‘Garage scientists’ with access to £100 gene-editing kits pose dangerous threat to society, experts warn

Amateur “garage scientists” toying with powerful gene editing technology could pose a future danger that should not be ignored, experts have warned.

Kits that make it possible to “cut and paste” DNA in living organisms such as yeast and bacteria can already be bought on the internet for around £100.

Using the new technology, known as CRSPR-Cas9, does not require a high level of scientific knowledge, raising concerns that malicious “biohackers” or careless enthusiasts might create something potentially harmful.

The issue was raised in the first part of a major investigation of gene editing by theNuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent body that explores ethical questions raised by advances in biology and medicine.

In its review, the Nuffield Council pointed out that the “comparatively low cost, ease of use and availability” of online gene editing kits meant they were accessible to unregulated amateur users.

A report summary added: “These may include DIY ‘garage’ scientists, school and undergraduate students, and others with an interest in biological research and the possibilities – whether potentially beneficial or harmful – raised by genome editing.”

The report said that since 2014, CRSPR-Cas9 gene editing had been used in a synthetic biology contest for school and university students called the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition.

Last year, a DIY kit that could make Escherichia coli (E.coli) bacteria resistant to the antibiotic streptomycin was on sale for 140 US dollars (£107).


Hugh Whittall, director of the Nuffield Council for Bioethics, said: “There is no evidence that we’ve seen that there are people with things going on in their garages, but … this is one of the things that we need to be aware of, be conscious of the possibility.

“It goes back to this question of whether the control mechanism in terms of the supply of the kits and materials is adequate.”

Nuffield Council member Karen Yeung, Professor of Law and director of the Centre for Technology, Ethics and Law at King’s College London, said: “One of the features of this technology is it makes it more accessible to a broader range of users.

“This however has the knock on effect that it may be more difficult to keep a watching brief and monitor effectively what’s actually being done in these areas.

GettyDNA Samples

“We identify that as a potential area of concern.”

CRSPR-Cas9 was introduced in 2012 and is rapidly transforming biological research.

The system uses certain proteins that allow DNA to be cut and edited at precise, targeted locations.

Human reproduction and livestock farming were identified as two key areas of concern by the Nuffield Council. Both will be the subject of further inquiries by dedicated working parties.

In the field of human reproduction, gene editing has the potential to eliminate inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis.

ReutersA DNA double helix is seen in an undated artist's illustration released by the National Human Genome Research Institute. A group of 25 scientists proposed an ambitious project to create a synthetic human genome, or genetic blueprint, in an endeavor that is bound to raise concerns over the extent to which human life can or should be engineered

There are more than 4,000 known single gene conditions that are thought to affect around 1% of births worldwide.

But producing babies from embryos whose inherited DNA has been altered is illegal in the UK. Critics point to the dangers of irreversible changes being passed onto future generations and the possible creation of “designer babies”.

Prof Yeung, who will chair the Nuffield Council working party on reproductive applications, which meets for the first time next week, said: “It is only right that we acknowledge where this new science may lead and explore the possible paths ahead … ”

Genome editing in farm animals has already been proposed for pigs, sheep, cattle and chickens, raising questions of food safety and animal welfare.

Xinhua/New ChinaThe first five sheep bred using CRISPR-Cas9 technology have been put on show
The first five sheep bred using CRSPR-Cas9 technology have come out looking “like cows” and “spotty dogs”

Animals whose genes have been edited may fall into a grey legal area because it is not clear that their meat, eggs or milk would be classified as genetically modified food.

Professor John Dupre, from the University of Exeter, who will chair the livestock working party, pointed out there was no way of distinguishing meat from a gene-edited animal and one whose genes had not been edited.

“Genome editing makes verification difficult or impossible,” he said.

Potential applications of the technology included pigs protected against swine flu, chickens that only produced female offspring for egg production, and hornless cattle that could safely be kept in confined spaces.

GettyHuman embryos on a petri dish

Dr Andy Greenfield, from Oxford University, who chaired the review working group, dismissed suggestions that farmers might secretly make use of gene editing technology.

He joked: “A kind of evil Old Macdonald? There are entry barriers. It’s not that it’s so easy to do that you can just have a shed at the end of the field.

“It would be difficult to do this secretly. It’s not so quick and easy that it could be happening across Suffolk.”

Dr Greenfield was most concerned about “frivolous” use of CRSPR-Cas9 gene editing.

“We don’t really want to encourage frivolous cosmetic uses of a powerful technology when we have real needs right now,” he said.

Researchers Found More Evidence On How DNA Evolved

Researchers Found More Evidence On How DNA Evolved

A new research from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has offered a surprising twist of how life began on earth, questioning the likeability of the “RNA World” Hypothesis and proposing that DNA may have also existed when life began.

“Even if you believe in a RNA-only world, you have to believe in something that existed with RNA to help it move forward,” Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, senior author of the new study and an associate professor of chemistry at TSRI, explained Wednesday in a statement. “Why not think of RNA and DNA rising together, rather than trying to convert RNA to DNA by means of some fantastic chemistry at a prebiotic stage?”

The RNA World hypothesis argues that self-replicating molecules of ribonucleic acid formed through a series of chemical reactions, which evolved to create both proteins and enzymes that eventually led to the production of DNA and, ultimately, the evolution of complex organisms. This, Krishnamurthy and his colleagues claim, may not necessarily have been the case.

RNA, DNA may have evolved at the same time, study authors claim
If the RNA World theory is accurate, they said, many experts believe that there would have been several instances in which RNA nucleotides and DNA backbones intermingled to form strands of “heterogeneous” molecules – stepping stones in the transition to actual, full-blown DNA.

The problem with this, according to the TSRI team, is that their research revealed a significant loss of stability when RNA and DNA shared a common backbone. Such molecules are not able to hold together as well as either pure RNA or pure DNA, which would mean that their ability to contain genetic information and to reproduce would likely have become comprised.

“We were surprised to see a very deep drop in what we would call the ‘thermal stability,’” said Krishnamurthy. The reason for this, he and his fellow authors reported, appeared to be associated with differences between the structures of DNA sugar molecules and RNA sugar molecules. The study supports previous work indicating that the mixing of RNA and DNA resulted in the loss of nucleotide-binding aptamers.

Their findings suggest that hybrid RNA-DNA molecules would likely have died off in the RNA World, leaving behind the more stable pure RNA molecules. Currently, when RNA nucleobases become joined to DNA strands in error, sophisticated enzymes enter the picture and correct their mistake, but the study authors believe that these enzymes would not have existed during the time RNA and DNA initially came to be, meaning that any transition from the former to the latter may have been too difficult without some mechanism to keep them separated.

Krishnamurthy’s team proposes instead that RNA and DNA may have arisen together. If this were the case, DNA could have established its own homogeneous system before encountering RNA. RNA may have still evolved to produce DNA, they noted, but only after first coming in contact with the molecules and learning about the raw materials that comprised it.


Passwords can be transmitted through body rather than Bluetooth

Computer researchers and electrical engineers from the University of Washington havefound a way to confirm a user’s identity through the human body, from a touch device like afingerprint sensor to an input device that requires a password.

The new method leverages the signals used by fingerprint sensors, already commonlyused for authentication on smartphones, laptops and mobile devices to transmit securepassword data through the body. Avoiding transmissions through WiFi or Bluetoothreduces the risk of eavesdropping or interception of secure password data by a maliciousentity.

The research team devised a method by which secure passwords can be sent through thebody, rather than through the air by WiFi or Bluetooth, where they are vulnerable tohacking. Using low-frequency transmissions, communications may be sent from a devicethat physically confirms identity to one that requires a password to confirm identityharmlessly, through the human body.

Fingerprint sensors are generally used to receive input about your finger, and use that datato authenticate identity. However, the UW team uses that data as output, corresponding tothe data in a password. The data that authenticates identity through touch travels securelythrough the body to a receiver in a device that requires authentication by password.

For example, your phone can communicate with your smart door lock, or your FitBit withyour laptop, by transmitting data through your body rather than through the air.Authenticating your identity on one devices sends the required passcode to authenticateyour identity with the other.

Merhdad Hessar, a doctoral student and co-author of the study said, “Let’s say I want toopen a door using an electronic smart lock. I can touch the doorknob and touch thefingerprint sensor on my phone and transmit my secret credentials through my body toopen the door, without leaking that personal information over the air.”

The research team believes that the technology can be useful to authenticate user identityfor medical devices that require confirmation, including glucose monitors and insulinpumps.

The body transmission system was tested on fingerprint sensor including the iPhone,Lenovo laptop trackpad, and Adafruit touchpad. The tests were successful regardless ofbody type, or position or motion of the subject. While the team confirms that these tests arepreliminary, they do believe that transmission speed and effectiveness can be improved ifresearchers are given more access to fingerprint sensor manufacturing technology andsoftware.

Google Apps for Work (G Suite) 2016 review

September 2016

  • Google has renamed Apps for Work as G Suite, which the company says better reflects the software’s mission in terms of putting the emphasis on real-time collaboration.
  • Docs, Sheets and Slides witnessed the introduction of a new Explore feature consisting of intelligent assistants that help you craft better documents.
  • A new Quick Access capability was brought to Google Drive. It uses machine learning to automatically surface files it thinks you’ll need next based on your usage patterns.
  • Google rolled out a new offer for users of its productivity suite, with a free 60-day trial of Chrome device management which is good for up to 10 devices.
  • Google Drive made searching easier with the introduction of natural language processing, meaning that you can phrase your search in everyday conversational terms.
  • Google announced a partnership with Box whereby the latter will be integrated with Google Docs, allowing users to edit documents directly from Box’s cloud storage.

August 2016

  • A new Google Hangouts Chrome extension was pushed out allowing for multiple chat windows to be incorporated into one, and making more chat content readily visible.
  • Google introduced a ‘Cast…’ function in the main menu of Chrome, and this can be used to share the contents of a browser tab – or the whole desktop – into a Hangout session.
  • Forms received a new feature which allows the insertion of images into surveys, so you can now do things like have a multiple choice question with pictures for answers.
  • The Android apps for Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides were improved to make it easier to create tables and better looking charts.
  • A couple of security tweaks were applied to Gmail, the most important of which is that the webmail service will now issue a warning about a link if it leads to a known malware site.
  • Inbox got integration with Trello and GitHub, so Trello users will receive a summary of what’s new with projects, and GitHub denizens will get a summary of code changes.
  • Google Drive’s preview feature was improved to make viewing previews of stored files a slicker experience, with a cleaner UI and better zoom functionality.

July 2016

  • Google introduced a new scheme to help train employees on its productivity suite, with the system designed to act like a ‘virtual coach’ to help users learn when IT staff aren’t around.
  • Google tweaked the Admin app for Android to let delegated admins (and not just super admins) use the software to access functions while out and about.
  • Google gave the Admin console some attention in terms of two-step verification, allowing admins to view the real-time status of where each user is in the 2SV enrolment process.
  • Apps for Work is apparently being muscled out by Microsoft’s Office 365, at least if sentiment from Redmond’s Worldwide Partner Conference is on the money.
  • Google launched the new Quizzes feature in the Forms app, designed to allow teachers to easily create and mark assessments for students.

June 2016

  • Google Springboard was announced, a search tool (currently being tested) that can be used to quickly find things across Google Apps, plus it makes proactive recommendations.
  • Google Sites got revamped with a new preview version boasting a simple drag-and-drop design which is more intuitive, and support for real-time collaboration was introduced.
  • A ‘new and notable’ section was introduced to the Google Apps Marketplace, in order to highlight the best third-party apps available to businesses.
  • The Android and iOS apps for Google Docs and Sheets gained the ability to edit content in Print layout view, and to edit existing conditional formatting rules in Sheets.
  • Google tweaked Docs, Sheets and Slides so notifications of comments made not only arrive via email, but you can also get a notification on your Android device or web browser.

May 2016

  • Google announced its new Spaces messaging app designed for small groups – but there’s no news as yet on when (or indeed whether) it will come to Apps for Work.
  • At Google I/O new APIs were introduced for Sheets, giving developers a “new level of access” to some of the most popular features in the app.
  • New APIs were also brought to Slides allowing developers to easily push data from other third-party apps into Slides for maximum convenience.
  • Google revealed that Android apps will be available for Chromebooks, and this opens up more productivity possibilities including using the Android version of Microsoft Word.
  • Google integrated its BigQuery service with Google Drive, allowing users to query files directly from Drive, and save query results from the BigQuery UI directly to Google Sheets.
  • Google Slides benefited from a new Q&A feature that lets audience members submit questions to the speaker directly from their mobile devices during a presentation.
  • The Synergyse service was fully integrated with Google Apps, a virtual assistant that helps train users in the various apps and was previously a Chrome extension.
  • Google Drive and Evernote were integrated, allowing Evernote users to seamlessly access any file on Drive.

April 2016

  • Google Apps for Work received two new certifications: ISO 27017 for cloud security and ISO 27018 for privacy.
  • A new ‘Find a Time’ feature arrived in Google Calendar for Android, allowing mobile users to find convenient times for meetings when they’re on the go.
  • Google’s scheme of providing Apps for free to medium-sized firms who want to migrate over but are locked into an Enterprise Agreement was extended until the end of 2016.
  • Reminders pitched up in the web version of Google Calendar, and said reminders will sync across browsers and mobile devices.

March 2016

  • The Google Admin app received bolstered mobile device management capabilities, allowing for admins to handle security breaches even when they’re out and about.
  • Research into the most-used business apps on the web ranked Google Apps for Work in fourth place – behind Office 365, and Box.
  • Google launched its #maketime website, which aims to help you prioritise how you spend time during work hours, and highlight how Google Apps for Work can save you time.
  • Google expanded support for its Identity Platform to cover logins for far more third-party apps in the Google Apps Marketplace, including Office 365 and Facebook at Work.
  • A whole bunch of new templates were added to Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.

February 2016

  • Gmail’s existing Data Loss Prevention features got a boost with the addition of OCR for scanning attachments and additional predefined content detectors.
  • Google also gave Gmail the ability to flag email accounts that it deems ‘insecure’.
  • Google Docs was enhanced with voice typing, allowing users to dictate to their word processor, and also access editing and formatting commands.
  • Google Forms gained support for add-ons and the ability to edit Apps Scripts, plus work and education-related templates were introduced to the home screen.
  • The Gmail for Android app received support for rich text formatting, and an option for one-tap instant RSVPs was introduced.

January 2016

  • Instant comments were introduced to Google Docs, allowing users to click a simple icon to add an immediate comment to a document.
  • The ability to add comments arrived in the Sheets and Slides apps for both Android and iOS.
  • Google further bolstered the Sheets Android app with the ability to open and edit CSV and TSV files, along with additional files supported for import and export.
  • Google Calendar for Android and iOS apps was graced with smart suggestions that pop up suggested event titles, places and people.
  • Search became more powerful across Google’s productivity suite, so when users search from Docs, Sheets, and Slides home screens, they get results from across all three apps.
  • Google rejigged device management in the Admin console, categorising the various settings to make everything easier to find.

Now move on to Page 2 for our full review and detailed look at what Google Apps for Work offers, including an evaluation of features, pricing, and ease-of-use.

  • Also check out our guide on how to achieve ‘Inbox Zero’ in Gmail (and Outlook)

    For decades, the gold standard of office productivity software has beenMicrosoft Office – it inherited IBM’s status as the technology nobody got fired for buying. But while Office is undoubtedly powerful, many of its users don’t use many of its features. So why pay for things your organisation doesn’t use?

    That’s the rationale behind Google Apps for Work, or G Suite as it is now known. Where Office tries to do everything imaginable, Google’s suite is much more basic. That said, it’s much more powerful than it was when the package debuted in 2006, but the emphasis on simplicity and speed remains.

    Apps and pricing

    Google Apps for Work (G Suite) is organised into four categories spanning eleven products. Under Communicate you’ll find Gmail, Hangouts and Calendar; under Store there’s Google Drive; under Collaborate there’s Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides and Sites; and under Manage there’s Admin and Vault. That final one is designed to archive corporate email in organisations that have to retain data for regulatory compliance.

    And as ever, the pricing is refreshingly simple. The base product is £3.30 ($5.66) per user per month, and the Premium version is £6.60 ($11.32) per user per month. If your organisation is an educational establishment, Google also has a version for you: Google Apps for Education is free.

    While we’re on the subject of free apps, you can of course get Gmail, Docs, Sheets and other Google apps for free – so why spend money? The short answer is that the paid-for version gives you more storage, management, and the ability to use your own domain – so emails come from instead of

    Users on the base version of G Suite get 30GB of storage, which is twice the amount of the free products, and users on the Premium version get unlimited storage, while you also get improved admin controls and the Vault email archive. Both the base and premium versions come with HD videoconferencing via Hangouts and 24/7 phone, chat and email support.

    Slides, Google’s presentation module, covers the basics well enough

    How does it compare to Office?

    Google’s main rival here is of course Microsoft, and Redmond’s Office 365comes with a number of price tags attached depending on which version you want and how many users you’re planning on giving it to.

    Microsoft has cut the price of Office 365 to make it more competitive, and it now comes in four tiers: Office 365 Business Essentials, which is £3.10 per user per month; Office 365 Business, which is £7 per user per month; Office 365 Business Premium, which is £7.80 per user per month; and Office 365 Enterprise E3, which is £14.70 per user per month. The first three plans are limited to a maximum of 300 users per year.

    The most basic version of Office 365 offers web-based versions of Office apps, 1TB of storage per user plus a 50GB email inbox, unlimited online meetings and HD videoconferencing, plus business-focused social networking for collaborating across departments.

    The next step up, Business, offers full Office apps for desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone along with 1TB of storage, but not the extra 50GB email inboxes. If you want that and the desktop/mobile apps too, you’ll need Office 365 Business Premium. As with Google there’s 24-hour web support and phone support for “critical issues”.

    One deal-breaker here might be compliance: Microsoft’s compliance tools are limited to the Enterprise product, which is twice the price of Google Apps for Work Premium.


    The sign-up process takes mere seconds and once you’ve created your account you’ll be taken to the Admin Console. This has eight key options: users, company profile, billing, reports, apps, device management, security and support.

    It’s possible to add users in two ways – manually, or by uploading a CSV file containing multiple user details. Once you’ve done that you can then specify which apps they can use, so for example you might want to let users access email but not Google Hangouts. You can also disable unwanted apps globally.

    One of the most interesting sections here is Mobile Device Management, which enables you to mandate passwords and Google Sync on user devices, to encrypt data, configure Wi-Fi and to enable or disable automatic syncing and the device’s camera.

    You can also remotely wipe devices either manually or automatically if they haven’t been synchronised for a specified period.

    Sheets is Google’s equivalent of Excel

    The Admin Console also contains some additional tools: group creation, third-party apps, domain management and settings for other free Google services such as Google Analytics, AdWords, Google+ and Google App Engine.

    The optional Vault, which doubles the per-user price from £3.30 ($5.66) per month to £6.60 ($11.32), is designed for organisations that need to retain email and chat data and other digital information for regulatory compliance.

    You can set data retention options globally or based on particular dates, groups or search terms, search the archive using the familiar Google search field, and you can audit the data and export it for further analysis. It doesn’t store all communications, however – any chats marked off the record aren’t stored.

    If you’re not sure whether you require Vault or if it isn’t currently necessary, it’s possible to upgrade to the with-Vault version from within your Google Apps for Work (G Suite) Admin Console.

    Create: Docs, Sheets, Slides and Sites

    Google’s apps come in two forms – cross-platform, browser-based apps and mobile apps for iOS and Android. Microsoft’s mobile OS isn’t supported beyond Google Sync for mail, contacts and calendars.

    It’s worth noting that the browser apps only use local storage if you’re using the Chrome browser or Chrome OS, although the standalone Google Drive desktop app keeps everything in sync if you prefer a different web browser (and of course Gmail is widely supported by desktop email software and mobile email apps). The features available offline differ from product to product and platform to platform.

    Docs, Sheets and Slides are Google’s equivalents of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, although a more accurate comparison would be to Apple’s most recent iWork apps – the emphasis is on simplicity and ease of use rather than power features.

    That’s particularly apparent in Slides, which also appears to prize simplicity over making presentations that don’t look absolutely awful.

    We wouldn’t want to craft a massive, complicated manuscript in Docs, but then that isn’t what Docs is designed to do. It’s a fast and user-friendly way to create everyday documents and to share them with colleagues and clients. The companion Drawing app adds functions such as WordArt-style text effects, simple image creation, diagrams and flow charts.

    It’s a similar story with Sheets, which covers the most common Excel functions (including pivot tables) but doesn’t have the power of Microsoft’s offering. It is improving, though, and now that it supports Google’s App Script add-ons it’s possible to automate workflows and develop custom apps – although it’s still way behind Microsoft here.

    There are two additional apps for creating content: Forms, which as the name suggests is for creating and completing online forms, and Sites, which can be used to create shared pages on the intranet or public internet. Sites is a template-driven affair and while it won’t give professional web designers any nightmares, it’s an effective way to publish web content without any knowledge of web content creation.

    Docs is a fast and user-friendly way to create documents, and share them with no fuss

    Collaboration and compatibility

    Online collaboration has been baked into Google Apps from the outset, and sharing documents with colleagues or clients is effortless. The Revision History panel tracks changes and there’s a separate panel for comments, which can be notified via email as well as in the app.

    Sharing is a one-button affair, with options including public, anyone with the correct link, anyone within the organisation, or sharing only with a specified group of people. These options only apply to unpublished documents, however – anything published via the Publish to the Web option, which makes an online copy of the current document, is publicly available.

    In addition to the obligatory Microsoft Office formats, Google Apps also supports documents including Open Document Format, Rich Text Format, PDF, plaintext and zipped HTML. Spreadsheets can be saved as CSV and tab-delimited files, and presentations can be output in SVG and PNG formats.

    The big selling point here is importing rather than exporting, however – it’s useful to be able to bring non-Google documents into G Suite and make them editable and collaborative.

    Google Apps also includes Google’s Hangouts service, which you can make available for text, voice and video calls with anybody or limit conversations to just those people who are members of the same organisation. Hangouts can be shared with up to 15 people and used for video chat, presentation sharing or screen sharing.

    We liked

    Google Apps for Work

    (G Suite) is very competitively priced and easy to administer. While the various apps aren’t quite as fully featured as power users might like, they’re more than adequate for most everyday office work.

    We disliked

    The apps may be too simple for some organisations, and not everybody loves Google’s software interface – although it’s much better than it used to be. You also might not be comfortable with the thought that your company’s communications are being scanned by Google.

    Final verdict

    Rather than be all things to all men and women, Google’s suite is content to cover the basics and to cover them well. It’s fast, lightweight and works on a wide range of devices, and it’s both easy to use and easy to administer.

    If Google’s apps cover the features your users will need every day, it’s a very compelling product for SMEs – and with 30 days to put it through its paces without providing any billing details, it’s a product you can test risk-free.

16-year-old wins Google prize for orange peel innovation

Google Science PrizeGoogle Science Fair grand prize winner Kiara Nirghin of Johannesburg stands beside the 2011 winner Shree Bose. (Google)

A 16-year-old South African student has won the grand prize at Google’s Science Fair for her simple orange peel mixture that could help farmers across her drought-stricken country.

Kiara Nirghin of Johannesburg won Google Science Fair’s US$50,000 grand prize Tuesday for her submission “Fighting Drought with Fruit.” She was one of 16 finalists who were invited to the ceremony at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Nirghin’s innovation combines sundried orange and avocado peels to create a biodegradable mixture that can retain more than 75 per cent of rainwater.


“I believe that food and chemistry are undoubtedly linked in the intertwined science web. I love molecular gastronomy and the application of scientific principles in food creation,” Nirghin wrote in her submission.

The innovation came in response to one of South Africa’s most devastating droughts in 45 years. In all of 2015, regions across the country received only 403 mm of rain on average, 34 per cent below the annual average, according to the South African Weather Service.

As farmers’ crops withered and died, many turned to superabsorbent polymers (SAPs) to retain water in soil. The powders hold large amounts of water relative to their mass and create a hydrogel “reservoir.” However, SAPS are also very expensive and not biodegradable.

Nirghin wanted to find a natural solution that farmers could afford. She discovered orange peels could work as a biodegradable polymer but would still need to be chemically processed. Instead, she boiled the orange peels with oil from avocado peels then used the photo polymerization of sunlight to connect the polymers.

Over the course of 45 days, Nirghin watched as pots containing her mixture retained more water, kept soil moist and produced more flowers than those with commercial SAPs. Products on the market can cost up to $3,000 per metric ton, while she said her version would cost $30-60 per metric ton.

Nirghin said the Google Science Fair prize would help bring her idea to life.

“With the prize I will hope to continue my studies in science, but also further the scientific development and application of my idea, and in addition extend scientific progress in elevating the problems that South Africa faces in food security and sustainable agricultural development,” she wrote in her submission.

Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, DeepMind Announce The Biggest Partnership On AI

Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, and DeepMind have joined hands to create a non-profit organization which would focus on streamlining the research and development in the field of artificial intelligence. A Partnership on AI has been announced and the organization will be materialized in the near future. It will also welcome non-corporate organizations for participation.

The artificial intelligence is rising and computers are becoming smarter with increasing human-like thinking capabilities. AI creations can write captions for images, create trailers for movies, diagnose cancer, etc. There has been a lot of development in this field. Yet, there is a need of a body which combines and synchronizes the efforts of the biggest R&D names in this field.

A new Partnership on AI has been announced to fill the gap of a connecting string between various companies working for the development of AI. Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, Facebook, and DeepMind (Google) are the board members of a yet to be formed non-profit which would focus on public understanding of artificial intelligence and propel the adoption of best practices and industry standards for conducting AI research.

It might be possible the other notable AI companies like Elon Musk’s OpenAImay join the organization in the future. Apart from the involvement of technology companies, the partnership also welcomes participation from people and organizations working in other areas like psychology, philosophy, economics, finance, etc. The organization, once in action, will conduct discussions, studies, and publish reports on various important topics.

The companies which are competitive rivals on the AI war fronts have joined hands. But such organizations should exist and put efforts to answer the questions about the future of artificial intelligence. Whether, humanoids with silicon chips in their head would kick humans out of their offices and homes. And even if they don’t, the future of AI needs to be in hands of the humans.

Imaging Uses ‘Photothermal Effect’ to Peer into Living Cells

Infrared spectroscopic imaging has been limited to studies of dried tissue samples because water molecules absorb and interfere with the infrared signal

(West Lafayette, IN)—A new type of imaging technology uses the mid-infrared part of the spectrum and “thermal lensing” to visualize living cells and organisms, an innovation that could bring insights into drug delivery and cancer treatment.

“It’s very important to be able to study and understand the chemistry of living systems for research into drug delivery and disease processes,” said Ji-Xin Cheng, a professor in Purdue University’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Chemistry.

Related Article: INSIGHTS on Live Cell Imaging

Infrared spectroscopic imaging has been limited to studies of dried tissue samples because water molecules absorb and interfere with the infrared signal. At the same time, the technology has not been capable of high-resolution imaging or visualizing layered sections, which is needed for detailed studies of three-dimensional samples such as a biological cell.

The mid-infrared photothermal (MIP) approach, a culmination of two years of research, overcomes these limitations, Cheng said.

Researchers have used the system to visualize lipid droplets – a key biomarker for disease – and drugs inside living cells in laboratory cultures and also in a roundworm called C. elegans.

The system provides “label-free” imaging, meaning no fluorescent dyes are needed.

“This is important for understanding the drug-delivery pathways, the drug-action mechanism for treating cancer and other diseases,” Cheng said. “Drugs are small molecules and not fluorescent, so this method provides a way to identify and locate the drug molecule in cells and tissues.”

Findings are detailed in a paper appearing Wednesday (Sept. 28) in the journal Science Advances. The paper’s lead author is Purdue postdoctoral research associate Delong Zhang. A YouTube video is available at

 The technology makes it possible to study the dynamic chemistry inside cells and tissues.

“The reported MIP imaging technology promises broad applications from monitoring metabolic activities to high-resolution mapping of drug molecules in living systems, which are beyond the reach of current infrared microscopy,” Cheng said.

MIP works by shining a mid-infrared laser on tissue, generating heat and producing a “thermal lensing effect.”

“It’s similar to the mirage effect that you see on a hot summer day over a road surface,” Zhang said.

Because infrared wavelengths are large, they cannot resolve the fine chemical details of the contents of live cells and organisms.

“So we use a second laser at a much shorter wavelength, which gives us sub-micron spatial resolution, 10 times better than traditional infrared microscopy, and this resolution is essential to see the intracellular structure,” Cheng said. “You also produce a photothermal spectrum, and that provides the molecular information.”

The system can determine the chemical composition in “micro-molar” concentrations, which allows mapping of drug molecules and monitoring metabolic activity inside of cells.

The paper was authored by Delong; doctoral student Chen Li; postdoctoral research associate Chi Zhang; research professor Mikhail N. Slipchenko; Gregory Eakins, an instrumentation specialist at the Jonathan Amy Facility for Chemical Instrumentation; and Cheng.

Making the high-resolution imaging possible is a new “resonant amplifier” that picks up the photothermal signal and was designed by Eakins.

Related Article: Breakthrough Imaging Tool Maps Cells’ Composition In 3D

The researchers have filed an application for a provisional patent through the Office of Technology Commercialization in the Purdue Research Foundation.

Future research will include work to improve the speed of the technology.

“Now it takes 8 seconds per image, which is too slow because cells and molecules are in constant motion,” Cheng said.

The research is funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation.

NASA’s Gecko-Inspired Robots Can Climb Pretty Much Anything

YOU’RE so hard to explore. Sometimes you bombard spacecrafts with hurtling rocks and deadly cosmic rays, and other times you’re so empty you don’t give astronauts a darn thing to hold on to. But while scientists haven’t quite figured out how to keep radiation at bay, the scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory—specifically, its Planetary Robotics Laboratory—are building machines that can get a grip on the most difficult surfaces astronauts will find out there.

Adhesion-wise, space presents a couple problems. First, robots typically struggle with uneven surfaces, let alone the kind of cliffs and crags you see on Mars. Second, space is kind of gravity challenged. “Out in zero gravity, even pushing tape against surfaces is difficult,” say Jaakko Karras, a robotics electrical engineer at JPL. Without gravity to anchor your feet to the ground, it’s easy to run afoul of Newton’s third law. (For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So you’ll be pushed away from the wall with the same amount of force you applied to it. Physics!)

And that’s not just a problem in microgravity. Low gravity environments, like asteroids or comets, can be uncooperative too. (Just ask the European Space Agency’sPhilae lander.) “If you got out there and wanted to do some sort of sampling and just started drilling, you’re more likely to spin about the drill bit than the drill bit into the surface,” Karras says.

So what’s a robot to do? “Nature solves the problems around us all the time,” says Karras. “A fairly common path for us is the biomimicry approach.” When Karras and his team would test climbing robots out on vertical rock walls, lizards would blaze right past them. But rather than getting annoyed at the speedy little reptiles, Karras decided to take his cues from evolution instead. His team’s adhesive makes use of van der Waals forces, which geckos use to climb smooth surfaces. For bumpy ones, his team built claw-inspired microspine grippers that can bend and flex. (You can see them in action in the video up top.)

Both gecko adhesive and microspine grippers are well on their way to scoring a ticket to deep space. Gecko adhesive is already being tested on the International Space Station. Right now, astronauts are using it to anchor things to interior panels, but NASA is considering using it as a replacement for Velcro, which kicks off a lot of dust and bristles—particulates aren’t all that welcome in the fragile environment of the ISS. And microspines are a crucial part of NASA’s asteroid redirect mission: The little spikes will cover robotic arms used to snatch up an asteroid’s boulder and deposit it in orbit around our moon.

Karras also hopes that future missions will use microspines’ vertical climbing skills to explore Mars’ caves and lava tubes. “They haven’t been explored yet because they’re difficult from a mobility standpoint,” Karras says. “But they may once have been collection points for liquid water, and they’re sheltered, low-radiation areas. They’re of interest for investigating the possibility of past and present life.” So if we find any Martians in the next couple of decades, you have lizards to thank.