Thursday, December 11, 2008

What Bacteria and your Crazy Aunt Have in Common

They both love to knit, but you can actually see the hideous and useless (uselessly hideous? hideously useless?) sweaters that your aunt makes, while bacteria can weave things that are as useful as they are invisible to the naked eye.

Did you know that bacteria can secrete fibers, like butterflies and spiders? Small fibers, sure, but I don't think I need to remind you of what they say about thousand-mile journeys and single steps. So five years ago in Sweden, some scientists tried to control these bacteria to get them to produce useful shapes. And they did. Right now the bacteria produce artificial blood vessels (read: simple tubes, and tubes that are not approved for use in medical procedures involving humans, but again, miles and steps).

These days, the researchers involved have set up shop at Virginia Tech, and they've got big plans. They've now figured out how to use electrical fields to control the bacteria so that they can weave custom architectures in three dimensions. It's promising because the bacteria could build tiny scaffolding for things like bone grafts or cartilage repair. Of course, it's also going to be proprietary technology, only available from the companies involved for whatever sky-high rates they decide to charge, but what else is new in health care?

Besides, it won't be too long before the enslaved bacteria figure out how to knit the weapons and armor they need to throw off the shackles of their human oppressors...

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4 comments:

Wayne John said...

Can you say 5th Element?

I liked that post. I'm a freak on bacteria and virii, think about it when I drink milk...ick. The fact that they can be used to build and construct designs and patterns is a huge step for cures. I'll let someone else go first though...

WayneJohn said...

Oh, here's kitty for you. Only comes through when I use my blogger account...

Stanley! said...

Yeah, it's kind of weird to think about how they're living organisims. They're just so tiny.

It will be interesting to see if the nanoscale work of the future is done organically with bacteria or mechanically with nanobots. Maybe they'll use both, depending on the end application?

Dave said...

Interesting post. I'll never eat feta cheese again.

The header image is adapted from a photo taken by Bill McChesney and used under a creative commons license.
 
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