Mar

12

 This professor in my daughter's department at MIT is working on using viruses to build batteries. I found this article about it pretty interesting.

"The DNA of Materials"

Molluscs produce proteins which combine with ions of calcium and carbonate in seawater. This provides the material for them to make two types of crystals, which they assemble into layers to create an immensely strong composite structure.

As [Angela Belcher] looked out of the window one day while wondering about this, her gaze drifted to a periodic table of elements stuck on the wall. If an abalone has within its DNA the ability to code for the proteins needed to gather the materials to construct a shell, would it be possible to tinker with the DNA sequences in other creatures to gather some of the elements on the periodic table? In particular, Dr Belcher asked herself, could creatures build semiconductors like those used in electronic circuits?

Pitt T. Maner III adds: 

The ascidians (sea squirts, tunnicates) ability to concentrate vandium at 100x the level found in current seawater has always been an interesting evolutionary puzzle.

1. Check out the wikipedia article on vanadins

2. Here is some related recent research involving vanadyl compounds used to inhibit gastric cancer cell line.
3) Ascidians provide a fertile ground for studies in the field of natural products. Similar to sponges and bryozoans, many ascidians avoid predation or fouling by producing noxious secondary metabolites [48]–[52]. Because of these properties, numerous species of ascidians may thus be a potential source of new anti-cancer compounds [53], [54]. Trabectedin (earlier known as ecteinascidin-743, commercial name Yondelis®), a marine-derived alkaloid isolated from extracts of Ecteinascidia turbinate, is now being used in treatment of soft-tissue sarcomas [55], [56]. Antimalarial compounds have been isolated from the solitary ascidians Microcosmus helleri, Ascidia sydneiensis and Phallusia nigra [57], and numerous other compounds with anti-cancer, anti-viral and anti-bacterial capabilities are in various clinical trial stages by the pharmaceutical industry. The management and use of these organisms as sources of natural products is dependent, however, on understanding their taxonomy, the integrative basis of biology.

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0020657


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