ENDLESS FRONTIER:
INNOVATIONS IN SCIENCE & ENGINEERING

May 2010

Energy

MIT Researchers Harness Viruses to Split Water
MIT 's A team of MIT researchers has found a novel way to mimic the process by which plants use the power of sunlight to split water and make chemical fuel to power their growth. In this case, the team used a modified virus as a kind of biological scaffold that can assemble the nanoscale components needed to split a water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

Splitting water is one way to solve the basic problem of solar energy: It's only available when the sun shines. By using sunlight to make hydrogen from water, the hydrogen can then be stored and used at any time to generate electricity using a fuel cell, or to make liquid fuels (or be used directly) for cars and trucks. Read more >>

This work is funded by the Italian energy company Eni, through the MIT Energy initiative (MITEI).

Health

To Starve a Tumor
Since the 1920's, scientist have known that cancer cells generate energy differently than normal cells, a phenomenon dubbed the "Warburg effect" after its discoverer, German biochemist Otto Warburg. However, the field of cancer-cell matabolism has been largely ignored since the 1970's, when researchers flocked to study newly discovered cancer-causing genes.

Now a new generation of researchers is setting its sights on cancer cells' bizarre and seemingly inefficient metabolism, which appears to be tightly linked to many of the genes already implicated in cancer. Read more >>

New Insights into the Mystery of Natural HIV Immunity
When people become infected by HIV, it's usually only a matter of time, barring drug intervention, until they develop full-blown AIDS. However, a small number of people exposed to the virus progress very slowly to AIDS- and some never develop the disease at all.

In the late 1990's researchers showed that a very high percentage of those naturally HIV-immune people, who represent about one in 200 infected individuals, carry a gene called HLA B57. Now a team of researchers from the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT and Harvard has revealed a new effect that contributes to this gene's ability to confer immunity. Read more >>

This work is funded by Mark and Lisa Schwartz Foundation, National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award, Philip T. and Susan M. Ragon Foundation, Jane Coffin Childs Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and the National Cancer Institute.

Rapid Analysis of DNA Damage Now Possible
Our DNA is under constant attack from many sources: Radiation, ultraviolet light, and contaminants in our food and in our environment can all wreak havoc on our genetic material, potentially leading to cancer and other diseases. Analyzing DNA damage is critical to understanding those diseases, as well as seeking new treatments, but current tools and detecting DNA damage make for tedious and time-consuming work.

Now a team of MIT bioengineers has devised a new way to rapidly reveal DNA damage under a variety of conditions, promising to make such analysis a routine aspect of applications such as drug screening and epidemiological studies of the effects of environmental agents. Read more >>

This work is funded by the MIT Center for Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Program in Gene-Environment Interactions), and the National Institutes of Health.

Technology

Toward More Efficient Wireless Power Delivery
In 2007, MIT researchers announced that they had discovered a novel way of transmitting electricity without the use of wires, Now, the researchers have demonstrated that the system's efficiency at transmitting energy improves significantly when it is used to charge multiple devices at the same time.

The system works by creating a strong eclectromagnetic resonance between the sending and receiving coils--similar to the way a tuning fork can start vibrating when exposed to a sound of exactly the right frequency, or the way a radio antenna can be turned to just the frequency of a single station out of the hundred that are simultaneously broadcasting their signals. Read more >>