In what seems like irony, in the context of the GM vs. Organic food debate, a recent study has shown that genetically modified crops actually help organic crops grow. This paper explains that GMOs provide a king of ‘herd immunity’ which protects the entire ecosystem – in a very similar manner to vaccinations. Unfortunately it would probably be too optimistic to imagine the advocates of organic food deciding to plant GMOs next to their crops any time soon.
Because insecticides kill indiscriminately, they kill many species that are beneficial to farmers – such as spiders and ladybirds. These predator species feast on aphids. Thus, the chain of events goes like this: Bt cotton allows farmers to use less insecticide, which causes predator populations to increase, which then leads to a decrease in the population of aphids.
This is a win not only for farmers, but also for the environment.
Read more at biotech-now.
Glow in the dark things are the quick becoming one of the most cliched products of the GMO world. This is probably because they are achievable and very easily recognised as alien and different. Humans love lights and glowing things in general – so glowing flowers seem like an obvious product. As of earlier this year they are finally commercially available. A small Australian company BIOCONST has produced its first range of commercial fluorescent flowers, which it calls Galassia Flowers. This first range is treated with a “fluorescent formulation” rather than being genetically modified – but the company has plans to create GMO products too. These flowers also need an illumination device, which presumably shines the UV light needed to see the glowing effect.
Check out their gallery of current products here. After the break also check out a fashion show they ran which showcases some of their flower fashion accessories.
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.
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.