GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – MARCH 2019

China’s Gene-Edited Babies May Become Super Smart

 New research indicates that the controversial use of CRISPR gene-editing on twin girls in China last year might have inadvertently improved their cognitive capacities, including their ability to learn and form memories, leading to a renewed debate about whether designer babies are going to become a reality in the very near future.

The twin girls, Lulu and Nana, allegedly had their genes modified prior to birth, with the stated goal of making the girls immune to HIV infection.

The gene that was supposedly modified using CRISPR is CCR5, which the HIV virus needs to inject itself into human blood cells. However, it also has well-established links to cognitive abilities in mice and memory formation and also helped the human brain recover after a stroke.

Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been studying the links between human cognition, memory formation, and CCR5 for years.

In 2016, Silva and Miou Zhou, a professor at the Western University of Health Sciences in California, showed how removing the CCR5 gene from mice provided a significant boost to their memory.

 

Feeling Really Unwell? It May Be Time To Plan Your Cyberfuneral

When you die, your physical body will slowly decay, or be sent to a crematorium or dissolved in a tank filled with potassium hydroxide. But that pesky digital corpse? That’s going to be around for a while, like a data soul stuck in online purgatory, never to receive salvation. Unless, of course, you set it free.

All you need to do is organise a cyber funeral. Thanks to recent changes to privacy legislation in Europe and South Korea aimed at protecting the living, we now have more power than ever over our personal information – even from beyond the grave. While this may have felt like a gimmick in the past, cyber funerals – where our personal data is removed from the web posthumously – are slowly becoming a viable option.

But why might you want to book yourself in for an appointment with an online undertaker? While friends, family – or even a legal team – might tidy up someone’s offline affairs, a digital legacy is still left to chance. An online funeral can help expunge articles or blogposts that mention spent convictions or ensure social media accounts and other online ephemera are locked down and left in good order. Simply put, when you die in the real world, it’s only right and proper that you also die on Facebook. And Instagram. And Google.

Uber Developing Bikes and Scooters That Dock Themselves

Uber is hiring engineers to develop electric scooters and bicycles which can drive themselves around citiesin order to reach customers and charging points.

Electric scooter and bicycle-sharing services, including Uber’s Jump business as well as competitors Bird and Lime, allow customers to collect the vehicles and then leave them on the pavement outside their destination.

The businesses then pay contractors to collect, charge and repair the scooters and bicycles overnight when they’re not in use. It’s a costly logistical operation which significantly reduces profits for the operators.

Gut Bacteria Can Turn Your Genes On and Off

 Imagine a tiny microbe living inside you with the power to control the activity of your DNA. Scientists are increasingly discovering how much control our gut bacteria may actually have over us, with a new study describing how individual bacteria can secrete a molecule that literally turns genes off or on.

Epigenetics is a field of study looking at what mechanisms turn specific genes on or off. Separate to our hard-coded DNA, certain external influences can either enhance the expression of a gene or silence it altogether. We know that gut bacteria can modulate the expression of certain genes, potentially influencing the onset of a variety of autoimmune diseases. However, it is unclear exactly how these tiny microbes actually do this.

A fascinating new study has revealed for the first time that certain bacteria can secrete a compound called nitric oxide which is known to regulate gene expression. The researchers describe this interaction between host and bacteria as a form of “interspecies communication.”

First Israeli-Private Moon Landing Mission Is Under Way

Space history was made last week as the first private mission to the Moon lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Israel’s Beresheet lunar landerwas lofted into space atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to begin its two-month voyage to its landing site north of Mare Serenitatis.

Surprisingly for a lunar mission, Beresheet (Hebrew for “Genesis”) was not the star of this show, but a ride-along payload for SpaceX’s Nusantara Satu mission to deliver a communication satellite for PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN), a leading Asian provider of satellite-based telecommunication services, into Earth orbit along with the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) S5. The night launch took place under clear skies using a previously flown Falcon 9 first stage. No major malfunctions occurred, and the payloads were deployed at approximately 33 and 44 min after lift-off.

Built and operated by the non-profit SpaceIL organization, Beresheet was originally developed for the Google Lunar X-Prize, which ended without a winner, and is the smallest lander ever sent to the Moon with a mass of only 1,322 lb (600 kg).

Success would put Israel on the map as the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface. That is, if it gets there in time. India is also planning to launch a moon mission in mid-April and take a much faster route. Depending on when lift-off happens, it could nab that fourth spot right from under SpaceIL’s rover wheels.

US Will Not Share Intelligence With Allies Using Huawei

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has confirmed that Uncle Sam will no longer provide top-secret intelligenceto countries that use Huawei equipment in their core networks.

Speaking to Fox Business, Pompeo said allies using the Chinese vendor’s gear in their critical infrastructure can’t be trusted to keep confidential info hush-hush, for fear their equipment might be bugged and transmitting US intelligence back to Beijing.

“If a country adopts this and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won’t be able to share information with them,” Pompeo said. “In some cases there’s risk – we won’t even be able to co-locate American resources, an American embassy and American military outpost.”

The statements more or less formalise a series of hints the US has been dropping in recent months to European governments that they should not adopt Huawei devices in their core networks. Earlier this month, Pompeo hinted that America would withhold intel from countries that were using Huawei gear, but until now had stopped short of declaring a firm policy.

Kalashnikov Builds Kamikaze Drone

Kalashnikov is undoubtedly best known for its AK-47, but these days the Russian manufacturing giant has its fingers in all sorts of pies. Joining a hoverbike, an electric all-terrain motorbike and a car in its portfolio of future-focused projects is a sacrificial military dronedesigned crash into the ground, taking targets down remotely with it on impact.

The fixed-wing drone was developed together with fellow Russian aerial vehicle outfit Zala Aero Group and has been dubbed KUB-UAV. Describing it as a “high-precision attack unmanned aerial system,” Kalashnikov says the aircraft is designed to remotely destroy ground targets by delivering a presumably explosive 3-kg (6.6 lb) payload to a set of coordinates or an imaged target.

Kalashnikov also says the kamikaze-style drone will be highly accurate, capable of hidden launches and operate in silence. It is designed to fly for up to 30 minutes at speeds of 80 to 130 km/h (50 to 80 mph). It measures 121 x 95 x 16.5 cm (47 x 37 x 6.5 in) and has apparently been successfully tested and is ready for use.

Harnessing Electricity From Wi-Fi Signals

In a new step towards truly wireless charging, engineers have developed an ultra-thin device that captures Wi-Fi signals and converts them into electricity.

The new system is based on existing devices called rectifying antennas, or rectennas. These capture AC electromagnetic waves in the air – such as Wi-Fi signals – and convert them into DC electricity. But most of them are rigid and, being made with silicon or gallium arsenide, are best suited to powering small electronics. So the team on the new study set out to develop a new rectenna that’s flexible enough to be scaled up to much larger sizes.

For the new design, the team made the rectifier – the component that converts the current – out of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2). This semiconducting material measures just three atoms thick, making it extremely flexible while still holding its own in the efficiency department. The team says the MoS2 rectifier can capture and convert up to 10 GHz of wireless signals with an efficiency of about 30 percent. That’s much higher than other flexible designs, and the researchers also say it’s faster.

Velocopter Forms Partnership With Frankfurt Airport

Passenger drone-maker Volocopter is to seek to explore the possibilities of using passenger drones between airports via a newly announced partnership with Frankfurt Airport.

The two companies have begun developing concepts for so-called Volocopter Ports, which would be integrated into existing airport infrastructure and provide connections to local forms of urban transport.

“Autonomous flying will fundamentally change aviation in the years to come,” says Anke Giesen, of Frankfurt airport. “We want to be the first airport in Europe to harness the potential of electric air taxis in partnership with pioneer Volocopter – for the benefit of our passengers and the Frankfurt/Rhine-Main region. This partnership underscores Fraport AG’s role as a key driver of innovation in diverse fields.”

Hybrid Plane Will Use 40% Less Fuel

Hybrid-to-electric airplane manufacturer Zunum Aero and France’s Safran Helicopter Engines are teaming upto create the airplane of the future–fuel efficient, cost efficient, and better for the planet.

Zunum Aero, the Seattle-based start-up backed by Boeing and JetBlue Technology Ventures, announced plans for its first hybrid-electric planes last year. Private-jet charter company JetSuite quickly jumped on board, ordering “up to 100” of Zunum’s 12-seater hybrid-electric planes with the hopes of having them in their fleet and in the air by around 2022. Zunum is one step closer to making that deadline thanks to the partnership it announced today with Safran.

Zunum’s planes operate on a unique hybrid system (more about that here) that can seamlessly move between a turbine engine and batteries. Safran’s new-generation engine turbine will drive the electrical generator in the Zunum ZA10, the first in the company’s family of hybrid-to-electric aircraft.

Having Your DNA Decoded Is A Huge Trend

 As many people purchased consumer DNA tests in 2018 as in all previous years combined, MIT Technology Review has reported.

Surging public interest in ancestry and health—propelled by heavy TV and online marketing—was behind a record year for sales of the tests, which entice consumers to spit in a tube or swab their cheeks and ship the sample back to have their genomes analysed.

By the start of 2019, more than 26 million consumers had added their DNA to four leading commercial ancestry and health databases, according to our estimates. If the pace continues, the gene troves could hold data on the genetic makeup of more than 100 million people within 24 months.

NASA Hs Developed Air Traffic Control System For Drones

Drones are already very capable machines, but before they are unleashed over busy cities to police the streetscarry out deliveries and repair potholes, authorities need to have a plan in place for all that extra air traffic. NASA has been developing a solution to this over the past four years and is now moving ahead with its final phase of testing where drones will put through their most complex demonstrations yet.

NASA’s drone traffic management systemis an effort to avoid Wild West-type situation where unmanned aircraft are free to fly wherever they want and bring some order to the order to the skies. The idea is to have corridors of airspace reserved for unmanned aircraft carrying out different tasks, below the altitude where general aviation begins at 500 ft (152 m).

You could see a low-speed slice of airspace reserved for hobbyists operating video drones, for example, and another channel set aside for faster-moving delivery drones. These boundaries could be enforced through dynamic geofencing software that prevents aircraft from flying off course or into restricted airspace.

Aggressive Hypertension Treatment For Alzheimer’s

 Experts are heralding the results of a large new study, which found that people with hypertension who received intensive treatment to lower their blood pressurewere less likely than those receiving standard blood pressure treatment to develop minor memory and thinking problems that often progress to dementia.

The study, published Monday in JAMA, is the first large, randomized clinical trial to find something that can help many older people reduce their risk of mild cognitive impairment — an early stage of faltering function and memory that is a frequent precursor to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

The results apply only to those age 50 or older who have elevated blood pressure and who do not have diabetes or a history of stroke. But that’s a condition affecting a lot of people — more than 75 percent of people over 65 have hypertension, the study said. So millions might eventually benefit by reducing not only their risk of heart problems but of cognitive decline, too.