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November 30, 2008

Walking Proteins Move Cargo

Kinesin dimer / David S. Goodsell, Scripps Research Institute

One way to transport objects inside a cell is by the use of Kinesin motor proteins. Three things are required: a motor to move the cargo, a track along which to move it, and the cargo itself that needs to be delivered.

Motor Proteins

Proteins are essential components of cells that are involved in a number of processes. They are formed by linking amino acid molecules together in chains. The sequences of amino acids needed to build proteins are specified by genes as part of the genetic code.

Motor proteins are a special form of protein that do physical work. Remarkably, these proteins have the ability to move along surfaces, transport cargo that is attached to them, or produce force. They use the chemical Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) as an energy source to power their movement. The motor protein myosin, for example, is involved in the contraction of muscle fibers in animals. Dynein is a motor protein that is found in flagella, the long tail-like structure that projects from certain types of cells like sperm to help the cell move.


Microtubules are one of the components of the cytoskeleton, the infrastructure that supports the cell. They are made by linking repeating units of the tubulin protein together. The resulting chain is then curled into a hollow cylindrical shape. They can grow or shrink to produce force, and also serve as conduits along which other cellular components can be transported.

Kinesin Cargo Transportation

Small molecules in the cell can move to where they are needed by the process of diffusion. However, larger molecules that are synthesized in the cell body are transported by motor proteins to their destinations. Kinesins are a type of motor protein that use microtubule tracks to walk along. 

Two intertwined chains with globular heads on one end form a Kinesin dimer. To move, the heads repeatedly attach and detach to the tubulin units of the microtubule track, moving everything forward in a hand-over-hand fashion. The opposite ends of the dimer drag the cargo along that they are attached to.

Thanks to Nested Universe reader Faris Naji for inspiring this topic, and discovering the attached video which shows the Kinesin protein in action.


April 15, 2008

Jill Bolte Taylor: Brain Scientist Studies Her Own Stroke

Fermi Paradox
© / Vasiliy Yakobchuk

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist. At the 2008 TED conference in Monterey, she talked about an amazing experience of being able to observe changes in her own consciousness and perceptions as she was having a stroke. This experience forever changed her outlook on life in a positive way.

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January 21, 2008

Three dimensional human tissue printer

NewScientist is reporting that Dr. James J. Yoo of the Wake Forest University Institute for Regenerative Medicine has developed a way to use inkjet printer technology to build up three dimensional human tissues by printing layers of cells.

Dr. Yoo's research efforts are focused on tissue engineering technologies and cell-based therapies for the repair and replacement of diseased tissues and organs. Some of the tissues that may be produced by his invention include nerve, skin, pancreatic islet, and bone tissue.

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January 20, 2008

Distributed Computing Projects and the Singularity

Grid Computing
© / Felix Möckel

I have been an active supporter of a number of distributed computing projects for years. In the early 1990s, I participated in the Great Internet Mersenne Prime search and its challenge to find the largest prime numbers. I refocused my efforts on the SETI@home project in 1999 for two reasons. I felt that a distributed computing search for extraterrestrial radio transmissions was a great way to conduct SETI research for a relatively modest cost by analyzing data that was already being captured for other astronomical research projects. I also felt that, while mathematical research is a noble cause, SETI research had something more concrete to offer humanity, despite the enormous probabilities of success. There are certainly more unimportant things that could be done with spare computer cycles.

Recently, I've been reading the writings of Michael Anissimov, who is a leader in the Singularity community and a prolific science and technology writer. Michael co-founded the Immortality Institute, and is the Fundraising Director, North America for the Lifeboat Foundation. Michael is extremely intelligent and writes on a wide range of topics from Life Extension to Nanotechnology to Artificial Intelligence. His outlook for the future is inspiring and thought provoking. Two articles of his had a completely different outlook on the subject of SETI than my own: Aliens - There Are None and Aliens - Stop Looking. His arguments are persuasive and have convinced me to do some more research of my own on the subject, including the Fermi paradox.

But even if I'm not yet as convinced as Michael is in terms of calling for an outright end to SETI research, I realized that there are many more distributed computing projects that I can participate in that have a higher probability of affecting mankind in a positive way in the near term. For example, rosetta@home's search for the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins and the folding@home project to understand how proteins fold are both worthy projects. They have a high likelihood of helping understand and creating treatments for major diseases by using idle computer time from desktop computers.

Accordingly, I will be focusing the vast majority of my idle computer cycles on projects like these. The fact that I don't find these projects as personally exciting or interesting isn't the point. Finding ways to get through the Singularity quicker by helping humanity in the best way possible is.

Related Posts

Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
Why Are We Alone? The Fermi Paradox
What is the Singularity?
The Singularity Effect
Upcoming Artificial Intelligence Events

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January 18, 2008

California stem cell research company produces two human embryonic clones

The Washington Post reported that scientists from Stemagen, a stem cell research company based in La Jolla California, created embryonic clones of two adults that developed to a stage that was more advanced than any previous experiment had achieved. The goal of Stemagen's research is to create personalized stem cells for patients suffering from various diseases that can then be grown into replacement tissues. Tissues fabricated in such as manner would not be rejected by a patient's immune system.

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January 17, 2008

SciVestor Corporation launches Singularity-related technology research offerings

I spoke with Jonas Lamis, Executive Director of SciVestor Corporation regarding the launch of SciVestor this month. SciVestor is a research and advisory company focused on key Singularity technologies, and provides valuable insight as to the effects these emergent technologies will have on business, economic and societal models. SciVestor offers research reports that I believe are of value to investors who are looking to improve their investment strategies. Here is some key information that I have summarized from the SciVestor web site:

  • Robotics
    The robotics industry is expected to grow from $5B in 2007 to $50B in 2012. SciVestor believes the age of intelligent machines is at hand. From service robots to toys and teachers to companionship to war-fighting, the decade ahead will see a dramatic acceleration in human robot interaction (HRI).

  • Nanotechnology
    The rise of molecular manufacturing over the next decade portends a transformation across the supply and delivery chains. Traditional manufacturing enterprises could be displaced by distributed fabrication capabilities. Intellectual property rights for brands and designs will rise to the forefront when perfect replicas become commonplace.

  • Artificial Intelligence
    The software development marketplace is on a steady march to automation of more complex tasks and processes. In the decade ahead, we will see the rise of complex AI capabilities that will take ownership of virtually every repetitive digital task that could be automated. This shift will create significant disruptions in many career roles as well as with outsourcing companies that rely on human capital for efficiencies.

  • Life Extension
    At the intersection of genetics, biotechnology and Moore’s Law lies the new science of life extension. Over the next decade, we will see medical technologies deliver designer therapies targeting disease and degeneration on an individual basis. By 2015, we estimate that more than 10% of first world medical expenses will be devoted to life extension treatments, and many senior citizens in 2050 will have substantially lengthened, productive lifespans.

Jonas Lamis has extensive experience in corporate strategy, business development, and technology marketing with venture-backed enterprise software companies. He is Director of Partnerships at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. He is the founding editor of Architecture and Governance Magazine, authors the weblog Singularity U and co-launched Jonas received his MBA from The University of Texas at Austin, an MS in Systems Engineering and Optimization from Georgia Institute of Technology, and a BS in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University.

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December 31, 2007

Human Brain to be Computer-Simulated in Coming Years

Researchers have created a computer simulation of a neocortical column in a rat's brain. The simulation consisted of 10,000 neurons and 30 million connections between the neurons. Neocortical columns are one of the more advanced parts of a mammal's brain and are the basic building blocks of the neocortex. In humans, the neocortex is involved in higher brain functions such as spatial reasoning, conscious thought, and language.

Scientists with the Blue Brain project, a research initiative between Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and IBM, completed the first phase of the project in November, 2007. They speculated that the simulation could be extended to that of an entire human brain with a decade. Other experts, however, were not as optimistic, pointing out that the increase in scale would be daunting. The human brain contains roughly 5 million times the number of neurons and connections than what was simulated.

You can read a detailed article of the work on MIT's Technology Review website, including some spectacular images of the the simulation.

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December 18, 2007

Synthetic DNA programming boom user guyro found an article about synthetic DNA from Washington Post staff writer Rick Weiss pointing to progress which will create a genetic programming boom in the near future. Click here to read the original article.