Archive for the ‘marblar’ tag

Hook, Line and Sinker! Marblar’s Super-Biotin Project

By August 19th, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Comment

This is one bait you should take.

Illustration of a potential application of Super-Biotin – to image tumor cells with high specificity

Illustration of a potential application of Super-Biotin – to image tumor cells with high specificity

What possibilities could you think of to use a super strong ‘molecular’ hook? That’s what the inventors of Super-Biotin are asking you. This challenge appears on Marblar, a startup that “crowdsources market applications for emerging and existing technologies” as Mr Daniel Bayley, project organizer and part of the Marblar team describes it.

To understand Super-Biotin, we have to take a few steps back and see how old fashioned biotin works as part of a scientist’s toolkit. Biotin and Streptavidin are two naturally occurring proteins that exhibit an extraordinarily strong affinity for each other. Scientists (including myself!) have been able to use this property of biotin to pick out specific molecules from complex biological mixtures.  Sort of like baiting fish in a lake. Only here you get to pick the fish you want in a lake filled with several thousand kinds.

As an example, to selectively pick out molecule X from a mixture, biotin is first linked to a ‘bait’ such as an antibody that binds selectively to X. The biotin linked bait is now thrown in to the ‘lake’ which in this case happens to be a cocktail of many thousand proteins. Once the bait binds to X, streptavidin is used as the ‘hook’ to pull the entire complex (biotin-antibody-X) out of the solution.

Structure of the ‘Hook’ – ‘Super Biotin’ – ‘Bait’ Complex

Structure of the ‘Hook’ – ‘Super Biotin’ – ‘Bait’ Complex

While this technique works quite well in a laboratory setting, an enzyme called biotinidase found in bodily fluids can chew up the link between biotin and the bait protein (antibody to X in the example above) rendering the extraction process ineffective in a clinical setting. Working around this problem, the inventors of Super-Biotin at the University of Edinburgh invented a biotinidase-resistant linker which also retained the streptavidin specificity.

To find potential ‘problems to this solution’, the inventors along with the technology transfer arm of the university, Edinburgh Research and Innovation Ltd., presented the idea to Marblar which created the Super-Biotin challenge. The challenge webpage has a wealth of information that makes it easy for anyone to get started on it.

To sweeten the deal, Marblar is offering a cash prize of US$1,000 for the winning idea. But that’s not the main goal, Mr Bayley explains. “The cash prize definitely doesn’t hurt. But it is the chance to see your idea become an actual product in the market that is the key. Our users are more interested in realizing the promise of science than the cash prize” he sasys.

Additionally, if you like these sorts of challenges, you can find a lot more to feed your grey cells on Marblar. The aim is to get lots of people thinking about a particular project, encouraging as many ideas as possible. “Just like we did for super-biotin, the technology for each challenge is broken down into an easily digestible form so anyone can understand its capabilities and pitch in with their ideas” says Mr Bayley.

Find out for yourself how this works and start ideating!

Form more on the avidin-biotin interaction and its applications you can view this YouTube video from the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Photos: Marblar Super Biotin Challenge

Arvind Suresh is a graduate student in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. For his thesis, he has been studying the molecular mechanisms behind uterine contraction during pregnancy. He is also an information addict, gobbling up everything he can find on and off the internet. He enjoys reading, teaching, talking and writing science, and following that interest led him to SciStarter. Outside the lab and the classroom, he can be found behind the viewfinder of his camera.

What would you do with this technology?

By February 4th, 2013 at 8:47 am | Comment

Marblar SciStarter

Scientific research aims to answer questions, progress disciplinary knowledge, and ultimately better society by providing new applications of technology and ideas toward common problems. But, over time, the products of our countless research projects, while potentially still useful, go unutilized, and can be forgotten in the basements of University libraries or the dusty archives of journal collections.

This perhaps all too common problem is exactly the motivation behind an new exciting project called Marblar.

The premise: Marblar provides you with the overlooked technologies and ideas, and you – the citizen scientist – provide the applications. Non-traditional, yes, but it’s challenging, engaging, and a fun game where citizen scientists can compete with other across the globe.

I recently spoke with co-founder Dan Antonio Perez to find out his hopes for the project and what he thought of Marblar’s role in citizen science.

“Collaboration is the focus,” Dan said.

The Marblar team spends a lot of time identifying the most interesting technology that can inspire Marblars and generate the most useful applications. Current technologies include a a microchip that can harness the power of motion, ‘Super Foams’ made from emulsions, and a brand new desalination device.

Marblars are given three weeks to post their ideas, discuss with other players, and even collaborate with the inventors to arrive at a final solution. While there are some small cash rewards and other small prizes for top entries, the real reward, Dan says, is that users have a chance to participate in meaningful science and help create ideas with potential.

Through the amazingly easy-to-use Marblar interface, I was also able to speak with several of the top Marblars who have been involved in this process.

Dave, a Biochemistry Ph.D. student studying at The University of Oxford, claimed that the prizes were not important to him. Rather, he was excited to collaborate with people from diverse scientific backgrounds.

After years out of the lab, a top Marblar user, Maria, was excited to get back into the thrill of scientific discussion.

Juan Carlos, a University researcher, was most interested in the fact that in discussing ideas, he was able to get feedback from users outside of his discipline.

This type of broad, multi-discipline collaboration is what makes Marblar such a unique citizen science activity. There is really something for everyone who is interested in science. And they are only getting started. Dan sees Marblar as having great potential for engaging the public and offering a fun way for citizens to engage with some really great minds in science.

It’s science. I’ts a game. And it’s fun. Marblar has some lofty goals, but from my first impressions, they have already achieved quite a bit. I can’t wait to see what’s next.