Tech News

Scientists say they revived 42,000-year-old frozen worms

July 27, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

UIG via Getty Images

A group of scientists in Russia claim to have revived a pair of frozen nematodes, or roundworms, that were between 30,000 and 42,000 years old. One of the specimens was found in a soil sample collected from a ground squirrel burrow located around 100 feet underground, and other burrows nearby have been radiocarbon dated to be around 32,000 years old. A second viable nematode was found in a permafrost sample approximately 41,700 years old collected around 11 feet below the surface.

The samples were stored in a laboratory at around -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Isolated nematodes were then later brought up to 68 degrees and surrounded by food. After several weeks of cultivation, the nematodes began showing signs of life and reportedly began moving and eating. “Thus, our data demonstrate the ability of multicellular organisms to survive long-term (tens of thousands of years) cryobiosis under the conditions of natural cryoconservation,” the researchers said in a study published in Doklady Biological Sciences.

While other studies have shown that some species of nematodes can survive extreme environments — such as 25.5 years in below-freezing temperatures and 39 years of dessication — this study appears to be the first to demonstrate nematode survival after such an extreme length of time.

“Theoretically, it is possible that if the organisms are protected from physical damage that would compromise their structural integrity during their frozen internment, they should be able to revive upon thawing/rehydration for very long periods of time,” Robin Giblin-Davis, director of the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, told Gizmodo. But there’s still a chance these nematodes aren’t what they seem. “The biggest issue is the potential for contamination of ‘ancient samples’ with ‘contemporary’ organisms,” he added.

The researchers say they maintained proper sterility procedures during the collection and transportation of their samples and noted that seasonal thawing wouldn’t have reached the depths at which these nematodes were found, severely limiting sample movement or the introduction of present-day nematodes. If these findings are legitimate, they could help researchers understand how some species survive such extreme temperatures and how these particular nematodes have evolved over time.

Tech News

The first ‘blockchain baby’ is here

July 27, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

When you read the news that they put a baby on the blockchain, your reaction makes you one of two types of people. Either you think, Mon dieu, is there anything the magical fairy dust known as blockchain can’t solve? Or you think: Surely this is child abuse.

For the past few years, techies have frothed and proselytized over the potential salvation of blockchain, the tech behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. So it’s hard to even know what babies and blockchain could even have to do with each other. Typically, outside of grifter circles, blockchain is associated with vaporware, shady fraudulent ICO’s, or solving things that aren’t suited at all for blockchain’s “distributed ledger” system. Oh, and largely solving things that aren’t even problems.

Rather than try and part the foolish with their actual money, for once the crypto craze might be doing some useful good — which is how a baby ended up on the blockchain. In this instance, the international organization AID:Tech is using the technology as a way to get charitable donations to their destinations: as in, getting soon-to-be moms in need funds for things like vitamins and medical care.

Of course, we think, why not just give it to already-established care orgs — why make a whole blockchain mess out of it? This is an extremely reasonable question, seldom asked in the presence of crypto-critters. AID:Tech is a medical aid project positioned to combat the huge problem of fraud in the world of charitable donations, and to help at-risk women with their medical information. And on July 13th, a baby was added to a blockchain ledger (a first). This was followed by two more births on the 19th.

The idea of grafting blockchain to charity was to prevent fraud — which seems ironic given cryptocurrency’s reputation. Founder Joseph Thompson told CIO in a March interview:

In 2009, I ran 151 miles in the Sahra Desert as part of the tough world marathon, the 6-day Marathon des Sables. For the race, I raised over $120k for a charity I trusted. But the funds did not go where they were intended to.

With this experience, I became a cynic and decided never to donate again. But I always wanted to solve this problem. In 2010, I then saw the potential of Blockchain for traceability, and then the United Nations included this goal as part of the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].

And so, in December 2015, hundreds of Syrian refugees at a camp in Lebanon took part in AID:Tech’s pilot program. The org partnered with the Irish Red Cross to give 500 digital credit cards to the refugees for use in a supermarket, each pre-loaded with $20 — in total, $10K was distributed to 100 Syrian refugee families.

“A traditional paper voucher system was simultaneously in place. These are problematic because fraudulent copies inevitably emerge,” wrote Irish Times. “Within a matter of hours, the same thing was

Tech News

Chocolate, bioterrorism and the birth of Brazilian funk

July 27, 2018 — by Engadget.com0


In the 1990s, the cacao farmers of Brazil fell into a collective depression. Some hanged themselves, others dosed themselves with rat poison, still others walked around crying and saying they didn’t have anything to eat. The cacao pods on orchards throughout Bahia sat stagnant on their branches, rotting from the inside out. A coven of foreign, tightly gnarled stalks covered the trees themselves. The country had been the world’s third-largest producer of cocoa beans, but it had fallen from grace and even had to import beans from West Africa to satisfy its residents’ sweet tooth.

Juliana Pinheiro Aquino remembers it well. “My father was depressed. He was very sad,” she said.

About a century earlier, her great-grandmother’s brother, Firmino Alves, had founded the city of Itabuna and started the tradition of farming cacao in Bahia. “He called all his friends to help him,” Aquino said, describing the land rush of the late 1800s. Alves and his friends grew fabulously wealthy thanks to cacao and the mass of workers who helped them farm it. “Cacao was like the golden fruit,” Aquino said, “so everyone was raised with a lot of money.”

Aquino spent the first few years of her life on the Pinheiro family’s large-scale farm, living near her celebrity uncle who used his wealth to buy several Ford dealerships. Then, after a falling out, her father bought his own farm, Fazenda Santa Rita. When witches’ broom hit, Aquino said that within a couple of years, they had lost their entire fortune.

Her family wasn’t alone. More than 200,000 people, directly and indirectly, lost their jobs. Bahia experienced a mass exodus as people flocked from the farms to nearby cities, creating overpopulation and, with it, poverty and crime: Brazil now boasts 17 of the world’s 50 most dangerous cities, which historian Claudio Zumaeta linked directly to the collapse of cacao. Meanwhile, parts of the rainforest were wrecked, and Bahia’s biodiversity irreparably affected as farmers razed their trees to control the disease.

How could devastation happen on such a definitive level, especially in an area that had been farming cacao for more than 100 years? Two words: Moniliophthora perniciosa. The fungus causes a disease called witches’ broom that spells disaster for cacao farming, systematically transforming healthy trees into possessed messes with rotting pods and nasty-tasting beans.

The witch behind witches’ broom Expand

Witches’ broom is one of the most insidious diseases that can affect cacao trees, causing “yield reductions that range from 50 to 90%,” writes Lyndel W. Meinhardt et al., in a 2008 article in Molecular Plant Pathology called “Moniliophthora perniciosa, the causal agent of witches’ broom disease of cacao: What’s new from this old foe?”

Moniliophthora perniciosa is thought to have developed in the Amazon, like cacao. The fungus attacks trees in five phases: infection, green broom, necrosis, dry broom

Tech News

IBM's Watson reportedly created unsafe cancer treatment plans

July 27, 2018 — by Engadget.com0


Last year, studies presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting showed that IBM Watson was pretty darn good at creating treatment plans for cancer patients. Turns out, however, that the AI is still far from perfect: according to internal documents reviewed by health-oriented news publication Stat, some medical experts working with IBM on its Watson for Oncology system found “multiple examples of unsafe and incorrect treatment recommendations.” In one particular case, a 65-year-old man was diagnosed a drug that could lead to “severe or fatal hemorrhage” even though he was already suffering from severe bleeding.

The report puts the blame on the IBM engineers and the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center doctors who helped train the AI. They reportedly fed Watson hypothetical patients’ data and treatment recommendations by MSK doctors instead of real patients’ information. The approach apparently didn’t work as well as they’d hoped, with one Florida Jupiter Hospital doctor telling IBM upon testing the system that the product is “a piece of shit.” It’s worth noting, however, that MSK believes the example involving the 65-year-old patient was merely part of a system testing and not an actual recommendation.

Despite that Jupiter doctor’s less-than-stellar review, a spokesperson told Gizmodo that the hospital still uses Watson’s recommendations. Its doctors don’t completely rely on the plans it cooks up, though, and see them as an extra opinion when they can’t agree on a treatment. As for IBM, it knows that Watson for Oncology still needs work and has taken feedback from clients into consideration to roll out multiple software updates with updated features over the past year.

The company told the publication:

“…we have learned and improved Watson Health based on continuous feedback from clients, new scientific evidence, and new cancers and treatment alternatives. This includes 11 software releases for even better functionality during the past year, including national guidelines for cancers ranging from colon to liver cancer.”

Tech News

Bipartisan bill aims to study how tech is affecting kids

July 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Getty Images

A bipartisan group of senators and representatives has introduced legislation that would fund research into the effects technology and media have on infants, children and adolescents. The funding would support research into the use of mobile devices, computers, social media, apps, websites, TV, films, AI, video games, VR and AR with a focus on cognitive, physical and socio-emotional development.

“While technology educates and entertains our children every day, we need a better understanding of how it impacts their social, psychological and physical well-being,” Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) said in a statement. “This bill will enable experts to conduct critical research that will inform parents and policymakers about how best to protect American children’s bodies and minds from issues such as tech addiction, bullying and depression in the digital age.”

The lawmakers who introduced the bill include Senators Markey, Ben Sasse (R-NE), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Susan Collins (R-ME) as well as Representatives John Delaney (D-MD) and Ted Budd (R-NC). “Children are increasingly using digital devices in their everyday lives, but little is known about the impact technology has on their health and development,” said Senator Blunt. “Advancing research to better understand the impact of technology will help parents create a healthy environment for their children to learn and grow.”

The move comes as a number of tech companies are introducing both more rigorous parental controls and more options for users to manage or limit the time they spend on the internet or using apps. Apple demonstrated its digital wellness features during WWDC in June as did Google during its I/O conference in May.

Additionally, while Facebook is toying with a “do not disturb” feature, it’s also facing pushback over its Messenger Kids app. The messaging app, which is geared towards children younger than 13 years old, has been hit with criticism from those concerned about exposing young kids to social media. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood wrote Facebook a letter earlier this year urging the company to disable the app. “A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development,” the group wrote.

The bill authorizes $15 million for research, led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), each year from 2019 through 2021 as well as $25 million each for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. “Internet companies care deeply about the safety and well-being of their users and welcome scientific research on this important issue funded through the CAMRA Act,” Melika Carroll, head of global government affairs at the Internet Association, said in a statement. “Existing research lacks the rigor, quality and independence of an NIH study into this important topic.”

Other groups reportedly endorsing the bill include Facebook, Common Sense Media, the

Tech News

GSK to use 23andMe’s DNA library in drug development

July 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0


DNA testing company 23andMe has partnered with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), in a bid to develop new drug treatments. 23andMe, which gives customers insight into their genetic makeup via postal saliva tests, has some five million customers — a potential DNA database considerably larger than those generally available to the scientific community. “By working with GSK, we believe we will accelerate the development of breakthroughs,” 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki wrote in a blog post.

GSK has invested $300 million in the four-year deal, which gives GSK access to 23andMe’s huge bank of genetic data. Customers can opt out at any time. The first project will explore possible treatments for Parkinson’s disease, based on a gene called LRRK2. A recent study showed that the gene may play a significant role in the disease, even among those without gene mutations — hence the value of such a large DNA sample. The partnership “gives us the best chance for success” in tackling these kinds of health issues, Wojcicki wrote.

However, some people aren’t as convinced, especially when it comes to protecting personal data — and no data is more personal than your DNA. Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, believes the companies should pay the 23andMe customers whose DNA is used in research. Speaking to NBC News, Pitt asked, “Are they going to offer rebates to people who opt in so their customers aren’t paying for the privilege of 23andMe working with a for-profit company in a for-profit research project?”

He added that asking people to donate their genome sequences “for the higher good” is one thing, but said it was “upside-down” that “two for-profit companies enter into an agreement where the jewel in the crown is your gene sequence and you are actually paying for the privilege of participating.” Nonetheless, the partnership creates significant opportunities for the drug research community — this is access to valuable data on a scale never seen before. If it leads to the development of ground-breaking treatments, many would argue their 23andMe subscription was a small price to pay.

Tech News

Study backs blood test that gauges seriousness of concussions

July 25, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images

Remember how the FDA approved a blood test that could determine the severity of a concussion? It’s now clear just why the FDA gave its approval. The Lancet Neurology has published the study at the heart of the decision, giving you a chance to verify the claims for yourself (if you’re willing to pay, at least). As before, Banyan Biomarkers’ test checks for the presence of two brain proteins (GFAP and UCH-L1) whose levels rise when there are signs of internal trauma. The FDA’s claims check out — out of 1,959 eligible test subjects, just three had CT scans turn up results when the blood tests were negative.

So long as the test performs similarly well in the real world, it could have a significant impact on medicine. Until now, the decision to perform a CT scan has usually relied on external symptom checks, such as reports of headaches or nausea. This could limit scans to people who genuinely need further medical attention rather than people who may only have mild problems. Tech might not offer a real solution to concussions in sport, but it could save time and money when those injuries occur.

Tech News

Tomorrow's transplant organs could come from human-pig hybrids

July 25, 2018 — by Engadget.com0


With a lion’s head full of gnashing teeth sitting atop the body of a goat and a snake for a tail, the Chimera of Greek mythology is a terrifying sight — and that’s before it starts breathing fire. Chimera have long served as cautionary touchstones in popular culture, often as examples of humanity’s foolhardy quest to control nature. Take for example the tragic tale of Nina Tucker from Fullmetal Alchemist, the residents of The Island of Dr. Moreau or Sorry to Bother You’s genetically-engineered slave race of Equi Sapiens. But in the medical field, chimera — real life human-animal hybrids — could hold the key to solving the global shortage of transplantable organs.

Modern transplant technology is already pretty miraculous. Doctors can transfer anything from faces to hands to genitals between patients, keep lungs breathing in transportation pods and allow preemies to finish developing in external wombs.

Our ability to treat the human body like a fleshy Mr. Potato Head only works if all the bits and pieces being swapped are human in origin. And despite there being 7 billion potential donors available on the planet at any given moment, the world faces a persistent shortage of viable organs. Between the widespread adoption of seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, there simply aren’t enough spare body parts available for everybody who needs them. But that’s where ManBearPig comes in — well, pigs and man at least.

Thanks to their anatomical and metabolic similarity to humans, pig organs have been used in xenotransplantation — the practice of moving organs from one species into another — since the technique’s founding more than a century ago (by French surgeon Mathieu Jaboulay). In 1906, Jaboulay pioneered the technique by moving a pig’s kidney to one woman and a goat’s liver into another. Neither patient survived. This is because while human-to-human transplants will instigate a reaction by the immune system leading to the body rejecting the new organ, pig-to-human transfers crank the immune response up to 11, sending it into “hyperacute rejection.” For more than 100 years, that overwhelming DEFCON 1 reaction to organs from other species has prevented xenotransplants from regular use.

In fact, despite a rush of interest and funding throughout the 1990s, the rejection issue and fears that viruses could make the leap between porcine and human genomes all but ended research into xenotransplantation. Pharmaceutical giant Novartis was looking to invest more than a $1 billion during that time but ended up shuttering its xenotransplant efforts after years of setbacks.

However, recent advancements in genetic engineering — including CRISPR technology and the rise of more potent immunosuppressant drugs — have revitalized the field and could help eliminate both of those technical roadblocks. With the aid of CRISPR technology, scientists can deactivate potential genome-hopping viruses called porcine endogenous retroviruses, or PERVs, as well as drastically reduce the host’s immune response.

At a 2017 meeting of the International Xenotransplantation Association, a number of research

Tech News

Researchers capture high-resolution image of a complete fruit fly brain

July 23, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Z. Zheng et al./Cell 2018

Scientists have created a high-resolution image of a fruit fly brain that will let researchers trace the connections of neurons throughout the brain. A team at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus led the work, which was recently published in Cell. Davi Bock, the lead researcher on the project, said in a statement that this level of resolution hasn’t been achieved before and it will allow scientists to better understand which neurons play a role in behaviors exhibited by fruit flies.

Though a fly brain is relatively small — about the size of a poppy seed — creating a detailed map of the 100,000 neurons it holds is still a major challenge, and traditional methods haven’t allowed for this type of imaging to be done. The researchers developed a new set of tools that included high-speed cameras, custom-built systems that can quickly process brain tissue samples and a robotic loader that can pick up samples and put them into place on its own. Doing so required dozens of scientists, engineers and software developers and years of work.

[embedded content]

But with the new system and two electron microscopes, the team was able to take 21 million images of 7,062 brain slices and stitch them together into one complete image. And the result is a full, detailed look at the brain of an adult fruit fly, one that has already led to some surprising findings about how fruit fly brains work, including a new cell type. “Any time you look at images with higher resolution and more completeness, you’re going to discover new things,” Bock said in a statement.

The team has made its dataset available to other scientists and it could help researchers better understand how behaviors like learning, courtship, memory and flight are driven by the brain. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute says more than 20 lab groups are already using the data. “It adds another tool to the toolkit we’re using to understand this animal,” said Bock.

[embedded content]

Whole-Brain Electron Microscopy Volume from HHMI NEWS on Vimeo.

Tech News

Wearable gauges fitness through stress hormones in your sweat

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Paper Boat Creative via Getty Images

Cortisol (best known as the stress hormone) is handy for tracking your athletic performance and even spotting signs of disease, since it reflects how well your adrenal or pituitary glands are working. But there’s a problem: measuring that often takes several days of lab work, by which point the info is no longer relevant. Scientists might have a much better option. They’ve developed a flexible, wearable sweat sensor (not shown here) that tracks cortisol levels with results in seconds — that is, while it’s at its most useful. It sounds straightforward, but the team had to overcome a major obstacle common to most biological sensors.

A typical sensor looks for the positive or negative charge in molecules, but that’s not really an option with a chargeless substance like cortisol. The researchers tackled this with a membrane that binds only to cortisol and lets regular charged molecules pass through. The sensor then measures the cortisol-carrying molecules trapped by the membrane, rather than the cortisol itself. All you need to do is visibly sweat and apply the patch.

The technology isn’t perfect in its current incarnation. It can work multiple times, but it struggles if bogged down in sweat. They also want to improve the overall reliability and try using it on your saliva, saving you from having to work out to gather data. Nonetheless, the potential is clear. This could help sports stars and fitness mavens quantify their abilities mere moments after finishing a sweaty workout, and it might provide clues to otherwise imperceptible illnesses.