Ouch! That hurts, doesn’t it? Paper Cuts are our short, erratic and slightly painful updates on current, local and national events. This issue: A Russian scientist wants to perform the first human head transplant, and clothing dye might soon be made from e. coli.

 

COLOR ME E. COLI

It might seem like a detail straight out of a sci-fi novel, but don’t be surprised if bacteria is responsible for your clothing’s hues sometime in the future.

The petroleum-based dyes commonly used in clothing manufacturing can be harmful to both humans and the environment: Workers who handle the dyes are known to develop skin-peeling diseases, and carcinogen-laden wastewater accrued during the dyes’ production is sometimes dumped into local waterways, causing pollution.

Richard Blackburn, a researcher and head of the sustainable materials research group at the University of Leeds, places part of the blame for this on “fast fashion,” an industry that quickly pumps out cheap, trendy clothing and where, according to Blackburn, “people think of products as disposable.”

To ease the environmental burden of fast fashion, researchers are looking into other natural resources for dyes. But plants are susceptible to inclement weather and insects, and they require thousands of gallons of water and lots of space to grow. This is where bacteria comes in.

Further, some bacteria naturally produce vibrant colors as a result of their “normal metabolic processes.” A team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently produced a strawberry red from the strain Escherichia coli.

“We feed the bacteria glucose and they do the rest, “said Mattheos Koffas, one of the researchers.

An obvious concern for using bacteria in dye production is the risk of infection, but researchers are already looking into ways to purify the dyes so the bacteria is no longer present after the color is produced.

While bacteria-dyed clothing doesn’t lessen the demand for fast fashion, it’s a first step in acknowledging and solving the negative impacts of the industry. •

By Ali Sundook.

 

HEAD ON

Despite the screams of fellow scientists, Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero is forging ahead.

In 2013, Canavero claimed that he would be the first to conduct a “human head transplant.” One could argue it’s actually a body transplant, though, as a healthy head would be receiving a new body.

“Head transplantation, body transplantation, whatever,” Canavero said during an 2015  interview with the Guardian. “Technicality!”

In his February 2015 article published in the Surgical Neurology International journal, Canavero described what he calls the “GEMINI spinal cord fusion protocol,” which involves severing the heads of two bodies: one live volunteer and one brain-dead donor. After about 150 people perform an estimated 36 hours’ worth of reattaching arteries, nerves and flesh, the “recipient” of the healthy body will be put into a coma for about three weeks prior to rehabilitation, according to a 2016 article in Canada’s National Post. Canavero holds that by cutting the spinal cords with less force than what’s inflicted by a typical injury, tissue damage will be minimized, allowing for a sealant to effectively glue the two different sets of cords back together.

As you might expect, Canavero’s colleagues in the scientific community are generally skeptical, if not downright horrified, by his plans.

“Scientifically what Canavero wants to do cannot yet be done,” Arthur Caplan, bioethicist and New York University Langone Medical Center professor, wrote in a 2015 Forbes article. “It may never be doable.”

Canavero seems unmoved by criticism, insisting that scientists responsible for breakthroughs throughout history were often ridiculed before achieving fame. He announced in an April article by the Austria-based magazine OOOM that the operation is still moving forward: The plan is to complete the procedure by early 2018 in Harbin, China, on an unselected Chinese volunteer.

Only time will tell if the surgery ever comes to a head. •

By Vincent McDonald