OSM stands for Oligonucleotide Synthesizer designed for use in Microgravity, meaning that it’s a device that makes arbitrary DNA strands (of moderate length) in space. Cool eh? I’ve been working on this project for the last eight months with a wonderful team of fellow hackers as part of the Stanford Student Space Initiative, and I’d like to share what we’re doing, what we’ve already done, and where we’re going.
Why space? Well, first of all, space is cool. But more seriously, access to arbitrary DNA in space could accelerate research in a plethora of fields, and the ability to genetically engineer bacteria to produce substances (say on a martian colony) could mean the difference between death and a life-saving shot. In short, it’s hard to predict the exact DNA one might need for research or practical use before hand.
First, as Hackaday tends to be a little light on biology terminology, we need to get a little vocabulary out of the way to grease the ways of communication. If you have a Ph.D. in synthetic biology, you might want to skip this section. Otherwise, here are five quick terms that will make your brain bigger so stay with me!
Continue reading “OSM (Pronounced Awesome) Hardware Makes DNA in Space”
We’ve noticed a lot of musical groups are named after insects. Probably has something to do with the Beatles. (If you study that for a while you’ll spot the homophonic pun, and yes we know that the Crickets inspired the name.) There’s also Iron Butterfly, Adam Ant, and quite a few more. A recent art project by a Mexican team — Micro-ritmos — might inspire some musical groups to be named after bacteria.
The group used geobacter — a kind of bacteria found in soil — a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino, and a camera to build an interesting device. As it looks at the bacteria and uses SuperCollider to create music and lighting from the patterns. You can see a video of Micro-ritmos, below.
Continue reading “Raspberry Pi Radio Makes the Sweet Music of Bacteria”
This is weird science. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have taken some normal bacteria and made them photosynthetic by adding cadmium sulfide nanoparticles. Cadmium sulfide is what makes the garden-variety photoresistor work. That’s strange enough. But the bacteria did the heavy lifting — they coated themselves in the inorganic cadmium — which means that they can continue to grow and reproduce without much further intervention.
Bacteria are used as workhorses in a lot of chemical reactions these days, and everybody’s trying to teach them new tricks. But fooling them into taking on inorganic light absorbing materials and becoming photosynthetic is pretty cool. As far as we understand, the researchers found a chemical pathway into which the electrons produced by the CdS would fit, and the bacteria took care of the rest. They still make acetic acid, which is their normal behavior, but now they produce much more when exposed to light.
If you want to dig a little deeper, the paper just came out in Science magazine, but it’s behind a paywall. But with a little searching, one can often come up with the full version for free. (PDF).
Or if you’d rather make electricity, instead of acetic acid, from your bacteria be our guest. In place of CdS, however, you’ll need a fish. Biology is weird.
Headline images credit: Peidong Yang
We humans like to think of ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution on the planet, but that’s just a conceit. It takes humans roughly twenty years to reproduce, whereas some bacteria can make copies of themselves every 20 minutes. Countless generations of bacteria have honed and perfected their genomes into extremely evolved biological machines.
Most bacteria are harmless, and some are quite useful, even tasty – witness the lactofermented pickles and sauerkraut I made this summer. But some bacteria are pathogenic nightmares that have swarmed over the planet and caused untold misery and billions of deaths. For most of human history it has been so – the bugs were winning. Then a bright period dawned in the early 20th century – the Era of Antibiotics. At last we were delivered from the threat of pestilence, never more to suffer from plague and disease like our unfortunate ancestors. Infections were miraculously cured with a simple injection or pill, childhood diseases were no longer reaping their tragic harvest, and soldiers on the battlefield were surviving wounds that would have festered and led to a slow, painful death.
Now it seems like this bright spot of relief from bacterial disease might be drawing to an end. Resistant strains of bacteria are in the news these days, and the rise of superbugs seems inevitable. But is it? Have we run out of tools to fight back? Not quite yet as it turns out. But there’s a lot of work to do to make sure we win this battle.
Continue reading “How Biohackers are Fighting a Two-front War on Antibiotic Resistance”
This boxy monstrosity is big for a reason. It lets you play games on the original hardware of fifteen different gaming consoles. That’s right, we said original hardware. One of the main goals of Project Unity was to keep the stock equipment by making any type of emulation — hardware or otherwise — taboo. The size of the case is a function of how much stuff is actually crammed in there. But the final shape was dictated by the available opening in [Bacteria’s] living room entertainment center.
The video after the break walks us through each aspect of the build. We’re floored by the quote of 3,500 hours of build time. But as you get a look at the wiring-hell of each different module it’s easy to understand why it didn’t just build itself. One power supply and one controller make for the least complicated user experience possible. We already looked at a giant switching mechanism that selects one console at a time and the singular controller unit. But [Bacteria] has a lot of other tricks up his sleeve which make this gold mine of a hacking reference piece.
Continue reading “Original hardware for fifteen consoles jammed into recently completed Project Unity”