Monthly Archives: February 2020

Killifish, aging, and carbon-silicon composite batteries

Genetic study uncovers clues to explain how killifish stop aging during diapause

Killifish are really interesting organisms for scientific experiments. They are vertebrates, so they are closer to us genetically than insects or worms. But they are a lot easier to grow and care for then mice or rats. Some killifish have life spans of only three months. This makes them very attractive as aging model animals. If treatment extends their lifespan, you only have to wait 3 months to find out. With mice, you have to wait for several years.  This paper discusses another cool feature of the killifish model animal. Some kinds of killifish can go into a kind of suspended animation. I did not know that and it is fascinating.


Nano/Microstructured Silicon–Carbon Hybrid Composite Particles Fabricated with Corn Starch Biowaste as Anode Materials for Li-Ion Batteries | Nano Letters

Researchers develop high-capacity EV battery materials that double driving range

This article discusses a new composite silicon/carbon material for hosting lithium ions. Cramming lithium ions into a silicon matrix makes for an even higher energy battery than a standard lithium-ion battery. unfortunately, silicon expands under these conditions and can destroy the battery. By incorporating the silicon into a carbon matrix, these researchers increase the conductivity and the resilience of the battery to multiple charger Cycles. The result was a very nice paper. I love that they tried to make their composite material from readily available substances.


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RNA, Protein design, and the Sunday Scaries


Step aside CRISPR, RNA editing is taking off

Although gene editing is flashy, there are advantages to a more temporary solution. Gene editing needs to be done perfectly the first time or it causes bad permanent consequences. RNA editing can have a dose-dependent, time-limited effect. If bad things start to happen, doses can be removed and the effects reversed. Not so much for DNA editing. The downside is that the RNA to be edited needs to be present in the first place. If a gene is underexpressed or absent, RNA editing won’t help.


Incorporating an allosteric regulatory site in an antibody through backbone design

Protein design has come a long way. Here’s a paper that takes an antibody and redesigns the antibody gene to make it into a sensor for Zinc ions. Basically, nature made this antibody to be an always-on grabber for a molecule called fluorescein. These folks made it grab fluorescein only if there is a bunch of Zinc present. Designing that kind of function with accurate software was a dream 20 years ago.


Poorly Drawn Lines:



Modeling Peptide-Protein Structure and Binding Using Monte Carlo Sampling Approaches: Rosetta FlexPepDock and FlexPepBind.
Imagine you want to cure a viral infection. To do that, you could make a new molecule that binds to a virus coat protein and keeps it out of human cells. But all you have is the virus’s DNA sequence. How do you do it? First, you need to be able to predict what the virus’s coat protein looks like (you can use Rosetta, a computer program for protein structure prediction). Then you need to design a binding molecule (use Rosetta some more, see the paper above). There are other strategies, of course, but this is an interesting one. And I think it’s one that will get better and faster with time.

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Purple greenhouses and happy lab rats this week


Next Generation of Greenhouses May Be Fully Solar Powered | NC State News

Plants crave the red and blue light (and reflect the green). So you can use the green light for electricity to blow air through your greenhouse. The panels absorb the green light, so the greenhouse looks purple. That’s so cool. There’s a real mathematical puzzle, though. How much light can you take to run the fans, heaters, desalinators, pumps, etc., before you start harming the plants’ growth?


Are happy lab animals better for science? | Science | AAAS

Enriched environments may make for better lab animal results (and happier lab animals). That’s good. I remember seeing that lab animals are much more prone to use substances self-destructively if they don’t have enriched/social environments. There’s even a TED talk, though it oversimplifies things.


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This week was a bit much in the news. I needed lighthearted reading.


Flow Reactor Created that Will Be Able to Mass Produce Amino Acids –

This makes me think of electric lab meat. We could make some of the building blocks truly from scratch without needing plants. Plants are not actually very efficient chemists. Going from light to amino acids might actually be more energy efficient with photovoltaics and electrochemistry some day.



Your most pressing questions about the new coronavirus, answered | Science News

I’ve played Plague Inc. I know the drill. This one (coronavirus 2019nCoV) looks scary. But the powers that be seem to be on top of it. That’s nice.

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