All posts by Daniel Davies

Scientists discover fungi has untapped potential to produce new antibiotics and ask for governments help to realise it

Scientists have discovered the potential for new antibiotics by locating the genes responsible for the production of various bioactive compounds, like antibiotics, in 24 different kinds of fungi.

Now they have asked for governments help to turn their discoveries into drugs that can help people.

Using fungi as a source of new antibiotics was discovered by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology who found that fungi produce many more natural and bioactive chemicals than was previously thought.

“We found that the fungi have enormous, previously untapped, potential for the production of new antibiotics and other bioactive compounds, such as cancer medicines,” said Jens Christian Nielsen, a PhD student at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering.

Image courtesy of Jens Christian Nielsen

Having discovered their potential, the scientists are now calling on governments to support clinical trials that would help kick-start production.

When antibiotics are used, they are typically used with the short-term in mind, in contrast to the long-term therapies that help bring in revenues for pharmaceutical companies.

However, the dangers posed by antibiotic resistance, where simple infections could become lethal once again, means the need for new antibiotics is now urgent.

“Governments need to act. The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to spend money on new antibiotics, it’s not lucrative. This is why our governments have to step in and, for instance, support clinical studies. Their support would make it easier to reach the market, especially for smaller companies. This could fuel production,” said Christian Nielsen.

“It’s important to find new antibiotics in order to give physicians a broad palette of antibiotics, existing ones as well as new ones, to use in treatment. This will make it harder for bacteria to develop resistance.”

Image courtesy of Jens Christian Nielsen

The idea to study Fungi was inspired by the fact that the first antibiotic to be mass-produced –penicillin – was derived from Penicillium fungi.

But while previous efforts to find new antibiotics have mainly focused on bacteria, fungi remain an untapped resource.

“Fungi have been hard to study – we know very little of what they can do – but we do know that they develop bioactive substances naturally, as a way to protect themselves and survive in a competitive environment. This made it logical to apply our research tools to fungi,” said Christian Nielsen.

Facebook announces plans to make a messaging device that types your thoughts

At its F8 conference, Facebook has announced it is working on a brain-controlled messaging technology that would type out people’s thoughts at 100 words per minute.

The “silent speech” interface is being created using technology originally developed by Johns Hopkins APL that decodes neural signals to control paralysed limbs.

However, the project will now be a part of Facebook’s hardware development and research and development group – dubbed Building 8.

“This program is an excellent example of how APL is transitioning novel technologies developed for revolutionizing prosthetics into other domains,” said APL director Ralph Semmel.

“The research agreement with Facebook has also allowed us to expand our pioneering brain–machine interface work, and further combine our expertise in neuroscience with our expertise in optical imaging.”

Facebook’s Building 8 is headed by Regina Dugan, the former director of DARPA. Like DARPA, Building 8 aims to position itself “at the intersection of science and products” and specialise in “DARPA-style breakthrough development”.

Facebook will be helped in this ambition by its ability to set up research projects within weeks or even days, rather than months, and has already partnered with a select group of universities and research centres.

But despite its working with Facebook, Johns Hopkins APL said it has no intention of ignoring its primary objective of delivering effective and resilient solutions to complex health care challenges.

“This research has the potential to radically transform our ability to measure and understand brain activity associated with numerous neurological conditions,” said Sezin Palmer, mission area executive for National Health at APL.

“We are ecstatic to be developing a system that may not only enable mind-blowing applications for our sponsor but also open up an entirely new world to doctors and researchers working to understand the markers of neurological health and human performance.”

Image courtesy of Johns Hopkins APL

In a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said that the company’s ultimate goal was to create a wearable technology that utilised the silent speech technology.

“Our brains produce enough data to stream 4 HD movies every second. The problem is that the best way we have to get information out into the world – speech – can only transmit about the same amount of data as a 1980s modem,” said Zuckerberg.

“We’re working on a system that will let you type straight from your brain about 5x faster than you can type on your phone today. Eventually, we want to turn it into a wearable technology that can be manufactured at scale.

“Technology is going to have to get a lot more advanced before we can share a pure thought or feeling, but this is a first step.”