Discovered: We're one step closer to soap-fueled cars; a protein that may stave off aging; toxic tides could be claiming thousands of squid lives;pacemakers built from viruses.
Shampoo-powered fuel. The year: 2050. The situation: You find yourself stranded on the interstate, your car running on empty. The solution: Grab that battle of Garnier Fructis® and fill 'er up. OK, maybe it won't be that easy—and who knows when or if this technology will become commercially available—but the University of Manchester's Nick Turner and colleagues have shown that in theory fuel could be distilled from shampoos, soaps, and other hydrocarbon chemical-based substances through synthetic biology. Turner says more work will be needed before we start driving soap-fueled cars. "As with many leading areas of science today, in order to make major breakthroughs it is necessary for two or more laboratories around the world to come together to solve challenging problems," he says. [University of Manchester]
Squid suicides solved? Anyone traveling Monterey Bay recently may have witnessed a grisly scene: thousands of jumbo squid, beached on the central Californian shore in apparent mass suicides. Researcher William Gilly, a marine biologist with Stanford University, thinks he may now know what's behind these mysterious cast-aways. Gilly finds that the suicide waves correspond with red tides, which involve algae releasing potent brain toxins. Though researchers have only found trace amounts in the waters, this demoic acid might "cloud their judgment," says Gilly, leading squids to swim ashore. This is the same toxin that—if consumed by humans through tainted shellfish—causes amnesia. [Scientific American]
The font of youth could be this protein. After ten years of experimenting on rapidly aging mice, Jan van Deursen and his colleagues at the Mayo Clinic believe they may have located a protein that protects animals from cancer and other ills associated with aging. It's called BubR1, and they found that when they removed this protein from mice, they deteriorated quickly. Now, in a new study, they show that mice with an abundance of the protein died of cancer after two years only about 15 percent of the time. Mice with normal amounts of the protein succumbed to cancer 40 percent of the time, by comparison. "There [are] no negative consequences that he identified" with having too much BubR1, comments the University of Texas' Paul Hasty, who wants to understand the mechanism behind this protein better. "You need to figure out exactly what BubR1 is doing to achieve this desired effect." [Science Now]
Biological pacemakers built from a virus. Scientists at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute have demonstrated the possibility of taking the "device" part out of pacemaker devices. Their research shows that people's existing heart cells can be transformed into pacemaker cells through injections of a genetically-modified virus carrying the gene Tbx18. This got guinea pigs' hearts ticking nicely. This may not have been the first biologically made pacemaker, but it is the first to be created from a single gene. [io9]