May 17, 2008

Artificial cell created from scratch

Simple artificial cell created from scratch

A team of Penn State researchers has developed a simple artificial cell with which to investigate the organization and function of two of the most basic cell components: the cell membrane and the cytoplasm--the gelatinous fluid that surrounds the structures in living cells. The work could lead to the creation of new drugs that take advantage of properties of cell organization to prevent the development of diseases.

The model cell uses as the cytoplasm a solution of two different polymers, PEG and dextran (Panel A). The image in Panel B is the image in Panel A highlighted with fluorescent dyes. The blue region is PEG, which is concentrated in the outer polymer solution; the green area is the portion of the membrane that contains PEG groups, which interact with the contents of the cell; and the red area is the portion of the membrane with fewer PEG groups, which interact with the contents of the cell to a lesser extent. After exposure to a concentrated solution of sugar, the cell converted to a budded form (Panel C). A dextran-rich mixture filled the bud, while a PEG-rich mixture remained inside the body of the cell. Panel D shows the image in Panel C highlighted with fluorescent dyes. The blue area is the PEG-rich region. This new structure exhibits polarity both in the membrane and in the aqueous interior of the model cell. (Credit: Christine Keating, Penn State)

The team's next step is to create a cascade in polarity. "By creating a model cytoplasm with different compositions, we demonstrated that we can control the behavior of cell membranes," said Keating. "Now we want to find out what will happen if, for example, we add an enzyme whose activity depends on the compositions of the cytoplasm and cell membrane."

Although Keating and her colleagues plan to continue adding components to their model cell, they don't expect to make a real cell. "We aren't trying to generate life here. Rather, we want to understand the physical principles that govern biological systems," said Keating. "For me the big picture is trying to understand how the staggering complexity observed in biological systems might have arisen from seemingly simple chemical and physical principles."

May 16, 2008

Olympic Athlete Technology

South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius [bladerunner] has won a landmark appeal over a ban on his artificial legs.

There will be a technology battle between the Biorubber Swim-SCS Fabric against the Speedo LZR Racer.

Japanese swimmers have been alarmed by the LZR Racer since its debut in February, with the suit accounting for 18 of the 19 new world records since then. Yamamoto said its Biorubber fabric has already been used, primarily for triathlon events. In October, swimwear by New Zealand brand Blue Seventy which used the fabric was approved by the international swimming federation FINA for its official meets, he said. Other suit makers, including Xterra of the United States, Australia's 2XU, Aquaman of France and New Zealand's Orca have also adopted the material, Yamamoto said. Five collegiate swimmers at Japan's Kansai University shaved their times by 1.0-2.0 seconds in 50 metres after switching to the Biorubber Swim fabric.

NOTE: 2 seconds over 50 meters is the difference between the current world record and the 1976 world record. It is the difference between the best mens time and the best womans time. 4 seconds for 50 meters is the difference between qualifying for the Olympics for the USA and the world record.

When Japanese Olympic swimmers tested the LRZ Racer last month, one of them improved his time for the first 15 metres by 0.7 seconds, said swimming federation official Norimasa Hirai. "I can imagine that in general the (Speedo) product means a difference of 0.5 seconds over 100 metres and one second over 200 metres," Hirai said.

Here is a site with swim time results for olympic swimming

May 15, 2008

Montana's Bakken oil

From a 15 slide pdf presentation by Tom Richmond on Montana's Bakken oil.

Nextbigfuture has already provided detailed coverage of Bakken oil in North Dakota and Saskatchewan

Oil companies in Montana
A breakdown by share of production in 2005. The major companies are Continental Resources, Headington Oil, Burlington Resources, Enerplus Resources USA and Encore Operating LP. Montana's Bakken oil is in Richland and Fallon counties.

Some history of Continental Resources' Montana Bakken production.

In 2006, Elm Coulee was producing about 53,000 barrels of oil per day from more than 350 wells. Ultimate production is expected to exceed 270 million barrels, with some estimates as high as 500 million barrels. Production at Elm Coulee has more than doubled the oil output of the state of Montana

An excellent presentation by Bill Walker and others from Headington Oil.


Montana oil well information is available online.

Scanning through the Montana state oil information it appears that 2007 and 2008 have been relatively flat or slightly declining from the 55,000 bpd level of 2006 for Elm coulee.
24 to 30 million barrels of oil per month for the state. About 80,000 to 100,000 bpd.

Montana's oil and gas board.

A list of links at the Montana oil and gas site for other oil and gas information across the USA

Montana's high fossil fuel scenario.

Great Falls Tribune article from April 2008 discussing the Bakken oil field, Elm Coulee and companies drilling there.

No peak yet, New high for World Oil supply, 293,000 more barrels of oil per day

World Oil production figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) International Petroleum monthly for February 2008 reached a new high of 85.921 million barrels of oil per day. 36.881 million barrels of oil per day from OPEC in February. 74.657 million barrels of oil per day world oil production including lease condensate which is up from 74.431 millions barrels of oil per day in January, 2008.

This was an increase from the January, 2008 figure of 85.628 million barrels of oil per day.

When the April figures are released in two months, there will be an additional 42,000 barrels of oil per day from new offshore production from Brazil.

This 42 thousand bpd difference was the outcome of new wells going online at the P-52 and P-54 platforms, both in Roncador, at the P-35, in Marlim, and at the PPM-1, in Pampo. Production being kicked-off at FPSO-Cidade de Rio das Ostras, on March 31, in the Badejo field, also in the Campos basin, contributed to this mark as well.

Petrobras’ daily production capacity is expected to grow an additional 500,000 barrels in 2008, when four more platforms kick-off their operations, three of which in the Campos Basin and one in the EspĂ­rito Santo Sea. Furthermore, the five platforms that started producing in 2007 are also slated to reach their maximum capacities during the year.

Saudi Arabia started production at the Khursaniyah field in April, 2008 and it should be producing 300,000 bpd in May, 2008. It should be pumping 500,000 barrels a day in 2009.

Megaprojects for oil for 2008 and 2009

May 13, 2008

Possible test fusion reactors developed for sale

The lead Bussard Fusion Reactor (BFR) experimenter is considering making turnkey fusion test reactors for 500,000 to 1 million dollars.

One of the things we have been considering is selling a "turnkey" version of the WB-7. In this case we would design, build, license and deliver an operating Polywell, probably on the scale of the present machine. Operator training and tech support would also be part of the deal. These devices could be funded through government grants (we have found a mechanism) or privately. I think we could do a turnkey machine for a ~ $500k-$1000k depending on how many people are interested.

My suggestion for selling turnkey Polywells is not one of complete benevolence. We could use a revenue stream at EMC2, and this would do a lot to help us grow. We need to learn how to manufacture these things, as well as how to engineer safety systems and all of the rest of the peripherals.

This semms like something that would be useful for universities and some companies.

Additional posts on the idea

May 12, 2008

Accurate biochips for comprehensive disease screening

Biochips contain grids of small wells or "dots," each of which contains a protein, antibody or nucleic acid that can bind to a target antigen or DNA sequence.

New biochips can detect cancers and other diseases accurately before symptoms develop.

Why does this matter ? Early detection can have a large impact on survival rates. Breast cancer detected at stage 0 has a 100% survival rate after 5 years. Those who are detected at stage 4 have a 20% survival rate after 5 years. So if everyone had good and accurate and regular disease screening then no one would die of breast cancer even if treatments do not improve. We can already save everyone who has stage 0 breast cancer. This would save 502,000 lives worldwide every year.

Lung cancer five year survival rates
Stage 0 70-80%
Stage I 50%
Stage II 30%
Stage III 5-15%
Stage IV <2%

Detecting everyone at Stage 0 instead of later stages would reduce 1.3 million deaths per year from lung cancer by nearly 1 million people.

Stomach cancer has similar survival statistics as lung cancer

For liver cancer it drops from 30-60% for early detection down to less than 5%

The 2-D fractionation process creates 960 separate protein fractions, which are then arranged in a single biochip containing 96-well grids. Eprogen scientists then probe the microarrays with known serum or plasma "auto-antibodies" produced by the immune systems of cancer patients. By using cancer patients' own auto-antibodies as a diagnostic tool, doctors could potentially tailor treatments based on their personal autoantibody profile

Though the analysis of a sample on a biochip can take 30 minutes, scientists can have much more confidence in the accuracy of the diagnosis, according to Schabacker. "Biochips give us the ability to run a test that allows your doctor to figure out exactly what you're suffering from during the time that you're in his or her office," he said. By adding just a few more drops to the chip's array, Schabacker claimed, lab technicians could test for a whole slate of biotoxins and especially virulent diseases from the plague to smallpox to anthrax. Other infections, such as those caused by Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and the often deadly Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), can be quickly diagnosed with biochips like Akonni's TruArray assay, according to Daitch.

"The unique advantage offered by the TruArray platform lies in the fact that we can screen a single sample for multiple viral and bacterial infections at the same time," said Charles Daitch, Akonni's president and CEO. "Soon, doctors will no longer need to order as many expensive and time-consuming tests, and can instead obtain accurate diagnoses that will enable them to quickly provide their patients with targeted treatment strategies."

Computer algorithms decode the dot pattern produced by the biochip, calculate the statistical likelihood of each possible infection and provide this information to the doctor.

Cancer deaths in the USA dropped to 553,888 in 2004, down from 556,902 in 2003 and 557,271 in 2002, the Cancer Society found.

In 2005, 7.6 million people died of cancer worldwide according to the World Health Organization.

Cancer is a generic term for a group of more than 100 diseases that can affect any part of the body. Other terms used are malignant tumours and neoplasms.

40% of cancer can be prevented (by a healthy diet, physical activity and not using tobacco).

One-fifth of cancers worldwide are due to chronic infections, mainly from hepatitis B viruses HBV (causing liver), human papilloma viruses HPV (causing cervix), Helicobacter pylori (causing stomach), schistosomes (causing bladder), the liver fluke (bile duct) and human immunodeficiency virus HIV (Kaposi sarcoma and lymphomas).

lung (1.3 million deaths/year);
Stomach (almost 1 million deaths/year);
Liver (662,000 deaths/year);
Colon (655,000 deaths/year) and
Breast (502,000 deaths/year)

May 11, 2008

Barack Obama a sure thing ?

Many in the media have been claiming that the race for the Democratic nomination is over. It likely may be, but it could be far closer than is currently believed. It could still turn the in favor of Hillary Clinton.

Realclearpolitics makes the scenario where Hillary makes the race far closer with wins in West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico.

Here is how the numbers could play out.

Many factors favor a democrat for president in 2008. Unpopular Republican president. Bad economy. Unpopular war.

Intrade 2008 US president prediction market has it 57% Obama, 38% McCain.

Detailed electoral vote projections have a very close race between Democrats and Republican.

This article points out how the Democrats often find a way to lose the presidential election.

The first Republican to win a presidential election was Abraham Lincoln. Since that initial success, the GOP has won 23 presidential elections compared to just 14 for the Democrats.

Since the Civil War only four Democrats -- Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt and Samuel Tilden -- have won a majority of the popular vote. (Tilden in 1876, lost the Electoral College vote and never became president.)

It has been 32 years since a Democrat won a majority of the popular vote. The last to do so was Carter, who won a whopping 50.1 percent of the votes in 1976. He defeated Republican incumbent Gerald Ford, the man who pardoned Richard Nixon and carried the burden of Watergate and the Vietnam War into the election.

Obviously, 1976 was not a good year to be a Republican. Nixon's disgraceful resignation and reputation for deceit and corruption fatally wounded the Republican presidential ticket. But even with such enormous advantages on his side, Carter barely eked out a majority. Carter's once sizeable lead in the polls dwindled as election day drew near, so much so that some observers believe that had the election taken place a couple of weeks later, Ford might have prevailed.

Another article making the case that the Democrat path to the presidency is not assured

What does seem certain is a Democratic House and Senate.
So a McCain presidency would have to work with a Democratic House and Senate, which would force more moderation from McCain to get things passed.
Obama and Clinton's stated policies are very similar. A question would be how effective Obama would be in getting real policy enacted.

I do not believe the US government (regardless of who wins) can be counted upon to start generating appropriate far sighted policy. Relatively neutral and non-damaging policy would be the hope.

I think the choices around Iraq will be less important in 2009. What will be more significant will be the future choices around Iran, Pakistan, Syria and North Korea and technology policy choices.