Monday, January 25, 2016

NASA Asteroid Redirect Program

Scientists believe the dinosaurs were wiped out from the collision of an asteroid (about 7-8 miles wide) with the Earth. The resulting volcanic activity and dust cloud blocked sunlight and plants/animals died. A planet killer would be around 60 miles wide.

However, a half mile wide asteroid would also ruin your day as its impact would be roughly that of 100 billion tons of TNT and cause wide-spread earthquakes.

If you're like me, an asteroid colliding with the Earth is not on your DVR list of scheduled events anytime soon. Ditto for Netflix coverage in the next several thousand years. Hopefully, we will be vacationing on Alpha Centauri by then. Anyway, it doesn't look like there are any likely planetary colliders in the neighborhood.

But even if there were, NASA has a new program called the Asteroid Redirect Program that will land on a large asteroid, grab a boulder to study and then redirect the asteroid into a stable orbit around the moon. Although it seems like a new Bruce Willis or Matt Damon film, this mission is set to launch by 2020. 

Sounds like the operational outcome of all the work astronomers have been doing for years. Now instead of just shouting, "Incoming!" We'll soon have correctional space technology and a plan to divert disaster. Go Science!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Off Switches for Killer Bacteria

Genetically engineered (GE) bacteria are not just the stuff of science fiction novels. They can be used to carry biomarkers and treatments to cancer tumors as well as to control and eliminate oil spills.

But how do we get rid of these helpers once their task is complete? 

Off switches.

Clement T Y Chan, Jeong Wook Lee, D Ewen Cameron, Caleb J Bashor & James J Collins, (researchers at MIT's Institute for Medical Engineering & Science, Cambridge, Massachusetts) have created synthetic gene circuits that act as "OFF Switches" that kill GE microbes once their job is done. Two circuits, described in the Dec. 7th issue of Nature Chemical Biology, increase the safety of diagnostics, therapies, or environmental remediation strategies based upon GE bacteria. They are called appropriately called "Deadman" and "Passcode." Its good to know folks are thinking ahead. Go science!