It’s life Geoff, but not as we know it (Day 286)

Chemical engineering can offer a life full of surprises, but I can honestly say that I never imagined the discipline being used to describe an extra-terrestrial life form.

titanBut that’s the out of this world topic behind today’s blog. A team of chemical engineers and astronomers from Cornell University, US, have developed a template for life that might survive on Titan, the giant moon of Saturn.

I have already discussed our chemical engineering colleagues who are astronauts (see ‘A path to the stars’) and possible methods of powering space missions (see ‘Human waste could power a lunar space mission’); but the reaches of space are endless.

Our imaginations for other lifeforms are often limited by the assumption that water is a requirement for life. Whilst this is true on Earth, in other, colder worlds life may exist beyond the realm of water-chemistry.

Titan has seas, like Earth, but unlike Earth these seas are filled with liquid methane. The team suggest that Titan could support methane-based, oxygen-free cells that are able to metabolise, reproduce and complete all the other functions necessary for life – as on Earth.

Continue reading It’s life Geoff, but not as we know it (Day 286)

Using STARS to control gene expression (Day 262)

Sometimes the name you give your work can have a huge impact.

starsI recently came across this story of research from a team of synthetic biochemical engineers at Cornell University, US, who have created a new ‘on’ switch to control gene expression – a breakthrough that they think could revolutionise genetic modification – by using STARS.

Before you think I am a little confused I should point out that STARS, in this case, are Small Transcription Activating RNAs

This work was recently published in Nature Chemical Biology, entitled; Creating small transcription activating RNAs.

Continue reading Using STARS to control gene expression (Day 262)

The threat of energy paralysis (Day 128)

LightbulbThere has been a great deal of reflection over the past few weeks about the Scottish Independence Referendum.

With 97 per cent of the electorate in Scotland registering to vote, and an eventual turnout of 85 per cent, it was a triumph for democracy and public engagement.

At the same time, it was a major wake-up call to many politicians who have rarely experienced the huge level of interest in their ‘day jobs’. In fact, arguably, many politicians were shown how to do their jobs better.

Some ‘leaders’ even tried to side-track the politicians, by building websites using independent assessments from leading experts around the world. Continue reading The threat of energy paralysis (Day 128)

Add just a pinch of salt for longer battery life (Day 92)

Dead Batteries - Huguette Roe  Shutterstock dot com
‘Dendrites’ are a major cause of declining battery performance. Image courtesy of Huguette Roe | Shutterstock.com

One of the major considerations when making, and buying, modern consumer products is battery life. Cheaper products generally have short battery lives. You’ll pay considerably more for better performance, but even high specification smartphones barely last more than half a day according to a recent test.

Continue reading Add just a pinch of salt for longer battery life (Day 92)