It’s time for the latest edition of “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”, the game show that pits seemingly unethical science against potentially catastrophic predictions. In today’s competition, scientists in China (one point already for the catastrophic team) announce they used gene-editing to place human brain genes in rhesus macaque monkeys and it made their brains smarter. Cue the music from every “Planet of the Apes” movie and let the game begin!
“The presented data represents the first attempt to experimentally interrogate the genetic basis of human brain origin using a transgenic monkey model, and it values the use of nonhuman primates in understanding human unique traits.”
If the opening paragraph of the new study, “Transgenic rhesus monkeys carrying the human MCPH1 gene copies show human-like neoteny of brain development,” published recently in the journal National Science Review, is any indication, scientists are learning from lawyers how to protect their clients/experiments by hiding them in clouds of big, confusing words and phrases. Experimentally interrogate?
China Daily reports that researchers from the Beijing-based National Science Review, the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of North Carolina (that’s in the U.S. – looks like it’s playing for the Seemingly Unethicals) edited human MCPH1 genes – a gene that is critical in fetal brain development because it controls brain size and rate of growth – and created 11 transgenic (a cloud word meaning “artificially carrying DNA from an unrelated organism”) monkeys. Eight of those monkeys were first-generation and three were second-generation, obliterating the ‘artificial’ part of ‘transgenic’ by getting their human genes from their monkey parents.
“According to the research article, brain imaging and tissue section analysis showed an altered pattern of neuron differentiation and a delayed maturation of the neural system, which is similar to the developmental delay (neoteny) in humans.”
In other words, the monkeys showed the human trait of slow brain development (neoteny) rather than the rapid growth of normal monkey brains. What was the benefit of this slow growth?
“The study also found that the transgenic monkeys exhibited better short-term memory and shorter reaction time compared to wild rhesus monkeys in the control group.”
To put it bluntly — even the monkeys could understand the results because the human genes made them smarter!
Ding-ding-ding! That bell means it’s time to play the lightning “What could possibly go wrong?” round.
Time-out called by the Potentially Catastrophics. In a shocking and somewhat honorable display of conscience, Martin Styner, a University of North Carolina computer scientist and coauthor of the Chinese report, told the MIT Technology Review that his role was merely to train Chinese student on how to extract brain volume data from MRI images and, after learning the true purpose, considered removing his name from the paper, which he claims could not find a publisher in the West. Styner then throws his “What could possibly go wrong?” pitch:
“I don’t think that is a good direction. Now we have created this animal which is different than it is supposed to be. When we do experiments, we have to have a good understanding of what we are trying to learn, to help society, and that is not the case here.”
Unfortunately, that pitch didn’t strike out Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the research. He told the MIT Technology Review he is planning to create more smart monkeys and is planning to test another gene — SRGAP2C – which has been called the “humanity switch” and the “missing genetic link” because it appeared about two million years ago when Australopithecus (the Southern Ape) was being replaced by the smarter Homo habilis.
Putting the “humanity switch” in a monkey? What could possibly go wrong? This game isn’t over … it’s barely starting. Is this progress … or an unethical march down the field to unforeseen consequences?
If we’ve learned anything from “Planet of the Apes,” it’s that if this game goes into overtime, it won’t be a sudden death.
Source: Mysterious Universe
Quantum Physicists Have Successfully Teleported A Qutrit For The Very First Time
Quantum teleportation has been a term related to qubits for the longest time and recently, researchers have successfully teleported ‘qutrits’. The research published on American Physical Society is a major breakthrough that will propel the quantum computation prowess to incredibly faster speeds.
Scientists have been able to teleport qubits, Quantum Bits of information that have binary states – 0 or 1 – but qutrits have three possible states – 0, 1 and 2. Qubits and qutrits have the property of being able to exist in multiple states at the same time, i.e. superposition which allows for amazing applications in quantum computing.
Quantum Teleportation is based on quantum entanglement, through which the properties of a quantum particle can be transferred to a distant particle without physical movement of the particle itself. It is nothing like the ‘Warp Speed’ or ‘Warp Drive’ that has been popularized in sci-fi but rather, it is just two interlinked particles revealing the properties of the other particle. Quantum teleportation is possible by using photons which carry the quantum information about the two possible states in case of qubits or three possible states as in qutrits.
Splitting the photon into three beams through the use of an intricate contraption consisting of calibrated setup of lasers, beam splitters and barium boratecrystals, the researcher created their qutrits. They also said that it could be possible to use ququarts in the future. With 0.75 fidelity over 12 states of entanglement, the researchers were able to prove that qutrit teleportation is possible.
The research will surely propel the quantum technology to the next level as quantum teleportation is an integral part of quantum computing applications.
“Thousands of Solar Reflector Satellites” Could Warm Up Mars
But he might have a plan B up his sleeve that wouldn’t risk turning the Red Planet into a gigantic planet-sized Chernobyl.
“Might make sense to have thousands of solar reflector satellites to warm Mars versus artificial suns,” Musk tweeted on Tuesday. Then he added, cautiously: “TBD.”
That idea might not be as crazy as it sounds: using orbital mirrors to terraform Mars was suggested by University of Arizona undergrad Rigel Woida back in 2006 — a suggestion that won him a NASA fellowship at the time.
According to Woida’s paper from 2007, the idea was to have a “network of two to three hundred, 150 meter diameter reflectors in monolith form or a series of small clustered groups” to warm the Martian surface.
Musk also elaborated on his Plan A — “nuke Mars” — on Twitter: drop a “continuous stream of very low fallout nuclear fusion explosions above the atmosphere to create artificial suns.” After all, the Sun is technically an “immense thermonuclear explosion” itself, as he explained last week.
But for that to ever happen, NASA would have to change its stance on the matter. Just over a year ago, NASA research found that nuking Mars wouldn’t be enough to turn it into an Earth-like holiday destination.
READ MORE: Elon Musk ponders solar reflectors instead of nuking Mars to warm it up [CNET]
We Have a Cure for the Deadliest Form of Tuberculosis
The Food and Drug Administration just approved the third and final part of a new drug regimen shown to cure the deadliest strain of tuberculosis.
The regimen involves taking five pills every day for six months straight, but that’s nothing compared to the existing treatment, which requires 40 daily pills for two years, according to The New York Times. And in a small clinical trial, the new treatment was shown to cure the rare, deadly XDR strain of tuberculosis in 90 percent of people, suggesting that the disease could soon become much more manageable.
Tuberculosis is still a major problem in a large chunk of the world. The disease is the most common infectious cause of death on Earth, the NYT writes, and the XDR strain had already built up a resistance to all four types of antibiotics that doctors currently use to treat it.
Ten million people catch XDR tuberculosis every year. Three-quarters of those people die before they get any treatment, per the NYT, and existing cures only worked on just over a third of the remainders.
The new treatment requires three separate drugs, the newest of which just got FDA approval. Gerald Friedland, one of the scientists who discovered the XDR strain told the NYT that he thought the recent experiment was “a wonderful trial.”
“If this works as well as it seems to,” he said, “we need to do this now.”
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