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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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

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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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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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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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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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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Your Christmas Tree Could Be Recycled Into Paint or Sweeteners

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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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

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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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

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Eugenics – Wikipedia

Eugenics (; from Greek eugenes ‘well-born’ from eu, ‘good, well’ and genos, ‘race, stock, kin’)[2][3] is a set of beliefs and practices that aims at improving the genetic quality of a human population.[4][5] The exact definition of eugenics has been a matter of debate since the term was coined by Francis Galton in 1883. The concept predates this coinage, with Plato suggesting applying the principles of selective breeding to humans around 400BCE.

Frederick Osborn’s 1937 journal article “Development of a Eugenic Philosophy”[6] framed it as a social philosophythat is, a philosophy with implications for social order. That definition is not universally accepted. Osborn advocated for higher rates of sexual reproduction among people with desired traits (positive eugenics), or reduced rates of sexual reproduction and sterilization of people with less-desired or undesired traits (negative eugenics).

Alternatively, gene selection rather than “people selection” has recently been made possible through advances in genome editing,[7] leading to what is sometimes called new eugenics, also known as neo-eugenics, consumer eugenics, or liberal eugenics.

While eugenic principles have been practiced as far back in world history as ancient Greece, the modern history of eugenics began in the early 20th century when a popular eugenics movement emerged in the United Kingdom[8] and spread to many countries including the United States, Canada[9] and most European countries. In this period, eugenic ideas were espoused across the political spectrum. Consequently, many countries adopted eugenic policies with the intent to improve the quality of their populations’ genetic stock. Such programs included both “positive” measures, such as encouraging individuals deemed particularly “fit” to reproduce, and “negative” measures such as marriage prohibitions and forced sterilization of people deemed unfit for reproduction. People deemed unfit to reproduce often included people with mental or physical disabilities, people who scored in the low ranges of different IQ tests, criminals and deviants, and members of disfavored minority groups. The eugenics movement became negatively associated with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust when many of the defendants at the Nuremberg trials attempted to justify their human rights abuses by claiming there was little difference between the Nazi eugenics programs and the U.S. eugenics programs.[10] In the decades following World War II, with the institution of human rights, many countries gradually began to abandon eugenics policies, although some Western countries, among them the United States and Sweden, continued to carry out forced sterilizations.

Since the 1980s and 1990s, when new assisted reproductive technology procedures became available such as gestational surrogacy (available since 1985), preimplantation genetic diagnosis (available since 1989), and cytoplasmic transfer (first performed in 1996), fear has emerged about a possible revival of eugenics.

A major criticism of eugenics policies is that, regardless of whether “negative” or “positive” policies are used, they are susceptible to abuse because the criteria of selection are determined by whichever group is in political power at the time. Furthermore, negative eugenics in particular is considered by many to be a violation of basic human rights, which include the right to reproduction. Another criticism is that eugenic policies eventually lead to a loss of genetic diversity, resulting in inbreeding depression due to lower genetic variation.

Seneca the Younger

The concept of positive eugenics to produce better human beings has existed at least since Plato suggested selective mating to produce a guardian class.[12] In Sparta, every Spartan child was inspected by the council of elders, the Gerousia, which determined if the child was fit to live or not. In the early years of ancient Rome, a Roman father was obliged by law to immediately kill his child if they were physically disabled.[13] Among the ancient Germanic tribes, people who were cowardly, unwarlike or “stained with abominable vices” were put to death, usually by being drowned in swamps.[14][15]

The first formal negative eugenics, that is a legal provision against the birth of allegedly inferior human beings, was promulgated in Western European culture by the Christian Council of Agde in 506, which forbade marriage between cousins.[16]

This idea was also promoted by William Goodell (18291894) who advocated the castration and spaying of the insane.[17][18]

The idea of a modern project of improving the human population through a statistical understanding of heredity used to encourage good breeding was originally developed by Francis Galton and, initially, was closely linked to Darwinism and his theory of natural selection.[20] Galton had read his half-cousin Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which sought to explain the development of plant and animal species, and desired to apply it to humans. Based on his biographical studies, Galton believed that desirable human qualities were hereditary traits, although Darwin strongly disagreed with this elaboration of his theory.[21] In 1883, one year after Darwin’s death, Galton gave his research a name: eugenics.[22] With the introduction of genetics, eugenics became associated with genetic determinism, the belief that human character is entirely or in the majority caused by genes, unaffected by education or living conditions. Many of the early geneticists were not Darwinians, and evolution theory was not needed for eugenics policies based on genetic determinism.[20] Throughout its recent history, eugenics has remained controversial.

Eugenics became an academic discipline at many colleges and universities and received funding from many sources.[24] Organizations were formed to win public support and sway opinion towards responsible eugenic values in parenthood, including the British Eugenics Education Society of 1907 and the American Eugenics Society of 1921. Both sought support from leading clergymen and modified their message to meet religious ideals.[25] In 1909 the Anglican clergymen William Inge and James Peile both wrote for the British Eugenics Education Society. Inge was an invited speaker at the 1921 International Eugenics Conference, which was also endorsed by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York Patrick Joseph Hayes.[25]

Three International Eugenics Conferences presented a global venue for eugenists with meetings in 1912 in London, and in 1921 and 1932 in New York City. Eugenic policies were first implemented in the early 1900s in the United States.[26] It also took root in France, Germany, and Great Britain.[27] Later, in the 1920s and 1930s, the eugenic policy of sterilizing certain mental patients was implemented in other countries including Belgium,[28] Brazil,[29] Canada,[30] Japan and Sweden.

In addition to being practiced in a number of countries, eugenics was internationally organized through the International Federation of Eugenics Organizations. Its scientific aspects were carried on through research bodies such as the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics, the Cold Spring Harbour Carnegie Institution for Experimental Evolution, and the Eugenics Record Office. Politically, the movement advocated measures such as sterilization laws. In its moral dimension, eugenics rejected the doctrine that all human beings are born equal and redefined moral worth purely in terms of genetic fitness. Its racist elements included pursuit of a pure “Nordic race” or “Aryan” genetic pool and the eventual elimination of “unfit” races.

Early critics of the philosophy of eugenics included the American sociologist Lester Frank Ward,[39] the English writer G. K. Chesterton, the German-American anthropologist Franz Boas, who argued that advocates of eugenics greatly over-estimate the influence of biology,[40] and Scottish tuberculosis pioneer and author Halliday Sutherland. Ward’s 1913 article “Eugenics, Euthenics, and Eudemics”, Chesterton’s 1917 book Eugenics and Other Evils, and Boas’ 1916 article “Eugenics” (published in The Scientific Monthly) were all harshly critical of the rapidly growing movement. Sutherland identified eugenists as a major obstacle to the eradication and cure of tuberculosis in his 1917 address “Consumption: Its Cause and Cure”,[41] and criticism of eugenists and Neo-Malthusians in his 1921 book Birth Control led to a writ for libel from the eugenist Marie Stopes. Several biologists were also antagonistic to the eugenics movement, including Lancelot Hogben.[42] Other biologists such as J. B. S. Haldane and R. A. Fisher expressed skepticism in the belief that sterilization of “defectives” would lead to the disappearance of undesirable genetic traits.[43]

Among institutions, the Catholic Church was an opponent of state-enforced sterilizations.[44] Attempts by the Eugenics Education Society to persuade the British government to legalize voluntary sterilization were opposed by Catholics and by the Labour Party.[45] The American Eugenics Society initially gained some Catholic supporters, but Catholic support declined following the 1930 papal encyclical Casti connubii.[25] In this, Pope Pius XI explicitly condemned sterilization laws: “Public magistrates have no direct power over the bodies of their subjects; therefore, where no crime has taken place and there is no cause present for grave punishment, they can never directly harm, or tamper with the integrity of the body, either for the reasons of eugenics or for any other reason.”[46]

As a social movement, eugenics reached its greatest popularity in the early decades of the 20th century, when it was practiced around the world and promoted by governments, institutions, and influential individuals. Many countries enacted[47] various eugenics policies, including: genetic screenings, birth control, promoting differential birth rates, marriage restrictions, segregation (both racial segregation and sequestering the mentally ill), compulsory sterilization, forced abortions or forced pregnancies, ultimately culminating in genocide.

The scientific reputation of eugenics started to decline in the 1930s, a time when Ernst Rdin used eugenics as a justification for the racial policies of Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler had praised and incorporated eugenic ideas in Mein Kampf in 1925 and emulated eugenic legislation for the sterilization of “defectives” that had been pioneered in the United States once he took power. Some common early 20th century eugenics methods involved identifying and classifying individuals and their families, including the poor, mentally ill, blind, deaf, developmentally disabled, promiscuous women, homosexuals, and racial groups (such as the Roma and Jews in Nazi Germany) as “degenerate” or “unfit”, and therefore led to segregation, institutionalization, sterilization, euthanasia, and even mass murder. The Nazi practice of euthanasia was carried out on hospital patients in the Aktion T4 centers such as Hartheim Castle.

By the end of World War II, many discriminatory eugenics laws were abandoned, having become associated with Nazi Germany.[50] H. G. Wells, who had called for “the sterilization of failures” in 1904,[51] stated in his 1940 book The Rights of Man: Or What are we fighting for? that among the human rights, which he believed should be available to all people, was “a prohibition on mutilation, sterilization, torture, and any bodily punishment”.[52] After World War II, the practice of “imposing measures intended to prevent births within [a national, ethnical, racial or religious] group” fell within the definition of the new international crime of genocide, set out in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.[53] The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union also proclaims “the prohibition of eugenic practices, in particular those aiming at selection of persons”.[54] In spite of the decline in discriminatory eugenics laws, some government mandated sterilizations continued into the 21st century. During the ten years President Alberto Fujimori led Peru from 1990 to 2000, 2,000 persons were allegedly involuntarily sterilized.[55] China maintained its one-child policy until 2015 as well as a suite of other eugenics based legislation to reduce population size and manage fertility rates of different populations.[56][57][58] In 2007 the United Nations reported coercive sterilizations and hysterectomies in Uzbekistan.[59] During the years 2005 to 2013, nearly one-third of the 144 California prison inmates who were sterilized did not give lawful consent to the operation.[60]

Developments in genetic, genomic, and reproductive technologies at the end of the 20th century have raised numerous questions regarding the ethical status of eugenics, effectively creating a resurgence of interest in the subject.Some, such as UC Berkeley sociologist Troy Duster, claim that modern genetics is a back door to eugenics.[61] This view is shared by White House Assistant Director for Forensic Sciences, Tania Simoncelli, who stated in a 2003 publication by the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College that advances in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) are moving society to a “new era of eugenics”, and that, unlike the Nazi eugenics, modern eugenics is consumer driven and market based, “where children are increasingly regarded as made-to-order consumer products”.[62] In a 2006 newspaper article, Richard Dawkins said that discussion regarding eugenics was inhibited by the shadow of Nazi misuse, to the extent that some scientists would not admit that breeding humans for certain abilities is at all possible. He believes that it is not physically different from breeding domestic animals for traits such as speed or herding skill. Dawkins felt that enough time had elapsed to at least ask just what the ethical differences were between breeding for ability versus training athletes or forcing children to take music lessons, though he could think of persuasive reasons to draw the distinction.[63]

Lee Kuan Yew, the Founding Father of Singapore, started promoting eugenics as early as 1983.[64][65]

In October 2015, the United Nations’ International Bioethics Committee wrote that the ethical problems of human genetic engineering should not be confused with the ethical problems of the 20th century eugenics movements. However, it is still problematic because it challenges the idea of human equality and opens up new forms of discrimination and stigmatization for those who do not want, or cannot afford, the technology.[66]

Transhumanism is often associated with eugenics, although most transhumanists holding similar views nonetheless distance themselves from the term “eugenics” (preferring “germinal choice” or “reprogenetics”)[67] to avoid having their position confused with the discredited theories and practices of early-20th-century eugenic movements.

Prenatal screening can be considered a form of contemporary eugenics because it may lead to abortions of children with undesirable traits.[68]

The term eugenics and its modern field of study were first formulated by Francis Galton in 1883,[69] drawing on the recent work of his half-cousin Charles Darwin.[70][71] Galton published his observations and conclusions in his book Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development.

The origins of the concept began with certain interpretations of Mendelian inheritance and the theories of August Weismann. The word eugenics is derived from the Greek word eu (“good” or “well”) and the suffix -gens (“born”), and was coined by Galton in 1883 to replace the word “stirpiculture”, which he had used previously but which had come to be mocked due to its perceived sexual overtones.[73] Galton defined eugenics as “the study of all agencies under human control which can improve or impair the racial quality of future generations”.[74]

Historically, the term eugenics has referred to everything from prenatal care for mothers to forced sterilization and euthanasia.[75] To population geneticists, the term has included the avoidance of inbreeding without altering allele frequencies; for example, J. B. S. Haldane wrote that “the motor bus, by breaking up inbred village communities, was a powerful eugenic agent.”[76] Debate as to what exactly counts as eugenics continues today.[77]

Edwin Black, journalist and author of War Against the Weak, claims eugenics is often deemed a pseudoscience because what is defined as a genetic improvement of a desired trait is often deemed a cultural choice rather than a matter that can be determined through objective scientific inquiry.[78] The most disputed aspect of eugenics has been the definition of “improvement” of the human gene pool, such as what is a beneficial characteristic and what is a defect. Historically, this aspect of eugenics was tainted with scientific racism and pseudoscience.[79][80][81]

Early eugenists were mostly concerned with factors of perceived intelligence that often correlated strongly with social class. Some of these early eugenists include Karl Pearson and Walter Weldon, who worked on this at the University College London.[21]

Eugenics also had a place in medicine. In his lecture “Darwinism, Medical Progress and Eugenics”, Karl Pearson said that everything concerning eugenics fell into the field of medicine. He basically placed the two words as equivalents. He was supported in part by the fact that Francis Galton, the father of eugenics, also had medical training.[82]

Eugenic policies have been conceptually divided into two categories.[75] Positive eugenics is aimed at encouraging reproduction among the genetically advantaged; for example, the reproduction of the intelligent, the healthy, and the successful. Possible approaches include financial and political stimuli, targeted demographic analyses, in vitro fertilization, egg transplants, and cloning.[83] The movie Gattaca provides a fictional example of a dystopian society that uses eugenics to decided what people are capable of and their place in the world. Negative eugenics aimed to eliminate, through sterilization or segregation, those deemed physically, mentally, or morally “undesirable”. This includes abortions, sterilization, and other methods of family planning.[83] Both positive and negative eugenics can be coercive; abortion for fit women, for example, was illegal in Nazi Germany.[84]

Jon Entine claims that eugenics simply means “good genes” and using it as synonym for genocide is an “all-too-common distortion of the social history of genetics policy in the United States”. According to Entine, eugenics developed out of the Progressive Era and not “Hitler’s twisted Final Solution”.[85]

According to Richard Lynn, eugenics may be divided into two main categories based on the ways in which the methods of eugenics can be applied.[86]

The first major challenge to conventional eugenics based upon genetic inheritance was made in 1915 by Thomas Hunt Morgan. He demonstrated the event of genetic mutation occurring outside of inheritance involving the discovery of the hatching of a fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) with white eyes from a family with red eyes. Morgan claimed that this demonstrated that major genetic changes occurred outside of inheritance and that the concept of eugenics based upon genetic inheritance was not completely scientifically accurate. Additionally, Morgan criticized the view that subjective traits, such as intelligence and criminality, were caused by heredity because he believed that the definitions of these traits varied and that accurate work in genetics could only be done when the traits being studied were accurately defined.[123] Despite Morgan’s public rejection of eugenics, much of his genetic research was absorbed by eugenics.[124][125]

The heterozygote test is used for the early detection of recessive hereditary diseases, allowing for couples to determine if they are at risk of passing genetic defects to a future child.[126] The goal of the test is to estimate the likelihood of passing the hereditary disease to future descendants.[126]

Recessive traits can be severely reduced, but never eliminated unless the complete genetic makeup of all members of the pool was known, as aforementioned. As only very few undesirable traits, such as Huntington’s disease, are dominant, it could be argued[by whom?] from certain perspectives that the practicality of “eliminating” traits is quite low.[citation needed]

There are examples of eugenic acts that managed to lower the prevalence of recessive diseases, although not influencing the prevalence of heterozygote carriers of those diseases. The elevated prevalence of certain genetically transmitted diseases among the Ashkenazi Jewish population (TaySachs, cystic fibrosis, Canavan’s disease, and Gaucher’s disease), has been decreased in current populations by the application of genetic screening.[127]

Pleiotropy occurs when one gene influences multiple, seemingly unrelated phenotypic traits, an example being phenylketonuria, which is a human disease that affects multiple systems but is caused by one gene defect.[128] Andrzej Pkalski, from the University of Wrocaw, argues that eugenics can cause harmful loss of genetic diversity if a eugenics program selects a pleiotropic gene that could possibly be associated with a positive trait. Pekalski uses the example of a coercive government eugenics program that prohibits people with myopia from breeding but has the unintended consequence of also selecting against high intelligence since the two go together.[129]

Eugenic policies could also lead to loss of genetic diversity, in which case a culturally accepted “improvement” of the gene pool could very likelyas evidenced in numerous instances in isolated island populations result in extinction due to increased vulnerability to disease, reduced ability to adapt to environmental change, and other factors both known and unknown. A long-term, species-wide eugenics plan might lead to a scenario similar to this because the elimination of traits deemed undesirable would reduce genetic diversity by definition.[130]

Edward M. Miller claims that, in any one generation, any realistic program should make only minor changes in a fraction of the gene pool, giving plenty of time to reverse direction if unintended consequences emerge, reducing the likelihood of the elimination of desirable genes.[131] Miller also argues that any appreciable reduction in diversity is so far in the future that little concern is needed for now.[131]

While the science of genetics has increasingly provided means by which certain characteristics and conditions can be identified and understood, given the complexity of human genetics, culture, and psychology, at this point no agreed objective means of determining which traits might be ultimately desirable or undesirable. Some diseases such as sickle-cell disease and cystic fibrosis respectively confer immunity to malaria and resistance to cholera when a single copy of the recessive allele is contained within the genotype of the individual. Reducing the instance of sickle-cell disease genes in Africa where malaria is a common and deadly disease could indeed have extremely negative net consequences.

However, some genetic diseases cause people to consider some elements of eugenics.

Societal and political consequences of eugenics call for a place in the discussion on the ethics behind the eugenics movement.[132] Many of the ethical concerns regarding eugenics arise from its controversial past, prompting a discussion on what place, if any, it should have in the future. Advances in science have changed eugenics. In the past, eugenics had more to do with sterilization and enforced reproduction laws.[133] Now, in the age of a progressively mapped genome, embryos can be tested for susceptibility to disease, gender, and genetic defects, and alternative methods of reproduction such as in vitro fertilization are becoming more common.[134] Therefore, eugenics is no longer ex post facto regulation of the living but instead preemptive action on the unborn.[135]

With this change, however, there are ethical concerns which lack adequate attention, and which must be addressed before eugenic policies can be properly implemented in the future. Sterilized individuals, for example, could volunteer for the procedure, albeit under incentive or duress, or at least voice their opinion. The unborn fetus on which these new eugenic procedures are performed cannot speak out, as the fetus lacks the voice to consent or to express his or her opinion.[136] Philosophers disagree about the proper framework for reasoning about such actions, which change the very identity and existence of future persons.[137]

A common criticism of eugenics is that “it inevitably leads to measures that are unethical”.[138] Some fear future “eugenics wars” as the worst-case scenario: the return of coercive state-sponsored genetic discrimination and human rights violations such as compulsory sterilization of persons with genetic defects, the killing of the institutionalized and, specifically, segregation and genocide of races perceived as inferior.[139] Health law professor George Annas and technology law professor Lori Andrews are prominent advocates of the position that the use of these technologies could lead to such human-posthuman caste warfare.[140][141]

In his 2003 book Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, environmental ethicist Bill McKibben argued at length against germinal choice technology and other advanced biotechnological strategies for human enhancement. He writes that it would be morally wrong for humans to tamper with fundamental aspects of themselves (or their children) in an attempt to overcome universal human limitations, such as vulnerability to aging, maximum life span and biological constraints on physical and cognitive ability. Attempts to “improve” themselves through such manipulation would remove limitations that provide a necessary context for the experience of meaningful human choice. He claims that human lives would no longer seem meaningful in a world where such limitations could be overcome with technology. Even the goal of using germinal choice technology for clearly therapeutic purposes should be relinquished, since it would inevitably produce temptations to tamper with such things as cognitive capacities. He argues that it is possible for societies to benefit from renouncing particular technologies, using as examples Ming China, Tokugawa Japan and the contemporary Amish.[142]

Some, for example Nathaniel C. Comfort from Johns Hopkins University, claim that the change from state-led reproductive-genetic decision-making to individual choice has moderated the worst abuses of eugenics by transferring the decision-making from the state to the patient and their family.[143] Comfort suggests that “the eugenic impulse drives us to eliminate disease, live longer and healthier, with greater intelligence, and a better adjustment to the conditions of society; and the health benefits, the intellectual thrill and the profits of genetic bio-medicine are too great for us to do otherwise.”[144] Others, such as bioethicist Stephen Wilkinson of Keele University and Honorary Research Fellow Eve Garrard at the University of Manchester, claim that some aspects of modern genetics can be classified as eugenics, but that this classification does not inherently make modern genetics immoral. In a co-authored publication by Keele University, they stated that “[e]ugenics doesn’t seem always to be immoral, and so the fact that PGD, and other forms of selective reproduction, might sometimes technically be eugenic, isn’t sufficient to show that they’re wrong.”[145]

In their book published in 2000, From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, bioethicists Allen Buchanan, Dan Brock, Norman Daniels and Daniel Wikler argued that liberal societies have an obligation to encourage as wide an adoption of eugenic enhancement technologies as possible (so long as such policies do not infringe on individuals’ reproductive rights or exert undue pressures on prospective parents to use these technologies) in order to maximize public health and minimize the inequalities that may result from both natural genetic endowments and unequal access to genetic enhancements.[146]

Original position, a hypothetical situation developed by American philosopher John Rawls, has been used as an argument for negative eugenics.[147][148]

Notes

Bibliography

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Eugenics – Wikipedia