Author Archives: Shane Jones

About Shane Jones

Shane is an experimenter and innovator who is passionate about science. Ever since his first astronomy as a kid he's been hooked. His greatest passion is to learn the psychology of happiness. Follow him on Google+

3D Printed Bacteria Answers Questions

3D Printing for MEdicine

While 3D printing at the consumer level has mostly been a novelty, the applications in the medical community have been exceptionally exciting.

A certain type of 3D printer, where it would typically extrude plastic layer by layer to create a three-dimensional object, can now be used to extrude gelatin instead, creating breeding grounds for bacteria. It sounds like a John Carpenter movie just waiting to happen, but the implications are extremely exciting for those in the scientific world.

Scientists have been attempting for quite some time to understand the social nature of bacteria. While they are suspended in colonies, they are capable of communication between themselves, and even with members of other species. This communication – or sociability, if you will – is thought to be a driving force behind their ability to become resistant to antibiotics over time. In other words, bacteria seem remarkably able to compare notes and collaborate in order to survive.

The bacterial colonies created in the 3D printing process can take many shapes, including pyramids and spheres. This whole process is an attempt by scientists to answer longstanding questions about bacteria, such as how many of them have to be clustered together, and in what shape and size, to allow the colony to start behaving differently together than the cells would on their own.

As we alluded to above, there have been some extremely exciting advancements made possible by 3D printing, though very few of these have reached the public yet. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have even created a printer that can replicate human embryonic stem cells. The possibilities are staggering.

The study of harmful bacteria looks to be every bit as promising. Scientists are now able to better understand biofilms – that is, the ability for bacteria to “cement” themselves together with a gluelike substance, which makes them more resistant to antibiotics or even the human immune system than they would be individually.

Particularly troubling are the biofilms that plague the lungs of those suffering from cystic fibrosis. To date, there has been a measure of success treating this condition with antibiotics, but there has so far not been a treatment that’s been successful at eradicating 100% of the offending bacterial biofilms. What this means is that the patient must endure a cycle of treatment and infection that is not only physically detrimental, but possibly deadly. Fully understanding harmful bacteria and their biofilms could prove critical in understanding cystic fibrosis and similar diseases, and in developing treatments that work decisively the very first time.  The same applies for drug addicts, and the ability to correct some of the biofilms that result from the chemical reactions of say Methamphetamine could reduce side effects as well as help addicts speed up their meth detox timeline.

The 3D printing procedure looks like something out of science fiction. The bacterial cells are added to a gelatin mixture, creating something that looks startlingly like a dessert. From there, researchers use a laser to carve around the suspended bacteria, linking the gelatin to the bacteria permanently, as well as creating pockets where the bacteria can breed freely.

After the bacterial colonies have matured, scientists can add various antibiotics, such as ampicillin, to study how the bacteria react to it. So far, the results have indicated that the bacterial resistance to antibiotics is largely dependent on colony structure as well as the presence of other pathogens in the colony.

As with any 3D printing technology, these procedures are hampered somewhat by the price of the equipment, but there is a great deal of optimism that the prices will come down in the near future. For now, there’s no question that the possibilities are exciting indeed while the scientists of the University of Texas responsible for this discovery work out the litigation rights for the future of it’s release.

Worms Store Memories After Decapitation

Decapitated Worms Retain Memories – Transfer to Regrown Brains

land planarian, Bipalium kewense?

Imagine having your brain completely severed from your body, but being able to not only regenerate it – but also retain all information back into your newly regenerated brain.

That is impossible – right?

For humans the possibility is, indeed, impossible – but for the Planarians, it is their way of living and certainly not something out of a Kountry Kraft catelog.

The Planarians

Planarians, non-parasitic flatworms, have been trained and studied by biologists recently at a PA regeneration center. The fascination behind these worms lies within their impressive pluripotent stem cells. Unlike most creatures, Planarians contain an abnormal amount of these pluripotent stem cells, allowing for rapid regeneration. At an astounding 20-percent, pluripotent stem cells can take on the shape of any cell, which allows for the regeneration process.

In fact, the Planarians regeneration is so rapid that studies conducted in 1898 showed that even dissected to a tiny one 276th of its original size, the planarians could regenerate itself.

However, what makes these invertebrates even more spectacular was a recent study performed by Michael Levin, a Tufts University professor.

The Study

Published in the latest edition of the Journal of Experimental Biology, Levin conducted a study on Planarians cognitive functions and regenerative functions simultaneously.

Like many flatworms, or worms in general, planarians strongly dislike bright lights. They would much rather be in a warm, moist environment than a dry, hot one. Using this information, Levin vigorously trained his planarians to eat food in a very bright light.

Utilizing two different groups of planarians, Levin placed group 1 on a rigorous surface, while another on a flat surface. Each group had part of their environment illuminated by a light, where a piece of liver was placed.

Using a recording device, tracking analysis technology and measuring technology, Levin filmed the planarians over a ten-day period to see how easily each group would be to train. Those with a more rigid surface were more susceptible to the bright light and were less hesitant to eat in the bright light than those on a flat surface.

As a hypothesis, Levin suspected that if planarians were able to retain their memory after complete head severance, those on the rigid surface would be more susceptible to light exposure than those on the flat surface.

Analyzing this information, Levin severed all the heads on the worms and gave them a 14-day rest period to regrow their heads and brains.

The Results

Both group of worms were placed in a Petri dish and studied for their aversion to light. As suspected, both group of planarians were hesitant to go toward the light at first, however those who were on the rough terrain adapted much quicker.

Furthering his point, Levin then placed the planarians on a four-day break and placed them all back onto a Petri dish with light. Those on a rough terrain were much more susceptible to light exposure and moved around much more freely than those who were in the Petri dish.

This experiment provided Levin with the conclusion that the worms were able to retain their cognitive memory even after their heads were severed. At a minimum, planarians can retain memory for 14-days, enough to regrow their brains and restore the information.

How Their Memory is Stored

There is no definite answer as to how or where these planarians place their memories. It could be through their nervous system or through an unknown cellular memory function.

However, it is definite that planarians are able to store memories and regenerate all parts of their cellular body even when severed to a single miniscule portion.

Dolphins Have and Respond to Names

Dolphins

Humans are proud to be one of the only species to have identifying names and words that separate them from the other members of the animal kingdom.  For a long time it was thought that humans were the only ones with a language.  But it recently has been found that now they are not the only ones with such capabilities.  Dolphins have now been found to use their unique whistling sounds to name and call each other furthering the boundaries of their intelligence.  Check out what DNews had to say about the study here.

Dolphins are known for having distinct whistles which only a single dolphin will have; similar to how humans have distinct voices.  These whistles can be used to help identify dolphins in large groups when a few groups meet.  But now it is thought that their whistles may be used for more than just separating them in a group.  National Geographic quoted a study that found that dolphins may in fact have names and use those names to separate themselves from other dolphins.  In the study, scientists played recordings of a dolphin’s supposed name and found that almost all the time the dolphin would respond to the recording with a sort of answering response.  The dolphin also responded slightly to recordings of dolphins from their same population.  However, when sounds were played from dolphins that were not a part of their group, the dolphin did not respond at all meaning that the dolphin could tell the difference between the recordings. This proved that the whistles dolphins make were not nonsense, but in fact driven by a want to communicate with each other on a higher level.

Dolphins have also been found to form close relationships within their given group and with the findings from this new study, scientists have a better explanation why.  The ocean is a very big, cloudy, and dark environment and visibility is not always the best for the animals that live it.  Having unique sounds that help separate animal groups and even individual dolphins means that it is easier to determine exactly which group member is around them and help them be alerted to any threats that may face them or the group they are with. In a 2006 PNAS study of dolphins, it was found that selection pressure from the need for individual recognition was the mostly likely cause of the vocal evolution of dolphins.  This backs up the reasoning behind why dolphins even have unique sounds in the first place. With this newer study,   scientists have even begun to question if dolphins are able to gossip and talk about other dolphins by using their names.

It is well known that dolphins are extremely smart; some might say that they are smart enough to  even get a college degreeDr Carl Sagan once noted that dolphins have been “reported to have learned English-up to fifty words used in correct context”.  It should be of no surprise that they have learned to use their whistles to separate each other in large groups and even give themselves names.  This study leads to question how intelligent dolphins really are and how much more we have to find out about their mental capabilities.

It’s Alive! The Vision – Doctors Discover How to Regenerate Hearts

The Human Heart

Photo by Garrett Ammon

With turn-of-the-century sci-fi films pushing the envelope on unbelievable futuristic breakthroughs in medical history, Doris Taylor lives this phenomenon every day. As director of regenerative medicine research at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, many have dubbed her Dr. Frankenstein. “It was actually one of the bigger compliments I’ve gotten,” she says, clearly demonstrating that these movie-magic imaginations have truly become a reality. On a regular basis, Taylor harvests organs such as hearts and lungs from the recently deceased in the attempt to bring the cells back to life in order to provide life-giving qualities through regeneration. Basically, researchers have found a way to make heart transplants and other organ demands possible.

The Heart Makers

Taylor endeavors to harvest new organs in their entirety with the end goal of successful transplants that the recipient’s immune system will not reject. In its simplicity, the cells are extracted from the dead organ and the protein scaffold that is left is repopulated with stem cells that match its recipient. Fascinatingly enough, the organ does not even have to come from a human. Given its simplistic nature, this new strategy could boost growth for recovery centers like 12 Palms Recovery Center.

Typically, new medical advancements such as organ harvesting, present immense challenges that researchers continuously strive to develop the perfect solution for sustainability. There has been recent success, however, with hollow, simple organs such as tracheas and bladders that researchers grow and transplant. Yet, complex organs like kidneys, lungs and hearts that require developing networks of blood vessels to remain alive, also demand numerous cell types placed in just the right position.

Some additional factors that researchers need to keep in account as they bio-engineer organs:

  •  ability to grow and develop in young recipients
  • ability to repair themselves
  • must be kept sterile
  • must work for the recipients’ lifetime

The heart alone presents numerous challenges when considering regeneration:

  • the heart is the third most needed organ following the kidney and corneas
  • only 3,500 patients are provided a heart transplant each year
  • donor hearts are a rarity from stress placed on this organ during resuscitation efforts  and disease so it’s difficult to keep a surplus
  • the heart consistently needs to pump approx. 7,000 litres of blood per day
  • the heart consists of cardiomyocytes (different specialized muslces) for chambers and valves (hard to reproduce)

Despite these obstacles, Taylor is optimistic in overcoming the above challenges in tissue engineering. “I think it’s eminently doable, but I don’t think it’s simple” she says after reflecting on the success of her first experiments in building rat hearts. Researcher and surgeon, Alejandro Soto-Gutiérrez, from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, remains confident that attempting to bioengineer complex organs and possibly failing could still lead to later success and growth of knowledge. “Besides the dream of making organs for transplantation, there are a lot of things we can learn from these systems.”

Ultimately, researchers can extend their knowledge about the human heart and its cell organization, thus allowing surgeons to be able to repair and replace complex organs and aid in our transplant needs. So, Mary Shelley’s imaginative work of fiction about bringing the dead back to life with Frankenstein has really turned into our twenty-first century medical reality.