The MacGuffin

Archive for April, 2009

Trickster Transplants

Posted by Lauren Rugani on April 27, 2009


Right now, more than 100,000 people in the United States are waiting for an organ transplant. Unfortunately, scientists can’t assure that everyone on the list will receive a new organ, but new research suggests that someday they will be able to ensure that whatever transplants can be made will be more successful over the long term.

Despite careful consideration of certain factors like tissue match and blood type between organ donors and recipients, many transplants still fail because a patient’s immune system rejects the new organ the same way it would reject any other foreign object, such as a virus or bacterial infection: by trying to kill it. Recently, Australian scientists developed a way to temporarily disable this reaction by the immune system for just enough time to transplant an organ and encourage the body to accept the new tissue as its own.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biotechnology, Medicine | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Moon Farming

Posted by Lauren Rugani on April 15, 2009


Plants inside mini greenhouses will be launched onto the moon, where they will develop from seed to flower in just 14 days, the same time as one moon day.

Plants inside mini greenhouses will be launched onto the moon, where they will develop from seed to flower in just 14 days, the same time as one "moon day."

In an important first step toward colonizing the moon, Mars and beyond, scientists plan to launch mini greenhouses into space and grow fresh vegetables on the moon. Because if we’re going to live there in 20 years, we’re gonna have to eat. And how much Tang and freeze-dried ice cream can you really consume?

Paragon Space Development Corp. has built prototypes of these greenhouses that house a single plant in a bell jar surrounded by a 1.5-foot high aluminum frame. The capsules will hitch a ride to the moon sometime after 2012 aboard Odyssey Moon’s space vehicle and entry into the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Astronomy and Space, Ecology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Spit and Smell Your Way to Marital Bliss

Posted by Lauren Rugani on April 13, 2009


Image courtesy of Frans De Waal

Image courtesy of Frans De Waal

It’s no secret that many mammals choose their mates based on smell. The body has a collection of genes called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) that help the immune system identify foreign cells, like viruses or bacteria, and determine the appropriate course of action against them. Hundreds of variations of these genes exist in humans, and the more different types a person has, the more pathogens their bodies are capable of fighting off. If mates have extremely different MHC variations, their offspring will be better equipped to fend off disease, and some scientists speculate that mammals can determine such genetic dissimilarity through smell. Specific MHC combinations are transmitted through bodily fluids and are present on the surface of the skin, and a small pit inside of the nose called the vomeronasal organ detects pheromones and other molecules, including ones from the MHC.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biotechnology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Magnetic Nanoparticles Prove Attractive for Tissue Engineering

Posted by Lauren Rugani on April 12, 2009


Two major challenges in tissue engineering are forming ordered patterns of cells and creating blood vessels that resemble the complex, three-dimensional networks found in large organs. Some techniques involve growing cells around a biological “scaffold” or using a small electric force to align cells into a desired pattern, but most techniques come with risks of toxicity or other damaging effects on the cells. New research out of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio has a seemingly simple solution to both challenges: magnets.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biotechnology, Nanotechnology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Planes, Trains and Automobiles …and Nanotubes?

Posted by Lauren Rugani on April 7, 2009


Nanotubes coated with special chemicals break down brittle epoxy into stretchale, durable strings that hold cracks together and keep them from expanding. Photo Credit: RPI

Nanotubes coated with special chemicals break down brittle epoxy into stretchable, durable strings that hold cracks together and keep them from expanding. Photo Credit: RPI

Vehicle and airplane manufacturers have increasingly turned to epoxy composites for building new models. These plastic polymers are lightweight and durable, so help to increase fuel efficiency, but are often brittle and crack easily, which could compromise a vehicle’s structural integrity. Carbon nanotubes infused into the composites help to slow cracking by stretching across a gap and bridging the two sides together. But researchers at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute discovered that coating the nanotubes with a chemical called an amidoamine (sometimes found in soaps, shampoos and cosmetics) has an entirely different effect on the epoxy that results in a 5-fold reduction in crack growth over epoxies with untreated nanotubes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Materials Science, Nanotechnology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Wave Goodbye to Battery Power

Posted by Lauren Rugani on April 3, 2009


Photo Credit: Georgia Institute of Technology

Photo Credit: Georgia Institute of Technology

Electronic devices and their various components are getting smaller by the day. While some technologies like cell phones and ipods are still large enough to incorporate industry-standard batteries; others, like environmental and biological sensors are small enough to be implanted under the skin or be mistaken for a piece of dust – but still need a reliable and size-compatible power source.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Nanotechnology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Bone Identity

Posted by Lauren Rugani on April 1, 2009


In the spirit of April Fool’s Day I wanted to post something a little bit ridiculous, like Google revealing its newest Gmail app, Gmail Autopilot by CADIE. (You tried it, didn’t you?) But since making something up would be bad journalism, here is a real story that just happened to make me say… Really??

The latest issue of the International Journal of Biometrics has a pretty standard smorgasbord of retinal recognition and other James Bond-y technologies, until the last article, “Biometric identification using knee x-rays.” Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biotechnology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »