Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience

In our world of seemingly endless acronyms, I stumbled upon this one – and once you see the tongue-twister it represents, you’ll understand why a shorter name was called for…

CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) are segments of prokaryotic DNA containing short repetitions of base sequences.  [Prokaryotic DNA are single-celled organisms that lack a membrane-bound nucleus (karyon), mitochondria, or any other membrane-bound organelles]   Researchers hope to use CRISPR to adjust human genes to eliminate diseases, create hardier plants, wipe out pathogens and much more besides.

DNA research making use of CRISPR has been ongoing since the late 1980′s. Please note: while I have NO training in micro-biology or anything approaching a minimal understanding of the subtleties of this field, I am a strong believer that in order for technology to be well used to benefit humankind, those who categorize themselves as experts should be mindful of the potential harmful consequences of their work…  I encourage you to form your own opinion based on the article I’ve linked below [it's a very long piece, but worth more than a skim given the seriousness of the topic].

There are links to a variety of materials within the article that give several points of view – as well as some kickin’ charts.  Give those some attention as well.  They’ll appeal to those who prefer a graphical representation of the growth of CRISPR research.

Once you’ve digested all the material, THEN ask yourself what your role might be in the pursuit of genetic modification…are you pro or con?


Illustration by Sébastien Thibault

CRISPR, the disruptor


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June 25th, 2015

Origami is an ancient art form of paper folding.  Maybe when you were a kid, you folded up bits of paper in art class to make a crane (mine always looked like a smooshed diaper).  Traditional Japanese origami has been practiced since the Edo period (1603–1867).  Designs range from simple to extraordinarily complex – and it takes a lot of practice.


Technology is seeking to transmute this art form and take it to a new level – by creating an Origami Robot.

Read about it here:

Tiny, Origami Robots Can


Climb, Swim and Burrow


The tiny robot is made of pre-cut polystyrene or paper panels which, when heated, fold themselves into a very specific and asymmetrical shape.  The research is being conducted at MIT and TU Munich and was unveiled at ICRA 2015 in Seattle.

One potential application is to someday deploy the ‘bot inside the human body, where — guided by magnetic fields — it could be used to scout around and deliver medicines to specific locations.  The researchers intend to miniaturize their creation even further, and eventually attach integrated sensors and communication devices.

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I’ve read about many applications for 3D printing, but this is one I would not have realized.  Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have built a cheap 3D-printed attachment able to turn smartphones into sophisticated microscopes. Armed with the new device, a smartphone would be able to detect single DNA strands and analyze them to diagnose diseases including cancer and Alzheimer’s without bulky and expensive equipment.  This could make a real difference in assisting patients in third-world countries or remote areas.

blog dna

The device designed by Professor Aydogan Ozcan and team, however, pushes the envelope further than ever before by giving smartphones the ability to scan single strands of DNA, a mere two nanometers across.

The typical fluorescent microscope, which works by labeling the samples with fluorescent molecules and then “exciting” them with a laser, is very bulky and expensive so those tools are only available in specialized labs.

Ozkan and team managed to pack an external lens, a thin-film filter, a miniature dovetail stage mount and a laser diode inside a small 3D-printed case to make their own miniature fluorescent microscope. A software interface running on the smartphone scans the DNA and sends the data to a remote server in the team’s laboratory. The servers use the data to measure the length of the DNA strands, and return the results in less than 10 seconds, assuming users have access to an internet connection.

Next up, Ozcan’s group plans to test their microscope in the field to detect the presence of malaria-related drug resistance.

Using technology to save lives is truly a worthy calling.  Do you have expertise in this area?

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June 13th, 2015

Medical science continues to surge forward in new therapies and procedures to improve quality of care and expand the range of treatment options available.  Many of these technologies have evolved from personal experiences faced by patients or their close family members who have observed our current processes at very close range…

Read about a new offering – designed to literally glue a patient back together – created by Niko Temefeew, and his professor, Dr. Scott Sell at St. Louis University


Thermally Responsive Biogel


(Photo courtesy of Niko Temefeew)


The invention was featured in Smithsonian Magazine in May 2015:
After watching his physician father recover from not one but two painful spinal fusion surgeries, biomedical engineering student Niko Temefeew started working with his professor, Dr. Scott Sell, on developing a more humane option than screwing two vertebrae together. They created a collagen-like polymer gel that is liquid at room temperature but solidifies at body temperature. Their hope is that one day damaged spinal disks can be repaired through a simple injection of his biogel rather than an invasive surgery. Though tests continue to observe how cells will grow and survive within the gel matrix, Temefeew says cells suspended in the gel hold up well against damaging shear forces associated with injections, a major obstacle for repopulating collagen-like material with the body’s own cells. Temefeew will continue work on the project for his master’s thesis and hopes to have a working product in a year.


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Infant mortality was a serious concern in almost every country during centuries and decades gone by.  While medical technology in developed countries has radically reduced the rate of infant deaths in a great many places, in developing countries, it remains a serious problem.  Take a look at a proposed affordable medical technology, developed by seniors at Rice University (in Houston, TX in the United States), which they have designed to address the situation…

Prepare to be impressed by this group of college seniors and their



(Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Learn more about the team behind the invention here:  2014-2015 Team

Neonatal hypothermia, a condition in which an infant’s core body temperature is less than 35C, is a dangerous health condition that often compounds illnesses and may lead to death. In the developing world, access to affordable, effective incubators is limited. Our project is to develop an innovative, low-cost neonatal incubator for the developing world that focuses specifically on temperature feedback and safety.


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