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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

This next idea is a real doozy.  Mind-blowing would be an apt description.  Especially since it involves literally blowing up your mind.  Or at least editing it.  That’s right.  Scientists at the University of California Berkley are actually working on a hologram projecting device that would enable them to manipulate thousands of the brain’s neurons at once allowing for the mind to be hacked and memories replaced or added at will.

So how does this scary, yet amazing, brain-editing technology work?!

As The Next Web describes:

“The researchers successfully activated and deactivated specific groups of neurons in the brains of mice by projecting holograms directly onto them through a ‘window’ in the animals’ heads. This method allows the team to manipulate precise neuron groups, hundreds of times per second, in an imitation of the brain’s natural response to stimulus.  This research indicates the potential exists for complete ‘editing’ of the brain. The scientists hope to decode the brain’s ‘language’ and learn to replicate it – a breakthrough which could give us god-like control over our thoughts, memories, senses, and feelings.”

This technology would obviously be a huge boon for those suffering from PTSD or anyone else in need of replacing painful memories with more positive ones.  Such as someone suffering from chronic pain.  The technology could potentially also be used to help amputees control their prosthetic limbs in a more natural way.  However, there are obvious commercial implications as well.  As people may one day look to trick their brains into responding to artificial stimuli Total Recall style.

So what do you think?  Would you want to “edit” your brain in the future?  To get rid of traumatic memories?  Or to trick your mind into thinking you’ve done things that you’ve never done before?  Or would you prefer a more natural life experience, for better or for worse?

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Is a brain editing device the Greatest Idea Ever?

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It’s enough of a struggle trying to find true love without having one hand tied behind your back. And yet that’s the reality facing millions of men around the world who have to contend with the onslaught of male pattern baldness.  Sure plenty of men who are either bald or going bald still find love.  Some women don’t care about looks.  And some men even embrace their new looks, going full Michael Jordan.  But for others, dealing with losing one’s hair is just yet another setback in the on-going pursuit of happiness.  Luckily, men in the future won’t have to worry about baldness at all.  Thanks to yet another accidental discovery.

According to Time, “Researchers may have discovered a new cure for baldness using a drug initially intended to treat osteoporosis.  Scientists from the University of Manchester say the drug,WAY-316606, stimulated hair growth in the lab by targeting a protein that halts hair growth and contributes to baldness, BBC reports.

They were originally testing Cyclosporine A, an immunosuppressive drug that has been used since the 1980s to stop rejections in organ transplants and mitigate symptoms of autoimmune diseases.  While it was found to suppress hair loss, Cyclosporine A had side-effects that made it unsuitable. So the team went on looking for a drug with similar attributes; they found it in WAY-316606.”

Hopefully, the promising research will continue and a commercial product will hit the market.  And hopefully, sooner rather than later.  At least for my sake.

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Is a cure for baldness the Greatest Idea Ever?

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May is mental health awareness month which makes it the perfect time to talk about an idea that I have for a deluxe fitness tracker that would track our state of mind.  For now this idea is purely conceptual.  I have no idea how to make such a product.  But I think the idea has merit.  Primarily because of how under-served the mental health market is.  In fact, according to a recent survey, over 80% of respondents believed that there should be more options available for childhood mental health services.  This on top of recent news that as many as 1 in 5 Americans are suffering from depression.

So, if we’re basically all depressed and full of unresolved teenage angst wouldn’t it make sense to leverage technology in order to tackle this problem head on?  Fitness trackers are great in their own right but counting steps and measuring heart rates is only scratching the surface of what a health monitoring app ought to do.  There’s a ton of other information that would be insanely valuable to know about.  Such as, everything that’s going on between our ears.

Think of it like a mood ring of sorts.  Just by looking at this tracker you could quickly find out what’s bothering you.  You may think this kind of information would be obvious.  That you would be in touch with your feelings and know when something is off but that’s not always the case.  You could be secretly depressed without even realizing it.  Your endorphins and adrenaline rushes masking what’s really effecting you beneath the surface.  Case in point: you receive some bad news.  People ask how you’re doing.  You put on a brave face and say everything is fine.  You keep up appearances.  But truth be told, you’re really hurting on the inside.  Wouldn’t it be great then if you had a mental health tracker to tell you exactly how much you were hurting?  If you could tell, by looking at a particular measurement, if you really were fine or if you really ought to talk to someone ASAP before doing irreparable harm to your psyche.

Emotions aside, perhaps this tracker could also monitor everything else going on inside your brain.  If it could measure your memory capacity, your spatial awareness, your powers of deduction, your reflex time, your tiredness, your general mental aptitude, etc.  For instance, imagine using this information to make the potential life-saving decision to not drive home late at night because of warning signs indicating that you would be at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.  Or imagine making the decision to read a book over watching TV because your visual cortex was already dangerously overworked for the day while the logic and reasoning part of your brain wasn’t getting enough attention.  Or better yet, imagine studying for a test and finding out when you could stop, because you found out that the memory stores in your brain were filled up and that studying more wouldn’t make any more of a difference.

Just think about how much time we could be saving, how many better decisions we could be making.  Just think about what this could mean for our society, if instead of snapping at one another, we could know ahead of time that we need to start calming down because our rage quotient was trending up.

All of that and more may one day be possible.  All thanks to a fitness tracker that monitors the activity of our biggest muscle of all: the brain.

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Is a fitness tracker for mental health the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing technique is one of the most revolutionary technologies out there.  We already knew about its potential to cure diseases but as time goes on more and more uses are being discovered for it.  Such as its ability to also genetically modify food crops.  And now it’s ability to be used as a diagnostic tool.

As The Verge puts it, “A new biotech company co-founded by CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna [Mammoth Biosciences] is developing a device that uses CRISPR to detect all kinds of diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and Zika. The tech is still just in prototype phase, but research in the field is showing promising results. These CRISPR-based diagnostic tools have the potential to revolutionize how we test for diseases in the hospital, or even at home.”

But, wait.  There’s more!

“The same technology could be used in agriculture, to determine what’s making animals sick or what sorts of microbes are found in soil, or even in the oil and gas industry, to detect corrosive microbes in pipelines…”

Proving that once again, CRISPR is full of surprises.

So how exactly dose this amazing new technology work?

According to Futurism:

“ The user first places a sample on the kit’s credit-card-sized piece of paper. This sample could be urine, blood, or saliva (which one will likely depend on what is needed for the particular test). Then, a CRISPR protein and its RNA guide search that sample for specific sequences of DNA or RNA. These sequences could be indicative for diseases such as malaria and Zika; a single test could look for multiple diseases.

If one of those sequences turns up, the CRISPR system snips it. It also snips what Mammoth calls a ‘reporter molecule,’ which produces a color that’s visible to the naked eye. Take a photo of your piece of paper, and the smartphone app will tell you what CRISPR turned up in your sample.”

It really is that easy.  Perhaps eventually we’d even get to the point where we don’t have to go to the doctor at all.  CRISPR to the rescue once again.

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Is an at-home CRISPR kit the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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A group of researchers have announced plans to sequence the genome of nearly every living thing on planet Earth.  If you thought the Human Genome Project was ambitious you ain’t seen nothing yet!

The goal of the Earth BioGenome Project is to sequence the genome of eurakyotes i.e. everything that contains a nucleus.  Which is pretty much everything (plants, animals, etc.) with the exception of bacteria.

This is quite the undertaking.  And an expensive one at that.  It took nearly $5 billion and 13 years to sequence the human genome.  Doing the same thing for the rest of life on Earth would seemingly take forever and be too expensive to pull off.  And yet here we are.  With a goal of $4.7 billion and ten years.  How is that even possible?

In a word: motivation.  For we are talking about creating new drugs, generating new sources of food, counteracting Climate Change, and doing a host of other things that may very well determine the future of the species.  When the stakes are this high you don’t take no for an answer.

To start out, just think about what this project could mean for drug discovery alone.  Considering that we’ve only scratched the surface of discovering drugs in nature this research could open up a myriad of possibilities.

According to Futurism:

“So far, scientists have only sequenced the DNA of .2 percent of all known eukaryotic species. That’s helped scientists discover and understand a number of medications that exist in nature, from morphine to aspirin. What kinds of potentially life-saving compounds remain hidden in the other 99.8 percent of un-sequenced species (or in the estimated 10 million to 15 million unknown species)?”

But that’s not all.  In addition to drug discovery there are plenty of other benefits that this project could have as well.  Such as helping researchers, “hone in on new sources of food to nourish the planet’s growing population and new resources for helping us take care of its soil, air, and water.”

A good example of this would be cockroach milk.  It’s said that the milk from the Pacific Beatle Cockroach contains 3x as much protein as milk from cows.  Sequencing the genome of everything would help us determine if there’s something else out there that would work even better.  Perhaps with 30x the protein.  Or 200x the protein.  Until we get in there and conduct the research we just don’t know.

It’ll be quite the undertaking for sure.  But as the researchers state in their inaugural paper it’ll be worth it:

“The greatest legacy of the EBP will be the gift of knowledge — a complete Digital Library of Life that contains the collective biological intelligence of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary history.  This knowledge will guide future discoveries for generations and may ultimately determine the survival of life on our planet.”

Amen to that.

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Is the Earth BioGenome Project the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Some of the greatest discoveries of all-time have happened by accident.  The Microwave.  Play-Doh.  Viagra.  The list goes on and on.  And now there’s a new entrant: plastic eating enzymes.

When it comes to serendipitous inventions, plastic eating enzyme doesn’t sound that sexy.  On face value it pales in comparison to the Pacemaker or even the Slinky.  But when you consider how important it’s job is (cleaning up the ocean) it takes the cake.  Especially when you consider that the great Pacific trash pile is now twice the size of Texas.

According to CNET, “The creation of the enzyme came by accident when the team, led by Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth, UK, tweaked a bacterium they had discovered in a waste dump in Japan in 2016. The bacterium had naturally evolved to eat plastic, and the scientists inadvertently made it even better at breaking down polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, the plastic used for drink bottles. The break-down process starts in a matter of days, not the centuries it can take in the ocean.”

Considering how much plastic there is that needs to be cleaned up this is great news.  Proving the old adage, that when it comes to science, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

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Is a plastic eating enzyme the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Mark Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill. The FBI raiding Trump’s lawyer.  The chemical attack in Syria.  With so much going on its easy to lose sight of scientific breakthroughs when they happen.  But this latest one you’re going to want to hear about.  Because it could change everything.

That’s right.  We may have a way to combat Climate Change, to cure diseases, to engineer vaccines, to do it all.  To do anything we want to do when it comes to manipulating the natural world.  Because we can now control the process by which proteins are made, allowing us to make new ones that aren’t found naturally.  New ones with the ability to solve any problem we want.

The New Zealand Herald quotes the lead doctor on the project, Effie Fan, to explain how it works.

‘Everything in nature, from humans to bacteria, is made of proteins, and through evolution proteins can change in a certain way to solve certain problems – like making people immune to a disease,’ [Dr. Effie] Fan explained.

‘But evolution is a slow process, and there are some problems – like cancer, viral epidemics, and climate change – that we don’t have time for nature to solve on its own. The goal of our field of science is to manipulate proteins in the lab to solve these problems soon.’”

For my money this is one of the most exciting fields of science out there.  Right up there with CRISPR gene editing and Synthetic Biology.  A field of science with unlimited potential.  With the ability to speed up evolution and fix anything and everything that ails us.  It just doesn’t get much better than that.

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A new method of creating proteins could solve Climate Change and all other natural world issues.

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