Search Immortality Topics:

Page 11234..1020..»


Category Archives: Human Genetic Engineering

Society can be controlled through its means of communication – The Conversation CA

Venezuelan philosopher, Antonio Pasquali, who wrote extensively about how media and society affected each other, passed away on Oct. 5, 2019, in Spain.

In 1984, Pasquali was appointed Deputy Director General of the Communications Sector of UNESCO and Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean of UNESCO from 1986-1989. He played an important role in UNESCOs New World Information and Communication discussions.

Pasqualis contributions to media studies are well-known in Latin America, but his research is less known in the English-speaking world. His research on media and communication inspired many Latin American scholars and media practitioners including myself who place ethics at the centre of the discussion.

Pasquali was a fierce critic of Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhans view that the medium is the message that the medium in which things are disseminated determines their meaning. Always returning to human communication as the basis of relationships betwwen people, Pasquali warned us about the necessary conceptual and practical difference between communication and media.

For Pasquali, the ability to communicate is inherent to the formation of society. And so, any modification or control of communications becomes to a modification or control of society itself. He argued that technological changes, with their benefits and disruptions, have yet to transform the essence of human communication.

Pasqualis work is important to consider because he warned us about some troubling challenges that we can see around us.

Pasquali wrote about the ethics of communication, or what he called the moral dimension of communication. In his book 18 essays about communications, he identified six hard trends that would mark humanitys future:

1) A process of human-made environmental degradation that approaches the point of no return, as in the impending ecological crisis brought about by climate change and its consequences;

Read more: Dealing with the absurdity of human existence in the face of converging catastrophes

2) Human interference in natural evolutionary processes. He warned that advances in genetic engineering that bring hope for the treatment of diseases and also open the door to sophisticated mechanisms of social engineering and control;

3) Challenging the very idea of what being human is by: a) machines combined with living beings (cyborgs), and b) by the shift of human decision-making to artificial intelligence that could make humans irrelevant and even disposable. This will require new ways of understanding the relations between digital machines and human;

4) The persistence of nuclear, bacteriological, chemical and terrorist dangers, in a context of political polarization coupled with the emergence of extremist ideologies that could lead to internal and external violent confrontations;

5) The consolidation of the disparity between rich and poor that is already generating social unrest in different regions, as we have seen recently in Latin America and the Middle East;

6) The transformation of democracy into a plutocratic dictatorship (the government by the wealthy) based on the technological manipulation of social consensus, as illustrated in the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal.

Pasquali was persistent in his struggle to establish a public broadcasting service in Latin American countries. His passion in defence of the need for a public media service never declined, and seems to be more relevant than ever in the midst of the Internet explosion.

Pasquali observed that the internet is now largely controlled by monopolies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, and manipulated by big emerging powers like China. He vehemently denounced the communication hegemony of the authoritarian government of Hugo Chvez and his successor Nicols Maduro. Pasquali documented the setbacks that the regime has inflicted on Venezuelan society from the point of view of telecommunications, the media and transportation infrastructure.

At the end of his essay Will we communicate or inform ourselves?, Pasquali wondered if we are ready to give up a fundamental condition for our existence the ability and experience of communication. For him, communication was a mixture of intellect, passions and will that was intrinsic to how people and made meaning, personally and socially. He asked: Are we going to give up without a fight the possibility of communicating to another human being that we love him/her?

The great body of work that Pasquali produced will help us to answer these fundamental questions about the future of communication. Pasqualis intellectual legacy will live on through his writings and teachings.

[ Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversations newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on todays news, every day. ]

Read the rest here:
Society can be controlled through its means of communication - The Conversation CA

Posted in Human Genetic Engineering | Comments Off on Society can be controlled through its means of communication – The Conversation CA

The Chinese Scientist Who Made The First Genetically Engineered Babies Is Going To Prison – BuzzFeed News

A Chinese court sentenced biomedical scientist He Jiankui and two accomplices to prison on Monday for illegal medical practice for genetically engineering three babies.

In November 2018, He announced the birth of the first two children, twin girls named Lulu and Nana, as well as the pregnancy of a second woman carrying a genetically engineered fetus. The news created a scientific firestorm, with human genetic engineering experiments widely viewed as dangerous and unethical by scientific organizations worldwide. The third baby has now been born, according to reporting from Chinas state news agency.

The genetic engineering team fabricated an ethics review of their experiment, according to the Nanshan District People's Court of Shenzhen City ruling. They used the faked permissions to recruit couples living with HIV in hopes of helping them to conceive children genetically engineered to receive a mutation giving them immunity to some forms of the disease.

He, formerly a biomedical scientist at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzen, received a prison sentence of three years and a fine equivalent to $480,000. His associates, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, received jail terms of two years and 18 months with a two-year reprieve, according to the ruling, for practicing medicine without a license and violating Chinese regulations governing assisted reproduction.

The prison sentence and stiff financial penalty sends a message to other Chinese scientists that unsanctioned efforts at human germline editing will not be tolerated, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine researcher Kiran Musunuru told BuzzFeed News, by email. I expect that it will have a deterrent effect, certainly in China and possibly elsewhere.

At an October conference, Musunuru had reported that a draft study submitted to a scientific journal about the twins by Hes team suggested that the genetic engineering attempt had badly misfired, targeting the wrong location for the mutation and potentially seeding other mutations throughout the DNA of the children.

Science academies worldwide formed an oversight commission in March, following widespread condemnation of the experiments.

The court ruling found the three sentenced scientists acted "in the pursuit of personal fame and gain" and have seriously "disrupted medical order, according to Chinese state media.

Read the rest here:
The Chinese Scientist Who Made The First Genetically Engineered Babies Is Going To Prison - BuzzFeed News

Posted in Human Genetic Engineering | Comments Off on The Chinese Scientist Who Made The First Genetically Engineered Babies Is Going To Prison – BuzzFeed News

How innovation works: ‘A perfect human being is the danger that genetic manipulation poses’ – Innovation Origins

The days when an inventor sat behind closed doors tinkering with groundbreaking technology are over. Nowadays, scientists from a variety of backgrounds work together to come up with an invention or a product. They also dare to bring it to the market at an ever-increasing rate. By no means are all innovations a success, but one invention is enough to change the world.

Innovation Origins regularly speaks to innovation leaders, trendsetters who are high on the innovation ladder. Steef Blok has the floor today. The director of TU/e Innovation Lab is responsible at Eindhoven University of Technology for valorization. That entails bringing knowledge from the university back to society. He has to deal on a daily basis with technologies that the rest of the world might not become acquainted with until ten years from now. Technology forms the foundation for the growth of prosperity in the Netherlands. Our daily lives are wholly influenced by it, Blok states.

He talks about the impact of technology in the past and its importance for the future: Our ancestors used to spend all day collecting and preparing food. Technology made it possible for food to be produced on a greater scale. As a result, not everyone had to deal with food and people started providing services. This is how the economy as we know it today came into being. Later on, machines began to take over more and more of the heavy work that people had to do, for example on farms. As a result, the economy grew and so did prosperity.

Sticking with that example for a moment, the advent of machines meant that the farms had to continue to grow as well. You cant put a large machine on one hectare of land. More space is needed for that. Besides that, farmers have to produce more in order to recoup the cost of those machines. Thats how mass production came about.

Although Blok believes that this type of mass production is now going to be phased out again with the advent of intelligent systems. We can connect machines through these intelligent systems. This allows us to remotely switch on the heating at home, but it also enables ASMLs machines to communicate with each other. The possibilities are unimaginable. Even for the aforementioned farmers. For example, a Brabant potato farmer flies drones over his land in order to measure the amount of manure and water thats on the land. He only fertilizes the soil that actually needs it. That saves time and money and is also better for the environment. The harvest will be better as a result too.

A potato is still a potato, but this farmer takes care of his land in a tailor-made way. Thanks to smart technologies, the more of the same mentality is a thing of the past. This can have several meanings. As an example, in the future, a machine could make a different product for one customer than for another.

Universities are indispensable when it comes to these kinds of developments. This is where such systems are conceived. Universities are about ten years ahead of the market. But not everything that is designed at a university will survive on the market. Some projects dont even get further developed into a product. If that does happen, it sometimes doesnt yield the results you envisage. Weve come up with inventions that I thought would make the world a better place. And nobody on the market cared.

I heard, for example, that early menopause is one of the main reasons why some women cant have children. Women are already really reduced in their reproductive ability ten years before the onset of menopause. For example, if someone starts menopause prematurely, at around 40 years of age, they would have already had low fertility from the age of 30. The average age at which a woman has a child in The Netherlands is now over 29 years of age. Technology might offer a solution to this problem.

At the university, we designed a diagnostic chip that allows us to detect the gene that can predict a womans early onset of menopause. As a result, women know at an early age whether they will start menopause early, and they can tailor the time when they can begin to have children. The chip costs about 6 million. So it seemed like the ideal solution. Expensive and often unpleasant treatments with hormones and IVF would be used less as a result. But in the end nobody wanted it. Women didnt want to know at all when they were going to go through menopause. Oh well. The world is full of surprises.

Consumers will ultimately use a product. Naturally, they have to want to do that. This is not only true in the field of healthcare, but also in the field of sustainability and circularity. Things are already improving in those areas. For example, we are already using more and more refurbished computers instead of immediately throwing away all our electronics. We are also handling food more carefully. If we dont want to burn waste anymore, but want to re-use everything instead, that should already be taken into account during the production process. In order to achieve this, entire production processes need to change.

Genetic engineering is also one of the topics that we do a lot of research on at the university, but on which public opinion is really divided. Bananas grow in a greenhouse under controlled conditions at the University of Wageningen. This way the plants are no longer affected by disease. This allows for a constant supply of bananas. These plants are genetically manipulated. I wouldnt hesitate for a second to use that on a large scale.

Genetic engineering in humans is also being explored more extensively. Ive worked in the hospital sector. Here Ive seen people suffer from diseases like cancer and Ive seen people die. Suppose theres a child on its way who has a disease or disability. But when you remove one gene, its completely healthy. Id do it. Although genetic manipulation does pose a risk to people. Imagine, for example, that over time youve designed a perfect human being. But thats true for other technologies: Atomic energy isnt bad, but an atomic bomb is. I admit that the engineered human being is a bit scary. But we can t stop technological progress.

Read the rest here:
How innovation works: 'A perfect human being is the danger that genetic manipulation poses' - Innovation Origins

Posted in Human Genetic Engineering | Comments Off on How innovation works: ‘A perfect human being is the danger that genetic manipulation poses’ – Innovation Origins

Genetically engineered salmon: An update on how they are growing in Albany – The Star Press

The first batch of genetically engineered salmon at a fish farm in Albany has grown from the size of a thread to 60 grams, or about two ounces, as shown here through a portal.(Photo: AquaBounty Technologies)

ALBANY, Ind. The first batch of genetically engineered salmon eggs that arrived here in May/Junehasmade it from thehatchery into nursery tanks the size of backyard swimming pools and then into grow-out tanks that hold up to 70,000 gallons of water apiece.

The formerly threadlike salmon,the size of the end of your thumbnail, had grown to a length of about 8 inches and a weight of around60 grams (about two ounces) by early December and is increasing in size daily, according to AquaBounty Farms-Indianaowner AquaBounty Technologies.

"The first cohort of AquAdvantage Salmon that hatched in our Albany farm in June are healthy and growing well," AquaBounty spokesman Dave Conley told The Star Press via email.

The fish, engineeredto grow faster than conventional Atlantic salmon,are attracting attention because they're the first genetically modified animals approved for human consumption in the U.S.

The fish were mentioned Dec. 20 by U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., when he recapped the farm and agribusiness stops he made in the Hoosier state, including Albany, during 2019.

Young learned about regulatory challenges facing the fish from fellow Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who reportedly has used riders to single-handedly block genetically engineered (GE)salmon for years. Murkowski's office told The Star Press her efforts are all about ensuring clear labeling of GE salmon before they go to market.

The batch of conventional Atlantic salmon that AquaBountystarted farming in June of 2018 is growing well and is expected to be harvested beginning in the third quarter of2020, followed by the first harvest of the GE AquAdvantage Salmon in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to Conley.

A second batch of AquAdvantage Salmon eggsarrived at the land-based farm in Albany in mid-October, has now hatched and is almost ready to be moved to the nursery for their first feeding.

AquaBounty Technologies CEO Sylvia Wulf talks to reporters at the company's Albany facility.(Photo: Seth Slabaugh, The Star Press)

Sylvia Wulf,AquaBounty's CEO, said in a prepared statement:We are thrilled with the progress of our salmon at our Indiana farm. The fish are growing extremely well, and they look fantastic."

In its most recent quarterly report, AquaBounty notes that its AquAdvantage salmon remains the subject of a federal lawsuit pending in the northern district of California, brought by Friends of the Earth and other plaintiffs, versus the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Issues include the risk of AquAdvantage Salmon escaping and threatening endangered wild salmon stocks.

But last month, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria ruled in favor of the FDA, writing, "The lawsuit is both a broadside attack on the FDAs authority to regulate the genetic engineering of animals and a targeted attack on the particular process by which the agency approved the salmon.

(Netting covers the Albany farm'snursery fish tanks to prevent the salmon from jumping out. If any got through the netting, they would land on a concrete floor that drains to a trench containing screens to prevent them from advancing.

(As the fish grow in size and move to larger tanks, they encounter a number of screens, filters, gates, grates and cages to prevent an escape into the wild the chances of which AquaBountysays are zero. But even if a breakout occurred, the fish couldn't breed, the company says, because they're all sterilized females).

FDA has approved the production of the GE salmon eggs in a hatchery in Canada and the grow-out of the eggs in Albany.

The quarterly report also notes that legislative action could result in restrictions on or delays in commercialization of the GE salmon: "We could be subject to increasing or more onerous regulatory hurdles as we attempt to commercialize our product, which could require us to incur significant additional capital and operating expenditures and other costs in complying with these laws and regulations.

Murkowski included a provision within the Agriculture Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020 to postpone the introduction of GE salmon to the U.S. market until a consumer label comprehension study is completed, to determine the effectiveness of USDAs new labeling guidelines for bioengineered foods, the senator's spokesperson, Karina Borger, told The Star Press earlier this month.

That bill advanced out of the full Appropriations Committee unanimously and then passed in the full Senate at the end of October as part of a funding package.

"Her efforts are all about ensuring clear labeling of GE salmon before they go to the U.S. market," Borger went on. "Murkowski has said we owe it to American consumers to ensure that the standards put in place for labeling GE salmon are clear, effective, and understandable. Murkowski believes that a clear, text-based label is the high standard that American consumers deserve, and has also introduced stand-alone legislation to that effect. That bill is the Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act."

Sen. Todd Young talks to AquaBounty's Peter Bowyer during a tour.(Photo: Jordan Kartholl / The Star Press)

Sen. Young and fellow Hoosier Sen. Mike Braun have said in a letter the legislation would set "a troubling precedent regarding the function and authority of federal regulatory agencies. There are a great number of important agriculture innovations in the research, development and regulatory pipeline behind the bioengineered salmon. To effectively ban a first-in-class product for no legitimate reason will cast a chilling effect on the willingness or ability of other researchers and developers to invest in the United States."

Responding to Murkowski's position, Wulf, the CEO of AquaBounty, told The Star Press, "The senators feigned attempt at consumer concern is a smokescreen for her decade-long campaign to financially cripple a small company with an innovative way to combat the negative effects of climate change, which is a more significant threat to Alaskas salmon fishery than a faster-growing salmon. Putting 30 people out of work in Indiana will not solve her problem."

Because fresh and frozen fish are flown to markets all over the world, seafood has a large carbon footprint, AquaBounty says, adding that itsAquAdvantage Salmon can be grown in land-based facilities built closer to consumers to reduce the need for energy-intensive air freight shipping and transportation.

In September, the farm hosted a visit from Cornell University's Alliance for Science, which in turn was hosting a group of Turkish government regulators through a United States Department of Agriculture-funded program.

Since July 1, AquaBounty Farms-Indiana hashired 22 new people to work at the Albany farm, which now employs 30, according to Conley, who added the new hirescome from backgrounds in manufacturing, security andteaching. Some are recent Ball State graduates.

The farm also has added a lot of new equipment, including an automobile disinfecting system to improve bio-security, and has worked with local companies on farm improvements, including Versatile Metal Works of Muncie, which designed and fabricated fish handling equipment.

Fish manure is being spread as fertilizer on local crops.

The farm hosted a presentation for the town of Albany at the farm in October and sponsored a carriage ride for the Albany Christmas Festival on Dec. 8.

Non-genetically altered Atlantic salmon are raised in tanks at AquaBounty Technologies in Albany. The company began raising unmodified Atlantic salmon at the facility while waiting for FDA approval to transport genetically modified eggs across the Canadian border. (Photo: Jordan Kartholl/The Star Press)

Genetically engineered fish hatched in Albany

AquaBounty farm in Albany first of its kind endeavor

Contact Seth Slabaugh at (765) 213-5834 or seths@muncie.gannett.com

Read or Share this story: https://www.thestarpress.com/story/news/local/2020/01/02/genetically-engineered-salmon-doing-well-here/2737140001/

Continue reading here:
Genetically engineered salmon: An update on how they are growing in Albany - The Star Press

Posted in Human Genetic Engineering | Comments Off on Genetically engineered salmon: An update on how they are growing in Albany – The Star Press

The Top Ten Scientific Discoveries of the Decade – Smithsonian

Millions of new scientific research papers are published every year, shedding light on everything from the evolution of stars to the ongoing impacts of climate change to the health benefits (or determents) of coffee to the tendency of your cat to ignore you. With so much research coming out every year, it can be difficult to know what is significant, what is interesting but largely insignificant, and what is just plain bad science. But over the course of a decade, we can look back at some of the most important and awe-inspiring areas of research, often expressed in multiple findings and research papers that lead to a true proliferation of knowledge. Here are ten of the biggest strides made by scientists in the last ten years.

The human family tree expanded significantly in the past decade, with fossils of new hominin species discovered in Africa and the Philippines. The decade began with the discovery and identification of Australopithecus sediba, a hominin species that lived nearly two million years ago in present-day South Africa. Matthew Berger, the son of paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, stumbled upon the first fossil of the species, a right clavicle, in 2008, when he was only 9 years old. A team then unearthed more fossils from the individual, a young boy, including a well-preserved skull, and A. sediba was described by Lee Berger and colleagues in 2010. The species represents a transitionary phase between the genus Australopithecus and the genus Homo, with some traits of the older primate group but a style of walking that resembled modern humans.

Also discovered in South Africa by a team led by Berger, Homo naledi lived much more recently, some 335,000 to 236,000 years ago, meaning it may have overlapped with our own species, Homo sapiens. The species, first discovered in the Rising Star Cave system in 2013 and described in 2015, also had a mix of primitive and modern features, such as a small brain case (about one-third the size of Homo sapiens) and a large body for the time, weighing approximately 100 pounds and standing up to five feet tall. The smaller Homo luzonensis (three to four feet tall) lived in the Philippines some 50,000 to 67,000 years ago, overlapping with several species of hominin. The first H. luzonensis fossils were originally identified as Homo sapiens, but a 2019 analysis determined that the bones belonged to an entirely unknown species.

These three major finds in the last ten years suggest that the bones of more species of ancient human relatives are likely hidden in the caves and sediment deposits of the world, waiting to be discovered.

When Albert Einstein first published the general theory of relativity in 1915, he likely couldnt have imagined that 100 years later, astronomers would test the theorys predictions with some of the most sophisticated instruments ever builtand the theory would pass each test. General relativity describes the universe as a fabric of space-time that is warped by large masses. Its this warping that causes gravity, rather than an internal property of mass as Isaac Newton thought.

One prediction of this model is that the acceleration of masses can cause ripples in space-time, or the propagation of gravitational waves. With a large enough mass, such as a black hole or a neutron star, these ripples may even be detected by astronomers on Earth. In September 2015, the LIGO and Virgo collaboration detected gravitational waves for the first time, propagating from a pair of merging black holes some 1.3 billion light-years away. Since then, the two instruments have detected several additional gravitational waves, including one from a two merging neutron stars.

Another prediction of general relativityone that Einstein himself famously doubtedis the existence of black holes at all, or points of gravitational collapse in space with infinite density and infinitesimal volume. These objects consume all matter and light that strays too close, creating a disk of superheated material falling into the black hole. In 2017, the Event Horizon Telescope collaborationa network of linked radio telescopes around the worldtook observations that would later result in the first image of the environment around a black hole, released in April 2019.

Scientists have been predicating the effects of burning coal and fossil fuels on the temperature of the planet for over 100 years. A 1912 issue of Popular Mechanics contains an article titled Remarkable Weather of 1911: The Effect of the Combustion of Coal on the ClimateWhat Scientists Predict for the Future, which has a caption that reads: The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.

Just one century later, and the effect is considerable indeed. Increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have produced hotter global temperatures, with the last five years (2014 to 2018) being the hottest years on record. 2016 was the hottest year since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) started recording global temperature 139 years ago. The effects of this global change include more frequent and destructive wildfires, more common droughts, accelerating polar ice melt and increased storm surges. California is burning, Venice is flooding, urban heat deaths are on the rise, and countless coastal and island communities face an existential crisisnot to mention the ecological havoc wreaked by climate change, stifling the planets ability to pull carbon back out of the atmosphere.

In 2015, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reached a consensus on climate action, known as the Paris Agreement. The primary goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, major societal transformations will be required, including replacing fossil fuels with clean energy such as wind, solar and nuclear; reforming agricultural practices to limit emissions and protect forested areas; and perhaps even building artificial means of pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Ever since the double-helix structure of DNA was revealed in the early 1950s, scientists have hypothesized about the possibility of artificially modifying DNA to change the functions of an organism. The first approved gene therapy trial occurred in 1990, when a four-year-old girl had her own white blood cells removed, augmented with the genes that produce an enzyme called adenosine deaminase (ADA), and then reinjected into her body to treat ADA deficiency, a genetic condition that hampers the immune systems ability to fight disease. The patients body began producing the ADA enzyme, but new white blood cells with the corrected gene were not produced, and she had to continue receiving injections.

Now, genetic engineering is more precise and available than ever before, thanks in large part to a new tool first used to modify eukaryotic cells (complex cells with a nucleus) in 2013: CRISPR-Cas9. The gene editing tool works by locating a targeted section of DNA and cutting out that section with the Cas9 enzyme. An optional third step involves replacing the deleted section of DNA with new genetic material. The technique can be used for a wide range of applications, from increasing the muscle mass of livestock, to producing resistant and fruitful crops, to treating diseases like cancer by removing a patients immune system cells, modifying them to better fight a disease, and reinjecting them into the patients body.

In late 2018, Chinese researchers led by He Jiankui announced that they had used CRISPR-Cas9 to genetically modify human embryos, which were then transferred to a womans uterus and resulted in the birth of twin girlsthe first gene-edited babies. The twins genomes were modified to make the girls more resistant to HIV, although the genetic alterations may have also resulted in unintended changes. The work was widely condemned by the scientific community as unethical and dangerous, revealing a need for stricter regulations for how these powerful new tools are used, particularly when it comes to changing the DNA of embryos and using those embryos to birth live children.

Spacecraft and telescopes have revealed a wealth of information about worlds beyond our own in the last decade. In 2015, the New Horizons probe made a close pass of Pluto, taking the first nearby observations of the dwarf planet and its moons. The spacecraft revealed a surprisingly dynamic and active world, with icy mountains reaching up to nearly 20,000 feet and shifting plains that are no more than 10 million years oldmeaning the geology is constantly changing. The fact that Plutowhich is an average of 3.7 billion miles from the sun, about 40 times the distance of Earthis so geologically active suggests that even cold, distant worlds could get enough energy to heat their interiors, possibly harboring subsurface liquid water or even life.

A bit closer to home, the Cassini spacecraft orbited Saturn for 13 years, ending its mission in September 2017 when NASA intentionally plunged the spacecraft into the atmosphere of Saturn so it would burn up rather than continue orbiting the planet once it had exhausted its fuel. During its mission, Cassini discovered the processes that feed Saturns rings, observed a global storm encircle the gas giant, mapped the large moon Titan and found some of the ingredients for life in the plumes of icy material erupting from the watery moon Enceladus. In 2016, a year before the end of the Cassini mission, the Juno spacecraft arrived at Jupiter, where it has been measuring the magnetic field and atmospheric dynamics of the largest planet in the solar system to help scientists understand how Jupiterand everything else around the sunoriginally formed.

In 2012, the Curiosity rover landed on Mars, where it has made several significant discoveries, including new evidence of past water on the red planet, the presence of organic molecules that could be related to life, and mysterious seasonal cycles of methane and oxygen that hint at a dynamic world beneath the surface. In 2018, the European Space Agency announced that ground-penetrating radar data from the Mars Express spacecraft provided strong evidence that a liquid reservoir of water exists underground near the Martian south pole.

Meanwhile, two space telescopes, Kepler and TESS, have discovered thousands of planets orbiting other stars. Kepler launched in 2009 and ended its mission in 2018, revealing mysterious and distant planets by measuring the decrease in light when they pass in front of their stars. These planets include hot Jupiters, which orbit close to their stars in just days or hours; mini Neptunes, which are between the size of Earth and Neptune and may be gas, liquid, solid or some combination; and super Earths, which are large rocky planets that astronomers hope to study for signs of life. TESS, which launched in 2018, continues the search as Keplers successor. The space telescope has already discovered hundreds of worlds, and it could find 10,000 or even 20,000 before the end of the mission.

The decade began with a revolution in paleontology as scientists got their first look at the true colors of dinosaurs. First, in January 2010, an analysis of melanosomesorganelles that contain pigmentsin the fossilized feathers of Sinosauropteryx, a dinosaur that lived in China some 120 to 125 million years ago, revealed that the prehistoric creature had reddish-brown tones and stripes along its tail. Shortly after, a full-body reconstruction revealed the colors of a small feathered dinosaur that lived some 160 million years ago, Anchiornis, which had black and white feathers on its body and a striking plume of red feathers on its head.

The study of fossilized pigments has continued to expose new information about prehistoric life, hinting at potential animal survival strategies by showing evidence of countershading and camouflage. In 2017, a remarkably well-preserved armored dinosaur which lived about 110 million years ago, Borealopelta, was found to have reddish-brown tones to help blend into the environment. This new ability to identify and study the colors of dinosaurs will continue to play an important role in paleontological research as scientists study the evolution of past life.

In November 2018, measurement scientists around the world voted to officially changed the definition of a kilogram, the fundamental unit of mass. Rather than basing the kilogram off of an objecta platinum-iridium alloy cylinder about the size of a golf ballthe new definition uses a constant of nature to set the unit of mass. The change replaced the last physical artifact used to define a unit of measure. (The meter bar was replaced in 1960 by a specific number of wavelengths of radiation from krypton, for example, and later updated to define a meter according to the distance light travels in a tiny fraction of a second.)

By using a sophisticated weighing machine known as a Kibble balance, scientists were able to precisely measure a kilogram according to the electromagnetic force required to hold it up. This electric measurement could then be expressed in terms of Plancks constant, a number originally used by Max Planck to calculate bundles of energy coming from stars.

The kilogram was not the only unit of measure that was recently redefined. The changes to the International System of Units, which officially went into effect in May 2019, also changed the definition for the ampere, the standard unit of electric current; the kelvin unit of temperature; and the mole, a unit of amount of substance used in chemistry. The changes to the kilogram and other units will allow more precise measurements for small amounts of material, such as pharmaceuticals, as well as give scientists around the world access to the fundamental units, rather than defining them according to objects that must be replicated and calibrated by a small number of labs.

In 2010, scientists gained a new tool to study the ancient past and the people who inhabited it. Researchers used a hair preserved in permafrost to sequence the genome of a man who lived some 4,000 years ago in what is now Greenland, revealing the physical traits and even the blood type of a member of one of the first cultures to settle in that part of the world. The first nearly complete reconstruction of a genome from ancient DNA opened the door for anthropologists and geneticists to learn more about the cultures of the distant past than ever before.

Extracting ancient DNA is a major challenge. Even if genetic material such as hair or skin is preserved, it is often contaminated with the DNA of microbes from the environment, so sophisticated sequencing techniques must be used to isolate the ancient humans DNA. More recently, scientists have used the petrous bone of the skull, a highly dense bone near the ear, to extract ancient DNA.

Thousands of ancient human genomes have been sequenced since the first success in 2010, revealing new details about the rise and fall of lost civilizations and the migrations of people around the globe. Studying ancient genomes has identified multiple waves of migration back and forth across the frozen Bering land bridge between Siberia and Alaska between 5,000 and 15,000 years ago. Recently, the genome of a young girl in modern Denmark was sequenced from a 5,700-year-old piece of birch tar used as chewing gum, which also contained her mouth microbes and bits of food from one of her last meals.

This decade included the worst outbreak of Ebola virus diseases in history. The epidemic is believed to have begun with a single case of an 18-month-old-boy in Guinea infected by bats in December 2013. The disease quickly spread to neighboring countries, reaching the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone by July 2014, providing an unprecedented opportunity for the transmission of the disease to a large number of people. Ebola virus compromises the immune system and can cause massive hemorrhaging and multiple organ failure. Two and a half years after the initial case, more than 28,600 people had been infected, resulting in at least 11,325 deaths, according to the CDC.

The epidemic prompted health officials to redouble their efforts to find an effective vaccine to fight Ebola. A vaccine known as Ervebo, made by the pharmaceutical company Merck, was tested in a clinical trial in Guinea performed toward the end of the outbreak in 2016 that proved the vaccine effective. Another Ebola outbreak was declared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August 2018, and the ongoing epidemic has spread to become the deadliest since the West Africa outbreak, with 3,366 reported cases and 2,227 deaths as of December 2019. Ervebo has been used in the DRC to fight the outbreak on an expanded access or compassionate use basis. In November 2019, Ervebo was approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and a month later it was approved in the U.S. by the FDA.

In addition to a preventative vaccine, researchers have been seeking a cure for Ebola in patients who have already been infected by the disease. Two treatments, which involve a one-time delivery of antibodies to prevent Ebola from infecting a patients cells, have recently shown promise in a clinical trial in the DRC. With a combination of vaccines and therapeutic treatments, healthcare officials hope to one day eradicate the viral infection for good.

Over the past several decades, physicists have worked tirelessly to model the workings of the universe, developing what is known as the Standard Model. This model describes four basic interactions of matter, known as the fundamental forces. Two are familiar in everyday life: the gravitational force and the electromagnetic force. The other two, however, only exert their influence inside the nuclei of atoms: the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force.

Part of the Standard Model says that there is a universal quantum field that interacts with particles, giving them their masses. In the 1960s, theoretical physicists including Franois Englert and Peter Higgs described this field and its role in the Standard Model. It became known as the Higgs field, and according to the laws of quantum mechanics, all such fundamental fields should have an associated particle, which came to be known as the Higgs boson.

Decades later, in 2012, two teams using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to conduct particle collisions reported the detection of a particle with the predicted mass of the Higgs boson, providing substantial evidence for the existence of the Higgs field and Higgs boson. In 2013, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Englert and Higgs for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle. As physicists continue to refine the Standard Model, the function and discovery of the Higgs boson will remain a fundamental part of how all matter gets its mass, and therefore, how any matter exists at all.

Continued here:
The Top Ten Scientific Discoveries of the Decade - Smithsonian

Posted in Human Genetic Engineering | Comments Off on The Top Ten Scientific Discoveries of the Decade – Smithsonian

Getting the Most from Biotech: Precision Engineering and Partnership – BioSpace

We are Earths Tech Support, declared Randall Kirk, Executive Chairman of the Board of Directorsand former CEO ofIntrexon. Intrexonis one of the biggest developers of synthetic biology (or engineering biology) applications in therapeutics, agriculture and chemicals. Kirk gave a keynote speech atSynbio Marketson synthetic biologys struggle to break into mainstream markets and its revolutionary new approach for industrial biotech in the food, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and materials sectors.

Before these new technologies can save the world, they need to be accepted and get to market. Companies must overcome the usual hurdles in finding investment and meeting regulatory requirements. They must find compatible scale-up partners and face new challenges in communicating the benefits and safety of their novel technology to society.

Partnerships for Success

Collaborations are beginning to blossom in synthetic biology. The field is often likened to the silicon chip industry. In its infancy, a single company would design, build and use their own chips. Now, companies outsource the design, building, testing and manufacture of chips along a structured value chain thanks to standardization of parts and uniformity in the field. This took years to achieve. Synthetic biology companies are currently developing their own unique tools to perform new feats in engineering biotechnology. Standardization is the dream and, to achieve this, companies must work together to break into the market.

A striking partnership at the conference was that ofAMSilkandAirbus. The airline industry has a problem: they must increase fuel efficiency by reducing weight of their aircraft without compromising on safety. Composite materials are an alternative to hefty sheet metals and AMSilk produces a durable but lightweight material: synthetic spider silk. AMSilk is interesting for its energy absorption, which is important for safety of the aircraft, Detlev Konigorski of Airbus explains. This partnership could help Airbus develop safe new materials while helping the carbon footprint of the airline industry.

One of the kings of collaboration isGinkgo Bioworks. Ginkgo uses several automated platforms to speed up and precisely carry out genetic manipulation, growth and testing of cells. To build their analytical power, they collaborated withBerkeley Lights, whose technology allows functional screening of thousands of cells simultaneously, increasing throughput.

Ginkgo has used this actively in their healthcare collaborations, such as a recent team-up withSynlogic, a microbiome therapeutics company developing living medicines. Ginkgo used its platform to increase the potency of SynlogicsE. coli-based drug in non-human primates in less than a year. Ginkgo CCO Matt McKnight wants to build on these partnerships by partnering with early-stage companies. Theyrecently announced a $350 m platformto build companies using Ginkgos foundries. He foresees more partnerships in the synthetic biology space in future, I think we shouldnt have full stack engineering biology companies. In any discipline, we dont see this. People work together.

Chemicals giantBASFis also interested in partnering with synthetic biology companies. Markus Pompejus, Vice President for Innovation and Scouting addressed the conference in Berlin citing the companys wide range of products. In principal, many products could be produced with biotech methods. Synbio is a research topic, but biotech is the application, Pompejus says.

Partnering may be off-putting for early-stage companies who want to maximize ownership of their company and the topic came up repeatedly at Synbio Markets. Where do you draw the line? Where do you co-develop with customers or should you do it more yourself? asks session chair James Hallinan ofCambridge Consultants, an expert engineering firm.

Depends where you are, says Alexandre Zanghellini of protein design companyArzeda, The later you partner, the more value you capture. You certainly want to keep the process propriety until the point where it can be scaled, then partner with marketing, scale up and development partners.

Talking Tech and Selling Solutions

Synthetic biology exists at the nexus of biology and nearly every other field. Its less a field of study and more of a precision engineering approach to traditional biotechnology using standardized tools and platforms. Kirk argued in his speech humanity has been using synthetic biology for thousands of years, using crop breeding as an example of humans precisely selecting and breeding desirable traits to engineer better strains of corn, for example. Now our role in the world has changed.

Weve been doing it for 12,000 years and weve been doing it without thinking of the consequences. Synthetic biology allows us tremendous specificity and potential to solve world problems by targeting individual species, he said.

How does this help us synthetic biology products access new and existing markets? Every process has biology in it, McKnight says.InscriptasCCO Jason Gammack thinks the solution lies in getting a few tangible products to lead the way. We need to make the products tangible. In the US were in hyperdrive mode. Two years ago, there was very little. Now,Impossible Foodsis in Burger King, says Gammack. Gary Lin ofPurple Orange Venturesthinks we need to raise the profile of synthetic biology among the public, adding One of the hard challenges, we need policymakers and government funding to support this. The amount of capital gone into this space is a drop in the ocean.

The issue spills over into the regulation of gene-edited technologies, especially in Europe. We recently had a debate on CRISPR plants, says Nadine Bongaerts-Duportet ofScience MattersandHello Tomorrow. The European Union regulations says CRISPR-edited crops are defined as genetically modified (GM), while those edited by radiation exposure are not. Bongaerts adds, The difference between UV exposure and CRISPR [as gene-editing methods], everybody understands the regulations dont make sense. How do you, with a positive message, make sure everyone gets it? All the panelists agree that building trust is key.

The trust us, were scientists approach doesnt work because people dont understand the technology, according to Gammack. I would fault all the synbio community, says Kirk. We look at polling data on GMO attitudes, I thought healthcare would be the first area [accepted]. In terms of polling, people have the greatest acceptance to insect disease vectors, he says, citing IntrexonsOxitecand theirGM mosquitoas an example.

The messaging, particularly around GM and especially here in Europe, is a minefield. From our perspective, we need to be mindful of potential roadblocks, says Lin, GM in food is the most difficult to grapple with. Part of the process is creating awareness of what the food process looks like. Transparency and openness about the technology is a major factor in getting this technology to market.MonsantosFlavr Savr tomatodisaster is still fresh in peoples minds. Public acceptance to this technology is a must before the market can be broken into reliably.

We need to understand emotions and backgrounds of people we talk to, to link our advancements to the incentives they care about. We should not over-hype, because if you can be critical and open about it, people will trust you, says Bongaerts.

Read the original post:
Getting the Most from Biotech: Precision Engineering and Partnership - BioSpace

Posted in Human Genetic Engineering | Comments Off on Getting the Most from Biotech: Precision Engineering and Partnership – BioSpace