Tag: Biotechnology

MIT expert helps promote synthetic biology at TAU

Prof. Christopher Voigt of MIT visits TAU to talk to researchers and set up new collaborations for grad students

Living organisms are amazing feats of engineering: By following instructions encoded entirely in DNA, living systems can sense and respond to their environment, build intricate structures and materials, and churn out complex chemicals. How these abilities are encoded is undeniably complicated, but figuring out how to embrace this complexity is at the heart of synthetic-biology.

Dr. Johann Elbaz, an Assistant Professor at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, organized the first professional visit to Israel of  Prof. Christopher Voigt, MIT biological engineer and co-director of MIT’s Synthetic Biology Center. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Voigt lab is taking on the enormous task of designing, fabricating, and testing large sequences of DNA—20,000 bases long and more-at never-before-seen scales. It’s created software that automates the design of DNA circuits for living cells.  The aim is to help people who are not skilled biologists to quickly design working biological systems.

 

Chris Voigt (Forth person from left) and Johann Elbaz (Fifth person from left) with the iGEM team at TAU at Tel Aviv University

Prof. Voigt gave an impressive talk at Tel Aviv University as a special seminar at the School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, attended by researchers and students from different parts of the TAU campus as well as other universities. Prof. Voigt was a special guest of Dr. Elbaz, who came to help accelerate the development of synthetic biology in Israel, both academic and industrial.

During the visit, a collaboration was initiated between the Elbaz lab, a synthetic biology lab that specializes in applications within living nanomaterials and living sensors, and the center at MIT. This collaboration envisions the acceleration of graduate student exchange between MIT and at TAU, while further developing the field of synthetic biology in Israel.

The “equipped kitchen” approach to biology

“The grand vision of the Synthetic Biology is to tie everything together: the design, the building, and the testing,” Elbaz says. “Rather than refining a recipe over many years by preparing one dish at a time, a better approach is to equip a kitchen capable of making thousands of different recipes simultaneously, each with slightly different ingredients, cooking times, or other alterations. This allows for the study of the entire set together, to find common aspects between the best and worst results as a means of arriving at the perfect recipe. Such capability will accelerate the development of unique applications such as molecules and materials, extending what we can do through pure chemistry to smart agriculture and medicine that sense their environments and proceed accordingly to repair damage.”

All of these sound like far reaching applications. Could we really use synthetic biology to engineer living organisms? “Ultimately, we want to be able to design living systems at a complexity and a level of sophistication that we know is possible but we just don’t have the capability to do yet,” Elbaz concludes.

Featured image: Johann Elbaz (left) and Chris Voigt (right) in Jerusalem

Seeing the World in New Colors

A New Technology Allows to See and Capture on Camera Colors Unseen by the Human Eye

A new development of Tel Aviv University will allow us to identify on a “standard” camera, colors that the human eye and even ordinary cameras are unable to pick up. Among other things, the new technology will make it possible to image gases such as hydrogen, carbon and sodium, each of which has a unique color in the infrared or different biological substances that are found in nature but are “invisible” in the visible. The new technology has groundbreaking applications in a variety of fields – from everyday life, gaming and photography, through security, medicine and ending with remote sensing satellites in space.

Beyond what the eye sees

The groundbreaking research was conducted by Dr. Michael Mrejen, Yoni Erlich, Dr. Assaf Levanon and Prof. Haim Suchowski from the Department of Physics of Condensed Material at Tel Aviv University. The results of the study were recently published in the peer-reviewed journal “Laser & Photonics Reviews”.

“The human eye picks up photons at wavelengths between 400 nanometers – the blue color, and 700 nanometers – the red color,” explains Dr. Mrejen. “But it is only a tiny part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which also includes radio waves, microwaves, X-rays and more. Below 400 nanometers there is ultraviolet radiation, or UV, and above 700 nanometers there is the infrared radiation, which itself is divided into near, mid and far infrared. “In each of these parts of the electromagnetic spectrum there is a great deal of information on materials encoded as “colors” that has until now been hidden from view.” The researchers explain that the color in these parts of the spectrum is of great importance, since many materials have a unique signature, expressed as color, in the mid infrared range. Thus, for example, cancer cells could be easily detected as they have a higher concentration of molecules of a certain type. Existing infrared detection technologies are expensive and mostly unable to render those “colors”. In medical imaging, experiments have been performed in which infrared images are converted into visible light to identify the cancer cells by the molecules. To date, this conversion has been done color by olor and this required very sophisticated and expensive cameras, which were not necessarily accessible in the civil sector . In the study, the researchers were able to develop cheap and efficient technology that could mount on a standard camera and in fact allows for the first time to convert the photons of light from the entire mid infrared region to the visible region, at frequencies that the human (and standard camera) can pick up.

New colors. The technology that will change the way we see the world

The fingerprint of a color

“In the mid infrared, there is a one-to-one relationship between materials and their mid-infrared “colors”, especially organic molecules,” explains Prof. Suchowski. “Meaning, different materials have a different ‘fingerprint’ color. We humans see between red and blue. If we could see in the infrared realm, we would see that elements like hydrogen, carbon and sodium have a unique color. An environmental monitoring  satellite that would take a picture in this region would see a pollutant being now emitted from a plant, or a spy satellite would see where explosives or uranium are being hidden. In addition, since every object emits heat in the infrared, all this information can be seen even at night.”

After registering a patent for their invention, researchers from Tel Aviv University are currently developing the technology through a grant from the Innovation Authority’s KAMIN project, and they have already met with a number of companies – Israeli and Globao. “In the future we will be able to offer a device based on our unique crystal at a cost of a few hundred dollars, which could also be mounted on an iPhone – then everyone will be able to see at night, in colors not seen so far, providing an unimaginable wealth of information on our surroundings” concludes Prof. Suchowski.  

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