biology

Radiotrophy: Radiotrophic fungi 'eat' radiation

A fungus found in the Chernobyl reactor is radiotropic. It turns out that it feeds on dangerous radioactive radiation.

Researchers ventured with a remote-controlled robot into the exploded reactor of Chernobyl. They found something strange. A black mold covered the cooling basins. The researchers took samples of the fungi and continued the cultivation. [1] They found something amazing. In their experimental set-ups, where the fungi were exposed to radioactivity, this was found not to hinder their growth, but rather to promote it considerably. Apparently the fungi felt very comfortable under the dangerous radiation. And possibly used it as an energy source. Like plants use sunlight. Radiotrophy became the name for this new, still unknown phenomenon.

Cryptococcus neoformans may be an example of radiotrophy. Source: Wikimedia Commons

What is Radiotrophy?

Radioactivity kills, we learn at school. With the 'radium girls' painting the new luminous wonder material on dials, it ended badly. But this does not apply to all beings. There are fungi that thrive on radiation. Such as fast electrons, but also other radiation. Plants only live on sunlight. They use blue and red light, the so-called photosynthetically active radiation or PAR. This is about half of all solar radiation. Green is an unusable wavelength for plants. That explains why plants are usually green.

But radiotrophic organisms, we think, use a simple, robust system. Their secret: the black dye melanin, which is also found in colored skin. Ionizing radioactive radiation tears melanin apart or changes the configuration of their electrons. During the process where these molecules recover, NADH is released, which the fungus uses as an energy source for the metabolism. Simple, not very efficient, but very robust. For example, they can handle much more different, and also much more dangerous, types of radiation than plants. That is why melanin is also black. It really absorbs all light.

It makes these fungi tough survivors, surviving even in exposed areas of spaceships. They don't ask for much. Water, a carbon source, temperatures at which liquid water occurs. And a lot of radiation, so. Some of these species make you sick. Here their toughness is a problem.

New domains for radiotrophic life

It also shows that life is much tougher than many people realize. And that environments that are too dangerous for us can also be a paradise for other life forms. Such as radiotrophic fungi. There are places in the universe that are very rich in radioactive radiation. Like in a planetary system that forms after a supernova. Or planets, such as early Earth, where the remains of an exploded star dumped a shower of radioactive material into the biosphere.

Or think of Jupiter's moons. The highly active magnetic field of Jupiter is constantly bombarding the surface of the great icy moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa with ions. For us this is deadly. But a fungus like Crytococcus neoformans or Wangiella dermatitidis, which of course must be adapted to the harsh conditions and low temperatures of these icy moons, probably 'thinks' otherwise. There may be radioactive planets [2], roaming the universe, whose inhabitants have never seen a sun. And animals feed on radiotrophic fungi instead of plants.

Sources

  1. E. Dadachova and A. Casadevall, Ionizing Radiation: how fungi cope, adapt, and exploit with the help of melanin, Curr Opin Microbiol, 2008, DOI 10.1016 / j.mib.2008.09.013
  2. Katherine Kornei, No star, no problem: Radioactivity could make otherwise frozen planets habitable, Science Magazine, 2020, DOI: 10.1126 / science.abc0189

Physarum polycephalum slime mold remembers without brains

The single-celled slime mold Physarum polycephalum, the route to food can be deprived within its single giant cell. And that, without a brain. This is evident from a new study by the Technical University of Munich and the Max-Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, also in Germany.

Scientists have been puzzling over this clever giant cell for decades. The single cell, which resembles an amoeba, can remember the shortest route to food in a maze. The Physarum polycephalum cell contains a large network of thicker and thinner tubes that are connected together. Researchers have known for some time that these tubes are constantly connecting with each other in different places. Why? That has now been discovered. The research shows that these tubes form a kind of memory. Literally, a neural network without neurons. The researchers discovered that in this network, the route to food was stored.

Physarum polycephalum slime mold “thinks” via primitive network

The researchers observed under the microscope how the organism continuously adapted the network. And studied this in combination with a theoretical model. When the cell encounters a food source, it releases a substance that travels from where the food was found to the network and makes the tubes softer and wider. This causes the whole organism to move in the direction of the food source.

The network “remembers” where previous food sources were - after all, there the tubes are thicker and wider. In those places the signal substance spreads extra quickly, they form a kind of “highway”. For example, previous encounters with food help the cell decide which way to go.

Also groups of cells slime molds appear to be able to solve certain tricky puzzles, such as the most efficient way to build roads between cities.

This discovery is fascinating, because so “higher” thought processes can be carried out even in single-celled, with simple systems. Could single-celled individuals with even higher thought processes or even a consciousness develop in the long run? The researchers are thinking more of direct applications, such as in robots.


Source:

  1. Mirna Kramar, Karen Alim. Encoding memory in tube diameter hierarchy of living flow network. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (10): e2007815118 DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.2007815118

Wild plant food crop in record time, with CRISPR

A Chinese team managed to accomplish something that would otherwise take centuries of cultivation in a single step. A large type of wild rice becomes a food crop in an instant, compact and edible. They used genome sequencing and editing as a quick way to 'tame' plants.

Oryza alta

As a result, a wild rice variety could be quickly converted into a rich food crop. The most cultivated rice (Oryza sativa) has two copies of the genome in most cells, but some of its wild relatives have four. This trait, tetraploidy, is one that has been associated with vigorous and hardy plants.

To take advantage of that genetic wealth, Jiayang Li and his colleagues developed a way to make precise changes to the genome of a wild rice variety, Oryza alta. Oryza alta is a South American rice variety that can grow up to four meters high. It is also a perennial. Most types of rice only live for a year.

A new food crop. The two leftmost strains, Oryza sativa and (limited) Oryza glaberrima, all provide cultivated rice. Chinese researchers managed to tame the wild species Oryza alta (the huge plant in the center) into the third cultivated rice species, with a single set of CRISPR edits of the genome. Source: Paul L. Sanchez et al.

Food crop by CRISPR

Such precise genome editing is a challenging task in many plants. The team passed the genomes of dozens of wild rice lines, including some from O. alta, through a sequencer. For example, the team found the O. alta version of 123 genes that are known to be important in farmed rice for agricultural traits. Consider, for example, genes that influence the yield of grains and quality. The authors then used on CRISPR based technique to improve six of those characteristics. This worked. And is now a demonstration of a quick method to make wild rice more suitable for agriculture.

Effects

Right now, our world food production depends on just a few species, less than fifty in total. This new technique allows us to tap into the enormous genetic potential in the hundreds of thousands of other plant species and convert these wild plants into new agricultural crops. That's very good news and here's why. Pathogens often specialize in one species. If we expand the number of crops to thousands of species, diseases can cause much less damage.

We can also develop plants for new niches. Take, for example, the Kerguelen cabbage. This wild cabbage grows very well in the harsh, cold climate of the Kerguelen Islands where the plant comes from. If we use this vit. C can tame rich cabbage, we have a vegetable that can be grown in the middle of winter.

Finally, we can find new crops for new purposes. For example, a kind for a raw material intended to replace petroleum. Or a plant that supplies fibers for textiles.

The Kerguelen cabbage is very resistant to harsh climates and also a wind pollinator. A future food crop? Source: Wikimedia Commons / B.Navez

Source:

Hong Yu et al., A route to de novo domestication of wild allotetraploid rice, Cell, 2021, DOI: 10.1016 / j.cell.2021.01.013

Coronaviruses: high mutation rate and vaccines

Meet the coronaviruses. The extended family to which the virus that causes covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, belongs.

We can learn a lot from that. For example, that immunity to coronaviruses usually does not last long. These viruses mutate very quickly. Therefore, the question is whether mass vaccination will help to keep covid-19 under control for a long time. Because other coronaviruses that cause colds break through immunity after about one year [1].

And there is more. Therefore one below video, which covers the main coronaviruses.

Coronaviruses

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is just one species of the large family of coronaviruses. And coronaviruses are common. Even thirty percent of all colds are caused by a corona virus. And covid isn't even the meanest coronavirus. For example: the related virus that causes SARS, SARS-CoV, has a higher mortality.

The worst coronavirus so far was MERS-CoV. As many as 35 percent of infected people die from it. This was the virus that caused death and destruction in Saudi Arabia and the surrounding area. Fortunately, MERS mainly affected the drinkers of camel urine, or their caretakers. In addition, few people do. But there were some minor outbreaks in China and Korea.

Final tips

For our latest tips, click here. And in short. SARS-CoV-2 is almost entirely airborne. It is best to meet people outside. And wear a face mask when you meet people. This, hand most preferably KN95. Or, of a better quality of course. Where possible, avoid areas with a lot of people. In addition, always wear a mouth mask in shops and other areas. Also stay as short as possible.

Vitamins

The heaviest patients in the clinic were found have very low levels of these vitamins in their blood. So, make sure you get enough (not too much!) Vit. D and K. For example, by taking the recommended dose of multi vitamins per day.

Important. Take the recommended dose of vitamins D and K. No more. Not less. See packaging. These fat soluble vitamins can build up. Swallowing this too much leads to an overdose. You cannot urinate them, which is possible with water-soluble vitamins (B, C).
The dose of (multi) vitamin recommended on the package is safe.

If you are taking any medication, first consult the package insert for these medications and consult your doctor or pharmacist first. Some medications, such as digoxin, work differently as a result of taking vitamins.

Coronaviruses have spines. The spines of covid-19 (red here) are very good at binding to ACE2 receptors in human cells. Source: Usa government (state.gov)

Source
1. The false promise of herd immunity for COVID-19, Nature, 2020

Nitrogen auction with emission rights solution for nitrogen problems

The Netherlands is a small, densely populated country with an extensive livestock population. That does not go well together. Naturally low-nitrogen nature reserves are increasingly dying. Is a nitrogen auction the solution?

Why is nitrogen a problem?
Just under eighty percent of the Earth's atmosphere consists of nitrogen gas (N2). Nitrogen is an indispensable element for life. We consist of proteins and proteins from amino acids, a nitrogen compound. The Netherlands contains millions of nitrogen sources, ranging from pets to pig fattening, and of course you, dear reader. Car traffic and construction activities also emit nitrogen, albeit much less than people and especially fattening farms. In the nitrogen discussion, we mean all nitrogen sources, other than atmospheric nitrogen and nitrogen bound in proteins. These are mainly ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2 and the controversial laughing gas N2O). Nitrate (NO3-) that washes out of fertilized fields is an environmental problem.

Nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands have already fallen enormously, but unfortunately insufficient for the new strict EU standard. Source: [2] [3]
Brutal construction freeze due to an administrative emergency
The EU has enacted strict rules for nitrogen emissions. Rules that are easy to enforce in a sparsely populated country such as France or Bulgaria, but very difficult in the Netherlands. The problem is not that nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands are increasing. On the contrary. This has fallen considerably, partly due to strict laws and regulations such as the mineral accounting for farmers [2] [3]. The problem is that partly due to the appalling lack of foresight by the Rutte cabinet, emissions did not fall quickly enough. As a result, a building freeze was declared with significant economic damage - and a continuation of the housing crisis.

Nitrogen Auction: Pros and Cons
The free market is very good at finding the economic optimum. This can be an advantage, at least if the scope of the free market is limited in such a way that no externalities occur. Creating externalities happens quite quickly. For example, clever entrepreneurs started breeding muskrats themselves, when the government put a premium of ten guilders on each rodent killed. In principle, the government can sell the right to emit nitrogen, for example, through a nitrogen auction. If a pig farmer quits, he can sell his emission rights through the auction to another farmer, to a builder or a nature organization (which then does not use them). At a certain point, the entrepreneurs who can earn the most euros per kilo of nitrogen emissions hold the emission rights, creating an economic optimum. According to the school booklet economics.

Any system of laws and regulations involving money has the potential for fraud. Nitrogen emissions take place in the form of gaseous compounds. Gases are notoriously difficult to trace from a single source. For example, a farmer can report that he has installed an expensive capture installation that he does not actually have, or a much worse cheaper model, which means that his emissions are much higher than official figures show. It is therefore necessary to check thoroughly here, preferably also with regular field measurements in the vicinity of major nitrogen pollutants. On balance, this system is therefore feasible.

Sources
1. Emissions authority: give nitrogen rights trading a second chance, FD, 2019
2. Acidification and large-scale air pollution: emissions, 1990 - 2017, Center for the Living Environment, 2017
3. O. Oenema, Fact sheet nitrogen sources, Wageningen University, 2019

What if: aliens actually cooperate with terrestrial governments?

In recent years, more and more footage, as well as reports of eyewitness accounts, of encounters between Usan pilots and unknown flying entities (UFOs), accelerating and changing direction faster than planes with human pilots could survive.

Truth content disputed
These images come from the USAF and the US Army. These institutions fall under the Usaan FOIA (Freedom of Information Act, comparable to the Dutch WOB). While it is not inconceivable that UFOs are a deliberate disinformation campaign by the Pentagon to test prototypes of experimental aircraft undisturbed, these indications are too serious not to investigate. A retired Israeli top official, Prof. Dr. Haim Eshed, wrote a book revealing extensive contacts between a technically advanced non-human species and the Usan government, and with it the Israeli government. It is not said that Eshed's story is correct - commercial interests may be at play (Eshed is an SF and fantasy writer), Eshed is "crazy" [4] or distracted from something - but we take it in this what-if scenario for correct. What are the consequences then?

Rumors of government-alien collaboration remain persistent. What if they are true?
No copyright / image taken from https://pixabay.com/users/comfreak-51581/

Mysterious Galactic Federation
The leaked information from the book, taken from an interview in the Hebrew newspaper Jediot Aharonot [1], is scant. The rest of the YA article is tucked away behind a paywall, but googling the Hebrew title provided a more comprehensive source. [3] According to Eshed, the aliens come from a galactic federation of alien civilizations, roughly comparable to the Federation of Planets in the famous Usan SF franchise Star Trek. These aliens are said to be secretly roaming Earth and working with the Usan government, of which every Usan president is aware. Both would work together on a base on Mars, the headquarters of the aliens in the solar system. Among other things, the aliens would have prevented the outbreak of nuclear war (which has also been reported by other sources) [2]. The aliens would aim to fathom the essence of the universe in conjunction with humanity.

What use can the Earth and humans be for aliens?
Both the earth with her abnormally large moon as the Sun are, physically, unusual but not unique in the known universe. Earth-like exoplanets appear to be common, NASA estimates more than ten billion in the Milky Way alone. There are already 24 "super habitable" exoplanets known that are even more suitable for life than Earth. We know that it is technically feasible to extract helium-3, for example, from gas giants such as Jupiter or, if necessary, from stars. Really advanced civilizations can even use black holes or - possibly - dark matter to generate energy.

The main special element of the earth is its diverse ecosystem and above all the presence of at least one intelligent, or at least: handy species. We are a lush oasis surrounded by dull dead worlds. As a residential area, the earth is not really obvious. A building space cylinder is much easier than traveling to a distant star. Not to mention the many bacteria species here that are constantly looking for food sources. It is interesting to collect DNA from millions of species and to sniff human culture.

And who knows, there may be more to it. The earth may be an important node in a transport network that is invisible to us. Or is an important raw material present here that we do not yet know, or of which we have not yet discovered a useful application.

Why the secrecy?
The existence of life outside of Earth is an idea that has been around for hundreds of years. Giordano Bruno, a contemporary of Galileo, was burned at the stake for it. An Alien Invasion is the chewed plotline of hundreds of wildly popular science fiction books and series, ranging from War of the Worlds to V and Independence Day. Probably most of humanity will breathe a sigh of relief if it turns out that minds infinitely superior to us prevent the best cabinet since World War II and their equally enlightened colleagues in the rest of the world, bringing their unsurpassed talents to the world. create disaster even further. Most people already believe in an unfathomably wise and all-powerful alien called God. In short: if there is to be confidentiality, it probably has another reason. Because where do these aliens come from? And: why do they, with their unimaginably abundant resources, need humanity to do research?

Option 1: The aliens were here much earlier and our ancestors worshiped them as gods. 
God has been mentioned earlier as an all-powerful alien. Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Would an alien land on Earth thousands of years ago, humans would presumably see them as gods. In fact, this is exactly what happened in some cases where Westerners with horses and firearms came into contact with less advanced civilizations in the field of weapons, such as the Aztecs and the Incas. Descriptions in both the Tanakh (Ezekiel) as in the vedic literature from India are very similar to twentieth and twenty-first technology, with Ezekiel. an airplane, in the Vedas a nuclear war and a missile defense system. If this were indeed true, and if the gods were indeed cosmonauts as bar owner Erich von Däniken claimed, literally billions of people would fall from their faith. The social impact would be significant.

Option 2: we live in a simulation.
According to the simulation hypothesis our world is kind of very realistic computer game, a kind of Second Life. God, from an atheist point of view, is then the sysadmin of the simulation that is the universe running on an unimaginably powerful supercomputer somewhere. We are then nothing but a computer program.
The various beliefs such as Christianity and Buddhism are in fact variants of the simulation theory. Indeed, this would come as a huge shock, especially to atheists and agnostics. Depending on what belief the actual simulation corresponds to, this too would have a shock effect on believers with a strongly deviating world view. The aliens wouldn't need our help here. After all, the simulation programmer is omnipotent. The Mars base would not be necessary either.

Option 3: the aliens come from a parallel universe. 
According to the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and some cosmological models, many parallel universes exist next to our own universe. Here the laws of physics are slightly different. The shock of this would be limited. The Celts already believed in parallel worlds. Based on ancient Persian legends and philosophies, the 1001 Night describes subterranean worlds. Heaven and hell, and the various worlds of the Pure Land Buddhism in which you incarnate if you do very well, or very badly, can also be seen as parallel worlds. Parallel universes are a less shocking alternative than the aforementioned possibilities. It is already quite common knowledge among the general public that our universe is probably not the only universe. The conditions for life are very favorable in this universe. There are probably many universes where, for example, stars explode directly or where no atoms exist. So this is certainly a possibility.

Option 4: The aliens' “experiments” are far from harmless and unethical by today's human standards.
Earthlings who claim to have been abducted by aliens say they were involuntarily part of breeding experiments. Indeed, an alien breeding program would be ethically very shocking and make the aliens not very popular among the average Earthling. A breeding program is obviously not feasible for a species that is biologically completely different from humans. For example, there are no known cases where Japanese octopus porn resulted in the birth of a new sea monster. Which brings us to the next option.

Option 5: the aliens are descendants of humans from the distant future and need our DNA. 
Witness accounts typically describe “grays,” humanoid creatures with large eyes and a large head on a spindly body. Compared to our ape-like ancestors, we have a bigger head, bigger eyes and a weaker body. Future human species could look a lot like these grays if these developments continue. It is possible that a calamity arose in the distant future, for example a disease, as a result of which reproduction is no longer possible or man is on the verge of extinction. Indigenous peoples with little genetic variation, descended from the handful of first settlers from Siberia, died like flies from common diseases like the flu or the common cold. Human plant growers are constantly looking for material from crops such as wheat, tomatoes and olives from so-called Vavilov centers. These are places where the most genetic variation can be found. Today's Earth is the Vavilov center of man. Future settlers, like the ancestors of the Indians, will consist of relatively small groups. They may be so genetically homogeneous that their survival is threatened. Harvesting genes on earth is then obvious. Cooperation from a major earthly power, such as the superpower USA, is then useful to cover up incidents.
This scenario assumes time travel. Since time travel produces all kinds of logical paradoxes, these beings would have to come from a parallel timeline. This scenario also assumes a relatively poor knowledge of human biology. Although sub-scenarios are conceivable in which this knowledge has been lost, for example because man has become a machine-like species and then all this biological knowledge has been destroyed by a disaster - we no longer know how Greek fire or (until recently) Roman seawater resistant concrete - these are not very likely. These aliens would then have to switch to low-tech methods such as sex and implantation in surrogate mothers. The strong point of this scenario is that it logically explains alien abductions.

Option 6. The aliens are stranded in the solar system and need Earth help to escape. 
The distances between stars are enormous. The distance to the Alpha Centauri Galaxy, the closest sun-like star, is 4.2 light years, or about 250,000 times the distance between Earth and the sun. Without a warp-like drive, these distances cannot be bridged.

Suppose an astronaut were stranded in Roman times, or in China's Tang Empire about A.D. zero, or among the Maya, and not get sick or killed. Even if he or she had a complete library of all of today's earthly technical knowledge at his or her disposal, and spoke reasonable Latin or Classical, Chinese or Kiche, he would have little use for the primitive wrought iron Roman, Chinese, let alone stone Mayan tools to fix his spaceship. To escape from Earth, he would have to build at least a late twentieth-century civilization to produce all the parts of his spaceship. This would take at least two to three generations, if you take a lot of risk, turn just about all priests into enemies, and have all the cooperation of those in power.

In this case, it is not so much a shock effect, but rather a (justified) fear of the aliens that they will be enslaved and exploited. This scenario would explain why aliens need human help.

A variant is that these aliens are the last survivors of an interstellar war, seeking shelter on a barbaric planet. Sort of like rebels hiding in a tropical rainforest.

Or…
This list is far from exhaustive. What do you think, as readers?

Source
1. The UFOs have asked not to publish that they are here, humanity is not ready yet (translated), Yedioth Aharonot, 2020
2. The UFOs Didn't Come In Peace! Astronaut Sets Record Straight On ET Nuclear War, Huffington Post, 2019
3. Prof. Haim Eshed: “Aliens asked not to publish that they are here (translated), radio2000, 2020
4. David Israel, Former Head of Israel's Space Program: The Aliens Asked Not To Be Revealed, Humanity Not Yet Ready, JweishPress.com, 2020

Frankenstein-like xenobot composed of frog cells

In an experiment that seems straight out of Mary Shelley's well-known classic, researchers built a living robot from a frog's heart muscle and skin cells. In the first embodiment, this xenobot consists of little more than heart muscle and skin cells.

The African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, lives in the wild in the streams and ponds of Sub-Saharan Africa, looking for food that it rips apart with its legs. Researchers at the University of Vermont and Tufts University harvested skin and heart muscle cells from frog embryos and reassembled living matter into a kind of biological robot - turning Xenopus into xenobot.

Months of simulations in a supercomputer preceded the construction of a real xenobot. Source; Wikimedia Commons / Sam Kriegman

Xenobots are the first robots made entirely from living materials. They are designed on a supercomputer that mimics natural selection: algorithms determine potentially effective tissue configurations for a xenobot to perform a particular task, such as moving through liquids or carrying a load. The most promising designs are sculpted with small tongs and scrap irons, then released into Petri dishes. That's where the millimeter-sized tufts of amphibian meat live for about a week before disintegrating. No electronics are involved. Instead, pulsing heart cells are used to build a “biological circuit”. This "circuit", embedded in a matrix of stiff skin cells, acts like muscles. Behavior is completely programmed by the structural arrangement of the pulsating heart cells held in a matrix of rigid skin cells. Also see this video.

A team of computer scientists created a virtual world for the xenobots and used evolutionary algorithms that tested various xenobot designs to move things or achieve different goals. This took the supercomputer several months of calculations. The winning xenobot design for a particular task was then recreated in a petri dish.

While these mindless xenobots can't do much more than crawl or swim, the researchers see great potential for xenobots in medicine and in the clearing of dangerous substances. In the future, xenobots could be designed that transport drugs through the human body or capture microplastics in oceans. The xenobots will fall apart on their own when the job is done.

This research is certainly remarkable. Will it be a dead end, or is this the beginning of a new class of robots? Adding a central nervous system would multiply the number of applications but pose ethical problems. As Mary Shelley described.

Source
Popular Mechanics, 2020

Is Inorganic Life Possible?

Carbon compounds are called organic compounds in chemistry. This is not for nothing. Carbon is indispensable for life. The carbon chemistry is unimaginably rich. There are more compounds with carbon than all known compounds without carbon. But what if, for whatever reason, there is no carbon in a certain place, but other elements and energy? Or if not even chemistry as we know it is possible? Could life form in that place? The answer: maybe, although the chances of this are not very high as far as we know. Below one overview with the, mainly speculative, knowledge we have acquired at this time.

In a breakthrough in 2017, researchers discovered something remarkable. With the help of directed evolution, they were able to convert an enzyme of the bacterium, Rhodothermus marinus, into an effective catalyst for the formation of bonds between carbon and silicon. A bacteria capable of processing silicon proves that it is theoretically possible for partially silicon-based life forms to exist. this video.

Work by Caltech researcher Frances Arnold proved that it is possible for bacteria to use silicon. And that life is conceivable partly based on silicon. Source: Caltech

At present there is no ecological benefit to such life forms on Earth, but on worlds much hotter than Earth, such as Venus, silicon-based life forms may have the advantage. Silicones and other silicon compounds are sometimes more resistant to high temperatures than carbon compounds. And silicon is just the beginning of the possibilities ...

Source
Frances H. Arnold et al., Directed evolution of cytochrome c for carbon – silicon bond formation: Bringing silicon to life, Science Magazine, 2016 (DOI: 10.1126 / science.aah6219)

 

Covid-19: what are the weaknesses of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus?

We are at war, according to the Dutch and Belgian governments. One draconian measure taken by the government follows another, fueled by the right-wing populist opposition parties. You only win a war if you know your enemy through and through. What is the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes Covid-19?

Viruses

Viruses are packages of genetic material (DNA or RNA) that are surrounded by a protein coat. If they are not, we speak of one viroid, for example the potato spindle tuber viroid, after the prion (infectious protein) with around 400 nucleotides (DNA or RNA 'letters') the smallest pathogen known. As a reassurance, viroids are known to occur only in plants.

The group of viruses will probably have further divisions in the future: there are “viruses” such as the family of the mimiviruses which are actually more roving nuclei than 'dead' packages of genetic material.

Covid-19 and SARS-CoV-2

COVID-19 is the official name for the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is caused. SARS-CoV-2, commonly referred to as 'the coronavirus', is an RNA virus belonging to the very large family of coronaviruses. Virus is the name for the entire species, a single virus particle is indicated by virion.
We are regularly infected with coronaviruses. They are the main causes of colds. The influenza (flu) virus, often confused with the corona virus by, among others, the US President Donald Trump, belongs to a completely different class of viruses, the orthomyxoviridae (also RNA viruses, but this is where the resemblance ends).

Multiplication method of coronaviruses. Source: Crenim on English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26529404

How do coronaviruses multiply?

All the objects mentioned above have in common that they cannot replicate themselves without a host cell. (A viroid can sometimes, through RNA recombination in a suitable nutrient solution). That's why some biologists think the first life was some kind of viroid.

Virions can only encounter a host cell because of their sheer number. When a corona virion hits a suitable receptor, the particle binds to this receptor, see 1 in the figure. In the case of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, a 'spine' on the coronavirion binds to the appropriate receptor of a human cell (the ACE2 receptor). Then: either the virion's protein coat fuses with the cell membrane, or it enters through a specialized import structure, the endosome. Virologists do not yet know which of these two mechanisms.

The virus RNA enters the cell and is read by a ribosome, which translates the RNA of the virion into the workhorse for the virus: the enzyme virus RNA polymerase. This molecule, which only reacts to coronavirus RNA, will then make endless copies of this RNA. These are the mirror image of the original RNA chain. These 'negative' mirror images are translated by ribosomes into virus coat proteins and also translated back into 'positive' virus RNA. The virus RNA is then packaged into the virus proteins in the cellular transport network, the ER, and transported out of the cell via the Golgi apparatus.

How can we sabotage the Covid-19 virus SARS-CoV-2?

Here we immediately see the weaknesses of coronaviruses. The mantle of corona virions consists of proteins and lipids (fats). That makes them very sensitive to cleaning with soap. Soap destroys their mantle. The long tail of soap molecules squeezes into the mantle, causing it to disintegrate. Without a protective cover, the internal RNA is quickly over.

We can also sabotage the virion's 'spike proteins'. If antibodies bind to them, they can no longer infect cells. These antibodies are formed upon immunity. For example after vaccination. With artificial, for example monoclonal, antibodies we can give the patient's body a helping hand, if there is no immunity yet, and thus destroy the coronavirions.

Also, the ACE2 receptors temporarily blocked so that the virus can no longer bind. This is dangerous: the ACE2 receptors regulate blood pressure. If we disable them, it will increase enormously.

Heating or radiation damages the coat proteins and the RNA in the nucleus. That also turns off the virion.

Intervening within the cell is much more difficult. We could rearrange the ribosome, more selectively, so that it only translates human messenger RNA and ignores virus RNA. For example by requiring a certain genetic code. This requires extensive genetic engineering, with unknown consequences. Over time, viruses will also evolve, or be put together by malicious parties, who can circumvent this security measure. Because, make no mistake. Composing viruses has been possible for over 20 years and is already routinely done for research purposes.

Good hand washing is probably smarter.

Medical startup Libella starts first trial treatment for life extension

Do you have a million euros in the shelf and would you like to become a medical guinea pig? Then take a trip to the South American country of Colombia for a real chance of living no less than twenty years longer.

Medical thriller
The script could have come straight from a Robin Cook medical thriller. Libella Gene Therapeutics, LLC (“Libella”) Announces Paid Participation in Clinical Trial in Colombia. The therapy has been approved by the IRB, the US Institutional Review Board, in this case for gene therapy. This gene therapy boils down to artificially extending telomeres, the ends of chromosomes. The telomere is shortened with every cell division. When the telomere becomes shorter than the critical length, cell division stops. According to some geriatricians, cells could be brought out of their senescent (obsolete) state by artificially lengthening their telomeres. The results in animal experiments are variable. In some animal species extending telomeres does indeed lead to life extension. Indeed human cells appear to be rejuvenated if their telomeres are artificially extended, at least, in vitro. In mice, the extension of telomeres does indeed lead to a longer lifespan, however, humans are not mice.

Telomerase
The pilot is the well-known in the US Dr. Bill Andrews, a scientist who has spent his life trying to inhibit and reverse aging processes. He was, among other things, the research leader of Geron, the American company that started to produce the RNA component and the protein component of the enzyme telomerase. Telomerase is the enzyme that extends telomeres. He has appeared on American TV in Popular Science, The Today Show and numerous life extension documentaries, including the documentary The Immortalists.

According to Libella's participation model, subjects are enrolled in their country of origin after payment of 1 million US dollars. Participants will travel to Colombia to sign their informed consent and receive the Libella gene therapy in a strictly controlled hospital setting.

Traditionally, aging is seen as a natural process. This view has changed and scientists now believe that aging should be viewed as a disease. Research in this area has led to the belief that one of the major causes of aging in humans is the shortening of our telomeres.

Telomerase sticks a repeated series of DNA building blocks behind a chromosome and thus lengthens the telomere. This has a rejuvenating effect in human cells. Source: Wikimedia Commons / F.Uzbas

Telomere extension as a means of stopping aging
Telomeres are the body's biological clock. Whenever a cell divides, telomeres shorten and our cells become less efficient at dividing again. This, the telomere aging theory argues, is why we age. A significant number of peer-reviewed scientific studies have confirmed this. Several of these studies have shown that human cells can be rejuvenated by lengthening telomeres.

Bill Andrews, Ph.D., Libella's scientific director, has developed a gene therapy designed to lengthen telomeres. Dr. Andrew's gene therapy system has been shown to be safe with minimal side effects in approximately 200 clinical studies. Dr. Andrews led the research at Geron Corporation more than 20 years ago that initially discovered human telomerase and was part of the team that led the first experiments on telomerase induction and cancer.

Telomere therapy works in mice and human cells, but ...
Telomerase Gene Therapy in Mice slows down aging and significantly increases service life, research shows. Libella's clinical trial involves a new gene therapy using a patented AAV Reverse (hTERT) transcriptase enzyme and aims to extend telomeres. Libella believes that telomere lengthening is key to treating and potentially curing aging. However, mice are not humans.

The Libella clinical trial is published in the clinical data database of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) of the United States. Libella is the world's first and only gene therapy company with a clinical study published on clinicaltrials.gov that aims to reverse aging.

Less bureaucracy
As to why they decided to run their project outside of the United States, Dr. Jeff Mathis, the president of Libella: “Traditional US clinical trials can take years and millions or even billions of dollars. The research and techniques proven to work are now complete. We believe that in Colombia we can gather the scientists, technology, doctors and laboratory partners for this clinical trial faster and cheaper. ”

Sense or nonsense?
Reasonable people accept our limited lifespan. However, humanity has not progressed through reasonable people. It seems like a decidedly stupid idea to risk your life, plus a million dollars, for this unproven treatment. On the other hand, the therapy works in human cells in the laboratory and in mice. I think it is certainly worthwhile to participate in this trial, especially if you suffer from a hitherto incurable disease of old age such as Alzheimer's disease. In itself, the scientific basis is fairly solid. Tens of thousands are willing to risk their lives for their nation and country, in a war. Isn't it much more noble to risk your life to advance humanity?

English