Open-Source Insulin: Biohackers Aiming For Distributed Production

When you’ve got a diabetic in your life, there are few moments in any day that are free from thoughts about insulin. Insulin is literally the first coherent thought I have every morning, when I check my daughter’s blood glucose level while she’s still asleep, and the last thought as I turn out the lights, making sure she has enough in her insulin pump to get through the night. And in between, with the constant need to calculate dosing, adjust levels, add corrections for an unexpected snack, or just looking in the fridge and counting up the number of backup vials we have on hand, insulin is a frequent if often unwanted intruder on my thoughts.

And now, as my daughter gets older and seeks like any teenager to become more independent, new thoughts about insulin have started to crop up. Insulin is expensive, and while we have excellent insurance, that can always change in a heartbeat. But even if it does, the insulin must flow — she has no choice in the matter. And so I thought it would be instructional to take a look at how insulin is made on a commercial scale, in the context of a growing movement of biohackers who are looking to build a more distributed system of insulin production. Their goal is to make insulin affordable, and with a vested interest, I want to know if they’ve got any chance of making that goal a reality.

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Anti-Bacterial Plastic Wrap Clings To Hope Of Stopping Superbugs’ Spread

Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario have developed a plastic wrap that repels viruses and bacteria, including some of the scariest antibiotic-resistant superbugs known to science. With the help of a scanning electron microscope, the researchers were able to watch superbugs like MRSA and Pseudomonas bounce right off the surface.

The wrap can be applied to things temporarily, much like that stuff you wrestle from the box and stretch over your leftovers. It can also be shrink-wrapped to any compatible surface without losing effectiveness. The ability to cover surfaces with bacteria-shielding armor could have an incredible impact on superbug populations inside hospitals. It could be shrink-wrapped to all kinds of things, from door handles to railings to waiting room chair armrests to the pens that everyone uses to sign off on receiving care.

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Arachnid Ale Uses Yeast To Make Spider Silk

Many people who read Hackaday hold the title of “Webmaster” but [The Thought Emporium] is after slightly different credentials with the same title. He aims to modify a strain of yeast to produce spider silk. Charlotte’s Web didn’t go into great detail about the different types of silk that a spider can produce, but the video and screencap after the break give a rundown of how spiders make different types of silk, and that each species of spider makes a unique silk. For this experiment, the desired silk is “beta sheets” which the video explains are hard and strong.

Some of the points mentioned in the video rely on things previously mentioned in other videos, but if you are the type of person excited by genetic modifications or using modified yeast to produce something made by another lifeform, you will probably be just fine. This is one of the most technical videos made by [The Thought Emporium] as he goes into the mechanisms of the modifications he will be making to the yeast. It sounds like a lot of work and the financial benefit of being able to produce spider silk affordably could be great, but in true hacker form, the procedure and results will be made freely available.

For some background into this hacker’s mind, check out how he has hacked his own lactose intolerance and even produced graphene through electrochemical exfoliation.

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Ctrl-X, Ctrl-V For DNA

Once upon a time, the aspiring nerdling’s gift of choice was the Gilbert chemistry set. Its tiny vials of reagents, rack of test tubes, and instruction book promised endless intellectual stimulation and the possibility of stink bombs on demand. Now a new genetic engineering lab-in-a-box Kickstarter, with all the tools and materials needed to create your own transgenic organisms, may help the young biohacker’s dreams come true.

The Kickstarter has been wildly successful. The initial goal was $1200AUD was met in a day, and currently stands at almost $6200AUD. Despite that success, color me skeptical on this one. Having done way more than my fair share of gene splicing, there seem to be a few critical gaps in this kit. For example, the list of materials for the full kit includes BL21 competent E. coli as the host strain. Those cells are designed to become porous to extracellular DNA when treated with calcium chloride and provided with a heat shock of 42°C. At a minimum I’d think they’d include a thermometer so you can control the heat shock process. Plenty of other steps also need fairly precise incubations, like the digestion and ligation steps needed to get your gene into the host. And exactly what technique you’d be using to harvest DNA from the animal, plant or fungal cells is unclear; the fact that most of the techniques for doing so require special techniques leads me to believe there’s a lot less here than meets the eye.

To be fair, I’ve been off the lab bench for the better part of two decades, and the state of the art has no doubt advanced in that time. There could very well be techniques I’m not familiar with that make the various steps needed to transform a bacterial culture with foreign DNA trivial. It could also be the case that the techniques I used in the lab were optimized for yield and for precise data, while the GlowGene kit provides the materials to get a “good enough” result. I hope so, because a kit like this could really expand the horizons of hackerdom and start getting the biohacking movement going.

[Thanks, Michael!]

Things That Kill You, Hacked For Clean Energy

Tobacco and E coli can wreak havoc on your body causing serious damage if not death. Some researchers from the University of California at Berkeley have found a way to take these potentially dangerous organisms and make them do our bidding. By genetically engineering a virus they have shown that the two can be used to grow solar cells. Well, they grow some of the important bits that go into solar cells, reducing the environmental impact of the manufacturing process.

Once a tobacco plant is infected with the altered virus it begins producing artificial chromophores that turn sunlight into electricity. Fully grown plants are ground up, suspending the chromophores in a liquid which is sprayed onto glass panels to create the solar cells. This types of creative solar energy production make us wonder if Thunderdome and the apocalypse are further off than we thought.

[Thanks Jon]