Category Archives: Science

Vertical Farming

This is really cool, and great news in a lot of ways.  From impactalpha.com:

Bowery Farming raises $20 million for vertical farm expansion. Indoor farming is still small but investors think it’s poised for growth with rising global food need and the environmental strain of traditional agriculture. Bowery Farming, based in Kearny, N.J., calls itself a tech venture focused on the future of food and claims its approach grows 100 times more produce than a similarly-sized outdoor farm. It has raised $27.5 million to date for its approach to growing greens indoors. The process uses LED lighting, robotics and specially-developed software. The latest funding round was backed by Google’s venture fund, GV; General Catalyst; and GGV Capital—a venture capital firm focused on the U.S. and China. Vertical farming “is no longer just a pie-in-the-sky theory,” says GGV’s Hans Tung. “It has the chance to scale in the next five years.” Earlier this month, AeroFarms, another New Jersey indoor farming operation, raised $34 million from Emirati investors interested in bringing the technology to the desert-covered Gulf region.

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Electric Airplanes

From Real Assets Advisor.  Electric planes are under serious development.  This is amazing.  Will they be covered in solar energy capturing PV panels?  How can they carry enough batteries and still fly?

“Easyjet has had discussions with Wright Electric and is actively providing an airline operator’s perspective on the development of this exciting technology,” the airline told the BBC.

Founded in 2016, Wright Electric says the first plane, the Wright One, is being designed for flights that cover air corridors such as New York-to-Boston, London-to-Paris, and Seoul-to-Jeju.

“Our plane has to be so much cheaper that it’s a no-brainer,” the company wrote in a recent blog post. “For context, Boeing built the 787 to achieve 20 percent fuel savings over the 767. Fuel is such an expensive component of flying that 20 percent was considered sufficient to justify the development costs of a new plane. In our case, the Wright One has the potential to achieve fuel savings of as much as 50 percent.”

Wright Electric hired a team that had been previously funded by NASA to investigate the potential for electric planes, which company co-founder Jeff Engler says puts the startup years ahead of the competition.

 

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Yale Brain Research

So, there are specific and separate “hunt” and “kill” neurons?  Each of those behaviors is complex, not simple.    From FT:

Scientists turn mild-mannered mice into killers

The researchers at Yale University used “optogenetic” technology, which switches specific neurons on and off in genetically engineered animals with laser light, to tap into brain mechanisms that control predatory hunting.

By manipulating brain cells in this region through optogenetics, the Yale team found one distinct set of neurons controlled pursuit and another controlled the kill. If the hunting neurons were switched on and the biting set inactivated, the mice pursued prey but could not deliver the killer bite to finish it off.

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Spinal Cord Stem Cell Therapy Success!

This is wonderful news.  From Patrick Cox, via John Mauldin:

USC neuroscientists just announced truly historic news about BioTime’s (BTX) (*see disclosure below) stem cell platform. For the first time, a quadriplegic patient with complete injury to the spinal cord has substantially recovered.

I’ve told you this was coming, but I wanted to get more information to you today as news of this long-awaited breakthrough in neurobiology spreads through the media. In fact, the news is even better than the information released by the Keck Medical Center of USC would indicate… and you should understand why.

A press release of this nature must follow strict conventions enforced by the SEC and FDA as well as traditional scientific guidelines. For example, the news release describes this spinal cord treatment, an injection of stem cells into the area of spinal cord injury, as “a procedure that may improve neurological function.” Watch the following video, however, and the only reasonable conclusion you can make is that the procedure has already done that.

Watch the entire B-roll video that USC has made available to the media. B-roll video isn’t edited as a story, of course. Rather, it’s meant to supply short video snippets for reporters. Nevertheless, most of this material is worth watching as it provides more information than is available in the extremely reserved press release, which is available here.

Note that Charles Liu, MD, PhD, says that this procedure should change the way that scientists and doctors think about spinal cord injury, making it possible to aim for full functional recovery for the first time.

The part of the B-roll that really gets me is seeing Kris Boesen, the 21-year-old man who received the treatment, wipe tears from his eyes while expressing his gratitude toward the scientists who made it possible. Prior to receiving BioTime’s stem cell therapy, Boesen was completely paralyzed from the neck down and couldn’t even lift his hands to his face.

Note also that Boesen mentions that his recovery is ongoing—from the top of the spine downward. We don’t yet know if he will regain use of his lower body, but he reports positive indications.

The critical part of this story that is entirely left out of the press release, however, is that the patient would have made a far better recovery if he had been treated promptly. Boesen was injured on March 6 but could only communicate his desire to participate in the clinical trial through head movements. He had to undergo assisted breathing therapy before he could give verbal consent.

That means that about a month of serious scarification took place before 10 million AST-OPC1 cells were injected into Boesen’s cervical spine. Scarring is the enemy of nerve reattachment and the reason that this procedure is only being administered to patients who have recently suffered spinal cord injuries.

Nevertheless, those stem cells managed to sort out and self-assemble, connecting severed nerves correctly from the upper and lower sides of the injury. This is the true power of regenerative medicine. It doesn’t rely on the surgeon’s skill. It’s the patient’s genome and the biological wisdom inherent in pluripotent stem cells that affect the cure.

 

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More Gut Bacteria Research: This time with Cancer treatments

From New Scientist:

How well a cancer treatment works might depend on what’s living in your gut. Two studies in mice have shown that gut bacteria can influence the effectiveness of treatments for cancer.

Drugs such as ipilimumab, which is given to people with advanced melanoma, work by activating the immune system to help it fight cancer.

Some people who take the drug experience inflammation in the gut. This led Mathias Chamaillard at the University of Lille, France, to wonder whether gut bacteria might be interacting with the drug.

To investigate, Chamaillard and his colleagues gave ipilimumab to mice that lack bacteria in their gut. The drug wasn’t as effective at treating cancer in these mice compared with mice with normal gut bacteria. The effectiveness of the drug also decreased when the normal mice were given antibiotics to wipe out their gut bacteria.

Faecal samples revealed that ipilimumab caused a decrease in two types of bacteria, Bacteroidales and Burkholderiales, in the gut. Replenishing these microbes in both sets of mice restored the efficacy of the drug.

There’s more; click the link.

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Aircraft carrier jet fuel

The headline to this article is misleading, to say the least, and I’m late to the party here, but it’s still an interesting development.  Next up:  tanks that run on human waste.

The U.S. Navy Just Announced The End Of Big Oil And No One Noticed

Source: www.proudtobeafilthyliberalscum.com | Original Post Date: April 12, 2014 –

the-u-s-navy-just-announced-the-end-of-big-oil-and-no-one-noticed

Surf’s up! The Navy appears to have achieved the Holy Grail of energy independence – turning seawater into fuel:

After decades of experiments, U.S. Navy scientists believe they may have solved one of the world’s great challenges: how to turn seawater into fuel.

The new fuel is initially expected to cost around $3 to $6 per gallon, according to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, which has already flown a model aircraft on it.

So, what this really means is that the nuclear reactors powering the ships will also power the equipment that makes this fuel, because conservation of mass/energy.  It’s not displacing fossil fuels in other ways, it just means they don’t have to carry it around with them, but can make it as needed.  Still interesting.

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How we think

From Dynamic Hedge.  The author has a friend who suffered an injury resulting in short term memory loss.  Each time he went to see him, they repeated the same conversations, with his friend offering the exact same responses every time.

Two brain analogies

Imagine a massive house or building. Each attribute of the building represents something unique that make us who we are. Things like our genetic predispositions, our personality, cognitive biases, our ethical constructs all form this one-of-a-kind building. Reality comes to us like weather. The wind blows, rain falls, or a child bounces a ball off the door. Depending the design of your house the water may pool in some areas, and the child’s ball may rebound wildly depending on the shape of the door. Our interactions with others are simply bounced back off our emotional exterior with the same predictability as a ball bouncing off the side of a house. The house is built the way it’s built, and there’s little choice in how things interact. And mostly nothing we can do to stop the govern the responses except to go through the painstaking process of changing the structure. Call this the fortress paradigm.

Now, imagine a bus driver standing behind a giant steering wheel. The driver is navigating intersections of choice as he travels life’s road. However, it’s not easy to steer because the bus filled with backseat drivers representing our genetic predispositions, our personality, cognitive biases, our ethical constructs, or even a spontaneous emotional state. Sometimes the passengers reach for the wheel and try to steer the bus themselves. Nevertheless the driver can see intersections and decide to turn left or right, and those decisions feel like real choice. In this world, all we have to do is quiet the backseat drivers to adjust our true course. Call this the bus driver paradigm.

In my view, my friends behavior shows that we are probably more fortress than bus driver. Interacting the same way over and over again seems to implicate he was bouncing back reactions more than he was consciously considering them. These reactions were wholly unique to him but such minor variation in his patterns (not just reacting, but initiating jokes, etc.) leads me to the conclusion that he had little conscious authorship in the interaction. It happened again and again. To believe he was more of a bus driver would mean that he might have different reactions, if only once in a while.

What does it mean?

I never imagined myself as an immovable object with outside events bouncing off me, predetermined by physics. For my entire life, I imagined my consciousness and decision-making capability similar to that of the bus driver. However, seeing my friend work through the same interactions with people over and over again made me think that there may be some things burned into the deeper levels of our psyche that we have no control over. Potentially, some facets of what we consider our “self” may be even deeper than even the subconscious and exist in our nervous system or some other aspect of out physiology. Philosophy on this topic is clearly beyond my expertise, but my experience (rather than intuition) makes this possibility hard to ignore.

If our identity and behaviors exist on a more primal level than consciousness, it explains why self-help leaves many disgruntled and why personal development is so difficult. The self-help industry emerged and profited greatly from the boomer generations growing self-consciousness that behavior may be the root of their problems. While this might be true, the reason many people become disillusioned with self-help is because they underestimate the difficulty that meaningful change requires. Altering a fortress is no easy task.

There are a couple very positive conclusions I come to based on my experience. One of them is that if you believe you are more fortress than a bus driver, listening to others is more valuable than ever before. The easiest way to take yourself off your default “story path” is to shut up and listen more.

This reminds me of Kahneman’s system 1 and system 2 thinking.  We must make an effort to use our brains.

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