A recent study tested how well the fungi species Cladosporium sphaerospermum blocked cosmic radiation aboard the International Space Station.
- Radiation is one of the biggest threats to astronauts' safety during long-term missions.
- C. sphaerospermum is known to thrive in high-radiation environments through a process called radiosynthesis.
- The results of the study suggest that a thin layer of the fungus could serve as an effective shield against cosmic radiation for astronauts.
Shunk et al.<p>Additionally, the fungus is self-replicating, meaning astronauts would potentially be able to "grow" new radiation shielding on deep-space missions, instead of having to rely on a costly and complicated interplanetary supply chain.</p><p>Still, the researchers weren't sure whether <em>C. sphaerospermum</em> would survive on the space station. Nils J.H. Averesch, a co-author of the <a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.16.205534v1.full.pdf" target="_blank">study published on the preprint server bioRxiv</a>, told <a href="https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/fungus-that-eats-radiation-could-be-cosmic-ray-shield" target="_blank">SYFY WIRE</a>:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"While on Earth, most sources of radiation are gamma- and/or X-rays; radiation in space and on Mars (also known as GCR or galactic cosmic radiation) is of a completely different kind and involves highly energetic particles, mostly protons. This radiation is even more destructive than X- and gamma-rays, so not even survival of the fungus on the ISS was a given."</p>
International Space Station
NASA<p>To be sure, the researchers said more research is needed, and that <em>C. sphaerospermum</em> would likely be used in combination with other radiation-shielding technology aboard spacecraft. But the findings highlight how relatively simple biotechnologies may offer outsized benefits on upcoming space missions.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Often nature has already developed blindly obvious yet surprisingly effective solutions to engineering and design problems faced as humankind evolves – C. sphaerospermum and melanin could thus prove to be invaluable in providing adequate protection of explorers on future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond," the researchers wrote.</p>
Scientists figured out how a certain treatment for skin cancer gives some patients a visual "superpower."
- In the early 2000s, it was reported that some cancer patients being treated with chlorin e6 were experiencing enhanced night vision.
- Using a molecular simulation, researchers discovered that a chlorin e6 injection under infrared light activates vision by changing retinal in the same way that visible light does.
- Researchers hope that this chemical reaction could one day be harnessed to help treat certain types of blindness and sensitivity to light.
In the early 2000s, it was reported that a certain kind of skin cancer treatment called photodynamic therapy, which uses light to destroy malignant cells, had a bizarre side effect: It was giving patients enhanced night time vision.An essential component to this therapy is a photosensitive compound called chlorin e6. Some people being treated with chlorin e6 were upset to discover that they were seeing silhouettes and outlines in the dark. Researchers think they might finally know why this happens.
The chemistry of vision
Rods and cones photoreceptors in a human retina.
Photo Credit: Dr. Robert Fariss, National Eye Institute, NIH / Flickr
"Seeing" happens when a series of receptors in the retina, the cones and rods, collect light. Rods contain a lot of rhodopsin, a photosensitive protein that absorbs visible light thanks to an active compound found in it called retinal. When retinal is exposed to visible light, it splits from rhodopsin. This then allows the light signal to be converted into an electrical signal that the visual cortex of our brains interprets into sight. Of course, there is "less light" at night, which actually means that light radiation is not in a domain visible to humans. It's at higher wavelengths (the infrared level) that retinal is not sensitive to. Hence, why we can't see in the dark like many critters can.
But the vision process can be activated by another interaction of light and chemistry. As it turns out, a chlorin e6 injection under infrared light changes retinal in the same way that visible light does. This is the cause of the unforeseen night vision side effect of the treatment."This explains the increase in night-time visual acuity," chemist Antonio Monari, from the University of Lorraine in France, told CNRS. "However, we did not know precisely how rhodopsin and its active retinal group interacted with chlorin. It is this mechanism that we have now succeeded in elucidating via molecular simulation."
"Molecular simulation" is a method that uses an algorithm that integrates the laws of quantum and Newtonian physics to model the functioning of a biological system over time. The team used this method to mimic the biomechanical movements of individual atoms – that is, their attraction or repulsion to one another – along with the making or breaking of chemical bonds.
"For our simulation we placed a virtual rhodopsin protein inserted in its lipid membrane in contact with several chlorin e6 molecules and water, or several tens of thousands of atoms," Monari explained to CNRS. "Our super-calculators ran for several months and completed millions of calculations before they were able to simulate the entire biochemical reaction triggered by infrared radiation." In nature, this phenomena occurs within fractions of a nanosecond.
The molecular simulation showed that when the chlorin e6 molecule absorbs the infrared radiation, it interacts with the oxygen present in the eye tissue and transforms it into reactive, or singlet, oxygen. In addition to killing cancer cells, "singlet oxygen" can also react with retinal to enable a slightly enhanced eyesight at night, when light waves are at the infrared level.
Now that researchers know why the "supernatural" side effect occurs, they may be able to limit the chance of it happening to patients undergoing photodynamic treatment. Thinking further out, the researchers hope for the possibility that this chemical reaction could be harnessed to help treat certain types of blindness and sensitivity to light.
Ultimately, researchers say that this has been a big flex for the power of molecular simulations, which can give us astonishing scientific insights like this.
"Molecular simulation is already being used to shed light on fundamental mechanisms – for example, why certain DNA lesions are better repaired than others – and enable the selection of potential therapeutic molecules by mimicking their interaction with a chosen target," Monari told CNRS.Don't hold your breath on night vision eyedrops though.
Switching over to a vegan-based diet can drastically cut CO2 emissions. But will Americans actually change their diet?
- According to researchers at Oxford University, meat is around 35 times more damaging than serving of greens.
- Going vegan for just two-thirds of meals while still occasionally indulging in animal products would cut food-related greenhouse-gas emissions by almost 60 percent.
- As veganism goes mainstream among younger Americans, we might be witnessing a Western diet revolution.
What the Research Says<p>There have already been some pretty sobering studies on the negative impacts of a carnivorous diet on both <a href="https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2019/04/26/bacon-salami-and-sausages-how-does-processed-meat-cause-cancer-and-how-much-matters/" target="_blank">the human body</a> and <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/01/commission-report-great-food-transformation-plant-diet-climate-change/" target="_blank">the planet</a>, but for whatever reason Americans seem to struggle with actually swapping out steak for tofu. The amount of meat that American and British citizens consume has actually risen by 10 percent since 1970, according to data from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.</p><p>But what if that could drastically curb climate change? </p><p>This week, research published by scientists at Oxford University made some shocking estimates regarding both the environmental and medical concerns of eating extra servings of certain types of food. One sobering finding related to health was that by eating an additional 50 grams of processed red meat (about two slices of ham) per day as compared to a person who eats the typical Western diet outlined in the paper, you elevate your chances of dying within the year by an alarming 41 percent. Yet, this pales in comparison to the environmental impact of eating meat.</p>A 50 gram portion of red meat is linked to at least 20 times more greenhouse-gas emissions and 100 times the land use as a 100g portion of vegetables, which is considered the standard serving size. "Averaged across all the ecological indicators the authors used, red meat was about 35 times as damaging as a bowl of greens," <a href="https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2019/11/15/how-much-would-giving-up-meat-help-the-environment" target="_blank">reports the Economist</a>.
Flirting with Veganism<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5NTE1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjY3NDE4MH0.9lsGJsEZDBXPyylYNWQhYAOxkdxpwZee95e9vdvl2HY/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C105%2C0%2C1&height=700" id="afb9e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1a89d9af4c79ce87476a8340f60155f9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo source: Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker / Flickr<p>In another study conducted earlier this year, researchers at John Hopkins University along with other institutions simulated the ecological impacts of certain dietary substitutions. They too found that sacrificing meat makes an enormous impact. </p><p><em>The Economist</em> reports that compared with an American who consumes 2,300 calories of a typical combination of foods, a vegetarian slices 30 percent off of their annual green-house gas emissions by diet alone. Reducing dairy makes a big difference, too. If you can't bring yourself to go totally vegetarian for the planet, consider cutting out milk and cheese. After all, <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/methane/" target="_blank">cows contribute 40 percent</a> of the annual methane produced per year.</p><p>Obviously, the most ecologically clean diet is total plant-based veganism. Adherents to that diet cut down their carbon footprint by a whopping 85 percent. But you don't have to put a ring on veganism to radically lower carbon emissions through your diet. Going vegan for just two-thirds of meals while still occasionally indulging in animal products would cut food-related greenhouse-gas emissions by almost 60 percent.</p>
Food of the Future<p>Diet has played a fundamental role in the disastrous unsustainability of modern life. It's today's younger generations who are left with the catastrophic eruption of what humans have been doing to the Earth for the last few centuries. As we watch the Amazon burn, the arctic melt, and whole species get wiped out, it's no surprise that most American teens are <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/most-american-teens-are-frightened-by-climate-change-poll-finds-and-about-1-in-4-are-taking-action/2019/09/15/1936da1c-d639-11e9-9610-fb56c5522e1c_story.html" target="_blank">anxious about climate change</a> with around a quarter taking action. </p><p>So it's also not shocking that the biggest threat to the meat industry is <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelpellmanrowland/2018/03/23/millennials-move-away-from-meat/#a45d95da4a49" target="_blank">younger millennials</a> who are adopting a more vegan, plant-based diet. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/apr/01/vegans-are-coming-millennials-health-climate-change-animal-welfare" target="_blank">As veganism goes more mainstream</a> and we witness the livestock industry crumble, it's looking like we're in the midst of a diet revolution. </p><p>In addition to vegan diets, this includes new technology radically changing the way we access nutrients. For example, today tools such as <a href="https://www.rethinkx.com/press-release/2019/9/16/new-report-major-disruption-in-food-and-agriculture-in-next-decade" target="_blank">precision fermentation</a> allow us to program and access the specific sources of the nutrients we need independent of the macro-organisms we have historically eaten, like cows or chickens, to get those nutrients. By going molecular we are arriving at a more sustainable means of feeding the human race and a cleaner way of delivering those nutrients untainted by toxic additives such as chemicals or insecticides. The think tank <a href="https://www.rethinkx.com/" target="_blank">RethinkX</a>, predicts a rapid acceptance of these "modern foods" that will leave the cattle industry effectively bankrupt by the year 2030.</p><p>Given these recent studies and the accelerating panic over rising CO2 levels and ecological destruction, it isn't far fetched to think that future generations will continue their shift away from animal sources of food over to more molecular and plant-based, vegan diets.</p>
As the American loneliness epidemic reaches alarming new heights, one artist theorizes on what connection might look like in the future.
- The Compression Carpet is a machine created by Los Angeles-based artist Lucy McRae that simulates a hug to a person craving intimacy.
- Research indicates that nearly half of Americans lack daily meaningful interpersonal interactions with a friend or family member. This loneliness epidemic is accompanied by a touch crisis.
- McRae's art and neuroscience suggest that it is affectionate touch that we are deprived of in our increasingly touch-phobic society. New sensory technology seeks to solve this problem.
Technological Antidotes For Touch<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjAyNzEyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNDM4Mzc2MH0.439jBB0EiizONdHK4-Cibc92IfL1F38QUm7-kEuzHtk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C577%2C209%2C1034&height=700" id="a47d3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="65c82d4c18538f1112f0a2105d4b65ff" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photography: Scottie Cameron<p>The Compression Carpet is a machine created by Los Angeles-based artist Lucy McRae that simulates a hug to a person craving intimacy. </p><p>It works like this: A person is sandwiched horizontally between a pair of cushions which offer a full-body embrace. The cushions are colored peach and brown, providing the aesthetic of warm skin tones in order to enhance the illusion of being cradled by human flesh. To use the machine you would lie down inside the cushions while another person cranks the handle to squeeze the machine around you. He or she determines the firmness of the machine's hug. </p><p>The machine was unveiled at the San Francisco exhibition <a href="https://www.festivaloftheimpossible.com/" target="_blank">Festival of the Impossible</a>, which explored the future intimacy between humans and machines. Participants were able to try out the Compression Carpet, with many leaving with "a glazed look in their eyes" after being squeezed <a href="https://www.dezeen.com/2019/10/19/lucy-mcrae-compression-carpet-hugging-machine/" target="_blank">McRae told <em>Dezeen</em></a>. </p><p><a href="https://www.lucymcrae.net/about" target="_blank">McRae</a>, a science fiction artist and body architect, uses her art to examine a statement she makes on her website claiming, "We are going to have a revolution of what it means to be human." </p><p>As we move toward a touch crisis in which we're inundated with technology to the detriment of our mental well-being, McRae says that the Compression Carpet and its sister creation, the <a href="https://www.lucymcrae.net/compression-cradle" target="_blank">Compression Cradle</a>, question whether technology will vie for our affection because of our obsession with the digital. </p><p>It might already be happening. Like it or not, smartphones wrapped in synthetic flesh might soon be a thing. </p><p>Researchers have developed a skin prototype called <a href="https://marcteyssier.com/projects/skin-on/" target="_blank">Skin-On Interfaces</a>, sensitive skin-like cases that can be put over mobile phones, watches, or laptop touchpads to simulate skin-on-skin touch. The fake flesh intelligently registers nuances of touch and associates them with various human emotions. For example, anger is associated with hard pressure, while stroking is understood as comfort. The next step is adding anthropomorphic bells and whistles to make the smartskin more realistic, such as temperature features and, uh, embedded hair.</p><p>Because skin is what we use as an interface when interacting with other humans, the idea behind Skin-On was to add this human-like interface to our communicative mediation devices., explained Marc Teyssier, a developer of the synthetic sleeve, to <a href="https://hypebeast.com/2019/10/skin-on-interfaces-smart-artificial-skin-augmented-device-phone-case" target="_blank"><em>Hypebeas</em><em>t</em></a>.</p>
Our Need for Connection<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3979cd4cb984a8622ebbf141382de22c"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mcwLxiVkXDg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The irony of our modern predicament has been pondered many times over: Today we are perpetually connected via smartphones and various social media platforms, and yet studies are showing that we're more isolated than ever before. It fact, those who never used social media scored lower on the <a href="https://time.com/3747784/loneliness-mortality/" target="_blank">UCLA loneliness scale</a> than heavy users. And according to Cigna's study, it was Generation Z, once dubbed the <a href="https://psychbc.com/clinical-blog/understanding-the-igeneration" target="_blank">iGeneration</a>, who were the loneliest.</p><p>This connection deficit isn't just heartbreaking, it is toxic. We are hardwired to connect, our well-being depends on it. Multiple studies have shown that the lack of human connection has <a href="https://bigthink.com/laurie-vazquez/how-to-beat-the-loneliness-epidemic" target="_self">alarming impacts</a> on physical and mental health such as increasing blood pressure, higher cortisol levels, and an increased risk of substance abuse and addiction. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/06/health/lonliness-aging-health-effects.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fhealth&_r=0" target="_blank"><em>The New York Times</em></a> reported that growing, substantial evidence is linking loneliness to physical illness along with functional and cognitive decline. It even predicts premature death better than obesity. </p><p>What Cigna found after analyzing its loneliness study results was that it is rooted in a disconnect between the mind and the body. </p><p>"We must change this trend by reframing the conversation to be about 'mental wellness' and 'vitality' to speak to our mental-physical connection," <a href="https://www.cigna.com/newsroom/news-releases/2018/new-cigna-study-reveals-loneliness-at-epidemic-levels-in-america" target="_blank">said David M. Cordani</a>, president and chief executive officer of Cigna, in the report. "When the mind and body are treated as one, we see powerful results."</p>
The FDA calls out creators of genetically tweaked hornless bulls.
- Hornless bull clones turn out to have questionable genomes.
- Scientists were so confident they didn't even look for transgenic DNA.
- No one's sure what to do with the offspring.
The arrival of Spotigen and Buri<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTE2MTE1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzUzNDgxOX0.FncQraghoKRg6Kz4tj6XS2osmzY_GroWyWTpz4jHYds/img.jpg?width=980" id="e8da5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b19d6c0ae8f91f802036bfab1c873ac9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: ANGHI/Shutterstock/Big Think<p>Recombinetics' bulls were heralded examples of gene modification's potential. Farmers regularly "poll" cows — that is, remove their horns— in a painful, difficult process aimed at preventing accidental injuries in herds and the humans that tend them.</p><p>The company used TALENs gene editing ("Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases) to swap out a section of about 200 genes from a Holstein dairy bull for genes from a hornless one.</p><p>DNA editing involves cutting DNA with enzymes called nucleases targeted at the desired location in a cell's genome. Nucleases are proteins, which are hard to work with, so many researchers — including Recombinetics' — instead introduce plasmids, circular mini-chromosomes that code for the required "scissor." This causes the target cell to produce the nucleases itself, sparing the scientists the complexities of dealing with unstable protein.</p><p>In the case of Recombinetics' bulls, the plasmids also contained the replacement hornless DNA for insertion at the cut. Coming along for the ride — unknown to Recombinetics — was transgenic DNA, including the antibiotic-resistant genes and a handful of other things from a range of diverse microbes. This wouldn't necessarily have been a problem if the plasmids hadn't unexpectedly inserted themselves into the target cell's genome instead of simply delivering their payload and being done, as planned. Thus, adjacent to its edit site were <a href="https://www.independentsciencenews.org/health/gene-editing-unintentionally-adds-bovine-dna-goat-dna-and-bacterial-dna-mouse-researchers-find/" target="_blank">4,000 base pairs</a> of DNA that from the plasmid.</p>
Over-confident<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTE2MTE2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDM1MTE4MX0.dfyGyeHtjCpNogRkwv3-UZHBAQ3dpFnOKtXRd-STK50/img.jpg?width=980" id="0a22f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4af032e6384db1af6345d8d74d1b3331" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: wikimedia/U.S. Food and Drug Administration<p>At the time the editing was first announced, Recombinetics was very confident that what they'd produced was "100% bovine." "We know exactly where the gene should go, and we put it in its exact location," claimed Recombinetics to <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-12/this-genetics-company-is-editing-horns-off-milk-cows" target="_blank">Bloomberg</a> in 2017. "We have all the scientific data that proves that there are no off-target effects." In response to the latest findings, however, Tad Sontesgard of the Recombinetics subsidiary that owns the animals, admitted, "It was not something expected, and we didn't look for it." He acknowledges a more thorough examination of their work "should have been done."</p><p>Since genetically edited animals may be consumed, the FDA's position is that they likely require thorough testing and approvals. Recombinetics has publicly complained about such hurdles standing in the way of making animal genetic editing a routine occurrence. (They've also developed piglets that never hit puberty.) The company attempted to <a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/s/610027/farmland-gene-editors-want-cows-without-horns-pigs-without-tails-and-business-without/" target="_blank">convince the Trump Administration</a> to take genetically altered animals away from under the FDA.</p>
How the problem was found<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTE2MTE2NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDA3NzAyMX0.SBCvmAAsWaDYU7dkPQ7CgcrtQovHK-MWvOizZUCZqQg/img.jpg?width=980" id="43f50" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6f28fb809a618ce4383b7cb4942805fb" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Moving Moment/Shutterstock<p>Not surprisingly, Recombinetics never applied for approval with the FDA, but Alison Van Eenennaam, their collaborator from University of California, Davis, did inform the FDA of their existence to facilitate exchanges of research insights and data.</p><p>Since the surviving edited cattle were being put up at Davis, Eenennaam started thinking about what to do with them. Incinerating experimental animals — and each of these weighs about a ton — costs 60 cents per pound. On the other hand, turning them into hamburger and steaks could reverse that cash flow. Her attempt to win the cows a food exemption from the FDA led to the discovery of the plasmids, though Sontesgard <a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/s/614235/recombinetics-gene-edited-hornless-cattle-major-dna-screwup" target="_blank">asserts</a> they'd be safe to eat in either case.</p><p>And then there's milk. Brazil agreed to raise the first herd of genetically modified hornless dairy cows. Regulators there had even determined no exceptional oversight was going to be required.</p><p>Soon a bioinformatician from the FDA stumbled across the plasmid in a bull's genome. It's estimated that about half of Buri's 17 offspring also have it in theirs. The cows are now absolutely classified as genetically modified organisms, GMOs, not pure cow. Brazil has backed out.</p>
Slowing their roll<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTE2MTE2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzcxMDgxMn0.VmwCM6ss3JJ0-imNVggLLjNviBpY5KhHIuz7CtxvaMs/img.jpg?width=980" id="22429" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0ad6c70f0e27fe6d94516a01cb5fb35f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock<p> As science moves forward a few steps, it often has to back up a step or two. Glimpsing a solution, especially to such a complex problem as genome editing, isn't the same as having one fully in hand, no matter how attractive the reward of getting there first may be, or how much money is to be made. We're on the edge of a new frontier here, and there are a growing number of similar tales. Scientists do need courage to stretch the boundaries of the known, yes, but humility is also a good idea.</p>