We live in a time when science and technology are having an impact on our society in more and more ways. And the decisions that shape how these new fields of knowledge develop ultimately affect all of us. When I studied biology in high school, I didn’t learn about DNA for a very simple reason. The work of Francis Crick, James Watson, Rosalind Franklin and others who unlocked the structure of the basic code of life was still years away. The idea of engineering human beings? Well, that was firmly the stuff of science fiction, like Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World (published a year after my birth). It seemed as likely as, say, going to the moon. There are a few inferences you can make from this framing of my life. One is that I have been on the planet for a while. The other is the speed of change in what we know about what life is, and how we can control it, has accelerated at a rapid rate. Now we as a species are on the precipice of being able to manipulate the … [Read more...] about Gene editing will let us control our very evolution. Will we use it wisely?
Produced with genetic engineering
Jim McCants took green tea capsules in a drive to get healthy in middle age. His doctors now say they left him needing an urgent liver transplant, writes the BBC's Tristan Quinn.It should have been one of the happiest days of his life. But Jim McCants looks back on his youngest son's high school graduation with mixed emotions. As he sat down next to his wife Cathleen in the university auditorium, just outside Dallas, Texas, she turned to look at him. "She said 'Do you feel OK?'" Jim recalls. "I said, 'Yeah I feel fine, why?' 'Your face is yellow, your eyes are yellow, you look terrible.' When I looked in the mirror it was shocking." It was shocking partly because Jim, then 50, had been working on improving his lifestyle and losing weight, focusing on eating more healthily and taking regular exercise."My dad had a heart attack at aged 59 and he did not make it," says Jim. "There's a lot that he missed out on with us and I was determined to do what I can to take care of myself as best I … [Read more...] about ‘The food supplement that ruined my liver’
Human urine has been used to create environmentally friendly bricks by university students in South Africa.They combined urine with sand and bacteria in a process that allows the bricks to solidify at room temperature."It's essentially the same way that coral is made in the ocean," Dyllon Randall, their supervisor at the University of Cape Town, told the BBC.Normal bricks need to be baked in high-temperature kilns that produce large amounts of carbon dioxide. 'As hard as limestone'The engineering students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have been harvesting urine from men's toilets.After first making a solid fertiliser, the leftover liquid is then used in a biological process "to grow" what the university calls "bio-bricks".The process is called microbial carbonate precipitation.The bacteria produces an enzyme that breaks down urea in the urine, forming calcium carbonate, which then binds the sand into rock hard, grey bricks.How many loo breaks to make a brick? On average a … [Read more...] about Human urine bricks invented by South African students
It's another demonstration of the power of Big Data - of mining a huge batch of statistics to see patterns of behaviour that were simply not apparent before. Computers have crunched 22 billion identification messages transmitted by sea-going vessels to map fishing activity around the globe. The analysis reveals that more than 55% of the world's oceans are subject to industrial exploitation. By area, fishing's footprint is now over four times that of agriculture. That's an astonishing observation given that fisheries provide only 1.2% of global caloric production for human food consumption. The investigation shows clearly that the biggest influences on this activity are not environmental - whether it is summer or winter, or whether there is an El Niño or fish are migrating, for example. Rather, the major controlling factors are very largely political and cultural. "You'd think that fishing activity would follow some natural pulse of the seasons, but in fact that's secondary to … [Read more...] about World’s fishing fleets mapped from orbit
One day in February 2014, a dusty and dented pick-up truck approached an Isis checkpoint outside the Syrian border town of Tell Abyad, carrying two men dressed in the simple djellaba robes and loose keffiyehs worn by local farmers. The fighter on duty checked their identity cards and cast an eye over the fertiliser bags and scraps of wood piled in the back of the vehicle. The driver and his passenger said they were in the area to visit relatives, and the fighter waved them through. The two men drove across the Turkish border, having cleared the last – and potentially most lethal – obstacle on a long clandestine journey. Hidden under the sacks of fertiliser in the back of the truck was a batch of documents salvaged from the battlefields of Syria’s bloody conflict, and smuggled across the country at enormous risk. Amid the thousands of pages of military orders and government reports that had just come across the border was vital evidence of war crimes, which could one … [Read more...] about Syria’s truth smugglers