Saturday, November 08, 2008

Scientists identify gene that may explain hair loss

Researchers in Japan have identified a gene that appears to determine cyclical hair loss in mice and believe it may also be responsible for hair loss, or alopecia, in people. Scientists described how they generated a line of mice that were lacking in the Sox21 gene.

"The mice started to lose their fur from postnatal day 11, beginning at the head and progressing toward the tail region of the back," they wrote.

"Between day 20 and day 25, these mice eventually lost all of their body hair, including the whiskers. Intriguingly, new hair regrowth was initiated a few days later but was followed by renewed hair loss."

The cyclical alopecia continued for more than two years and the researchers observed that the mutant mice had enlarged oil-secreting sebaceous glands around the hair follicle and a thickened layer of skin cells during periods of hair loss.

"The gene is likely involved with the differentiation of stem cells that form the outer layer of the hair shaft," wrote the researchers, led by Yumiko Saga of the Division of Mammalian Development at the National Institute of Genetics in Mishima.

The scientists went on to examine human skin samples, where they found evidence of this same gene.

"We confirmed that Sox21 is also expressed in the hair shaft cuticle in humans ... These results indicate that the Sox21 gene could be responsible for some hair loss conditions in humans," the authors concluded.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

"Mighty Mice" Gene Is Mutated In Beefy Bovines

The same genetic "secret formula" that gave unusually large muscles to the "mighty mice" engineered by Johns Hopkins is also at work naturally in specially bred cattle that have extra muscle, according to a new report from the researchers.

"Mutations in the myostatin gene in two different species produced the same result," says Se-Jin Lee, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of molecular biology and genetics. "This strongly suggests that the normal human form of the gene, which we've already identified, helps suppress muscle growth. If we can find a drug that blocks myostatin activity, patients with muscular dystrophy or muscle wasting due to AIDS or cancer may really benefit."

Results of the study, which was supported by grants from the Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation and MetaMorphix, Inc. are published in the Nov. 11 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Cattle breeders knew nothing of myostatin when they succeeded in developing more muscular cattle breeds like the Belgian Blue and the Piedmontese. Hopkins researchers went searching for mutant forms of myostatin in these cattle after discovering what eliminating it could do to mice.

"We wondered right away if interfering with the gene in livestock could give us animals with more meat and relatively less fat," says Alexandra McPherron, Ph.D., a Hopkins postdoctoral fellow. "We first became aware that there might be some breeds of livestock that already have mutated myostatin when someone described a large-muscled breed of sheep to us."

Through literature and Internet searches, researchers learned of the Belgian Blue breed of cattle. From genetic information available online, they could see that the cattle's altered gene appeared to be in the same spot on the genetic code as human and mouse myostatin.

To confirm their suspicions, Lee and McPherron then analyzed DNA from cattle blood samples supplied by a ranch in Missouri. They also detailed the DNA blueprint of the myostatin gene from 12 non-double-muscled breeds of cattle and found that their copies of myostatin were all normal.

Scientists also sequenced the myostatin gene in humans, chickens, pigs, turkeys, sheep, baboons, zebrafish and rats, and found that there were relatively few differences among the species.

Rights to myostatin are owned by The Johns Hopkins University and exclusively licensed to MetaMorphix Inc. MetaMorphix was established in 1995 to capitalize on work by Hopkins and Genetics Institute, a private pharmaceutical company, in the field of growth and differentiation factors. Lee is a shareholder in and scientific founder of the company.

Under an agreement between MetaMorphix and The Johns Hopkins University, McPherron and Lee are entitled to shares of royalty received by the University from MetaMorphix. The University, McPherron and Lee also own MetaMorphix stock, which is subject to certain restrictions under University policy. Lee is also a consultant to MetaMorphix. The terms of this arrangement are being managed by the University in accordance with its conflict-of-interest policies.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

You ever wonder what makes u fat?

British and French scientists have identified several variants of a
single gene that boost the risk of obesity, according to a study
published Sunday in the British journal Nature.

The biggest
protein myth is that you can only digest 30 grams of protein at one
time. Find out what's wrong with this belief and just how much protein
you need. This is a common question. I also get variations such as, how
much protein can you digest at one time?

There are two ways to answer this, because there really two questions being asked.

1) How much protein can the digestive system physically absorb into the bloodstream from a meal?


2) How much protein can you body actually utilize?

The answers...

1) About 95% and higher, unless you have some type of digestive system malfunction.

if you get convinced by supplement companies to drink a 42g protein
shake in 5 minutes, you'll still probably absorb at 38 or more grams of
that protein.

Your muscle growth is not limited by the amount of protein you can DIGEST or ABSORB.

Your muscle growth IS LIMITED by the amount of protein that your body can utilize for protein synthesis.

So the answer to #2...

2) A lot less than you think.

really don't need 40, or 30, or probably even 20g of protein per meal
to keep your protein synthesis humming along. See Nutrition Help Expert
Brad Pilon's post on "How Much Protein Do We Really Need"

protein that your body can't use for growth will be shuttled into a
process where it is broken down (de-aminated: meaning the nitrogen is
removed from the molecule and it becomes a carbon skeleton) to be used
in energy pathways.

Now, there are benefits for eating extra protein (in my opinion) when dieting, mainly that it helps to suppress appetite.

But the bottom line to the question I am asked almost everyday is...

a) Your body can digest and absorb almost all of the protein you eat without problem.

Your muscles can only do so much with protein...the muscle growth
process is RARELY, if ever limited by the amount of protein we consume.
Almost all of us can easily get enough protein for maximum muscle
growth without the need for eating 50g of protein 6 times per day.
Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, and Gunter Schlerkcamp excluded, of course.

I'd think twice about the need to slam down a 40-50g protein
shake...just think of the children and puppies you'll save by not
gassing them out with protein farts.

Real food should cover all your protein needs.

Ballantyne is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and
writes for Men's Health and Oxygen magazines. His trademarked Turbulence Training for Fat Loss Nutrition Guidelines have helped thousands of men and women with weight loss and fat burning in less than 45 minutes three times per week. More nutrition help and fat loss workouts show you how to burn fat without long, slow cardio sessions or fancy equipment. Craig's bodyweight for abs exercises help you lose fat without any equipment at all.

N.Y. Research Team Discovers How Antidepressants And Cocaine Interact With Brain Cell Targets

n a first, scientists from Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University Medical Center have described the specifics of how brain cells process antidepressant drugs, cocaine and amphetamines. These novel findings could prove useful in the development of more targeted medication therapies for a host of psychiatric diseases, most notably in the area of addiction.

Their breakthrough research, featured as the cover story in a recent issue of Molecular Cell, describes the precise molecular and biochemical structure of drug targets known as neurotransmitter-sodium symporters (NSSs), and how cells use them to enable neural signaling in the brain. A second study, published in the latest issue of Nature Neuroscience, pinpoints where the drug molecules bind in the neurotransmitter transporter — their target in the human nervous system.

“These findings are so clear and detailed at the level of molecular behavior that they will be most valuable to developing more effective therapies for mood disorders and neurologic and psychiatric diseases, and to direct effective treatments for drug addiction to cocaine and amphetamines,” says co-lead author Dr. Harel Weinstein, Chairman and Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, and director of the Institute for Computational Biomedicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. “This research may also open the door to the development of new therapies for dopamine-neurotransmitter disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and anxiety and depression.”

To make their observations, the research team led by Dr. Jonathan Javitch, senior author of the Molecular Cell study and contributing author to the Nature Neuroscience study, and professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology in the Center for Molecular Recognition at Columbia University Medical Center, stabilized different structural states of the neurotransmitter-sodium-symporter molecule that relate to steps in its function. This allowed the team to study how substrates and inhibitors affect the transition between these different states, and thus to understand the way in which its function is accomplished.

“Crystallography had allowed the identification of only one structural form of the molecule, but our experiments and computations were able to identify how this form changes and thereby add an understanding of the functional role of the different forms that the molecule must adopt to accomplish transport activity,” says Dr. Javitch.

The main surprise was the realization that two binding sites on the transporter molecule need to be filled simultaneously and cooperate in order for transport to be driven across the cell membrane. For these studies, the scientists used the crystal structure of a bacterial transporter that is very similar to human neurotransmitter transporters. They performed computer simulations to reveal the path of the transported molecules into cells. Laboratory experimentation was used to test the computational predictions and validate the researchers’ inferences.

Together, these procedures revealed a finely-tuned process in which two sodium ions bind and stabilize the transporter molecule for the correct positioning of the two messenger molecules — one deep in the center of the protein, and the other closer to the entrance. Like a key engaging a lock mechanism, this second binding causes changes in the transporter throughout the structure, allowing one of the two sodium molecules to move inward, and then release the deeply bound messenger and its sodium partner into the cell.

In the bacterial transporter studied, antidepressant molecules bind in the outer one of two sites, and stop the transport mechanism, leaving the messenger molecule outside the cell.

The second team of researchers, involving a collaboration of the Weinstein and Javitch labs with colleagues in Denmark (the labs of Ulrik Gether and Claus Loland), found that in the human dopamine transporter cocaine binds in the deep site, unlike the antidepressant binding in the bacterial transporter. Therefore, the researchers conclude that anti-cocaine therapy will be more complicated, because interfering with cocaine binding also means interference with the binding of natural messengers.

“This finding might steer anti-cocaine therapy in a completely new direction,” says Dr. Weinstein.

Molecular understanding at this level of structural and dynamic detail is rare in the world of drug development, the authors note. Only about 15 percent of all drugs have a known molecular method-of-action, even though the effects of these drugs within the body — after very stringent and controlled laboratory testing — are well understood pharmacologically.

Contributing authors to the Molecular Cell study include Dr. Lei Shi from Weill Cornell Medical College, who had a major role in the computational simulations; Dr. Matthias Quick from Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, who had a major role in the experimental component; and Dr. Yongfang Zhao from Columbia University Medical Center.

Lead authors of the Nature Neuroscience study are first author Dr. Thijs Beuming of Weill Cornell Medical College and senior authors Drs. Claus Loland and Ulrik Gether of The Panum Institute of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Additional co-authors include Drs. Julie Kniazeff, Marianne Bergmann and Klaudia Raniszewska of The Panum Institute of the University of Copenhagen; Drs. Lei Shi and Luis Gracia of Weill Cornell; and Dr. Amy Hauck Newman of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The NIH supported these studies, and it is noteworthy that both the Molecular Cell and the Nature Neuroscience study share an NIH funding source, a Program Project grant awarded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and directed by Dr. Weinstein, with Drs. Javitch and Gether each directing one of the projects. Additional support came from the Danish Medical Research Council, the Lundbeck Foundation, the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Maersk Foundation — all in Europe.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Researchers Create DNA Logic Circuits That Work In Test Tubes

A Caltech group led by computer scientist Erik Winfree reports that they have created DNA logic circuits that work in salt water, similar to an intracellular environment. Such circuits could lead to a biochemical microcontroller, of sorts, for biological cells and other complex chemical systems. The lead author of the paper is Georg Seelig, a postdoctoral scholar in Winfree's lab.

"Digital logic and water usually don't mix, but these circuits work in water because they are based on chemistry, not electronics," explains Winfree, an associate professor of computer science and computation and neural systems who is also a recipient of a MacArthur genius grant.

Rather than encoding signals in high and low voltages, the circuits encode signals in high and low concentrations of short DNA molecules. The chemical logic gates that perform the information processing are also DNA molecules, with each gate a carefully folded complex of multiple short DNA strands.

When a gate encounters the right input molecules, it releases its output molecule. This output molecule in turn can help trigger a downstream gate--so the circuit operates like a cascade of dominoes in which each falling domino topples the next one.

However, unlike dominoes and electronic circuits, components of these DNA circuits have no fixed position and cannot be simply connected by a wire. Instead, the chemistry takes place in a well-mixed solution of molecules that bump into each other at random, relying on the specificity of the designed interactions to ensure that only the right signals trigger the right gates.

"We were able to construct gates to perform all the fundamental binary logic operations--AND, OR, and NOT," explains Seelig. "These are the building blocks for constructing arbitrarily complex logic circuits."

As a demonstration, the researchers created a series of circuits, the largest one taking six inputs processed by 12 gates in a cascade five layers deep. While this is not large by the standards of Silicon Valley, Winfree says that it demonstrates several design principles that could be important for scaling up biochemical circuits.

"Biochemical circuits have been built previously, both in test tubes and in cells," Winfree says. "But the novel thing about these circuits is that their function relies solely on the properties of DNA base-pairing. No biological enzymes are necessary for their operation.

"This allows us to use a systematic and modular approach to design their logic circuits, incorporating many of the features of digital electronics," Winfree says.

Other advantages of the approach are signal restoration for the production of correct output even when noise is introduced, and standardization of the chemical-circuit signals by the use of translator gates that can use naturally occurring biological molecules, such as microRNA, as inputs. This suggests that the DNA logic circuits could be used for detecting specific cellular abnormalities, such as a certain type of cancer in a tissue sample, or even in vivo.

"The idea is not to replace electronic computers for solving math problems," Winfree says. "Compared to modern electronic circuits, these are painstakingly slow and exceedingly simple. But they could be useful for the fast-growing discipline of synthetic biology, and could help enable a new generation of technologies for embedding 'intelligence' in chemical systems for biomedical applications and bionanotechnology."

The other authors of the paper are David Soloveichik and Dave Zhang, both Caltech grad students in computation and neural systems.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

VentureBeat: $3 million raised for experience-sharing site

Experience Project: The San Francisco company has raised $3 million in a first round of funding to expand its anonymous social experience site.

Experience Project has quietly drawn a big community of people who share life experiences with one another anonymously. Since it started a little more than a year ago, users have created a million distinct experiences on intimate subjects, such as "I live in a sexless marriage."

D.E. Shaw Group led the round. Other investors include Maples Investments and Baseline Ventures. Despite the tough economic environment, founder Armen Berjikly said he got to know the investors over several months, but once he decided to do it, the deal was done in a matter of weeks.

Sprout: The San Francisco- and Honolulu-based start-up behind an easy-to-use tool for creating Flash applications has been having a very good year. It launched in January at DEMO (where it snagged a "DEMO god" award), made its app builder publicly available in March, then released a bunch of new features in April. Now it has raised $5 million in a second round of venture funding.

Through Sprout, you can use a "what you see is what you get" interface reminiscent of Photoshop to build applications that the company calls "sprouts." The apps are basically widgets, but with the interactivity of a Flash Web site. The process is made especially accessible through Sprout's templates, which can be customized with just a few clicks.

The release of Sprout version 2.0 is imminent, says Chief Executive
Carnet Williams, and the new funding will be used expand the
engineering, business development, marketing and support teams. The
round was led by Polaris Venture Partners, with participation from existing investor Global Venture Capital and Lotus founder Mitch Kapor. The start-up had previously raised $3.3 million.

The San Francisco-based travel Web site, which specializes in daytime
tours, has raised $6.7 million in a third round of funding, according
to VentureWire.

Founded in 1995, the company makes money
by purchasing tours at bulk rates than selling them to individuals. It
offers 5,500 tours to more than 400 destinations.

The funding was led by Carlyle Venture Partners and Technology Venture Partners,
and it follows $10 million raised in 2005 and 2006. The new money will
be used to expand into the international and cruise markets.

Gevo: The Pasadena developer of synthetic biofuels just wrapped up a $17 million third round of funding. New investors Burrill & Co. and Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund joined clean-tech regulars Khosla Ventures and Virgin Green Fund. The biofuel start-up has already raised more than $30 million since the beginning of last year.

Like competitors LS9, OPX Biotechnologies and Amyris,
Gevo is trying to change the face of the biofuel industry by using
synthetic biology to engineer enzymes and microorganisms to convert
cellulosic crops and waste into advanced biofuels like isobutanol and
butanol. Butanol, the company claims, is superior to first-generation
biofuels like corn ethanol. It has higher energy content, does not
absorb water and can easily be transported through the existing gas
infrastructure. Perhaps most important, it can be directly pumped into
current vehicles.

The company is working on an alternative jet fuel for Richard Branson's Virgin Airways and is otherwise focusing on optimizing the conversion efficiencies of its proprietary microorganism strains and enzymes.

Biofuel Innovators with Alternatives to Oil

Oil soars to $125 per barrel and economies around the world sputter or fall into recession. Enough is enough. Many biofuels can be blended with gasoline and diesel refined from oil, then pumped into our existing vehicles. Even making our fuels with ten percent biofuel and ninety percent refined oil is enough to drop demand for oil and send the price south.

At the moment, this approach has major drawbacks. Food prices are soaring as more ethanol is made from corn, and biodiesel from soy and palm oil. Rain forests are being slashed and burned to increase production of soy and palm oil. Next generation biofuels, however, promise to minimize these downsides while ending our dependency on oil.

“Once viewed as an environmentally-friendly, silver bullet alternative to fossil fuels, biofuels have recently become "public enemy number one” in regard to rising food prices. But what role does the growing biofuels market really play in the current food crisis?” Asks James Greenwood, President and CEO, Biotechnology Industry Organization, who goes on to answer the question.

“There are a number of factors contributing to rising food costs. Poor harvests over the past year in Australia, Canada, South America and Eastern Europe. Protectionist tariff policies affecting the rice-producing nations of South Asia. A weak dollar is driving up the demand for U.S. exports of grains, a dynamic exacerbated by hedge fund and pension fund managers who are pouring unprecedented levels of investment in grain commodities. Growing incomes and meat-eating preferences of an emerging middle class in countries like India and China are increasing global demand for animal feed and the fuel required for production and transport. But the most significant factors driving up food prices are ever-rising energy and transportation costs.

“In coming years, biotechnology will allow us to create biofuels from non-food crops, crops that yield more per acre, require less fertilizer and are more tolerant of drought and other adverse conditions. These scientific breakthroughs will only enhance the world's ability to feed and fuel itself in a responsible and sustainable way. As biofuels production transitions to these second and third generation biofuels, biotechnology will play an essential role in providing the world with cleaner fuel and more affordable food.”

The U.S. Agriculture Department projects that the combination of a shrinking corn crop and the swelling appetite for corn ethanol will keep the price of the nation's largest crop in record territory into 2009. USDA economists expect U.S. farmers to produce 12.1 billion bushels of corn, down 7.3% from the record 13.1 billion bushels they harvested in 2007, as farmers grow more soy.

In the U.S., ethanol is currently in far greater demand than biodiesel. By law, 36 billion gallons of ethanol must be in use by 2020 in the USA. This ethanol will primarily be blended with gasoline. E10, a blend of ten percent ethanol and ninety percent petroleum refined gasoline will be common. By contrast, in the U.S. most diesel fuel is consumed by heavy vehicles with expensive engines that must run for years. Warranties can be voided and maintenance cost increase unless the diesel fuel meets exacting standards.

Biofuel innovators were discussed and presented at the Platts Advanced Biofuels Conference, which I attended. With improved biofuels we will achieve increased energy security while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This article examines short-term and longer-term biofuel solutions.

In the heart of Silicon Valley, Khosla Ventures is funding innovative solutions for clean transportation and other major global problems. Brilliant innovators such as Vinod Khosla and Samir Kaul are involved in a number of companies creating cleaner fuels with cellulosic ethanol, biomass gasification, and synthetic biology.
Platt conference keynote speaker Vinod Khosla predicts that within five years fuel from food will no longer be competitive with cellulosic ethanol. He also predicts, “In five years, oil will be uncompetitive with biofuel, even at $50 per barrel, though oil will take longer to decline in price.”

Khosla Ventures identifies several sources of cellulosic ethanol. “There are four principal sources of biomass and biofuels we consider (1) energy crops on agricultural land and timberlands using crop rotation schemes that improve traditional row crop agriculture AND recover previously degraded lands (2) winter cover crops grown on current annual crop lands using the land during the winter season (or summer, in the case of winter wheat) when it is generally dormant (while improving land ecology) (3) excess non-merchantable forest material that is currently unused (about 226 million tons according to the US Department of Energy), and (4) organic municipal waste, industrial waste and municipal sewage.” Khosla Papers and Presentations

Sugarcane is the currently the most efficient feedstock for larger scale ethanol production. While corn ethanol delivers little more energy output than the total energy necessary to grow, process, and transport it; sugarcane ethanol delivers eight times the energy output as lifecycle energy input. Also, sugarcane typically produces twice as much fuel per acre as corn.

Brazil produces almost as much sugarcane ethanol as the United States produces corn ethanol, but at a fraction of the energy cost. Sugarcane is also grown in the southern U.S., from Florida to Louisiana to California.

Brazil is free from needing foreign oil. Flex-fuel vehicles there get much better mileage than in the U.S. If you drive into any of Brazil’s 31,000 fueling stations looking for gasoline, you will find that the gasoline has a blend of at least 20% ethanol, as required by law. 29,000 of the fueling stations also offer 100% ethanol. Ethanol in the U.S. is normally delivered on trucks, increasing its cost and lifecycle emissions. Brazil's largest sugar and ethanol group, Cosan SA announced the creation of a company to construct and operate an ethanol pipeline.

Most sugarcane is grown in the southern state of Sao Paulo. Economics do not favor its growth in rain forests, although those who favor blocking its import make that claim. It is cattle, soy, palm oil, logging, and climate change that most threaten the rain forests. Some environmentalists are concerned that a significant percentage of Brazil’s sugarcane is grown in the cerrado, which is one of the world’s most biodiverse areas. The cerrado is rich with birds, butterflies, and thousands of unique plant species. Others argue that without sugarcane ethanol, more oil will come from strip mining Canadian tar sands and from a new “gold rush” for oil in the melting artic.

Sugarcane growers are planning the development of varieties that can produce a larger quantity of biomass per hectare per year. These varieties are being called “energy cane” and may produce 1,200 to 3,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, contrasting with 300 to potentially 500 gallons of ethanol from an acre of corn.
Although sugarcane ethanol is currently the low-cost winner, long-term economics are likely to favor cellulosic sources.

In his keynote speech, Vinod Khosla sited promising sources such as paper waste, wood waste, forest waste, miscanthus, sorghum, hybrid poplar trees, winter cover crops, and perennial crops have deep roots and sequester carbon. Cellulosic ethanol could potentially yield 2,500 gallons per acre.

Large-scale reliance on ethanol fuel will require new conversion technologies and new feedstock. Much attention has been focused on enzymes that convert plant cellulose into ethanol. Because cellulose derived ethanol is made from the non-food portions of plants, it greatly expands the potential fuel supply without cutting our precious food supplies.

Pilot plants are now convert wood waste into ethanol. Over the next few years, much larger plants are likely to come online and start becoming a meaningful part of the energy mix. In Japan, Osaka Project, Verenium utilizes demolition wood waste as a feedstock in producing up to 1.3 million liters of cellulosic ethanol annually. A second phase, planned for completion in 2008, will increase production to 4 million liters per year. Verenium Ethanol Projects

Norampac is the largest manufacturer of containerboard in Canada. Next generation ethanol producer TRI is not only producing fuel, its processes allow the plant to produce 20% more paper. Prior to installing the TRI spent-liquor gasification system the mill had no chemical and energy recovery process. With the TRI system, the plant is a zero effluent operation, and more profitable.

The spent-liquor gasifier is designed to processes 115 Metric tons per day of black liquor solids. The chemicals are recovered and sent to the mill for pulping; the energy is recovered as steam which offsets the production of steam using purchased natural gas. All thermal energy in the plant is now renewable.
Producing cellulosic ethanol over the next few years is unlikely to be cost competitive with oil refining, unless other benefits accrue such as Norampac’s improved plant efficiency, savings in energy, heat, steam, reduction of plant waste, and/or production of multiple products from the plant. In the longer term, 100 million gallon per year cellulosic plants may be profitable without byproduct benefits.

Another Khosla Ventures portfolio company is Range Fuels which sees fuel potential from timber harvesting residues, corn stover (stalks that remain after the corn has been harvested), sawdust, paper pulp, hog manure, and municipal garbage that can be converted into cellulosic ethanol. In the labs, Range Fuels has successfully converted almost 30 types of biomass into ethanol. While competitors are focused on developing new enzymes to convert cellulose to sugar, Range Fuels' technology eliminates enzymes which have been an expensive component of cellulosic ethanol production. Range Fuels' thermo-chemical conversion process uses a two step process to convert the biomass to synthesis gas, and then converts the gas to ethanol.

The U.S. Department of Energy is negotiating with Range Fuels research funding of up to $76 million.
Range Fuels was awarded a construction permit from the state of Georgia to build the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the United States. Ground breaking will take place this summer for a 100-million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant that will use wood waste from Georgia's forests as its feedstock. Phase 1 of the plant is scheduled to complete construction in 2009 with a production capacity of 20 million gallons a year.

Abengoa Bioenergy, also announced the finalization of a $38-million collaboration agreement signed with the DOE for the design and development of the Hugoton, Kansas cellulosic ethanol plant which will process over 11 million gallons of ethanol per year with renewable energy as a byproduct. The biomass plant will be situated next to a conventional grain-to-ethanol plant with combined capacity of 100 million gallons, using scale to make cellulosic ethanol more cost-competitive. Abengoa Bioenergy will invest more than $500 million in the next five years in their production of biomass into ethanol in the U.S., Brazil, and Europe.
Poet, the nation’s largest ethanol maker with 22 plants now turning out 1.2 billion gallons a year, plans to open a 25-million-gallon cellulosic facility in 2009 alongside its expanded grain ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa. Corn cobs from local fields will supply it. Ethanol 2.0

Ethanol is not the only bio-game in town. Many European cars and most U.S. heavy vehicles use diesel not gasoline. New generations of biodiesel, biobutanol, and synthetic fuels are being developed that could be blended with diesel or replace it. Some of these fuels could also be blended with gasoline and jet fuel. BP and DuPont have teamed to produce biobutanol which has a higher energy density than ethanol, can be delivered in existing pipelines, and can be blended with a wider range of fuels.

Amyris will use synthetic biology to develop microorganisms that produce biofuels. LS9 Inc. is in the early stage of using synthetic biology to engineer bacteria that can make hydrocarbons for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

Algae have the potential to be an efficient producer of oil for biodiesel with byproducts of including hydrogen and carbohydrates which could be converted into ethanol. Biodiesel from algae can be done today. The challenge is to make production large scale and cost effective. Ideal forms of algae need to be developed. Oil must be “brewed” with the right solution, light, mixing and stirring. Cost-effective photobioreactors must be developed.

“If we were to replace all of the diesel that we use in the United States" with an algae derivative, says Solix CEO Douglas Henston, "we could do it on an area of land that’s about one-half of 1 percent of the current farm land that we use now."

Mike Janes, Sandia National Labs, is even more optimistic, "Recent studies using a species of algae show that only 0.3 percent of the land area of the U.S. could be utilized to produce enough biodiesel to replace all transportation fuel the country currently utilizes….In addition, barren desert land, which receives high solar radiation, could effectively grow the algae, and the algae could utilize farm waste….With an oil-per-acre production rate 250 times the amount of soybeans, algae offers the highest yield feedstock for biodiesel."

At the Platts Advanced Biofuels Conference, most algae experts, from scientists to CEOs of algael fuel companies, see challenging years ahead before cost-effective commercial scale production of biofuel from algae will be possible. As one expert quipped, “The greatest progress to scale is being done by Photoshop.”
A number of companies are actively exploring the potential for fuel from algae. "Algae have great potential as a sustainable feedstock for production of diesel-type fuels with a very small CO2 footprint," said Graeme Sweeney, Shell Executive Vice President Future Fuels and CO2. Shell is investing in using algae to produce fuel.

These innovators will only make a difference if they receive funding and distribution. Some of the energy giants are helping. Shell is recognized as the largest biofuel distributor among the “oil majors.” Shell has invested heavily in Choren biomass-to-liquids (BTL) in Europe. Shell has invested in Iogen, a maker of cellulosic ethanol catalysts and technology.

Biofuels have the potential to provide solutions for energy security and transportation with a much smaller carbon footprint. Other solutions include reduction in solo driving due to urban density and corporate programs, public transit, more fuel efficient vehicles, and the shift to electric vehicles that require no fossil fuel or biofuel. The new biofuels have the potential to encourage sustainable reforesting and soil enrichment. Biofuel 2.0 provides a path to fuel from wood and waste, not food and haste.
John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. He owns a modest number of shares of Abengoa.

Labels: ABG.MC, biobutanol, biodiesel, biofuels, BP, cellulosic ethanol, clean fleet, cleantech, DD, RDSA, SU, VRNM

Cancer Prevention Drug Being Developed By NCI

While researching new ways to stop the progression of cancer, researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, have discovered a compound that has been shown to prevent cancer in the laboratory. The research appears in the journal Gene Regulation and Systems Biology.

The compound, which still faces several rounds of clinical trials, successfully stopped normal cells from turning into cancer cells and inhibited the ability of tumors to grow and form blood vessels. If successful tests continue, researchers plan to create a daily pill that would be taken as a cancer preventive.

"This compound was effective against the 12 types of cancers that it was tested on," said Doris Benbrook, Ph.D., principal investigator and researcher at the OU Cancer Institute. "Even more promising for health care is that it prevents the transformation of normal cells into cancer cells and is therefore now being developed by the National Cancer Institute as a cancer prevention drug."

The synthetic compound, SHetA2, a Flex-Het drug, directly targets abnormalities in cancer cell components without damaging normal cells. The disruption causes cancer cells to die and keeps tumors from forming.

Flex-Hets or flexible heteroarotinoids are synthetic compounds that can change certain parts of a cell and affect its growth. Among the diseases and conditions being studied for treatment with Flex-Hets are polycystic kidney disease, kidney cancer and ovarian cancer.

Benbrook and her research team have patented the Flex-Het discovery and hope to start clinical trials for the compound within 5 years. If the compound is found to be safe, it would be developed into a pill to be taken daily like a multi-vitamin to prevent cancer.

The compound also could be used to prevent cancer from returning after traditional radiation and chemotherapy treatments, especially in cancers that are caught in later stages such as ovarian cancer where life expectancy can be as short as 6 months after treatment.

"It would be a significant advancement in health care if this pill is effective in preventing cancer, and we could avoid the severe toxicity and suffering that late stage cancer patients have to experience," Benbrook said. test

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Amyris unveils bio-diesel fuel deal, joins forces with Brazilian company

An Emeryville biotech company that gained fame creating a less-costly anti-malaria drug has turned to its next challenge: making clean fuel for the world's cars, trucks, jets and generators.

Today, Amyris said it has signed a deal with a large Brazilian ethanol maker to create renewable diesel using its synthetic biology technology.

The feedstock will be Brazil's plentiful sugarcane, already being used to make ethanol in that country. Santelisa Vale, the nation's second-largest ethanol and sugar producer, will devote 2 million tons of crushing capacity to the project.

A joint venture between Amyris and Crystalsev, majority-owned by Santelisa, will make the fuel. A pilot plant is expected to go into operation in early 2009 and commercial production could commence in 2010, according to Amyris.

The US National Cancer Institute Extends its Contract with GENEART - Order Volume USD 1.9M

GENEART, the global leader in gene
and specialist in the field of Synthetic Biology, today
announces the continuation of the collaboration with the US National
Cancer Institute, which is part of the NIH. The contract was awarded
and extended by SAIC Frederick, Inc. on behalf of the NCI. Within the
scope of the ongoing contract, GENEART has already produced more than
3,500 genes with an order volume of about USD 3.5M. The follow-up
order comprises a volume of USD 1.9M for the synthesis of another 200
highly complex genes. With the genes synthesized by GENEART, the NCI
complements the NIH "Mammalian Gene Collection (MGC) Program". This
comprehensive collection of human and mouse genes represents a
significant resource for basic research as well as for clinical
research and development.

The 3,500 genes so far synthesized by GENEART include a large number
of highly complex sequences, which could not be isolated with
classical methods of biotechnology in the course of the MGC project
between 2002 and 2006. A major fraction of genes in this group showed
a high number of repetitive DNA sequence elements, or were toxic for
the production host E. coli. To efficiently synthesize this large
number of genes in a high-throughput manner, GENEART had to further
advance its existing technologies and establish new production

Professor Dr. Ralf Wagner, CSO of the GENEART AG, adds: "The
advancements in technology have elevated our gene synthesis platform
to a new level, and further strengthen our leadership role in this
market. We therefore expect to profit far more than average from the
increasing demand for complex genes, gene clusters and entire genomes
in pharmaceutical research and in the synthetic biology field."

Christian Ehl, CFO of the GENEART AG, elaborates: "This order has
been the greatest challenge in our company history so far, and we
have mastered it with great success. Our performance demonstrates the
capability of our team, and it proves the power of the GENEART
Technology Platform. We are especially delighted about the extended
collaboration with NCI because it confirms our ability to perform.
Additionally, the NCI/NIH project provides us with a singular
reference in the field. This will certainly help us to acquire more
major projects in the global market."