Developments to Watch
TURNING BOSSIE INTO A LIVING DRUG FACTORY
THANKS TO GENETIC engineering, scientists can direct cells to produce all kinds of proteins that have therapeutic or nutritional value. But cranking them out in large volumes is a challenge. Robert D. Bremel, dairy science professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says a good solution can be found in the barnyard. "Cows are the answer," he declares.
Bremel injects special genes into the udders of cows, altering the cells so they produce milk mixed with drugs or other useful products. One example is a high-intensity sweetener derived from a Central African berry, which could be used in diet foods. Another is an antibody that recognizes tumors, meaning it could assist in finding and attacking human cancer. To market such products, Bremel and several partners six months ago started a company called Gala Design in Sauk City, Wis.
Cows promise several advantages over sheep and goats, whose milk has been manipulated by other biotech startups to yield drugs. Because of the size of the dairy industry, there could be huge economies of scale. And many dairy plants already use milk-processing techniques easily adaptable to genetic manipulation. There's no need to clone Bossie to make all this possible. If she gets a dose of the right genes, she's got everything she needs to do the job.By Greg Burns EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top
IT'S CHILLY. LET'S TURN UP THE PAINT
TIRED OF GURGLING radiators and icy window seats? Try electric paint. Developed by two French inventors, this gray-colored concoction rolls on just like regular wall paint. But hook up a 12-volt battery to the painted surface via two electrodes, and it heats up to 68F in two minutes, thanks to conductive tin and antimony oxides swirling through the paint. The surface can be covered with ordinary acrylic paint, wallpaper, or tiles.
Inventors Gilles Thuny, president of French paintmaker Peintures Renaudin, and Jean-Claude Sinigaglia dreamed up the paint as a way to make drafty French country homes a little cozier in the winter. They applied for international patents in 1993 and are now looking for industrial partners to help develop and market the product.
The first customer is the French army, which is testing the product for use in a variety of training drills involving infrared detection devices and heat-seeking weapons. But Thuny says there are other, less exotic applications: coatings to prevent water pipes from freezing in winter, heating systems in cars and trucks, and--if the product clears European regulatory hurdles--wall paint to replace radiators in homes. The inventors say that users will eventually be able to control the heat by means of a thermostat.By Mia Trinephi EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top
ARE YOU IN LOVE, OR IS IT YOUR GENES?
COULD THE GLINT OF DESIRE IN YOUR LOVER'S EYE JUST be a reflection of some DNA? Metaphorically, that's what researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., are proposing. They've found a gene that regulates sexual behavior in fruit flies. When it's inoperative in female flies, they reject sexual overtures from males, fleeing from and sometimes even kicking their suitors. In males, damage to this love gene triggers indiscriminate mating attempts with males as well as females. Researchers have wryly dubbed the gene "dissatisfaction."
The discovery, says Salk researcher Michael McKeown, "lays the groundwork for understanding the relationship between genes and sexual behavior." In this case, the gene affects both pathways in the brain and the ability of females to release eggs. What are the implications for humans? Social and cultural factors are obviously key, but McKeown thinks that genes influence human sexuality as well. The human version of "dissatisfaction" is probably one of them.By David Graham EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top