph.D. led the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)-funded study, alongside Alicia El Haj, Ph.D., and colleagues at Keele University’s Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine, as well as Kevin Shakesheff, Ph.D., from the University of Nottingham’s School of Pharmacy.

James Henstock said: “Injectable therapies for regenerative medicine show great potential as a minimally invasive route for introducing therapeutic stem cells, drug delivery vehicles and biomaterials efficiently to wound sites.”

“In our investigation we coated magnetic nanoparticles with specific targeting proteins then controlled them remotely with an external magnetic field to simulate exercise. We wanted to learn how this might affect the injected stem cells and their ability to restore functional bone.”

The team of researchers conducted their test using two models: chicken foetal femurs and tissue-engineered collagen hydrogels. In both instances the results showed an increase in bone formation and density without causing any mechanical stress to the construct or surrounding tissue.

“This work demonstrates that providing the appropriate mechanical cues in conjunction with controlled release of growth factors to these injectable cell therapies can have a significant impact on improving bone growth. It also could potentially improve tissue engineering approaches for translational medicine” Dr. Henstock said.

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

Remotely Activated Mechanotransduction via Magnetic Nanoparticles Promotes Mineralization Synergistically With Bone Morphogenetic Protein 2: Applications for Injectable Cell Therapy by James R. Henstock, Michael Rotherham, Hassan Rashidi, Kevin M. Shakesheff, and Alicia J. El Haja. Stem Cells Trans Med September 2014 sctm.2014-0017  (First Published Online September 22, 2014 doi: 10.5966/sctm.2014-0017)

This paper is open access but you do need to sign up for a free registration for access to the website.

No more boat scraping with new coating from Duke University

There’s a lot of interest in finding ways to discourage bacteria from growing on various surfaces, for example, Sharklet, which is based on nanostructures on sharkskin, is a product being developed for hospitals (my Feb. 10, 2011 posting) and there are polymers that ‘uninvite’ bacteria at the University of Nottingham (my Aug. 13, 2012 posting).

A Jan. 31, 2013 news item on Nanowerk highlights the latest work being done at Duke University,

Duke University engineers have developed a material that can be applied like paint to the hull of a ship and will literally be able to dislodge bacteria, keeping it from accumulating on the ship’s surface. This buildup on ships increases drag and reduces the energy efficiency of the vessel, as well as blocking or clogging undersea sensors.

The team’s research was published online,

Bioinspired Surfaces with Dynamic Topography for Active Control of Biofouling by Phanindhar Shivapooja, Qiming Wang, Beatriz Orihuela, Daniel Rittschof, Gabriel P. López1, Xuanhe Zhao. Advanced Materials, Article first published online: 6 JAN 2013, DOI: 10.1002/adma.201203374

Copyright © 2013 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

The article is behind a paywall but the abstract is freely available,

Dynamic change of surface area and topology of elastomers is used as a general, environmentally friendly approach for effectively detaching micro- and macro-fouling organisms adhered on the elastomer surfaces. Deformation of elastomer surfaces under electrical or pneumatic actuation can debond various biofilms and barnacles. The bio-inspired dynamic surfaces can be fabricated over large areas through simple and practical processes. This new mechanism is complementary with existing materials and methods for biofouling control.

Duke University’s Jan. 31, 2013 news release by Richard Merritt, which originated the news item, provides more detail from the researchers,

“We have developed a material that ‘wrinkles,’ or changes it surface in response to a stimulus, such as stretching or pressure or electricity,” said Duke engineer Xuanhe Zhao, assistant professor in Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. “This deformation can effectively detach biofilms and other organisms that have accumulated on the surface.”

Zhao has already demonstrated the ability of electric current to deform, or change, the surface of polymers.

The researchers tested their approach in the laboratory with simulated seawater, as well as on barnacles. These experiments were conducted in collaboration with Daniel Rittsch of the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, N.C.

Keeping bacteria from attaching to ship hulls or other submerged objects can prevent a larger cascade of events that can reduce performance or efficiency. Once they have taken up residence on a surface, bacteria often attract larger organisms, such as seaweed and larva of other marine organisms, such as worms, bivalves, barnacles or mussels.

There are other ways to introduce efficiencies in marine transp0rtation as per my June 27, 2012 posting about Zyvex Marine and its new composites which will make for lighter vessels.

Don’t kill bacteria, uninvite them

The relentless campaign against bacteria has had some unintended consequences, we’ve made bacteria more resistant and more virulent. Researchers at the University of Nottingham (UK) have taken a different approach from attempting to eradicate or kill; they’ve discovered a class of polymers that ‘uninvites’ bacteria from their surfaces. From the Aug. 13, 2012 news item on ScienceDaily,

Using state-of-the-art technology, scientists at The University of Nottingham have discovered a new class of polymers that are resistant to bacterial attachment. These new materials could lead to a significant reduction in hospital infections and medical device failures.

Medical device associated infections can lead to systemic infections or device failure, costing the NHS £1bn a year. Affecting many commonly used devices including urinary and venous catheters — bacteria form communities known as biofilms. This ‘strength in numbers approach’ protects them against the bodies’ natural defences and antibiotics.

Experts in the Schools of Pharmacy and Molecular Medical Sciences, have shown that when the new materials are applied to the surface of medical devices they repel bacteria and prevent them forming biofilms.

There’s a video of the scientists discussing their work on this new class of polymers,

In order to find this new class of polymers, the scientists had to solve another problem first. From the Aug. 12, 2012 University of Nottingham press release,

Researchers believed there were new materials that could resist bacteria better but they had to find them. This meant screening thousands of different chemistries and testing their reaction to bacteria — a challenge which was beyond conventional materials development or any of our current understanding of the interaction of micro-organisms with surfaces.

The discovery has been made with the help of experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — who initially developed the process by which thousands of unique polymers can now be screened simultaneously.

Professor Alexander said: “This is a major scientific breakthrough — we have discovered a new group of structurally related materials that dramatically reduce the attachment of pathogenic bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli). We could not have found these materials using the current understanding of bacteria-surface interactions. The technology developed with the help of MIT means that hundreds of materials could be screened simultaneously to reveal new structure-property relationships. In total thousands of materials were investigated using this high throughput materials discovery approach leading to the identification of novel materials resisting bacterial attachment. This could not have been achieved using conventional techniques.”

Once they found this new class of polymers, researchers tested for effectiveness (from the Aug. 12, 2012 university press release),

These new materials prevent infection by stopping biofilm formation at the earliest possible stage — when the bacteria first attempt to attach themselves to the device. In the laboratory experts were able to reduce the numbers of bacteria by up to 96.7per cent — compared with a commercially available silver containing catheter — and were effective at resisting bacterial attachment in a mouse implant infection model. By preventing bacterial attachment the body’s own immune system can kill the bacteria before they have time to generate biofilms.

You can read more about this work in the paper the researchers have published (as well as, the news item on ScienceDaily or the University of Nottingham press release for more accessible explanations). You will need to get past a paywall (from the news item on ScienceDaily),

Andrew L Hook, Chien-Yi Chang, Jing Yang, Jeni Luckett, Alan Cockayne, Steve Atkinson, Ying Mei, Roger Bayston, Derek J Irvine, Robert Langer, Daniel G Anderson, Paul Williams, Martyn C Davies, Morgan R Alexander. Combinatorial discovery of polymers resistant to bacterial attachment. Nature Biotechnology, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nbt.2316

This research reminded me of Sharklet, a product being developed in the US for use in hospitals. Designed to mimic sharkskin, the product discourages bacteria from settling on its surface. It was featured in my Feb. 10, 2011 posting.