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Playing God because someone has to…

Consider this a Wednesday roundup of the most awesome variety. Open Pandora’s box, pluck the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, and watch what we are doing with Promethean fires.

Fantastic Voyage?

For the first time in history, scientists have managed to create a working engine from a single molecule. Our Industrial Revolution audacity has led from smoke-belching factories to a motor only 1 nanometer in size. For those keeping count, the current record-holder is 200 nanometers bigger. According to the press release:

Molecules have previously converted energy from light and chemical reactions into directed motion like rolling or flapping. Electricity has also set an oxygen molecule spinning randomly. But controlled, electrically-driven motion – necessary for a device to be classed as a motor – had not yet been observed in a single molecule. To address this, E. Charles Sykes at Tufts University in Boston and colleagues turned to asymmetric butyl methyl sulphide, a sulphur atom with a chain of four carbons on one side and a lone carbon atom on the other. They anchored the molecule to a copper surface via the sulphur atom, producing a lopsided, horizontal “propeller” that is free to rotate about the vertical copper-sulphur bond

The invention has been submitted to Guiness.

A Modern Noah’s Ark?

Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have produced the first stem cells from endangered species. This blazes a new trail with regards to repopulating animals which have been driven to the brink.

According to the article:

About five years ago, Oliver Ryder, PhD, the director of genetics at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, contacted Jeanne Loring, PhD, professor of developmental neurobiology at Scripps Research, to discuss the possibility of collecting stem cells from endangered species. Ryder’s team had already established the Frozen Zoo, a bank of skin cells and other materials from more than 800 species and wondered if the thousands of samples they had amassed might be used as starting points.

At the time, although researchers were working with stem cells from embryos, scientists had not yet developed techniques for reliably inducing normal adult cells to become stem cells. But the technology arrived soon after, and scientists now accomplish this feat, called induced pluripotency, by inserting genes in normal cells that spark the transformation.

Presently, two species have been inducted aboard this ark: The drill, an endangered primate, and the white rhino (we know of only seven in the world; two in zoos.) The choices were not random, but rather provided a good starting spectrum of diversity among animals.

The research has been fruitful: the same genes that induce pluripotency in humans also worked for the drill and the rhino. As one researcher put it: “We have the start of a new zoo, the stem cell zoo.”

Building on Water

Here’s a subject I’ve written and published about before, born from my fascination with the proposed Shimizu Megacity Pyramid in Japan as a means of relieving population pressures.

Underwritten by the forward-thinking EUREKA organization, the FLOATEC project is being developed to pioneer floating cities — or in the short-run, housing technology that defies flood waters through the implementation of floating structures. Dura Vermeer, a Dutch company, is leading the way towards a future that, with rising global temperatures and increasing human population, looks to be filled with replicas of Venice. 

Such structures are comprised of “multiple layers of light plastic foam supporting the concrete, allowing it to float,” according to developers.

The new building method they developed uses expanded polystyrene (EPS)… “the same kind as is used for packaging and which people are familiar with: little white balls glued together.” This modified polystyrene is inserted in multiple layers in between stratums of composite and concrete and divided into beam-like modules that can easily be assembled into a bigger supporting structure a bit like building blocks. The modules are arranged in a floating grid into which the concrete is cast.

That fruit from Eden is tasting pretty good about now.

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