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Familiar Refrain in Nanotechnology and Food: More Research is Needed

A hearing was held earlier this week at the UK House of Lords (not to be confused with the House of Commons) to bring together leading experts to discuss and report on the potential risks of nanopatrticles in food.

The main interest I had in this particular meeting was that a video was made of the entire proceedings.

The meeting brought four experts, including Professor Ken Donaldson from the University of Edinburgh and Dr Qasim Chaudhry from the Food and Environment Research Agency, before the Select Committee on Nanotechnologies in Food in order to present evidence on the risk or safety of nanotechnologies in food, or lack thereof.

The experts seemed to utter the same refrain repeatedly, one with which we should accustom ourselves to for the foreseeable future: more research is needed.

Of course, the research that was lacking was sometimes in the areas that some of the experts were doing their research, such as how nanoparticles interact with the body while in the digestive system. But I donâ''t really mind these self-serving calls for more research (as long as it is in their field of research) just as long we can shorten the time we have to hear â''more research is needed.â''

I just appreciate hearing some honest admittance of ignorance on the risk of nanoparticles in food to the hysterical knee-jerk reactions of those who have confused their dislike for corporations with some perceived threat from nanotechnologies in food or anything else.

Letâ''s just keep doing the science.

Nanotechnology and STD Treatment

The news services have been buzzing over reports that nanomaterials could be used in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) like HIV.

A team of Yale University researchers have been able to get short-interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules, which the body uses to produce viral suppressing proteins, to where they are needed to combat a viral infection.

The trick has been to attach the siRNA molecules to a biodegradable polymer, known as polylactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA), that acts as the transportation for the siRNA so it reaches the site of the infection.

Needless to say this all pretty early-stage research having only advanced to cell cultures and not to mice tests as of yet. But the results have been impressive with the transport mechanism not only reaching the intended target but remaining in the tissue to continue fighting the infection for up to 14 days.

Standardized Chargers for Cell Phonesâ¿¿All Good, All Green


I first met the folks at Green Plug at the Demo conference early last year. They had designed a universal charger that could work for all consumer electronics devices, eliminating the need to carry multiple chargers on the road or fill multiple power outlets with charging devices at home. The Green Plug charger offered energy savingsâ''because it could detect when a device was done charging and shut down. The secretâ''it talks to devices to find out their voltage and power requirements. The obstacle to successâ''the devices have to talk back, that is, consumer electronics manufacturers have to build Green Plugâ''s software into the devices. â''Good luck with that,â'' I thought, even though I saw it as a great idea and wished them success.

Well, Green Plug is indeed having some luck with that. Last week the company announced that it has convinced 17 wireless operators and mobile phone handset makers, under the auspices of the worldwide GSM Association, to build Green Plug compatibility into their devices by 2012. That means chargers will be interchangeable among manufacturers and work with future handsets. Which means, for me, could mean leaving three chargers at home when packing my family up for our next vacation.

Sun's Simon Phipps: Java Cloud Dispute Is a Tempest in a Teapot

This kerfuffle probably doesn't deserve much attention (in fact, we almost let it go entirely), but it probably bears mentioning.

Last month, Simon Phipps, the chief open source officer for Sun Microsystems, penned a little blog item in which he criticized the folks working on the Google App Engine for creating subsets of the core classes in the Java platform in their cloud computing endeavor.

Phipps commented simply:

Whether you agree with Sun policing it or not, Java compatibility has served us all very well for over a decade. That includes being sure as a developer that all core classes are present on all platforms. Creating sub-sets of the core classes in the Java platform was forbidden for a really good reason, and it's wanton and irresponsible to casually flaunt the rules.

For some reason, a reporter at ITworld picked up the comment and ran with a story claiming that Phipps had slammed Google's developers for committing "a major transgression by only including support for a subset of Java classes in its App Engine development platform."

That was enough to get the tweets flying, and pretty soon the incident became a big enough deal to merit a discussion thread on Slashdot, the software development community site. There, hardcore Java users roundly debated the merits of implementing only pure Java core classes in new applications. Typical of the arguments were these responses: "I think that Phipps is upset because Sun is in the process of gearing up their own cloud services, and the last thing they want is Google's Java support drawing enterprise interest to AppEngine while they try to get Sun's cloud service off the ground"; and "What Google should have done was engage in the JCP [Java Community Process] to define a new profile for supported 'device'.... At least that way it would have been within the framework of practice understood and used by Java developers. Instead, Google just said 'here's what's available', without tying into any of the already available accepted ways of defining a subset of Java."

The brouhaha became so loud that Phipps had to post a full rebuttal explaining his earlier remarks. In it, he notes that he is "delighted" that Google is supporting the Java platform in App Engine. He then writes: "It seems entirely likely that Google's approach here to 'subsetting' is simply because they haven't yet gotten around to making everything safe in their sandbox, not because they have some deep philosophical belief that those things should be removed."

Phipps emphasized that he is not an official spokesperson for Sun on the issue. Still, he urged participants in the Java Community Process to press for "a new, agreed Java cloud profile." He added:

What we need as a global Java community is "Java for Cloud" somehow. Given their good work so far, I'd like Google to show leadership and a commitment to openness by taking their subset to the JCP and offering to join a working group to establish a new Java profile for cloud applications.

Phipps reiterated his thoughts on the App Engine debate in an email reply to this reporter: "The Java community probably does need a web/cloud subset, but it needs to be agreed within the community (probably at the JCP). If that doesn't happen, every cloud provider will define their own subset and people writing Java applications for the cloud will have to refactor them for every supplier. Google has done fine work; they should now take it to the JCP and get it agreed."

He added, for the record, that he has nothing to do with Sun's cloud computing business and that his comments are entirely his own. "And for what it's worth, I am amazed by the advanced hermeneutics put into analysing an off-the-cuff tweet I made for insiders," he finished.

Kieron Murphy was a co-creator of The Java Report in 1995.

Nanotech's Bubble/Bust/Boom Cycle Hardly Qualifies for Any of These

I just read Glenn Reynoldsâ'' take on how nanotech had a bubble up until 2005 and then a bust over the last four years and now is beginning to resurge (or boom, if you prefer).

I too like to make comparisons to the Bubble and the Nanotech version. But letâ''s face it, itâ''s like comparing the demise of a kidâ''s lemonade stand to the end of General Motors. The difference in scale makes it hardly a worthy comparison.

But what is really troubling about Reynoldsâ'' piece is that in order to demonstrate how nanotech is making a resurgence (or a new boom, I imagine) he points to a number of different reported research projects. Meanwhile the bust he describes in 2005 is most definitely business oriented with tales of failed IPOs and scaled down market research reports.

It might be possible that Reynolds may have had his Google alert feed turned off between 2005 and the beginning of this year because mine has been filled daily with the latest research developments and over the last four years there has not been any let up.

However, the problem over the last four years, and for which I have not seen any real signs of recovery, is that none of these research projects are leading to much commercialization.

The general sense I have of the last eight years when nanotech has been talked about in terms such as the Next Industrial Revolution is that its bubble was not much of a bubble (how many nanotech companies are publicly traded again?); the bust was hardly a bust (shortened market research reports hardly qualifies as signaling the demise of a sector); and the boom is not much of a boom (another litany of research projects with little to indicate that they are any more likely to be commercial successes than any of the others just doesnâ''t inspire me with new confidence).

I think I have better way to describe nanotech's cycle thus far: it is in its very essence a tortoise, but analysts and pundits and other observers want to describe it as though it was a hare. Being a tortoise is not so bad. It may be slow, but it's steady and it will get there eventually .

Wall Street Buzz: Apple Set to Design Chips for Its Own Gadgets

Apple Inc. is preparing to get into the chip design business, making processors to work in its highly successful line of cell phones and music players, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

The business paper reported today that Apple is hiring engineers and designers in the Silicon Valley area from chipmakers that have been laying-off workers recently. It wrote that the effort by the Cupertino, Calif., computer firm is aimed at extending the features of its handheld devices to stay one step ahead of its rivals.

Apple could possibly use custom designed chips in its hit iPod and iPhone lines to reduce power consumption and accelerate graphics capabilities, in order to bring advanced games to the tiny platforms, insiders told the Journal.

Apple recently hired Raja Koduri, formerly the chief technology officer of the graphics products group at Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Koduri started at Apple this week, following in the footsteps of Bob Drebin, who had held the same title at AMD and is also now working for Apple. Online job postings from Apple describe dozens of chip-related positions it is trying to fill, some with partial descriptions like "testing the functional correctness of Apple developed silicon," according to the Journal account.

A year ago, Apple acquired start-up P.A. Semi to acquire expertise to help run the increasingly sophisticated software on iPhones and iPods. "You can't just go out and buy the chips off the shelf to do that," Apple CEO Steve Jobs told the Journal at the time.

Currently, Apple uses custom-designed microprocessors based on chips from ARM Holdings Plc and manufactured by Samsung Electronics Co. in its cell phones.

Apple declined to comment to media outlets on today's report.

News Report: Chrysler to Declare Bankruptcy and Merge with Fiat

Chrysler LLC, the parent company of the U.S. automaker, will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy tomorrow, paving the way for a merger with Italy's Fiat SpA, according to the Bloomberg news agency.

Bloomberg has reported that Pres. Barack Obama will make the announcement tomorrow, although the bankruptcy plan has not been completely finalized as of today. Chrysler, which is owned primarily by Cerberus Capital Management, of New York City, would sell its best assets to a new entity, according to the Bloomberg account.

The Italian company would become a 20 percent owner of Chrysler, and a union retiree health-care trust fund would own 55 percent, with the rest of the company staying in the U.S. governmentâ''s hands initially, Bloomberg reported.

Chrysler, of Auburn Hills, Mich., was founded in 1925 and is considered one of the "Big Three" of U.S. automakers, along with Ford and General Motors. It employs 58 000 workers worldwide.

Key to Understanding MEPs Tough Stance on Nanotechnology: Non-Binding

In a rather hastily conceived bit of public grandstanding Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted 391 votes in favor and three against, amid four abstentions to support a controversial report from Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter that urges the European Commission to consider nanomaterials as new substances, and that existing legislation does not take into account the risks associated with nanotechnology.

The key, of course, to any bit of political theater like this one is that you need to make sure that it doesnâ''t have any real consequences. In this case, the vote just supported a non-binding opinion.

But what an opinion it is, borne as it is out of the simultaneous misunderstanding of the scientific evidence thus far and perverting that evidence to support your already determined conclusions. TNTLog has a pretty accurate rundown of how these â''opinionsâ'' typically come into being.

Why couldnâ''t the MEPs offer a non-binding opinion that might actually be helpful, like we need to do more research, so letâ''s get it funded? I suppose that wouldnâ''t satisfy those so rabid for â''actionâ'' that they might actually find this opinion helpful. And let's face it, that's who this vote and opinion were meant for, not to further address the issue of nanomaterials' potential risks.

ARPA-E takes first baby steps

Today the first signs of life were evident at ARPA-E. They released a "Funding Opportunity Announcement" which was funded through the American Recovery and

Reinvestment Act of 20093

It's not quite the same thing as a DARPA proposal. For one thing, ARPA-E doesn't really exist yet. For another, it has no program offices and no projects. Also, it has no web site of its own. Doesn't every federal agency need a site of one's own?

Interestingly, IARPA has had a web site since May 2008, the DARPA site has been around since they invented the internet, but ARPA-E's web site languishes as a subdomain of the Department of Energy's web site. They haven't even bought the domain name! The thing was passed into law a year and a half ago!

This might seem a trifling bone to pick but I think it's indicative of a larger program. The Defense Department is not in direct competition with DARPA; DARPA is a valued part of the Pentagon. ARPA-E, on the other hand, has been described by house staffers as kind of a red-headed stepchild of the DOE. The DOE, it seems, resents anything that might siphon tax dollars away from existing projects.

The Discipline of NanoEthics Needs to Exercise Some Discipline

My patience with ethicists who apply themselves to the subject of nanotechnology has worn pretty thin already.

So I was not really in the mood for another of these articles. But alas, let me point you in the direction of this latest piece entitled â''The Wild West of Nanotechnologyâ''.

Before addressing this colorfully titled article, let me start by explaining that what is paramount to understanding the nanoethicist is that the ethical issues they are concerned about deal more with genetic research, stem cell research or some other scientific discipline in which the relationship to nanotechnology is tangential at best.

It seems just a tiresome idea to these ethicists that technologies such as genetic profiling can be done without nanotechnologies; nanotech just makes them faster and cheaper. But, of course, putting the ethical dilemma in those terms sort of makes nanotech inconsequential to the whole matter.

No, sir, theyâ''ll have none of that.

So again letâ''s look at the Wild West article. While the author, Summer Johnson, Executive Managing Editor of The American Journal of Bioethics, explains to us that â''Wild Westâ'' is a term that is â''actually a good thing for nanotechnology's image,â'' I strangely conjured up images of lawlessness. How silly of me.

Of course, no article on nanotechnology can go without some kind of description of how huge it is. Whether nanotech is a Gold Rush or the next Industrial Revolution, the idea has to be gotten across that itâ''s some huge money-making, corporate monolith. In this case, to magnify how large nanotech is in medicine we get the following: â''Multiply that times the amount of money being invested by NNI and venture capitalists and other private investment and you begin to grasp the grandiosity of nanomedicine as an endeavor.â''

Really? That is the undetermined factor you want to multiply by? Letâ''s try on some real figures. Estimates have pegged VC funding of nanotech over the last seven years at about $1 billion. And the US government has spent a little less than $8 billion over the last 5 years. Those are the factors but to give you a little comparison, the NASA budget announced for 2009 alone is $17.6 billion.

I am feeling a little less convinced of the â''grandiosityâ'' of nanomedicine or any other nano for that matter.

You know, the real issue that ethicists want to talk about when it comes to nanotechnology is self-replicating nanobots. But in order to do that you have to be both a futurist (with an extremely open mind) and an ethicist. But undeterred, Johnson did not shy away from nanobots in this piece and she does so by using the term as a metaphor for the number of applications popping up for nanotechnology. Well done! I think that marks a first.

Finally, we get to the real crux of the matter for Johnson. It appears that she got duped into giving a presentation for an organization she claims was fraudulent called the Academy of Nanomedicine (AANM).

All I can say is that I am impressed. You drag the entire reputation of the field of nanotechnology through the mud to indict some guy by the name Wei--I really have to look into this whole ethicist business.


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