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Archive for November, 2019

#1,580 – Tooth Enamel Gel

Like most people I hate going to the dentist.  So much so, that I’ve even debated an extreme approach: trying to avoid going at all until stem cell technology capable of regrowing teeth goes mainstream.  After all, why sit through a painful root canal now when I could just wait out a pain free approach that’s right around the corner.

Well, as it turns out I may not have to wait that long.  In fact, I may not even have to wait for stem cell technology at all.  Instead there may soon be a simple gel that could help regrow tooth enamel in a matter of days.  At least if early research on rats is to be believed.

According to Futurism, “A team of scientists says that it’s finally figured out how to regrow tooth enamel, a development that could totally upend dental care.

Normally, tooth enamel doesn’t grow back once it breaks or wears away — which is why dentists currently resort to plugging the gaps with artificial fillings. But researchers from China’s Zhejiang University and Jiujiang Research Institute developed a gel that they say can help mouse teeth regrow enamel within 48 hours, according to research published last week in the journal Science Advances.”

For your sake and mine let’s hope that this research continues to develop and works just as well in humans as it does in mice.

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Is a gel that regrows tooth enamel the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The manner and way in which we go food shopping has undergone several dramatic shifts over time thanks to the development of new technologies.  From coupons and bar codes to electronic scanners and self-checkout lines, getting groceries is a high-tech operation.  Even your shopping cart is full of tech, capable of shutting down if you try to take it home with you.  Soon, we may even get to the point where we don’t even have to wait in line at all to check out, our bill automatically added up while we shop.

Further Sci-Fi innovations are on the way as well.  Thanks to Synthetic Biology we may even have packages of meat that change color in line with their freshness.  But that’s just the start.  Thanks to a new wearable device we’ll even be able to align our food choices to our DNA.  That’s right.  We can now go food shopping armed with the knowledge of which specific foods are best for us.

World Economic Forum, “By analyzing the part of your genetic code determining susceptibility to nutrition-related health conditions like diabetes, DNANudge tells you which foods are best for you, and which you should avoid.

The wristband scans shop barcodes and shows a green light if a product is OK and red if it may be harmful in the long run. The wristband’s linked smartphone app suggests healthier alternatives when the red light comes on.”

This app could be bad news for Madison Avenue if it catches on and people blindly decide to follow its advice.  After all, what’s the point of paying huge sums to Olympic athletes to appear on a box of Wheaties if celebrity endorsements won’t move the needle anymore; if the only thing that will sway sentiment is DNANudge, not nostalgia, your emotions, impulses, cravings, or the fact that you are hangry at the moment.

But it’ll also be good news for foodies, the healthcare industry, the Quantified Self Movement, and anyone else at all interested in staying healthy, maximizing their full potential, and living longer.  Making it the latest in a long line of food shopping related innovations and begging the question: what is still to come?

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Is DNANudge the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Researchers from the University of Sussex have developed some of the coolest technology I have ever encountered: holograms that you can see, hear, and even feel!

As Gizmodo explains:

“The technology isn’t limited to just creating a neat effect for the eyes. In addition to zipping the foam bead around to create the outlines of shapes, the transducers can also make it vibrate at frequencies that create sound waves, particularly those that fall within the range of human hearing. So not only could the bead be manipulated to create the image of a talking face, but it could also function as a tiny speaker so the face talked too. But that’s not all. The researchers believe they could take things one step further to create ultrasonic sound waves at frequencies that could be felt as a tactile sensation. The flapping wings of a butterfly in flight could be felt if someone placed their hands close enough to the hologram.”

Holograms have long shown promise as educational tools or methods of communication, enabling us to view schematics or interact with people who aren’t really there.  But this technology points to holograms evolving beyond that.  Perhaps even getting to the point where they could one day become a viable alternative to Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality technology, enabling us to live alongside or play interactive games with life-like, fully functional avatars of our closest friends.

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Is a hologram that you can hear and feel the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Back in September, The Verge recapped the Netflix documentary about the life of Bill Gates in the following manner:

“Each episode of Inside Bill’s Brain focuses on one of the foundation’s major initiatives: improving sewage conditions in developing countries, eradicating polio, and developing a cleaner, safer form of nuclear power. Each of the three parts shifts rapidly between interviews, biographical material, and fly-on-the-wall footage of the Gates team’s philanthropic missions. Guggenheim eschews traditional transitions, and instead jumps from subject to subject, even when there’s no clear connection between them. The point, apparently, is to replicate Bill Gates’ thought processes. Having spent most of his adult life (and even some of his teenage years) juggling multiple complicated projects, Gates doesn’t have the kind of mind that functions in neat, straight lines.”

Now, just two months later, it seems that Netflix may want to order a second season.  For Gates was apparently juggling another complicated project this whole time: a company that could revolutionize solar energy and make a significant impact in the fight against Climate Change.

According to CNN:

Heliogen, a clean energy company that emerged from stealth mode on Tuesday, said it has discovered a way to use artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors to reflect so much sunlight that it generates extreme heat above 1,000 degrees Celsius.

Essentially, Heliogen created a solar oven — one capable of reaching temperatures that are roughly a quarter of what you’d find on the surface of the sun.

The breakthrough means that, for the first time, concentrated solar energy can be used to create the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, glass and other industrial processes. In other words, carbon-free sunlight can replace fossil fuels in a heavy carbon-emitting corner of the economy that has been untouched by the clean energy revolution.”

This is a tremendous breakthrough.  One that further cements Gates legacy as the greatest technophilanthropist of our time and begs the question: what subject is he going to jump to next?

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Is Heliogen the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,576 – Unsinkable Metal

It may be too late to save the Titanic but that hasn’t stopped scientists from inventing an unsinkable metal that could be used in the construction of floating cities or to help ships stay afloat.

According to Business Insider, “The scientists used lasers to carve tiny grooves into the surface of an aluminum disk. These etchings trapped air, forming a protective barrier that caused water droplets to slide off the metal surface.

But if the metal was held underwater long enough, the grooves would eventually fill up with water instead of air, the researchers found. So they placed two of the etched metal disks on either end of a small pillar, with the etched sides facing inward. They left a gap in the center that’s small enough to prevent water from entering. That creates an air bubble that helps the array to float.”

But that’s not all!  Far from the ocean this research could even help out in developing countries.

“Guo’s research has also shown that just a few droplets of water are sufficient to rid the metal of dirt. So he’s been working with the Gates Foundation to understand how these properties could improve sanitation in developing countries. Latrines made out of similar etched metal, for example, could be easier to clean.”

At this rate this new material may be more than unsinkable.  It may soon be unstoppable.

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Is an unsinkable metal the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,575 – MediSieve

They power MRI machines, make stereos, earphones, and televisions possible, and help us store data in computers.  They even help seal the doors to refrigerators and freezers.  Magnets as it turns out, are extremely useful, and are instrumental in the development and deployment of several key technologies.  And now we can add one more trick to their resume: curing diseases.  For it may soon be possible to remove diseases from our blood using the power of magnetism! A neat trick that shouldn’t be all that hard to pull off.

As Futurism reports:

“Thanks to existing research, biochemical scientist George Frodsham knew it was possible to force magnetic nanoparticles to bind to specific cells in the body. But while other researchers did so primarily to make those cells show up in images, he wondered whether the same technique might allow doctors to remove unwanted cells from the blood.

‘When someone has a tumor you cut it out,’ he told The Telegraph. ‘Blood cancer is a tumor in the blood, so why not just take it out in the same way?’

To that end, he created MediSieve, a treatment technology that works similarly to dialysis, by removing a patient’s blood and infusing it with magnetic nanoparticles designed to bind to a specific disease. It then uses magnets to draw out and trap those cells before pumping the filtered blood back into the patient.

The idea is that doctors could run a person’s blood through the machine several times until their levels of the disease are low enough to be wiped out by drugs or even the patient’s own immune system.”

Personally, I love this idea as it’s an ingenious solution that takes advantage of existing technologies and scientific knowledge.  A leveling up of skills that is the hallmark of scientific endeavor.  Hopefully, it winds up working as well in practice as in theory.

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Is MediSieve the Greatest Idea Ever?

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According to published reports Instagram is considering doing the unthinkable: testing a new model in the U.S. that would do away with public likes.  The rationale is simple: get us to stop comparing ourselves to each other.  With no need to compete with one another we’ll go back to posting pictures for the love of the game.  For the pure joy of it.

But this approach is problematic.  First of all, influencers and brands rely on public likes to prove their worth and establish their credibility.  How will people get paid and/or discovered if no one knows how influential they actually are?

A concern that is the least of Instagram’s worries.  As Wired puts it, “Balancing the needs of artists, brands, and the average user is difficult. But [CEO Adam] Mosseri emphasized that Instagram will always place the needs of people first. ‘It means we’re going to put a 15-year-old kid’s interests before a public speaker’s interest,’ he says. ‘When we look at the world of public content, we’re going to put people in that world before organizations and corporations.’”

But if that’s the case, if Instagram is really putting users first, then don’t you have to remove likes entirely?  Make it so that users can’t see their own likes either.  After all, aren’t we competing with ourselves just as much as we are with others? Tying our own self-worth to how many likes we get? Complaining that nobody likes us when we aren’t getting enough attention.  Becoming inspired to keep posting when we do thanks to the effects of positive feedback loops.  If you’re going to remove likes, don’t you have to remove them everywhere? Across the board?

Not that I would want that to happen for that would make using Instagram kind of pointless.  How would that even work? Would you just type the word “like” into the comments if you wanted to like something? Would you just like it on Facebook instead? How would you even know if what your posting is good or not, if people want to see it or not, if there is no opportunity to obtain feedback?

In my opinion, the solution isn’t to do away with likes, it’s to grow thicker skin.  To not care as much about what other people think about you.  Not concern yourself as much with metrics, branding, public appearances, and all the rest.

I know that’s easier said than done.  But it’s something that I’ve already been doing.  A year ago if I posted a picture that only garnered a few likes I would delete it.  Clearly, it wasn’t up to my lofty standards.  But now when it happens I wear it like a badge of honor.  That picture is good…I’m just the only one who realizes it.  I’m ahead of my time.  Ahead of the pack.  A true trend setter.  A real taste maker.  Everyone else will catch up with me eventually.

And that’s the way it should be.  Post for yourself.  Don’t worry about anything else.  The rest will take care of itself.

 

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Is Instagram ending likes the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,573 – Prime Editing

Of all the new ideas, scientific breakthroughs, and transformative technologies that I’ve written about, CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing has the chance to make the biggest impact; saving the world several times over by eradicating diseases and creating more sustainable crops and biofuels.  It also pales in comparison to a new gene editing technique that may very well have the potential to cure almost all diseases.

As Wired explains, “The system, which [David] Liu’s lab has dubbed ‘prime editing,’ can for the first time make virtually any alteration—additions, deletions, swapping any single letter for any other—without severing the DNA double helix. “If Crispr-Cas9 is like scissors and base editors are like pencils, then you can think of prime editors to be like word processors,” Liu told reporters in a press briefing.

Why is that a big deal? Because with such fine-tuned command of the genetic code, prime editing could, according to Liu’s calculations, correct around 89 percent of the mutations that cause heritable human diseases. Working in human cell cultures, his lab has already used prime editors to fix the genetic glitches that cause sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and Tay-Sachs disease. Those are just three of more than 175 edits the group unveiled…”

Considering the challenges associated with gene-editing – the precision required, the specific instructions needed, the blind faith in the cell’s machinery to follow the instructions and make the required edits – it’s no surprise that if often doesn’t go according to plan.  For all its promise, it’s far from full-proof.  Prime editing on the other hand, is light years beyond CAS-9’s capabilities.  As David Liu put it, we’re talking about the difference between crudely using scissors to make edits and using Microsoft word to cut and paste.

Here’s exactly how it works:

“prime editor is a little different. Its enzyme is actually two that have been fused together—a molecule that acts like a scalpel combined with something called a reverse transcriptase, which converts RNA into DNA. His RNA guide is a little different too: It not only finds the DNA in need of fixing, but also carries a copy of the edit to be made. When it locates its target DNA, it makes a little nick, and the reverse transcriptase starts adding the corrected sequence of DNA letter by letter, like the strikers on a typewriter. The result is two redundant flaps of DNA—the original and the edited strand. Then the cell’s DNA repair machinery swoops in to cut away the original (marked as it is with that little nick), permanently installing the desired edit.”

Now, prime editing isn’t perfect.  The size of these larger molecules may be difficult to deliver into the body.  Mistakes can still happen.  But at the very least it shows us what’s possible.  Shows us that when it comes to gene editing we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what may be possible.

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Is Prime Editing the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Long a staple of science fiction, the idea of creating designer babies may soon come to fruition thanks to Genomic Prediction, a New Jersey based company promising to unveil a screening test capable of rooting out several illnesses and less desirable traits.

M.I.T. Technology Review adds:  “Handed report cards on a batch of frozen embryos, parents can use the test results to try to choose the healthiest ones. The grades include risk estimates for diabetes, heart attacks, and five types of cancer.  According to flyers distributed by the company, it will also warn clients about any embryo predicted to become a person who is among the shortest 2% of the population, or who is in the lowest 2% in intelligence.”

The last part is going to be worrisome to ethicists fearful of eugenic campaigns that could target certain features or groups of people.  If the technology is ever going to become prevalent it’s going to have to clear moral, ethical, and legal hurdles along those lines.  And while I see their point I can’t help but wonder if Genomic Prediction is on the right track.  Instead of spending millions of dollars trying to cure cancer we could decrease the likelihood that it ever occurs in the first place.  Medical costs would be reduced.  Lifespans lengthened.  The dream of every parent – to ensure that their child has a healthy and happy life – kept intact. It’s a win-win situation all around.  Or is it?

Well, that’s where things get interesting.  While we can all agree that rooting out illness is a good thing, editing for desirable traits like intelligence blurs the moral lines, starting us down a slippery slope where we play God, take control over evolutionary forces that we don’t fully understand, and wind up creating an alternate species of genetically enhanced people who declare war on those they deem to be inferior.  Far-fetched? Perhaps.  Beyond the realm of possibility? Definitely not.

Personally, I feel like it’s worth the risk.  Any opportunity that we have to push the envelope, to develop new technologies, to surpass our natural limits – is an opportunity well worth taking IMO.  Just as it was with Stem Cell research.  Just as it’s going to be with AI going forward.  Holding ourselves back out of fear of the unknown is just going to hold us back in the long run.  Instead we should be cognizant of the risks and plan accordingly around them.  Put in safeguards to ensure that this new technology develops in lock step with our moral guidelines.  That way we can ensure that we gain the advantages that the technology affords us without running into any of the backlash that often accompanies breakthrough technologies.

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Is Genomic Prediction the Greatest Idea Ever?

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