viernes, 31 de mayo de 2013

How to Build a Brain: Chris Eliasmith at TEDxWaterloo 2013

May 31, 2013

Chris Eliasmith and his team's Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network, SPAUN are determined to answer deep questions in computational neuroscience. SPAUN is currently the world's largest functional brain simulation, and is unique because it's the first model that can actually emulate behaviours while also modeling the physiology that underlies them.

He's the creator of SPAUN the world's largest brain simulation. Can he really make headway into mimicking the human brain?

Chris Eliasmith has cognitive flexibility on the brain. How do people manage to walk, chew gum and listen to music all at the same time? What is our brain doing as it switches between these tasks and how do we use the same components in head to do all those different things?

These are questions that Eliasmith and his team's Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network (SPAUN) are determined to answer. SPAUN is currently the world's largest functional brain simulation, and is unique because it's the first model that can actually emulate behaviours while also modeling the physiology that underlies them.

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This groundbreaking work was published in Science, and has been featured by CNN, BBC, Der Spiegel, Popular Science, The Economist and CBC. He is co-author of Neural Engineering , which describes a framework for building biologically realistic neural models and his new book, How to Build a Brain: A Neural Architecture for Biological Cognition (Oxford Series on Cognitive Models and Architectures) applies those methods to large-scale cognitive brain models.

Eliasmith holds a Canada Research Chair in Theoretical Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo. He is also Director of Waterloo's Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience, and is jointly appointed in the Philosophy, Systems Design Engineering departments, as well as being cross-appointed to Computer Science.

For more on Chris, visit

jueves, 30 de mayo de 2013

A Sea Slug Powered by the Sun

ORIGINAL: BiologyBiozine
December 1, 2008

Imagine that after eating a big salad, you were able to use the photosynthetic pigments in the lettuce to your advantage. Such is the case with Elysia chlorotica, and a few other unusual species of sea slugs. These unique animals are able to incorporate the photosynthetic components from the algae they eat into their own bodies—effectively becoming partially solar-powered.
The sea slug Elysia chlorotica uses the chloroplasts from the algae it eats to photosynthesize. (Photo Credit: Mary S.Tyler)
An Introduction to Elysia chlorotica

Elysia chlorotica is a species of sea slug that is found along the eastern coast of North America, from Nova Scotia to Florida. The sea slugs live in coastal salt marshes, tidal marshes, tidal pools, and shallow creeks. As a juvenile, E. chlorotica is reddish-brown in color. After feeding on the alga Vaucheria litorea, the sea slug turns a brilliant shade of green. Why does this dramatic change happen? As the sea slug digests the algae, it is able to retain the algae’s chloroplasts, or photosynthetic structures. These chloroplasts are sent to the surface of the sea slug’s body—where, curiously, they continue to photosynthesize.
Harnessing the Power of the Sun

Dr. Mary Rumpho, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Maine, studies E. chlorotica. Her research interests include learning how the sea slugs are able to photosynthesize by studying the relationship between the sea slugs and their algal food source. A second research project is focused on determining whether the large amount of mucous the soft-bodied sea slug produces as an anti-predator defense mechanism has any potential as an anti-cancer or anti-microbial medium.

Rumpho and her colleagues collected sea slugs from an intertidal marsh on Martha’s Vineyard (a large island located off the coast of Massachusetts). Although she had earlier found that the sea slugs were able to incorporate chloroplasts from the algae they ate into their bodies, it was not yet understood how the sea slugs were able to use the chloroplasts to photosynthesize on their own. The algal chloroplasts only contain enough DNA to encode about 10 percent of the proteins needed to photosynthesize; the remaining 90 percent of proteins are found within the algae’s nuclear DNA.
The alga Vaucheria litorea is the preferred food source of E. chlorotica.
(Photo Credit: Mary Rumpho-Kennedy)
In their experiment, Rumpho’s team first sequenced the DNA of the alga Vaucheria litorea. Their results confirmed that the alga’s chloroplasts would not be able to function properly on their own. Next, the scientists analyzed the DNA of the sea slugs. The scientists discovered that the sea slug’s DNA contained one of the vital algal genes necessary for photosynthesis to occur. The sequence of the gene was exactly the same as the algal version—evidence that the sea slug most likely “stole” the gene from its algal food source.

Mysteries Remain
Rumpho’s research showed that the sea slugs are able to use the chloroplasts because some of the alga’s genes become a part of the sea slug’s genome. How the genes are transferred from an alga to a sea slug is not entirely understood. One hypothesis is that genes from the alga are incorporated into the sea slug’s genome through a process called horizontal gene transfer. Although such a transfer of genes is common in bacteria (it’s the method behind bacterial antibiotic resistance), horizontal gene transfer is much less common in multicellular organisms. Horizontal gene transfer is an important mechanism of evolution. According to the theory of endosymbiosis, organelles such as mitochondria and chloroplasts began as separate prokaryotic organisms that were swallowed by different types of bacteria. Mitochondria developed from proteobacteria; chloroplasts developed from cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).

Another hypothesis is that the algal genes are transferred into the sea slug’s genome via a virus. However, though the scientists have identified viruses in the sea slugs, they have yet to find evidence that a virus is actually involved in gene transfer. As Rumpho and her colleagues learn more about the sea slug’s ability to photosynthesize, more questions arise. Currently, the scientists are studying how genes are expressed in specific cells, and they hope that these studies will help shine a light on the exact mechanism behind the gene transfer.

More to Explore

Trust me, I'm a "Biologist" added a new photo.

Nuevos materiales poliméricos para remover contaminantes del agua


Investigan nuevos materiales poliméricos para remover contaminantes del agua (FOTO: UDEC).
Ya han mostrado buenos resultados para el tratamiento de aguas industriales, principalmente para la remoción de metales tóxicos

UDEC/DICYT Desarrollar nuevos materiales poliméricos para la separación de metales pesados desde el agua de consumo así como de residuos industriales, es el objetivo del Proyecto de Cooperación Innovative materials and methods for water treatment, Chilturpol, del Programa Marie Curie Actions, en el que trabajan investigadores de Turquía, Polonia y de la facultad de Ciencias Químicas de la Universidad de Concepción (UEDC), a través del grupo de trabajo del Dr. Bernabé Rivas.

En el marco de este proyecto, que ya está en su tercer año, visitaron la Facultad los investigadores polacos Dra. Dorota Jermakowicz-Bartkowiak, el Dr. Zygmunt Sadowski y la estudiante de doctorado Eliza Nazar de la Universidad Tecnológica de Wroclaw, Polonia. Además se encuentran trabajando en los laboratorios de Ciencias Químicas los estudiantes de maestría Eren Yorukoglu y Gulsah Ozkula, de la Universidad de Ege, Izmir, Turquía.

La iniciativa de remoción de metales del agua, mediante la combinación de diferentes materiales como membranas, resinas y polímeros solubles, ya ha tenido importantes avances en el desarrollo de tecnologías para el tratamiento de agua.

A juicio de la Dra. Jermakowicz-Bartkowiak, sus resinas muestran buenos resultados para el tratamiento de aguas industriales, principalmente para la remoción de metales tóxicos como cromo. En el caso de la estudiante de doctorado Eliza Nazar, ella avanzó el año pasado en la remoción de boro con polímeros solubles en membranas y ahora está trabajando en resinas impregnadas para la remoción de arsénico.

En tanto el Dr. Sadowski está investigando cómo interactúan las bacterias y los minerales, además de la migración de los iones metálicos hacia el agua y cómo éstos pudieran remediar ciertos problemas. Recordó que es ampliamente conocido que metales como el arsénico son altamente tóxicos para el cuerpo y que “se ha reportado que el consumo de agua con altas concentraciones produce enfermedades como cáncer, problemas estomacales y en la piel. Por eso es importante desarrollar tecnologías para remover estos contaminantes, antes de que sean consumidos por la población añadió.

Respecto a los estudiantes de Turquía, ellos están trabajando en la síntesis de nuevos materiales para la separación de especies tóxicas, principalmente arsénico y boro.

El proyecto Chilturpol contempla el intercambio de investigadores, profesores y estudiantes desde Turquía y Polonia, así como desde Chile hacia ambos países.

Big Data in Biotech: Where do we go from here? OBR-Bay @ UCSF, June 17th

ORIGINAL: Oxbridge Biotech
by Nick Mordwinkin, OBR-Bay
Tuesday, 28th May 2013
Do big questions come from big data?

SAN FRANCISCO, California – Big data in the Silicon Valley is about more than just getting people to click ads. The real promise lies in understanding health from the molecular to the population level. Recently “Big Data” has become almost cliché, a buzzword bandied about The Valley by tech stars leveraging their mathematical acumen to crunch site visits and bounce rates to deliver ever more potent advertisements. But the real promise of Big Data lies in health care. As the cost of acquiring data lowers, academia and industry are amassing data by the petabyte (that’s 1,000 terabytes) from 
  • microarrays, 
  • high-throughput sequencing, 
  • drug compound libraries, and even 
  • patient data
For example, when the Human Genome Project wrapped up in 2003, it took more than a decade and billions of dollars to appreciate the 20,000 genes buried within the 3 billion bases.

Now another 3 billion bases can be sequenced in a morning. The price has continued to fall, from billions in the 1990s, to $10M in 2007, to less than $1000 today – a vertiginous decline outpacing Gordon Moore’s eponymous law. From sequencing in the clinic, to predictive modeling of drug compounds, evidence-based medicine and massive clinical trials – the commercial potential of Big Data is approaching an inflection point in the life sciences. The real question is, how do we take mountains of this data from the server closet and the cloud and translate it into clinically relevant outcomes? As AstraZeneca’s Vice President of R&D, John Reynders, warns, “big data is only going to be as good as the questions that are being asked of it.” And now even billionaire philanthropist Li Ka Shing is getting in the act. Recently his foundation awarded Oxford University £20 million ($31 million) to help establish the Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery, which will include a Big Data Institute. The goal of this center is to analyze large data sets from DNA sequencing, electronic medical records, and other sources in order to advance knowledge about treatments and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer.

Locally, more and more Bay Area startups are springing up with a major focus on collecting and interpreting Big Data. Syapse, which was founded at Stanford University in 2008, aims at disrupting healthcare by “bringing omics into routine medical use.” Their suite of cloud-based applications enables the generation and use of next generation genomic sequencing to diagnostic companies hospitals, laboratories, research institutions, insurance companies, and medical clinics, with the ultimate goal of improving patient care by helping clinicians with the diagnosis and treatment of patients. Syapse recently raised $3 million in series A financing led by The Social+Capital Partnership.

To help answer these questions, Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable’s OBR-Bay chapter is holding a panel discussion on Monday, June 17 entitled “The Commercial Potential of Big Data in Biotech”. The event will be held at Genentech Hall at the University of California, San Francisco Mission Bay Campus, and led by Sarah Aerni, Senior Data Scientist at Pivotal, and Jonathan Hirsch, Founder and President at Syapse.

miércoles, 29 de mayo de 2013

Glowing Plants: Natural Lighting with no Electricity

ORIGINAL: Kickstarter

Create GLOWING PLANTS using synthetic biology and Genome Compiler's software - the first step in creating sustainable natural lighting

As seen on:

What we are offering:
All backers from the USA who back the project with $40 or more will receive seeds to grow a glowing plant at home. Once we have the plant, it is just a matter of breeding enough offspring to grow seeds for all backers. You can expect around 50-100 small seeds in the packet. 

***Update - If you back the project at the $150 and we meet our stretch goal then we will ship you a glowing rose as well when it's completed. Delivery will be 6-12 months after the delivery of the glowing plant***

For those outside the USA we are waiving additional international shipping charges to compensate for not being able to send you the seeds. If you get the book and write to us after the project we will also send you a vial of the DNA that way if it's legal in your country (your responsibility to check) and you can source the other ingredients (eg Agrobacterium) you can follow the instructions in the book and make your own plant.

***Update - We've added a new vase, here's a picture, available for a pledge of $80 shipping with glowing plant seeds:

* See Risks and Challenges section regarding release of seeds. 
The team making this happen

Help Spread the Word about the Glowing Plant project: 

·Follow us on twitter (
·Like us on Facebook (
·Email your friends our blog (
·Tweet about the project - click here for a sample tweet

Please back the project and tell everyone know to help spread the word!
Thank You for Your Support - We Hope You'll Join Us in Making this Project Successful! 
Additional information:

What is Synthetic Biology? 

All living organisms contain an instruction set that determines what they look like and what they do. These instructions are encoded in the organisms’s DNA — long and complex strings of molecules embedded in every living cell. This is an organism’s genetic code (or “genome”).

Humans have been altering the genetic code of plants and animals for millennia, by selectively breeding individuals with desirable features. As biotechnologists have learned more about how to read and manipulate this code, they have begun to take genetic information associated with useful features from one organism, and add it into another one. This is the basis of genetic engineering, and has allowed researchers to speed up the process of developing new breeds of plants and animals.

More recently we have learnt how to make new sequences of DNA from scratch. By combining these techniques with the principles of modern engineering, scientists can now use computers and laboratory chemicals to design organisms that do new things.

This is the essence of synthetic biology and it’s potential is tremendous – we can use it to produce cheaper, more efficient biofuels, to excrete the precursors of medical drugs or create new plants which naturally glow.

Why do we need your help?

We’ve already invested our own time and money into the project developing the DNA designs, finding partners to help execute and investigating the legal ramifications but don’t have the financial resources to print the DNA and complete the transformations ourselves. 

By backing this project you can help create the world’s first naturally glowing plant, inspire others to become interested in synthetic biology and receive some awesome rewards in the process. 

What will you use the funds for?

We are using Synthetic Biology techniques and Genome Compiler’s software to insert bioluminescence genes into Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant and member of the mustard family, to make a plant that visibly glows in the dark (it is inedible).

Funds raised will be used to print the DNA sequences we have designed using Genome Compiler and to transform the plants by inserting these sequences into the plant and then growing the resultant plant in the lab. 

Printing DNA costs a minimum of 25 cents per base pair and our sequences are about 10,000 base pairs long. We plan to print a number of sequences so that we can test the results of trying different promoters – this will allow us to optimize the result. We will be printing our DNA with Cambrian Genomics who have developed a revolutionary laser printing system that massively reduces the cost of DNA synthesis.

Transforming the plant will initially be done using the Agrobacterium method. Our printed DNA will be inserted into a special type of bacteria which can insert its DNA into the plant. Flowers of the plant are then dipped into a solution containing the transformed bacteria. The bacteria injects our DNA into the cell nucleus of the flowers which pass it onto their seeds which we can grow until they glow! You can see this process in action in our video.

Once we have proven the designs work we will then insert the same gene sequence into the plant using a gene gun. This is more complicated, as there's a risk the gene sequence gets scrambled, but the result will be unregulated by the USDA and thus suitable for release.

Funds raised will also be used to support our work to develop an open policy framework for DIY Bio work involving recombinant DNA. This framework will provide guidelines to help others who are inspired by this project navigate the regulatory and social challenges inherent in community based synthetic biology. The framework will include recommendations for what kinds of projects are safe for DIY Bio enthusiasts and recommendations for the processes which should be put in place (such as getting experts to review the plans).

Why now?

Recent advances in the field of synthetic biology, such as Genome Compiler’s software and Cambrian Genomics DNA printing hardware, have brought the cost and complexity of genetically engineering new organisms within reach of amateurs:
Amazing exponential drop in costs of synthetic biology

As the chart shows, the costs continue to fall, and within a few years thousands of DIY Bio enthusiasts will be using Citizen Science to inspire their own creations. We want to create a signature project which inspires them and demonstrates to the world what’s already possible with a little creativity and imagination. 

Is this legal?

Yes it is! There are three federal agencies which regulate Genetically Modified organisms in the US, each with a different remit for public safety:
USDA regulates plant and agriculture impact through APHIS and are the most relevant for our project. We've been in touch with them to understand and address their main concerns which are mainly related to the introduction of potential plant pests. After more than 15 years working with genetically engineered crops they have established a set of guidelines for what needs additional testing, and what doesn't. So long as we meet all their requirements we can safely release the plant. One of their inputs was that we should use the gene-gun technique to transform our plants, instead of Agrobacterium.
EPA regulates new uses of pesticides - many GMO's introduce pesticide or herbicide resistance to their plants (either as a selection agent or as an intended outcome). We have elected not to do this, as we can use the glowing effect as a marker, so will not need to go through their testing procedures.
FDA regulates food and feedstock implications and requires extensive testing to make sure the product is safe if this is the case. Because our plant is strictly ornamental and not for consumption by animals or humans we do not have to go through this testing.

We will continue to liaise with the federal agencies, especially APHIS, as the project develops to ensure we are compliant with the frameworks they have put in place to protect the public.

Regrettably the European Union has tighter restrictions in place so we can’t send seeds there as a reward.

Is this safe?

The head of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, George Church, who works extensively on engineering biosafety described our project as 'as safe as it gets'. We are introducing non-pathogenic, non-toxic, well categorized genes to a model plant which is well understood by biologists and which will not survive very well in the environment. 

In the lab we will comply with all NIH guidelines on recombinant DNA research. Our work is graded at Biosafety Level 1, which is the lowest level of risk to the external environment.

What is Genome Compiler?

Genome Compiler is software, designed by Omri and his team, which allows a user to easily design genetic sequences and order them online. The software includes a large database of genetic parts and a beautiful interface so you can easily combine them to create your desired results.

What is Cambrian Genomics?

At Cambrian Genomics Austen and his team make the first commercial hardware/systems for laser printing DNA. Presently, researchers in academia and industry order or clone >$1b/year of DNA. Cambrian plans to deliver high quality sequence verified DNA to buyers in this existing/growing worldwide market.

What is Project Cyborg?

Currently being developed by the Bio/Nano/Programmable Group at Autodesk Research, Project Cyborg is a cloud-based meta-platform of design tools for programming matter across domains and scales. Project Cyborg provides elastic cloud-based computation in a web-based CAD shell for services such as modeling, simulation and multi-objective design optimization. Project Cyborg allows individuals or groups to create specialized design platforms specific for their domains, whatever their domains happen to be, from nanoparticle design to tissue engineering, to human-scale self-assembling manufacturing.

Who made your video?

The video was made by Rick Symonds, who is based on San Francisco. You can see more of his work and contact him at

Video Music: "The March" by LIGHTS & MOTION Courtesy of Deep Elm

Where can I get more information?

Want to know more? Just give us a call +1-415-779-6333 or email antony at glowing plant dot com.

We are confident that we can deliver on the rewards we are offering backers. There are two main risks to the project:

1) Transformation 
We have put every care into the designs of the DNA but we may not get the glowing result we (and you) hope for. Biology is complicated and while we are confident of getting some glowing effect (it's been done before in a research lab) we may not get a strong effect as we (or you) want or it may be unreliable. We hope to have a plant which you can visibly see in the dark (like glow in the dark paint) but don't expect to replace your light bulbs with version 1.0. The more money we raise, the more we can refine our designs and the stronger the effect we will get so please tell all your friends about the project.

2) Emerging regulation 
We have received written indication from USDA/APHIS that our plant will not require a permit. However this is a new field and it is possible that more restrictive regulations are implemented during the project that will require us to get a permit which would delay the release of the seeds or possibly block the release altogether.


$406,245pledged of $65,000 goal

8days to go

This project will be funded on Friday Jun 7, 1:00am EDT.

Funding period 
Apr 23, 2013 - Jun 7, 2013

Project by

First created · 4 backed
Antony Evans 1054 friends

Pledge $40 or more

1000 backers All gone!

GLOWING PLANT SEEDS. Grow your own glowing plant at home, includes full instructions for how to tend and care for it
Estimated delivery: May 2014
Ships within the US only

Pledge $65 or more

200 backers All gone!

Recycled light bulb vase that you can show off to your friends BONUS: Glowing plant seeds
Estimated delivery: May 2014

Pledge $120 or more

100 backers All gone!

EARLY BIRD. Be the first to get an actual glowing plant.
Estimated delivery: May 2014
Ships within the US only

Scientists poke frozen mammoth, liquid blood squirts out

29 MAY 13 

The mammoth's blood was liquidSemyon Grigoriev/Northeastern Federal University
The frozen remains of a mammoth have been discovered on an island north of Siberia -- with blood that is still liquid.

The 10,000-year-old beast was found on one of the Lyakhovsky Islands in the Novosibirsk archipelago off the northern coast of Siberia. Researchers from the Northeastern Federal University in Yakutsk poked the remains with an ice pick, and, incredibly, blood flowed out.

Semyon Grigoriev, chairman of the university's Museum of Mammoths and head of the expedition, said: "The fragments of muscle tissues, which we've found out of the body, have a natural red colour of fresh meat. The reason for such preservation is that the lower part of the body was underlying (sic) in pure ice, and the upper part was found in the middle of tundra. We found a trunk separately from the body, which is the worst-preserved part."

The temperature was ten degrees celsius below zero when the mammoth was found, so the discovery of liquid blood was a shock. "It can be assumed that the blood of mammoths had some cryo-protective properties," Grigoriev said. "The blood is very dark, it was found in ice cavities below the belly and when we broke these cavities with a pick, the blood came running out."

Analysis of the mammoth's teeth and bones showed it to be between 50 and 60 years old when it died. Its partially-consumed state -- with her trunk found separately nearby -- left the researchers believing she may have fallen through ice while fleeing predators.

The Northeastern team plans to take an international group of scientists to study the mammoth during the summer, in July and August, rather than risking damaging the specimen by excavating it and taking it to the nearest city by helicopter.

Grigoriev has been involved in searching for mammoth remains for several years, and the discovery of liquid mammoth blood is, like previous discoveries, likely to renew discussion about the possibility of cloning mammoths. In September 2012 reports came in that remains with "living" cells had been found by Grigoriev and his team elsewhere in Siberia, but the excitement soon dissipated when it became clear that a translation error had made the discovery seem more impressive than it was.

Also, while Northeastern University did sign a prominent agreement with South Korea's Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in 2011 to clone a mammoth using recovered mammoth bone marrow, there has been little news from the programme since. Many observers have been sceptical it can achieve its aims, especially as it's led by geneticist Hwang Woo-Suk -- the man who was exposed for faking research in 2006 when he claimed to have cloned human stem cells.

This mammoth is one of several found in recent months -- reported on another that was found in the Siberian tundra by a small boy last November when he was out walking his dog.


martes, 28 de mayo de 2013

University of Texas researchers design synthetic trees for producing water and energy efficient algal biofuels

By David Wogan
April 4, 2013

UT Austin researchers Thomas Murphy (left) and Dr. Halil Berberoglu (right) have developed a novel approach to cultivating algal biofuels by designing synthetic trees. Photo credit: The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Carol Grosvenor.

The idea is straightforward: grow algae in large quantities and harvest the energy dense byproducts as an alternative to fossil fuels. Like larger plants, microalgae use solar energy to fix carbon dioxide into energy dense molecules, which can then be used to synthesize transportation fuels, or produce bio-plastics and other materials.

But the current processes are largely inefficient, requiring large water and energy inputs. In order to scale up algal biofuel production, the end-to-end process must be made more efficient.

Dr. Halil Berberoglu and Thomas Murphy, researchers in the Mechanical Engineering Department at The University of Texas at Austin, are taking clues from natural processes to improve algae cultivation by designing synthetic “tree” structures. Their system, called the Surface Adhering Bioreactor (SABR), mimics the way trees deliver nutrients and transport sap while allowing for finer control over inputs and growing conditions than traditional cultivation methods (UT Austin):

In this concept, algae cells are grown as photosynthetic biofilms on porous surfaces that keep them hydrated and provide them with the nutrients they need for growing to maturity. Once the biofilm is matured, the supply of certain nutrients is stopped and the growth of cells is inhibited. At this point, the algae are provided with the necessary inputs to carry on photosynthesizing and secreting out energy dense molecules, such as free fatty acids. These are carried away from the cells in small channels mimicking the veins in plants and concentrated using evaporation-driven flows.

These concentrated energy-dense molecules can then be converted to a wide variety of biofuels. Once the algal biofilm reaches the end of its productive life over several months, it is removed, a new biofilm is grown to maturity, and the cycle continues. In this way, the available solar energy, water, and nutrients are directed more towards the production of fuel precursors and less towards growth, achieving a higher solar energy conversion and resource utilization efficiency

A pulse amplified modulated (PAM) fluorometer is used to measure the photosynthetic productivity of the biofilms. Photo credit: The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Carol Grosvenor.

In experiments, Dr. Berberoglu and Mr. Murphy have seen improved efficiency over traditional cultivation methods. Mr. Murphy explains in an email:

In one experiment, we ran a SABR side by side with an identically sized suspended growth photobioreactor to compare their water and energy efficiencies. The working water volume of the SABR was 25 times less than that of the conventional reactor. Further, about 40 Watts per cubic meter of culture volume were required to mix the suspended growth reactor, whereas this power requirement was eliminated for SABR. In certain regions of the SABR, the growth rate was four times greater than that of the conventional reactor. Averaged over the entire SABR, the growth rate was about equal to that of the conventional reactor.

Even with these improvements, maximizing productivity while minimizing water loss remains a significant challenge. Mr. Murphy again:

Since evaporation provides the driving force for delivering nutrients and water to the organisms, faster nutrient delivery requires faster evaporation. Real trees face this challenge as well. When it gets hot, leaves close their stomata, thereby preventing excessive evaporation but also retarding delivery of nutrients from the soil. This is an effective water management strategy, but then again, trees don’t grow very quickly. Right now we are working on strategies for maximizing productivity while minimizing the water loss rate.

The UT Austin research team intends to submit their methodology and results for peer review next month. For more information on Dr. Berberoglu’s research, visit his faculty page here.

Video credit: Faculty Innovation Center, Cockrell School of Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin.
About the Author: An engineer who explores the relationships between energy, technology, and policy. Based in Austin, TX. Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.