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Wed, 24 Jan 2018
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Snip, snip: You may already be immune to CRISPR gene-editing technology

© The Atlantic
Scanning electron micrograph of a T cell, colored blue
A human T cell as seen through a scanning electron microscope
2018 is supposed to be the year of CRISPR in humans. The first U.S. and European clinical trials that test the gene-editing tool's ability to treat diseases-such as sickle-cell anemia, beta thalassemia, and a type of inherited blindness-are slated to begin this year.

But the year has begun on a cautionary note. On Friday, Stanford researchers posted a preprint (which has not been peer reviewed) to the website biorXiv highlighting a potential obstacle to using CRISPR in humans: Many of us may already be immune to it. That's because CRISPR actually comes from bacteria that often live on or infect humans, and we have built up immunity to the proteins from these bacteria over our lives.

Comment: The very real dangers of CRISPR gene editing technology:

Unexpected complications: CRISPR gene editing can introduce hundreds of unintended mutations into the genome
The first clinical trial to deploy CRISPR is now underway in China, and a U.S. trial is slated to start next year. But even though CRISPR can precisely target specific stretches of DNA, it sometimes hits other parts of the genome. Most studies that search for these off-target mutations use computer algorithms to identify areas most likely to be affected and then examine those areas for deletions and insertions.

"These predictive algorithms seem to do a good job when CRISPR is performed in cells or tissues in a dish, but whole genome sequencing has not been employed to look for all off-target effects in living animals," says co-author Alexander Bassuk, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics at the University of Iowa.
Just in case human gene editing goes horribly wrong scientists fall back on "CRISPR off switch"
Perhaps one of the most concerning aspects about CRISPR-Cas9 was the inability for scientists to turn off the gene altering sequence. The potential for wrong genes to be snipped away and the consequential introduction of rogue genetic changes in human or animal DNA into the gene pool was (and still is) rather terrifying. Now, however, scientists claim that they have found a way to hopefully mitigate this tremendous risk. In a new study, researchers say that they have found a tiny protein that can actually turn off Cas9 and prevent it from creating unwanted gene alterations. They say that the protein works on human cells - at least if they are in a petri dish.


Creator tells Sputnik: Anti-CCTV glasses 'give us the option of autonomy'

© pixabay
There are approximately 245 million surveillance cameras operating around the globe, London is the most watched city in the world while people living in Chicago are the most spied on in the United States.

The proliferation of CCTV cameras in Chicago caught the eye of creative designer Scott Urban, whose response was to develop spectacles preventing faces from being captured on camera.

Cell Phone

Hijacking children's brains: The era of 'Digital Addiction'

Opioid addiction has become so widespread in the U.S. that last August President Trump declared it to be a national emergency.

"Digital Addiction" may not be as serious as opioid addiction YET; however, the outcry and accusations made by Apple investors and former tech employees seems eerily similar to what has been reported as contributing to the current Opioid Crisis.

Because of Apple shareholders taking a stand last week, more news keeps pouring in about tech inventors who have been limiting their children's use of digital devices: "Bill Gates is surprisingly strict about his kids' tech use - and it should be a red flag for the rest of us."

Comment: It's shameful the kind of double standards tech industry experts are engaging in by creating and marketing a product to the next generation of children, while keeping their kids away from it. And it's not to say technology is 'bad' per say, but there needs to be responsible use of it, not dependency.


The lucid mind: Scientists may have found key to making the brain stay young

© youtube.com
Fountain of youth? Miracle of heavens? No, it is really just smart scientists from Stanford University trying to prevent our brain from aging.

A team of biologists conducted experiments with blood transfusions to mice and found a protein that may cause premature aging in rodents, according to a study published on bioRxiv.org.

The study found out that the protein responsible for this is known as VCAM1; it interacts with immune system cells in response to inflammation. In the course of the study, biologists observed that old blood can prematurely age the brains of young mice, and scientists discovered that VCAM1, located in the cells that form a barrier between brain and blood, may be the reason.

With time as mice and humans age, levels of this protein circulating in the blood rise, according to Alzheimer researcher Tony Wyss-Coray at Stanford University. He and his colleagues discovered that tampering with VCAM1 may help avoid the premature aging of brains.

They genetically engineered plasma of the old mice which did not contain the protein and injected it into the young mice. The results showed that this plasma didn't have a strong effect when injected into young mice, nor did it affect mice treated with antibodies that blocked the activity of VCAM1.

According to the publication, "those antibodies also seemed to help the brains of older mice that had aged naturally." The results point to anti-aging treatments targeting certain aspects of the blood-brain barrier may hold promise in slowing down the process of the brain's aging.


Robotics creator of Sophia crafting humanoid 'social robots' designed to win trust from humans

David Hanson Robotics
David Hanson envisions a future in which AI-powered robots evolve to become "super-intelligent genius machines" that might help solve some of mankind's most challenging problems.

If only it were as simple as that.

The Texas-born former sculptor at Walt Disney Imagineering and his Hong Kong-based startup Hanson Robotics are combining artificial intelligence with southern China's expertise in toy design, electronics and manufacturing to craft humanoid "social robots" with faces designed to be lifelike and appealing enough to win trust from humans who interact with them.

Hanson, 49, is perhaps best known as the creator of Sophia, a talk show-going robot partly modeled on Audrey Hepburn that he calls his "masterpiece."

Akin to an animated mannequin, she seems as much a product of his background in theatrics as an example of advanced technology.

Comment: See also: 'Life-like android' at a Tokyo gaming conference stuns social media


Why do hurricanes form eyes?

Super Typhoon Maysak
© ESA/NASA/Samantha Cristoforetti
The eye of Super Typhoon Maysak looms large in an image taken by European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on board the International Space Station August 7, 2017.
Scientists still don't really know

A cyclone's eye is a place of safety and a sign of danger. Inside the eye, winds are calm and no rain falls. Blue skies are usually visible overhead. But ending up inside a storm's eye is bad news - the eye is ringed by the eye wall, where the storm's most powerful winds swirl. And when an eye forms, it's a sign that a cyclone has grown more organized, and more powerful. It's a key step on the road to becoming a fully-fledged hurricane..

So, meteorologists watch cyclonic eyes carefully. Those strange, still spots convey invaluable information about what destruction a storm will wreak. And yet, despite researchers' intense focus on the phenomena, cyclone eyes are barely understood. A paper published in 2006 found hundreds of explanations for cyclone eye formation, many of them explicitly contradicting one another.

Comment: While there are many differences between tornados and hurricanes, the Electric Universe theory may offer an interesting alternative view to how these phenomena form.

Thunderbolts Space News: Tornadoes - The Electric Model

See also: Review: "Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection"


Possible nova in southern Constellation Musca

Following the posting on the Central Bureau's Transient Object Confirmation Page about a possible Nova in Musca (TOCP Designation: PNV J11261220-6531086) we performed some follow-up of this object through a TEL 0.50-m f/6.8 reflector + CCD + focal reducer from MPC Code Q62 (iTelescope Observatory, Siding Spring).

On images taken on January 15.57, 2018 we can confirm the presence of an optical counterpart with R-filtered CCD magnitude ~6.3 at coordinates:
R.A. = 11 26 14.95, Decl.= -65 31 24.1

(equinox 2000.0; Gaia DR1 catalogue reference stars).

This transient has been reported to CBAT/TOCP by Rob Kaufman, Bright, Victoria, Australia. Discovery image (taken with Canon 650D & 55mm lens) is available here. He also posted a low-resolution spectrum that "shows strong hydrogen emissions as well as FeII lines":
Nova in Musca
© R. Kaufman
Below you can see our confirmation image (single 30-sec exposure through a 0.43-m f/6.8 reflector + CCD), click on it for a bigger version:

Blue Planet

Reservoir 'swans': Aquatic robots deployed to monitor water pollution without disturbing surroundings

Swan robot
© Edgar Su / Reuters
Singapore has begun deploying robot 'swans' at several of its major reservoirs to monitor water quality without disturbing the beauty of the natural surroundings.

The Smart Water Assessment Network (SWAN) robots will collect and transmit water quality data in real time using a series of sensors. The 'swans' were jointly designed by Singapore's national water agency PUB, the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Environmental Research Institute and the Tropical Marine Science Institute.

"We started with a number of smaller bird models, before we decided on the swan. It's just the right size," said Assistant Professor Mandar Chitre, one of the project's lead researchers, as cited by Channel News Asia. "If you look at it in the environment, it just looks like a swan swimming around."


New study shows how brain networks are linked to chronic pain

brain networks
© University of Michigan

A new study finds that patients with fibromyalgia have brain networks primed for rapid, global responses to minor changes. This abnormal hypersensitivity, called explosive synchronization (ES), can be seen in other network phenomena across nature.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea report evidence of ES in the brains of people with fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by widespread, chronic pain. The paper, published in Scientific Reports, details only the second study of ES in human brain data.

"For the first time, this research shows that the hypersensitivity experienced by chronic pain patients may result from hypersensitive brain networks," says co-senior author Richard Harris, Ph.D., associate professor of anesthesiology at Michigan Medicine with the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center. "The subjects had conditions similar to other networks that undergo explosive synchronization."


Cryogenics and 3-D printing creates super soft structures that replicate brain and lungs

A new 3D printing technique allows researchers to replicate biological structures, which could be used for tissue regeneration and replica organs.
3-D cryogenics printing for human tissue
© Imperial College London
Structure of a single unit; how eight units fit together; two views of a printed and set eight-unit structure.
Imperial College London researchers have developed a new method for creating 3D structures using cryogenics (freezing) and 3D printing techniques.

This builds on previous research, but is the first to create structures that are soft enough to mimic the mechanical properties of organs such as the brain and lungs. Their technique is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Being able to match the structure and softness of body tissues means that these structures could be used in medical procedures to form scaffolds that can act as a template for tissue regeneration, where damaged tissues are encouraged to regrow.

Comment: See also: