Headline Aug 31, 2014/


PATTERSON and  homebrew  biologists like her may form the body of nascent synbio movement, but the architects of that movement still come almost entirely, from academe.

The most visible booster of synthetic biology is probably  Dr Drew Endy:

A Professor of bioengineering at Stanford University. Young looking with slightly mussed sandy hair,  Endy could easily be mistaken for a perpetual grad student.

He coins hackerish jargon that sounds super-hip. If you listen carefully on the Stanford campus, maybe you'll hear something referring to the shifting of a genie from   -one life form to another as  ''DNA bashing.''

Endy predicts a time when someone will rewrite the DNA of an acorn to include George Jetson   -like instructions that direct the future oak to assemble into a bookshelf. 

He also says that the leading synthetic biologists need to aid and alert amateurs like Patterson:

If this emerging science is likely to rapidly advance. In 2003, he helped form iGem, the International Genetic Engineering Machine Competition. Held at   Massachusetts Institute of Technology every year.

IGem invites teams of college and high-school students and amateurs from all over the world to strut their bioengineering stuff and compete for a Lego-shaped Biobrick Trophy that comes complete with its own suitcase.   

For months on end, Patterson had been working to coax the glow-in-the=dark gene into her yogurt bacterium. She had tried to use the heat-shock method to drive it into the cells.

''When the bacteria get to a certain temperature, they start producing these heat-shock proteins, which also open up some holes," she explained. And in that brief moment, the new genes sloshing around nearby can slip in. 

"In my head, it's like Holy Shit, it's hot in here, let's open some windows."

But heat shock hadn't worked, so she had moved on to electroporation. When she first described it to me, says the author, I pictured the bacterium ballooning like a cartoon character with its finger in a socket-

It's flagella sticking out like hair and its microscopic pores bulging open like wide eye sockets   -such that the GFP plasmid could rush in. For us, the question was how to administer these shocks to our bacteria.

Patterson had configured the timing mechanism on a Arduino, an easily customised computer board. It would  handle the literally  split second timing. All we needed now was 2,500 volts-

The precise amount, once used, to carry out the missions of famous  20th-century electric chairs., the insanely powerful ones with nicknames like Gruesome Gertie, Yellow Mama, Old Smokey  and  Sizzlin' Sally.

To accomplish this, Patterson got hold of a transformer from an old neon sign. It takes in  12 volts  and ramps it up to  3,000 volts, so it would seem to make sense that it we fed the transformer 10 volts, it would kick out  2,500 volts. 

But Patterson's voltmeter kept telling us that something was slightly off here.

She tried different connections and different transistors, and then she needed another part, and then there was a mad trip to Fry's, a kind of a Home Depot for everything electronic.

We must have tested the  input-outputs  of the Arduino board 50 times. These admitted to us sitting on the second floor and carefully holding the insulated lines in place as we blasted away with potentially lethal streams of electricity.

One day we spent 10 hours  trying to configure one wiring setup after another. Hours of this fiddling passed, but it was as if no time had passed at all.

Meanwhile, the tiny amount of  yogurt Lactobacillus  we had placed in the incubator was growing away. But there was a flaw in that system, too. The incubator's  two-bit  thermostat had busted. There was no longer a way to automatically regulate the heat inside.

So, Patterson would carefully monitor the temperature herself. She would turn the incubator  off   after a while and wait for it to cool down a few degrees before turning it back on. This way, she kept it from overcooking our bugs. 

We were now several days into constant experimentation.

Well into one evening as we sat in our own groove, occupied by long stretches of work, suddenly there appeared a solution to the thermostat problem, like a bubble slowly popping at the surface of our flow.

Problem solved. By the time Patterson got the timer set up, dawn was on the way. There was that intense pleasure.  We both stepped back  -absurdly, an exhilarating amount of  self-satisfaction.

Time to light up.   

The Honour and Serving of the Post continues. Thank you for reading and see ya all on the following one.

With respectful dedication to the Students, Professors and Teachers of the world. See Ya all on !WOW!  -the World Students Society Computers-Internet-Wireless:

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Good Night and God Bless!

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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