Biohacking Lactose Intolerance

Would you pop a homemade pill containing genetically engineered virus particles just so that you can enjoy a pizza? Not many people would, but then again, if you’ve experienced the violent reaction to lactose that some people have, you just might consider it.

Such was the position that [The Thought Emporium] found himself in at age 16, suddenly violently lactose intolerant and in need of a complete diet overhaul. Tired of scanning food labels for telltale signs of milk products and paying the price for the inevitable mistakes, he embarked on a journey of DIY gene therapy to restore his ability to indulge in comfort foods. The longish video below details a lot of that journey; skip to 15:40 if you want to cut to the chase. But if you’re at all interested in the processes of modern molecular biology, make sure you watch the whole thing. The basic idea here is to create an innocuous virus that carries the lac gene, which encodes the enzyme β-galactosidase, or lactase, and use it to infect the cells of his small intestine. There the gene will hopefully be expressed, supplementing the supply of native enzyme, which in most adult humans is no longer expressed at the levels it was when breast milk was our primary food.

Did it work? We won’t ruin the surprise, but in any case, the video is a fascinating look at mammalian cell transfection and other techniques of genetic engineering that are accessible to the biohacker. Still, it takes some guts to modify your own guts, but bear in mind that this is someone who doesn’t mind inserting magnetic implants in his fingers.

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Living 3D Printer Filament

This is more than a printing filament hack — closer to bleeding edge bio-engineering — but we can’t help but be fascinated by the prospect of 3D printing with filament that’s alive on a cellular level.

The team from MIT led by [Xuanhe Zhao] and [Timothy Lu] have programmed bacteria cells to respond to specific compounds.  To demonstrate, they printed a temporary tattoo of a tree formed of the sturdy bacteria and a hydrogel ‘ink’ loaded with nutrients, that lights up over a few hours when adhered to skin swabbed with these specific stimuli.

So far, the team has been able to produce objects as large as several centimetres, capable of being adapted into active materials when printed and integrated as wearables, displays, sensors and more.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: SoleSense for Balance Therapy

Rehabilitating brain injuries where a patient’s sense of balance has been compromised is no easy task. Current solutions only trigger when the patient reaches a threshold and by then, it may already be too late for a graceful recovery. [Simon Merrett]’s SoleSense is being designed to give continuous feedback like a stock humans innate sense of balance. Therapists hope this will aid recovery by more closely imitating what most of us grew up with.

SoleSense relies on capacitive sensors arranged under the feet to know where the patients are placing their weight. [OSHPark] is providing the first round of flexible PCBs so some lucky sole is going to get purple inserts.

Outside of recovery, devices like this can teach better posture or possibly enhance a fully functioning sense of balance. That could improve physical performance. Who knows, we are finding new ways of perceiving the world all the time.

Remapping senses is a popular assistive technology and sound is ideal for the SoleSense to piggyback because brain injuries are less likely to affect hearing than other senses. Of course, senses can be remapped or even created. You could gain a sense of magnetic north or expand the range of light you can perceive.

Magnet Implants, Your Cyborg Primer

What would you do to gain a sixth sense? Some of us would submit to a minor surgical procedure where a magnet is implanted under the skin. While this isn’t the first time magnet implants have been mentioned here on Hackaday, [The Thought Emporium] did a phenomenal job of gathering the scattered data from blogs, forum posts, and personal experimentation into a short video which can be seen after the break.

As [The Thought Emporium] explains in more eloquent detail, a magnet under the skin allows the implantee to gain a permanent sense of strong magnetic fields. Implantation in a fingertip is most common because nerve density is high and probing is possible. Ear implants are the next most useful because oscillating magnetic fields can be translated to sound.

For some, this is merely a parlor trick. Lifting paper clips and messing with a compass are great fun. Can magnet implants be more than whimsical baubles?

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How Peptides Are Made

What does body building, anti-aging cream and Bleomycin (a cancer drug) have in common? Peptides of course! Peptides are large molecules that are vital to life. If you were to take a protein and break it into smaller pieces, each piece would be called a peptide. Just like proteins, peptides are made of amino acids linked together in a chain-like structure. Whenever you ingest a protein, your body breaks it down to its individual amino acids. It then puts those amino acids back together in a different order to make whatever peptide or protein your body needs. Insulin, for instance, is a peptide that is 51 amino acids long. Your body synthesizes insulin from the amino acids it gets from the proteins you eat.

Peptides and small proteins can be synthesized in a lab as well. Peptide synthesis is a huge market in the pharmaceutical and skin care industry. They’re also used, somewhat shadily, as a steroid substitute by serious athletes and body builders. In this article, we’re going to go over the basic steps of how to join amino acids together to make a peptide. The chemistry of peptide synthesis is complex and well beyond the scope of this article. But the basic steps of making a peptide are not as difficult as you might think. Join me after the break to gain a basic understanding of how peptides are synthesized in labs across the world, and to establish a good footing should you ever wish to delve deeper and make peptides on your own.

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Maintain Temperature with a DIY Laboratory Dry Bath

[abizar] lucked into some aluminum blocks, one of which had test-tube-sized holes in it–just the thing to turn into a dry bath for his biology projects.

He stuck a 100W positive temperature coefficient heater into the bottom of the block using silicone glue, and the heater heated the block up in around half an hour. He connected a temperature controller to maintain the temperature at an ambient 95C, with a controller monitoring a thermistor to keep the block within the pre-determined range. The heater has an auto shutoff if it got too hot, so [abizar] felt safe keeping the dry bath on, unmonitored.

The aluminum block sits in a plywood box lined with rubber from an inner tube, with the heater underneath the block and the temperature controller underneath that, separated by more plywood from the heat. The result? A dry, temperature regulated bath for 20 1.5ml test tubes.

Looking to tool up? Check out the plethora of biohacking tools on Hackaday, including a DIY CO2 incubator, a basic biohacker’s toolkit, and a cheap electrophoresis rig.

Movie Encoded in DNA is the First Step Toward Datalogging with Living Cells

While DNA is a reasonably good storage medium, it’s not particularly fast, cheap, or convenient to read and write to.

What if living cells could simplify that by recording useful data into their own DNA for later analysis? At Harvard Medical School, scientists are working towards this goal by using CRISPR to encode and retrieve a short video in bacterial cells.

CRISPR is part of the immune system of many bacteria, and works by storing sequences of viral DNA in a specific location to identify and eliminate viral infections. As a tool for genetic engineering, it’s cheaper and has fewer drawbacks than previous techniques.

Besides generating living rickrolls and DMCA violations, what is this good for? Cheap, self-replicating sensors. [Seth Shipman], part of the team of scientists at Harvard, explains in an interview below a number of possible applications. His focus is engineering cells to act as a noninvasive data acquisition tool to study neurobiology, for example by using engineered neurons to record their developmental history.

It’s possible to see how this technique can be used more broadly and outside an academic context. Presently, biosensors generally use electric or fluorescent transducers to relay a detection event. By recording data over time in the DNA of living cells, biosensors could become much cheaper and contain intrinsic datalogging. Possible applications could include long-term metabolite (e.g. glucose) monitors, chemical detectors, and quality control.

It’s worth noting that this technique is only at the proof of concept stage. Data was recorded and retrieved manually by the scientists into the bacterial genome with 90% accuracy, demonstrating that if cells can be engineered to record data themselves, accuracy and capacity are high enough for practical applications.

That being said, if anyone is working on a MEncoder or ffmpeg command line option for this, let us know in the comments.

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