Monday 27th March, 2017
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Artificial leaf copies nature to manufacture medicine

 Artificial leaf copies nature to manufacture medicine

Dutch scientists have developed an artificial leaf that can act as a mini-factory for producing drugs, an advance that could allow medicines to be pro­duced anywhere there is sun­light.
The work taps into the abil­ity of plants to use sunlight to feed themselves through pho­tosynthesis, something indus­trial chemists have struggled to replicate because sunshine usually generates too little en­ergy to fuel chemical reactions.
The leaf-inspired micro fac­tory mimics nature’s efficiency at harvesting solar radiation by using new materials called luminescent solar concen­trators with very thin chan­nels through which liquid is pumped, exposing molecules to sunlight.
“Theoretically, you could use this device to make drug compounds with solar energy anywhere you want,” said lead researcher Timothy Noel at Eindhoven University of Tech­nology.
By doing away with the need for a power grid, it may be possible one day to make malaria drugs in the jungle or even medicines on Mars in some future space colony, he believes.
The device, made from sili­cone rubber, can operate even when there is diffuse light, which means it will work un­der cloudy skies. However, there is still a way to go to scale up the process to make it com­mercially viable.
Noel and his colleagues, who published their research in the science journal Ange­wandte Chemie last week, are now trying to improve energy efficiency further and increase output.
Because the artificial leaf relies on micro-channels to bring chemicals into direct contact with sunlight, each unit needs to be small - but they could be easily linked to­gether to increase production.
“You can make a whole tree with many, many different leaves placed in parallel,” Noel told Reuters. “These are very cheap things to make, so there is a lot of potential.”
He thinks the process could start to become broadly avail­able to chemical engineers within five to 10 years.
It is not the first time that scientists have drawn inspira­tion from plants when consid­ering novel ways to manufac­ture pharmaceuticals.
In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ap­proved a drug called Elelyso from Pfizer and Protalix Bio­therapeutics for Gaucher dis­ease, a rare genetic condition, made with genetically modi­fied carrot cells.
Amazon files patent for flying warehouse
Amazon has filed a pat­ent for massive flying warehouses equipped with fleets of drones that de­liver goods to key locations.
Carried by an airship, the warehouses would visit places Amazon expects demand for certain goods to boom.
It says one use could be near sporting events or festivals where they would sell food or souvenirs to spectators.
The patent also envisages a series of support vehicles that would be used to restock the flying structures.
The filing significantly ex­pands on Amazon’s plans to use drones to make deliveries. Earlier this month it made the first commercial delivery us­ing a drone via a test scheme running in Cambridge.
In the documents detailing the scheme, Amazon said the combination of drones and fly­ing warehouses, or “airborne fulfillment centres”, would deliver goods much more quickly than those stationed at its ground-based warehouses.
Also, it said, the drones descending from the AFCs - which would cruise and hover at altitudes up to 45,000ft (14,000m) - would use almost no power as they glided down to make deliveries.
Many firms working on drones are struggling with ways to extend their relatively short range, which is typically dependent on the size of the battery they carry.
The patent lays out a com­prehensive scheme for run­ning a fleet of AFCs and drones. It suggests smaller air­ships could act as shuttles tak­ing drones, supplies and even workers to and from the larger AFCs.
Amazon has not respond­ed to a request for comment about the patent.
It is not clear whether the filing is a plan for a project that will be realised or just a proof-of-concept. Many firms regularly file patents that never end up becoming real world products or services.
Amazon’s patent was filed in late 2014 but has only now come to light thanks to analyst Zoe Leavitt from CB Insights who unearthed the docu­ments.

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