Scientists observe your body’s own self-assembling nanomachines in action
Your body contains natural processes that are akin to the nanomachines that we hope to build in the future — creating tiny mechanisms out of proteins that can do repair work at tiny scales. But because of the incredibly small scales and lightning fast processes of these mechanisms, we’ve almost never been able to see these natural nanomachines at work. Until now.
A research team in Montreal has uncovered a way to observe and chronicle these processes, offering insights that could lead to the treatment of diseases at the nanoscale.
Some proteins can do a really neat trick. They’re made of long linear chains of amino acids, which have evolved over millions of years to self-assemble extremely rapidly into working nanomachines — a process that can take as little as a thousandth of a second. These transformations of proteins, from amino acid chains to microscopic machines, have enabled living organisms to monitor and transform our environment. For example, complex receptor proteins are activated in the presence of different odor molecules.
Biochemists have always wanted to understand more fully how these proteins assemble into their correct structure, given the fantastically vast space of all possible configurations. And now, bioengineers from the University of Montreal have developed a technique to capture snapshots of its shape at each stage of assembly. The researchers, Alexis Vallée-Bélisle and Stephen W. Michnick, were able to do this by integrating fluorescent probes throughout the linear protein chain so that they could detect the structure of each stage of protein assembly, step by step, until its final structure.
To get a better sense of how this works, we spoke to Dr. Michnick, who noted that all amino acids give off a unique wavelength signature when they’re in a specific position. These specific orientations are in turn captured by the fluorescent probes. “It’s actually dead obvious,” he tells io9, “It’s really old technology — the only thing that’s new is that we did it.” The biggest worry about this methodology is that observing the protein in this way will alter the way the process behaves — but Michnick and his team found that wasn’t true.
The researchers admit that the protein assembly process is not the end of the story, as proteins continue to change on account of other chemical and aging processes. But that said, Michnhick says he’s excited by the possibility of using these insights to design protein nanomachines for biotechnologies. Specific applications could include medical and environmental diagnostic sensors, and more advanced methods of drug delivery. “Everything that happens to a protein that’s good or bad involves a transformation,” Michnhick notes. “The implications are almost endless.”
Via Eurekalert. Image via Stephen W. Michnick.
The Internet Looks Like a Fractal Dandelion
In 2004 Barrett Lyon’s friends bet him $50 that he couldn’t map the entire Internet in a day. Within two weeks the self-described technologist and entrepreneur had created a program that could output a detailed visualization of Internet connectivity in a few hours. Seven years and billions more Internet-connected devices later, Lyon is still at it. This cosmic-looking image, one of his newest creations, traces the millions of routes along which data can travel and pinpoints the hubs receiving the most traffic. Internet giants such as AT&T and Google manage the most heavily used networks, which appear here as glowing yellow orbs; they tend to concentrate in the center of the sphere. The less popular local networks (red) sit on the periphery. Although Lyon’s visualizations have appeared in computing textbooks and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he says he has yet to collect on his bet.
Advertisments for scanning electron microscopes take you into the world of nano-monsters
Biological flying machine? Terrifying monster of the deep? Nope - this is just a scanning electron microscopy image of a Lamnacarus ornatus, or common mite.
Industrial microscopy company FEI sells a variety of imaging rigs, including the one that produced this image. To show what their SEM machines can do, FEI created an incredible image gallery of shots taken with their equipment. Here is just a tiny subset of what you can see if you visit their site.
Click to embiggen! See more at the FEI image site, which is organized both by subject matter and by type of imaging device.
In the image:
1. A worm found in hydrothermal vents - its mouth can turn inside-out.
2. Here is the same worm with its mouth tucked back inside. Very Alien-esque.
3. Gah! What is that? Oh, only hibiscus pollen
4. Here are the mouthparts of a caterpillar, showing the sensory organs.
5. FEI says this is an “image of sperm tails tangled up in a seminiferous tubule.” The sperm mature inside this tubule before thrusting into the world.
6. This is a coccolithophorid, or tiny marine organism. Yes, it looks completely amazing.
Tablets and Slates Before the iPad
- Cuneiform Tablets
Cuneiform, invented by the Sumerians about 4,000 B.C.E., was one of the earliest forms of writing. Users pressed shapes into wet clay tablets with the wedge-shaped tip of a reed, so their markings became permanent once the clay dried — in some cases lasting thousands of years.
While this text-entry method was WYSIWYG, it was not easy to edit, as evidenced by the erased block shown in the lower left.
This tablet is in the collection of the British Museum in London.
Photo: Charles Tilford/Flickr
2. Hamlet’s Tables
When Hamlet finds out that his uncle has killed his father, he mutters something about “wiping records” from “the table of my memory.” This “table” was likely a Shakespearean PDA, a small notebook containing blocks of plaster. A metal pen was used to write on these “pages,” and they could be wiped clean when needed.
The “tables” may also have been ass-skin pages, coated to be erasable with moisture. Either way, reusable paper was an essential alternative to expensive real paper at the time.
It seems somehow appropriate that Hamlet, a most businesslike character, was using an early form of the personal organizer.
Photo courtesy ofSarah Werner, Wynken de Worde
Jennifer Collier’s Paper Devices
Feb. 2, 1935: You Lie
In the Image: Leonarde Keeler performs interrogation techniques. Courtesy Stanford University
1935: A polygraph machine (sometimes known as the “lie detector”) is used for the first time by its co-inventor to bring a conviction in court.
Criminal justice systems in many societies have long believed that you can spot a liar based on several physiological reactions to questioning. An increase in blood pressure and heart rate, dry mouth, perspiration — all are believed to suggest the likelihood of guilt. All these factors are present in someone feeling anxiety and, well, why would you feel anxiety unless you were lying?
The polygraph measures and records these reactions, but of course the method is not exactly foolproof. Some people get anxious easily and fold at the knees without any real provocation. Others are as cool under duress as the proverbial cucumber.
Nevertheless, on Feb. 2, 1935, Leonarde Keeler, a detective and co-inventor of the Keeler polygraph, tested his invention on two suspected criminals in Portage, Wisconsin. The results of these tests were admitted as evidence in court and both suspects were convicted of assault.
This article first appeared on Wired.com Feb. 2, 2007.
Oct. 21, 1879: Edison Gets the Bright Light Right
1879: Thomas Edison crowns 14 months of testing with an incandescent electric light bulb that lasts 13½ hours.
A One-Ton Metal Mammoth Made from Old Farm Equipment
The sculpture at the Museum in Moses Lake, WA.
When Apple Orchards Become Personal Power Plants
Any stroll through a grade school science fair proves that potatoes are a simple source of electricity. But did you know that enough apples, about 300, can power an LED lamp? Time to get planting!
This remarkable image was taken by photographer Caleb Charland, who found that it only took about 10 apples, wired in series, to power each of the 30 LEDs in this lamp he built.
Interestingly enough, the evening he took this photo he had to scare off a herd of deer hoping to feed on the fruit—for the entire four hours it took to capture this long exposure shot. So in other words, the glowing results pictured are probably not indicative of how bright the lamp actually was. Now what the heck am I going to do with all these apples? [Michael Mazzeo Gallery via My Modern Met]
Three Smart Things About Lasers
- The power of the first laser was measured in Gillettes. In 1960, before there was a precise scientific measurement, Theodore Maiman defined the strength of a beam by the number of Gillette razor blades it could cut through. A Gillette equals about 1.5 joules; today’s strongest laser produces about 1.8 million joules, or 1.2 million Gillettes.
- NASA will use them for hi-def broadcasts. We currently send messages through space with radio waves, which is like using dialup—it takes 90 minutes to beam a stinkin’ photo down from Mars. NASA plans to have a laser-based system ready for testing by 2016. If it works, astronauts won’t need to worry about missing an episode of Community while on the Red Planet.
- Generally, you shouldn’t look to sci-fi for a vision of future technology. But a lot of the laser tech in Star Wars is actually feasible: Scientists seem to be making progress toward real, functioning tractor beams, laser weapons, and 3-D holograms. All well and good, but where’s my damn lightsaber?
Source: Transportation Security Administration
Image by Wiki
Dec. 7, 1941: Attack at Pearl Harbor a Bold, Desperate Gamble
This December 1941 file photo shows heavy damage to ships stationed at Pearl Harbor after the Japanese attack on the Hawaiian island on Dec. 7, 1941. Associated Press/US Navy
70 Years of Telescopes Tuned to Cosmic Radio
Published last October, This Images illustrates the progression of radio telescopes from Jansky’s primitive ’scope to the huge arrays of antennas now installed in the world’s deserts and perhaps, one day, on the moon
Radio astronomy began with static. Bell Laboratories wanted to get rid of it and went looking for its causes. With a hand-built radio telescope, Karl Jansky discovered a clear signal of something else amidst the noise from thunderstorms near and far: a steady static that appeared to emanate from the center of the Milky Way.
The field of studying radio waves arriving at Earth from outer space was born. Jansky didn’t know what could be causing the radio waves, and Bell Labs pulled him off the project soon after his big discovery. Still, he’s considered the father of radio astronomy.