Animals and microbes continue to inspire technologies that could provide better health and security.

Cell switches and diagnosis:  Want to get faster results from that blood test?  Science Daily has a headline to perk your interest: “Bioengineers Design Rapid Diagnostic Tests Inspired by Nature.”  It only gets better from there:

By mimicking nature’s own sensing mechanisms, bioengineers at UC Santa Barbara and University of Rome Tor Vergata have designed inexpensive medical diagnostic tests that take only a few minutes to perform. Their findings may aid efforts to build point-of-care devices for quick medical diagnosis of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), allergies, autoimmune diseases, and a number of other diseases. The new technology could dramatically impact world health, according to the research team.

All living things use “nanoswitches” to respond to the environment, the article continued.  “The key breakthrough underlying this new technology came from observing nature.”  Cell surfaces, for instance, are covered with receptors that switch on and off depending on molecules detected.  The technology is not only effective, it’s beautiful: “The beauty of these switches is that they are able to work directly in very complex environments such as whole blood.”  In a few years, we may be able to get results of diagnostic tests in mere minutes instead of days.

Enzymatic assembly lines:  “All systems go at the nanofactory,” reads another headline on Science Daily.  Researchers at LMU have created “little green men” in the form of fluorescent proteins that can help them guide delicate parts into position with nanometer precision.  “Green light on protein assembly!” the subtitle exclaims.  Assembling parts at this scale is like working in a hurricane, with all the thermal motions and molecular interference.  As the researchers attempt to imitate what cells do routinely, they are also gaining insight into how cellular machines work.  “If we can efficiently build mimics of these ‘enzymatic assembly lines’ by bringing individual proteins together, we could perhaps make a significant contribution to the exploitation of sustainable energy sources.”….

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