‘Neon signs’ made with bacteria

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: December 20, 2011   View Article

The bar of the future may have all-organic brews on tap and blinking neon signs in the window made with millions of bacterial cells that periodically glow in unison.

The same “living neon sign” technology could also be used to help brewers and other folks monitor environmental pollutants in water such as arsenic, according to research published online Sunday in the journal Nature.

Plasmas sterilize water cheaply

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: November 18, 2011   View Article

Ionized plasmas like those in neon signs and plasma TVs can sterilize water and make it antimicrobial as well, according to researchers studying the potential to use inexpensive plasma-generating devices to create sterile water in developing countries, disasters areas, and battlefields.

Plasmas are the fourth state of matter after solid, liquid, and gas. They are formed when gases are energized, stripping atoms of their electrons to create a collection of free moving electrons and ions.

Magnetic algae make biofuels sticky

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: October 21, 2011   View Article

Scientists at a government lab in New Mexico have created what appear to be magnetic algae, a breakthrough that could lower the cost of harvesting biofuels from the microscopic plants.

Can urine whiz rockets to Mars

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: October 4, 2011   View Article

The idea of using urine to whiz rockets to the moon and beyond is once again leaking into the realm of possibility.

That’s because scientists have begun to crack the code of how bacteria that live without the aid of oxygen convert ammonium — a key chemical in urine — into hydrazine, which is a type of rocket fuel.

Glowing bacteria encrypt codes

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: September 28, 2011   View Article

Scientists are tweaking bacteria to send encrypted messages that can be shipped via snail mail on sheets of paper-like material called nitrocellulose.

The recipient grows the bacteria with a select cocktail of nutrients and other chemicals. Once grown, each microbe glows one of seven colors when exposed to the right kind of light. Different colored microbes are arranged to represent different letters and symbols. If you know the nutrient and chemical cocktail as well as the keys to the code, you can decipher the message.

‘Unnatural’ bugs to enhance our lives?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: September 22, 2011   View Article

Scientists have successfully added multiple “unnatural” amino acids to a strain of bacteria, a breakthrough on the path to genetically engineered microbes that create useful things for people such as life-saving medicines and biofuels.

“We are adding components to the bug so that the bug can do something that a natural bug usually can’t do,” Lei Wang at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies told me today. “We are trying to make it do new tricks.”

Bug turns newspaper into fuel

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: August 25, 2011   View Article

The Internet is delivering a slow death to newspapers, but many of us still have piles of the stuff around the house that a microbe called TU-103 will convert to butanol, a biofuel that is nearly as energy dense as unleaded gasoline.

“This is a bacterium that we isolated straight out of nature,” David Mullin, a cell and molecular biologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, told me today.

In fact, it was isolated from a truckload of feces he and colleagues collected from grass-eating animals at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, figuring their intestinal tracts likely harbored a naturally occurring microbe that had the qualities they sought.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach