Xenobots, nanobots and a new phase of water
This week we look at the latest shape shifting nano bots that are being used to target cancer cells. We also discover a xenobot that has worked out how to reproduce itself. We examine a new phase of water. We can no longer consider water to be a liquid, gas or solid. Finally we catch up with the Parker Solar Probe which is currently flying around the sun.
Shape shifting nanobots that can locate cancer cells
A group of researchers have created a new way of moving chemotherapy drugs to the specific cells affected by cancer by using microbes. This allows the direct injection of chemo drugs into the cancerous cells.
The nanobots are directed to the cancerous cells via magnets. Once they have entered the acidic environment immediately surrounding a tumor the drug payload is injected. The bots are composed of a 3D printed hydrogel in the shape of various animals (butterfly, crab, fish). The bot has a small gap on the inside where the required drugs can be inserted.
The team modified the printing density in discrete areas (such as the crab’s claws or the fish’s mouth) which allowed them to open or close when the bot reached an environment with acidity over a certain threshold level. Once the bots printed they were then dipped in a solution containing oxide nanoparticles. This made the bots magnetic and able to be guided through the body.
The team is now concentrating on reducing the size of the nanobots and making them easier to track through the body. Once the technology has matured and cleared for use in the treatment of humans it may revolutionize cancer treatment removing many of the current side effects.
Xenobots that can reproduce
We spoke about xenobots that were created from frog cells in 2020. A xenobot is a synthetic life form that has been designed for a specific function. The team that originally created the xenobots, scraped cells from frog embryos and repurposed them. The new millimeter wide creature could move toward a target, pick up a payload and also heal themselves after being cut.
The team has now discovered that a computer designed organisms that can swim in their dish, find single cells, gather hundreds of them and assemble baby xenobots, that a few days later become new xenobots that move and look just like themselves.
The xenobots then go out and find new cells and build copies of themselves, again and again.
The cells scraped from the frog embryos would usually develop into skin. By putting the cells into a new context the cells change into something far different from skin. The cells found way to replicate. The cells had an unexpected plasticity. The cells are frog cells replicating in a way that is very different to how frogs normally replicate. No known animal or plant replicates in this way.
The parent xenobot is composed of roughly 3,000 cells and normally forms into a sphere and can not replicate. The researchers used an AI to develop a different design that might be able to replicate. The AI came up with a design that looks like a Pac-man. Once they had built this pac-man shaped xenobot it was able to replicate many times over. The right design extended the number of generations.
The team sees promise in the research for use in regenerative medicine. If we are able to tell collections of cells to do what we want them to do we may find solutions to traumatic injury, birth defects, cancer and aging. Those solutions are a long long way away however this self reproducing xenobot might be one of the first steps.
A new Phase of Water
A research team at the University of Chicago have discovered a new phase of water known as “superionic ice”. This type of ice is normally created at the core of gas planets such as Neptune and Uranus. This phase of water adds to liquid, solid and gaseous phases that have been long understood.
The superionic ice was created by pressing water between two diamonds to reproduce the intense pressure that exists at the core of the giant gas planets. They then used a high brightness x-ray beam to shoot a laser through the diamonds to heat the water.
The ice is like a cube with a lattice of oxygen atoms at the corners, all connected by hydrogen atoms. When the lattice expands the hydrogen atoms are able to migrate around while the oxygen atoms remain steady in their position. This gives an oxygen lattice sitting in a an ocean of floating hydrogen atoms. The ice becomes less dense and black in color due to its’ different interaction with light.
Superionic Ice also exists within the Earth and it plays a role in maintaining our planet’s magnetic fields. The magnetic field protects us from the dangerous radiation and cosmic rays that come from outer space. Planets such as Mars and Mercury do not have magnetic fields so are exposed to the harsh weather of outer space. Superionic ice may play an important role in the search for other planets that can support life.
Parker Solar Probe
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has just survived its’ 10th close encounter with the sun. On November 21 it came within 8.5million kilometers of the Sun’s surface whilst traveling at a speed of 586,864kph. The probe now holds the records for the fastest ever artificial object and the closest that any human created object has flown to the sun.
The probe will complete 24 increasingly closer orbits of the sun over the next 6 weeks. NASA is using the gravitation pull of Venus to speed up and direct the spacecraft. They hope to fly the probe within 6.9million kilometers of the surface of the sun whilst reaching 690,000 kph.
If all goes well the probe will start sending data on December 24 and will continue until January 9, 2022. The probe has heat and radiation shields however on each trip it accumulates electrical charges from solar radiation. The probe’s highly elliptical orbit allows it to discharge before heading back towards the sun again.
We are hoping to learn about the nature of solar winds and the dust environment surrounding the sun during this mission.
Paying it Forward
If you have a start-up or know of a start-up that has a product ready for market please let me know. I would be happy to have a look and feature the startup in this newsletter. Also if any startups need introductions please get in touch and I will help where I can.
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Till next week.