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Metamaterials Breakthrough Brings Invisibility Closer

Negative refraction of visible light is a step toward invisibility

4 min read

13 August 2008—New optical materials that bend light in unusual ways could lead to much tinier transistors, microscopes that are able to peer at smaller cellular structures, and—with a good deal of engineering—even invisibility cloaks.

Two new types of metamaterials, as the light-bending stuff is known, were developed by researchers at the Nano-Scale Science and Engineering Center at the University of California, Berkeley, and described in separate papers in Nature and Science . One is the first three-dimensional material to have a negative index of refraction, which allows it to bend light in the opposite direction of what you would expect from any other material. The other, also 3-D, doesn’t have a negative index but still provides some negative refraction, and unlike previous metamaterials, it does so in the visible part of the spectrum.

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This CAD Program Can Design New Organisms

Genetic engineers have a powerful new tool to write and edit DNA code

11 min read
A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

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