Friday, December 8, 2017

LANL biologist ‘cautiously’ optimistic about HIV vaccine

Bette Korber, LANL photo.

Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist from Los Alamos National Laboratory, has designed a “mosaic” vaccine that is about to become one of only a handful of HIV fighters ever tested for its effectiveness in humans.

Researchers will spend the next few years studying a test population of 2,600 women in sub-Saharan Africa to see if the mosaics can indeed slow or prevent HIV infection in humans.

The search for an HIV vaccine has always been difficult, in part because the virus has the ability to mutate rapidly, creating multiple strains in different parts of the world. (Full story)

Computer simulations reveal roots of drug resistance

Efflux pumps are a mechanism for
removing toxins, including antibiotics. LANL image.

New supercomputer simulations have revealed the role of transport proteins called efflux pumps in creating drug-resistance in bacteria, research that could lead to improving the drugs’ effectiveness against life-threatening diseases and restoring the efficacy of defunct antibiotics.

“By understanding how the pump moves and dynamically behaves, we can potentially find a way to deactivate the pump—and antibiotics that haven’t worked in a long time may be useful again,” said Los Alamos biophysicist Gnana Gnanakaran. (Full story)

Better biofuels by design

Computing systems that emulate the biological neural networks of animal and human brains can potentially save both money and time as scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory seek to convert nonfood biomass into new engine fuels. These fuels could be used in existing transportation infrastructure and engine technologies—and meet government regulations. Researchers are using these artificial neural networks to estimate the combustion characteristics of biofuel constituents and new fuel molecules. (Full story)

NASA testing space-rated fission power unit
Moving the Kilopower prototype, NASA photo.

“The reactor technology we are testing could be applicable to multiple NASA missions, and we ultimately hope that this is the first step for fission reactors to create a new paradigm of truly ambitious and inspiring space exploration,” adds David Poston, Los Alamos’ chief reactor designer.

“Simplicity is essential to any first-of-a-kind engineering project – not necessarily the simplest design, but finding the simplest path through design, development, fabrication, safety, and testing.” (Full story)