Asteroid mining will happen sooner than you think

The next gold rush won't be in the hills of California. It'll be in space. There's gold in them thar skies!

Michio Kaku: When I was researching my book The Future of Humanity I came across a comment made by Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson made the biggest gamble of his life buying the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon. Napoleon was fighting the British he needed hard cash immediately. He had Louisiana and that whole middle portion of the United States and so Napoleon sold it to Thomas Jefferson for a song. But Thomas Jefferson thought how long would it take to investigate what he had just purchased? He had doubled the size of the USA. Think about that. And he probably violated the Constitution in the process. Everyone forgets that. Everyone glosses over that fact, but hey when Louis and Clark went into the territories that comprised the Louisiana Purchase they found tremendous prospects for wealth and prosperity, but Thomas Jefferson wrote that it may take a thousand years, a thousand years before they could then begin to settle the west.

Well, how long did it take? A few decades. Because what happened? Gold. Gold was discovered in California sparking the gold rush and within just a few years millions of prospectors, settlers, fortune hunters converged on California. It didn’t take a thousand years to develop that. Then the question now is, is there going to be a new gold rush in outer space? Some people think so. Some Google billionaires have created an organization, a company, Planetary Resources, that are looking into prospecting in the asteroid belt. Now, asteroids come in all shapes and sizes and we’re cataloging them now and we have already found some perspective asteroids that could be mined. One asteroid perhaps maybe 30/50 feet across brought back down either to the moon or to the planet earth could, in fact, yield billions of dollars in rewards because of the rare earths and the platinum type medals that you find inside. You see, the electronics industry is dependent upon rare earths. Where are these rare earth elements found it? Mainly in China. They’re everywhere, of course, but China has the most developed market and the Chinese in turn supply on the order of 90 percent of the rare earths.

Well, a few years ago they decided to capitalize that and raise the price. All of a sudden shockwaves, shockwaves spread around the earth because people realized that oh my God China has a stranglehold, a stranglehold on high technology. How can you build the next iPhone if you don’t have the rare earths to make the transistors and to make the delicate components of these high tech devices? So I think what’s happening here is that some people see an area for profit and that is asteroid mining. Now of course, the infrastructure for that doesn’t exist, but NASA has looked at its budget and does have a program that has been shelved temporarily to redirect an asteroid. The Asteroid Redirect Program is to send the SL ass booster rocket into outer space with the Orion capsule. It will then intercept an asteroid and bring it back to orbit around the moon. Then it can be mined as it orbits around the moon or as it’s brought back to planet Earth. And so this is now beyond the phase of science fiction. We’re no longer talking about dreaming about an asteroid redirect, we’re talking about an actual plan with the economics, with the details laid out. However, at the present time, we have to wait for NASA’s SLS rocket to mature to the point where we can intercept an asteroid.

Good news! We're on the precipice of the next great gold rush... but it won't be in the hills of California. Or anywhere on this planet. It'll be in outer space, as there are untapped rare materials in asteroids that could be used for future technologies. That's right: there's gold in them thar skies! Theoretical physicist and one of our favorite Big Thinkers, Dr. Michio Kaku, explains to us that while China might have a stranglehold on the rare minerals and metals on our planet, there's no stopping interplanetary mining. We've even got an actual plan with actual economics already in place... we just have to wait until NASA's SLS rocket technology fully develops. Michio Kaku's latest book is the awesome The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth .

Why so gassy? Mysterious methane detected on Saturn’s moon

Scientists do not know what is causing the overabundance of the gas.

Credit: NASA
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CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

Android has won the phone world war

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Credit: Electronics Hub
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UFOs: US intelligence report finds no aliens but plenty of unidentified flying objects

A new government report describes 144 sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena.

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