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Archive for the ‘biological’ category

Jan 14, 2021

Inspired by kombucha tea, engineers create ‘living materials’

Posted by in categories: biological, sustainability

Engineers at MIT and Imperial College London have developed a new way to generate tough, functional materials using a mixture of bacteria and yeast similar to the “kombucha mother” used to ferment tea.

Using this mixture, also called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), the researchers were able to produce cellulose embedded with enzymes that can perform a variety of functions, such as sensing environmental pollutants. They also showed that they could incorporate yeast directly into the material, creating “living materials” that could be used to purify water or to make “smart” packaging materials that can detect damage.

“We foresee a future where diverse materials could be grown at home or in local production facilities, using biology rather than resource-intensive centralized manufacturing,” says Timothy Lu, an MIT associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and of .

Jan 13, 2021

Artificial Flesh

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, ethics, food, futurism, health, innovation, science, sustainability

Review: Meat Planet (2019) by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft

In the words of the book’s author, Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft, Meat Planet: Artificial Flesh and the Future of Food (2019) is “not an attempt at prediction but rather a study of cultured meat as a special case of speculation on the future of food, and as a lens through which to view the predictions we make about how technology changes the world.” While not serving as some crystal ball to tell us the future of food, Wurgaft’s book certainly does serve as a kind of lens.

Our very appetites are questioned quite a bit in the book. Wondering about the ever-changing history of food, the author asks, “Will it be an effort to reproduce the industrial meat forms we know, albeit on a novel, and more ethical and sustainable, foundation?” Questioning why hamburgers are automatically the default goal, he points out cultured meat advocates should carefully consider “the question of which human appetite for meat, in historical terms, they wish to satisfy.”

Wurgaft’s question of “which human appetite” – past, present, or future – is an excellent one. If we use his book as a lens to observe other emerging technologies, the question extends well beyond our choices of food. It could even have direct implications for such endeavours as radical life extension. Will we, if we extend our lifetimes, be satisfactory to future people? We already know the kind of clash that persists between different generations, and the blame we often place on previous generations for current social ills, without there also being a group of people who simply refuse to die. We should be wary of basing our future on the present – of attempting to preserve present tastes as somehow immutable and deserving immortality. This may be a problem such futurists as Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near (2005) need to respond to.

If we are to justify the singularity at which we or our appetites are immortalized, we should remember technology changes “morality’s horizon”, as Wurgaft observes. If, for example, a new technology arises that can entirely eliminate suffering, our choice to allow suffering is an immoral one. If further technologies then emerge that can eliminate not just suffering but death, it will become immoral on that day to permit someone’s natural death – at least to the extent it is like the crime of manslaughter. I argued in my own book that it will be immoral to withhold novel biotechnologies from impoverished countries, if we know such direct action will increase their economic independence or improve their health. Put simply, our inaction in a situation can become an immoral deed if we have the necessary tools to stop suffering.

Continue reading “Artificial Flesh” »

Jan 11, 2021

Entangled photons can see through translucent materials

Posted by in categories: biological, quantum physics

Quantum twist on optical coherence tomography offers million-fold improvement in imaging.


Entangled pairs of photons have been used by physicists in Germany and Austria to image structures beneath the surfaces of materials that scatter light. The research was led by Aron Vanselow and Sven Ramelow at Humboldt University of Berlin and achieved high-resolution images of the samples using “ultra-broadband” photon pairs with very different wavelengths. One photon probed the sample, while the other read out image information. Their compact, low-cost and non-destructive system could be put to work inspecting advanced ceramics and mixing in fluids.

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a powerful tool for imaging structures beneath the surfaces of translucent materials and has a number of applications including the 3D scanning of biological tissues. The technique uses interferometry to reject the majority of light that has scattered many times in an object, focussing instead on the rare instances when light only scatters once from a feature of interest. This usually involves probing the material with visible or near-infrared light, which can be easily produced and detected. Yet in some materials such as ceramics, paints, and micro-porous samples, visible and near-infrared light is strongly scattered – which limits the use of OCT. Mid-infrared light, however, can penetrate deeper into these samples without scattering – but this light is far more difficult to produce and detect.

Continue reading “Entangled photons can see through translucent materials” »

Jan 9, 2021

Can science reverse the ageing process?

Posted by in categories: bioengineering, biological, life extension, science

The idea of slowing down the ageing process and living healthier, more productive lives is hugely appealing. It’s led to a growing trend for people looking to take control of their own biology, optimising their bodies and minds through ‘biohacking’. But how safe and ethical is this pursuit of longevity? And are there more natural ways of expanding your healthy lifespan? Video by Dan John Animation by Adam Proctor.

Jan 8, 2021

Scientists develop a cheaper method that might help create fuels from plants

Posted by in categories: biological, chemistry, government, sustainability

Scientists have figured out a cheaper, more efficient way to conduct a chemical reaction at the heart of many biological processes, which may lead to better ways to create biofuels from plants.

Scientists around the world have been trying for years to create biofuels and other bioproducts more cheaply; this study, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests that it is possible to do so.

“The process of converting sugar to alcohol has to be very efficient if you want to have the end product be competitive with ,” said Venkat Gopalan, a senior author on the paper and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at The Ohio State University. “The process of how to do that is well-established, but the cost makes it not competitive, even with significant government subsidies. This new development is likely to help lower the cost.”

Jan 5, 2021

Researchers report new state of matter described as ‘liquid glass’

Posted by in categories: biological, chemistry, physics

Discovery of liquid glass sheds light on the old scientific problem of the glass transition: An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Konstanz has uncovered a new state of matter, liquid glass, with previously unknown structural elements—new insights into the nature of glass and its transitions.

While glass is a truly ubiquitous material that we use on a daily basis, it also represents a major scientific conundrum. Contrary to what one might expect, the true nature of glass remains something of a mystery, with scientific inquiry into its chemical and physical properties still underway. In chemistry and physics, the term glass itself is a mutable concept: It includes the substance we know as window glass, but it may also refer to a range of other materials with properties that can be explained by reference to glass-like behavior, including, for instance, metals, plastics, proteins, and even biological cells.

While it may give the impression, glass is anything but conventionally solid. Typically, when a material transitions from a liquid to a the molecules line up to form a crystal pattern. In glass, this does not happen. Instead, the molecules are effectively frozen in place before crystallization happens. This strange and disordered state is characteristic of glasses across different systems and scientists are still trying to understand how exactly this metastable state forms.

Jan 5, 2021

What if humans had photosynthetic skin?

Posted by in categories: biological, cyborgs, sustainability

“For example, a number of animals benefit from solar-powered molecules. The pea aphid produces pigments that, with the aid of light, generate adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the compound that powers reactions with cells. In addition, a stripe of yellow pigment on the exoskeleton of the Oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis) converts light to electricity, which could help to explain why these insects become more active during the middle of the day. Other animals make use of actual photosynthesis, using sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to produce sugars and other vital compounds. Plants and algae rely on chloroplasts, structures within their cells, to carry out photosynthesis, but Elysia sea slugs can steal chloroplasts from algae they graze on, to help them live solely on photosynthesis for months… Many other animals reap benefits from photosynthesis by forming partnerships instead. For instance, most corals partner with photosynthetic symbiotic microbes known as zooxanthellae, while the eggs of spotted salamanders receive valuable oxygen from algae.”


If humans had green skin, for instance, what if it granted us the ability to perform photosynthesis, which plants use to live off of sunlight?

Dec 30, 2020

Aerolysin nanopores decode digital information stored in tailored macromolecular analytes

Posted by in categories: bioengineering, biological, chemistry, computing, encryption, genetics, information science

Digital data storage is a growing need for our society and finding alternative solutions than those based on silicon or magnetic tapes is a challenge in the era of “big data.” The recent development of polymers that can store information at the molecular level has opened up new opportunities for ultrahigh density data storage, long-term archival, anticounterfeiting systems, and molecular cryptography. However, synthetic informational polymers are so far only deciphered by tandem mass spectrometry. In comparison, nanopore technology can be faster, cheaper, nondestructive and provide detection at the single-molecule level; moreover, it can be massively parallelized and miniaturized in portable devices. Here, we demonstrate the ability of engineered aerolysin nanopores to accurately read, with single-bit resolution, the digital information encoded in tailored informational polymers alone and in mixed samples, without compromising information density. These findings open promising possibilities to develop writing-reading technologies to process digital data using a biological-inspired platform.

DNA has evolved to store genetic information in living systems; therefore, it was naturally proposed to be similarly used as a support for data storage (1–3), given its high-information density and long-term storage with respect to existing technologies based on silicon and magnetic tapes. Alternatively, synthetic informational polymers have also been described (5–9) as a promising approach allowing digital storage. In these polymers, information is stored in a controlled monomer sequence, a strategy that is also used by nature in genetic material. In both cases, single-molecule data writing is achieved mainly by stepwise chemical synthesis (3, 10, 11), although enzymatic approaches have also been reported (12). While most of the progress in this area has been made with DNA, which was an obvious starting choice, the molecular structure of DNA is set by biological function, and therefore, there is little space for optimization and innovation.

Dec 29, 2020

Exploring the notion of shortcut learning in deep neural networks

Posted by in categories: biological, robotics/AI

Over the past few years, artificial intelligence (AI) tools, particularly deep neural networks, have achieved remarkable results on a number of tasks. However, recent studies have found that these computational techniques have a number of limitations. In a recent paper published in Nature Machine Intelligence, researchers at Tübingen and Toronto universities explored and discussed a problem known as ‘shortcut learning’ that appears to underpin many of the shortcomings of deep neural networks identified in recent years.

“I decided to start working on this project during a science-related travel in the U.S., together with Claudio Michaelis, a dear colleague and friend of mine,” Robert Geirhos, one of the researchers who carried out the study, told TechXplore. “We first attended a deep learning conference, then visited an animal research laboratory, and finally, a human vision conference. Somewhat surprisingly, we noticed the very same pattern in very different settings: ‘shortcut learning,’ or ‘cheating,’ appeared to be a common characteristic across both artificial and biological intelligence.”

Geirhos and Michaelis believed that shortcut learning, the phenomenon they observed, could explain the discrepancy between the excellent performance and iconic failures of many deep neural networks. To investigate this idea further, they teamed up with other colleagues, including Jörn-Henrik Jacobsen, Richard Zemel, Wieland Brendel, Matthias Bethge and Felix Wichmann.

Dec 21, 2020

What to Look For in a Biological Clock

Posted by in category: biological

In this article, I’m reporting on.

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