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February 2006
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New processing steps promise more economical ethanol production

New processing steps promise more economical ethanol production

Blacksburg, Va., March 30, 2006 -- Why isn't ethanol production growing by leaps and bounds in the face of higher gasoline prices? Ethanol production from cornstarch is a $10 billion dollar business in the United States and 4 billion gallons of ethanol will be produced in 2006. In his 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush called for doubling ethanol production by 2012, and replacing 75 percent of Middle Eastern oil with bioethanol from renewable materials by 2025.

"We have the technical ability, but making ethanol production economical is the problem," said Y.H. Percival Zhang, assistant professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech.

Zhang has developed a more cost effective pretreatment process that he will report on at the 231st American Chemical Society National Meeting in Atlanta March 26-30.

. . .

Zhang's cost-effective pretreatment process that integrates three technologies – cellulose solvent pretreatment, concentrated acid saccharification, and organosolv, and overcomes the limitations of existing processes. Instead of a high pressure system that operates at between 150 and 250 degrees C, Zhang's "modest reaction" operates at atmospheric pressure and 50 C (120 F) to pretreat corn residue to free the solid polymeric sugars. In a several-step pretreatment system, Zhang uses a strong cellulose solvent instead of highly corrosive chemicals, high pressure, and high temperature to breakup the linkages among lignin, hemicellulose, and cellulose.

During Zhang's gentler process, there is no sugar degradation and inhibitor formation. In the following step, he creatively uses a highly volatile organic solvent to precipitate dissolved cellulose, extract lignin, and enable effective chemical recycling. After pretreatment and reagent recycling, lignocellulose can be fractionated into four products: lignin, hemicelluose sugars, amorphous cellulose, and acetic acid. "Co-products can generate more income, making biorefinery more profitable, and enable satellite biorefineries that fully utilize scattered lignocellulose resources," said Zhang. "For instance, lignin has many industrial uses, from glue to polymer substitutes and carbon fiber; and xylose can be converted to a healthy sweetening additive – xylitol, or to the precursors for nylon 6."

Amorphous cellulose, which is converted from crystalline cellulose, is another advantageous product from Zhang's process because in this form the cellulose material is more accessible for further hydrolysis, resulting in a higher sugar yield, higher hydrolysis rate, and less enzyme use. Zhang tested amorphous cellulose hydrolysis by adding special enzymes (Trichoderma cellulases) from Genencor International. The result is that about 97 percent of the cellulose is digested after 24 hours of the hydrolysis process.

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3D Ultrasound Device Poised to Advance Minimally Invasive Surgery

Advance might lead to more precise and safer endoscopic surgeries
Thursday, March 30, 2006

Durham, N.C. -- Three-dimensional ultrasound probes built by researchers at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering have imaged the beating hearts of dogs. The engineers said their demonstration showed that the probes could give surgeons a better view during human endoscopic surgeries in which operations are performed through tiny “keyhole” incisions.

If the probes prove beneficial in human testing, the advance might lead to more precise and safer endoscopic surgeries, said the Duke engineers. The researchers reported their advance in the latest issue of the journal Ultrasonic Imaging, which was issued in late March 2006, but dated July 2005. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Full story.

'Even a moron in a hurry' knows which Apple is which

'Even a moron in a hurry' knows which Apple is which, lawyer says
By Matt Dunham, AP

LONDON (AP) — Lawyers for Apple Computer (APPL) on Thursday asserted the company's right to distribute music through its iTunes music store, rejecting claims by The Beatles' Apple Corps that doing so violated a 1991 trademark agreement.

Apple Computer lawyer Anthony Grabiner said the "distribution of digital entertainment content" was permitted under the agreement, in which the two companies promised not to tread on the other's sphere of business.

Full story.

Proposed school would specialize in engineering

Proposed school would specialize in engineering
Health academy success inspires Waukesha South

Posted: March 30, 2006

Waukesha - Following the success of their school's health professions academy, South High School leaders hope to launch another specialty school, this time aimed at preparing students for careers in engineering.

The proposal for the charter school will get its first public airing at a School Board committee meeting next week, according to district officials.

South Principal Mark Hansen said he hopes to get the board's permission to seek a state grant to help plan for the school, which could open in the fall of 2007.

The design of the school would be similar to that of the Waukesha Academy of Health Professions, which opened in 2004 and has about 75 students enrolled for this school year.

Full story.

Neurognostics signs a strategic partnership with Medical Numerics

Neurognostics signs a strategic partnership with Medical Numerics

Milwaukee, WI, March 29, 2006 – Neurognostics, Inc., a Milwaukee-based company specializing in functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) products and services, has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Medical Numerics, Inc., a software development company specializing in medical image visualization and analysis.

Working to provide the clinical community with the most comprehensive functional MR Imaging fMRI tools and applications, Neurognostics and Medical Numerics today announced a strategic alliance to deliver a new line of products to enhance fMRI’s utility in a clinical setting. The new product line will be based on Medical Numerics’ proprietary fMRI tool set, and Neurognostics’ MindState fDPD fMRI application software.

“We are thrilled about the opportunity to work with Medical Numerics,” said Neurognostics’ CEO, Douglas M. Tucker, Ph.D., M.B.A. “Both of our goals include advancing fMRI technology into clinical practice. It made sense for us to collaborate on our efforts to develop clinically useful fMRI tools and make them available to the clinical community. We explored a range of options to deliver fMRI tools into the hands of clinicians worldwide and concluded that Medical Numerics’ fMRI software solutions were by far the best. By partnering with Medical Numerics, we have the opportunity to add value by integrating our fMRI applications knowledge and expertise into one of the leading image visualization and analysis applications, and ultimately, leverage our expertise into the marketplace through Medical Numerics’ software applications and its scanner OEM relationships.”

“I am very excited about working with Neurognostics,” said Bob Steagall, Chief Operating Officer of Medical Numerics. “In combining their domain expertise in fMRI for detecting and staging central nervous system disorders with our expertise in software engineering and fMRI for neurosurgical planning, we will be able to offer our scanner OEM partners a set of fMRI applications of unmatched clinical utility. Our OEM partners will in turn be able to provide leading-edge clinical fMRI tools of the highest quality to their customers, ultimately benefiting the patient.”

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Attack on stem-cell patents

Attack on stem-cell patents

Powerful patents on human embryonic stem cells held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation may be more of an impediment to research on the prized cells than restrictions imposed by President Bush, an article in today's journal Science charges.

Written by a California stem-cell researcher and a Washington, D.C., patent attorney, the Science article charges that WARF's patents on the cells are so broad that they are inhibiting distribution of the cells to other researchers, whether at universities or private laboratories.

It's not a new allegation. But the authors are more strident than past critics and go so far as to say the patents are "a more daunting barrier to progress in the field" than controversial federal restrictions, which limit the number of stem-cell lines that qualify for federal research dollars.

Full story.

In Mouse Experiment, Cells From Testes Are Transformed

Embryonic Stem Cell Success
In Mouse Experiment, Cells From Testes Are Transformed

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 25, 2006; Page A11

Scientists in Germany said yesterday that they had retrieved easily obtained cells from the testes of male mice and transformed them into what appear to be embryonic stem cells, the versatile and medically promising biological building blocks that can morph into all kinds of living tissues.

If similar starter cells exist in the testes of men, as several scientists yesterday said they now believe is likely, then it may not be difficult for scientists to cultivate them in laboratory dishes, grow them into new tissues and transplant those tissues into the ailing organs of men who donated the cells.

The technique would have vast advantages over the current approach to growing "personalized" replacement parts -- an approach that has stirred intense political controversy because it requires the creation and destruction of cloned human embryos as stem cell sources. The new work suggests that every male may already have everything he needs to regenerate new tissues -- at least with a little help from his local cell biologist.

Full story.

Adult cells in mice shown to mimic embryonic stem cells

LONDON (Reuters) - German scientists said on Friday they had isolated sperm-producing stem cells that have similar properties to embryonic stem cells from adult mice.

If the same type of cells in humans show similar qualities the researchers from the Georg-August-University of Goettingen believe they could be used in stem cell research which would remove the ethical dilemma associated with stem cells derived from human embryos.

"These isolated spermatogonial stem cells respond to culture conditions and acquire embryonic stem cell properties," Gerd Hasenfuss and his colleagues said in report published online by the journal Nature.

Stem cells are master cells that have the potential to develop into any cell type in the body. Scientists believe they could act as a type of repair system to provide new therapies for illnesses ranging from diabetes to Parkinson's.

But their use is controversial because the most promising stem cells for treating human disease are derived from very early human embryos left over from fertility treatments.

In the report Hasenfuss and his team described how they isolated the sperm-producing stem cells from mice testes.

The cells, which they call multipotent adult germline stem cells (maGSCs), under certain conditions, acted like embryonic stem cells. When the researchers injected the cells into early embryos they found the cells contributed to the development of different organs.

Full story.

B vitamin case reaches Supreme Court

B vitamin case reaches Supreme Court
ANDREW BRIDGESAssociated Press

WASHINGTON - B vitamin deficiencies can cause a range of serious health effects, including spinal defects in children born to women with below-normal levels of folic acid and anemia in people not getting enough B12. That's why a two-step method of diagnosing those deficiencies that three medical school doctors patented in 1990 has become so widely used. It's performed tens of millions of times a year, at a cost of just a dollar or two, by laboratory testing companies nationwide.

Now, to the surprise of patent attorneys, a case involving one of those companies, sued after it stopped paying some royalties, has landed in the Supreme Court, where arguments will be heard Tuesday.
Even more surprising is that the Supreme Court may dredge up a bombshell question not asked when the lower courts considered the case: Have inventors been busy patenting laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas?

At stake, attorneys on both sides of the case say, are 25 years of patent law and literally tens of thousands of patents on drugs, medical devices, computer software and other inventions. If the court reins in what can be patented, they say, it could be among the most important patent law decisions ever made.

Full story.

Nanofibres help nerves in brain regrow

Nanofibres help nerves in brain regrow
16 March 2006

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US, Hong Kong University and Fourth Military Medical University, China, have used a nanofibre scaffold to help nerve cells regenerate in the brains of hamsters. The technique restored at least some sight to around three quarters of the animals.

"Our self-assembling peptide nanofibre scaffold created a good environment not only for axons to regenerate through the site of an acute injury, but also to knit the brain tissue together," said Shuguang Zhang of MIT.

Zhang and colleagues injected a solution of the peptides into the animals' brains. The fibres then self-assembled into a network in the void in the animal's brain caused by injury. The technique could ultimately help people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and stroke.

"If we can reconnect parts of the brain that were disconnected by a stroke, then we may be able to restore speech to an individual who is able to understand what is said but has lost the ability to speak," said Rutledge Ellis-Behnke of MIT. "This is not about restoring 100% of damaged brain cells, but 20% or even less may be enough to restore function."

The nanofibre scaffold consists of peptide nanofibres around 10 nm in diameter. The fibres form a network that is similar in scale to the surrounding matrix. The researchers believe that the presence of the network promotes cell migration into the region, which creates a "growth-permissive environment".

Full story.