Space Travel Doesn’t Seem to Shorten Astronauts’ Lives, Says Study

Astronauts and professional athletes have similar mortality rates, according to a new study, which suggests that space travel doesn't cause premature death.

Life Goes On

We’ve long known that traveling in space carries numerous health risks — it exposes astronauts to higher levels of radiation than the rest of us, and they have reported such health problems as partial blindness upon returning to Earth — but we never actually knew if working in space caused astronauts to die prematurely.

“The challenge has always been to understand if astronauts are as healthy as they would be had they been otherwise comparably employed but had never gone to space at all,” mortality researcher Robert Reynolds told Reuters in an interview published on Wednesday. “To do this, we needed to find a group that is comparable on several important factors, but has never been to space.”

Luckily, he found one — but while his comparison of the two groups resulted in good news for today’s astronauts, the same might not hold true for the people we send to space in the future.

Space Ballin’

Astronauts tend to be more physically fit and affluent than the average American, with access to better healthcare. That makes studying astronaut mortality difficult — they’re too different from the average person to draw any sound conclusions. But they aren’t all that different from National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) players, who also tend to be fit, affluent, and treated by top-of-the-line medical professionals.

In a study published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, Reynolds and his colleagues at Mortality Research & Consulting, Inc. describe how they compared data on men who played for either the NBA or MLB between 1960 and mid-2018 with data on male U.S. astronauts.

This comparison led them to conclude that both athletes and astronauts had a lower risk of premature death than the general U.S. population. Astronauts also died from heart disease at a lower rate than the athletes and of cancer at about the same rate.

“We cannot be sure from the data we have, but we speculate that cardiovascular fitness in particular is the most important factor in astronaut longevity,” Reynolds told Reuters.

Past ? Future

This study fills an important gap in our understanding of the impact of space travel on astronauts, but we still have much to learn. For example, we know space affects female astronauts differently than their male colleagues, so do they also have lower mortality rates than the general population?

We’ve also only been sending people to space for 57 years and fewer than 600 have made the trip. That’s not a lot of data to work with, and the conclusions on astronaut mortality might change as more becomes available.

As Francis Cucinotta, an expert in radiation biology who wasn’t involved in the study, told Reuters, just because space travel isn’t linked to premature death in today’s astronauts doesn’t mean the same would hold true in the future. Crewed missions to Mars are in the works, for example, and those would expose astronauts to a dose of radiation 50 to 100 times higher than past off-world missions, said Cucinotta.

And radiation is just one factor. There’s also a chance anything from Martian dust to the psychological strain on longterm space travel could impact future astronauts’ mortality, so before we risk taking years off anyone’s life by sending them into space, we’ll need to be sure we conduct as much research as possible here on Earth.

READ MORE: Work in Space Does Not Seem to Shorten Astronauts’ Lives [Reuters]

More on astronaut health: Traveling to Mars Could Cause Life-Threatening Damage to Astronauts’ Guts, Says Study

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Space Travel Doesn’t Seem to Shorten Astronauts’ Lives, Says Study

An App That Does Your Homework for You Is Now Worth $3 Billion

Homework Machine

Extracurricular education is big business in China.

One futuristic example: Yuanfudao, an online tutoring platform that includes an app that uses artificial intelligence to give students answers to their homework after they snap a photo of it.

Yuanfudao claims it now has 200 million users, and that interest from parents and students has translated into major interest from investors. If it lives up the hype, it could represent a new path forward for educational technology — not just in China but for students across the globe.

Fully Invested

On Tuesday, Yuanfudao announced another $300 million in funding, bringing its valuation to more than $3 billion. Chinese social networking and gaming giant Tencent led the round, with an international squad of investment firms including Warburg Pincus and IDG Capital also joining in.

Yuanfudao told TechCrunch it plans to use these funds for AI research and development, and to improve the user experience of its homework app.

Practice Makes Perfect

While being able to snap a photo of your homework and instantly get answers to problems sounds like a lazy student’s dream come true, the homework app actually isn’t Yuanfudao’s main moneymaker — the company told TechCrunch most of its revenue comes from selling live courses.

Rather than using the app to get out of doing their homework in the first place, it’s more likely that Chinese students use the app to check that their homework answers are correct. After all, the ultimate goal of paying for Yuanfudao is to improve exam scores, so skipping out on doing the homework that prepares a student for those exams would be counterintuitive.

Chinese parents probably wouldn’t be too happy about that use of the app, either. All told, they spend an average of $17,400 every year on extracurricular tutoring for their children — and based on Yuanfudao’s latest round of funding, investors are as willing to pump money into tutoring companies as Chinese parents are.

READ MORE:  Tencent-Backed Homework App Jumps to $3B Valuation After Raising $300M [TechCrunch]

More on Chinese education: Not Paying Attention in Class? China’s “Smart Eye” Will Snitch on You

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An App That Does Your Homework for You Is Now Worth $3 Billion

Virtual Reality Tumors Could Help Lead to New Cancer Treatments

A new virtual reality simulation built by Cambridge University scientists gives a high-resolution detail view into the cells of a breast cancer tumor.

Oculus Oncologists

Doctors have a new weapon in the fight against cancer: detailed maps of the cells in a tumor that can be explored and analyzed in a virtual reality simulation that its creators say provides researchers with an intuitive new way to examine complex medical data that could lead to unexpected breakthroughs.

Built by doctors at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute (CRUK), the new virtual lab takes detailed scans of breast cancer tissues and turns them into detailed simulations that doctors around the world can explore, the BBC reports.

The simulation lets doctors analyze every single cell of a tumor, something they’ve never been able to do before. And because that data is stored in a simulation rather than microscope slides, doctors around the world can explore and study the cancer without having to prepare their own samples.

“Understanding how cancer cells interact with each other and with healthy tissue is critical if we are going to develop new therapies,” CRUK Chief Scientist Karen Vousden told the BBC. “Looking at tumors using this new system is so much more dynamic than the static 2D versions we are used to.”

Dive in Headfirst

The Cambridge scientists and peers from around the world who helped develop the virtual lab won two separate 20 million pound grants ($25.3 million each) to build up their project from Cancer Research UK last year.

Now they have a functional simulation built up from highly-detailed scans of a cubic millimeter-sized sample of breast cancer tissue. In that sample, each of the roughly 100,000 cells was marked to highlight its molecular and genetic characteristics.

Enhance! Enhance!

With that information, the resulting VR map highlights which cells are cancerous which have certain genetic variations, and how developed the tumor was at the time of the biopsy. All of this is information that was laborious to obtain from samples that were easily contaminated.

Moving the analysis to VR makes tumor research much more user friendly and lets doctors analyze cells in greater detail than ever before.

Not only does that let scientists literally immerse themselves in their work as they look for new cancer treatments, but it can also open the door to more collaborative diagnosis and patient care among teams that are spread around the world.

These simulations don’t guarantee that doctors will find new ways to treat or prevent breast cancer, but at least it makes the search much easier.

READ MORE: ‘Virtual tumour’ new way to see cancer [BBC]

More on virtual reality: VR TREATMENT, EVEN WITHOUT A THERAPIST, HELPS PEOPLE OVERCOME FEAR OF HEIGHTS

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Virtual Reality Tumors Could Help Lead to New Cancer Treatments

Australian Autonomous Train Is The “World’s Largest Robot”

A mining corporation says an autonomous rail system it's been developing in Australia is fully operational, making it the

Robot Train

Mining corporation Rio Tinto says that an autonomous rail system called AutoHaul that it’s been developing in the remote Pilbara region of Australia for several years is now entirely operational — an accomplishment the company says makes the system the “world’s largest robot.”

“It’s been a challenging journey to automate a rail network of this size and scale in a remote location like the Pilbara,” Rio Tinto’s managing director Ivan Vella told the Sidney Morning Herald, “but early results indicate significant potential to improve productivity, providing increased system flexibility and reducing bottlenecks.”

One Track Minded

The ore-hauling train is just one part of an ambitious automation project involving robotics and driverless vehicles that Rio Tinto wants to use to automate its mining operations. The company conducted its first test of the train without a human on board earlier this year, and it now claims that the system has completed more than a million kilometers (620,000 miles) of autonomous travel.

In response to concerns from labor unions, Rio Tinto promised that the autonomous rail system will not eliminate any existing jobs in the coming year — though it’s difficult to imagine the project won’t cut into human jobs in the long term.

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Chinese Scientists Reportedly Lost Track of Gene-Edited Patients

gene-editing

The Case of the Missing Patients

China is finally looking into its scientists’ human gene-editing trials — but some patients are already out of view.

According a newly published Wall Street Journal story, Chinese scientists using CRISPR technology provided by the startup Anhui Kedgene Biotechnology have lost touch with at least some of the late-stage cancer patients whose DNA they altered.

That means no one knows for sure how the editing may have affected the patients in the longer term — and according to experts, that lack of follow-up could affect CRISPR research far beyond China’s borders.

Keeping Tabs

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration recommends that researchers follow up with patients involved in gene therapy trials for 15 years. No such recommendation exists in China, however, and Chinese CRISPR researchers’ lack of extended follow-up could prove disastrous as the nascent technology finds its footing.

Feng Zhang, one of the inventors of CRISPR, told The WSJ that gene-editing trials “hinge upon rigorous trial design and follow-ups.” Jennifer Doudna, another CRISPR inventor, said it’s “vital” that researchers conduct long-term monitoring of gene-edited patients.

“Since we do not fully understand the human genome and are still developing knowledge of CRISPR-Cas technology, we need to monitor the intended and unintended consequences over the lifespan of patients,” Doudna told The WSJ.

Closer Look

The Chinese government has thus far remained fairly hands-off with regards to CRISPR research — it hasn’t even tasked any one federal body with overseeing its gene-editing trials — but that could be changing.

On Thursday, the South China Morning Post reported that China is asking hospitals and universities to submit thorough reports on all human gene-editing trials conducted since 2013.

This closer look at human gene editing is likely due to the international backlash the nation faced in the wake of Chinese researcher He Jiankui announcing he’d modified the genes of human embryos. Those embryos were then implanted into a woman, who gave birth to twin girls.

While it might be too late to find out what sort of long-term effect CRISPR may have had on the missing patients from that cancer trial, China’s newfound interest in what’s happening within the walls of its labs could at least ensure that current and future trials don’t make the same mistakes — and hopefully, it’ll prevent any other researchers from following in He’s reckless footsteps.

READ MORE: Chinese Gene-Editing Experiment Loses Track of Patients, Alarming Technology’s Inventors [The Wall Street Journal]

More on human gene editing: Chinese Scientists Claim to Have Gene-Edited Human Babies For the First Time

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Chinese Scientists Reportedly Lost Track of Gene-Edited Patients

Netflix’s Bandersnatch Teases the Future of Entertainment

Bandersnatch

CYOA Grows Up

The choose-your-own-adventure story format is no longer just for books. It’s also no longer only for kids.

In October, an anonymous source told Bloomberg that Netflix planned to release an interactive episode of its dystopian sci-fi series “Black Mirror.” Rather than pushing play and sitting back to watch a linear story unfold before their eyes, viewers would need to make choices at various points throughout the episode, sending the plot in a new direction with each decision.

At 3:01 a.m. ET on Friday, Netflix confirmed that report with the release of the “Black Mirror” episode Bandersnatch — and the overwhelmingly positive response to the episode looks like a sign that adult viewers are ready to embrace interactive storytelling.

Choose Wisely

The general — and spoiler-free — plot of Bandersnatch is this: Young computer coder Stefan, portrayed by “Dunkirk” actor Fionn Whitehead, is hired to help create a computer game inspired by a choose-your-own-adventure novel.

How that experience plays out, however, depends on the viewer’s decisions, which they input using their TV remote, game controller, smartphone, or tablet. Netflix execs claimed during a November media event, as reported by The New York Times, that Bandersnatch has “five main endings with multiple variants of each.”

The interactive format works on pretty much any device you’d use to watch Netflix, including most TVs, game consoles, web browsers, smartphones, and tablets. The primary platforms that don’t support it are Chromecast and Apple TV, according to Netflix.

Striking Gold

This isn’t Netflix’s first foray into interactivity. In June 2017, the platform released “Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale,” an interactive short animated film for children.

However, this is Netflix’s first test of the format with adult viewers, and though Bandersnatch hasn’t even been out for 12 hours yet at the time of writing, it’s already receiving an overwhelmingly positive response — it quickly became a trending topic on Twitter, and a reviewer for The Guardian even went so far as to call it a “meta masterpiece.”

According to The Independent, Netflix is already asking producers to submit proposals for other interactive content in a variety of genres. Given the breathless response to Bandersnatch, it’s hard to imagine that Netflix won’t green light at least a few.

Equally hard to imagine is other platforms not attempting to replicate the platform’s success themselves. So with the release of just one creepy episode of “Black Mirror,” Netflix may have ushered in an entirely new era in entertainment.

READ MORE: ‘Black Mirror’ Gives Power to the People [The New York Times]

More on Netflix: Netflix Plans to Try out “Interactive” Shows

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Netflix’s Bandersnatch Teases the Future of Entertainment

Musk: Tesla’s Fully Autonomous Capabilities “About to Accelerate”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk pledged this week that the electric car maker is about to kick its fully autonomous self-driving vehicle ambitions up a notch.

“About to Accelerate”

Tesla appears ready to kick its vehicles’ fully autonomous capabilities up a notch.

In an email to employees this week, obtained by Inverse, CEO Elon Musk pledged that Tesla’s fully autonomous driving system was “about to accelerate significantly.”

Musk hasn’t always delivered on his ambitious public promises, but the email signals that he is positioning himself against the autonomous car hype trough — pushing for a future in which self-driving cars are a key aspect of transportation and not a glorified cruise control for luxury models.

Hype Trough

Just a few years ago, a growing number of experimental autonomous cars on public roads gave the impression that the arrival of safe and reliable self-driving vehicles was only a matter of time.

But a growing sense of the remaining engineering challenges — not to mention the March 2018 death of a pedestrian run down by a self-driving Uber vehicle — have chipped away at that confidence.

The evidence that self-driving vehicle manufacturers aren’t always upfront with the public hasn’t helped either. An excoriating October New Yorker investigation into the early years of the Google self-driving research project that eventually became Waymo found that the company had performed reckless road tests early in its work — and hadn’t always reported accidents.

Road Ahead

Musk’s promise to accelerate fully autonomous research, along with a call for more internal Tesla testers for the program, run precisely counter to that narrative. That’s not surprising: the eccentric Musk is known for imagining futures that are still years away — and using his wealth and influence to attempt to steer history toward or away from them.

Maybe the real question is political, rather than technological: Whether the relentless will of one person enough to pull an entire industry onto a different track.

READ MORE: Elon Musk Calls for More Testers Ahead of Tesla Full Self-Driving Launch [Inverse]

More on Tesla: Elon Musk Pledges Tesla Superchargers For All of Europe Next Year

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Musk: Tesla’s Fully Autonomous Capabilities “About to Accelerate”

Genetic engineering – Wikipedia

Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification or genetic manipulation, is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genes using biotechnology. It is a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved or novel organisms. New DNA is obtained by either isolating and copying the genetic material of interest using recombinant DNA methods or by artificially synthesising the DNA. A construct is usually created and used to insert this DNA into the host organism. The first recombinant DNA molecule was made by Paul Berg in 1972 by combining DNA from the monkey virus SV40 with the lambda virus. As well as inserting genes, the process can be used to remove, or “knock out”, genes. The new DNA can be inserted randomly, or targeted to a specific part of the genome.

An organism that is generated through genetic engineering is considered to be genetically modified (GM) and the resulting entity is a genetically modified organism (GMO). The first GMO was a bacterium generated by Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen in 1973. Rudolf Jaenisch created the first GM animal when he inserted foreign DNA into a mouse in 1974. The first company to focus on genetic engineering, Genentech, was founded in 1976 and started the production of human proteins. Genetically engineered human insulin was produced in 1978 and insulin-producing bacteria were commercialised in 1982. Genetically modified food has been sold since 1994, with the release of the Flavr Savr tomato. The Flavr Savr was engineered to have a longer shelf life, but most current GM crops are modified to increase resistance to insects and herbicides. GloFish, the first GMO designed as a pet, was sold in the United States in December 2003. In 2016 salmon modified with a growth hormone were sold.

Genetic engineering has been applied in numerous fields including research, medicine, industrial biotechnology and agriculture. In research GMOs are used to study gene function and expression through loss of function, gain of function, tracking and expression experiments. By knocking out genes responsible for certain conditions it is possible to create animal model organisms of human diseases. As well as producing hormones, vaccines and other drugs genetic engineering has the potential to cure genetic diseases through gene therapy. The same techniques that are used to produce drugs can also have industrial applications such as producing enzymes for laundry detergent, cheeses and other products.

The rise of commercialised genetically modified crops has provided economic benefit to farmers in many different countries, but has also been the source of most of the controversy surrounding the technology. This has been present since its early use; the first field trials were destroyed by anti-GM activists. Although there is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, GM food safety is a leading concern with critics. Gene flow, impact on non-target organisms, control of the food supply and intellectual property rights have also been raised as potential issues. These concerns have led to the development of a regulatory framework, which started in 1975. It has led to an international treaty, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, that was adopted in 2000. Individual countries have developed their own regulatory systems regarding GMOs, with the most marked differences occurring between the US and Europe.

Genetic engineering is a process that alters the genetic structure of an organism by either removing or introducing DNA. Unlike traditional animal and plant breeding, which involves doing multiple crosses and then selecting for the organism with the desired phenotype, genetic engineering takes the gene directly from one organism and inserts it in the other. This is much faster, can be used to insert any genes from any organism (even ones from different domains) and prevents other undesirable genes from also being added.[3]

Genetic engineering could potentially fix severe genetic disorders in humans by replacing the defective gene with a functioning one.[4] It is an important tool in research that allows the function of specific genes to be studied.[5] Drugs, vaccines and other products have been harvested from organisms engineered to produce them.[6] Crops have been developed that aid food security by increasing yield, nutritional value and tolerance to environmental stresses.[7]

The DNA can be introduced directly into the host organism or into a cell that is then fused or hybridised with the host.[8] This relies on recombinant nucleic acid techniques to form new combinations of heritable genetic material followed by the incorporation of that material either indirectly through a vector system or directly through micro-injection, macro-injection or micro-encapsulation.[9]

Genetic engineering does not normally include traditional breeding, in vitro fertilisation, induction of polyploidy, mutagenesis and cell fusion techniques that do not use recombinant nucleic acids or a genetically modified organism in the process.[8] However, some broad definitions of genetic engineering include selective breeding.[9] Cloning and stem cell research, although not considered genetic engineering,[10] are closely related and genetic engineering can be used within them.[11] Synthetic biology is an emerging discipline that takes genetic engineering a step further by introducing artificially synthesised material into an organism.[12]

Plants, animals or micro organisms that have been changed through genetic engineering are termed genetically modified organisms or GMOs.[13] If genetic material from another species is added to the host, the resulting organism is called transgenic. If genetic material from the same species or a species that can naturally breed with the host is used the resulting organism is called cisgenic.[14] If genetic engineering is used to remove genetic material from the target organism the resulting organism is termed a knockout organism.[15] In Europe genetic modification is synonymous with genetic engineering while within the United States of America and Canada genetic modification can also be used to refer to more conventional breeding methods.[16][17][18]

Humans have altered the genomes of species for thousands of years through selective breeding, or artificial selection[19]:1[20]:1 as contrasted with natural selection. More recently, mutation breeding has used exposure to chemicals or radiation to produce a high frequency of random mutations, for selective breeding purposes. Genetic engineering as the direct manipulation of DNA by humans outside breeding and mutations has only existed since the 1970s. The term “genetic engineering” was first coined by Jack Williamson in his science fiction novel Dragon’s Island, published in 1951[21] one year before DNA’s role in heredity was confirmed by Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase,[22] and two years before James Watson and Francis Crick showed that the DNA molecule has a double-helix structure though the general concept of direct genetic manipulation was explored in rudimentary form in Stanley G. Weinbaum’s 1936 science fiction story Proteus Island.[23][24]

In 1972, Paul Berg created the first recombinant DNA molecules by combining DNA from the monkey virus SV40 with that of the lambda virus.[25] In 1973 Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen created the first transgenic organism by inserting antibiotic resistance genes into the plasmid of an Escherichia coli bacterium.[26][27] A year later Rudolf Jaenisch created a transgenic mouse by introducing foreign DNA into its embryo, making it the worlds first transgenic animal[28] These achievements led to concerns in the scientific community about potential risks from genetic engineering, which were first discussed in depth at the Asilomar Conference in 1975. One of the main recommendations from this meeting was that government oversight of recombinant DNA research should be established until the technology was deemed safe.[29][30]

In 1976 Genentech, the first genetic engineering company, was founded by Herbert Boyer and Robert Swanson and a year later the company produced a human protein (somatostatin) in E.coli. Genentech announced the production of genetically engineered human insulin in 1978.[31] In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Diamond v. Chakrabarty case ruled that genetically altered life could be patented.[32] The insulin produced by bacteria was approved for release by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1982.[33]

In 1983, a biotech company, Advanced Genetic Sciences (AGS) applied for U.S. government authorisation to perform field tests with the ice-minus strain of Pseudomonas syringae to protect crops from frost, but environmental groups and protestors delayed the field tests for four years with legal challenges.[34] In 1987, the ice-minus strain of P. syringae became the first genetically modified organism (GMO) to be released into the environment[35] when a strawberry field and a potato field in California were sprayed with it.[36] Both test fields were attacked by activist groups the night before the tests occurred: “The world’s first trial site attracted the world’s first field trasher”.[35]

The first field trials of genetically engineered plants occurred in France and the US in 1986, tobacco plants were engineered to be resistant to herbicides.[37] The Peoples Republic of China was the first country to commercialise transgenic plants, introducing a virus-resistant tobacco in 1992.[38] In 1994 Calgene attained approval to commercially release the first genetically modified food, the Flavr Savr, a tomato engineered to have a longer shelf life.[39] In 1994, the European Union approved tobacco engineered to be resistant to the herbicide bromoxynil, making it the first genetically engineered crop commercialised in Europe.[40] In 1995, Bt Potato was approved safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, after having been approved by the FDA, making it the first pesticide producing crop to be approved in the US.[41] In 2009 11 transgenic crops were grown commercially in 25 countries, the largest of which by area grown were the US, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay and South Africa.[42]

In 2010, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute created the first synthetic genome and inserted it into an empty bacterial cell. The resulting bacterium, named Mycoplasma laboratorium, could replicate and produce proteins.[43][44] Four years later this was taken a step further when a bacterium was developed that replicated a plasmid containing a unique base pair, creating the first organism engineered to use an expanded genetic alphabet.[45][46] In 2012, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier collaborated to develop the CRISPR/Cas9 system,[47][48] a technique which can be used to easily and specifically alter the genome of almost any organism.[49]

Creating a GMO is a multi-step process. Genetic engineers must first choose what gene they wish to insert into the organism. This is driven by what the aim is for the resultant organism and is built on earlier research. Genetic screens can be carried out to determine potential genes and further tests then used to identify the best candidates. The development of microarrays, transcriptomics and genome sequencing has made it much easier to find suitable genes.[50] Luck also plays its part; the round-up ready gene was discovered after scientists noticed a bacterium thriving in the presence of the herbicide.[51]

The next step is to isolate the candidate gene. The cell containing the gene is opened and the DNA is purified.[52] The gene is separated by using restriction enzymes to cut the DNA into fragments[53] or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify up the gene segment.[54] These segments can then be extracted through gel electrophoresis. If the chosen gene or the donor organism’s genome has been well studied it may already be accessible from a genetic library. If the DNA sequence is known, but no copies of the gene are available, it can also be artificially synthesised.[55] Once isolated the gene is ligated into a plasmid that is then inserted into a bacterium. The plasmid is replicated when the bacteria divide, ensuring unlimited copies of the gene are available.[56]

Before the gene is inserted into the target organism it must be combined with other genetic elements. These include a promoter and terminator region, which initiate and end transcription. A selectable marker gene is added, which in most cases confers antibiotic resistance, so researchers can easily determine which cells have been successfully transformed. The gene can also be modified at this stage for better expression or effectiveness. These manipulations are carried out using recombinant DNA techniques, such as restriction digests, ligations and molecular cloning.[57]

There are a number of techniques available for inserting the gene into the host genome. Some bacteria can naturally take up foreign DNA. This ability can be induced in other bacteria via stress (e.g. thermal or electric shock), which increases the cell membrane’s permeability to DNA; up-taken DNA can either integrate with the genome or exist as extrachromosomal DNA. DNA is generally inserted into animal cells using microinjection, where it can be injected through the cell’s nuclear envelope directly into the nucleus, or through the use of viral vectors.[58]

In plants the DNA is often inserted using Agrobacterium-mediated recombination,[59] taking advantage of the Agrobacteriums T-DNA sequence that allows natural insertion of genetic material into plant cells.[60] Other methods include biolistics, where particles of gold or tungsten are coated with DNA and then shot into young plant cells,[61] and electroporation, which involves using an electric shock to make the cell membrane permeable to plasmid DNA. Due to the damage caused to the cells and DNA the transformation efficiency of biolistics and electroporation is lower than agrobacterial transformation and microinjection.[62]

As only a single cell is transformed with genetic material, the organism must be regenerated from that single cell. In plants this is accomplished through the use of tissue c ulture.[63][64] In animals it is necessary to ensure that the inserted DNA is present in the embryonic stem cells.[65] Bacteria consist of a single cell and reproduce clonally so regeneration is not necessary. Selectable markers are used to easily differentiate transformed from untransformed cells. These markers are usually present in the transgenic organism, although a number of strategies have been developed that can remove the selectable marker from the mature transgenic plant.[66]

Further testing using PCR, Southern hybridization, and DNA sequencing is conducted to confirm that an organism contains the new gene.[67] These tests can also confirm the chromosomal location and copy number of the inserted gene. The presence of the gene does not guarantee it will be expressed at appropriate levels in the target tissue so methods that look for and measure the gene products (RNA and protein) are also used. These include northern hybridisation, quantitative RT-PCR, Western blot, immunofluorescence, ELISA and phenotypic analysis.[68]

The new genetic material can be inserted randomly within the host genome or targeted to a specific location. The technique of gene targeting uses homologous recombination to make desired changes to a specific endogenous gene. This tends to occur at a relatively low frequency in plants and animals and generally requires the use of selectable markers. The frequency of gene targeting can be greatly enhanced through genome editing. Genome editing uses artificially engineered nucleases that create specific double-stranded breaks at desired locations in the genome, and use the cells endogenous mechanisms to repair the induced break by the natural processes of homologous recombination and nonhomologous end-joining. There are four families of engineered nucleases: meganucleases,[69][70] zinc finger nucleases,[71][72] transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs),[73][74] and the Cas9-guideRNA system (adapted from CRISPR).[75][76] TALEN and CRISPR are the two most commonly used and each has its own advantages.[77] TALENs have greater target specificity, while CRISPR is easier to design and more efficient.[77] In addition to enhancing gene targeting, engineered nucleases can be used to introduce mutations at endogenous genes that generate a gene knockout.[78][79]

Genetic engineering has applications in medicine, research, industry and agriculture and can be used on a wide range of plants, animals and micro organisms. Bacteria, the first organisms to be genetically modified, can have plasmid DNA inserted containing new genes that code for medicines or enzymes that process food and other substrates.[80][81] Plants have been modified for insect protection, herbicide resistance, virus resistance, enhanced nutrition, tolerance to environmental pressures and the production of edible vaccines.[82] Most commercialised GMOs are insect resistant or herbicide tolerant crop plants.[83] Genetically modified animals have been used for research, model animals and the production of agricultural or pharmaceutical products. The genetically modified animals include animals with genes knocked out, increased susceptibility to disease, hormones for extra growth and the ability to express proteins in their milk.[84]

Genetic engineering has many applications to medicine that include the manufacturing of drugs, creation of model animals that mimic human conditions and gene therapy. One of the earliest uses of genetic engineering was to mass-produce human insulin in bacteria.[31] This application has now been applied to, human growth hormones, follicle stimulating hormones (for treating infertility), human albumin, monoclonal antibodies, antihemophilic factors, vaccines and many other drugs.[85][86] Mouse hybridomas, cells fused together to create monoclonal antibodies, have been adapted through genetic engineering to create human monoclonal antibodies.[87] In 2017, genetic engineering of chimeric antigen receptors on a patient’s own T-cells was approved by the U.S. FDA as a treatment for the cancer acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Genetically engineered viruses are being developed that can still confer immunity, but lack the infectious sequences.[88]

Genetic engineering is also used to create animal models of human diseases. Genetically modified mice are the most common genetically engineered animal model.[89] They have been used to study and model cancer (the oncomouse), obesity, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, substance abuse, anxiety, aging and Parkinson disease.[90] Potential cures can be tested against these mouse models. Also genetically modified pigs have been bred with the aim of increasing the success of pig to human organ transplantation.[91]

Gene therapy is the genetic engineering of humans, generally by replacing defective genes with effective ones. Clinical research using somatic gene therapy has been conducted with several diseases, including X-linked SCID,[92] chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL),[93][94] and Parkinson’s disease.[95] In 2012, Alipogene tiparvovec became the first gene therapy treatment to be approved for clinical use.[96][97] In 2015 a virus was used to insert a healthy gene into the skin cells of a boy suffering from a rare skin disease, epidermolysis bullosa, in order to grow, and then graft healthy skin onto 80 percent of the boy’s body which was affected by the illness.[98]

Germline gene therapy would result in any change being inheritable, which has raised concerns within the scientific community.[99][100] In 2015, CRISPR was used to edit the DNA of non-viable human embryos,[101][102] leading scientists of major world academies to call for a moratorium on inheritable human genome edits.[103] There are also concerns that the technology could be used not just for treatment, but for enhancement, modification or alteration of a human beings’ appearance, adaptability, intelligence, character or behavior.[104] The distinction between cure and enhancement can also be difficult to establish.[105] In November 2018, He Jiankui announced that he had edited the genomes of two human embryos, to attempt to disable the CCR5 gene, which codes for a receptor that HIV uses to enter cells. He said that twin girls, Lulu and Nana, had been born a few weeks earlier. He said that the girls still carried functional copies of CCR5 along with disabled CCR5 (mosaicism) and were still vulnerable to HIV. The work was widely condemned as unethical, dangerous, and premature.[106]

Researchers are altering the genome of pigs to induce the growth of human organs to be used in transplants. Scientists are creating “gene drives”, changing the genomes of mosquitoes to make them immune to malaria, and then looking to spread the genetically altered mosquitoes throughout the mosquito population in the hopes of eliminating the disease.[107]

Genetic engineering is an important tool for natural scientists, with the creation of transgenic organisms one of the most important tools for analysis of gene function.[108] Genes and other genetic information from a wide range of organisms can be inserted into bacteria for storage and modification, creating genetically modified bacteria in the process. Bacteria are cheap, easy to grow, clonal, multiply quickly, relatively easy to transform and can be stored at -80C almost indefinitely. Once a gene is isolated it can be stored inside the bacteria providing an unlimited supply for research.[109]Organisms are genetically engineered to discover the functions of certain genes. This could be the effect on the phenotype of the organism, where the gene is expressed or what other genes it interacts with. These experiments generally involve loss of function, gain of function, tracking and expression.

Organisms can have their cells transformed with a gene coding for a useful protein, such as an enzyme, so that they will overexpress the desired protein. Mass quantities of the protein can then be manufactured by growing the transformed organism in bioreactor equipment using industrial fermentation, and then purifying the protein.[113] Some genes do not work well in bacteria, so yeast, insect cells or mammalians cells can also be used.[114] These techniques are used to produce medicines such as insulin, human growth hormone, and vaccines, supplements such as tryptophan, aid in the production of food (chymosin in cheese making) and fuels.[115] Other applications with genetically engineered bacteria could involve making them perform tasks outside their natural cycle, such as making biofuels,[116] cleaning up oil spills, carbon and other toxic waste[117] and detecting arsenic in drinking water.[118] Certain genetically modified microbes can also be used in biomining and bioremediation, due to their ability to extract heavy metals from their environment and incorporate them into compounds that are more easily recoverable.[119]

In materials science, a genetically modified virus has been used in a research laboratory as a scaffold for assembling a more environmentally friendly lithium-ion battery.[120][121] Bacteria have also been engineered to function as sensors by expressing a fluorescent protein under certain environmental conditions.[122]

One of the best-known and controversial applications of genetic engineering is the creation and use of genetically modified crops or genetically modified livestock to produce genetically modified food. Crops have been developed to increase production, increase tolerance to abiotic stresses, alter the composition of the food, or to produce novel products.[124]

The first crops to be released commercially on a large scale provided protection from insect pests or tolerance to herbicides. Fungal and virus resistant crops have also been developed or are in development.[125][126] This make the insect and weed management of crops easier and can indirectly increase crop yield.[127][128] GM crops that directly improve yield by accelerating growth or making the plant more hardy (by improving salt, cold or drought tolerance) are also under development.[129] In 2016 Salmon have been genetically modified with growth hormones to reach normal adult size much faster.[130]

GMOs have been developed that modify the quality of produce by increasing the nutritional value or providing more industrially useful qualities or quantities.[129] The Amflora potato produces a more industrially useful blend of starches. Soybeans and canola have been genetically modified to produce more healthy oils.[131][132] The first commercialised GM food was a tomato that had delayed ripening, increasing its shelf life.[133]

Plants and animals have been engineered to produce materials they do not normally make. Pharming uses crops and animals as bioreactors to produce vaccines, drug intermediates, or the drugs themselves; the useful product is purified from the harvest and then used in the standard pharmaceutical production process.[134] Cows and goats have been engineered to express drugs and other proteins in their milk, and in 2009 the FDA approved a drug produced in goat milk.[135][136]

Genetic engineering has potential applications in conservation and natural area management. Gene transfer through viral vectors has been proposed as a means of controlling invasive species as well as vaccinating threatened fauna from disease.[137] Transgenic trees have been suggested as a way to confer resistance to pathogens in wild populations.[138] With the increasing risks of maladaptation in organisms as a result of climate change and other perturbations, facilitated adaptation through gene tweaking could be one solution to reducing extinction risks.[139] Applications of genetic engineering in conservation are thus far mostly theoretical and have yet to be put into practice.

Genetic engineering is also being used to create microbial art.[140] Some bacteria have been genetically engineered to create black and white photographs.[141] Novelty items such as lavender-colored carnations,[142] blue roses,[143] and glowing fish[144][145] have also been produced through genetic engineering.

The regulation of genetic engineering concerns the approaches taken by governments to assess and manage the risks associated with the development and release of GMOs. The development of a regulatory framework began in 1975, at Asilomar, California.[146] The Asilomar meeting recommended a set of voluntary guidelines regarding the use of recombinant technology.[147] As the technology improved the US established a committee at the Office of Science and Technology,[148] which assigned regulatory approval of GM food to the USDA, FDA and EPA.[149] The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, an international treaty that governs the transfer, handling, and use of GMOs,[150] was adopted on 29 January 2000.[151] One hundred and fifty-seven countries are members of the Protocol and many use it as a reference point for their own regulations.[152]

The legal and regulatory status of GM foods varies by country, with some nations banning or restricting them, and others permitting them with widely differing degrees of regulation.[153][154][155][156] Some countries allow the import of GM food with authorisation, but either do not allow its cultivation (Russia, Norway, Israel) or have provisions for cultivation even though no GM products are yet produced (Japan, South Korea). Most countries that do not allow GMO cultivation do permit research.[157] Some of the most marked differences occurring between the US and Europe. The US policy focuses on the product (not the process), only looks at verifiable scientific risks and uses the concept of substantial equivalence.[158] The European Union by contrast has possibly the most stringent GMO regulations in the world.[159] All GMOs, along with irradiated food, are considered “new food” and subject to extensive, case-by-case, science-based food evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority. The criteria for authorisation fall in four broad categories: “safety,” “freedom of choice,” “labelling,” and “traceability.”[160] The level of regulation in other countries that cultivate GMOs lie in between Europe and the United States.

One of the key issues concerning regulators is whether GM products should be labeled. The European Commission says that mandatory labeling and traceability are needed to allow for informed choice, avoid potential false advertising[171] and facilitate the withdrawal of products if adverse effects on health or the environment are discovered.[172] The American Medical Association[173] and the American Association for the Advancement of Science[174] say that absent scientific evidence of harm even voluntary labeling is misleading and will falsely alarm consumers. Labeling of GMO products in the marketplace is required in 64 countries.[175] Labeling can be mandatory up to a threshold GM content level (which varies between countries) or voluntary. In Canada and the US labeling of GM food is voluntary,[176] while in Europe all food (including processed food) or feed which contains greater than 0.9% of approved GMOs must be labelled.[159]

Critics have objected to the use of genetic engineering on several grounds, that include ethical, ecological and economic concerns. Many of these concerns involve GM crops and whether food produced from them is safe and what impact growing them will have on the environment. These controversies have led to litigation, international trade disputes, and protests, and to restrictive regulation of commercial products in some countries.[177]

Accusations that scientists are “playing God” and other religious issues have been ascribed to the technology from the beginning.[178] Other ethical issues raised include the patenting of life,[179] the use of intellectual property rights,[180] the level of labeling on products,[181][182] control of the food supply[183] and the objectivity of the regulatory process.[184] Although doubts have been raised,[185] economically most studies have found growing GM crops to be beneficial to farmers.[186][187][188]

Gene flow between GM crops and compatible plants, along with increased use of selective herbicides, can increase the risk of “superweeds” developing.[189] Other environmental concerns involve potential impacts on non-target organisms, including soil microbes,[190] and an increase in secondary and resistant insect pests.[191][192] Many of the environmental impacts regarding GM crops may take many years to be understood and are also evident in conventional agriculture practices.[190][193] With the commercialisation of genetically modified fish there are concerns over what the environmental consequences will be if they escape.[194]

There are three main concerns over the safety of genetically modified food: whether they may provoke an allergic reaction; whether the genes could transfer from the food into human cells; and whether the genes not approved for human consumption could outcross to other crops.[195] There is a scientific consensus[196][197][198][199] that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food,[200][201][202][203][204] but that each GM food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction.[205][206][207] Nonetheless, members of the public are much less likely than scientists to perceive GM foods as safe.[208][209][210][211]

Genetic engineering features in many science fiction stories.[212] Frank Herbert’s novel The White Plague described the deliberate use of genetic engineering to create a pathogen which specifically killed women.[212] Another of Herbert’s creations, the Dune series of novels, uses genetic engineering to create the powerful but despised Tleilaxu.[213] Films such as The Island and Blade Runner bring the engineered creature to confront the person who created it or the being it was cloned from. Few films have informed audiences about genetic engineering, with the exception of the 1978 The Boys from Brazil and the 1993 Jurassic Park, both of which made use of a lesson, a demonstration, and a clip of scientific film.[214][215] Genetic engineering methods are weakly represented in film; Michael Clark, writing for The Wellcome Trust, calls the portrayal of genetic engineering and biotechnology “seriously distorted”[215] in films such as The 6th Day. In Clark’s view, the biotechnology is typically “given fantastic but visually arresting forms” while the science is either relegated to the background or fictionalised to suit a young audience.[215]

The literature about Biodiversity and the GE food/feed consumption has sometimes resulted in animated debate regarding the suitability of the experimental designs, the choice of the statistical methods or the public accessibility of data. Such debate, even if positive and part of the natural process of review by the scientific community, has frequently been distorted by the media and often used politically and inappropriately in anti-GE crops campaigns.

Panchin AY, Tuzhikov AI (March 2017). “Published GMO studies find no evidence of harm when corrected for multiple comparisons”. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. 37 (2): 213217. doi:10.3109/07388551.2015.1130684. PMID26767435. Here, we show that a number of articles some of which have strongly and negatively influenced the public opinion on GM crops and even provoked political actions, such as GMO embargo, share common flaws in the statistical evaluation of the data. Having accounted for these flaws, we conclude that the data presented in these articles does not provide any substantial evidence of GMO harm.

The presented articles suggesting possible harm of GMOs received high public attention. However, despite their claims, they actually weaken the evidence for the harm and lack of substantial equivalency of studied GMOs. We emphasize that with over 1783 published articles on GMOs over the last 10 years it is expected that some of them should have reported undesired differences between GMOs and conventional crops even if no such differences exist in reality.and

Yang YT, Chen B (April 2016). “Governing GMOs in the USA: science, law and public health”. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 96 (6): 18515. doi:10.1002/jsfa.7523. PMID26536836. It is therefore not surprising that efforts to require labeling and to ban GMOs have been a growing political issue in the USA (citing Domingo and Bordonaba, 2011).

Overall, a broad scientific consensus holds that currently marketed GM food poses no greater risk than conventional food… Major national and international science and medical associations have stated that no adverse human health effects related to GMO food have been reported or substantiated in peer-reviewed literature to date.

Despite various concerns, today, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization, and many independent international science organizations agree that GMOs are just as safe as other foods. Compared with conventional breeding techniques, genetic engineering is far more precise and, in most cases, less likely to create an unexpected outcome.

GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved. Continuous application of safety assessments based on the Codex Alimentarius principles and, where appropriate, adequate post market monitoring, should form the basis for ensuring the safety of GM foods.

“Genetically modified foods and health: a second interim statement” (PDF). British Medical Association. March 2004. Retrieved 21 March 2016. In our view, the potential for GM foods to cause harmful health effects is very small and many of the concerns expressed apply with equal vigour to conventionally derived foods. However, safety concerns cannot, as yet, be dismissed completely on the basis of information currently available.

When seeking to optimise the balance between benefits and risks, it is prudent to err on the side of caution and, above all, learn from accumulating knowledge and experience. Any new technology such as genetic modification must be examined for possible benefits and risks to human health and the environment. As with all novel foods, safety assessments in relation to GM foods must be made on a case-by-case basis.

Members of the GM jury project were briefed on various aspects of genetic modification by a diverse group of acknowledged experts in the relevant subjects. The GM jury reached the conclusion that the sale of GM foods currently available should be halted and the moratorium on commercial growth of GM crops should be continued. These conclusions were based on the precautionary principle and lack of evidence of any benefit. The Jury expressed concern over the impact of GM crops on farming, the environment, food safety and other potential health effects.

The Royal Society review (2002) concluded that the risks to human health associated with the use of specific viral DNA sequences in GM plants are negligible, and while calling for caution in the introduction of potential allergens into food crops, stressed the absence of evidence that commercially available GM foods cause clinical allergic manifestations. The BMA shares the view that that there is no robust evidence to prove that GM foods are unsafe but we endorse the call for further research and surveillance to provide convincing evidence of safety and benefit.

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Genetic engineering – Wikipedia

genetic engineering | Definition, Process, & Uses …

Genetic engineering, the artificial manipulation, modification, and recombination of DNA or other nucleic acid molecules in order to modify an organism or population of organisms.

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origins of agriculture: Genetic engineering

The application of genetics to agriculture since World War II has resulted in substantial increases in the production of many crops. This has been most notable in hybrid strains of maize and grain sorghum. At the same time, crossbreeding has resulted in much

The term genetic engineering initially referred to various techniques used for the modification or manipulation of organisms through the processes of heredity and reproduction. As such, the term embraced both artificial selection and all the interventions of biomedical techniques, among them artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization (e.g., test-tube babies), cloning, and gene manipulation. In the latter part of the 20th century, however, the term came to refer more specifically to methods of recombinant DNA technology (or gene cloning), in which DNA molecules from two or more sources are combined either within cells or in vitro and are then inserted into host organisms in which they are able to propagate.

The possibility for recombinant DNA technology emerged with the discovery of restriction enzymes in 1968 by Swiss microbiologist Werner Arber. The following year American microbiologist Hamilton O. Smith purified so-called type II restriction enzymes, which were found to be essential to genetic engineering for their ability to cleave a specific site within the DNA (as opposed to type I restriction enzymes, which cleave DNA at random sites). Drawing on Smiths work, American molecular biologist Daniel Nathans helped advance the technique of DNA recombination in 197071 and demonstrated that type II enzymes could be useful in genetic studies. Genetic engineering based on recombination was pioneered in 1973 by American biochemists Stanley N. Cohen and Herbert W. Boyer, who were among the first to cut DNA into fragments, rejoin different fragments, and insert the new genes into E. coli bacteria, which then reproduced.

Most recombinant DNA technology involves the insertion of foreign genes into the plasmids of common laboratory strains of bacteria. Plasmids are small rings of DNA; they are not part of the bacteriums chromosome (the main repository of the organisms genetic information). Nonetheless, they are capable of directing protein synthesis, and, like chromosomal DNA, they are reproduced and passed on to the bacteriums progeny. Thus, by incorporating foreign DNA (for example, a mammalian gene) into a bacterium, researchers can obtain an almost limitless number of copies of the inserted gene. Furthermore, if the inserted gene is operative (i.e., if it directs protein synthesis), the modified bacterium will produce the protein specified by the foreign DNA.

A subsequent generation of genetic engineering techniques that emerged in the early 21st century centred on gene editing. Gene editing, based on a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9, allows researchers to customize a living organisms genetic sequence by making very specific changes to its DNA. Gene editing has a wide array of applications, being used for the genetic modification of crop plants and livestock and of laboratory model organisms (e.g., mice). The correction of genetic errors associated with disease in animals suggests that gene editing has potential applications in gene therapy for humans.

Genetic engineering has advanced the understanding of many theoretical and practical aspects of gene function and organization. Through recombinant DNA techniques, bacteria have been created that are capable of synthesizing human insulin, human growth hormone, alpha interferon, a hepatitis B vaccine, and other medically useful substances. Plants may be genetically adjusted to enable them to fix nitrogen, and genetic diseases can possibly be corrected by replacing dysfunctional genes with normally functioning genes. Nevertheless, special concern has been focused on such achievements for fear that they might result in the introduction of unfavourable and possibly dangerous traits into microorganisms that were previously free of theme.g., resistance to antibiotics, production of toxins, or a tendency to cause disease. Likewise, the application of gene editing in humans has raised ethical concerns, particularly regarding its potential use to alter traits such as intelligence and beauty.

In 1980 the new microorganisms created by recombinant DNA research were deemed patentable, and in 1986 the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the sale of the first living genetically altered organisma virus, used as a pseudorabies vaccine, from which a single gene had been cut. Since then several hundred patents have been awarded for genetically altered bacteria and plants. Patents on genetically engineered and genetically modified organisms, particularly crops and other foods, however, were a contentious issue, and they remained so into the first part of the 21st century.

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genetic engineering | Definition, Process, & Uses …

MIT Figured out a Way to Shrink Objects to Nanoscale

Birth of an Idea

A new nanotech breakthrough comes courtesy of a material you’d likely find in any nursery.

A team from MIT has figured out a way to quickly and inexpensively shrink objects to the nanoscale. It calls the process implosion fabrication, and it all starts with polyacrylate — the super-absorbent polymer typically found in baby diapers.

Size Matters

According to the MIT team’s paper, published Thursday in Science, the first step in the implosion fabrication process is adding a liquid solution to a piece of polyacrylate, causing it to swell.

Next, the team used lasers to bind fluorescein molecules to the polyacrylate in a pattern of their choosing. Those molecules acted as anchor points for whatever material the researchers wanted to shrink to the nanoscale.

You attach the anchors where you want with light, and later you can attach whatever you want to the anchors, researcher Edward Boyden said in an MIT news release. It could be a quantum dot, it could be a piece of DNA, it could be a gold nanoparticle.

The researchers then dehydrated the polyacrylate scaffold using an acid. That caused the material attached to the polyacrylate to shrink in an even way to a thousandth of its original size.

Shrink Away

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of implosion fabrication is its accessibility — according to the MIT press release, many biology and materials science labs already have the necessary equipment to beginning shrinking objects to the nanoscale on their own.

As for what those researchers might shrink, the MIT team is already exploring potential uses for implosion fabrication, including in the fields of optics and robotics. But ultimately, they see no limit to the technique’s possible applications.

“There are all kinds of things you can do with this,” Boyden said. “Democratizing nanofabrication could open up frontiers we can’t yet imagine.”

READ MORE: Team Invents Method to Shrink Objects to the Nanoscale [MIT News]

More on nanotech: Australian Scientists Have Developed a New Tool for Imaging Life at the Nanoscale

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MIT Figured out a Way to Shrink Objects to Nanoscale

For the First Time, a Startup Grew a Steak in a Lab

Israeli startup Aleph Farms has unveiled what appears to be the world's first lab-grown steak, a cut of meat produced from cells taken from a live animal.

High Steaks

An Israeli startup appears to have achieved a landmark accomplishment in the fake meat industry: lab-grown steak.

On Wednesday, Aleph Farms announced that it had grown a steak in a lab using cells extracted from a living cow. In a video shared alongside the announcement, a chef cooks up what looks like a regular beef steak, albeit one on the smaller side.

“The initial products are still relatively thin,” Aleph Farms CEO Didier Toubia acknowledges in a press release, “but the technology we developed marks a true breakthrough and a great leap forward in producing a cell-grown steak.”

Fresh Meat

It’s been five years since the public reveal of the first lab-grown hamburger. Since then, researchers have been able to dramatically improve upon the process of growing meat. What they haven’t been able to do is replicate the texture and structure of the specific cuts you’d find at a butcher.

“Making a patty or a sausage from cells cultured outside the animal is challenging enough,” Toubia said. “Imagine how difficult it is to create a whole-muscle steak.”

But that’s what Aleph Farms has seemingly done.

The key was finding a nutrient combination that would encourage the extracted animal cells to grow into a tissue structure comparable to that found in an actual cow. The company managed this using a bio-engineering platform co-developed with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

The Real Question

In an interview published by Business Insider on Wednesday, Toubia revealed that a steak like the one highlighted in Aleph Farms’s video takes two to three weeks to grow and costs about $50.

He also answered the question no doubt on the mind of anyone who watched the video of his company’s lab-grown steak sizzling in a skillet: whether it tastes good.

“The smell was great when we cooked it, exactly the same characteristic flavor as a conventional meat cut,” Toubia said. “It was a little bit chewy, same as meat. We saw and felt the fibers when we cut it with a knife.”

READ MORE: An Israeli Startup With Ties to America’s Most Popular Hummus Brand Says It Made the World’s First Lab-Grown Steak — a Holy Grail for the Industry [Business Insider]

More on lab-grown meat: We’re About to Get Many More Meat Alternatives

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For the First Time, a Startup Grew a Steak in a Lab

Look at These Incredibly Realistic Faces Generated By A Neural Network

Researchers at NVIDIA created a neural network that can come up with incredibly realistic faces on the spot.

Faking It

We officially can no longer trust anything we see on the internet. From whole-body deep fakes to AI-based translation dubbing, technology is starting to distort reality — all with the help of machine learning.

Case in point: researchers at NVIDIA have harnessed the power of a generative adversarial network (GAN) — a class of neural network — to generate some extremely realistic faces. The results are more impressive than anything we’ve seen before. Take a look below, bearing in mind that none of these faces are real.

Image Credit: NVIDIA

Fake Faces

A GAN can iteratively generate images based on genuine photos it learns from. Then it evaluates the new images against the original. In this instance, the researchers taught a GAN a number of “styles” — faces modeled after subjects who were old, young, wearing glasses, or had different hair styles.

The results are spectacular. Even small seemingly random details like freckles, skin pores or stubble are convincingly distributed in the images the project generated.

The network even took a crack at generating fake pictures of cats. They didn’t turn out quite as well.

Image Credit: NVIDIA

AI Rising

It’s not the first time a GAN has been used to generate pictures of people. Last year, the same group of NVIDIA researchers created a neural-network-based image generator. But results were far less impressive: faces appear distorted and unnatural. The results are also of a much lower resolution.

Neural networks are becoming incredibly good at faking human faces. Will we be able to tell them apart in the future? At this rate, they could become indistinguishable from reality.

READ MORE: A Style-Based Generator Architecture for Generative Adversarial Networks [arXiv]

More on neural network-generated faces: These People Never Existed. They Were Made by an AI.

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Look at These Incredibly Realistic Faces Generated By A Neural Network

Experts: United States Should Build a Prototype Fusion Power Plant

The United States should devote more resources to nuclear fusion research and build an ambitious prototype fusion power plant, according to a new report.

Power Play

The United States should devote substantially more resources to nuclear fusion research and build an ambitious prototype fusion power plant, according to a new report.

The report is the work of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Its conclusion: it’s more important than ever for the U.S. and the world to explore roads to practical fusion power.

Losin’ Fusion

At the crux of the report is the role the U.S. will play in ITER, an international experimental fusion facility currently under construction in France. Some U.S. politicians have denounced ITER, arguing that the U.S. should pull out of the project.

But the National Academies report argues that the U.S. should remain involved with ITER, which will use a donut-shaped tokamak reactor that’s currently scheduled to go online by 2030 to produce energy.

Future Vision

At the same time, according to the report, the U.S. should boost its spending on fusion research by $200 million per year and construct its own experimental reactor. The report points to the multidisciplinary scientific insights a prototype fusion power plant could grant, from energy to vacuum technologies and “complex cryonic systems.”

“We listened very carefully to the community, especially some of the younger scientists who are very active in the field, and what we heard from the scientists is a desire to get on with fusion energy,” Michael Mauel, a co-chair of the committee that released the report, told Science. “We’re not just studying this thing, we’re trying to see if it really does work.”

READ MORE: Final Report of the Committee on a Strategic Plan for U.S. Burning Plasma Research [National Academies]

More on fusion: China’s “Artificial Sun” Is Now Hot Enough for Nuclear Fusion

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Experts: United States Should Build a Prototype Fusion Power Plant

New Rules Takes the Guesswork out of Human Gene Editing

Researchers have identified two rules that they believe ensure the effects of human gene editing are less unpredictable and random.

Not So Random

There are many good reasons to criticize Chinese researcher He Jiankui for reportedly gene-editing two human babies — not only did his actions violate several accords within the scientific community, but he also undertook the project without proper transparency and oversight, working mostly in secret.

Worst of all, though, is the fact that He’s edits could affect the twin babies in unexpected ways. We don’t yet know how to ensure that CRISPR edits in humans do exactly what we want them to do — but that could be starting to change.

“The effects of CRISPR were thought to be unpredictable and seemingly random,” Francis Crick Institute researcher Paola Scaffidi said in a news release, “but by analysing hundreds of edits we were shocked to find that there are actually simple, predictable patterns behind it all.”

Two Simple Rules for Editing My Genes

In a paper published in the journal Molecular Cell on Thursday, Scaffidi and his Crick colleagues describe a set of simple rules they believe take some of the guesswork out of human gene editing.

The first of those rules involves the region a researcher instructs CRISPR to target. If a certain genetic letter (G) is in a certain place (fourth letter from the end of the target sequence), the edit will likely result in many imprecise deletions. The solution: avoid targeting those regions.

The second involves the target DNA’s degree of “openness” during the CRISPR edit. The team discovered that the use of compounds that forced DNA to open up resulted in more efficient editing.

“We hadn’t previously appreciated the significance of DNA openness in determining the efficiency of CRISPR genome editing,” researcher Josep Monserrat said. “This could be another factor to consider when aiming to edit a gene in a specific way.”

Guiding Hand

While these rules may have arrived too late to protect the twin babies on the receiving end of He’s CRISPR edits, they could put us on the path to a future in which we can edit the genes of humans without worrying about unintended consequences.

“Until now, editing genes with CRISPR has involved a lot of guesswork, frustration, and trial and error,” Scaffidi said, later adding, “This will fundamentally change the way we use CRISPR, allowing us to study gene function with greater precision and significantly accelerating our science.”

READ MORE: Scientists Crack the CRISPR Code for Precise Human Genome Editing [The Francis Crick Institute]

More on human gene editing: Chinese Scientists Claim to Have Gene-Edited Human Babies For the First Time

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New Rules Takes the Guesswork out of Human Gene Editing

This Neptune-Sized Exoplanet Is Being Melted Away By Its Star

A newly-discovered planet, orbiting a distant star, is approximately the size of Neptune — but the red dwarf it orbits is boiling it away.

Melted Away

A newly discovered gas planet, orbiting a distant star, is approximately the size of Neptune — but it’s so close to the red dwarf it orbits that it’s literally boiling away.

“This is the smoking gun that planets can lose a significant fraction of their entire mass,” Johns Hopkins planetary scientist David Sing, who helped find the exoplanet, said in a news release. He added that it’s “losing more of its mass than any other planet we seen so far; in only a few billion years from now, half of the planet may be gone.”

Nature Is Metal

The planet, which is called GJ 3470b and described in a new paper in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, is what’s known as a “hot Neptune.” That means that it’s a gas giant, like our own solar system’s Neptune or Jupiter, but it’s far closer to its host star than either of those planets.

GJ 3470b is so close to its star, in fact, that it’s boiling away into space. To make matters worse, it’s not a very heavy planet, meaning that its gravitational pull on its own atmosphere is comparatively weak.

Mysteries of the Cosmos

The rapidly vanishing GJ 3470b could provide an important clue about the nature of gas planets outside our solar system. Though the Kepler mission has found many smaller “mini-Neptunes” sprinkled throughout the galaxy, hot Neptunes are rare. The new theory: we’re not finding as many hot Neptunes because, like GJ 3470b, they tend to boil away into mini-Neptunes.

“It’s one of the most extreme examples of a planet undergoing a major mass-loss over its lifetime,” University of Geneva astronomer Vincent Bourrier, another researcher on the hot Neptune project, said in the same news release. “This sizable mass loss has major consequences for its evolution, and it impacts our understanding of the origin and fate of the population of exoplanets close to their stars.”

READ MORE: Astronomers Have Detected a Planet That’s Actually Evaporating Away at Record Speed [Science Alert]

More on hot Neptunes: Researchers Found a Treasure Trove of Planets Hiding in Dust

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This Neptune-Sized Exoplanet Is Being Melted Away By Its Star

Porsche and BMW’s New EV Chargers Are 3x Faster Than Tesla’s

BMW and Porsche's new 450 kW

Who’s in Charge?

Driving an electric car (EV) saves money and helps the environment. But charging it is a pain — almost like back when every cellphone needed a different charger.

There are a bunch of different charging standards, power outputs, and EV battery types. Charging at home can take forever, and charging at a roadside stop — if you can even find a compatible station — can take hours.

But Porsche and BMW’s brand new charger could be a game-changer. The FastCharge charger could provide enough juice for 62 miles (100 km) of range in just three minutes. That’s not that much slower than filling up a gasoline tank at the pump — and it’s up to three times faster than Tesla’s Supercharger network.

Ultra Charger

Tesla’s Supercharger network only charges at speeds of up to 145 kW — although in many areas it’s a lot slower than that. Other “rapid” — or Type 2 — chargers provide between 43 and 120 kW. To reach 450 kW, Porsche had to develop a special cooling system to make sure every cell remains at an efficient, operable temperature.

It’s not the only charger of its kind: in April, Swiss company ABB Group launched what it called the “world’s fastest” EV charger — a 350 kW charger that can extend your range by 120 miles (193 km) in just three minutes. Bear in mind that ABB likely arrived at those figures by considering different EV battery voltages than Porsche. Futurism has reached out to Porsche to clarify how it arrived at FastCharge’s charging time estimate.

And Tesla’s Superchargers might also get an upgrade to speeds of up to 250 kW some time next year, Electrek reports.

A Charger Near You

So far, only two prototypes of Porsche and BMW’s “FastCharger” exist in Germany.

It’s hard to say whether similar chargers will ever become commonplace at gas stations near you. But if they ever do, EVs could start looking a lot more practical to potential buyers.

READ MORE: Porsche plugs into 450 kW EV charging station [The Verge]

More on EV chargers: EV-Charging Roads Have Arrived. Here’s Why We Do (and Don’t) Need Them.

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Porsche and BMW’s New EV Chargers Are 3x Faster Than Tesla’s

Biologists Engineered An Assassin Virus to Kill Bacteria on Command

Listening In

Different viruses attack different types of cells. A flu virus, for example, attacks lung cells, while the HIV virus attacks immune-system cells. Some viruses, known as phages, attack bacteria — and, it turns out, they don’t all do so randomly.

A team from Princeton has discovered that some phages actually “listen” to the conversations that take place between bacteria to identify the ideal time to strike — and we might be able to use this discovery in the battle against antibiotic resistance.

Tiny Spy

We’ve long known that bacteria can communicate through the release of molecules. In a paper published in the journal Cell on Thursday, the Princeton researchers describe a finding that builds on that mechanism: a virus called VP882, which “listens” for those molecules in order to know when there are enough bacteria around to justify attacking, a process that involves creating many replicas of itself.

This eavesdropping is a survival technique — if there aren’t enough bacteria around, the VP882 virus and its replicas will all die after the attack. It turns out, VP882 isn’t unique, either. The Princeton team discovered that other viruses also spy on bacteria in various ways to determine when to strike.

“It’s brilliant and insidious!” researcher Bonnie Bassler said in a press release. It’s also the first known example of such radically different organisms listening to one another’s communications.

Assassins Freed

Once the Princeton team figured out VP882’s eavesdropping ability, it set out to use that ability against bacteria. By re-engineering VP882 in the lab, graduate student Justin Silpe was able to get the virus to attack when it sensed any input he chose, not just the communication molecule that naturally set it off.

And VP882 itself is unique in that it can infect multiple types of cells, unlike the flu and HIV viruses mentioned above. In tests, Silpe manage to get VP882 to attack cholera, salmonella, and E. coli — three very different types of bacteria.

The medical community already knew it could use some phages to treat bacterial diseases. Now that we know we can turn a least one phage into an assassin, we might be able to find a way to use it against the antibiotic-resistant bacteria currently threatening global health.

READ MORE: Biologists Turn Eavesdropping Viruses Into Bacterial Assassins [Princeton University]

More on antibiotic resistance: A World Without Antibiotics? The UN Has Elevated the Issue of Antibiotic Resistance

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Biologists Engineered An Assassin Virus to Kill Bacteria on Command

A Waymo Rider Talked Publicly About the Service — Even Though He Wasn’t Supposed To

Contract, Schmontract

Michael Richardson is one lucky guy.

In mid-September, self-driving car company Waymo accepted the technologist and entrepreneur into its early rider program in Phoenix, Arizona.

Like all riders, Richardson signed a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), a legal contract forbidding him from talking about his experience as a Waymo rider. Now he’s getting away with violating that contract, and what he had to say answers several key questions about the service — while leaving many others unanswered.

Good Guy Waymo

On Wednesday, Richardson agreed to an interview with Ars Technica, telling the publication that Waymo had freed him from his NDA. It turns out he was mistaken — Richardson was still legally bound to keep quiet about the rides he’d taken in the company’s autonomous vehicles.

Nevertheless, Waymo agreed to let Ars run its story. And in a move that surely caused Richardson to breathe a huge sigh of relief, it also promised it wouldn’t pursue legal action against him.

First Impression

That bit of goodwill on the part of Waymo should temper some of the not-so-positive news in the Ars story.

As part of the early rider program, Richarson took two round-trip rides with Waymo: one on September 28 and another on October 6. During his interview, the Waymo rider noted multiple limitations with the service, including a small coverage area, a higher cost than Uber and Lyft, and restricted pick-up and drop-off locations. He also claimed his vehicles took longer routes than necessary to avoid a freeway and a tricky left turn.

Perhaps most troubling, he also initially told Ars that he saw safety drivers take control of the vehicles on multiple occasions. According to Waymo’s records, however, a safety driver only took over once, and Richardson later admitted that he may have misremembered.

More to Come

Of course, if Richardson got one part of his story wrong, there’s a chance the rest of it isn’t airtight. He also hasn’t ridden with Waymo since it launched its commercial service, Waymo One, meaning the company could have already worked out some of the kinks he noticed two-plus months ago.

Waymo does plan to lift the NDA restriction on riders who transition to Waymo One, so we should be getting a wider range of views on the company’s vehicles in the near future.

Still, this is our first look inside one of Waymo’s cars from the perspective of a Waymo rider, and it certainly wasn’t all negative.

“I’m impressed by what the vehicle can do and how well it gets around,” Richardson told Ars. “It’s very, very impressive.”

READ MORE: We Finally Talked to an Actual Waymo Passenger—here’s What He Told Us [Ars Technica]

More on Waymo One: Waymo Has Officially Launched a Self-Driving Taxi Service

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A Waymo Rider Talked Publicly About the Service — Even Though He Wasn’t Supposed To

Scammers Sent Hoax Bomb Threats Worldwide Demanding Bitcoin

This week, scammers have started emailing hoax bomb threats to schools and hospitals, demanding bitcoin payments in exchange for not setting off explosives.

Bomb Threats

Ransomware that demands cryptocurrency payments in exchange for releasing infected computers is an old phenomenon.

Now that practice has a dark new twist. This week, scammers have started emailing bomb threats to hundreds of schools, hospitals, businesses and other public and private institutions in multiple countries, demanding bitcoin payments in exchange for not setting off seemingly made-up explosives. The threats caused mayhem. Entire blocks were shut down in several cities — a dark testament to the power of online anonymity.

No Terrorism Here

Emergency responders were dispatched in multiple cities across North America to investigate the threats — including a dozen threats in DC alone. Not a single bomb has been found at press time, leading authorities to believe the threats were an elaborate bluff.

The advice from the U.S. government: tell the FBI, and do not pay the ransom of $20,000 U.S. in Bitcoin.

The cryptic emails demanded that victims send the payment to a bitcoin address.

“If you are late with the transaction,” the email says, “the bomb will explode.”

Hitting Bitcoin While It’s Down

The value of Bitcoin took a substantial hit in the wake of the bomb threats. That’s bad news, since Bitcoin was already slouching. Bitcoin Cash also fell 13 percent, and many other major cryptocurrencies followed.

The takeaway: advocates have long predicted that blockchain technology is about to go mainstream, but to date the technology hasn’t strayed far from its early roots in crime and drug sales. Only time will tell whether the tech will eventually shed that identity.

READ MORE: Bitcoin scammers send bomb threats worldwide, causing evacuations [The Verge]

More on bitcoin: Here’s The Conspiracy Tearing Bitcoin Crypto Communities Apart

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