>>> The Human Microbiome Is Going Extinct, Scientists Say. The End Will Be Devastating.
by Tim Newcomb
Your gut is endangered. And that’s not a good thing for your health—or the health of the rest of the world.
Researchers say the human microbiome that lives in your gut is now endangered.
The loss of bacteria and microorganisms reduces your chance at a healthy life.
You’re the one killing off your own microbiome.
A new documentary, The Invisible Extinction, highlights how the human microbiome—also known as the bacteria and microorganisms living within the human body, most prevalent in the gut—is on the verge of extinct. And it’s all your fault.
In a discussion with People, two researchers behind the doc, Martin Glaser and Gloria Dominguez-Bello, say the human microbiome is essential for us to digest food, make vitamins, and train our immune systems. “When we eat,” Blaser tells People, “we are nourishing both our human cells and also our microbial cells.”
The slow death of the human microbiome is thanks to our modern way of life. We use antibiotics to kill off bad bacteria. But antibiotics kill off plenty of the good stuff, too. Blaser says the more antibiotics given to a child, the more likely they are to develop a range of illnesses. Blaser adds that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates about one-third of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary, leading to the overuse.
Then there’s the highly processed, chemical-laden food that’s wreaking havoc on our gut health. “The single most important component of the diet to feed the microbiome is fiber,” Dominguez-Bello says. These fibers feed your microbiome, while processed food removes the fiber, posing a negative result for your microbiome.
The researchers want better options for the antibiotic issue, both with improved testing to see if a bacterial infection is really in play, and by developing new antibiotics that don’t have the “collateral damage that are killing every bacterium inside.”
“We are making a complete mess of biodiversity, including microbial,” Dominguez-Bello says. “Microbes are essential in every ecosystem, not only in humans or animals or plants, but also in the oceans. He whole thing is linked together by impact of human activities. We need to preserve microbes because they really modulate functions of Earth. They modulate the climate. They modulate everything. They modulate our own gene expression.”
The human microbiome is a big deal. Let’s not kill it.
** Also -- Glyphosate herbicide residues (Roundup) act as an antibiotic, killing off the healthy gut microbiome
>>> Quantum computer built by Google can instantly execute a task that would normally take 47 years
by Chrissy Sexton
In a significant leap for the field of quantum computing, Google has reportedly engineered a quantum computer that can execute calculations in mere moments that would take the world’s most advanced supercomputers nearly half a century to process.
The news, reported by the Daily Telegraph, could signify a landmark moment in the evolution of this emerging technology.
Quantum computing, a science that takes advantage of the oddities of quantum physics, remains a fast-moving and somewhat contentious field.
Quantum computers hold immense promise for potentially revolutionizing sectors like climate science and drug discovery. They offer computation speeds far beyond those of their classical counterparts.
Potential drawbacks of quantum computing
However, this advanced technology is not without its potential drawbacks. Quantum computers pose significant challenges for contemporary encryption systems, thus placing them high on the list of national security concerns.
The contentious discussion continues. Critics argue that, despite the impressive milestones, these quantum machines still need to demonstrate more practicality outside of academic research.
Astonishing capabilities of Google’s quantum computer
Google’s latest iteration of its quantum machine, the Sycamore quantum processor, currently holds 70 qubits. This is a substantial leap from the 53 qubits of its earlier version. This makes the new processor approximately 241 million times more robust than the previous model.
As each qubit can exist in a state of zero, one, or both simultaneously, the capability of storing and processing this level of quantum information is an achievement that even the fastest classical computer, however rapid or slow, cannot match.
The Google team, in a paper published on the arXiv pre-print server, remarked: “Quantum computers hold the promise of executing tasks beyond the capability of classical computers. We estimate the computational cost against improved classical methods and demonstrate that our experiment is beyond the capabilities of existing classical supercomputers.”
Even the currently fastest classical computers, such as the Frontier supercomputer based in Tennessee, cannot rival the potential of quantum computers. These traditional machines operate on the language of binary code, confined to a dual-state reality of zeroes and ones. The quantum paradigm, however, transcends this limitation.
It remains uncertain how much Google’s quantum computer costs to create. Regardless, this development certainly holds the promise of transformative computational power.
For instance, according to the Google team, it would take the Frontier supercomputer merely 6.18 seconds to match a calculation from Google’s 53-qubit computer. However, the same machine would take an astonishing 47.2 years to match a computation executed by Google’s latest 70-qubit device.
Many experts in the field have praised Google’s significant strides. Steve Brierley, chief executive of Cambridge-based quantum company Riverlane, labeled Google’s advancement as a “major milestone.”
He also added: “The squabbling about whether we had reached, or indeed could reach, quantum supremacy is now resolved.”
Similarly, Professor Winfried Hensinger, director of the Sussex Centre for Quantum Technologies, commended Google for resolving a specific academic problem tough to compute on a conventional computer.
“Their most recent demonstration is yet another powerful demonstration that quantum computers are developing at a steady pace,” said Professor Hensinger.
He stressed that the upcoming critical step would be the creation of quantum computers capable of correcting their inherent operational errors.
While IBM has not yet commented on Google’s recent work, it is clear that this progress in the realm of quantum computing has caught the attention of researchers and companies worldwide. This will open new prospects and competition in the evolution of computational technology. Let the games begin!
More about quantum computing
Quantum computing, a remarkable leap in technological advancement, holds the potential to redefine our computational capacities. Harnessing the strange yet fascinating laws of quantum physics, it could significantly outperform classical computers in solving certain types of problems.
Basics of Quantum Computing
Traditional computers operate based on bits, which can be in a state of either 0 or 1. Quantum computers, on the other hand, operate on quantum bits, known as qubits. Unlike traditional bits, a qubit can exist in both states simultaneously, thanks to a quantum principle called superposition.
Superposition increases the computing power of a quantum computer exponentially. For example, two qubits can exist in four states simultaneously (00, 01, 10, 11), three qubits in eight states, and so on. This allows quantum computers to process a massive number of possibilities at once.
Another key quantum principle quantum computers exploit is entanglement. Entangled qubits are deeply linked. Change the state of one qubit, and the state of its entangled partner will change instantaneously, no matter the distance. This feature allows quantum computers to process complex computations more efficiently.
Applications of Quantum Computers
The unusual characteristics of quantum computing make it ideal for solving complex problems that classical computers struggle with.
Cryptography is a notable area where quantum computing can make a significant difference. The capacity to factor large numbers quickly makes quantum computers a threat to current encryption systems but also opens the door for the development of more secure quantum encryption methods.
In the field of medicine, quantum computing could enable the modeling of complex molecular structures, speeding up drug discovery. Quantum simulations could offer insights into new materials and processes that might take years to discover through experimentation.
Challenges in Quantum Computing
Despite its promising potential, quantum computing is not without challenges. Quantum states are delicate, and maintaining them for a practical length of time—known as quantum coherence—is a significant hurdle. The slightest environmental interference can cause qubits to lose their state, a phenomenon known as decoherence.
Quantum error correction is another daunting challenge. Due to the fragility of qubits, errors are more likely to occur in quantum computations than classical ones. Developing efficient error correction methods that don’t require a prohibitive number of qubits remains a central focus in quantum computing research.
The Future of Quantum Computing
While quantum computing is still in its infancy, the rapid pace of innovation signals a promising future. Tech giants like IBM, Google, and Microsoft, as well as numerous startups, are making significant strides in quantum computing research.
In the coming years, we can expect quantum computers to continue growing in power and reliability. Quantum supremacy—a point where quantum computers surpass classical computers in computational capabilities—may be closer than we think.
Quantum computing represents a thrilling frontier, promising to reshape how we tackle complex problems. As research and development persist, we inch closer to unlocking the full potential of this revolutionary technology.
>>> Synthetic human embryos created in groundbreaking advance
Exclusive: Breakthrough could aid research into genetic disorders but raises serious ethical and legal issues
Analysis: advances leave legislators needing to catch up
14 Jun 2023
Scientists have created synthetic human embryos using stem cells, in a groundbreaking advance that sidesteps the need for eggs or sperm.
Scientists say these model embryos, which resemble those in the earliest stages of human development, could provide a crucial window on the impact of genetic disorders and the biological causes of recurrent miscarriage.
However, the work also raises serious ethical and legal issues as the lab-grown entities fall outside current legislation in the UK and most other countries.
The structures do not have a beating heart or the beginnings of a brain, but include cells that would typically go on to form the placenta, yolk sac and the embryo itself.
Prof Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, of the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology, described the work in a plenary address on Wednesday at the International Society for Stem Cell Research’s annual meeting in Boston.
“We can create human embryo-like models by the reprogramming of [embryonic stem] cells,” she told the meeting.
There is no near-term prospect of the synthetic embryos being used clinically. It would be illegal to implant them into a patient’s womb, and it is not yet clear whether these structures have the potential to continue maturing beyond the earliest stages of development.
The motivation for the work is for scientists to understand the “black box” period of development that is so called because scientists are only allowed to cultivate embryos in the lab up to a legal limit of 14 days. They then pick up the course of development much further along by looking at pregnancy scans and embryos donated for research.
Robin Lovell-Badge, the head of stem cell biology and developmental genetics at the Francis Crick Institute in London, said: “The idea is that if you really model normal human embryonic development using stem cells, you can gain an awful lot of information about how we begin development, what can go wrong, without having to use early embryos for research.”
Previously, Zernicka-Goetz’s team and a rival group at the Weizmann Institute in Israel showed that stem cells from mice could be encouraged to self-assemble into early embryo-like structures with an intestinal tract, the beginnings of a brain and a beating heart. Since then, a race has been under way to translate this work into human models, and several teams have been able to replicate the very earliest stages of development.
The full details of the latest work, from the Cambridge-Caltech lab, are yet to be published in a journal paper. But, speaking at the conference, Zernicka-Goetz described cultivating the embryos to a stage just beyond the equivalent of 14 days of development for a natural embryo.
The model structures, each grown from a single embryonic stem cell, reached the beginning of a developmental milestone known as gastrulation, when the embryo transforms from being a continuous sheet of cells to forming distinct cell lines and setting up the basic axes of the body. At this stage, the embryo does not yet have a beating heart, gut or beginnings of a brain, but the model showed the presence of primordial cells that are the precursor cells of egg and sperm.
“Our human model is the first three-lineage human embryo model that specifies amnion and germ cells, precursor cells of egg and sperm,” Zernicka-Goetz told the Guardian before the talk. “It’s beautiful and created entirely from embryonic stem cells.”
The development highlights how rapidly the science in this field has outpaced the law, and scientists in the UK and elsewhere are already moving to draw up voluntary guidelines to govern work on synthetic embryos. “If the whole intention is that these models are very much like normal embryos, then in a way they should be treated the same,” Lovell-Badge said. “Currently in legislation they’re not. People are worried about this.”
There is also a significant unanswered question on whether these structures, in theory, have the potential to grow into a living creature. The synthetic embryos grown from mouse cells were reported to appear almost identical to natural embryos. But when they were implanted into the wombs of female mice, they did not develop into live animals. In April, researchers in China created synthetic embryos from monkey cells and implanted them into the wombs of adult monkeys, a few of which showed the initial signs of pregnancy but none of which continued to develop beyond a few days. Scientists say it is not clear whether the barrier to more advanced development is merely technical or has a more fundamental biological cause.
“That’s very difficult to answer. It’s going to be hard to tell whether there’s an intrinsic problem with them or whether it’s just technical,” Lovell-Badge said. This unknown potential made the need for stronger legislation pressing, he said.
>>> Astronomers Stunned by Brightest Gamma Ray Burst Ever Recorded
March 28, 2023
On October 9, 2022, a gamma ray burst brighter than any before seen swept across Earth and space-based detectors. A team scrambled to take follow-up observations at radio wavelengths, and they confirmed that the burst was about 70 times brighter than anything recorded previously.
The astronomical team believes the 2022 explosion—reported on by Gizmodo at the time—was a one-in-10,000-year event. New research detailing aspects of the burst is published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
While the burst (its formal name is GRB 221009A) is probably not the brightest to ever occur, it is “likely the brightest burst at X-ray and gamma-ray energies to occur since human civilization began,” said Eric Burns, an astrophysicist at Louisiana State University a co-author of the study, in a University of Sydney release. That has earned it the title of BOAT, or “brightest of all time.”
The University of Sydney release notes that the burst was so bright that most gamma-ray instruments in space couldn’t measure its true intensity; they were literally blinded by the light.
When you think of violent explosions, your mind may go to nuclear weapons or the brilliant supernovae that mark the deaths of stars. But the biggest explosions in the universe are gamma ray bursts, which are thought to occur when massive stars collide or die and give way to black holes.
There are long- and short-duration gamma ray bursts; long bursts are any that are detected for more than two seconds. Short events are more often associated with star mergers and black hole formation, according to NASA, while longer bursts are associated with stellar deaths.
Stellar deaths sometimes give rise to massive, hyper-energetic jets of material, akin to those that spurt out of pulsars. When those jets are pointed directly at Earth—as the recent burst was—it makes the gamma rays particularly bright from our perspective.
Gamma ray bursts are fleeting and can originate at any point in the sky, making it much easier for astronomers to observe their afterglow than their initial, brilliant outburst. The follow-up radio observations of the recent burst were made with the CSIRO ASKAP telescope in Western Australia. (The ASKAP telescope detected a weird looking radio signal from the galactic center back in 2021.)
For weeks after the initial flash, X-ray light scattered off dust in the Milky Way on its way to us. That resulted in the appearance of several dust rings expanding outward from the direction of the burst. The nearest ring is about 1,300 light-years away, and the most distant is about 61,000 light-years away, on the other side of the Milky Way.
The researchers also took precise measurements of the burst’s reverse shock, or the wave of material that moves backward, toward the origin of the burst.
“Our observations provide unmatched insights into the reverse shock model for gamma-ray burst emission, showing it is very difficult for existing models to replicate the slow evolution of the energy peaks that we observed,” said James Leung, an astronomer at the University of Sydney and a co-author of a complementary study currently hosted on arXiv, in the University of Sydney release. “This means we have to refine and develop new theoretical models to understand these most extreme explosions in the Universe.”
Gamma rays could soon be used to detect gravitational waves, ripples in spacetime caused by enormous events like black hole mergers. Gravitational waves subtly alter the amount of time it takes for light to reach us from distant sources, subtleties that are currently detected using observatories like the LIGO and Virgo interferometers.
An even loftier goal is pinning down the gravitational wave background—you can think of it as the entire ocean of gravitational waves, dynamically criss-crossing as they are produced by black hole and neutron star collisions throughout the cosmos. Some researchers hope that gamma ray sources can be harnessed to create a timing array, similar to existing pulsar timing arrays.
>>> Elon Musk's Neuralink Reportedly One Step Closer To Testing On Humans
by Quentyn Kennemer
Today's generation is closer than any other to living in the cybernetic future that scriptwriters, gaming studios, and dystopian novelists collectively seared into society's conscience. We've long had medical devices like electronic brain implants and pacemakers to help diseased patients better combat pathological disorders and disabilities. Still, certain world visionaries hope to expand the capabilities of devices like these.
For the brain, Elon Musk's Neuralink hopes to develop implantable technology that can directly interface with a patient's neurological system and communicate with external computers. Neuralink is hopeful the technology can eventually help contribute to cures for ailments that can cause blindness and paralysis, among others.
Pursuing the venture since 2016, Neuralink has understandably stumbled over regulatory roadblocks amidst concerns about the safety of its unorthodox approach to medicine. Early animal trials reportedly raised red flags due to alarming mortality rates among test subjects, and controversies surrounding the trial's processes have not helped its cause, causing the food and drug administration to block human trials in the United States earlier in 2022.
However, Reuters reports that Neuralink is looking to take significant steps to solidify its research efforts by approaching the Arizona-based neurosurgery firm Barrow Neurological Institute to explore a partnership to host clinical trials. Barrow boasts as one of the best hospitals for neurology and neurosurgery by publications like Newsweek, which ranked it 10th in the United States and 15th worldwide based on research backed by Statista.
Perhaps the most tricky organs to operate on, ordinary brain surgeries are still considered extraordinary risks, so neither side can afford to step carelessly in this arena. Drawing the ire of animal rights activists is its own excruciating migraine. Still, the stakes are much higher when operating on humans, even when would-be participants sign away their medical protections to join trials like these.
Musk's eventual plans for Neuralink to extend beyond pure health. In addition to stamping out disease, improving cognitive function, and increasing general quality of life, he's hopeful the technology will eventually evolve to allow us to control devices by thought and even upload our memories to the cloud, a future scenario several sci-fi creatives have already dreamed up, for better or worse.
It would be an endearing gift to humanity, to say the least, but one that most can certainly agree shouldn't be rushed out of the lab. For Neuralink to approach any such institution, it must be confident that it'll eventually be able to carry out these trials on human subjects safely.
Despite the hurdles, Musk raised a six-month window for trial approvals back in December 2022. Hence, the timing of today's news surely piques curiosity about the project's rapid movement of late. One major misstep could perpetually harm the technology's future potential, so we'll wait with bated breath to see just how serious Neuralink is about getting the basics right.
>>> Cultured meat firm resurrects woolly mammoth in lab-grown meatball
by Paul Sawers
Truth, as the saying goes, is often stranger than fiction. The very notion of resurrecting the long-extinct woolly mammoth was the stuff of fantasy not that long ago, but scientists are already working on ways to achieve something close to that, using DNA from soft-tissue in frozen mammoth remains and meshing it with that of a modern-day elephant.
But while such “de-extinction” projects may or may not ultimately succeed, one company is already laying claim to having produced the first meat product made from mammoth DNA.
Vow, an Australian cultivated food company that creates meat in a laboratory setting from animal cells, says that it has used advanced molecular engineering to resurrect the woolly mammoth in meatball form, by combining original mammoth DNA with fragments of an African elephant’s DNA.
There’s little question that cultivated meat is coming, evidenced by the countless companies raising vast swathes of venture capital funding to produce meat and fish in a lab from animal cells, as well as the fact that companies are now starting to receiving the blessings of regulators such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But while pork sausages and seafood make sense insofar as they are food that people are familiar with, Vow — which closed a $49.2 million round of funding just a few months ago — is clearly upping the ante with its foray into the world of extinct animals.
It’s worth acknowledging that there is a sizeable element of marketing magicianship to this announcement. The very concept was devised by communications agency and WPP-subsidiary Wunderman Thompson, which tells us something about the intent here — this is very much a promotional campaign for Vow. But at the same time, it’s also a promotional campaign for cultured meat in general, and the role it could play in creating a sustainable protein source that doesn’t involve killing animals. By some estimations, around 60% of greenhouse gas emissions from food production emanate from animal-based foods, double that of plant-based equivalents.
“The goal behind creating the mammoth meatball was really about starting that discussion around food, and what that decision to eat meat really means to the world at large, by bringing an extinct protein back to life,” James Ryall, Vow’s chief science officer, said in a video promoting the mammoth meatball.
Ryall said that the company first identified the mammoth myoglobin, a protein that is key to giving meat its color and taste, and then used publicly available data to identify the DNA sequence in mammoths.
“We filled in any gaps in the DNA sequence of this mammoth myoglobin gene, by using the genome of the African elephant, the mammoth’s closest living relative,” Ryall said. “We inserted the mammoth myoglobin gene into our cells using a very low-current and high-voltage charge. Then we continued to grow and multiply these cells just as would occur in a mammoth thousands of years ago. And the amazing thing about this is that not a single animal needed to die to produce the mammoth meatball.”
This isn’t the first time scientists have created food products from extinct animals. Back in 2018, a VC-backed Silicon Valley startup called Geltor made gummies using protein from a mastodon, another distant relative of elephants. However, in this latest instance, it’s believed that nobody has actually tasted one of the mammoth meatballs. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Professor Ernst Wolvetang, from the Australian Institute for Bioengineering at the University of Queensland which worked with Vow in this project, suggested that it’s probably not safe to try the meatball just now.
“We haven’t seen this protein for thousands of years,” Wolvetang said. “So we have no idea how our immune system would react when we eat it. But if we did it again, we could certainly do it in a way that would make it more palatable to regulatory bodies.”
The mammoth meatball is set to be officially unveiled at Nemo Science Museum in the Netherlands today.
Cultured meat firm resurrects woolly mammoth in lab-grown meatball by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch