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Startup Claims Its Underwear Stay Odor-Free Through Weeks of Wear

Startup Organic Basics claims its silver-coated underwear remain odor-free after weeks of wear, but several testers disagree.

Under Where?

Want to wear the same pair of underwear for weeks at a time? Go right ahead.

A Danish startup called Organic Basics claims its underwear remain fresh through weeks of wear, eliminating the need for frequent washing. And this could be a boon for the environment — if it’s actually true.

Silver Skivvies

When your sweat meets your clothing, it creates an ideal environment for bacteria. It’s this bacteria that actually produces a foul-smelling odor. Silver is antimicrobial, meaning it kills bacteria and other microorganisms.

By treating their underwear with Polygiene, a product that uses silver chloride to control smells, Organic Basics says it can prevent the growth of 99.9 percent of this bacteria, which it claims prevents the underwear from smelling bad as quickly.

“It works,” CEO Mads Fibiger told Business Insider Nordic in May. “You can wear our underwear much longer before washing.”

Smell Test

Fibiger might claim the coating “works,” but not everyone agrees.

A reporter for New York magazine claimed she noticed a “less-than-fresh scent” on just the second day wearing Organic Basics’s women’s briefs, noting that she “didn’t feel comfortable pushing [her] luck with a third day of testing.” Her male colleague also tossed his Organic Basics boxer briefs in the laundry hamper after just 48 hours.

Even if the underwear did maintain the desired level of freshness, though, people might not be able get over the mental hurdle of wearing the same undergarments for weeks at a time — just this week, Elle reporter R. Eric Thomas wrote that reading about the undies made him want to “bleach [his] eyes.”

Futuristic Fashion

Organic Basics isn’t just trying to help people avoid laundry day, though. “The traditional way of buying, wearing, washing, and throwing away overpriced underwear is…extremely harmful to the environment,” Fibiger told Business Insider.

And he’s right. Washing and drying clothing requires water and energy, so the more often you clean your underwear, the greater the garment’s impact on the environment.

Still, the environmental benefits of wearing the same pair of underwear for weeks at a time might not be enough to get even the most environmentally conscious among us to wear Organic Basics’s underwear if they don’t actually smell fine on day three and beyond.

READ MORE: A Danish Startup Invented Underwear You Can Wear for Weeks Without Washing [Business Insider Nordic]

More on sustainable fashion: These Clothes Grow With Your Child and Are a Step Towards Sustainable Fashion

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Startup Claims Its Underwear Stay Odor-Free Through Weeks of Wear

Microorganisms That Eat Seaweed Can Create Biodegradable Plastic

bioplastic

Ocean of Opportunity

Earth’s oceans contain tens of millions of tons of plastic pollution. But a new technique that creates biodegradable plastics out of seaweed could finally give the oceans relief.

Bioplastics are plastics manufactured from biomass sources instead of fossil fuels. Many degrade far more quickly than traditional plastics, but creating them typically requires fertile soil and fresh water, which aren’t available everywhere.

Now, researchers have found a way to create a bioplastic using seaweed, a far more accessible resource — a promising new approach that could both reduce strain on the plastic-clogged oceans and reduce the Earth’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Scarfing Seaweed

Researchers from the University of Tel Aviv describe their new bioplastic production process in a study published recently in the journal Bioresource Technology.

Certain microorganisms naturally produce a polymer called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). Some factories already create plastics from PHA, but they do so using microorganisms that feed on plants that grow on land using fresh water.

Through their experiments, the team found it was possible to derive PHA from Haloferax mediterranei, a microorganism that feeds on seaweed.

“We have proved it is possible to produce bioplastic completely based on marine resources in a process that is friendly both to the environment and to its residents,” researcher Alexander Golberg said in a press release.

Plastic Problem

Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic finds its way into the Earth’s oceans, and researchers estimate that plastic will outweigh fish by 2050. That plastic is killing marine life, destroying coral reefs, and even affecting human health.

Efforts are already underway to remove plastic from the ocean, and several governments are banning certain plastics altogether. But plastic pollution is a huge problem that will require a multi-pronged solution — and a biodegradable plastic could be one of those prongs.

READ MORE: Sustainable “Plastics” Are on the Horizon [Tel Aviv University]

More on plastic pollution: The EU Just Voted to Completely Ban Single-Use Plastics

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Apollo Astronaut: It Would Be “Stupid” to Send People to Mars

According to Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, crewed missions to Mars and hyped-up chatter of settling the planet are all a waste of time and money.

Fool’s Errand

According to one of the astronauts aboard NASA’s 1968 Apollo 8 mission, it would be “stupid” and “almost ridiculous” to pursue a crewed mission to Mars.

“What’s the imperative? What’s pushing us to go to Mars? I don’t think the public is that interested,” said Bill Anders, who orbited the Moon before returning to Earth 50 years ago, in a new documentary by BBC Radio 5 Live.

Anders argued that there are plenty of things that NASA could be doing that would be a better use of time and money, like the unmanned InSight rover that recently touched down to study Mars’ interior. The comments, by one of the most accomplished space explorers in human history, illustrates a deep and public philosophical rift about whether the future of spaceflight will be characterized by splashy crewed missions or less expensive automated ones.

Mars Bars

The crux of Anders’ argument on the BBC boils down to his perception that NASA is fueling a vicious cycle of highly-publicized missions that bolster its image, improve its funding, and attract top talent so that it can launch more highly-publicized missions. Sending an astronaut to Mars would dominate the news cycle, but wouldn’t push the frontier of practical scientific knowledge, Anders argued — a mismatch, essentially, between the priorities of NASA and those of the public.

That skepticism places Anders among the ranks of other high-profile critics of NASA, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin — all three of which have set their sights on the Red Planet.

For instance, science communicator and advocate Bill Nye predicted last year that no layperson would want to settle Mars. Nye also doubled down last month to say that anyone planning on terraforming Mars must be high on drugs.

Robust Explanation

But Anders’ own Apollo 8 crewmate Frank Borman disagreed, arguing in the documentary that crewed exploration is important.

“I’m not as critical of NASA as Bill is,” Borman told BBC. “I firmly believe that we need robust exploration of our Solar System and I think man is part of that.”

However, even Borman draws the line somewhere between exploration and settlement.

“I do think there’s a lot of hype about Mars that is nonsense,” Borman said. “Musk and Bezos, they’re talking about putting colonies on Mars. That’s nonsense.”

READ MORE: Sending astronauts to Mars would be stupid, astronaut says [BBC]

More on reaching Mars: Four Legal Challenges to Resolve Before Settling on Mars

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Elon Musk Tweets Image of SpaceX’s Stainless Steel Starship

Stainless steel starship

Big Picture

Christmas came early for Elon Musk’s Twitter followers.

The SpaceX CEO took to the social media platform on Christmas Eve to share a new image of a prototype version of the Starship spacecraft at the company’s Texas testing facilities.

The massive rocket with the ever-changing name — it was previously known as the “Mars Colonial Transporter,” the “Interplanetary Transport System,” and the “Big Falcon Rocket” — could one day ferry passengers to Mars. And Musk’s new photo reveals that the key to making that possible might be a material you’ve got in your kitchen right now.

Stainless Steel Starship

The new Starship is made out of stainless steel,  according to the tweet, a material which handles extreme heat very well — polish it up, and its mirror-like finish will reflect thermal energy far better than the carbon-based materials used for many rockets.

That could help Starship withstand the strain of long-term spaceflight, but stainless steel is heavier than carbon fiber, and keeping weight down is extremely important in space travel.

From an impromptu Twitter Q&A following the reveal of the Starship prototype, we learned that by exposing the stainless steel to extremely cold temperatures — that is, giving it a cryogenic treatment — SpaceX was able to get around the issue of the material weighing more than carbon fiber. According to a Musk tweet, “Usable strength/weight of full hard stainless at cryo is slightly better than carbon fiber, room temp is worse, high temp is vastly better.”

Stainless Steel Starship pic.twitter.com/rRoiEKKrYc

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 24, 2018

Countdown to Liftoff

Perhaps the most exciting Starship revelation of the past week, though, is Musk’s assertion that the prototype could be ready for liftoff in just a few months’ time.

On December 22, he tweeted that he would “do a full technical presentation of Starship” after the prototype’s test flight, which could happen in March or April. If all goes well with that test flight, SpaceX could be one step closer to achieving Musk’s vision of making humanity a multiplanetary species.

READ MORE: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk: Starship Prototype to Have 3 Raptors and “Mirror Finish” [Teslarati]

More on Starship: Elon Musk Just Changed the BFR’s Name for a Fourth Time

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Elon Musk Tweets Image of SpaceX’s Stainless Steel Starship

Elon Musk Pledges Tesla Superchargers For All of Europe Next Year

According to Elon Musk's tweet, Tesla will provide 100 percent supercharger coverage to Europe by the end of 2019. Then it will move to Africa.

Big Promise

Electric car maker Tesla will expand its network of Superchargers to provide service for all of Europe by the end of 2019, CEO Elon Musk tweeted Wednesday.

If the plans come to fruition, the vast expansion will represent not just a coup for Tesla but also for the growing global infrastructure that supports practical transportation by electric car.

Yes. Supercharger coverage will extend to 100% of Europe next year. From Ireland to Kiev, from Norway to Turkey. https://t.co/7FQZgLCTVJ

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 26, 2018

Hit and Miss

Right now there are 1,386 Supercharger stations worldwide, according to a map on Tesla’s website. But there are still large gaps in planned coverage throughout Eastern Europe as well as in Sweden, Finland, and Norway — all of which Musk pledged to cover next year in the tweet.

Musk has a notable habit of tweeting Tesla updates from his personal account, and a spotty record when it comes to promising expansions to Tesla’s Supercharger network. Electrek reported that Musk had similarly promised 18,000 chargers worldwide by the end of 2018, but according to the map there are currently just 11,583 spread over the 1,386 stations.

But with most of the European Supercharger infrastructure already in place, total coverage by 2020 seems like a feasible goal.

Then What?

In another tweet, Musk said Tesla said it would set its sights on Africa in 2020. At the moment, there is not a single Supercharger on the entire continent, according to The Verge.

2020

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 27, 2018

It’s unclear which African or European countries will receive Superchargers first and how they will be distributed. But if Musk is to be taken at his word, Tesla will be working hard to expand electric vehicle use throughout the world very soon.

READ MORE: Elon Musk promises 100 percent Tesla Supercharger coverage in Europe next year [The Verge]

More on Superchargers: Tesla Just Announced the Site of the Largest Supercharger Station in Europe

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Elon Musk Pledges Tesla Superchargers For All of Europe Next Year

China Is Building Its First Huge Battery Storage Facility

The Chinese government just approved plans for a massive energy storage grid that will help the Gansu Province better rely on renewable electricity.

Batteries Not Included

The Chinese government approved the plans for a massive energy storage grid in Gansu Province on Monday, according to a statement by the Gansu Provincial Development & Reform Commission.

The project is scheduled to be completed this coming year according to Bloomberg — a colossal infrastructure investment that underscores China’s growing financial commitment to clean, renewable energy.

Biggest Yet

The proposed energy storage grid, also known as a virtual power plant because it serves as a source of energy even if the batteries store rather than generate it, would be the largest in the country — the first phase of construction is expected to cost 1.2 billion yuan ($174 million.)

As of September, China generated 706 gigawatts of solar and wind electricity, Bloomberg reports. But without infrastructure to support the power being generated, some of it went to waste.

More Flexible

According to the government statement, the virtual power plant would have a capacity of 720 MWh and could store unused electricity for four hours. For comparison, that’s almost two thirds the capacity of Tesla’s proposed “Megapack” energy storage system, which would bring a 1,200 MWh virtual power plant to California.

With a large-scale battery storage facility, people in Gansu will be able to rely on clean energy as needed rather than having to revert to fossil fuels when the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing.

READ MORE: China Approves Its 1st Big Power Storage Pilot in Renewable Push [Bloomberg]

More on virtual power plants: Tesla Gets Green Light To Create The World’s Largest Virtual Solar Plant In South Australia

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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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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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New Multi-Sensory Mask Lets You Smell and Feel the Virtual World

multi-sensory mask

Talk Sense

More than three years ago, we first caught a whiff of an odor-delivering virtual reality mask. Now, the device is a step closer to hitting the market.

Last week, Brooklyn-based tech company Feelreal announced the pre-release of its Feelreal Multi-Sensory Mask. The company claims the device is the first of its kind — and even as VR struggles to gain mainstream traction, it provides a far-out vision of immersive virtual worlds that no longer end at what you can see and hear.

All the Feels

Feelreal’s Multi-Sensory Mask includes a “scent generator” that holds up to nine replaceable cartridges, each loaded with one of 255 available scents. An ultrasonic ionizing system provides the feeling of water mist on the wearer’s face, while micro-heaters, micro-coolers, and haptic motors provide the sensations of heat, wind, and vibration, respectively. 

The system is compatible with five VR headsets — Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR — and it’s already capable of enhancing the experience of several existing VR games.

If gaming’s not their thing, users can also watch 360-degrees videos or custom-built VR experiences via the mask’s built-in Feelreal player, or they can use it as a standalone device to facilitate meditation or aromatherapy.

Funding Not Secured

This isn’t the first device designed to add new senses to the VR experience, of course. We’ve already seen gadgets that let you feel like you’re smellingtouching, and even tasting the virtual world.

The number of games and movies currently compatible with the Feelreal Multi-Sensory Mask is also limited, but obviously that could change if the device caught on with users.

Feelreal has yet to reveal a price for its multi-sensory mask or even when the device will be available. According to the press release, the company will be “announcing a Kickstarter [c]rowdfunding campaign to help bring Feelreal products to the next level,” so right now, it appears the future of the device — and potentially the future of VR — is in the public’s hands.

READ MORE: Feelreal Multi-Sensory VR Mask Lets You Smell the Virtual Roses [New Atlas]

More on VR: Add Another Sense to Virtual Reality

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New Fiber Could Be the Foundation for Futuristic Smart Garments

Chinese engineers just figured out how to manufacture a self-assembling silver nanowire that can be woven into high-tech clothing.

Smart Garments

Designers of smart garments have a vision: that we’ll come to use electronics woven into the clothes we wear not just as dazzling new ways to express ourselves, like the light-up prom dress that went viral in 2017, but as extensions of our digital lives that could collect biometric data or even grant wearers superhuman senses.

The problem is that today’s old-fashioned textiles are already the result of thousands of years of innovation, and versions that incorporate wearable computing tech need to be just as hardy. Smart garments will have to be resilient in the face of everything from wash-and-fold to sweaty workouts, not to mention as long-lasting as a trusty t-shirt.

One key challenge has always been creating conductive wires that can carry current between components in a smart garment without breaking down over time as it flexes, twists, and gets wet. Now, Chinese scientists say they’ve invented a new type of self-assembling silver nanowire, inspired by the capillaries in your cardiovascular system, that could be the most practical attempt yet.

Wirehead

The new research, published Thursday in the journal Nano by researchers at the Chinese Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications, describes silver-based wiring that’s cheap to make and could lead to more comfortable and durable smart textiles than ever before.

Here’s how it works. The engineers behind this silver fiber found a way to manufacture tiny wires without much of the headache that normally comes with nanotech assembly. Instead of painstakingly crafting the tiny wires that transport electricity throughout their fabric, the scientists concocted a silver-based solution that automatically soaks into tube-like fibers, drawing into the tube like blood into a capillary.

As the solution evaporates, it leaves behind flexible, durable, and highly-conductive silver nanowires, according to the research. Compared to traditional copper wires, they can withstand much more abuse without breaking. That could mean a future with smart clothes that survive everyday wear and tear — or maybe, if we’re lucky, invisibility cloaks or the water-harvesting suit from “Dune.”

Déjà vu

Like so many other smart textile projects that have popped up over the past few years, this research is still at the proof-of-concept stage. For all of the progress scientists have made, very few attempts to integrate that tech into clothing have taken off.

But the consistency with which researchers, makers, and hackers — not to mention sci-fi writers — have imagined smart garments over the decades suggests a genuine demand for the concept that we could see within a lifetime. At least, that is, if it can survive 40 minutes in a clothes dryer.

READ MORE: Silver nanowires promises more comfortable smart textiles [World Scientific]

More on smart textiles: A NEW BATTERY CAN BE STITCHED INTO CLOTHES TO POWER WEARABLES

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Cacti-Inspired Tech Could Keep You Hydrated After the Apocalypse

water collection

Good Nature

If the world ever devolves into a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland, you’ll probably need to watch out for dust storms and violent bikers gangs. But you might not have to worry about finding enough water.

That’s because a team of researchers at the Ohio State University (OSU) has been studying how some of the desert’s most efficient water collectors manage to quite literally pull water from midair — and what they learned could help ensure we all have enough clean drinking water, before or after the breakdown of social order.

Beneath the Surface

In a study published Monday in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, researchers from OSU describe how cacti, desert grass, and desert beetles collect water from the fog that falls over the desert at night. The researchers then used 3D printers to create surfaces that mimicked the natural ones of those three desert dwellers.

They covered some of the surfaces in grooves similar to those that help a desert grass channel water toward its roots. Other surfaces bore cones designed to mimic the water-collecting spines of the cactus.

The researchers also tested out different materials, including ones that were heterogeneous — a mix of water-collecting and water-repelling spots —  like the surface of a beetle’s back, which plays a major role in its water collection.

Then they tested the various surfaces by placing them in a room with a humidifier. The result: they determined that the best surface for water collection would incorporate a heterogeneous material and multiple grooved cones, each inclined at a 45-degree angle.

Water Everywhere

The researchers believe a large-scale structure based on their findings could one day gather water from fog or condensation that people in dry environments could then drink.

“Water supply is a critically important issue, especially for people of the most arid parts of the world,” researcher Bharat Bhushan said in a press release. “By using bio-inspired technologies, we can help address the challenge of providing clean water to people around the globe, in as efficient a way as possible.”

Let’s just hope they manage to scale-up their tech well before any sort of apocalypse.

READ MORE: Collecting Clean Water From Air, Inspired by Desert Life [The Ohio State University]

More on a post-apocalyptic world: How to Survive a World-Ending Scenario, According to Science

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Your Christmas Tree Could Be Recycled Into Paint or Sweeteners

Pine needles on a green Christmas tree

Prickly Situation

Gifts have been opened, cookies have been eaten, Christmas has come and gone. Still, the last vestige of holiday festivities remains: the slowly decaying Christmas tree husk in your living room.

Even as fake tree sales rise, as many as 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States each year. After serving as Yuletide decorations, many of these trees will head to landfills.

But now, in a flourish of environmental Christmas magic, researchers from the UK’s University of Sheffield have found a way to break down a component in pine needles called lignocellulose and use it to create paints and sweeteners — a heartening seasonal example of how biotech discoveries can reduce waste at unexpected points on the global supply chain. 

Lignocellulose Jam

Lignocellulose is ugly. No, really. Its chemical structure makes it difficult to use for biomass energy, and it serves little industrial purpose. Sheffield PhD student Cynthia Kartey’s work has focused on examining ways to make use of this material, and now she may be on to something.

Using heat and glycerol Kartey was able to break down the pine needles into two components, one of which was made mostly of materials like glucose, acetic acid and phenol. All three have uses in other industries — glucose is used to make food sweeteners, phenol is used in products like mouthwash, and acetic acid for making adhesives, vinegar, and even paint.

“In the future, the tree that decorated your house over the festive period could be turned into paint to decorate your house once again,” Kartey said in a press release.

Green Again

Recycling and repurposing waste products is almost certain to become an increasingly important aspect of the future economy.

We’re already beginning to see the process in action, from recycling space junk to reusable beer bottles and even bricks made from literal human urine. Soon, perhaps even Christmas trees will keep our future green and fresh-pine scented.

READ MORE: Pine needles from old Christmas trees could be turned into paint and food sweeteners in the future [University of Sheffield]

More on the Future of Recycling: New Powder Captures CO2 Before It Can Hit the Atmosphere

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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

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”

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

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 …

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

The post Experts: United States Should Build a Prototype Fusion Power Plant appeared first on Futurism.

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Experts: United States Should Build a Prototype Fusion Power Plant


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