Welcome to STEMology – Show Notes

Season 1, Episode 31

Wildlife savings cat whiskers, NFL for NFL, glow in the dark trees, and 3D printed needle patches

In today’s episode of STEMology… Sophie & dave will discuss about

How analysis of cat whiskers shows why cats hunt, a blood test that can be used to predict a person’s chance to bounce back from a traumatic brain injury, lighting up the trees by using nanoparticles of glow in the dark paint and a new way of injecting vaccines by using 3D printed patches

Wildlife savings cat whiskers

Around 96% of these cats diets came from the food provided by owners while only three to 4% came from eating wild animals, suggesting that it’s the predatory instincts rather than hunger, which is probably the main reason some domestic cats just regularly hunt wild prey

Around 55 million people globally living with traumatic brain injury, but, as we’ve sort of established, there’s not really like a one size fits all treatment. So this is a really important kind of diagnostic tool

Glow in the dark trees

So apparently the nanoparticles they use, strontium aluminate, is widely used in paints and coating formulations as a photo luminescence pigment, basically it’s glow in the dark paint.

Watercress plant. Photo credit : Pavlo Gordiichuk, MIT

3D Printed Needle Patch

With this micro printed 3d patch, they reckon that the needles are exactly the right length to get into that intradermal space. And basically because the intradermal space is where all the immune cells hangout, they’re the ones you want to target with your vaccine.

This is a “kind of, sort of, vaguely close” copy of the words that David & Sophie speak in this episode.

IT IS NOT 100% accurate.  We are very sorry if we have spelt something completely incorrectly.  If it means a lot to you to have it corrected, email us at stemology@ramaley.media

STEMology s1e31

STEMology s1e31

[00:00:00] Dave: Welcome to episode 31 of STEMology

[00:00:02] Sophie: a podcast sharing some of the interesting fun, and sometimes just patiently bizarre news in science, technology, engineering, or maths.

[00:00:10] Dave: your hosts are Dr. Sophie Calabretto and Dr. David Farmer. In today’s episode is STEMology,. We’ll be chatting about wildlife saving cat whiskers, NFL for NFL

[00:00:21] Sophie: glow in the dark trees and 3d printed needle patches.

Wildlife saving cat whiskers

[00:00:25] Dave: Sophie. Jerks.

[00:00:28] Sophie: genuinely, we just learned this week that domestic cats love killing things.

[00:00:33] Dave: They just love to kill. Love it. Don’t need to do it. Just love it.

[00:00:36] Sophie: They just love it. So this is some work that’s coming out of the University of Exeter and basically it was down to, okay. There’s, there’s a couple of things we need to unpack at some stage because there were some interesting quotes about cat owners being worried that their cats aren’t getting all the nutrition they need.

[00:00:51] And hence, it’s okay for them to kill birds. And I’ve just never met a single cat owner that feels like that. But anyway, they did some analysis and they did use cat whiskers and we’ll get into [00:01:00] that. And it’s very, very cool. But it was basically to work out where cats get their nutrition from. Is it from the cat food they getting from their owners or is it from the things that they’re killing and it turns out, it’s not the things they’re killing.

[00:01:11] It’s mainly the cat food and they don’t need to kill stuff. It’s just their instincts that make them want to kill everything.

[00:01:15] Dave: That’s right. So they’ve actually done a study on this. They recruited a whole bunch of cats via their owners. They didn’t directly canvas cats.

[00:01:23] Sophie: Cats don’t have social media, I believe.

[00:01:24] Dave: They don’t have social media. They’re barred because they spread disinformation.. Cats are not killers mostly. So they canvas a bunch of cat owners and they recruited cats and basically they assigned them to all these treatment groups. So they were interested in two things. Do domestic cats that bring home prey, derive any nutrition from that prey, or is it mostly the foods? And then they also did something interesting, which is they ran what we call an intervention study, which is they did.

[00:01:50] They introduced a bunch of different, interventions. So they tried different feeding practices. They tried a couple of different collars to see if that would.

[00:01:57] Sophie: I would love to talk to you about one of those collars [00:02:00] in a sec, Dave.

[00:02:00] Dave: Okay. I would be excited to hear what you have to say about they call it cause I’m also excited about it. Um, and basically, so they want to know two things. One, do they derive in the nutrition from the things that they kill or they doing it for a laugh and two, can they reduce the number of things that are killed by the introduction of any of these new things?

[00:02:16] Sophie: Yeah, and I like, they did it in a really nice way. So as you said, they recruited some cats and it turns out that let me find my numbers here. They couldn’t use all the cats because there was, a little bit of a problem in some households that had more than one cat determining which cat was the killer sometimes.

[00:02:28] So basically seven weeks prior to the study, they got the cat owners to record the animals that were being captured and brought to the household. And I love this. So in terms of like identifying certain things, you have to work out which cat was responsible for the capture in terms of a multi cat household, the date this happened, the animal type, whether that be a mammal bird, reptile, amphibian, insect, or my favorite unidentified in the case of indistinct remains, which is disgusting.

[00:02:55] And then also the species, whether the cat was alive or dead and any other observations. So they [00:03:00] got them to do this kind of seven week like prior study of like what the cats were doing and then this was followed by a transitional period where we moved to our intervention, as you talked about before.

[00:03:09] And so what they actually did, Dave, in terms of the science that we’re getting to in a second, they trimmed the whiskers and they’re actually looking at doing this like very cool thing with whiskers and isotopes to work out where the proteins were coming from. But then yeah, they had the different groups.

[00:03:21] There’s obviously like a controlled group where they went, we’re going to change nothing and just let your cat go on and do all of that stuff. and then as you said, we had a couple of different interventions. And so if I go and find my exact intervention, so that was including things like putting bells on collars, putting on a bird be safe collar cover, which is my new favorite thing ever. And I know what your cats will be getting for Christmas this year. They also looked at doing meat, rich diets, providing food using puzzle feeder and regular play, because apparently from this same group Exeter, they showed previously that meat, rich food and daily play

[00:03:56] reduced hunting in cats. So those were the, all the different things. And so then [00:04:00] what they did is, they then did the study. The owners still had to then sort of keep a, capture diary of all of the animals. and then at the very end of it, they then trimmed the whiskers again and did this crazy, uh, science on it, which we’ll talk about now very quickly.

[00:04:15] I just want to quote something from the paper, which I love

[00:04:18] Dave: please. please.

[00:04:19] Sophie: To sample wild prey. Cause obviously the whole idea is about we’re going to be looking at isotopes and there are different isotopes proteins, to determine if it’s like cat food, pet food, or if it’s like wild animals.

[00:04:28] So obviously you need to know what is in that wild prey, Dave. So the owners, to sample wild prey, cat owners were asked to collect and freeze the prey items brought home by their cats. So every time a cat brought something disgusting to you, you had to write down some notes about it and then whack it in the freezer and then someone would come and collect it and then do this analysis on it.

[00:04:50] Dave: Yeah. I’ve got that. So I’ve got 232 wild animal prey items were analyzed and they were analyzed by being stuck in a pestle and mortar and ground down [00:05:00] into nothing and then analyzed. But the analysis is actually pretty cool. So what they’re looking at in every case, so what they’re looking at in every case, whether it’s

[00:05:08] domestic food. to clarify, they’re ultimately going to be looking at the isotope ratios in whiskers. So the isotopes are of carbon or radioactive isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. And these are things that you can pick up with the machine, which is why they’re interesting, because they can give you a, a signature.

[00:05:26] Of what the animal’s been eating. So if you know the corresponding signatures of say domestic cat food versus the various different kinds of food that the animals may be capturing in the wild, you can infer something about what the cat eats by comparing the whisker with the food. So what they found when they looked at the cat foods, first of all, was that they could readily distinguish between dry and wet foods based on the relative ratios of carbon to nitrogen

[00:05:52] Sophie: Which I just think is cool anyway, like this is not even the point of the study, but it’s like, imagine that, that you can just do this, like isotope [00:06:00] analysis and go, like, I can tell you based on like the ratio of these carbon and nitrogen isotopes, what kind of food it is maybe to someone who this is their field of science.

[00:06:08] It’s not amazing, but I think that.

[00:06:10] Dave: no, I thought it was awesome too. They could also sort of could distinguish between those things. Two things they could also distinguish between prey items, which were herbivorous, which is to say they only eat plants and animals, which were omnivorous or carnivorous like rats, et cetera. so basically what they could then go on to do was look at the whiskers that they take taken from these cats, compare them to the various food items, and then with a history of what every cat had brought home, what type of animal look at whether the whisker isotope ratios corresponded with those of the prey items or not.

[00:06:42] Sophie: Yeah, exactly. And what they found is that around 96% of these cats diets came from the food provided by owners while only three to 4% came from eating wild animals, suggesting that it’s the predatory instincts rather than hunger, which is probably the [00:07:00] main reason some domestic cats just regularly hunt wild prey

[00:07:03] Dave: yep. They just, love it. they don’t need to do it. They just love it.

[00:07:06] It’s a job you can only do for the love of it.

[00:07:08] Sophie: they literally just love to kill, but then yeah, they looked at these interventions and then this is where my new favorite thing, I don’t know, every week I’ve got a new favorite thing, but a bird be safe, collar cover Dave. So it’s not a color. It’s a collar cover. Did you look this up?

[00:07:23] Dave: I didn’t look it up? Tell all about it.

[00:07:25] Sophie: So I, you know, I want you to imagine a clown costume.

[00:07:28] Okay. It’s not a clown costume for cat. You know how a

[00:07:31] Dave: Well, my God, I’m

[00:07:32] Sophie: has, has like, yeah. The clown has ruffles it, that, that ruffled neck a bit in a clown costume. That is what this thing is, everyone. So imagine you have a cat and then there’s a, someone dressed up as a clown and you’ve robbed them and you’ve taken their ruffled collar.

[00:07:46] And you just put that brightly colored ruffled collar on the cat. That is what a bird be safe collar cover is.S, and the reason, so apparently these are quite effective. So I’ve got a few quotes from the website. So we [00:08:00] help birds be safe from your outdoor cat, we hope your birds be safe. What should we call this bird be safe. Collar covers. Make your cat more visible to birds. So birds have time to fly away to safety. It’s like your cat wearing a bright flag that signals danger, danger, those two favourites

[00:08:18] Dave: It’s like the opposite of camouflage.

[00:08:21] Sophie: Yeah. And apparently it’s got to do like birds, eyes, rods, and cones. They can see color more brightly. So basically they’re just some big, bright things that you stick on your, you know, slightly camouflage cat and the bird can see it coming,

[00:08:32] Dave: it’s the opposite of camouflage. it’s also the opposite of dignity, if

[00:08:36] I may

[00:08:36] Sophie: just, it is just to bullet like it’s like, and I think these apparently very effective and I can understand why, but I just feel so sad for those cats.

[00:08:45] Like those cats are so embarrassed,

[00:08:47] Dave: Well, I don’t know. There’s a picture here. There’s a picture of a sleepy cat. Who’s sleeping in the bird be safe suggesting that don’t mind

[00:08:52] Sophie: ease off his face on catnip because he can’t deal with the reality of his, collar cover. His head is now like a cat nit habit. [00:09:00] Cause he can’t deal with it. but yeah, what they found was that based on the analysis of the whiskers cats with one of these bird be safe, color covers consumed a less wild prey.

[00:09:09] And they’ve said that it’s probably because they caught fewer birds

[00:09:12] Dave: yes, that makes sense to me, that all follows.

[00:09:15] Sophie: But then this is interesting. So like there’s a few quotes. Granted, these were quotes from the press release, but there’s this suggestion that, we’ve got here, study reassures cat owners that the motive to hunt is instinctive not driven by nutritional needs but as someone, you own cats, I’ve owned cats in the past. If I see a cat that has killed an animal, I don’t go like, oh, I’m probably not feeding it enough. Like, this is my fault. I go like oi dick-whack stop eating the wildlife.

[00:09:40] Dave: Yeah. I mean, it kind of, it makes sense to me. Cause when you see a cat play, it’s so clearly playing at hunting,

[00:09:47] Sophie: Yeah.

[00:09:48] Dave: that it would seem weird if they just make the distinction between, oh, that’s a piece of ribbon that I’m hunting versus, oh, that’s a little mouse because they probably don’t hold mice the same regard that we hold [00:10:00] mice, they’ll just see a small thing of the sort of which it behaves in that way towards and just go for it.

[00:10:07] Sophie: Yea So I found my direct quote. So this is from Dr. Martina Chichetti, who was one of the researches. And she says verbatim, “some owners may worry about restricting hunting because cats need nutrition from wild prey. But in fact, it seems even prolific hunters don’t actually eat much of the prey they catch”.

[00:10:24] And I just wonder what cat owners have gone like, cause the reason that study has come out is because it’s from the UK, obviously we have issues with cats catching native animals. Whereas apparently it’s the songbirds that they’re worried about in the UK. So in the last 50 years, the UK has lost half of its songbirds..

[00:10:41] Dave: Seems like

[00:10:42] Sophie: of them. To, you know, these cats that catch them. So, you know, that’s what they’re concerned about. But yeah, even if I was in the UK and my cat was catching songbirds, I’d be like, yo, I know I feed you properly. Don’t be doing this Salvador.

[00:10:53] Dave: because you’re fat. Look at you.

[00:10:55] Sophie: You’re fine. anyway, so yeah, we’ve got, they’ve got a simple [00:11:00] three step win-win process, Dave, to help pet owners reverse the shocking decline in songbirds and one of the first step.

[00:11:09] fit collars with bird be safe collars, love it. Feed cats premium meaty diets, and then play with cats for five to 10 minutes a day to scratch that itch to hunt.

[00:11:21] Dave: Not a big commitment.

[00:11:22] Sophie: It’s not a big commitment. and you could bring the songbirds back, but I just don’t. I just think that the cat is going to hate you if you put one on the collars on it, but

[00:11:29] Dave: Now

[00:11:30] Sophie: that’s a good idea.

[00:11:31] But, yeah, as I said, Dave, there’ll be something coming in the mail, but it won’t be for you it’ll be for your delightful cats and ah, look, I’m really sorry, but it’s for the songbirds

[00:11:39] Dave: Bird be safe. Cat, be embarrassed.


[00:11:40] Sophie: Dave, it turns out that elevated blood levels of a specific protein may help scientists predict who has a better chance of bouncing back from a [00:12:00] traumatic brain injury.

[00:12:01] Dave: Well, this seems like good news to me. So traumatic brain injury is defined as damage to the brain resulting from external mechanical force. So basically it’s when you hit yourself harder than you have the capacity to do yourself.

[00:12:13] Sophie: But I also learned, so I’m a big documentary fan and I wanted a documentary about a hockey as in ice hockey,

[00:12:20] Dave: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Ice guardians.

[00:12:22] Sophie: Oh so good. Everyone goes,watch Ice Guardians, but part of it as well is like, you don’t actually need to physically hit your head to get a concussion. It’s like, if you are moving at insane speeds and you just decelerate suddenly like you stop suddenly, it’s like your brain has inertia.

[00:12:36] Like it has momentum and your brain is going to like, thwack up against the inside of your skull. And if you do that, too quickly. That is enough to give you a traumatic brain injury without even hitting your head. You just need to decelerate. You just need your brain to anyway. Sorry I got in this Dave I digress,

[00:12:52] Dave: It’s it’s important because one of the big implications of that documentary is that they say, oh, wearing big pads seems like it’s great because it makes the game safer, [00:13:00] but actually it means you can hit people harder. So you subject yourself to a greater deceleration. So

[00:13:05] you’re actually making the brain injuries worse.

[00:13:07] So lots of people with brain injuries. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be you hitting yourself. You could be hitting other people.

[00:13:14] Sophie: Or you could just be stopping. You could just be going real fast to just stopping very quickly on the ice.

[00:13:19] Dave: So basically, what seems to be new about this study is not this protein, which is called neurofilament lights, which is a protein that lends structural support to axons, which are the long squiggly bits of brain cells. It’s the fact that we can now detect it using a blood test. That seems to be the new thing.

[00:13:35] Sophie: Yeah. So the idea is that once you get, have one of these traumatic brain injuries, your NFL levels will increase both. I think now, Dave, you’re obviously much better at the brain than I am, but I believe it’s both locally, but that’s also mirrored in the blood. So like the amount of this protein in your blood will also increase.

[00:13:51] And then the idea is we now have this very, sort of precise blood test where you can actually then measure that.

[00:13:57] Dave: basically that’s it. That’s absolutely right. So one of the things that [00:14:00] they did was they looked at something that’s been done before, which is looking at the concentration of neurofilament or NFL as it’s called

[00:14:06] Sophie: national football league. How fitting?

[00:14:09] Dave: We’ll see, this is one of the things so hilariously the acronym for neurofilament light is NFL, which means it shares the name of the place that you’re very likely to get the disease that it predicts the NFL.

[00:14:17] So like, it makes me think of like this NFL seasoned player in hospital with traumatic brain injury, he’s saying to the doctor, what’s up doc. And he says, you’ve got NFL in your blood. And he’s like, Yeah, I got NFL in my blood, know, I do. You know, I got NFL.

[00:14:31] Sophie: I live, breathe and eat football.

[00:14:35] Dave: No, no, no, no, no, no.

[00:14:36] Sophie: No, you have a traumatic brain injury. Sorry.

[00:14:38] Dave: A traumatic brain injury. So one of the key things they did was they looked at the plasma concentration of NFL and compared it to that that’s in the cerebral spinal fluid. And it’s been known for before now that the concentration in cerebral spinal fluid correlates with the extent of brain injury.

[00:14:53] So one of the important things they did was show that their plasma test correlated with that.

[00:14:57] Sophie: Yes. and then an apparently Dave, So it is my [00:15:00] understanding. You might have to correct me. So like the more of this stuff, the worse the brain injury. And does that just mean the longer it takes to recover? Because there are suggestions that this will tell you who has a better chance of bouncing back from the traumatic brain injury.

[00:15:13] Is that just because like the worse it is the worse the recovery?

[00:15:17] Dave: That’s a good question. So the things I looked at where it correlated with the extent of brain shrinkage,

[00:15:24] Sophie: Yes. Okay. And then I presume that then that is directly

[00:15:27] Dave: I’m brain guy, but I’m not clinical brain

[00:15:29] Sophie: No, no, this is why when I say, you know, more than me, it’s more like, because I’m a mathematician.

[00:15:35] Dave: I mean, brain shrinkage seems bad to have a brain that has shrunk.

[00:15:38] Sophie: Yeah. It does seem really bad. and, what they said to here, I’ve found to the found the level of peak NFL on average is 10 times the typical level, 20 days after injury. And can stay above normal a year later, the higher, the peak NFL blood concentration after injury, the tougher that here we go, the tougher, the recovery for people with traumatic brain injury, six and 12 months later.[00:16:00]

[00:16:00] So the idea is that doing these blood tests and looking at the NFL concentrations can predict the extent of brain shrinkage after six months, as well as the axon damage at six months and 12 months after the injury, which is pretty like, it was pretty impressive. It’s like we did a blood test and we measured this thing and we can predict your extent of brain shrinkage and axon damage.

[00:16:20] Dave: That’s a really good thing, because one of the things about traumatic brain injury I learned this week is that it’s temporary it’s. So brain function is temporarily or permanently impaired. So you’re talking about people who are, you know, unconscious or in a comma. Or have retrograde amnesia, all kinds of really serious, really bad things.

[00:16:35] but the impairment and the extent of structural damage may or may not be detectable with current technology. So it’s actually quite difficult to look at someone’s brain and say, yes, this person is going to have trouble recovering or not.

[00:16:47] Sophie: Interesting.

[00:16:48] Dave: Biomarker seems like a good thing. I, and crucially is I say, crucially, they also verified their findings in rodents.

[00:16:54] And you might very well ask why if they’ve got access to patients, but, what you can do with rodents is you can take [00:17:00] sections of the brain so you can do an experimental injury and then take very fine sections of the brains or slices of the brain. And then look at them under a microscope and stain them up for lots of molecules that tell you all sorts

[00:17:10] Sophie: Yeah, and it’s really hard to get ethics approval to do that on people

[00:17:13] Dave: Well, that’s absolutely right

[00:17:14] Sophie: and yeah. And so they’ve said that cause what I did not realize Dave, around 55 million people globally living with traumatic brain injury, but you know, as we’ve sort of established, there’s not really like a one size fits all treatment.

[00:17:25] So this is a really important kind of diagnostic tool. But what they did say, which I do appreciate is that the study participants were adults and mostly male. So work needs to be done to determine if these findings would apply to women, children, and also people with mild traumatic brain injury. Because what they’ve been looking at are people who, had some, like, they’re basically the high energy injuries.

[00:17:45] So they said that the injuries are high energy, 56% of them comprising of falls for more than three meters or collisions at more than 30 kilometers an hour, which is like, you know, that’s a bit, that’s, that’s a lot.

[00:17:57] Dave: a lot of road traffic accidents and the like, there’s also [00:18:00] people who are assessed on something called the Glasgow coma scale, which is presumably named for my town, where head injuries are presumably common. Cause

[00:18:07] Sophie: wasn’t it isn’t a Glasgow kiss. When you had bought someone.

[00:18:11] Dave: yes, but in Glasgow it’s a meaty healthcare. So once you Glasgow, it becomes sub regionally divided into

[00:18:17] Sophie: Is that just like, no, I’m not going to say that. Just like, a French letter is a condom, but in a French it’s called a cup put on glaze, which is like an English cap.

[00:18:25] Dave: Uh, yeah, yeah, exactly.

[00:18:27] Sophie: Yeah. We

[00:18:27] Dave: Come PaTTAN please.

[00:18:29] Sophie: cap putts unglazed as opposed to the French letter condoms brain injuries.

[00:18:33] Um, but yeah, I thought this was, I’m not going to lie. The paper was complicated for someone like me, but this seems like a really significant result. And I think that’s good.

[00:18:40] Dave: Yep. Good stuff. Love it.

Glow in the dark trees

[00:18:41] Sophie: Okay. Dave, imagine if someone gave you a plant for your birthday and it was actually a glow in the dark plant and you could use it as a [00:19:00] lab. Amazing.

[00:19:01] Dave: I would be excited. I’d be alarmed. I’d be a little bit scared, but it’d be ultimately, I’m glad when my power bill, I guess.

[00:19:09] Sophie: that actually that’s true. Yes. So this is some work that’s come out of MIT and engineers have created a light emitting plant that has the capability to glow brightly for several minutes. So it hits several minutes so far, but the aim is to is aimed for more than several minutes, I believe.

[00:19:25] Dave: More is the dream. So what they dream of is a plant that illuminate for a few minutes and then is basically luminescent all day and all night. and basically what they’ve done is they’ve embedded these plants with nanoparticles it should absorb light during the day and then release it as luminescence once the lights go out.

[00:19:43] Sophie: Yeah, and I know we talk about luminescence and fluorescence and bio fluorescence and stuff a lot. Phosphorescent so just as a reminder, luminescence is your spontaneous emission of light, but it’s resulting from no heat. So it’s kinda, I was gonna say that it’s the opposite of, incandescence not really opposite, you know, it’s like if you have like an old light globe, an incandescent light globe [00:20:00] and you heat up the filament with heat and there’s enough heat that it glows for you.

[00:20:05] Not that it glows through no heat. and the idea is so apparently the nanoparticles they use Dave strontium aluminate, widely used in paints and coating formulations as a photo luminescence pigment, basically it’s glow in the dark paint.

[00:20:20] They have nano particles that are glow in the dark paint and they just, now I couldn’t work out how they get the looked so like every way to work out how to actually get them in there. But basically they just infused into the plants through the surface of the leaves where they form a thin film.

[00:20:35] But I couldn’t like the life of me in that paper. I couldn’t work out with the infusion. I was like, do they spray it? Do they like put the plant in like some water with this stuff? And it just, so they somehow get it on the surface of the leaf. And then the idea is that, that the film of our,

[00:20:50] Dave: by stomata and fusion is what the paper says. to get it. So the stomata are the tiny holes on the leaf gas exchange happens.

[00:20:59] Sophie: Exactly. So I was like, [00:21:00] do they spray? Do they paint? And they know, so the idea is that they’re basically, you end up getting a layer of this nanoparticle glowy glowy nanoparticle stuff. and then that film absorbs photons via sunlight or even led exposure. And they found that after 10 seconds of blue LED exposure, the plants emitted light for over an hour, which was really cool.

[00:21:20] And the paper is just full of these pictures of these like glowing plants.

[00:21:24] It was great.

[00:21:25] Dave: Yeah. So they described this as a nascent field. They say, this is the field nano Bionics, which is very exciting. So they seems to give plants novel features by embedding them with different types of nanoparticles. So basically to get them the capability to do things that would otherwise be completely impossible.

[00:21:41] Sophie: I’ve really heard you about to say the next bit where they’ve theorized, what plants can do in the future.

[00:21:46] Dave: oh, I tell me,

[00:21:47] Sophie: they got theorized that in the future, plants will be able to tackle issues like pollution and allow for greater monitoring of pesticides in agriculture. Look, Dave, I’m just going to come to that for the plants.

[00:21:55] since the industrial revolution plants have already been actively tackling [00:22:00] pollution. We are spewing carbon dioxide into the air and they’re eating it as fast as they can and they can’t eat it any faster. And I just love that there’s this suggestion that in the future plants will be able to do this thing.

[00:22:09] It’s like, they’re already trying guys, like, why are we putting so much on plants?

[00:22:13] Dave: so one of the things I kind of was struggling to understand this paper for a while. Cause I was like, why do they need a plant? Why can’t they just paint these nanoparticles on a piece of paper or a piece of plastic or a printed? Who’s a set. Why does it have to be a plant?

[00:22:31] And then when you actually get to the discussion, they start talking about things like what you’re talking about, the applications and it’s filled with these wild sentences.

[00:22:40] we previously used the DNA wrapped carbon nanotube to transform living spinach plants into groundwater monitoring sensors. I get the impression that what they’re taught, this is almost a proof of concept that once you can show that this nanoparticle application is successful and biocompatible and the plant tolerates it, you could then do [00:23:00] stuff. Like, I think they talk about uptake of nitrous oxide from soil, which would be a pollutant.

[00:23:04] I think. So basically you imagine Like a field of barley or something like that, but then every 10 meters or something, you’ve got one of these tobacco plants, which is sterile, but you have it glow if there’s a particular pollutant present in the soil or something like that. So, you know, if it lights up, you’ve suddenly, oh shit, I’ve got a problem.

[00:23:22] Sophie: like a Canary

[00:23:23] Dave: a canary proverbial coal mine.

[00:23:26] Well, it has to be a coal mine because in a mine are similar. don’t need the canaries. They can just use spark.

[00:23:32] Sophie: and the target is to perform one treatment with a plant when it’s a seedling or mature plant, and then have that loss for the lifetime of the plant. And apparently Dave in the past, they’ve tried to make light emitting plants, but it relied on a luciferase gene, which is an enzyme that produces light seen in fireflies, but it didn’t work as intended because the light produced was extremely dim.

[00:23:53] Dave: It’s very dim. That’s another thing they talk about is, it would be really cool to have a plant that emits light [00:24:00] based on the plant producing energy. So obviously, produces its own chemical energy and that’s what photosynthesis is all about. And it’d be really cool if you could have a light emission based on that, because basically if the plant is making energy, the plant is making light that would be really cool because then there’s no absorption.

[00:24:15] There’s no nothing. It’s just a map, a plant making light.

[00:24:17] Sophie: just a magic lamp.

[00:24:18] Dave: Just a lamp is the

[00:24:19] Sophie: but yeah, so they did a successfully on, from what I could see in the paper, tobacco, basil, daisy, watercress, an elephant ear, and they reckon that they can do it on any type of plant. But you know what, my main problem with this, every time we talked about like luminescence and bioluminescence, have you seen Moana?

[00:24:35] Well Moana’s, one of my favorite movies ever, and you’ve got um Jermaine Clement playing a good giant crab who loves shiny things. And the crab is called Tamatoa. And then it’s just like this really one great line where he goes like, oh, I see she’s taken a barnacle and covered it in bioluminescent algae as a diversion.

[00:24:52] And I just, every time I read this anything, and I just kept hearing, Tamatoa say that to me. And it was very distracting, but I [00:25:00] think this is great. Like, I would have loved to have glowing plants in my house.

[00:25:03] Dave: I would too. No, no. I would find it very exciting. And presumably with the colors you could get would be limited only by the kind of phosphorus that you have, which is probably not very limited. It’s probably very unlimited.

[00:25:13] Sophie: Yeah. And so basically their hypothesis was like whether or not that the plant spongy mesophile itself can provide a photonic substrate to enhance or augment plant-based photonics and light emission specifically.

[00:25:24] Dave: I have that sentence written down as well, because that one, it wasn’t that sentence that made me laugh. It was the next Their hypothesis and they have to clarify, this is a scientific question

[00:25:34] because

[00:25:35] Sophie: because the biocompatibility, particle adhesion and mess and fuel hydraulic foam and upon nanoparticle deposition and not known, basically, it’s like the most verbose way to say, can we put glowy things in a plant and will it stay there and glow and will the plant like not die?

[00:25:50] Dave: I know, I love it. It’s like, this is the scientific question, which is another way of saying this isn’t just glowy. Bullshit.

[00:25:57] Sophie: Yes exactly. We’re doing, I didn’t [00:26:00] actually look at where the funding came from. Maybe that was quite important and being like, well, we’re not using your money for jokes. It’s real, but yeah. Great. Glowy plants. Thank you, MIT.

3D printed needle patches

[00:26:09] Sophie: Dave new 3d printed vaccine patch provides a greater protection than a typical vaccine shot

[00:26:25] Dave: So, this is kind of cool. I’m a big Star Trek, The Next Generation fan and Generation, they have a thing called a hypo spray, which is what they get instead of needles,

[00:26:33] which is like, a thing

[00:26:34] Sophie: that.

[00:26:35] Dave: that goes against your neck and it goes, and then you’ve taken your drugs. and they’ve always got really fancy, like made up drugs, sending names, cause it’s the future, but they still use drugs.

[00:26:45] Sophie: Oh,

[00:26:46] Dave: and this is basically that, but it’s actually even smaller and even less energy intensive than that is. So it’s pretty cool.

[00:26:54] Sophie: Yeah. So what they’ve managed to do is they’ve managed to 3d print, a patch of [00:27:00] microneedles in a line, on a tiny square shaped strip. And then what I loved about this is like you print the nanometers, you dip it in the vaccine, let it dry, stick it on your skin. You’ve just had a shot. And also you’re going to get a better immune response.

[00:27:14] Dave: Yes. let me see if I get this right. So usually when you give a vaccine, you either give it subcutaneously, which is like under the skin or you give it intramuscularly, which is like just, jabbed into your

[00:27:26] Sophie: just, I got a hole in my arm here,

[00:27:29] Dave: Yes we’ve I can, I can’t see it but I believe you that it’s there.

[00:27:32] Sophie: it’s from two days ago,

[00:27:34] Dave: I’m sorry, Sophie. I know you don’t like needles.

[00:27:36] Sophie: it was great. Go to a GP to get your COVID shot. yeah, I went to a GP for the second jab. Beautiful. Like a sunny day.

[00:27:43] the GP was so nice. I genuinely didn’t feel it. it was like such a positive experience compared to watching like 50 people in front of me get up shot continuously in a clinic. And like me having like a small breakdown.

[00:27:56] Dave: is, this must be like a dream for you to not have a needle

[00:27:58] Sophie: like that. Yeah. I like to [00:28:00] the point where it’s like to get blood taken, I’d rather someone just cut me and drained me into a bucket, then used a needle.

[00:28:05] Dave: And then like, just like,

[00:28:06] mix the vaccine into the blood and then put it all back in.

[00:28:08] Sophie: I’ll just drink it, but like, yeah. So this is, this is a great idea. Cause again, anyone with like a needle phobia, you get sick of hearing like, oh, but it doesn’t hurt. Or it’s like, I know it doesn’t hurt. It’s not about the pain. It’s like an emotional thing connected to the feeling of the needle going in.

[00:28:23] This sounds delightful.

[00:28:26] Dave: Yeah.

[00:28:26] So most vaccines go either into the muscle or under the skin. And there’s increasing interest apparently in getting vaccines into a third space, which is the intradermal space. So the difficulty with putting things in the intradermal space is that it really, really, really hurts because presumably this is where all your pain fibers are.

[00:28:46] And also it’s very, very specialized in difficult. But with this micro printed, 3d patch guy, they reckon that the needles are exactly the right length to get into that intradermal space. And basically because the intradermal [00:29:00] space is where all the immune cells hangout, they’re the ones you want to target with your vaccine.

[00:29:05] So basically there’s two things happening here. One is you get into a spot where all the immune cells are and you get it into a spot where the vaccine hangs around for longer. So basically you get better overall immunity for a given quantity of vaccine.

[00:29:18] Sophie: Yeah. So they said, would that services have been testing these on, I believe it was mice. and they said that their study showed that the vaccine patch had generated a significant T-cell and antigen specific antibody response that was shown to be 50 times greater than an injection delivered under the skin, which is like pretty significant.

[00:29:37] Dave: Yes. And the design, they ended up going for it. So they, because printed, they can do quite fancy things.

[00:29:44] Sophie: I loved it when they’d gone to the low geometry of their appearance

[00:29:47] Dave: Yeah. So it’s not just microneedles, they’re faceted microneedles, if I can describe it, it looks like a tiny super snowman. Like if you made a snowman and like, didn’t stop it three, know,

[00:29:59] Sophie: [00:30:00] Yeah.

[00:30:00] but he’s tapered to the top, right?

[00:30:02] Dave: taper to the top. So like imagine making a snowman as high as you can make it, like with maybe five or six different and decreasing sized.

[00:30:10] What’s the word I’m looking for? Spheres. It looks like that, except it’s a tiny little needle. So it’s a, micro-sized tiny, super snowman an array of these. And apparently because this entry increases the surface area the microneedles you get more coating of the vaccine on them, which means you can deliver more.

[00:30:28] Sophie: which I love that they refer to in the papers, cargo loading.

[00:30:30] Dave: Yeah.

[00:30:31] Sophie: So what you’ve described as a snowman, they’re described as a pyramid with horizontal group.

[00:30:36] Dave: It’s it’s

[00:30:38] Sophie: it’s an, it it’s like, you know, the horizontal grooves are kind of yeah. They curving it as you go. So it’s like it’s a tapered snowman, but, um, yeah.

[00:30:45] And that’s those horizontal grooves increased cargo loading, which is the amount of vaccine that can sit on them once you, I love it. You dip and dry, like that’s how you get the, I thought that was great. so apparently Dave, the reason that this is crazy impressive is [00:31:00] because they’ve got this new 3d printing prototype machine. This is the magical part. So it’s called, it’s a CLIP prototype, 3d printer,

[00:31:08] Dave: Did you look into buying one?

[00:31:10] Sophie: I didn’t actually this time only because I ran out of time. I’m going to do it now. So they’re Continuous Liquid Interface Production is what CLIP stands for. upfront costs so this is, I mean, it’s a us website, so this is going to be in us money. Okay. So, they can only rent it Dave because they’re prototypes and the them can make a lot of money, but, the printers themselves are expensive to rent.

[00:31:33] and you also need to be trained, but there’s an upfront cost of $64,000 plus,

[00:31:40] is what they’ve said. US dollars. The resin is also very expensive. And so apparently it’s $99 to $399 for each container. Having said that just in this particular fact sheet, it doesn’t tell me how big a container is. Cause like, what if it’s like a container with a gram versus a container with a [00:32:00] kilogram?

[00:32:00] Like one of those is more reasonable than the other.

[00:32:02] Dave: That’s. true. I guess it’s good thing that these things are really, really small.

[00:32:06] Sophie: That’s. Yeah, that’s true. And so it’d be quite expensive if we have to do this at home, and to be honest, I didn’t look into how continuous liquid interface production prototype 3d printing works, but it sounds very impressive. and all these were printed. So I’m wondering about microneedles they are 700 micro meters in height, so it’s like 0.7 millimeters is how tall they are. And they’re, um, they’re printed in polyethylene glycol dimethacrylate.

[00:32:32] Dave: Oh, yeah. It’s like my favorite substrate.

[00:32:35] Sophie: Yes. and yeah, so without this special 3d printer, they wouldn’t have been able to do it. Cause I think normally other microneedles they say, use a master template to make molds,

[00:32:45] Dave: Yeah. So they use, apparently micro lithography techniques, which is basically where you have like, I don’t know how it works, but basically you make a tiny, tiny, tiny molds. Just like if you were going to make a plastic toy or something, you make tiny, tiny, mold of something, and then you have to fill the mold.[00:33:00]

[00:33:00] And that approach has all kinds of limitations that are bypassed by using the 3d printed approach. Apparently.

[00:33:06] Sophie: Yeah, so this is really cool. So if he had, this becomes the future, apparently this is actually quite good in terms of, you know, we’ve had these issues, even with our Pfizer vaccines, where there’s a certain number of days to use them and there’s storage issues and whatever. Apparently you can dip these things.

[00:33:20] You can send them by international posts. They don’t need to be stored in any particular way. And the idea is that potentially we could get to a spot where you just order your vaccine online and then you can self administer at home, which is very cool. Yeah. Thanks Stanford University and the University of North Carolina.

[00:33:35] We think you’re doing a really good job