Sunday, May 31, 2015

2015 EPO Awards: GMP - Genetically Modified Pests

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

According to the Elsevier journal Biological Control, biological control refers to “environmentally sound and effective means of reducing or mitigating pests and their effects through the use of natural enemies” [Elsevier]. The term “pests” in this domain usually includes arthropods such as insects, mites and fleas, invasive plant species such as weeds, and other animals that attack crops, food and livestock, and by extension humans. Thus, biological control arises at the intersection of various fields, including but not limited to agriculture and health, entomology (the study of insects) and epidemiology. 

Ceratitis Capitata  - The medfy
In the domain of agriculture, methods of biological control include quarantine and removal of infested plants, regulations preventing possibilities of importing or introducing pests; ground and aerial spraying of insecticides, herbicides and pesticides; and genetic engineering of seeds, various species of pests, and of the biological control agents [USDA1].

In the domain of health, the need for biological control arises for example with vector-borne diseases, that is, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever, Chagas and leishmaniasis, or even more local diseases such as Lyme disease, transmitted through organisms such as insects, mosquitoes, ticks and flies [WHO 1]. 

 Aedes aegypti - dengue virus vector
 UN World Health Day 2014 was dedicated to raising awareness of vector-borne diseases. The theme was “Small bite: Big threat”.  Indeed, dengue fever for example, is one of the fastest growing diseases of the world: the incidence of infections worldwide is 30-fold what it was 50 years ago [WHO 2]; and it is estimated that 40% of the world population is at risk [WHO 3].

Methods of protection against bites and the control of dengue virus infections in particular include: implementation of methods for early detection of cases and case management of severe infections,  coordinated epidemiological and entomological surveillance, locally-adapted methods of vector management, including household water-management in urban areas, and enhanced communication (education) to enlist behavioural action; and finally a renewed call for research on neglected tropical diseases, for treatment methods, prevention or management. [WHO2].
The European patent EP1246927 titled BIOLOGICAL CONTROL BY CONDITIONAL DOMINANT LETHAL GENETIC SYSTEM, finalist and contender for a 2015 European Patent Award in the research category, precisely arises within this research context as an effective method of controlling pest populations such as the Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis Capitata) in particular, or the Aedes aegypti species of mosquitoes, the females on which are vectors of the dengue virus.

The patented method of control consist in a novel approach to the prior art of releasing sterile male insects (SIRM – Sterile Insect Release Method) that mate, and produce no offspring, and thus reduce the overall population of insects. The SIRM subsumes production of both a sterile insect and a single-sex population (separation of the insects by sex), so that sterile males-only are released, essentially because females also bite when sterile (whether it is the dengue virus-carrying female species of insects or the medfly…). Of course, the trick is to produce a genetically modified insect of a particular sex that remains as fit as the wild-type, despite all the chemical and radiation manipulations since both will compete for mating purposes!

This invention thus specifically addresses the issue of fitness resulting from genetic manipulation in view of producing effective and viable insects of a single sex capable of transmitting modified population control traits, by inserting a single conditional dominant sex-specific lethal genetic system into the organism. This lethal genetic trait is controlled in the permissive laboratory environment, and expressed under the restrictive conditions of a natural environment, where a condition from the lab is absent which triggers the expression of the lethal system, such as for example killing all female insects. (The invention is actually sex-specific lethal to males or females, and incidentally females for the case of the dengue vector and medfly only because it is females that bite.) 

This novel genetic engineering method enables all the insects to be released in nature where the lethal genetic trait will be expressed (in the absence of a specific lab condition), and thus for the males only to survive, and mate with wild types (without having to resort to an extra step for killing all the females in the lab, prior to release, risking damage to the male insects). Alternatively, the lab condition preventing the expression of the lethal system (or permissive of survival) can be turned off in the lab, so that only males are released in nature (again without resorting to an added sex selection method whether chemical or radiation-based). The females then born of this mating will die, and the males will have inherited the trait… all of which results in the desired insect population control!

The sorts of natural trigger conditions include a certain temperature of the environment (e.g a temperature in the natural environment that is below lab breeding temperature), diurnal cycles (e.g. light and dark conditions of breeding that differ from the wild) or, in the specific case of this patent-related research with Drosophilia (the medlfy), a food or water additive was used for breeding in the lab, the absence of which triggers the sex-specific lethal system, after release in a natural environment.  

Of course no one can argue against controlling insect populations responsible for vector-borne diseases, especially those vectoring the dengue virus, one of the fastest growing diseases on earth which, in contrast to the 3500 species of mosquitoes vectoring malaria, is only vectored by a single species of mosquitoes [WHO 4]. Similarly, no one can argue against biological control of the dreaded medly infestations responsible for extensive fruit crop damages. Indeed, compared to aerial spraying of malathion insecticides, for example, which pose even greater threats to humans, biological control certainly offers a softer form of control, and this invention is one inventive step beyond the release of sterile male insects, used in the prior art.  
There are, however, theoretical arguments and well documented research projects, questioning the benefits, wisdom, long-term effectiveness and practicality of this sort of genetic engineering approach to biological control, precisely because it tends to reduce nature to the very deterministic level of machines. For example, the prolific and well known physicist, feminist and activist, Vandana Shiva (e.g.;1997, 2000, 2012),  points out that , engineering applied to nature does not work in same way as it does for objects and complex machines. When machines break down, their parts are replaced and they are fixed. When nature breaks down, it adapts, compensates, re-organizes and behaves in ways that are not fully predictable. This is particularly well documented in the domain of agriculture where seeds  in association with special triggers and fertilizers are engineered to become weed-, pest-, insect- or weather-resistant, for example, and where, as a result of the genetic manipulations, nature then produces super weeds, super bugs and super pests, able to counter the genetically modified crops and their fertilizers, and thus compounding the initial problems (e.g.; Newman & Pollack, 2010, The Editors - Pollan, et al., 2010). 

The point of Shiva's argument, stripped from its details, is that growing and breeding are different from engineering. A genetic modification inscribes itself relationally in a web of macro and micro-activity systems, incompletely known, where the effects of one modification are not fully predictable. Thus, the voices of dissent call for much more caution in the excitement generated by the possibilities of genetic engineering and the testing of genome hypotheses, all of which appear unquestionably justified by the necessity of providing immediate solutions. Indeed, on a macro level, there are already quite a few unexpected socio-cultural consequences of genetic engineering (i.e.; in the lives of farmers) well worth consideration and understanding in the laboratory [e.g.; Shand, 2004]. 
Below you will find the abstract for this invention, and above images of insect vectors of disease and agricultural havoc.
BIOLOGICAL CONTROL BY CONDITIONAL DOMINANT LETHAL GENETIC SYSTEM A method is disclosed for the control of insects using a dominant sex-specific lethal genetic system which is conditional i.e. expressed when the insect is in its natural environment. The system may be conditional on temperature or a dietary additive which suppresses expression when supplied to insects in the laboratory. This suppression is removed once the insect is in its natural environment where the additive is not found in its food. The lethal effect may be expressed in the laboratory or natural environment so that only one sex e.g. males is released or survives to interbreed with the wild population thus passing on the genetic system. Alternatively, the lethal system may be sex-specific in an adult organism but be lethal to both males and females in the larval stage. The method can be applied for the control of plants wherein one sexual entity of a plant is killed. Abstract EP1246927

The Editors  (May 7, 2010) Invasion of the Superweeds. NewYork Times. Room for Debate, A NYTimes Blog. 
Elsevier Journal Biological Control
Neuman W. &  A. Pollack (May 3, 2010) Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds. NewYork Times, Business Section: Energy & Environment, May 3, 2010
Shand, H. (2004)  Interview –
Shiva, V. (1997) Biopiracy: The plunder of nature and knowledge. Boston , MA: South End Press.
Shiva, V. (2000) Stolen Harvest: The hijacking of the global food supply. Cambridge, MA: southe End Press. 
Shiva, V. (2012) Making peace with the earth: Beyond resource, land and food wars. New Delhi, India: Raj Press. 
USAD 1 - Mediterranean Fruit Fly 
WHO 1 - Vector-borne diseases
WHO (2) WHO global strategy for dengue prevention and control 2012-2020
WHO 3 – Vector Borne diseases
 World Health Day 2014, post at Patents on the soles of you shoes on April 7, 2014

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Oh, patents! Etch A sketch®

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

Does anyone remember?...Prior to desktop computers, laptops, cell phones and anything portable (even TVs), drawing for hours on a little red tablet-looking screen, with two dials on each side, called Etch A Sketch® in the US, and L’Écran Magique (brand name Télécran) in France…?

Probably not for anyone less than 75 years old! But perhaps that you have purchased such a game for your kids or grand-kids! Since the Etch A Sketch®  was first marketed in 1960, more than 100 million devices have been produced.

If you have seen the Etch A Sketch®, or tried one, you might have then wondered how it really works. All the user does is to turn knobs for right to left tracing on one side, and for up and down tracing on the other side. It is very easy to use, and much more difficult to master elaborate drawing. The drawing then completely disappears when the whole tablet-looking Magic screen is simply flipped upside down..!

Etch A Sketch® is a patented invention. The patent for this invention FR1242870 titled Dispositif traceur in French (Tracing device in English) was awarded in France, in 1960, to Paul Chaze, who was in fact the investor assisting with filing, and not the real inventor, called André Cassagnes. The invention was then sold to the Ohio Art Company, and produced in the USA, where sales continue to grow!

A couple of years after the original French patent was granted by l’INPI (The French Patent Office), English versions of the patent for this invention were also filed in Great Britain (GB915731 titled A device for producing drawings and the like), the US (US3055113 titled Tracing device) and Canada (CA 601304 titled Tracing device), as well as a few more French versions, in Switzerland and Luxembourg (respectively CH362328 and LU38623 with the same original French title). Interestingly, all of the patents filed and granted mention Paul Chase as applicant and/or inventor, and Arthur Grandjean (as the Canadian inventor…)! The latter appearing in fact to be the accountant responsible for filing all this invention-related “paperwork”…

Still, you might be wondering how the Etch-a-Sketch® works? There are no batteries. It is a compact device with no detachable parts. There is nothing to assemble, and it is very portable….all of which makes it difficult to see what might be going on inside!

The invention recites a fluid-tight container, with a glass or other translucent surface, containing a pulverized metal powder that adheres to the translucent surface, making it opaque after it is tipped upside down. A stylus inside the sealed container is then moved parallel to the surface, using cords, and the two dials on the outside of the device to actuate the cords,. When the stylus is actuated, up or down, to the right or to the left, or in combinations, the user is in fact scraping (or etching) through the powder and removing it, to trace a picture seen from the outside of the device through the translucent surface. The pulverized metal powder recoats the previously etched surface, when the device is flipped upside down, thus erasing the drawing and allowing the user to begin anew.

The inspiration purportedly arises from Cassagnes' job as an electrician in a company called Lincrusta where aluminum powder coating was used... 

Below appears an original French patent drawing of the device and a drawing of the cords actuating the stylus within the fluid-tight container. Above, a marketed Etch A sketch® is included.

I have suggested elsewhere in this blog that the story of vel+cro would make a fabulous patent love story. I believe that the Etch A Sketch® might make another great patent story, a troll (drôle) one, with its star “inve_tor(s)”, and of course the magic of a small screen that continues to fascinate so many millions of people worldwide, in competition now with so many more screens and tablets!

André Cassagne (1926 -2013)
Ohio Art Company
Velcro US2717437 (2) Patents on the soles of your chose - Feb. 16, 2013

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

More glass magic … Philip Glass’ Glassworks

1665 Letters Patent signature page
Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

To the magic of glass...350 years ago...

-The1665 Letters Patent granted by France’s King Louis XIV for the manufacture of mirror glass, in a move to exclude competing Venitian glass makers from supplying Royal and Parisian customers.

And today...
- Dynamically tinted glass, and the Saint-Gobin patent EP0831360, titled Electrochemical device, contending for the 2015 EPO Inventor Awards, and arising in a long tradition of glass making, connected to the patented Saint–Gobain 17th century workshop that produced mirror glass for King Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles.... 

Add Philip Glass.....and listen carefully to the sounds of Glassworks (below):

Philip Glass

Saint-Gobain 350 – From 1665 to 2015 – The Exhibition

Monday, May 11, 2015

Blogs - Saint Gobain’s Cities and Buildings of Tomorrow

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

World leader in the domain of building materials and in particular high performance materials serving comfort (i.e.; acoustic, visual, thermal and air quality) and energy efficiency (i.e.; green, clean and renewable), the Saint Gobain Group has filed more than 300 patents just for its glass building materials, one of which is competing for the 2015 EPO Inventor Awards in the industrial category. 

Dutch Windwheel
Oxygen Eco-Tower
If you are interested in seeing some of the most spectacular and future-oriented cities and buildings of the world, login to one of the Saint-Gobain blogs called Cities and Buildings of Tomorrow…! You will discover plans for skyscrapers which cast no shadows, for they are built in pairs, each so that the sunlight reflected by one building fills the shadow of the other building! You will also find out about Dubai’s plans, to build a museum of the future in the Persian Gulf area, using 3D construction methods (see 3D construction patents here). You might see images of the Oxygen Eco-Tower in Jakarta, Indonesia, a 75-storey apartment building that stacks tropical gardens and dwellings at each level, or you might also see the Dutch WindWheel, which is both a wind turbine and a circular apartment building! 

Cities and Building of Tomorrow showcases the stuff of architect and engineering dreams….. already erected or at the planning stage – each subsuming the use of state of the art, highly patented building materials, many of which were invented by the Saint-Gobain Group. 

Versailles Palace - Hall of Mirrors
And just FYI, Saint-Gobain, was the secret location of France's King Louis XIV's mirror glass workshop, which manufactured the Versailles Palace Hall of Mirrors -- 350 years ago! The location, north of Paris in the Picardie region, was selected in part because of its proximity to the River Oise and the possibility of transporting the large sheets of mirror glass to Paris via waterway. 

King Louis XIV granted letters patent, in 1665, for the exclusive Royal Manufacture of glass, a move designed to stave off competition from the Venetian glassmakers. "

Oh, patents! 3D printing construction
Saint-Gobain Cities and Buildings of tomorrow (blog)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

2015 EPO Awards Finalist – Dynamically tintable glass

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

Can you imagine being connected to a company celebrating 350 years of activity, founded as a secret, mirror glassmaking workshop for the King’s Palace? And then, 350 years later, can you believe the same company invented the most magical window panes on earth? There’s mystery, intrigues and a long history of glass technology at the Saint-Gobain Vitrage Company! Even the original 18th century location (in Saint-Gobain, France) and it’s buildings … are historic!

Today Saint-Gobain is a multinational enterprise, represented in more than 64 countries, with 180,000 employees and 12 research centers! The group’s activity focuses on habitat and industrial applications, and in particular, high-performance building materials serving comfort and energy efficiency.

The technology disclosed in European patent EP0831360, titled Electrochemical device, and competing as finalist in the industrial category of the 2015 EPO Inventor Awards, was developed by a Saint-Gobain subsidiary in the USA called SageGlass®

The invention pertains to dynamically tintable glass, that is, glass whose tint may be turned on or off, or automatically adjusted, according to the amount of sunlight and heat outside. The implications for energy efficiency are enormous since a whole building equipped with Sageglass® may be wired to adjust according to the external conditions of light and solar heat, without blinds, shutters or even human intervention, and thus keep the solar heat and  glare out or let it in, depending on the tint (and season).

This highly patented technology invokes clear, electrically conductive and electrochemical, nanoparticle layers applied to glass, enabling lithium ions and electrons to transfer from one layer to another, for the purposes of tinting the glass, at the flick of a switch that turns on very low voltage electricity; and for the ions and electrons to be able to back out of the layers, and reverse the glass back to clear, when the low voltage current is switched off. The process for applying the coatings is part of the invention.

Below, you will find the Abstract for EP0831360, titled Electrochemical device, and an exploded view of the invention glass and electrochemical and conductive nanoparticle layers.

In an electrochemical device having one or more substrates (1, 7), one or more electrically conductive layers (2, 6), one or more electrochemically active layers capable of reversible ion insertion (especially of H<+>, Li<+>, Na<+> and Ag<+>) and an electrolyte, the electrolyte (4) comprises one or more layers of mineral oxide-type material in which ionic conduction is created or enhanced by incorporation of hydrogen and/or nitrogen compounds, especially nitrides. Also claimed are (i) electrochromic glazing including the above device, especially having variable energy and/or light transmission, together with one or more transparent glass or plastic substrates preferably assembled as multiple or laminated glazing; (ii) energy storage elements, especially a battery, including the above device; and (iii) a gas sensor including the above device.; Further claimed is a process for making the above device, involving deposition of the hydrogen and/or nitrogen compound layer of the electrolyte by a vacuum method (cathodic sputtering, vapour deposition or plasma CVD), by a sol-gel synthesis method (especially by dipping, spray coating or laminar coating) or even by gas, powder or liquid phase pyrolysis. [EP0831360]

Thus, the most magical glass on earth, now competing for the 2015 EPO Inventor awards, comes 350 years after the magic of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors!

Saint-Gobain 350 – From 1665 to 2015 – The Exhibition!/en