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Photograph of an operational InSCyT system

A protein-based drug is made in a reaction vessel (silver box, left) before passing over columns of purifying chemicals (slender white cylinders, middle). Credit: L. E. Crowell et al./Nat. Biotechnol.

Medical research

This miniature drug factory fits on a few lab benches

Automated system takes only 80 hours to turn out hundreds of doses of a medical product made by living organisms.

An all-in-one bench-top system can churn out hundreds or thousands of doses of a medically useful protein in a few days — and can easily switch to manufacturing other proteins.

Biologic drugs, or biologics, are medical products such as vaccines that are produced by living organisms. Biologics could potentially serve as personalized treatments, but today’s large-scale drug production facilities cannot efficiently manufacture personalized biologics.

To address this, Christopher Love at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and his colleagues designed a compact, automated system that, unlike other designs, links all the steps of biologic assembly. In the new system, yeast rapidly produces a protein in bulk. A purification system then separates the molecule from its biological source without chemically altering the protein. Finally, the protein is combined with other ingredients into the final product.

The researchers produced medically functional amounts of three protein biologics, including human growth hormone for treatment of growth deficiencies. The system can also be expanded to make biologics, such as insulin, that are more difficult to manufacture than those the system has already made.

More Research Highlights...

Camera-trap image of Dendrohyrax interfluvialis

Some tree hyraxes scream in the night, but the newly identified Dendrohyrax interfluvialis (above, camera-trap image) utters a complex series of squawks, rattles and barks. Credit: J. F. Oates et al./Zool. J. Linn. Soc.

Zoology

A bark in the dark reveals a hidden hyrax

Its neighbours scream, but a new species of tree hyrax — a cousin of the elephant — unleashes a rattling bark.
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Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty

Economics

Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
A woman wearing a protective face mask splashes her hands in a jet of water

A pedestrian seeks relief from searing temperatures in Spain, where a high proportion of heat-related deaths have been linked to climate change. Credit: SALAS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Climate change

More than one-third of heat deaths blamed on climate change

Warming resulting from human activities accounts for a high percentage of heat-related deaths, especially in southern Asia and South America.
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