GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – OCTOBER 2022

Now You Can Select Your Baby’s Genome – But Should You?

 “She has her mother’s eyes,” begins the advertisement, “but will she also inherit her breast cancer diagnosis?” The smooth voice in the video is promoting the services of Genomic Prediction, a US company that says it can help prospective parents to answer this question by testing the genetics of embryos during fertility treatment.

Genomic Prediction , in North Brunswick, New Jersey, offers tests based on a decade of research into ‘polygenic risk scores’, which calculate someone’s likelihood of getting a disease on the basis of the genetic contributions of hundreds, thousands or even millions of single DNA letter changes in the genome.

Genomic Prediction and some other companies have been using these scores to test embryos generated by in vitro fertilization (IVF), allowing prospective parents to choose those with the lowest risk for diseases such as diabetes or certain cancers. A co-founder of Genomic Prediction has said, controversially, that people might eventually be able to select for traits that are unrelated to disease, such as intelligence.

Pre-implantation genetic testing (PGT) for rare genetic disorders and chromosomal abnormalities has become common practice in the US$14-billion IVF industry. But testing for polygenic conditions (often referred to as PGT-P) is much newer, with only a small handful of companies selling it in a few countries, including the United States and Brazil, where it is largely unregulated.

At Last!  Australia Plans To Harness Its Solar Energy

Australia has a lot of sun and desert space, positioning the country well to continue being an energy exporter in the net zero era. But the renewable assets it’ll need to build to get there are absolutely epic in scale, according to a new report.

The country has long sustained its economy on natural resources. Its number one commodity is iron ore, representing nearly a third of all exports, but its coal and gas sales into Asia and India make up a further quarter of the country’s export profile. These dirty fossil fuel dollars have an expiry date on them, but the country’s huge expanses of hot desert represent an opportunity both to power Australia itself, and to replace coal and gas exports with renewably generated clean fuels.

So what does that look like? A Net Zero Australia research partnership between the University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, Princeton University and the Nous Group consultancy has put together a range of possible scenarios for 2050 – when both the federal government and the states have committed to net-zero domestic emissions.

The group’s first interim report indicates that even in the absence of advanced nuclear power, renewables will produce enough energy for domestic use, creating between 1-1.3 million new jobs, primarily in the north of the country.

6G Is Already Here (50 Times Faster Than 5G)

 It may feel like 5G only just arrived, but 6G is already on the horizon. Engineers at LG Electronics and the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute (HHI) have now tripled the distance record for data transmission over 6G, reaching a new milestone for practical urban coverage..

While 5G and earlier technologies use frequencies below 100 GHz, 6G will expand beyond that into the currently unused terahertz (THz) spectrum. This brings with it advantages like data rates that are up to 50 times faster than 5G, and latency that’s just 10% that of 5G.

On the path to rolling out this technology, researchers at LG and HHI have now set a new distance record for data transmission over 6G. At frequencies between 155 and 175 GHz, the team transmitted data over 320 m (1,050 ft) outdoors. That’s more than three times farther than the previous record, which the team set a year ago.

That’s particularly impressive given that one of the main disadvantages of 6G is a short range. To counter that, the team used amplifiers at each end to boost the signal. The transmitter amplifier was boosted to an output of 20 decibel-milliwatts (dBm), up from 15 dBm in the previous test. The receiver also had a new amplifier that reduced noise, allowing for clearer signal reception.

How To Keep Things Cool Without Using Energy

In some of the world’s hottest countries, where cooling systems are most needed, the infrastructure required to power such setups is often lacking. A new system could help in that regard, as it provides multiple cooling effects but uses no electricity.

Building on previous research, the MIT-designed system combines evaporative cooling, radiative cooling, and thermal insulation. It provides up to 19º F (10.5º C) of cooling from the ambient temperature, and takes the form of a panel made up of three layers of different materials.

That panel can be placed over/around an item that needs to be kept cool, such as a box containing perishable goods like food or medication. According to MIT, the technology could “permit safe food storage for about 40% longer under very humid conditions,” or “triple the safe storage time under dryer conditions.” It could also be used to cool the water utilized in air conditioners, allowing those devices to consume less power while staying just as effective.

The system’s bottom layer is a mirror-like material, which reflects incoming sunlight. This keeps the infrared radiation within the sun’s rays from heating the covered item. In the middle is a porous hydrogel, composed mostly of water. As that liquid water is heated, it evaporates into vapor which rises to the top layer.

Cooling The Planet’s Poles By Two Degrees C – A Solution Or Dangerous Geo-engineering?

New research suggests that cooling the poles by 2 °C (3.6 °F), and re-freezing the Arctic and Antarctic, is “feasible at relatively low cost with conventional technologies,” using Stratospheric Aerosol Injection (SAI) of heat-reflective particles focused on the poles. The side effects could be nasty, and the politics near-impossible, but the plan offers a way to slow, or reverse the catastrophic sea level rise projected as polar ice collapses.

SAI is an enormously controversial idea inspired by the cooling effects that tend to follow large volcanic eruptions. These natural events eject vast amounts of dust, ash, and often sulphur dioxide into the air. The first two create a shade effect that causes a short-lived cooling effect for a couple of hours, but sulphur dioxide tends to rise high into the stratosphere, where it combines with water molecules to create sulfuric acid particles, and remains for up to three years, reflecting solar radiation away and causing a long-lasting surface cooling effect.

The idea behind SAI is to load up high-altitude aircraft with sulphur dioxide, and fly around spraying it into the atmosphere at high altitudes, mimicking the cooling effect of a volcano. So far, so good. Mind you, the way that sulfuric acid eventually leaves the atmosphere is by combining into larger and larger droplets that eventually become heavy enough to fall down to earth as acid rain, which is, as you’d imagine, not great for plant life, fish or animals. And all sulphur oxides are nasty to breathe in, harming the lungs and causing asthma and bronchitis if inhaled regularly.

Stem Cells Manufactured On Demand

 Blood stem cell donation is an important medical procedure, but it’s subject to constant shortages. Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have now demonstrated how a microfluidic device that mimics the embryonic heart can produce blood stem cell precursors, which could let blood stem cells be manufactured on demand.

As with organs and regular blood transfusions, patients receiving donated blood stem cells need to have the same blood type as their donor to prevent their immune system rejecting the foreign cells. That leads to shortages of viable donors, especially for rarer blood types.

Ideally, scientists would be able to grow blood stem cells in the lab, which could theoretically be given to whoever needs them. This could be done by cultivating precursor cells, which themselves can differentiate into a variety of cell types, including red and white blood cells. For the new study, the UNSW team investigated this idea using a microfluidic device that pumped blood stem cells taken from an embryonic stem cell line.

Patients Who Monitor Their Blood Pressure See It Reduce

Aktiia’s optical continual BP monitor has been available for purchase in seven European countries since March 2021. By design and purpose, Aktiia’s passive and continual collection of BP data has quickly compiled over 55,000,000 data points in real-world conditions, establishing the largest dataset of BP readings in the world which uniquely enables Aktiia and its partners to unlock new insights into hypertension.

The objective of Aktiia’s recent investigation was to explore whether a change in behaviour resulting in measurably lower BP would be demonstrated in hypertensive subjects who were consistently exposed to their BP data via Aktiia’s integrated mobile app.

The analysis concluded that mean SBP was reduced in -3.2 mmHg (confidence interval: [-0.70, -5.59], p<0.02) for hypertensive users (SBP > 140 mmHg) following 3 months of continual cuffless BP monitoring (Figure 2). This reduction was then sustained throughout the 6 months studied. Mean SBP remained unchanged for normotensive users (SBP < 140 mm Hg).

The powerful relationship between BP reduction and reduction of cardiovascular events is undisputed, irrespective of the mechanism for the reduction. Even a 5 mm Hg reduction in systolic BP reduces cardiovascular risk by 10%.

This story is accurate.  I’ve been wearing an Aktiia monitor for nine months and it’s had this effect on me.

Storing Heat In A “Brick Toaster” That Reduces Carbon Emissions

Industrial heat consumes a huge proportion of global energy. Rondo Energy says its brick-toasting heat storage device is so cheap and efficient that it makes decarbonization an instant no-brainer across a huge range of industries.

A quarter of humanity’s carbon emissions come from industrial energy use – and a huge portion of that energy goes into creating heat for various processes. And right there lies a slam-dunk decarbonization opportunity that’ll pay for itself incredibly quickly, reasons Oakland company Rondo Energy.

“We’re at a spectacular moment in history,” Rondo CEO John O’Donnell told the Wharton Current podcast. “Where on a per unit of energy cost basis, wind and solar power are cheaper than fuels. Not just cheaper than conventional electricity, but cheaper than fuel for heat in most of the world – headed for all of the world.”

In other words, thanks to a huge crash in the price of renewable energy, there’s no longer a “green premium” stopping most industrial heat consumers from decarbonizing and switching to clean solutions. The barrier, instead, is intermittency; you can buy renewable energy out of the grid at extremely low cost, right now – but only when the solar arrays are producing too much for the grid to use. You can’t run your factory 24/7 that way unless you can store that energy up.