Natsai Audrey Chieza is a designer on a mission — to reduce pollution in the fashion industry while creating amazing new things to wear. In her lab, she noticed that the bacteria Streptomyces coelicolor makes a striking red-purple pigment, and now she’s using it to develop bold, color-fast fabric dye that cuts down on water waste and chemical runoff, compared with traditional dyes. And she isn’t alone in using synthetic biology to redefine our material future; think — “leather” made from mushrooms and superstrong yarn made from spider-silk protein. We’re not going to build the future with fossil fuels, Chieza says. We’re going to build it with biology.
Natsai Audrey Chieza is a trans-disciplinary design researcher whose fascinating work crosses boundaries between technology, biology, design and cultural studies.
This talk was presented at a TED Institute event given in partnership with BCG. TED editors featured it among our selections on the home page. Read more about the TED Institute.
Humanity has a data storage problem: More data were created in the past 2 years than in all of preceding history. And that torrent of information may soon outstrip the ability of hard drives to capture it. Now, researchers report that they’ve come up with a new way to encode digital data in DNA to create the highest-density large-scale data storage scheme ever invented. Capable of storing 215 petabytes (215 million gigabytes) in a single gram of DNA, the system could, in principle, store every bit of datum ever recorded by humans in a container about the size and weight of a couple of pickup trucks. But whether the technology takes off may depend on its cost.
DNA has many advantages for storing digital data. It’s ultracompact, and it can last hundreds of thousands of years if kept in a cool, dry place. And as long as human societies are reading and writing DNA, they will be able to decode it. “DNA won’t degrade over time like cassette tapes and CDs, and it won’t become obsolete,” says Yaniv Erlich, a computer scientist at Columbia University. And unlike other high-density approaches, such as manipulating individual atoms on a surface, new technologies can write and read large amounts of DNA at a time, allowing it to be scaled up.
Scientists have been storing digital data in DNA since 2012. That was when Harvard University geneticists George Church, Sri Kosuri, and colleagues encoded a 52,000-word book in thousands of snippets of DNA, using strands of DNA’s four-letter alphabet of A, G, T, and C to encode the 0s and 1s of the digitized file. Their particular encoding scheme was relatively inefficient, however, and could store only 1.28 petabytes per gram of DNA. Other approaches have done better. But none has been able to store more than half of what researchers think DNA can actually handle, about 1.8 bits of data per nucleotide of DNA. (The number isn’t 2 bits because of rare, but inevitable, DNA writing and reading errors.)
Erlich thought he could get closer to that limit. So he and Dina Zielinski, an associate scientist at the New York Genome Center, looked at the algorithms that were being used to encode and decode the data. They started with six files, including a full computer operating system, a computer virus, an 1895 French film called Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, and a 1948 study by information theorist Claude Shannon. They first converted the files into binary strings of 1s and 0s, compressed them into one master file, and then split the data into short strings of binary code. They devised an algorithm called a DNA fountain, which randomly packaged the strings into so-called droplets, to which they added extra tags to help reassemble them in the proper order later. In all, the researchers generated a digital list of 72,000 DNA strands, each 200 bases long.
They sent these as text files to Twist Bioscience, a San Francisco, California–based startup, which then synthesized the DNA strands. Two weeks later, Erlich and Zielinski received in the mail a vial with a speck of DNA encoding their files. To decode them, the pair used modern DNA sequencing technology. The sequences were fed into a computer, which translated the genetic code back into binary and used the tags to reassemble the six original files. The approach worked so well that the new files contained no errors, they report today in Science. They were also able to make a virtually unlimited number of error-free copies of their files through polymerase chain reaction, a standard DNA copying technique. What’s more, Erlich says, they were able to encode 1.6 bits of data per nucleotide, 60% better than any group had done before and 85% the theoretical limit.
“I love the work,” says Kosuri, who is now a biochemist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “I think this is essentially the definitive study that shows you can [store data in DNA] at scale.”
However, Kosuri and Erlich note the new approach isn’t ready for large-scale use yet. It cost $7000 to synthesize the 2 megabytes of data in the files, and another $2000 to read it. The cost is likely to come down over time, but it still has a long ways to go, Erlich says. And compared with other forms of data storage, writing and reading to DNA is relatively slow. So the new approach isn’t likely to fly if data are needed instantly, but it would be better suited for archival applications. Then again, who knows? Perhaps those giant Facebook and Amazon data centers will one day be replaced by a couple of pickup trucks of DNA.
Get up to speed with Futurism‘s review of all kinds of glorious new discoveries.
2016 MacArthur Fellow, Rebecca Richards-Kortum is amazing. The Rice University bioengineering professor has inspired her students to invent new low cost medical technologies for the third world that are remarkable.
New medical technologies created by BTB students include an LED-based phototherapy light for treating jaundice in newborns that can be made for less than $100, and a bubble continuous positive airway pressure machine (bCPAP) for premature infants unable to breathe on their own. The bCPAP decreased mortality rates in a Malawi neonatal ward by 46 percent at a cost of nearly 38 times lower than the standard model.
Committed to improving access to quality health care for all the world’s people, Richards-Kortum is not only developing novel solutions but also training and inspiring the next generation of engineers and scientists to address our shared global challenges.
For more about the work of the good professor and her students at Rice University in Houston, see the following:
MacArthur Foundation: https://www.macfound.org/fellows/970/
NPR Morning Edition segment: ‘Genius Grant’ Winner Is A Genius At Inspiring Students
This is an excerpt from an article appearing in the August 20, 2016, Science News with the headline, “Quenching society’s thirst: Desalination may soon turn a corner, from rare to routine.”
When Khaled Moustafa looks at a beach, he doesn’t just see a place for sunning and surfing. The biologist at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris sees the future of farming.
In the April issue of Trends in Biotechnology, Moustafa proposed that desalination could supply irrigation water to colossal floating farms. Self-sufficient floating farms could bring agriculture to arid coastal regions previously inhospitable to crops. The idea, while radical, isn’t too farfetched, given recent technological advancements, Moustafa says.
Floating farms would lay anchor along coastlines and suck up seawater, he proposes. A solar panel–powered water desalination system would provide freshwater to rows of cucumbers, tomatoes or strawberries stacked like a big city high-rise inside a “blue house” (that is, a floating greenhouse).
Each floating farm would stretch 300 meters long by 100 meters wide, providing about 3 square kilometers of cultivable surface over only three-tenths of a square kilometer of ocean, Moustafa says. The farms could even be mobile, cruising around the ocean to transport crops and escape bad weather.
Such a portable and self-contained farming solution would be most appealing in dry coastal regions that get plenty of sunshine, such as the Arabian Gulf, North Africa and Australia.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a silly idea,” Voutchkov says. “But it’s an idea that can’t get a practical implementation in the short term. In the long term, I do believe it’s a visionary idea.”
Floating farms may come with a large price tag, Moustafa admits. Still, expanding agriculture should “be more of a priority than building costly football stadiums or indoor ski parks in the desert,” he argues.
Whether or not farming will ever take to the seas, new desalination technologies will transform the way society quenches its thirst. More than 300 million people rely on desalination for at least some of their daily water, and that number will only grow as needs rise and new materials and techniques improve the process.
“Desalination can sometimes get a rap for being energy intensive,” Dave says. “But the immediate benefits of having access to water that would not otherwise be there are so large that desalination is a technology that we will be seeing for a long time into the future.”
Do you plan to transfer to Northern Arizona University (NAU) into an approved College of Engineering, Forestry & Natural Sciences major Fall 2016?
Do you have a 3.0 or higher GPA in at least 24 transferable credits?
And $2,500 or more in unmet financial need? (2016 FASFA is required)
Then you may qualify for the Transfer-GEMS (Transfers to Graduates in Engineering, Math and Science) Scholarship!
This scholarship is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1260138.
SCHOLARSHIPS ARE STILL AVAILABLE FOR THE 2016-2017 ACADEMIC YEAR!
For more information, please contact email@example.com.
April 6, 2016|
New Gecko-Inspired Adhesive
Flexible patches of silicone that stick to skin and conduct electricity could serve as the basis for a new, reusable electrode for medical applications.
For years, researchers have recreated the microscopic hair-like pillars on gecko feet that, through atomic forces known as van der Waals’ interactions, allow the animals to scurry up walls and across ceilings. Such gecko-inspired adhesives could have a variety of applications, including medical bandages, but materials scientist Seokwoo Jeon at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and colleagues wanted to apply these materials to create a novel wearable electrode.
Read more of Jef’s article in The Scientist here:
Photo for ya! We sorted through garbage according to waste; metals, paper, plastic, and garbage (aka non recyclables). This is one day’s garbage from all over the GCC campus.
|When||Tuesday, April 19, 2016, 11 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.|
|Contact Name||Karen Conzelman|
|Confused about what comes after GCC?
Join us for the Biology Transfer Fair. We’ll have representatives from:
Find out about opportunities with these institutions!