Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another use for E. coli

Interesting item in SciDev.Net about using genetically modified E. coli to detect landmines.

The bacteria have the gene for an enzyme called luciferase (this is present in fireflies, for one), which naturally produces light in some bacteria and fireflies. When TNT is present, this gene is switched on, and the bacteria glow. This can happen within hours of the bacteria being introduced to the region under investigation. Plants can be modified in the same way, but take weeks or months to produce results.

The work is not yet commercially available - European Union regulations on genetically modified bacteria need to be observed.

There is a protein in the cell membrane that senses TNT, according to the item. The work was done at the University of Edinburgh, by Alistair Elfick at the Centre for Biomedical Engineering.

Luciferase has also been used in bioluminiscent imaging, to detect tumour cells, although I can't immediately find anything published about its application to landmines.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Is the name of a new site from the Royal Society. Being a twice former resident of Scotland, which also has a Royal Society, I can never resist adding "of London" to the name, so I will do so now - a new site from the Royal Society of London.

That Royal Society is 350 next year. The first library job I had after qualifying was at another Royal Society, the Royal Society of Medicine, in London. Its library had volumes of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, one of the first scientific journals, back to 1665, the first year of its publication. It was fascinating - Leeuwenhoek, Newton, Hooke, Herschel, as they wrote.

Well, this site gives you facsimile copies of landmark papers from the last 350 years, with commentaries, all on a nice timeline which also gives you some of the events in the wider world. So, Leeuwenhoek is there, along with the Boyle's account of the first blood transfusion (from one dog to another - I imagine the dogs' thoughts are not recorded!), and a paper by Watson and Crick which I didn't know about - more detail than the famous one in Nature. The most recent is one from 2008 by James Lovelock, "A geophysiologist's thoughts on geoengineering".

Trailblazing is at target="_blank".