This article contains my personal opinions and musings.
Today is the start of the London 2012 Summer Olympics. This year’s olympics has faced a number of controversies – one of which is somewhat pertinent to biology, the issue of gender and sex. The olympics, like many sporting institutions, has long separated competitors into two main categories – male and female. This would be simple, if sex determination was so discrete. But sex is not discrete, it is a spectrum which at best can be described as two common clusters of phenotypes around what we call ‘male’ and ‘female’. Even chromosomal sex is not as simple as XX vs XY – there are common cases of XXY and XYY and other varieties. Genitals don’t always follow the chromosomal pattern either, and hormone diversity (which drives development) creates an effective continuum between male and female. Individuals significantly between both sexes are often referred to as “intersex” but even then the line between intersex and being one sex or another is a blurred one.
Japanese engineers have created a robot which can move around by shuffling and summersaulting using mechanical “tentacles”. The robot is called the ‘Metallic Vaio 2012’ and was custom built by Morinaga-san. This is a great example of biology inspiring robotics – taking it to new heights. Check out the video of this robot moving around after the break.
The Parker Lab at Harvard University has incredibly created an artificial ‘jellyfish’ from nothing but rat heart cells. The lab has dubbed their creation a “medusoid” and they are using it to understand the fundamental laws of muscular pumps (such as the heart). Parker remarked about the work:
“Usually when we talk about synthetic life forms, somebody will take a living cell and put new genes in. We built an animal. It’s not just about genes, but about morphology and function.”
As truly impressive as this seems, it does slightly gloss over the issue that this “organism” could hardly be considered life under most definitions. It has scarce cell diversity, requires an electrical pulse to move, is not capable of maintaining homeostasis, and cannot reproduce. Nonetheless this is an important first step in the direction of engineering novel organisms from scratch.
Read an article about the work from Nature here. The original paper can be found here. Check out two videos of the jellyfish swimming after the break.
In this week’s video of the week we have a short profile of the work and opinions of Karmella Haynes, a synthetic biologists. The video is a great introduction to the field and a small insight into the life of a synthetic biologist. Check it out here.
Bonus BioGroup, an Israeli biotech company has managed to grow bone from human stem cells in laboratory conditions. This opens the way for bone transplants, something previously impossible. Bone transplants have already been successfully performed on animals, with the step towards humans and commercialisation not being very far away. Read more in this article by The Telegraph.