All posts by Matthew Grattan

The Golden Cricket Project

By Sam Jiang (ME ‘19)

For many, there’s still a mental block on munching on bugs, but more and more people are embracing insects as an environmentally-friendly source of protein. Ranching bugs is considerably less resource-intensive than raising traditional livestock, but there’s some nutrients we just can’t get out of insects—like vitamin A! This summer, Professors Medvedik and Janjusevic at the Kanbar Center are kicking off a new project as part Cooper Union’s STEM Program, with the ultimate goal of improving the nutritional value of edible insects.

Vitamin A deficiency is incredibly prevalent in poorer countries, and is especially dangerous—children without enough vitamin A are in danger of going blind. While rich in protein, crickets lack β-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, and many other essential nutrients. Foods rich in β-carotene—such as carrots, or the genetically engineered Golden Rice—have a trademark yellow-orange color. The goal of the Golden Cricket Project is to use genetic engineering to create a cricket rich in both protein and β-carotene, which the body can synthesize into vitamin A.

Here’s the thing with genetic engineering, though: The more complex the organism, the harder it is to rewrite its genome without messing something up. Although we think of insects as fairly simple organisms, it’s still too difficult to genetically coerce the cricket into producing β-carotene on its own. Bacteria, on the other hand, grow rapidly, with some strains easily absorbing foreign genetic information, making them perfect candidates for β-carotene synthesis.

Before moving further, let’s have a small review session on high school biology. DNA codes for proteins, and proteins facilitate biological processes, like the production of vitamin A from β-carotene. In order to create a bacteria that produces β-carotene, the DNA sequence for every protein involved in β-carotene synthesis needs to be inserted into the bacterial genome. This bacteria will then be fed to the crickets; they will live and reproduce in the crickets’ gut, constantly churning out β-carotene, eventually turning the mundane cricket into a Golden Cricket.

Before the Golden Cricket can be made, many other issues need to be addressed. First and foremost is determining which bacteria to genetically transform into a vitamin factory. Professor Medvedic discusses potentially using common probiotics: “We’d like to use Lactobacillus, but maybe the type that we choose isn’t suitable for cricket gut.” Professor Janjusevic’s solution to that potential problem is to isolate and analyze an existing gut microbe, guaranteeing that the resultant β-carotene factory will be able to survive within the cricket. The final genetically-engineered microbe needs to be able to produce β-carotene and thrive and reproduce within the cricket in order to be considered a success.

Aside from technical difficulties, this project faces other, less scientific long-term hurdles. Most of Western society is still heavily opposed to eating insects, but the Golden Cricket itself is targeted more towards undeveloped nations where vitamin A deficiency is a real issue. In the media, there’s also a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering surrounding the use of genetically-modified organisms. Both of these are issues that can potentially limit long-term adoption of organisms like the Golden Cricket. ◊

Photos by Wentao Zhang (ChE ‘19).

The Cooper Dramatic Society Presents: “A Play”

Photos by Wentao Zhang (ChE ’19)

By Olivia Heuiyoung Park (ME ‘19)

The Cooper Dramatic Society put on their spring show, “A Play,” in the Rose Auditorium from April 7 to April 9. Directed by Toby Stein (CE ’18), this production was completely student run—including the set, costumes, lights, and sound. Even, the screenplay was written by Jack Pannell, Stein’s high school friend.

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Preet Bharara Speaks in Great Hall

By Gabriela Godlewski (CE ‘19) and Matthew Grattan (ChE ‘19)

Photo by Yifei Simon Shao (ME ‘19).
Photo by Yifei Simon Shao (ME ‘19).

Preet Bharara, the former United States Attorney for the Southern district of New York, spoke to a packed Great Hall on Tuesday night, April 6—or as he put it—“improbably [addressed] a captive audience in a legendary hall where Abraham Lincoln once spoke.” The “sold out” event was part of the 2017 John Jay Iselin Memorial Lecture Series, which commemorates the tenth president of The Cooper Union.

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Miles of Movies: Your Name

By Miles Barber (CE ‘18)

Every once in a while, a movie comes along with rave reviews and high expectations, but it’s a few months before it makes it to my area. (This film was released in Japan in 2016 but not until quite recently in the U.S.) All of the things I heard, the amazing animation and the great story, really built up the anticipation. And then, in a rare twist, this film exceeds my expectations. Your Name is the best anime film I’ve ever seen, and I think it’s one of the best traditionally-animated films ever made.

The premise is fairly easy to understand: Two people, a country girl and a city boy, randomly wake up inside each other’s bodies for a day at a time. Some days they’re swapped and some days they aren’t. They slowly learn more about each other and accidentally mess up days of each other’s’ lives to great comedic effect. Each lead very different lives with different dreams and aspirations, which really blends well to make this story engaging. Due to some twists and turns in the story, they become determined to find each other. And all of this happens around a gorgeous comet event. It might seem a little cheesy, but it works for the movie. It certainly worked for me.

This film is perfectly paced. It draws you in from its first scene and never lets go. I was thoroughly invested in the characters and incredible premise right from the start. And just when it seems like a chapter in the story is going to overextend itself, there is some twist that blows your mind while simultaneously fitting perfectly into the movie. The film wraps itself up in a nice bow that leaves you satisfied with what you’ve seen and eager to experience the film again. You really feel like a lot of time has passed in this story, and parts of it actually create a profound sense of nostalgia.

The technical aspects of the film were, as expected, fantastic. The animation leaps off the screen, especially in the rural landscapes where the girl lives. There are so many gorgeous shots of the landscape that feel incredibly real. The animation also handles lighting very well. There is a scene at twilight that feels incredible, and the comet is illuminated beautifully in the sky as it passes overhead. There is just something incredibly magical about the way this film is animated. While there are plenty of computerized effects, they somehow blend with the traditional, hand-drawn animation really well and don’t feel jarring.

Something else that I found impressive about this film is how well it manages to flesh out its characters and put them in realistic relationships. Not once did a character’s actions feel contrived or strange; instead, they just make sense. The differences in the lives of these characters are so well-realized in this movie. Even though this type of story is on the complicated side, I never felt confused or lost at any point in the story; it was all clear and powerfully directed.

There is something in this movie for everyone. Whether it’s from the touching story, the great twists, the genuine mystery element that takes form when the two characters try to find each other, the gorgeous animation, or the premise alone, Your Name will leave it’s mark and you’ll never want it to end. ◊

Grade: A+