Body tissue regeneration

In the Guardian, an article about a UK biotech firm that has new procedures to help regrow significant amounts of lost bone. They believe they can make it work for other tissues, as well.

The key to this technique lies with the fact that our bones are covered in a layer of stem cells. We inject our material under that layer and that wakes up those stem cells. They start to multiply and produce lots of new bone. Then you can take that bone and move it somewhere else in a person’s body, a place where they have suffered a severe loss of bone – where they suffered an injury suffered after a car accident, for example…And when you think about it, that makes sense. The best place to grow tissue for yourself is in your own body, after all.

So far, we have been able to generate huge amounts of bone in our experiments using these techniques. In addition, the bone that was made this way was well organised. It had blood vessels and a proper architecture. That allows it to be really strong.

We also have developed other materials [to] use this directly at the affected site…There would be no transplant involved. Essentially, it would help a person grow a new jawbone if theirs had been removed after a cancer operation.

Both these techniques involve the regeneration of bone, but we are also working heart muscle and cartilage cells…We envisage making gels that you could inject into the miocardium which is damaged after a person has had a heart attack. This could help the heart to repair itself.

CSIRO’s national challenges for Australian science

Alright, I’m here in Sydney, and getting close to normal again. What better way to regain normality than regular blogging again?

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is Australia’s national science agency. They manage national R&D facilities and focus on several areas of interest to the country. Their current “national challenges” include focusing on:

Bloody good thing

I’ve just given blood for the first time in six years.

I used to give blood in Canada very regularly, and donated about 30 times. But since I’ve moved to the UK I haven’t, for many reasons: schedules, travel to places that temporarily prohibit it, etc. But I was free and clear this time, and have just squeezed out a pint of the red stuff.

I’ve always viewed this as an important thing to do. It doesn’t harm me in any way, and because I’m O-negative I’m a universal donor (i.e., everyone can use my blood). I feel good right now, doing something I’ve wanted to get back into for some time.

I was pleased to see that my donation physiology hasn’t changed. That is, my right arm bleeds better than my left, but the vein is very deep and hard to find. The nurse had to do a little bit of poking around before she was able to hit it.

Found day

I’ve found myself with a free couple of days this weekend: I mistakenly thought we had plans, but they’re all next weekend. It’s been quite liberating to be freed at the last minute.

Yesterday I did some of the miscellaneous things that needed doing – exchanged my excess US currency, bought a small folding umbrella. I also bought a new pair of sneakers: Simple Shoes’ Sno Tire Hemp ecoSNEAKS. Check ’em out: made from hemp and organic cotton (no leather whatsoever),polyethyleneterephthalate (recycled plastic bottles), post-consumer pulp paper, and old car tires. Yes, the sole is a piece of tire, and even has zig-zag tread on it! They’re quite comfy, surprisingly supported in the arch.They’reavailable in the UK at Schuh shops or online.

After all that we got together with PC for a couple of drinks and an awesome new tapas place near Hammersmith. It was seriously good food and drink, and good to catch up with them.

Fish can count. Honeybees, too

Researchers at a university in Italy have demonstrated that small guppy-like fish named Mosquito Fish can count; if they spot different groups of their comrades they can estimate which group is bigger.

That’s a useful skill to have, the researchers say. Larger groups, or shoals, offer a more effective shield against bigger fish with empty bellies.

The researchers allowed individual mosquitofish in a tank to see groups of other fish, but barricades prevented them from seeing an entire group at once. When viewing fish one at a time in each of two groups, mosquito fish spent much more time near larger groups, Dadda and his colleagues report. The fish preferred groups of three over two fish and groups with eight fish over four fish.

The article mentions that other animals, including rats and dolphons, have previously been shown to be able to count. They also mention that honeybees can also count, but only up to 3. This is something I learned growing up on the farm: when you place bee hives near crops you want them to pollinate you never put more than five or six in a row. That’s because bees know directionality and so will approach their home hive from the right side, but when counting to get the right hive they can’t go past three. If you had more hives than six in a row all the bees, on returning, would eventually cluster in the outer three hives on each side.

"And a-one, and a-two..."

Blip.fm goes mental for a minute

I use Blip.fm. It’s a nifty web service that searches out playable music on the net, lets you listen to it, create playlists with it, tweet it with messages and tags, comment on what other people play, and give “props” to people when they play kickass tunes.

This props, or credits, feature is like a bit of karma. If I give you a credit for playing a tune I like, then you get a credit to give to someone. The more people give me props, the more props I have to give. I usually burn through all the credits I get as soon as I get them: positive reinforcement of the DJs I like is a good thing, I think. If I play 15 or 20 tunes I’ll tend to get on the order of 5 or 10 props.

The other day I was blipping some songs and giving folks some props when suddenly I noticed my credit counter – which should have been around 3 or 4 credits remaining – changed to a slightly different number. Here’s a screenshot of the moment:

Blip.fm props

The rush of unlimited power ran through my body. Limitless nods of approval at my disposal: every music snob’s dream. I started giving away props like mad. But to be honest 18 quintillion credits is more than I’m liable to burn through even if everyone had good taste. I let Blip’s support team know and they’ve corrected the bug.

Single-molecule nano-vehicles synthesized

May’s Scientific American has an article describing some amazing advances in nanotechnology. Researchers from Penn State and Rice Universities have taken a big step towards making Fantastic Voyage a reality:

In recent years chemists have created an array of remarkable molecular-scale structures that could become parts of minute machines. James Tour and his co-workers at Rice University, for instance, have synthesized a molecular-scale car that features as wheels four buckyballs (carbon molecules shaped like soccer balls), 5,000 times as small as a human cell.

From ScienceDaily: James Tour and coworkers at Rice University synthesized a molecular car with four carbon-based wheels that roll on axles made from linked carbon atoms. The nano-car's molecular wheels are 5,000 times smaller than a human cell. A powerful technique that allows viewing objects at the atomic level called scanning tunneling microscopy reveals the wheels roll perpendicular to the axles, rather than sliding about like a car on ice as the car moves back and forth on a surface. (Credit: Y. Shirai/Rice University)