Is lab-grown meat part of our future diet?

By 2040, 60 per cent of meat we eat won’t come from animals, experts predict

Freshly made meat-imitation burgers at the Impossible Foods factory. Courtesy of Impossible Foods
Freshly made meat-imitation burgers at the Impossible Foods factory. Courtesy of Impossible Foods

It’s the year 2049. A family is sitting down to enjoy their evening meal, served by their robotic butler. They comment on how busy the traffic is as cars hover past the window of their shipping container micro-­apartment, before tucking into their lab-grown steak supper.

“Mummy, did you really used to eat animals that were once alive?” the young daughter asks. “Weird.”

A little too much to expect in 30 years? Perhaps. But the way we eat meat is changing, and lab-grown is the future, according to experts. In 1931, Winston Churchill predicted the world would be eating lab-grown meat by the 1980s. “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium,” he wrote in his essay entitled Fifty Years Hence.


While his prediction may have been 40 years out, Churchill was on to something – a feat scientists have been trying to achieve since the 1990s.

Lab-grown meat considered ‘cleaner’

The first edible lab-grown sample – a fish fillet grown from goldfish cells – was produced in 2000. The following year, Nasa began funding research into growing meat from turkey cells so its astronauts could enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner in space.

These experimental attempts soon gave way to a culinary race, with companies vying to be the first to bring “clean meat” to the mass market. That race is now entering its final lap, with the front runners predicting they could have cultured meat on restaurant menus by the end of this year, once a regulatory framework is agreed upon.

“Step one is producing products like nuggets, ground chicken and ground beef; that’s the way to think about the path of cultured meats,” explains Joshua Tetrick, chief executive of San Francisco’s Just, Inc. After successfully finding a plant-based alternative to the conventional egg in the form of a scrambled mung bean, Just turned its attention to cultured meats, and is now one of the companies leading the way. “The next stage will be the more structured products – think steaks and chicken breasts. Products like that require a lot more development; they are a little bit further out.”

Lab-grown chicken nuggets, made by Just, Inc. Courtesy: Just 
Lab-grown chicken nuggets, made by Just, Inc. Courtesy: Just

But just how far out are we talking? In June, global consultancy AT Kearney predicted that by the year 2040, 60 per cent of all meat consumed globally would not come from slaughtered animals. Rather, the bulk of our diets will be made up of a mix of cultured and plant-based meat substitutes.

This timeframe was reached through a series of interviews with industry experts, as well as by looking at the amount of recent investment from around the globe in sustainable meat alternatives – $1 billion (Dh3.6bn) in the last year. “The large-scale livestock industry is viewed by many as an unnecessary evil,” the report says. “With the advantages of novel vegan meat replacements and cultured meat over conventionally produced meat, it is only a matter of time before they capture a substantial market share.”

Reason versus reality

But will that “substantial market share” ever be enough to topple the 2.4-million-year-old human habit of eating slaughtered animals, an industry that last year alone turned over $1 trillion worldwide? “The problem with cultured meat is it’s just hypothetical for the most part right now,” says Tetrick. And the concept of eating flesh grown by scientists in a lab is, understandably, acutely alien in the minds of many. “There have been a lot of surveys done, and people are seemingly becoming more accepting,” he adds, “but a survey is not the same as putting it on a menu or in a grocery store – that’s totally different.”

Cultured meat could have a vital impact on the environment and animal welfare. Courtesy: Just, Inc
Cultured meat could have a vital impact on the environment and animal welfare. Courtesy: Just, Inc

The growing process is a complicated one, which involves harvesting stem cells from the tissue of an animal (without causing it any harm) and culturing these cells inside a bioreactor with nutrients that allow them to grow just as they would inside the body. High-performing cells are then placed in flasks with a liquid – made up of 99 per cent water – that feeds them, while a machine shakes the cells to encourage growth.It’s a process that takes time, space, and above all, serious investment, if it is to succeed on the ambitious scale imagined by the likes of AT Kearney. And companies such as Just believe that investment could come from countries with both the capital and a vested interest in food security. Countries such as the UAE.

Cultured meat in the UAE

““Look at the numbers – about 70 per cent of the meat eaten in the UAE is imported,” says Tetrick, who six months ago sat down with the UAE’s Minister of State for Food Security to “explore options”. These options, he says, involve building manufacturing facilities capable of producing cultured meat or extracting plant proteins, which would offer high-value jobs, greater food security, and mark the start of a new transformative industry.

“I think the country or countries that figure this out are going to end up doing something pretty important,” he adds. “In the UAE, there does seem to be a willingness and openness to at least begin the process to explore it.”

Joshua Tetrick, CEO of Just, Inc 
Joshua Tetrick, CEO of Just, Inc

But will meat eaters have that same openness? AT Kearney’s report estimates 35 per cent of all meat eaten by 2040 will be cultured, acting as the bridge between steadfast carnivores and a more ethical, environmentally friendly way of life. In a more distant future, Tetrick sees that figure rising closer to 80 per cent. “If we can figure out a way to make this stuff taste really good, if we can call it meat – because we think that is really important from an identity perspective – and also drive the cost down, there’s a real opportunity to make this a big thing,” he says.

Vegan meat is a hit

A further 25 per cent of the market, AT Kearney predicts, will be vegan meat replacements. “The shift towards flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan lifestyles is undeniable, with many consumers cutting down on their meat consumption as a result of becoming more conscious towards the environment and animal welfare,” says Gerhardt. This pattern is clear to see. A record 250,000 people around the world signed up to take part in Veganuary earlier this year, and a quarter of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 now consider themselves vegan or vegetarian. These changing diets have forced the food industry’s hand, with more vegan options than ever before, particularly when it comes to the rapidly growing business of mock meat.

Even though they look like the real thing, Impossible Burgers contain no animal products. Courtesy of Impossible Foods
Even though they look like the real thing, Impossible Burgers contain no animal products. Courtesy of Impossible Foods

Beyond Meat and its eerily realistic bleeding burger, made from pea and rice protein, raised $240m after going public in May, and has seen its shares more than double since. Impossible Foods just partnered with Burger King in the US to trial its first meat-free patty, the Impossible Whopper. It also announced its first fish-less fish product – part of Impossible’s drive to have a meat-free alternative for every type of protein on the market by 2035.

If there is food that tastes good, is affordable, and good for the body, you end up solving a lot of things.

Joshua Tetrick

Not only do these imitations resemble real meat in texture and flavour, they also score relatively high in the nutrition department. While a traditional beef burger will provide roughly 280 calories to an average of 255 for a plant-based alternative, the protein levels are extremely similar, at about 19g, while the fat levels for the meat replacements are slightly less, an average of 17g to beef’s 23g. It’s not a straight match, however, with mock meat containing higher levels of carbohydrates and sodium. Still, the nutrition offered should be enough to silence protein devotees, providing them their daily fix without the need for animal involvement.

Most major burger joints in the UAE now offer some form of faux-meat patty, with BurgerFuel the latest to diversify its menu with the Beyond Beleaf vegan patty. In the UK, the introduction of a vegan sausage roll at fast-food chain Greggs caused nationwide chaos, with queues around the block and widespread shortages. It’s been a slow and steady rise, but 2019 has marked the year veganism officially became mainstream.

But for those who pledge lifelong meat devotion, is cultured meat the answer? “If there is food that tastes good, is affordable, and good for the body, you end up solving a lot of things,” offers Tetrick. “You help solve climate change, you help solve food security – you solve a lot of issues. That’s what we are betting on.”

Turning Heat Into Light Could Make Solar Panels 80% Efficient, Rice Researchers Say

July 30th, 2019 by 

Don’t get too excited. What follows is a report about theoretical research in the lab which is a long way from commercial viability, but the implications of that research are simply staggering. Heat is the enemy of today’s solar panels. If they get too hot, their efficiency plummets. Researchers are working on ways to siphon some of that heat off and use it for other purposes, like making hot water. Others are exploring elaborate cooling systems that would add cost and complexity to solar systems.

Scientists at Rice University are taking a different approach — turning heat into light which can then be used to make electricity. They say their research could ultimately lead to solar panels that are 80% efficient. That would make panels that are four times more efficient than any commercially available  panels today.

“Any hot surface emits light as thermal radiation,” Gururaj Naik, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice, tells PV Magazine. “The problem is that thermal radiation is broadband while the conversion of light to electricity is efficient only if the emission is in a narrow band.”

The research team has come up with the idea of using a film of carbon nanotubes to create a “hyperbolic thermal emitter” which can operate at temperatures as high as 700 degrees Celsius. The device only allows electrons to travel in one direction. By squeezing the photons emitted as heat into a narrower band, light is produced that can then be absorbed by a solar cell.

“By squeezing all the wasted thermal energy into a small spectral region we can turn it into electricity very efficiently. The theoretical prediction is that we can get 80% efficiency,” Naik says. The next step for the researchers will be to combine the hyperbolic thermal emitter with a solar cell. The results of the research to date have been  published in the journal ACS Photonics under the title “Macroscopically Aligned Carbon Nanotubes as a Refractory Platform for Hyperbolic Thermal Emitters.”

Okay, let’s be honest. This research is a long way from producing a hyper efficient solar panel. But if a panel is possible that is 4 times more efficient than anything available today, that is something CleanTechnica readers should know about and now you do. You’re welcome!
About the Author

 Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island and anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. His motto is, “Life is not measured by how many breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away!” You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

Crab Nebula blasts Earth with highest-energy photons ever recorded

The super energetic gamma rays originated thousands of light-years away, and scientists still aren’t exactly sure what generated them.
This image of the Crab Nebula in x-rays shows the pulsar clearly spinning at the nebula’s center.
NASA/CXC/ASU/J. Hester et al.

Astronomers using the Tibet AS-gamma Experiment have discovered the highest-energy light ever measured from an astrophysical source. Photons streaming from the Crab Nebula were recently measured at energies well over 100 tera-electronvolts (TeV). That’s a trillion electron volts, or some 10 times the maximum energy that the Large Hadron Collider sees when it slams particles together.

Scientists think the key is a pulsar lurking deep inside the heart of the Crab Nebula, the dense, rapidly spinning core left when a star exploded in a supernova almost a thousand years ago. Actually, since the nebula is located over 6,500 light-years away, the explosion occurred about 7,500 years ago, but the light from that explosion didn’t reach Earth until 1054 CE, when it exploded in our night skies as a bright new star, spotted by astronomers around the globe.

The supernova’s light faded after just weeks, but since then, the detritus has grown and spread, and it now glows wonderfully in the night sky at nearly every wavelength. It crackles in low-energy radio waves, blasts out high-energy gamma and x-rays, and shines at visible wavelengths in between.

But this ultra-high-energy light is new even for the Crab Nebula. Researchers from China and Japan published their findings in Physical Review Letters on July 29.

Record breaker

It’s difficult for high-energy photons like gamma rays to actually make it past Earth’s atmosphere. Instead, when gamma rays slam into air particles, they usually scatter into a shower of other particles. But astronomers have learned to search for these showers, usually with arrays spanning miles, since by the time these showers reach the ground, they may be spread out over a large area. Tibet AS-gamma combines 597 detectors scattered across 65,700 square meters on the surface. About 8 feet under this array sit 64 concrete barrels filled with water that serve as complementary detectors.

The larger array on the ground lets scientists trace the direction and energy of a high-energy event. The water detectors complement these observations by tracking the specific signature of such events. This allows researchers to distinguish gamma-rays from high-energy cosmic rays, which can produce similar showers of particles, even though cosmic rays are made of particles like protons and electrons, instead of photons.

Researchers collected data from both detectors in tandem from February 2014 until May 2017, and found a total of 24 events greater than 100 TeV that they could trace to the Crab Nebula. Some of the events reached a whopping 450 TeV. Separating the gamma ray events from the cosmic ray events isn’t a perfect science, so the researchers estimate that five or six of their observations were actually background cosmic rays. But the rest should be real, a sign of the powerhouse that lurks inside the Crab Nebula.

Star light, star bright

Very high-energy particles wouldn’t be good for humans if they actually struck us, but since they splinter into a cascade of other particles, there’s no danger from the Crab Nebula’s radiation on Earth.

It’s not totally clear how the Crab Nebula manages to charge up these gamma rays to such high energies. The pulsar at the nebula’s heart spins and sends out a powerful stellar wind, as well as generating powerful magnetic fields, which can accelerate these particles to high speeds, increasing their energy.

It’s not clear whether there’s a maximum energy scientists can expect. The new observations hint at the next challenge: finding petaelectronvolt gamma rays, those with 1,000 TeV worth of energy.

Tibet AS-gamma will keep looking. But considering it takes a few years to analyze the massive amounts of data the array collects, it’s possible such a signal has already been recorded, and is simply waiting to be sifted out of the noise.

An Elusive Particle That Acts as Its Own Antiparticle Has Just Been Imaged

30 JUL 2019

New images of the Majorana fermion have brought physicists a step closer to harnessing the mysterious objects for quantum computing.

These strange objects – particles that acts as their own antiparticles – have a vast as-yet untapped potential to act as qubits, the quantum bits that are the basic units of information in a quantum computer.

main article image
(Palacio-Morales et al. Science Advances, 2019)

They’re equivalent to binary bits in a traditional computer. But, where regular bits can represent a 1 or a 0, qubits can be either 1, 0 or both at the same time, a state known as quantum superposition. Quantum superposition is actually pretty hard to maintain, although we’re getting better at it.

This is where Majorana quasiparticles come in. These are excitations in the collective behaviour of electrons that act like Majorana fermions, and they have a number of properties that make them an attractive candidate for qubits.

Normally, a particle and an antiparticle will annihilate each other, but entangled Majorana quasiparticles produced by splitting an electron into two halves are surprisingly stable. In addition, they remember how they’ve been moved around, a property that could be exploited for storing information.

But the quasiparticles have to remain separated by a sufficient distance. This can be done with a special nanowire, but a team of physicists at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Hamburg in Germany have taken a different approach.

They’ve started with a rhenium superconductor, a material that conducts electricity with zero resistance when supercooled to around 6 Kelvin (–267°C; 449°F).

On top of these superconductors, the researchers deposited nanoscale islands of single layers of magnetic iron atoms. This creates what is known as a topological superconductor – that is, a superconductor that contains a topological knot.

“This topological knot is similar to the hole in a donut,” explained physicist Dirk Morr of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“You can deform the donut into a coffee mug without losing the hole, but if you want to destroy the hole, you have to do something pretty dramatic, such as eating the donut.”

When electrons flow through the superconductor, the team predicted that Majorana fermions would appear in a one-dimensional mode at the edges of the iron islands – around the so-called donut hole. And that by using a scanning tunneling microscope – an instrument used for imaging surfaces at the atomic level – they would see this visualised as a bright line.

Sure enough, a bright line showed up.

It’s not the first time Majorana fermions have been imaged, but it does represent a step forward. And just last month, a different team of researchers revealed that they had been able to turn Majorana quasiparticles on and off.

But being able to visualise these particles, the researchers said, brings us closer to using them as qubits.

“The next step will be to figure out how we can quantum engineer these Majorana qubits on quantum chips and manipulate them to obtain an exponential increase in our computing power,” Morr said.

The research has been published in Science Advances.

The World’s Most Innovative Economies



Ranked: The World's Most Innovative Economies

The World’s 10 Most Innovative Economies

In the 21st century, innovation has become the heart and soul of economic policy. Developed and developing nations alike are in the race to leave industrialization behind, adapting instead to technology-focused, entrepreneurial societies.

Customized cancer treatment, faux meat products, and the smart home technologies are frequently positioned as ‘the next big thing’. But which countries are consistently innovating the most?

Today’s graphic comes from the seventh annual Bloomberg Innovation Indexand highlights the 10 most innovative economies, and the seven metrics used to rank 2019’s top contenders.

Measuring Innovation

Bloomberg calculated each country’s innovation score using seven equally-weighted metrics.

  1. R&D Spending
    All research and development funding invested in an economy each year.
  2. Patent Activity
    Number of domestic patents filed, total patent grants, patents per population, filings per GDP, and total grants awarded measured against the global total.
  3. Tertiary Efficiency
    Total enrollment at post-secondary institutions, graduation levels, and number of science and engineering graduates.
  4. Manufacturing Value-added
    Manufacturing output levels that contribute to exports and domestic economic growth.
  5. Productivity
    Overall productivity levels of the working-age population.
  6. High-tech Density
    Number of domestic high-tech public companies, measured against the number of domestic public companies and the global total of public high-tech companies.
  7. Researcher Concentration
    Number of professionals currently engaged in research and development roles.

More than 200 countries were initially considered for Bloomberg’s Innovation Index. Any country reporting in less than six categories was automatically eliminated, leaving 95 countries remaining. Bloomberg publishes the results for the top 60 most innovative economies each year.

Notable Countries in the Top 60

The U.S. rejoined the top 10 after dropping to 11th in 2018 for low scores in education. Israel moved up five spots to 5th place, while Romania made the largest overall gain, jumping six spots to rank in the top 30.

Brazil rejoined the list at number 45, after not being included on the 2018 list. The United Arab Emirates made the list for the first time, marking the highest debut ever at number 46.

Tunisia and Ukraine were the two countries with the largest losses, which both fell out of the top 50 this year. To date, South Africa is the only Sub-Saharan nation to be ranked in the index.

Newcomers to the Innovation Index in 2019 are some of the largest emerging economies, such as India, Mexico, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia.

Impact of Global Innovation

Innovation is complex─many factors play a role in the ideation, development, and commercialization of any new technology. And while innovation success can fuel economic growth, it is generally more accessible in high-income economies, where R&D funding is readily available.

“The battle for control of the global economy in the 21st century will be won and lost over control of innovative technologies.”

—Tom Orlik, Bloomberg Economics

The focus of an economy that prioritizes innovation, however, is not simply allocating resources for a group of people─it’s discovering new methods, models, and products that create a better quality of life for society.

Tim Hortons Urged To Offer Dairy-Free Milk After Increasing Its Plant-Based Food Options

‘All these fast food places bringing in Beyond Meat but still no soy milk…. looking at you Tim Hortons’

Iced coffees are a popular choice at Tim Hortons (Photo: Instagram)

Canadian fast-food chain, Tim Hortons, is being urged to offer dairy-free alternatives to milk after increasing its plant-based food options.

The eatery, which welcomed Beyond Meat’s plant-based burger in just under 4,000 Canadian outlets last month, currently offers an alternative to cow’s milk in 30 out of 220 stores in the Buffalo region.

More recently, the food chain announced it was trialing JUST’s plant-based, cholesterol-free, egg at selected stores – causing people on social media to pressure Tim Hortons into launching dairy-free milks nationwide.

One Twitter user commented: “All these fast food places bringing in Beyond Meat but still no soy milk…. looking at you Tim Hortons. I WANT ICED COFFEE WITH SOY MILK.”

While another said: “Tim Hortons has a vegan sandwich now! It would be NEAT if almond milk or soy milk or oat milk..any non-dairy milk.. could be offered too?”

Plant-based milk

Last month, a report by Mintel revealed that 23 percent of Brits had used plant-based milk alternatives in the three months to February 2019 – a four percent increase from the previous year.

While cow’s milk still made up the bulk of milk sales in 2018 (96 percent), its use is falling – especially among 16-24-year-olds – whose usage declined from 79 percent in 2018 to 73 percent in 2019.

Estrogens and Memory Loss in Women

Research suggests that the family of hormones has a crucial role in the hippocampus

Estrogens and Memory Loss in WomenAs you read this article, your brain has begun a series of complicated chemical steps in order to form a memory. How long you keep this memory may well depend on whether you are a man or a woman.

Some scientists think that the reason for this difference may be estrogens. Women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and memory loss. In fact, almost two thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women. While researchers across the globe are still working to uncover the basic mechanisms of learning and memory, it is now known that estrogens help to regulate memory formation in both males and females. From a cultural and societal standpoint, when people think of estrogen they probably imagine pregnancy, periods and woman-fueled rage. Most people probably don’t consider memory; but maybe it’s time we all start thinking about estrogens’ role in memory a little more.

Karyn Frick, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, studies the connection between estrogens and memory. She and her students are among the scientists working to uncover the basic cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying memory formation. Part of Frick’s research focuses on how estrogens enhance memory, particularly through their action in the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is a small, curved region in the brain that plays an important role in the formation of memories. But it wasn’t always known for this role. In fact, so little was known about the brain and memory that, when a young man named Henry Molaison laid down on the surgical table in 1953 in a quest to cure his epilepsy, a skilled surgeon named William Beecher Scoville removed several structures from his brain, including a large portion of his hippocampus.

Molaison, although almost entirely cured of his seizures, immediately developed severe amnesia that persisted for the rest of his life; in short, he was unable to form new memories. However, the work surrounding Molaison and his memory impairments set the stage for decades of research into how the hippocampus is able to transform a short-term memory into a long-lasting and persistent one.

But what does this have to do with estrogens? Estrogens, particularly the most potent estrogen, called estradiol, latch onto structures called estrogen receptors, kind of like a key fitting into a lock. These receptors are abundant in the brain regions that support memory formation, particularly in the hippocampus. Now, brain cells have branch-like extensions (dendrites) that are necessary to communicate with other brain cells. On these dendrites are short protrusions called spines.

These spines are where the communication between brain cells reallyhappens.

Importantly, these spines change with learning experiences. They grow. They shrink. They change shape. And research shows that estradiol can even increase the number of spines within the hippocampus. Thanks to researchers like Frick, we are beginning to understand the basic molecular mechanisms by which this process happens and how it relates to memory loss in aging women.

Frick has been studying rodents for nearly 30 years. Believe it or not, most of what we now know about memory comes from research in mice and rats. Early in her career, she characterized both male and female lab mice in regard to their memory function, as there were shockingly little data on memory in female mice at that time. She tested young, middle-aged and old male and female mice on a number of tasks, including a water maze that forces mice to use their hippocampus. She found that all the young mice performed well on these tasks, and all of the old mice were terrible, but it was in the middle-aged group she observed a striking effect.

While the middle-aged males performed like young mice, the middle-aged females performed like the old mice in the water maze. Frick and her colleagues attributed this effect to “estropause,” which, while not identical to menopause, is similar in many respects. Estropause refers to when the rodent estrous cycle (which is kind of like a woman’s menstrual cycle) starts to become irregular and essentially falls apart in middle-aged female rodents.

“These [middle-aged] females are going through a premature memory decline. The males got there eventually, but it happened earlier in females and it seemed to be associated with a loss of [estrous] cycling,” she says. “Over the last decade, or more, we have focused on trying to figure out exactly how, on a molecular level, estradiol enhances memory.”

Frick does this by using two tests called the “object recognition” and “object placement” tasks. Essentially, mice love new things, and they can recognize when a new object has been placed in their environment, as well as if a familiar object has been moved. Frick and her students found that when they infuse estradiol into the hippocampus immediately after the mice first encounter the objects, the mice better remember the identity and location of objects later. This allows them to use these tests as tools for figuring out the molecular mechanisms that create memory enhancements.

Recently they have started looking at another brain region, the prefrontal cortex, in addition to the hippocampus. The prefrontal cortex is the front-most part of your brain that is important for planning, complex thinking, and personality. Like the hippocampus, estrogen receptors are found in great number here. Importantly, Frick and her students have shown that infusions of estradiol into the hippocampus affect the dendritic spines in the prefrontal cortex.

“Clearly these two brain regions were communicating together in some meaningful way, but we didn’t know whether those two brain regions both had to be active simultaneously in order for the [hippocampus] infusion to enhance memory. All our interpretations of the hippocampal infusions [were] that it was a hippocampus effect, but maybe not, maybe it’s a circuit effect,” says Frick. The idea of circuits, or the connections between two or more brain regions, has been of great interest to neuroscientists in recent years, particularly among memory researchers. Understanding how infusions of estradiol are helping memory at the level of the circuit is an important next step in the basic research that drives science forward. Even Frick says, “What I’m excited about is the concept of trying to figure out what’s going on in the circuit.”

But she also has another reason to be excited these days.

A team of Wisconsin researchers, including Frick, William Donaldson (a synthetic chemist from Marquette University) and Daniel Sem (a pharmacologist from Concordia University) are working together to create a drug that sticks to a special kind of estrogen receptor for the treatment of menopausal memory dysfunction. By designing the drug in this way, the researchers can avoid the negative consequences of estrogen replacement therapy, such as increased risk for cardiovascular diseasesand breast cancer. Last summer, this group even formed a company called Estrigenix Therapeutics to facilitate the research and development of this drug.

Around that same time, as part of a four week long intensive program, they went out and talked to people, mostly menopausal women, physicians, and people from the pharmaceutical industry, and through that process they discovered that most patients and physicians aren’t really concerned about memory dysfunction or their potential increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Many of them weren’t even aware they were at an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. What they were most concerned with were hot flashes, depression and anxiety,” says Frick. So how can we make people, particularly women, more aware of the risk of memory loss as result of menopause?

“People don’t typically like to talk about menopause. It’s one of these things that women don’t like to admit that they’re going through,” says Frick. She goes on to explain that perhaps if women talk more about menopause and the symptoms of menopause, it can help make this period of a woman’s life more socially acceptable and something we can openly talk about. “Female gender, aside from age, is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and most women don’t realize that,” says Frick.

As the basic science moves forward, not every step will be huge. First, we need to change the conversation so that women are aware of the risk their very gender poses.

Facebook is exploring brain control for AR wearables

Screen Shot 2019 07 30 at 12.27.40 PM

Facebook  this morning issued a lengthy breakdown of recent research into BCI (brain-computer interface) as a means with which to control future augmented reality interfaces. The piece coincides with a Facebook-funded UCSF research paper published in Nature today entitled, “Real-time decoding of question-and-answer speech dialogue using human cortical activity.”

Elements of the research have fairly humane roots, as BCI technology could be used to assist people with conditions such as ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease), helping to communicate in ways that their body is no longer naturally able.

Accessibility could certainly continue to be an important use case for the technology, though Facebook appears to have its sights set on broader applications with the creation of AR wearables that eliminate the need for voice or typed commands.

“Today we’re sharing an update on our work to build a non-invasive wearable device that lets people type just by imagining what they want to say,” Facebook AR/VR VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth said on Twitter. “Our progress shows real potential in how future inputs and interactions with AR glasses could one day look.”

“One day” appears to be a key aspect in all of this. A lot of the key caveats in all of this note that the technology is still on a relatively distant horizon. “It could take a decade,” Facebook writes in the post, “but we think we can close the gap.”

Among the strategies the company is exploring is the use of a pulse oximeter, monitoring neurons’ consumption of oxygen to detect brain activity. Again, that’s still a ways off.



Today we’re sharing an update on our work to build a non-invasive wearable device that lets people type just by imagining what they want to say. Our progress shows real potential in how future inputs and interactions with AR glasses could one day look. 

Imagining a new interface: Hands-free communication without saying a word

In the third installment of our Inside Facebook Reality Labs blog series, we explore today’s brain-computer interface (BCI) research — and what it means for tomorrow’s augmented reality (AR) glasses.

“We don’t expect this system to solve the problem of input for AR anytime soon. It’s currently bulky, slow, and unreliable,” the company writes. “But the potential is significant, so we believe it’s worthwhile to keep improving this state-of-the-art technology over time. And while measuring oxygenation may never allow us to decode imagined sentences, being able to recognize even a handful of imagined commands, like ‘home,’ ‘select,’ and ‘delete,’ would provide entirely new ways of interacting with today’s VR systems — and tomorrow’s AR glasses.”

Obviously there are some red flags here for privacy advocates. There would be with any large tech company, but Facebook in particular presents lots of built-in privacy and security concerns. Remember the uproar when it launched a smart screen with built-in camera and microphones? Now apply that to a platform that’s designed to tap directly into your brain and you’ve got a good idea of what we’re dealing with here.

Facebook addresses this concern in the piece.

“We can’t anticipate or solve all of the ethical issues associated with this technology on our own,” Facebook Reality Labs Research Director Mark Chevillet says in the piece. “What we can do is recognize when the technology has advanced beyond what people know is possible, and make sure that information is delivered back to the community. Neuroethical design is one of our program’s key pillars — we want to be transparent about what we’re working on so that people can tell us their concerns about this technology.”

Facebook seems intent on getting out in front of those concerns a decade or so ahead of time. Users have seemingly been comfortable giving away a lot of private information, as long as it’s been part of a slow, steady trickle. By 2029, maybe the notion of letting the social network plug directly into our grey matter won’t seem so crazy after all.

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Tesla Model X “The Perfect Car For A Family Road Trip,” Arctic Swan Car Reviewer Says

July 30th, 2019 by 

Originally posted on EVANNEX.

Last year, Luxembourg-based Bianca Hurduc decided to start a car blog, Arctic Swan, to provide auto news and reviews. But the site needed a twist. She wanted to feature “inspiring lady drivers with wanderlust … written by a woman for women.” Car reviews are provided in both English and French. And since launching, she’s tested the best from BMW, Audi, Alfa Romeo, Citroën, and many others. Recently, she got behind the wheel of Tesla’s Model X. (See a bunch of great pics here.)

Upon first encountering the X, Hurduc says she was taken by the “magic” of Tesla’s falcon-wing doors. She admits, “these doors stole the show everywhere we went. People were taking photos and videos, there was always a little crowd gathered around the car when we parked and got out/in the car. So if you want to feel like a famous public figure, just buy a Model X!”

And it’s not just the glamorous doors. Once inside, she calls the interior of the Model X, “a combination of a high-speed train, a VIP lounge, and a business class section from an airplane.” Hurduc says, “There is nothing ordinary about this car.” For instance, even the key fob is: “a Tesla in miniature. … The cuteness of this key is just breathtaking.”

Not everything was perfect, though. She says, “I found the steering wheel a little bit too robust for my taste but the Model X is entitled to have it since it’s an SUV with a heavy presence on the road.” That said, once you start driving, “Everything becomes effortless.”

“Although it’s a heavy car (it weighs over 2 tonnes), it glides with an outstanding elegance between the lanes and reaches 100km/h in just 2.7 seconds. This car doesn’t disappoint you when you hit the throttle,” says Hurduc.

Prepping for a road trip, Hurduc found Model X storage capacity ideal — travelers can really “benefit from the enormous boot space this car offers (2,500 L). Our luggage was happy. For a 3-day road trip, women can decide to pack the whole house and … [this fact] together with the high level of comfort makes it the perfect car for a family road trip.”

At last, “No more discussions with the husband in the parking lot while both of you try to squeeze in the bags and the children … no more assumptions about the spot in which a certain bag you need might be, no more fear in your soul when you open the trunk and you expect your baggage to [spill over] waterfall style.”

Driving approximately 600 km from France to Northern Italy, she enjoyed stopping at two Tesla Supercharger stations. She explains, “I love the idea of these little breaks … you have some time to enjoy a coffee.” After the experience, she says, “We had an awesome time with this Model X – driving it on a long-distance road [trip] convinced us that this is the car a family needs.”

In the end, she admits, “the Tesla Model X is the only big car I would actually buy. It’s beautiful, it’s safe, it had plenty of room for kids and luggage and it offers a great driving experience. So dear husband, I think it’s time to begin saving money!”

New protein-sensing mechanism discovered

New protein-sensing mechanism discovered
Ribosome binding of NAC is mediated by a ribosome binding regulatory arm (N-αNAC, blue) and a translation sensor domain (N-βNAC, green). N-βNAC senses short nascent chains already deep inside the ribosomal tunnel close to the peptidyl-transferase centre (orange) where amino acids are assembled into proteins. The tunnel-sensing activity of NAC is believed to orchestrate general cotranslational protein folding and transport processes in the cell. Credit: Martin Gamerdinger

In a stunning discovery, molecular biologists from the University of Konstanz and ETH Zurich have been able to demonstrate that the nascent polypeptide-associated complex (NAC) senses newly synthesized proteins upon birth inside the ribosomal tunnel.

New research published in Molecular Cell on 31 July 2019 conducted by researchers from the University of Konstanz’s Collaborative Research Centre 969 “Chemical and Biological Principles of Cellular Proteostasis” shows that the nascent polypeptide-associated complex (NAC) acts as a major protein identifying and, possibly, sorting device inside the cell.

Working closely with Professor Nenad Ban, an expert for resolving ribosomal structures from ETH Zurich, the team led by Professor Elke Deuerling and Dr. Martin Gamerdinger from the University of Konstanz’s Department of Biology—including co-workers Annalena Wallisch, Dr. Stefan Kreft, Nadine Sachs and Renate Schlömer as well as Junior Professor Florian Stengel and doctoral researcher Carolin Sailer—has discovered that NAC inserts the N-terminal domain of its β-subunit (N-βNAC) deep into the ribosomal  to sense substrates directly upon synthesis and to escort growing polypeptides to the cytosol.

“No other factor we know does that, which is why we were so utterly surprised by our findings. Although NAC was discovered as long as 25 years ago, we are only now beginning to understand how crucial it is for proper cell function. Our study shows that, besides acting as a chaperone both on and off the , NAC is also able to recognize nascent polypeptide chains deep inside the ribosomal tunnel,” says Professor Elke Deuerling, lead author on the study and Professor of Molecular Microbiology at the University of Konstanz. “We already knew NAC to transiently interact with translating ribosomes. But we did not understand how exactly NAC interacts with the ribosome and with nascent substrates to regulate and transport to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), which is essential for organismal viability.”

The researchers performed biochemical, genetic and structural analyses in the model system C. elegans to attain a more detailed understanding of how NAC identifies and sorts nascent polypeptide chains inside the ribosomal tunnel. “Until quite recently, we assumed that the earliest point of interaction between ribosome-associated factors such as chaperones, enzymes and transport proteins was when the nascent polypeptide chains exit the ribosomal tunnel,” explains Dr. Martin Gamerdinger, first author on the study alongside Kan Kobayashi, formerly of ETH Zurich and currently an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo. “Usually, at that point, the chains have a length of about 40 amino acids. What we have discovered is that NAC binds to nascent chains as short as ten amino acids or even shorter, and it is doing it inside the tunnel. This makes NAC the very first factor to contact newly synthesized proteins. We even suspect it to be able to sense when the first two amino acids of a nascent protein connect with each other.”

As the researchers have been able to show using a combination of cryo-electron microscopy, mass spectrometry and biochemical analyses, including a series of site-specific crosslink experiments, NAC inserts the positively charged and highly flexible N-terminal domain of its β-subunit (N-βNAC) into the ribosomal tunnel, which is for the most part lined by negatively charged ribosomal RNA. “What our study demonstrates is that NAC is able to sense translation activity inside the tunnel and, more importantly, that it is able to sense the character of the proteins that are being synthesized. At least that is our current hypothesis,” says Deuerling.

Once they exit the ribosomal tunnel, nascent protein chains can continue down a range of different biogenesis pathways: Some are passed on to other factors that escort these chains to their intended destinations somewhere else inside the cell. Some are modified by enzymes, others require chaperone support to attain their native structural fold. As Martin Gamerdinger comments: “If what we are assuming about the early sensing-mechanism of NAC is correct, then this complex is the single most important protein sorting mechanism that we know of. It would explain how cells manage the complex processes and reactions that take place in connection with nascent polypeptide chains once they exit the ribosomal tunnel.” Accordingly, what the researchers plan to verify next is whether the N-βNAC domain can identify the character of nascent proteins inside the ribosomal tunnel and how it prompts them to enter the correct protein biogenesis pathways.

“What we further found is that NAC acts as a molecular filter, preventing inactive ribosomes or ribosomes in the early translational stages from interacting with the translocon of the ER, i.e. with the complex that transports nascent polypeptides with a targeting signal sequence into the endoplasmic reticulum. Unregulated ribosome-translocon interactions could lead to the wrong proteins entering the endoplasmic reticulum on the one hand, and to depletion of protein factors that are in fact needed elsewhere on the other,” says Deuerling. “NAC is thus responsible for making the various steps involved in protein biogenesis much more efficient and specific.”

While the N-βNAC domain seems to be responsible for sensing and possibly for sorting nascent polypeptide chains, another NAC domain, N-αNAC, interacts with the β-domain and with itself in order to regulate NAC activity on ribosomes. “This, too, is something that we did not know about before,” explains Martin Gamerdinger. “Without N-αNAC, NAC would bind too strongly to the ribosome, interfering with the essential protein translation processes taking place there. We have yet to understand how exactly this auto-inhibitory function of NAC works, but what seems clear is that N-αNAC downregulates ribosome binding.” As in vivo experiments with C. elegans clearly showed, worms expressing a NAC variant that lacks the auto-inhibition and shows enhanced ribosome binding were developmentally delayed due to reduced  synthesis rates and impaired translation, clearly showing defects caused by NAC-ribosome misregulation.

Explore further

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More information: Martin Gamerdinger et al. Early scanning of nascent polypeptides inside the ribosomal tunnel by NAC. Molecular Cell. 31 July 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.molcel.2019.06.030

Journal information: Molecular Cell