Call to offer HPV vaccine to boys

There is no national HPV vaccination programme for boys

Scientific experts are meeting on Monday to discuss whether boys as well as girls should be offered the HPV jab.

It comes amid pressure to extend vaccination to all adolescent boys in the UK, in line with other countries.

The committee is expected to focus initially on whether to offer the vaccine to men who have sex with men, who may be at higher risk.

But a coalition of health experts and campaigners say vaccinating all boys aged 12 to 13 would save lives.

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Since introducing the HPV vaccination for girls in 2008, we have seen incredible uptake and sharp declines in HPV infection rates but we must ensure that boys… can also reap these benefits”

Shirley CramerRoyal Society for Public Health

HPV (human papillomavirus) infections cause 5% of all cancers worldwide, and rates are rising. The virus causes most cases of cervical cancer, and some cancers in other parts of the body, including the throat, anus and penis.

The UK’s HPV vaccination programme reaches over 80% of girls, but coverage rates are lower in some communities.

Peter Baker, Campaign Director of, said it was blatantly unfair that women were protected from cancers and other diseases caused by HPV infection while men were not.

“Men will continue to die from HPV-related diseases unless the government acts to extend the national vaccination programme to all adolescent boys,” he said.

“This would only cost about £20-£22m a year and, in the long run, save the money spent by the NHS on treatment as well as reducing human suffering.

“If parents knew that their sons as well as their daughters could be protected from the virus that causes 5% of all cancers, then I’m sure most would also agree.”

Debate over costs

The Royal Society for Public Health is among a number of health bodies calling for all boys aged 12 to 13 to be offered the vaccine.

It is thought that vaccinating girls will reduce the number of men getting HPV because infection occurs through sexual contact.

But Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said vaccinating all boys would help to protect girls from cancer, as well as protecting men who have sex with men.

“Since introducing the HPV vaccination for girls in 2008, we have seen incredible uptake and sharp declines in HPV infection rates but we must ensure that boys, who don’t profit from herd immunity can also reap these benefits,” she said.

“Herd immunity only works in later life for males who are sexually active with females who have been vaccinated – it won’t work for men who are sexually active in countries where the vaccine isn’t available, those who have sex with men, or those who have sex with the estimated 15% of girls who haven’t had the vaccine.”

Earlier this month, a group of MPs called for all adolescent boys to be offered the vaccine. They said more than 2,000 cases of cancer in men each year in the UK were caused by HPV.

“The long-term savings in treatment and care of men with HPV-related diseases would considerably outweigh the extra cost (about £20 million a year) of extending the programme,” they wrote in a letter to the Times.

It was signed by the heads of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Cancer, Dentistry, Sexual and Reproductive Health, Men’s Health and HIV and Aids.

Global programmes

Vaccination programmes offering protection for girls against HPV have been introduced in many countries.

Some countries – including Australia, the US, Austria and part of Canada – have also extended the jab to boys.

Monday’s meeting involves HPV experts from the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

Their task is to investigate whether to extend the vaccine to boys, or men who have sex with men, or both.

Any decision made will be passed to the main committee for consideration in October.

Public Health England said the UK HPV programme had achieved very high coverage for girls.

“Extending vaccinating to boys in the UK, therefore, is likely to provide relatively few additional benefits, and under current assessment conditions and costs may not be the best use of health care resources,” said Dr Kate Soldan, head of HPV surveillance at the health body.

“Some males, particularly men who have sex with men, are likely to gain far less protection from HPV through herd immunity from the vaccination of females.”

Further studies were under way to inform the potential design and implementation of a vaccination policy targeted at men who have sex with men, she added.



  • There are more than 100 different types of human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • A number of HPV types are passed on from one person to another through sexual contact
  • Some types of HPV can increase the risk of developing cervical cancer
  • Around 3,100 women are diagnosed with this type of cancer every year in the UK.

Molten metal batteries for the grid

Engineers in the US have invented a battery, made of three molten metals, which could help smooth the power supply from renewable energy sources.

Previous battery designs have largely been too expensive to help store energy on the scale of a national power grid.

The new liquid battery has a negative electrode made of lead, which is cheap and melts easily, mixed with a dash of antimony to boost performance.

This lowers its cost, as well as the heat required to liquefy the metals.

Published in the journal Nature, this latest attempt at a scalable solution for storing electricity is set for commercial demonstrations within a year and has been greeted with enthusiasm by engineers in the UK.

“Sometimes, when the wind is blowing strongly, we have spare capacity available – if only we could store it, so that we could use it when the wind isn’t blowing,” explained Prof Ian Fells, a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and former chair of the New and Renewable Energy Centre.

“Using these molten metal electrodes is, it seems to me, a very good idea,” he told BBC News.

Hot source

The overall concept for the battery is relatively simple: inside a can there are three layers of very hot liquid, which separate of their own accord – “like oil and vinegar”, according to the project’s senior researcher Prof Donald Sadoway, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

All of these strategies are scientifically possible – it comes down to the cost”

Prof Ian FellsRoyal Academy of Engineering

On the bottom is the very dense mixture of lead and antimony; next comes a “molten salt electrolyte” – effectively table salt, which is liquid at these temperatures; and finally a layer of lithium floats on top.

When the cell is discharged, all the lithium is actually transferred to the bottom layer. But when electricity is directed into the cell, the lithium is pulled out of the alloy layer and returns to the top.

“It’s this back and forth, of the top layer disappearing into the bottom layer to generate electricity, and then reconstituting the top layer by consuming electricity, that gives you the rechargeability of the battery,” Prof Sadoway told the BBC.

The whole set-up has to be kept at some 450C, which is no small feat, but a vast improvement on the 700C required by an earlier design, whose electrodes were magnesium and pure antimony.

wind farm
Hawaii, where both wind and solar power are options, is an attractive market for grid-level batteries

When Prof Sadoway’s team tested out the cheaper lead-antimony mixture, they expected to be faced with a trade-off.

“We wanted to decrease the operating temperature,” he explained, to improve efficiency. “We were thinking, we’ll take a bit of a compromise on the voltage, if it’s offset by an even better compromise on the melting point.”


Battery types for grid-scale storage

  • Redox flow: Rechargeable type of battery that uses two tanks of electrolytes to store energy. The electrolytes are then pumped through a reactor to generate energy
  • Lithium-ion: A type of rechargeable battery in which charged lithium atoms move from the positive electrode to the negative electrode when charging, and back when discharging
  • Sodium-ion: These work in a similar way to lithium-ion batteries, but promise lower costs because sodium is so much more abundant than lithium
  • Liquid metal: Consists of a dense positive liquid metal electrode at the bottom of the battery and a lighter liquid metal electrode floating on top. A molten salt electrolyte lies in-between

In fact, they saw almost no decrease in voltage, even with 82% lead in the mix. They knew they were onto a winner.

“That was the surprise,” Prof Sadoway said.

His team later figured out that the reason behind their pleasant surprise was that the lithium, when it travels to the bottom layer as the battery gets used, seeks out antimony atoms to bond with. So the dilution with lead doesn’t interfere with the electricity storage – it just makes the whole set-up much cooler and cheaper.

Field trials

Prof Sadoway said that key finding was “really, really exciting” because the commercial implications were obvious. Price is the main sticking point, for all the various battery systems that have been proposed (see box).

Prof Fells made the same point: “All of these strategies are scientifically possible – it comes down to the cost. If people can make the case that this one is economic, then it’ll do well.”

Dr Frank Marken, a physical chemist at the University of Bath, was also impressed by the design. “It’s not revolutionary in the idea – but it may be revolutionary in terms of the application,” he said.

The durability of the system was particularly of note, Dr Marken suggested.

Sadoway and David Bradwell
Prof Sadoway and team member David Bradwell with one of their experimental batteries

“One tricky aspect of this is how much do you lose in each cycle? And what they’ve done here is very clever. It needs a higher temperature, but they don’t lose much energy.”

In fact, the team at MIT put their prototype through 450 full charge cycles – meaning the lithium layer entirely disappeared and then was reinstated, every time – and the battery lost just 15% of its capacity.

Several years ago, Prof Sadoway founded a company called Ambri to commercialise his team’s research. That company now hopes to be deploying demonstration units “within a year”, he said.

The first test sites will be at Cape Cod in Massachussetts and in Hawaii, which is a particularly promising market.

“They’ve got sun, they’ve got wind, but both of those are intermittent,” Prof Sadoway said. “We’d like to get some field data from a place like that.”

U.S. government openly admits vaccines are seriously harming children.

Towards the end of the Bush Administration, and in response to probing questions from an investigative journalist who, at the time, was working for CBS News, the U.S. government admitted that some vaccines were seriously harming children.

As noted in an email, the reporter, Sharyl Attkisson — whose recent reporting about what really happened in Benghazi won’t make the current administration happy or comfortable — got a government official to essentially admit that vaccines had hurt enough children over a 10-year period for compensation to be warranted.

In a May 5, 2008, email to Tina Cheatham, who was, at the time, an employee with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration, Attkisson asked, “How many encephalopathy-related cases has compensation been paid on?” and she provided some background for her question.

The U.S. government compensates Americans for vaccine-related damages through a fund known as the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Implemented in 1988, according to the program’s website, the program grew out of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986.

A compensatory fund, but no admission of harm

“The VICP was established to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines, stabilize vaccine costs, and establish and maintain an accessible and efficient forum for individuals found to be injured by certain vaccines,” the site says, describing the program. “The VICP is a no-fault alternative to the traditional tort system for resolving vaccine injury claims that provides compensation to people found to be injured by certain vaccines.”

At the time of the 2008 email, more than 2,100 families and individuals had been compensated.

Attkisson provided similar background in her email to Cheatham, asking a series of three questions. The first: “How many vaccine court cases has the government compensated, been ordered to compensate, and/or agreed to compensate in which a vaccine-injured child ended up with and/or claimed autism and/or autistic symptoms? (We know of a number of cases, but have been told it is not a complete list.)”

Cheatham replied:

The government has never compensated, nor has it ever been ordered to compensate, any case based on a determination that autism was actually caused by vaccines. We have compensated cases in which children exhibited an encephalopathy, or general brain disease. Encephalopathy may be accompanied by a medical progression of an array of symptoms including autistic behavior, autism, or seizures.

Some children who have been compensated for vaccine injuries may have shown signs of autism before the decision to compensate, or may ultimately end up with autism or autistic symptoms, but we do not track cases on this basis. [Emphasis added]

Secondly, Attkisson asked, “Is the government currently conducting research on the pending vaccine court autism plaintiffs to see if there are commonalities, patterns of pre-existing conditions or other patterns of medical and/or genetic factors that could play a role, such as in the Polling [sp] case?”

Attkisson was referencing the case of 9-year-old Hannah Poling, who, according to the Vaccination Risk Awareness Network, was injected with nine vaccines in one day, then began “exhibiting the repetitive behaviors and social withdrawal that typifies autism.”

“Something happened after the vaccines,” said her mother, Terry Poling, a registered nurse and an attorney. “She just deteriorated and never came back.”

Cheatham said that the government had no response to the Poling case but did say, in part, “Over time, we may learn more about patterns of pre-existing conditions and the role vaccines play, if any, in their progression.”

Finally, Attkission stated, “Several high ranking government health officials including Dr. Zerhouni and Dr. Gerberding have been claiming they did not know of the Polling [sp] case until the media began reporting on it, and still have not seen the medical files. This implies that the nation’s top health officials are not apprised of the findings and cases in vaccine court.

“Is this correct? And has it always been the case?”

Cheatham replied, in part:

CDC and NIH, along with other agencies in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the scientists and health professionals involved in the nation’s immunization programs, do regularly share information and collaborate together on the wide variety of issues surrounding vaccines and vaccination. In their respective roles, Dr. Zerhouni and Dr. Gerberding comment frequently on the safety and efficacy of vaccination.

Government provides compensation but doesn’t track the causes?

“[T]here’s not much difference in the medical history and outcomes for children that were compensated for ‘encephalopathy’ versus ‘seizures.’ Those compensated for encephalopathy often had seizures as part of their clinical picture, and vice versa,” Cheatham said.

“Certain injuries are presumed to have been caused or aggravated by the vaccine, and are on a table of injuries…. Injury cases not included on the current table also can be compensated if there is sufficient proof that they were caused by the vaccine,” she continued.

That is, except for autism.

In the end, what all this means is that the government sets up a compensatory mechanism for families and individuals harmed by vaccines, especially for encephalopathy and seizures (often caused by brain damage), but it doesn’t track cases on that basis, so there is no “proof” of the vaccine-autism condition.

Sleight of hand, anyone?

You can see the email here.

Sources: [PDF]

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Smallest possible diamonds form ultra-thin nanothreads

For the first time, scientists have discovered how to produce ultra-thin ‘diamond nanothreads’ that promise extraordinary properties, including strength and stiffness greater than that of today’s strongest nanotubes and polymers. The threads have a structure that has never been seen before. A paper describing this discovery by a research team led by John V. Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State University, will be published in the 21 Sept. 2014 issue of the journal Nature Materials. The core of the nanothreads that Badding’s team made is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms arranged just like the fundamental unit of a diamond’s structure — zig-zag ‘cyclohexane’ rings of six carbon atoms bound together, in which each carbon is surrounded by others in the strong triangular-pyramid shape of a tetrahedron. Credit: Penn State University

For the first time, scientists have discovered how to produce ultra-thin “diamond nanothreads” that promise extraordinary properties, including strength and stiffness greater than that of today’s strongest nanotubes and polymers. A paper describing this discovery by a research team led by John V. Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State University, will be published in the 21 September 2014 issue of the journal Nature Materials.

“From a fundamental-science point of view, our discovery is intriguing because the threads we formed have a structure that has never been seen before,” Badding said. The core of the nanothreads that Badding’s team made is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms arranged just like the fundamental unit of a diamond’s structure—zig-zag “cyclohexane” rings of six carbon atoms bound together, in which each carbon is surrounded by others in the strong triangular-pyramid shape of a tetrahedron. “It is as if an incredible jeweler has strung together the smallest possible diamonds into a long miniature necklace,” Badding said. “Because this thread is diamond at heart, we expect that it will prove to be extraordinarily stiff, extraordinarily strong, and extraordinarily useful.”

The team’s discovery comes after nearly a century of failed attempts by other labs to compress separate carbon-containing molecules like liquid benzene into an ordered, diamondlike nanomaterial. “We used the large high-pressure Paris-Edinburgh device at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to compress a 6-millimeter-wide amount of benzene—a gigantic amount compared with previous experiments,” said Malcolm Guthrie of the Carnegie Institution for Science, a coauthor of the research paper. “We discovered that slowly releasing the pressure after sufficient compression at normal room temperature gave the carbon atoms the time they needed to react with each other and to link up in a highly ordered chain of single-file carbon tetrahedrons, forming these diamond-core nanothreads.”

Badding’s team is the first to coax molecules containing carbon atoms to form the strong tetrahedron shape, then link each tetrahedron end to end to form a long, thin nanothread. He describes the thread’s width as phenomenally small, only a few atoms across, hundreds of thousands of times smaller than an optical fiber, enormously thinner that an average human hair. “Theory by our co-author Vin Crespi suggests that this is potentially the strongest, stiffest material possible, while also being light in weight,” he said.

The molecule they compressed is benzene—a flat ring containing six and six hydrogen atoms. The resulting diamond-core nanothread is surrounded by a halo of . During the compression process, the scientists report, the flat benzene molecules stack together, bend, and break apart. Then, as the researchers slowly release the pressure, the atoms reconnect in an entirely different yet very orderly way. The result is a structure that has carbon in the tetrahedral configuration of diamond with hydrogens hanging out to the side and each tetrahedron bonded with another to form a long, thin, nanothread.

Credit: Penn State University

“It really is surprising that this kind of organization happens,” Badding said. “That the atoms of the benzene molecules link themselves together at room temperature to make a thread is shocking to chemists and physicists. Considering earlier experiments, we think that, when the benzene molecule breaks under very high pressure, its atoms want to grab onto something else but they can’t move around because the pressure removes all the space between them. This benzene then becomes highly reactive so that, when we release the pressure very slowly, an orderly polymerization reaction happens that forms the diamond-core nanothread.”

The scientists confirmed the structure of their diamond nanothreads with a number of techniques at Penn State, Oak Ridge, Arizona State University, and the Carnegie Institution for Science, including X-ray diffraction, neutron diffraction, Raman spectroscopy, first-principle calculations, transmission electron microscopy, and solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Parts of these first diamond nanothreads appear to be somewhat less than perfect, so improving their structure is a continuing goal of Badding’s research program. He also wants to discover how to make more of them. “The high pressures that we used to make the first diamond nanothread material limit our production capacity to only a couple of cubic millimeters at a time, so we are not yet making enough of it to be useful on an industrial scale,” Badding said. “One of our science goals is to remove that limitation by figuring out the chemistry necessary to make these diamond nanothreads under more practical conditions.”

The nanothread also may be the first member of a new class of diamond-like nanomaterials based on a strong tetrahedral core. “Our discovery that we can use the natural alignment of the benzene molecules to guide the formation of this new diamond nanothread material is really interesting because it opens the possibility of making many other kinds of molecules based on carbon and hydrogen,” Badding said. “You can attach all kinds of other atoms around a core of carbon and hydrogen. The dream is to be able to add other atoms that would be incorporated into the resulting nanothread. By pressurizing whatever liquid we design, we may be able to make an enormous number of different materials.”

Potential applications that most interest Badding are those that would be vastly improved by having exceedingly strong, stiff, and light materials—especially those that could help to protect the atmosphere, including lighter, more fuel-efficient, and therefore less-polluting vehicles. “One of our wildest dreams for the nanomaterials we are developing is that they could be used to make the super-strong, lightweight cables that would make possible the construction of a “space elevator”, which so far has existed only as a science-fiction idea,” Badding said.

Ebola already went airborne… back in 1989

There is a growing fear that Ebola will soon mutate and start spreading through the air, potentially infecting and killing millions of people. But there’s solid evidence that the viral disease already went airborne as far back as 1989, when dozens of monkeys contracted Ebola through a ventilation system at a Virginia hospital.

The monkeys were shipped in from the Philippines and delivered to the Hazelton Research Products’ Primate Quarantine Unit in Reston, Virginia, for quarantine. Prior to being released, all monkeys imported into the U.S. must first be proven to be free of disease, a process that usually takes about 30 days while under quarantine.

Rather quickly, the imported monkeys, known as crab-eating macaques, began to fall ill and die. In just one month, nearly one-third of them died, sparking an investigation into the cause. Veterinarians at the facility began to dissect the dead monkeys, observing that many of them had grossly enlarged spleens that had turned hard, while others had blood in their intestines.

Dan Dalgard, one of the vets at the time, came to the conclusion that the monkeys had died of simian hemorrhagic fever virus, or SHFV. Hazelton sent samples of this infected monkey tissue to federal authorities, who also confirmed SHFV. In the meantime, workers at Hazelton began to euthanize the remaining monkeys, which had all been exposed to the virus.

While this was occurring, another researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID), where the tissue samples were sent, conducted separate tests which confirmed the presence of Ebola, in addition to SHFV. Using a more advanced testing protocol, it was confirmed without a doubt that the infected monkeys had Ebola-Zaire, the most dangerous of the five known Ebola strains.

Meanwhile, back at Hazelton, staff were busy trying to rid the facility of the infected monkeys. But it was already too late — monkeys in other cages far from the ones where the crab-eating macaques from the Philippines were located began to show signs of the disease. Many of them ended up dying, with the ventilation system being blamed as the source of spread.

“Due to the spread of infection to animals in all parts of the quarantine facility, it is likely that Ebola Reston may have been spread by airborne transmission,” wrote Lisa A. Beltz in her book Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Each new Ebola infection opens door to mutations

For three months, faculty at the quarantine facility labored to rid the place of Ebola. It was only after the entire building was chipped, scrubbed, bleached and ultimately “cooked” in high heat that Ebola was finally eradicated. At this point, though, the truth was undeniably apparent — Ebola can spread through the air.

While the novel Ebola strain identified in the macaques, now known as Ebola-Reston, only transmits through monkeys and not humans, the strain itself appears to have been a mutation that had never before been observed. This is due to the fact that it was shown to spread through the air, which was not previously believed to be possible with Ebola.

What this suggests is that Ebola can mutate each time it spreads, a very real possibility during the current outbreak sweeping west Africa. Experts say that Ebola does not replicate the same way during each subsequent infection, meaning it can take on a life of its own over a very short period of time.

“If certain mutations occurred, it would mean that just breathing would put one at risk of contracting Ebola,” wrote Michael T. Osterhold in a recent piece for The New York Times. “Infections could spread quickly to every part of the globe, as the H1N1 influenza virus did in 2009, after its birth in Mexico.”

Learn all these details and more at the FREE online Pandemic Preparedness course at


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Computer Vision Syndrome .

If you find yourself looking in the mirror at the end of a long day only to see the bloodshot eyes of a crackhead staring back at you, it may be because you are addicted to something —your digital devices.

Computer vision syndrome (CVS) can affect up to 90 percent of people who spend two or more continuous hours a day with their eyes glued to a screen, whether it’s that of a computer, an e-reader, or a smartphone. The symptoms, which can include blurry vision, headaches, dry eyes, or even long-term nearsightedness, may accrue over a period of days or months—but don’t wait until you sense something is wrong. Start preventing the problem today.

“Our eyes have evolved for three-dimensional viewing,” says New York City-based optometrist Andrea Thau, O.D., of the American Optometric Association, “so we wind up over focusing as we strain to find a 3-D image on a close-up 2-D screen.”

What’s more, the eye’s natural focal point lies about 20 feet in front of the face. Most people, however, sit less than two feet from their computer screen, forcing a ring of eye muscles to continuously contract in order to redirect focus. If you stare at any sort of digital monitor for hours, those eye muscles can become so overwrought that they can’t relax, even after you look away.

The resulting blurred vision is the main symptom of computer vision syndrome and it often clears up in as little as a few seconds, but if you hit this hazy point a lot — as in several times a day, most days of the week — then the short-term nearsightedness might become permanent.

The other big symptom with computer vision syndrome is dry eyes. Persistent dryness can lead to infection of the eyes.

A recent study found that most people blink an average of 16 times per minute, regularly whisking away debris and keeping their eyeballs well-oiled for optimal function. However, when settled in front of digital screens, those same people blinked fewer than six times per minute, leaving the door open for seriously dry, irritated eyes.

Preventive Measures

Chucking your computer, iPad, or smartphone and taking up an Amish-like 19th-century lifestyle isn’t necessary; most computer vision syndrome symptoms can be controlled.

  1. The first step: Start living by a simple 20-20-20 rule. Look away from your screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds and focus on a fixed point 20 feet away.
  2. Next, make sure your workstation — at the office or at home — is set up so that your eyes are level with the very top of your monitor. Your eyes focus best when they’re looking downward and partially closed lids can combat dry eyes by preventing tears from evaporating.
  3. Cutting down on any annoying glare helps too. Close the blinds, adjust your device’s contrast or brightness levels, or buy an inexpensive antiglare cover.
  4. Consider getting computer glasses. Unlike corrective lenses for near- or farsightedness, these reduce eyestrain by helping your midrange vision. Your doctor can even prescribe an all-in-one pair of lenses that will correct CVS and any other sight issue.
  5. Above all, when in doubt, blink it out. Whenever you sit in front of a screen for hours at a time (and for most people that’s practically every day), try to remember to combat overly dry eyes by blinking very slowly — as if you’re fading off to sleep — every so often. Small breaks and a healthy perspective are the keys to beating computer vision syndrome.

Engineered proteins stick like glue.

Shellfish such as mussels and barnacles secrete very sticky proteins that help them cling to rocks or ship hulls, even underwater. Inspired by these natural adhesives, a team of MIT engineers has designed new materials that could be used to repair ships or help heal wounds and surgical incisions.

To create their new waterproof adhesives, the MIT researchers engineered bacteria to produce a hybrid material that incorporates naturally sticky mussel proteins as well as a bacterial protein found in biofilms—slimy layers formed by bacteria growing on a surface. When combined, these proteins form even stronger underwater adhesives than those secreted by mussels.

This project, described in the Sept. 21 issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology, represents a new type of approach that can be exploited to synthesize biological materials with multiple components, using bacteria as tiny factories.

“The ultimate goal for us is to set up a platform where we can start building materials that combine multiple different functional domains together and to see if that gives us better materials performance,” says Timothy Lu, an associate professor of biological engineering and electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) and the senior author of the paper.

The paper’s lead author is Chao Zhong, a former MIT postdoc who is now at ShanghaiTech University. Other authors are graduate student Thomas Gurry, graduate student Allen Cheng, senior Jordan Downey, postdoc Zhengtao Deng, and Collin Stultz, a professor in EECS.

Complex adhesives

The sticky substance that helps mussels attach to underwater surfaces is made of several proteins known as mussel foot proteins. “A lot of underwater organisms need to be able to stick to things, so they make all sorts of different types of adhesives that you might be able to borrow from,” Lu says.

Scientists have previously engineered E. coli bacteria to produce individual mussel foot proteins, but these materials do not capture the complexity of the natural adhesives, Lu says. In the new study, the MIT team wanted to engineer bacteria to produce two different foot proteins, combined with bacterial proteins called curli fibers—fibrous proteins that can clump together and assemble themselves into much larger and more complex meshes.

Lu’s team engineered bacteria so they would produce proteins consisting of curli fibers bonded to either mussel foot protein 3 or mussel foot protein 5. After purifying these proteins from the bacteria, the researchers let them incubate and form dense, fibrous meshes. The resulting material has a regular yet flexible structure that binds strongly to both dry and wet surfaces.

The researchers tested the adhesives using atomic force microscopy, a technique that probes the surface of a sample with a tiny tip. They found that the adhesives bound strongly to tips made of three different materials—silica, gold, and polystyrene. Adhesives assembled from equal amounts of mussel foot protein 3 and mussel foot protein 5 formed stronger adhesives than those with a different ratio, or only one of the two proteins on their own.

These adhesives were also stronger than naturally occurring mussel adhesives, and they are the strongest biologically inspired, -based underwater adhesives reported to date, the researchers say.

More adhesive strength

Using this technique, the researchers can produce only small amounts of the adhesive, so they are now trying to improve the process and generate larger quantities. They also plan to experiment with adding some of the other mussel foot proteins. “We’re trying to figure out if by adding other mussel foot proteins, we can increase the adhesive strength even more and improve the material’s robustness,” Lu says.

The team also plans to try to create “living glues” consisting of films of that could sense damage to a surface and then repair it by secreting an .

The Dangers of Painkillers .

Did you know that painkillers known as NSAIDs are some of the most dangerous drugs on the market? This infographic explains just how dangerous they are and reveals lots of startling statistics…



Nasty Pesticide Broken Down by Probiotic Used In Culturing Food .

A study published in Letters in Applied Microbiology shows that a commonly used food probiotic known as Lactobacillus plantarum is capable of degrading dangerous pesticide residues in wheat (pirimiphos-methyl), confirming the traditional fermentation-based food-processing technique known as culturing can significantly improve the safety of conventional food.

The researchers found that Lactobacillus plantarum enhanced the degradation of the pesticide from 15-34%, a close to 81% enhancement. The significance and impact of the study was described as follows:


“Pesticide residues are an unavoidable part of the environment due to their extensive applications in agriculture. As wheat is a major cultivated cereal, the presence of pesticide residues in wheat is a real concern to human health. Reduction in pesticide residues during fermentation has been studied, but there is a lack of data regarding pesticide residues dissipation during cereal fermentation. Present work investigates the dissipation of pirimiphos-methyl during wheat fermentation by L. plantarum. Results are confirmation that food-processing techniques can significantly reduce the pesticide residues in food, offering a suitable means to tackle the current scenario of unsafe food.”

Conventional wheat and other commonly consumed grains receive post-harvest pesticide treatment to prevent their infestation during storage.[1] Very little degradation occurs during storage, and milling does not significantly reduce the bulk of the chemicals, but in fact results in the distribution of their residues in various processed products.  This has raised particular concern in regard to the contamination of baby food products containing cereal ingredients,[2] especially since wheat bound pesticides such as pirimiphos-methyl have been found to have high bioavailability in animals.[3] [4]

The natural health movement has long advocated for reducing the well-known antigenicity and allergenicity of cereal grains through sprouting, fermentation and culturing (e.g. the sourdough process in bread making), but this new finding sheds light on another way in which these traditional methods may reduce the bodily burden of not just natural (e.g. glutenlectins) but man made toxins, as well.

Previous groundbreaking research has found that lactic acid producing (Lactobacilli) bacterial strains from the fermented cabbage-based Korean food known as kimchi are capable of degrading four different organophosphorous insecticides by using them as a source of carbon and phosphorous.[5] [6]  In fact, probiotics have been found to potentially offset a wide range of modern-day toxic exposures, including Bisphenol A, Chemotherapy, Gluten, Aspirin and Sodium Nitrate.  [See: 8 Ways Microbes Can Save Us From Ourselves]

Ultimately, the best way to avoid pesticide exposure is to consume organically produced food, or better yet, biodynamically farmed food where no petrochemical inputs are used from the bottom up (soil to harvest). But, failing this increasingly difficult task to obtain entirely chemical-free food, it behooves us to recognize the value of food culturing and fermented food for our health. For additional information read The Amazing Healing Properties of Fermented Food.

Updated September 2014

Article References





[5] C Phillip Shelor, Andrea B Kirk, Purnendu K Dasgupta, Martina Kroll, Catrina A Campbell, Pankaj K Choudhary. Breastfed infants metabolize perchlorateEnviron Sci Technol. 2012 May 1 ;46(9):5151-9. Epub 2012 Apr 20. PMID: 22497505

[6] Kye Man Cho, Reukaradhya K Math, Shah Md Asraful Islam, Woo Jin Lim, Su Young Hong, Jong Min Kim, Myoung Geun Yun, Ji Joong Cho, Han Dae Yun . Biodegradation of chlorpyrifos by lactic acid bacteria during kimchi fermentationJ Agric Food Chem. 2009 Mar 11;57(5):1882-9. PMID: 19199784

Further articles by Sayer Ji:

Solar cell efficiency improved with new polymer .

New light has been shed on solar power generation using devices made with polymers, thanks to collaboration between scientists in the University of Chicago’s chemistry department, the Institute for Molecular Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory.

Researchers identified a new polymer—a type of large molecule that forms plastics and other familiar materials—that improved the efficiency of solar cells. The group also determined the method by which the polymer improved the cells’ efficiency. The polymer allows electrical charges to move more easily throughout the cell, boosting the production of electricity—a mechanism never before demonstrated in such devices.

“Polymer solar cells have great potential to provide low-cost, lightweight and flexible electronic devices to harvest solar energy,” said Luyao Lu, graduate student in chemistry and lead author of a paper describing the result, published online last month in the journal Nature Photonics.

Solar cells made from polymers are a popular topic of research due to their appealing properties, but researchers are still struggling to efficiently generate electrical power with these materials.

“The field is rather immature—it’s in the infancy stage,” said Luping Yu, professor in chemistry and fellow in the Institute for Molecular Engineering, who led the UChicago group carrying out the research.

The active regions of such solar cells are composed of a mixture of polymers that give and receive electrons to generate electrical current when exposed to light. The new polymer developed by Yu’s group, called PID2, improves the efficiency of electrical power generation by 15 percent when added to a standard polymer-fullerene mixture.

“Fullerene, a small carbon molecule, is one of the standard materials used in polymer solar cells,” Lu said. “Basically, in polymer solar cells we have a polymer as electron donor and fullerene as electron acceptor to allow charge separation.” In their work, the UChicago-Argonne researchers added another polymer into the device, resulting in solar cells with two polymers and one fullerene.

8.2% efficiency

The group achieved an efficiency of 8.2% when an optimal amount of PID2 was added—the highest ever for solar cells made up of two types of polymers with fullerene—and the result implies that even higher efficiencies could be possible with further work. The group is now working to push efficiencies toward 10%, a benchmark necessary for polymer solar cells to be viable for commercial application.

Flickr/Intel Free Press, CC BY 2.0

The result was remarkable not only because of the advance in technical capabilities, Yu noted, but also because PID2 enhanced the efficiency via a new method. The standard mechanism for improving efficiency with a third polymer is by increasing the absorption of light in the device. But in addition to that effect, the team found that when PID2 was added, charges were transported more easily between polymers and throughout the cell.

In order for a current to be generated by the solar cell, electrons must be transferred from polymer to fullerene within the device. But the difference between electron energy levels for the standard polymer-fullerene is large enough that electron transfer between them is difficult. PID2 has energy levels in between the other two, and acts as an intermediary in the process.

“It’s like a step,” Yu said. “When it’s too high, it’s hard to climb up, but if you put in the middle another step then you can easily walk up.”

Thanks to collaboration with Argonne, Yu and his group were also able to study the changes in structure of the polymer blend when PID2 was added, and show that these changes likewise improved the ability of charges to move throughout the cell, further improving the efficiency. The addition of PID2 caused the polymer blend to form fibers, which improve the mobility of electrons throughout the material. The fibers serve as a pathway to allow electrons to travel to the electrodes on the sides of the solar cell.

“It’s like you’re generating a street and somebody that’s traveling along the street can find a way to go from this end to another,” Yu said.

To reveal this structure, Wei Chen of the Materials Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory and the Institute for Molecular Engineering performed X-ray scattering studies using the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne and the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“Without that it’s hard to get insight about the structure,” Yu said, calling the collaboration with Argonne “crucial” to the work. “That benefits us tremendously,” he said.

Chen noted that “Working together, these groups represent a confluence of the best materials and the best expertise and tools to study them, to achieve progress beyond what could be achieved with independent efforts.”

“This knowledge will serve as a foundation from which to develop high-efficiency organic photovoltaic devices to meet the nation’s future energy needs,” Chen said.