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

We Have No Idea How to Deal With Unexpected Drones at Airports

Local law enforcement and transport agencies will have to come up with a solution to ward off unwanted drones at airfields.

Won’t Be Home for Christmas

A number of mysterious drones caused officials to completely shut down all of Gatwick Airport’s runways in London this week — and it highlights the uncomfortable fact that we have no idea what to do when drones show up unannounced at airports.

The chaos started on Wednesday night, the BBC reports, when a commercial-size drone was spotted near Gatwick’s airfield, confirmed by about 50 sightings. During a two-day game of cat and mouse — the drone kept reappearing as soon as Gatwick decided to reopen its runways — more than 120,000 passengers and some 760 flights were affected by the disruption, according to the BBC.

Clueless

Local law enforcement believes it was a “deliberate act.” At the time of reporting, no arrests have been made. Possible jail time: five years, according to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

“This kind of incident is unprecedented anywhere in the world, the disruption of an airport in this way,” Grayling said, as quoted by Agence France-Presse. “We’re going to have to learn very quickly from what’s happened.”

It’s not even the first time a drones have disrupted the operations of an airport, as the AFP points out. Drones caused chaos three times at Dubai International Airport in 2016, and an airline pilot avoided a crash with a drone in Paris in February 2016.

Eagles and Lasers

So what can we do about drones at airports?

When it comes to commercial drones near runways and other no-fly zones, security companies have invented “jamming” guns that cause drones to stop dead in their track, and even fall from the sky. For instance, Virginia-based security company DroneShield’s DroneGun can force a drone to land without even destroying it from a mile away by pointing a massive signal-jamming gun at it.

Other methods include high-energy lasers that can obliterate small drones from several miles away. Police in the Netherlands have even tried using trained eagles to take down drones.

The chaos at Gatwick chaos makes one thing clear: transport agencies and local law enforcement will have to come up with some kind of permanent solution in the future.

Because traveling by plane this close to Christmas is terrible enough as it is.

READ MORE: Gatwick chaos: Police ‘could shoot down drone’ [BBC]

More on anti-drone technology: These Are the Most Advanced Anti-Drone Technologies

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We Have No Idea How to Deal With Unexpected Drones at Airports

NASA Wants to Send Earthquake-Detecting Balloons to Venus

Scientists set off a massive explosion in the Nevada desert to test special earthquake-detecting balloons that could one day be deployed over Venus.

Big Boom

On December 19, researchers, with the help of the U.S. Deparmtent of Energy, set off a 50-ton chemical explosion hundreds of meters below the surface of the Mojave desert, Science Magazine reports.

The resulting artificial earthquake allowed NASA scientists to test out special earthquake sensors hanging below helium-filled balloons that were floating hundreds of meters above the desert.

NASA is hoping that a similar system could one day take detailed seismic measurements above the surface of Venus. The goal is to eventually discover clues about the planet’s internal structure.

The idea of using balloons to collect data about our “evil twin” planet has been around since at least 2014. A futuristic — but no longer active — concept called High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) suggested we could one day go on 30 day missions into Venus’s atmosphere on board special lighter-than-air vehicles.

Balloons Over Venus

So why balloons? Landing a rover on Venus to collect seismic data is practically impossible. Venus’s dense atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide is so hot it could melt lead — average temperatures are estimated to be 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius). The outer atmosphere is a lot cooler, and would be a far more suitable place to conduct scientific experiments from.

But how could a ballon floating up to 31 miles (50 kilometers) above the surface of Venus be able to detect seismic activity? Venus’s incredibly dense atmosphere is results in pressure that’s equivalent to 3,000 feet below the ocean back on Earth. In such a dense environment, seismic waves could travel far easier from the surface to the ballon.

Mysterious Sister Planet

But there’s a lot about Venus we don’t even know yet — let alone if there’s any seismic activity to begin with. The results from the explosion might also not translate to the harsh environment of Venus’s atmosphere.

But it’s a clever solution that could one day allow us to get to know Venus a whole lot better.

READ MORE: A desert explosion helps scientists plan earthquake-detecting balloons on Venus [Science]

More on Venus: Enough About Mars. Here’s How We Could Terraform Venus

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NASA Wants to Send Earthquake-Detecting Balloons to Venus

This Algorithm Can Create 3D Animations From A Single Still Image

A researcher's new astonishing software called

“Photo Wake-Up”

Chung-Yi Weng, PhD student at the University of Washington, and some of his friends created something truly astonishing.

Their software called “Photo Wake-Up” allows character animations to simply “walk out” of a static image frame — without leaving a hole in the picture behind them. The results were published in a recently submitted paper.

Weng’s method identifies a 2D subject in a single photo as input, and creates a 3D animated version of that subject. The animation can then “walk out, run, sit, or jump in 3D.”

And it could redefine the way we interact with photos. “We believe the method not only enables new ways for people to enjoy and interact with photos, but also suggests a pathway to reconstructing a virtual avatar from a single image,” Weng, and his collaborators explain in the paper.

Like Magic

The effect, as seen in the video below, is amazing, albeit jarring. Basketball legend Stephen Curry can be seen jumping into action, jogging straight out of his photo frame. One of Picasso’s surrealist creations cuts itself out of its frame perfectly, leaving the painting behind it in tact.

For the effect to work properly, all Weng’s software needs is a still frame showing a silhouette. It cuts out the 2D shape, and warps it around a 3D skeleton that matches it.

A Big Improvement

Researchers have tried to create a similar effect in the past, but the results have been a lot less impressive. Weng’s new approach adds an important new ability: it can identify different body parts like arms and legs, and warp each one individually in a way that matches the 2D cutout exactly.

The software even works in augmented reality, and could redefine the way we interact with two-dimensional pieces of art the next time we visit an art gallery.

READ MORE: Machine vision can create Harry Potter–style photos for muggles [MIT Technology Review]

More on 3D animation: Witness the Remarkable Evolution of Animation in Video Games

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This Algorithm Can Create 3D Animations From A Single Still Image

New Horizons Will Fly Past the Most Distant Object We’ve Ever Visited

After whizzing past Pluto in July 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is fast approaching Ultima Thule — an odd space rock 6.6 billion kilometers away.

Old Space Rock

After whizzing past Pluto in July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is fast approaching its next destination: Ultima Thule — or 2014 MU69 — a space rock only 23 miles (37 kilometers) across. Expected date of arrival: New Year’s Day.

Ultima Thule is some 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth in the so-called Kuiper Belt — the region of the Solar System that lies beyond the known eight planets. It was discovered in 2014 when NASA scientists were looking for space rocks for New Horizons to visit.

It’s been there for more than 4.5 billion years, so having a closer look could reveal key insights into the earliest days of our solar system.

Tricky Fly-By

We don’t know much about the space rock yet, but we do know that getting a closer look will prove pretty difficult. “It’s a lot harder than Pluto,” said mission leader Alan Stern, as quoted by New Scientist. “Instead of being the size of the continental US, it’s the size of Boston. Being 100 times smaller means it’s 10,000 times fainter.”

And then there’s the fact that New Horizons’ batteries are slowly degrading — that means less power for keeping the lights on. And suffice it so say, things get pretty dark billions of kilometers away from the Sun.

Early Mysteries

Earlier this week, scientists were puzzled by Ultima Thule’s odd shape. Team members at NASA thought the space rock was elongated rather than spherical. But observations showed that the “light curve” emitted from it was constant, suggesting it was spherical after all.

“I call this Ultima’s first puzzle — why does it have such a tiny light curve that we can’t even detect it? I expect the detailed flyby images coming soon to give us many more mysteries, but I did not expect this, and so soon,” said New Horizons project lead Alan Stern in a recent statement.

The odd light signature could be caused by a “cloud of dust” or even “many tiny tumbling moons” surrounding it, suggests New Horizon’s team in the statement.

It’s impossible to tell as of right now. But thanks to NASA’s New Horizons probe, we might soon get an answer.

READ MORE: NASA probe will hurtle past the most distant object we’ve ever visited [New Scientist]

More on New Horizons: New Horizons Space Probe Captures the Farthest Photo Ever Taken From Earth

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New Horizons Will Fly Past the Most Distant Object We’ve Ever Visited

Researchers Taught an AI About Ownership Rules and Social Norms

A group of researchers at Yale University successfully taught a robotic system about ownership relations and the social norms that surround those relations.

“No Baxter, That’s Mine!”

What is yours is not mine, and what is mine is not yours — unless we agree to share it.

This simple example of how we agree on ownership of objects around us is something that may come naturally to us, but it’s a notion that robotic systems have to be taught first — in much the same way a child is taught about what belongs to them, and what doesn’t.

And a group of researchers at Yale University tried to do just that. They successfully taught a robotic system about ownership relations and the social norms that determine those relations — a much overlooked, but critical aspect of human-machine interaction.

And the results are promising: in a series of simulations, the robot could infer which objects belonged to it, and which didn’t — even with a “limited amount of training data,” according to a pre-written paper.

Peaceful Coexistence

“With the growing prevalence of AI and robotics in our social lives, social competence is becoming a crucial component for intelligent systems that interact with humans,” reads the paper. “Yet, explicating and implementing these norms in a robot is a deceptively challenging problem.”

The robotic system the researchers devised used a machine learning algorithm to learn from a series of rule violations — “No Baxter, that’s mine!” reads a speech bubble under a picture presented in the paper — and could even infer ownership purely based on the object’s qualities.

“One of the challenges in this work is that some of the ways that we learn about ownership are through being told explicit rules (e.g., ‘don’t take my tools’) and others are learned through experience,” Brian Scassellati, one of the scientists working on the project, told TechXplore. “Combining these two types of learning may be easy for people, but is much more challenging for robots.”

“I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That”

And it will become increasingly important for us to find ways to make robots understand these rules going forward. “Understanding about object ownerships, permissions, and customs is one of these topics that hasn’t really received much attention but will be critical to the way that machines operate in our homes, schools, and offices,” said Scassellati.

READ MORE: A new robot capable of learning ownership relations and norms [TechXplore]

More on robots and social norms: Culturally Sensitive Robots Are Here to Care for the Elderly

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Researchers Taught an AI About Ownership Rules and Social Norms

The U.S. Challenges Iran’s Attempt to Develop a Cryptocurrency

Congress just introduced a bill calling for sanctions against Iran's efforts to develop its own digital currency.

More Sanctions

U.S. regulators are taking a stronger stance against Iran’s plans to develop its own sovereign cryptocurrency.

Congress introduced a bill on December 17 called the “Blocking Iran Illicit Finance Act” that threatens Iran with more sanctions in response to activity that could see Iran develop its own national cryptocurrency. The U.S. is worried that the development of such a cryptocurrency could allow Iran to launder money, thereby dodging U.S. sanctions.

A corresponding bill sponsored by Ted Cruz (R-TX) calls for additional sanctions against anybody who could be aiding Iran to develop such a digital currency, including sanctions against any foreign person that might facilitate transactions for the “sale, supply, or transfer” of such a currency.

Existing Tension

And tensions between the U.S. and Iran are already high after the Trump administration decided to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018. Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit any nuclear activity, and allow international actors to inspect any nuclear plants in the country. In return, economic sanctions would be lifted.

And Iran has been busy laying the groundwork for an official national digital currency. The country has been in the news recently, promising that blockchain technology could give Iran a much-needed economic boost, Coindesk reports.

Officials announced in July that Iran was planning to issue its own national cryptocurrency. Months later, Iran agreed to officially recognize crypto mining as an industry in the government.

The Petro

There’s a precedent for a country developing its own sovereign cryptocurrency — without the best of intentions. Venezuela’s highly controversial “petro” — an oil- and state-backed cryptocurrency pushed by president Nicolas Maduro — is meant to give the South American nation a way out of crippling hyperinflation. So far, the people of Venezuela have yet to see any tangible benefits from the petro.

In fact, the Trump administration has also expanded sanctions in March against Venezuela to include any trade of the petro.

Will Iran comply with Congress’ demands — if the bill passes — and cease any activity related to the issuing of a digital currency? Unlikely. But it could have a negative effect on already poor relations between the two countries.

READ MORE: US Lawmakers Seek Sanctions Against Iran’s Cryptocurrency Efforts [Coindesk]

More on Iran’s cryptocurrency: Iran May Move to Create Its Own National Cryptocurrency

 

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Lung-Like Device Transforms Water Into a Clean Source of Fuel

A lung-like design created by researchers at Stanford University has the potential to increase the efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells.

Time and Place

Get water in your lungs, and you’re in for a very bad time.

But when water enters a new type of “lung” created by researchers at Stanford University, the result is hydrogen fuel — a clean source of energy that could one day power everything from our cars to our smartphones.

Though this isn’t the first device to produce hydrogen fuel, the unique design could be the first step along the path to an efficient method of generating hydrogen fuel.

Looking to Nature

The Stanford team describes its device in a paper published on Thursday in the journal Joule.

When air enters a human lung, it passes through a thin membrane. This membrane extracts the oxygen from the air and send it into the bloodstream. The unique structure of the organ makes this gas exchange highly efficient.

Combine hydrogen with oxygen, and you get electricity — and unlike the burning of fossil fuels, the only byproduct is water. For that reason, researchers have been looking into hydrogen fuel for decades, but they simply haven’t found a way to produce it that is efficient enough to be worthwhile.

This is mainly because hydrogen doesn’t often exist on its own in nature — we need to isolate it, often by separating water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Take a Breath

The Stanford researchers’ lung is essentially a pouch created out of a thick plastic film. Tiny water-repelling pores cover the exterior of the pouch, while gold and platinum nanoparticles line its interior.

By placing the pouch in water and applying voltage, the researchers were able to compel the device to create energy at an efficiency 32 percent higher than if they laid the film flat. They claim this is because the lung-like shape did a better job than other fuel cell designs of minimizing the bubbles that can form — and hurt efficiency — during the energy-generation process. “The geometry is important,” Stanford research Yi Cui told New Scientist.

The team will now focus on scaling-up its design and finding a way to get it to tolerate higher temperatures — right now, it doesn’t work above 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit), which could be a problem for commercial applications.

READ MORE: Device That Works Like a Lung Makes Clean Fuel From Water [New Scientist]

More on hydrogen fuel: Cheap Hydrogen Fuel Was a Failed Promise. But Its Time May Have Arrived.

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Lung-Like Device Transforms Water Into a Clean Source of Fuel

Scientists Used DNA to Play the Tiniest Game of Tic-Tac-Toe Ever

Researchers from Caltech demonstrate a new DNA origami technique by playing the world's smallest game of tic-tac-toe on a DNA board.

X’s and O’s

The world’s smallest game of tic-tac-toe could have a big impact on the future of nanotechnology.

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed a new technique for shaping structures out of strands of DNA, a process known as DNA origami. Unlike previous techniques, which effectively locked a structure in place once created, the researchers could reshape an already-constructed DNA structure using this new technique.

To demonstrate the powerful new technique, they used it to play game of tic-tac-toe using a DNA board. Because of course they did.

A’s, T’s, C’s, and G’s

DNA origami takes advantage of the natural tendency of DNA molecules, or bases, to pair up with one another. Each base — A, T, C, and G — pairs with another of the bases: A and T are a team, as are C and G.

Strands of DNA pair up based on these matches — a strand with a molecule sequence ATTGCGA, for example, pairs perfectly with a TAACGCT strand — and researchers can create shapes out of DNA simply by manipulating the sequences of the letters.

But DNA strands can pair up partially, too. The Caltech team provides a somewhat depressing analogy of this based on dating people most similar to you, but the basic gist of it is that a strand will “dump” a strand that’s a partial match (for example, one where five out of eight bases are pairs) for one that’s a better match (one where six out of eight bases are pairs). This replacement of one so-so match for a better match is called “strand displacement.”

Perfect Match

In a paper published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, the Caltech researchers describe how they combined strand displacement with a DNA origami technology called self-assembling tiles. That involves the creation of square-shaped tiles of DNA designed to fit together like the pieces of a puzzle.

To demonstrate their new DNA origami technique, the researcher put nine blank DNA tiles designed to form a three-by-three grid into a test tube. Once the tiles assembled, the researchers took turns adding X or O tiles to the test tube.

The researchers designed those tiles to replace specific blank tiles in the grid using strand displacement — the new tile was simply a better match in the chosen spot than the blank tile.

Tiniest Winner

The game took six days, with player X emerging as the winner. But the research was about far more than just a game of tic-tac-toe.

The ability to reshape DNA structures could prove immensely useful in the future, as scientists are already exploring ways to use DNA origami to deliver drugs and sort molecular cargo.

“When you get a flat tire, you will likely just replace it instead of buying a new car. Such a manual repair is not possible for nanoscale machines,” researcher Grigory Tikhomirov said in a news release. “But with this tile displacement process we discovered, it becomes possible to replace and upgrade multiple parts of engineered nanoscale machines to make them more efficient and sophisticated.”

Good game, Caltech.

READ MORE: Researchers Make World’s Smallest Tic-Tac-Toe Game Board With DNA [Caltech]

More on DNA origami: Nanobots Made of DNA Can Now Carry and Sort Molecular Cargo

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Scientists Used DNA to Play the Tiniest Game of Tic-Tac-Toe Ever

Why Sea Levels Along The US East Coast Are Rising at Different Rates

Sea levels are rising faster in some areas than others, flooding coastal towns.

Water, Water Everywhere

Rising sea levels are concerning. Sea levels rising at different rates? That’s very concerning.

As glacial meltwater continues to cause rising sea levels, monitoring areas at risk of flooding will become increasingly important. In some places sea levels appear to be rising faster than others, making it tricky to predict which coastal cities might be most vulnerable. New research published in the journal Nature supports an explanation that is quite literally, epic.

Funky Flow

It would be logical to think that sea levels would rise more or less uniformly in similar geographical areas, along the U.S. East Coast for example. The trouble is that as sea levels rise, coastlines in these areas may be simultaneously sinking. The new study, which examined sea-level trends along the U.S. East Coast between 1900 and 2017, pins responsibility for unexpected sea level rises on a phenomenon called “post-glacial rebound.”

Post-glacial rebound is a process which began during the last ice age when massive ice sheets covered inland areas, tightly compressing the Earth’s land and causing it to sink downward. Because of this the outlying areas along the coast where pushed upwards over time, like a massive seesaw.

By monitoring comparing tidal gauge measurements, GPS data, and fossil records from coastal areas, the research team behind the study was able to create a more accurate model historic rates of sea level rise.

Chris Piecuch, lead author of the study concluded that, “Post-glacial rebound is definitely the most important process causing spatial differences in sea level rise on the U.S. East Coast over the last century. And since that process plays out over millennia, we’re confident projecting its influence centuries into the future.”

One Drop At A Time

The forces involved in post-glacial rebound play out on an epic time scale impossible for one person to witness, so don’t expect the ground to drop out from underneath you. However, as sea levels continue to rise and the land continues to decompress, some coastal areas will become increasingly prone to coastal flooding. Thankfully, Piecuch and team may have provided a key to determining which areas are most at risk.

READ MORE: Why is sea level rising faster in some places along the US East Coast than others? [ScienceDaily]

More on Sea Level Rise: The World’s Coasts May Be Drowning Under Rising Seas Faster Than We Thought

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Why Sea Levels Along The US East Coast Are Rising at Different Rates

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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Microorganisms That Eat Seaweed Can Create Biodegradable Plastic

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

Cosmonaut: Hole Was Drilled From Inside Space Station

A Russian cosmonaut who helped investigate damage to the ISS says the hole was apparently drilled from the inside. Here's what it means.

Hole Story

Back in August, the crew on the International Space Station (ISS) repaired a small leak that was allowing air to escape the orbiting outpost — damage that Russia speculated could have been the result of intentional sabotage.

Now, the Associated Press reports that a Russian cosmonaut who helped investigate the damage during a spacewalk earlier this month has said that whoever drilled the hole appeared to do so from the interior of the station — though he’s far from convinced the drilling was an act of sabotage.

The controversy surrounding this hole has revealed that international tensions on Earth can reach outer space, which has long been a haven for international scientific cooperation — but the cosmonaut’s comments are a heartening example of how public figures in the research community can push back against the use of space as a proxy battleground for terrestrial conflicts.

Space Talk

On Monday, the AP reported, cosmonaut Sergei Prokopyev — who took part in the spacewalk to investigate the damage — said at a press conference after returning to Earth that the hole appeared to originate from inside the capsule.

But Prokopyev also “scoffed” at the idea that an ISS crew member drilled the hole, according to the AP.

“You shouldn’t think so badly of our crew,” he said. He also cautioned that “it’s up to the investigative organs to judge when that hole was made” — an apparent suggestion that the hole could have originated in a manufacturing facility on Earth.

Fresh Air

When the leak was first discovered, Russia’s space agency said the damage was probably caused by a micrometeorite. But in a startling about-face, the director of the agency suggested days later that the leak was the result of intentional sabotage — even specifically mentioning evidence of “several attempts at drilling” with a “wavering hand.”

Prokopyev, though, is behaving like a scientist: reporting the facts, but withholding judgment until after the collection of all data — a comforting approach during an era characterized by knee-jerk reactions.

READ MORE: Russia: Hole Drilled From Inside Int’l Space Station Capsule [The Associated Press]

More on the ISS hole: Someone Drilled a Hole in the ISS. Was It a Mistake or Sabotage?

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A New Bank of America Patent Describes Blockchain-Powered ATMs

The idea is part of an ironic trend: banks want to leverage a technology that was invented to take power away from financial institutions.

Blockchain-Powered ATMs

Bank of America customers could soon use automatic teller machines, better known as ATMs, that are powered by a blockchain ledger. The company filed a new U.S. patent for the system that was published online Tuesday.

According to the patent, Bank of America could use blockchain tech to verify and track ATM cash transactions and improve ATM performance. The move highlights the tension and irony of the contemporary blockchain ecosystem. BofA, fearful of being left behind by new financial innovation, now holds more than 50 patents for blockchain technologies, according to Coindesk. That could be a sign that it’s positioning itself for a serious push into the same decentralized technology that was originally designed to take power away from big banks.

Decentralized Hub

The idea behind the patent, which was first filed in June 2017, is that tracking cash transactions on the blockchain could help plan and predict which ATMs need cash when — the bank would be able to cut down on how costs related to transporting the physical cash, according to Coindesk.

Bank of America also got the rights to new “ATM as a service” platforms, which the patent describes as a way to boost engagement with ATM services like video calls and integration into local marketing campaigns or pop-up stores. These features are seemingly intended to make cash withdrawals fun and trendy.

Full Circle

Two months after the blockchain ATM patent was filed, Bank of America and Wells Fargo cut down on cash-related costs by banning third-party cash deposits. This move away from tangible money recently resurfaced and drew ire by would-be gift-givers over the holiday season.

If this blockchain patent is any indication, we can expect more changes in the future that make things smoother for BofA — even if we get fewer options as a result.

READ MORE: Bank of America Files for Blockchain ‘ATM as a Service’ Patent [Coindesk]

More on blockchain finance: Bank of America Wins Patent for Crypto Exchange System

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A New Bank of America Patent Describes Blockchain-Powered ATMs

An Ultrafast Camera Filmed Electrons Interacting With Light Energy

A researcher stands at an ultrafast electron camera that recorded motion in electrons.

Now You See Me

We just got a bold new look at what happens when light interacts with electrons.

When converting light into electricity, like in solar cells, much of the energy isn’t converted into electricity. When light hits an object it stimulates electrons in a process that’s over in only a few femtoseconds — that’s one quadrillionth of a second. Better understanding the process could lead to new types of advanced electronic devices or improved solar cells.

Because the process occurs super fast we can’t see it happening. Even with the help of modern technology the process proved impossible to record, until now. Researchers Germany’s Kiel University (CAU) used one of the world’s fastest cameras to film the motion of electrons. The research team described their research in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Light In Phases

In their experiment the researchers fired quick light pulses at graphite, chosen for its simple electronic structure, and recorded the movement of the electrons.

“Thanks to the extremely short duration of the light pulses used, we are able to film ultrafast processes live. Our investigations have shown that there is a surprising amount of stuff happening here,” explained Michael Bauer, professor of ultrafast dynamics at CAU.

Based on their film, the team described three distinct phases. First the electrons absorbed the light energy in the graphite, then the energy was distributed to other electrons, before being passed to other atoms. In this final stage the energy is converted into heat, in short, the graphite warmed up.

A New Angle

Although this process had previously been theorized, it’s the first time it has been observed and recorded. New technological capabilities have allowed this research to be conducted on a time-scale we’ve never been able to work on before. By better understanding how electrons behave we can optimize technologies that make use of light and electricity, opening previously unexplored avenues of research.

READ MORE: One of the world’s fastest cameras films motion of electrons [EurkAlert] 

More on UltraFast Cameras: The World’s Fastest Camera Can “Freeze Time,” Show Beams of Light in Slo-Mo

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An Ultrafast Camera Filmed Electrons Interacting With Light Energy

Get to Know the Large Hadron Collider and Take a Glimpse at Its Future

large hadron collider lhc standard model of physics

LHC in VR

The Large Hadron Collider is taking a two year break to undergo vital upgrades that will empower the next phase of groundbreaking research.

Built between 1998 and 2008, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is both the most powerful particle accelerator and the largest machine in the world. Situated underground between the border of France and Sweden, the LHC has been responsible for some of the most vital research in particle physics in modern history. A recent feature by The New York Times highlights the history of the record-holding project and offers a stunning virtual tour of the massive machine.

By The Numbers

In order to get a look at some of the most basic building blocks of the universe, we have to smash what’s there into even smaller bits and pieces. The LHC does this using a 17-mile electromagnetic track where magnets which are one hundred thousand times as strong as the Earth’s magnetic field fling particles into one another 600,000 times a second. It’s a feat of engineering that requires 12,000 amperes of electrical current (a typical household outlet is rated at 15 to 20 amperes.)

Particle collisions within the LHC are quite common, occurring at 40 million times per second. Still, very few collisions produce noteworthy results, in fact that’s how the LHC operates. Before any particles are fired computer predict the expected results of any collisions. As results are gathered they are compared to these predictions and only those with unexpected results are returned to researchers saving immense amounts of data processing time. This is how data from the LHC confirmed the existence of a then theoretical Higgs Boson particle which appears in only one of every 10 billion collisions.

What Comes Next?

Presently engineers are improving a series of smaller tracks that are responsible for speeding up protons before they enter the main collider. The upgrades should be completed in 2021, after which the LHC will run for two more years until its next shutdown in 2024. Next new magnets will be installed, allowing even more intense collisions to take place. At this point the machine will be known as the High Luminosity L.H.C and is expected to continue contributing to research efforts until 2035.

READ MORE: Augmented Reality: It’s Intermission for the Large Hadron Collider [The New York Times]

More on the LHC Shutdown: The Large Hadron Collider Just Shut Down

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SpaceX Launches Next-Generation Air Force GPS Satellite

SpaceX launch - SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off carrying a GPS 3 satellite

Liftoff!

After a week of delays, SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday morning at 8:51 a.m. EST, it’s 21st launch of the year.

Carried to orbit atop the Falcon 9 rocket was a GPS III SV01 advanced GPS satellite, part of a network of next-generation satellites being installed in orbit by the U.S. Air Force.  The mission, originally awarded to SpaceX in April, 2016, is considered a National Security Space mission, critical to national defense and is SpaceX’s first such mission.

Ground Control to Major Tom

The new GPS III SV01 satellite is part of a planned series of upgrades to the U.S. GPS network. Currently the Air Force maintains 31 GPS satellites, the first iteration of which launched between 1990 and 1997, while the most recent was launched in 2016. The GPS III SV01, with its state of the art technology, is the first of the next generation of satellites with more planned launches in 2019.

GPS III SV01, nicknamed Vespucci, in honor of Italian cartographer and explorer Amerigo Vespucci, will enable the Air Force to provide positioning, navigation, and timing information three times more accurate than that of data provided by other satellites in the GPS network. The information will help everyone from soldiers in the field to those trying navigate a new town.

Farewell and New Beginnings

Normally SpaceX attempts to land Falcon 9 first stages once they’ve separated from the rocket’s second stage. This time the weight and high altitude orbit of the payload meant most of the Falcon 9’s fuel would be expended during launch, leaving too little left to recover the rocket.

Despite not recovering the Falcon 9, SpaceX’s successful 21st launch smashed the company’s previous record of 18 launches in one year and having completed a mission deemed critical to national security is a sort of badge of honor to the pioneering rocket company. SpaceX will take on four additional GPS III missions, all of which will be launched on Falcon 9 rockets later in 2019.

READ MORE: SpaceX Launches Super-Accurate Next-Gen GPS Satellite for US Air Force [Space]

More on SpaceX: SpaceX Smashed the Record for Commercial Space Launches This Year

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SpaceX Launches Next-Generation Air Force GPS Satellite