MAY 31, 2020 10:39 AM PDT

Regulating Gene Expression with Electricity

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Scientists have created many different implantable devices and medicines that are as simple as pacemakers or as complex as nanobiosensors. Now researchers are learning how to use electricity to control gene expression. For example, a diabetic might one day use an app on their smartphone after they've eaten; their blood sugar will rise, so the app would send a signal to their implant to raise insulin levels.

Image credit: Needpix

Martin Fussenegger, Professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering in the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich in Basel is working with a team of researchers to make this kind of electrically-controlled gene expression a reality. As the first step, they used a mouse model to demonstrate that gene expression can be controlled with an electrical signal. The work has been reported in Science.

The research team has already created gene circuits and implants that can react to various conditions in the body, like abnormal blood sugar or lipid levels. These networks can respond to drugs and natural molecules, but they can also react to other kinds of stimuli like light, and now, electricity.

"We've wanted to directly control gene expression using electricity for a long time; now we've finally succeeded," Fussenegger said.

The device is made of a printed circuit board (PCB) with the electronic components - a receiver and a control unit. The other side holds a capsule containing human cells (with genomes in their nuclei), with a cable linking the PCB to the capsule. Radio signals can activate the implant's electronics, and they transmit the signal to the cells.

The electricity alters channels in the membranes of the cells, changing the concentration of ions in the cells and triggering a signaling pathway that regulates insulin gene expression. Insulin is then loaded into vesicles, and the electrical signals cause them to merge with the cell membrane and release the insulin. This all happens within a few minutes.

"Our implant could be connected to the cyber universe," noted Fussenegger. Though that might sound a little worrisome to some, the researchers are aware that there is a risk that these devices could be exploited in some way.

"People already wear pacemakers that are theoretically vulnerable to cyberattacks, but these devices have sufficient protection. That's something we would have to incorporate in our implants, too," he said.

It would also be possible for insulin production to be triggered remotely by a doctor. "A device of this kind would enable people to be fully integrated into the digital world and become part of the Internet of Things - or even the Internet of the Body," Fussenegger said.

There are still hurdles before this is something people use. The scientists have to learn about the best electrical current for the device, and the links between the electronics and cells have to be optimized. There should be a better way to replace the cells in the implant once they are worn out as well. Finally, these devices have to be thoroughly tested for safety.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! Via ETH Zurich, Science

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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COVID-19 Lockdown Leads to Decreases in Outdoor Air Pollution, but Increases in Indoor Air Pollution | Earth And The Environment
JUN 04, 2020 3:34 PM PDT

COVID-19 Lockdown Leads to Decreases in Outdoor Air Pollution, but Increases in Indoor Air Pollution

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

With most of North America sheltering in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, it’s not surprising that there have been some improvements in outdoor air quality. According to an article from NASA Climate Change, there have been significant reductions in outdoor air pollution over several major metropolitan areas of the United States.

In early April, NASA reported a 30% drop in air pollution over the Northeast United States. In mid-May, NASA reported a 31% decrease in nitrogen dioxide over the Los Angeles basin in California. As restrictions continue to lift and life returns to normal, more reports of change in pollution levels are expected to emerge.

NASA reports that nitrogen dioxide, primarily emitted from burning fossil fuels, is a reliable indicator of changes in human activity. According to NASA, nitrogen dioxide is emitted from tailpipes while driving and smokestacks from electricity generation. NASA also reports that Sulfur dioxide is another pollutant that can indicate changes in anthropogenic activities, such as electricity generation, oil and gas extraction, and metal smelting.

However, Scientific American reports that because people are spending more time at home, they may be exposed to increased levels of air pollutants indoors. According to Scientific American, increasing cooking at home and the frequency of cleaning product-use can contaminate indoor air. The article reports that a study from earlier this year revealed that certain cooking methods, such as roasting vegetables in a gas oven, may generate an “extraordinarily high level” of fine particulate matter indoors. Additionally, gas stoves emit more particulate matter than electric, although electric stoves do produce particles as well.

Besides particulate matter and potentially toxic gases released by stoves, cleaning products are additional household hazards to consider during lockdown. Scientific American states that cleaning with bleach is a significant concern. By mixing bleach and water, hypochlorous acid is produced and can react with dirt and debris. Additionally, hypochlorous acid can react with other airborne particles and create toxins.

The article from Scientific American conveys that the health consequences of increased indoor pollution during lockdown are not well understood. However, the article also states that recent studies suggest that there is “no safe level of fine particulate matter and that even short-term exposures can reduce lung function and raise the risk of a heart attack.”

Sources: NASA Visualization Studio, NASA, Scientific American

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
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COVID-19 Lockdown Leads to Decreases in Outdoor Air Pollution, but Increases in Indoor Air Pollution | Earth And The Environment
JUN 04, 2020 3:34 PM PDT

COVID-19 Lockdown Leads to Decreases in Outdoor Air Pollution, but Increases in Indoor Air Pollution

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

With most of North America sheltering in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, it’s not surprising that there have been some improvements in outdoor air quality. According to an article from NASA Climate Change, there have been significant reductions in outdoor air pollution over several major metropolitan areas of the United States.

In early April, NASA reported a 30% drop in air pollution over the Northeast United States. In mid-May, NASA reported a 31% decrease in nitrogen dioxide over the Los Angeles basin in California. As restrictions continue to lift and life returns to normal, more reports of change in pollution levels are expected to emerge.

NASA reports that nitrogen dioxide, primarily emitted from burning fossil fuels, is a reliable indicator of changes in human activity. According to NASA, nitrogen dioxide is emitted from tailpipes while driving and smokestacks from electricity generation. NASA also reports that Sulfur dioxide is another pollutant that can indicate changes in anthropogenic activities, such as electricity generation, oil and gas extraction, and metal smelting.

However, Scientific American reports that because people are spending more time at home, they may be exposed to increased levels of air pollutants indoors. According to Scientific American, increasing cooking at home and the frequency of cleaning product-use can contaminate indoor air. The article reports that a study from earlier this year revealed that certain cooking methods, such as roasting vegetables in a gas oven, may generate an “extraordinarily high level” of fine particulate matter indoors. Additionally, gas stoves emit more particulate matter than electric, although electric stoves do produce particles as well.

Besides particulate matter and potentially toxic gases released by stoves, cleaning products are additional household hazards to consider during lockdown. Scientific American states that cleaning with bleach is a significant concern. By mixing bleach and water, hypochlorous acid is produced and can react with dirt and debris. Additionally, hypochlorous acid can react with other airborne particles and create toxins.

The article from Scientific American conveys that the health consequences of increased indoor pollution during lockdown are not well understood. However, the article also states that recent studies suggest that there is “no safe level of fine particulate matter and that even short-term exposures can reduce lung function and raise the risk of a heart attack.”

Sources: NASA Visualization Studio, NASA, Scientific American

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
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COVID-19 Lockdown Leads to Decreases in Outdoor Air Pollution, but Increases in Indoor Air Pollution | Earth And The Environment
JUN 04, 2020 3:34 PM PDT

COVID-19 Lockdown Leads to Decreases in Outdoor Air Pollution, but Increases in Indoor Air Pollution

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

With most of North America sheltering in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, it’s not surprising that there have been some improvements in outdoor air quality. According to an article from NASA Climate Change, there have been significant reductions in outdoor air pollution over several major metropolitan areas of the United States.

In early April, NASA reported a 30% drop in air pollution over the Northeast United States. In mid-May, NASA reported a 31% decrease in nitrogen dioxide over the Los Angeles basin in California. As restrictions continue to lift and life returns to normal, more reports of change in pollution levels are expected to emerge.

NASA reports that nitrogen dioxide, primarily emitted from burning fossil fuels, is a reliable indicator of changes in human activity. According to NASA, nitrogen dioxide is emitted from tailpipes while driving and smokestacks from electricity generation. NASA also reports that Sulfur dioxide is another pollutant that can indicate changes in anthropogenic activities, such as electricity generation, oil and gas extraction, and metal smelting.

However, Scientific American reports that because people are spending more time at home, they may be exposed to increased levels of air pollutants indoors. According to Scientific American, increasing cooking at home and the frequency of cleaning product-use can contaminate indoor air. The article reports that a study from earlier this year revealed that certain cooking methods, such as roasting vegetables in a gas oven, may generate an “extraordinarily high level” of fine particulate matter indoors. Additionally, gas stoves emit more particulate matter than electric, although electric stoves do produce particles as well.

Besides particulate matter and potentially toxic gases released by stoves, cleaning products are additional household hazards to consider during lockdown. Scientific American states that cleaning with bleach is a significant concern. By mixing bleach and water, hypochlorous acid is produced and can react with dirt and debris. Additionally, hypochlorous acid can react with other airborne particles and create toxins.

The article from Scientific American conveys that the health consequences of increased indoor pollution during lockdown are not well understood. However, the article also states that recent studies suggest that there is “no safe level of fine particulate matter and that even short-term exposures can reduce lung function and raise the risk of a heart attack.”

Sources: NASA Visualization Studio, NASA, Scientific American

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
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COVID-19 Lockdown Leads to Decreases in Outdoor Air Pollution, but Increases in Indoor Air Pollution | Earth And The Environment
JUN 04, 2020 3:34 PM PDT

COVID-19 Lockdown Leads to Decreases in Outdoor Air Pollution, but Increases in Indoor Air Pollution

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

With most of North America sheltering in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, it’s not surprising that there have been some improvements in outdoor air quality. According to an article from NASA Climate Change, there have been significant reductions in outdoor air pollution over several major metropolitan areas of the United States.

In early April, NASA reported a 30% drop in air pollution over the Northeast United States. In mid-May, NASA reported a 31% decrease in nitrogen dioxide over the Los Angeles basin in California. As restrictions continue to lift and life returns to normal, more reports of change in pollution levels are expected to emerge.

NASA reports that nitrogen dioxide, primarily emitted from burning fossil fuels, is a reliable indicator of changes in human activity. According to NASA, nitrogen dioxide is emitted from tailpipes while driving and smokestacks from electricity generation. NASA also reports that Sulfur dioxide is another pollutant that can indicate changes in anthropogenic activities, such as electricity generation, oil and gas extraction, and metal smelting.

However, Scientific American reports that because people are spending more time at home, they may be exposed to increased levels of air pollutants indoors. According to Scientific American, increasing cooking at home and the frequency of cleaning product-use can contaminate indoor air. The article reports that a study from earlier this year revealed that certain cooking methods, such as roasting vegetables in a gas oven, may generate an “extraordinarily high level” of fine particulate matter indoors. Additionally, gas stoves emit more particulate matter than electric, although electric stoves do produce particles as well.

Besides particulate matter and potentially toxic gases released by stoves, cleaning products are additional household hazards to consider during lockdown. Scientific American states that cleaning with bleach is a significant concern. By mixing bleach and water, hypochlorous acid is produced and can react with dirt and debris. Additionally, hypochlorous acid can react with other airborne particles and create toxins.

The article from Scientific American conveys that the health consequences of increased indoor pollution during lockdown are not well understood. However, the article also states that recent studies suggest that there is “no safe level of fine particulate matter and that even short-term exposures can reduce lung function and raise the risk of a heart attack.”

Sources: NASA Visualization Studio, NASA, Scientific American

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
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JUN 04, 2020 3:34 PM PDT

COVID-19 Lockdown Leads to Decreases in Outdoor Air Pollution, but Increases in Indoor Air Pollution

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

With most of North America sheltering in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, it’s not surprising that there have been some improvements in outdoor air quality. According to an article from NASA Climate Change, there have been significant reductions in outdoor air pollution over several major metropolitan areas of the United States.

In early April, NASA reported a 30% drop in air pollution over the Northeast United States. In mid-May, NASA reported a 31% decrease in nitrogen dioxide over the Los Angeles basin in California. As restrictions continue to lift and life returns to normal, more reports of change in pollution levels are expected to emerge.

NASA reports that nitrogen dioxide, primarily emitted from burning fossil fuels, is a reliable indicator of changes in human activity. According to NASA, nitrogen dioxide is emitted from tailpipes while driving and smokestacks from electricity generation. NASA also reports that Sulfur dioxide is another pollutant that can indicate changes in anthropogenic activities, such as electricity generation, oil and gas extraction, and metal smelting.

However, Scientific American reports that because people are spending more time at home, they may be exposed to increased levels of air pollutants indoors. According to Scientific American, increasing cooking at home and the frequency of cleaning product-use can contaminate indoor air. The article reports that a study from earlier this year revealed that certain cooking methods, such as roasting vegetables in a gas oven, may generate an “extraordinarily high level” of fine particulate matter indoors. Additionally, gas stoves emit more particulate matter than electric, although electric stoves do produce particles as well.

Besides particulate matter and potentially toxic gases released by stoves, cleaning products are additional household hazards to consider during lockdown. Scientific American states that cleaning with bleach is a significant concern. By mixing bleach and water, hypochlorous acid is produced and can react with dirt and debris. Additionally, hypochlorous acid can react with other airborne particles and create toxins.

The article from Scientific American conveys that the health consequences of increased indoor pollution during lockdown are not well understood. However, the article also states that recent studies suggest that there is “no safe level of fine particulate matter and that even short-term exposures can reduce lung function and raise the risk of a heart attack.”

Sources: NASA Visualization Studio, NASA, Scientific American

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
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JUN 04, 2020 3:34 PM PDT

COVID-19 Lockdown Leads to Decreases in Outdoor Air Pollution, but Increases in Indoor Air Pollution

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

With most of North America sheltering in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, it’s not surprising that there have been some improvements in outdoor air quality. According to an article from NASA Climate Change, there have been significant reductions in outdoor air pollution over several major metropolitan areas of the United States.

In early April, NASA reported a 30% drop in air pollution over the Northeast United States. In mid-May, NASA reported a 31% decrease in nitrogen dioxide over the Los Angeles basin in California. As restrictions continue to lift and life returns to normal, more reports of change in pollution levels are expected to emerge.

NASA reports that nitrogen dioxide, primarily emitted from burning fossil fuels, is a reliable indicator of changes in human activity. According to NASA, nitrogen dioxide is emitted from tailpipes while driving and smokestacks from electricity generation. NASA also reports that Sulfur dioxide is another pollutant that can indicate changes in anthropogenic activities, such as electricity generation, oil and gas extraction, and metal smelting.

However, Scientific American reports that because people are spending more time at home, they may be exposed to increased levels of air pollutants indoors. According to Scientific American, increasing cooking at home and the frequency of cleaning product-use can contaminate indoor air. The article reports that a study from earlier this year revealed that certain cooking methods, such as roasting vegetables in a gas oven, may generate an “extraordinarily high level” of fine particulate matter indoors. Additionally, gas stoves emit more particulate matter than electric, although electric stoves do produce particles as well.

Besides particulate matter and potentially toxic gases released by stoves, cleaning products are additional household hazards to consider during lockdown. Scientific American states that cleaning with bleach is a significant concern. By mixing bleach and water, hypochlorous acid is produced and can react with dirt and debris. Additionally, hypochlorous acid can react with other airborne particles and create toxins.

The article from Scientific American conveys that the health consequences of increased indoor pollution during lockdown are not well understood. However, the article also states that recent studies suggest that there is “no safe level of fine particulate matter and that even short-term exposures can reduce lung function and raise the risk of a heart attack.”

Sources: NASA Visualization Studio, NASA, Scientific American

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
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COVID-19 Lockdown Leads to Decreases in Outdoor Air Pollution, but Increases in Indoor Air Pollution | Earth And The Environment