Category Archives: Science

(ZH) Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Could Become A Bigger Killer Than Cancer


Antibiotic resistance is becoming a larger problem in developed parts of the world such as the United States.  The overuse of antibiotics has caused a sort of evolution effect to occur in certain types of bacteria.  They have become much harder to kill with antibiotics, evolving into what’s been dubbed “superbugs.”

The Daily Mail reported that in little more than 30 years, antibiotic-resistance may be more deadly than cancer around the globe.  At least 23,000 people in the US die of an antibiotic-resistant infection each year – and some estimates suggest it’s far more. By 2050, some projections suggest that drug resistance, in general, will claim the lives of 10 million people. That’s more than the 8.2 million that die of cancer worldwide each year.

Superbugs, or bacteria that has mutated and evolved to withstand modern medicine (antibiotics), are a growing threat worldwide. Their ever-increasing numbers are fueled by over-prescription, waste from drug manufacturing plants, antibiotic use in animals, and even international travel.

But don’t expect Big Pharma or the government to reign it in. There’s just too much money in drugs for either entity to care much about it.  We’ll have to take action as a society on our own. The first step you can take is to make sure you understand what an antibiotic is for and what it cannot do. Antibiotics cannot fight viral infections such as the common cold or the flu. Talk with a doctor and get an understanding of what it is you’re fighting. Never take antibiotics for a viral infection.

The symptoms of viral and bacterial infections are often difficult to distinguish from one another, and patients – especially the parents of pediatric patients – hate being told to go home empty-handed.

So doctors began to prescribe ‘harmless’ antibiotics to anyone with symptoms like a runny nose, a fever, and a headache, which could be caused either by a mild bacterial infection or a viral one like the common cold. –Daily Mail

Most doctors are seeing more resistant infections every day, forcing them to resort to more powerful drugs of last resort or simply to lose patients, the Daily Mail reports.

“You can still walk into pharmacies around the world and buy antibiotics, including colistin,” a powerful broad-spectrum drug with dangerous side effects that is sometimes used to treat resistant infections, says Dr. Jason Newland, a Washington University St Louis pediatrician, and antimicrobial stewardship specialist.

“It’s one of the major drivers [of antibiotic resistance], that if you want an antibiotic, you could go to India right now and buy it and use it inappropriately,” said Newland.

The rise of superbugs is not unprecedented, however, it shouldn’t be overlooked either. Keeping yourself healthy through good nutrition and exercise just might be the simple short term answer.  But evaluation of medical and prescription drug procedures should occur as well if any useful correction to this problem is to made

(OBS) Investigadores criaram um coração vivo, que contrai, numa impressora 3D


O coração tem apenas três centímetros e ainda não é capaz de bombear sangue, mas os investigadores acreditam que é o primeiro passo para, no futuro, se imprimirem corações humanos funcionais.Partilhe

O pequeno coração nas mãos do investigador responsável pela sua criação, Tal Dvir.

Investigadores da Universidade de Tel Aviv criaram um coração com tecido humano numa impressora 3D. As células do coração são capazes de se contrair, mas até termos uma réplica de um coração humano ainda é preciso ultrapassar algumas etapas. Os resultados foram publicados na revista científica Advanced Science.

A equipa de Tal Dvir retirou células adiposas de uma pessoa, separaram-nas dos restantes materiais existentes no tecido e fizeram com que se transformassem em células estaminais — com capacidade de dar origem a outras células. A partir daí fizeram com que as células se diferenciassem em células do coração e dos vasos sanguíneos. Depois de misturarem as células com hidrogel criaram uma biotinta para usar na impressora 3D.

O coração criado tem apenas três centímetros, como se de um coração de coelho se tratasse, e ainda não é capaz de bombear sangue — embora as células tenham a capacidade de se contrair. O próximo passo será fazer com que as células comuniquem entre si para se contraírem em conjunto, explicou o investigador, citado pelo jornal La Vanguardia.

Só depois os investigadores podem pensar em criar um coração maior. “Temos de descobrir como criar células suficientes para produzir um coração humano”, disse Tal Dvir, coordenador do Laboratório de Engenharia de Tecidos e Medicina Regenerativa.

“Em 10 ou 15 anos [talvez] tenhamos impressoras 3D em hospitais, que forneçam tecidos para os doentes. Quem sabe, corações”, disse o investigador.

(ZH) First Ever Image Of Black Hole Reveals “The Gates Of Hell, The Point Of No-Return”


Astronomers have captured the first-ever image of a black hole using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – a network of eight radio telescopes spanning the globe at various locations including Antarctica, Spain and Chile – which creates an effective telescope the size of the earth. 

The results were presented simultaneously by teams in Tokyo, Washington, Brussels, and Santiago de Chile. 

“This major discovery provides visual evidence for the existence of black holes and pushes the boundaries of modern science,” said the European Commission in Brussels in a Wednesday statement. 

The image shows a halo of dust and gas steadily “feeding” the black hole’s fuzzy doughnut-shaped accretion disc, according to The Guardian. The colossal black hole is located at the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster 55-million light-years from Earth.

We are “looking at a region we cannot imagine, the gates of hell, the point of no-return,” said Heino Falcke – Professor of Astroparticle Physics and Radio Astronomy at Radbound University Nijmegen and chair of the EHT Science Council. “To me, it’s awe-inspiring, but it’s also important for physics.” 

At the event horizon, light is bent in a perfect loop around the black hole, meaning if you stood there you would be able to see the back of your own head. The observations also provide one of the most stringent tests to date of Einstein’s theory of general relativity: this predicts a rounded shape of the black hole’s halo, in line with what EHT has observed. –The Guardian

Scientists say they observed the source for four days and “the size is always the same, it doesn’t change and we measured the contrast between the ring itself and the central darkness,” Astrophysicist Monika Moscibrodzka from Radboud University Nijmegen said. “This kind of structure can only be formed if something is rotating — could be matter around it or black hole itself. Images give sense of direction of rotation, which is clockwise. We are looking at the shadow of the black hole.” –Bloomberg

“If immersed in a bright region, like a disc of glowing gas, we expect a black hole to create a dark region similar to a shadow — something predicted by Einstein’s general relativity that we’ve never seen before,” said Falcke. “This shadow, caused by the gravitational bending and capture of light by the event horizon, reveals a lot about the nature of these fascinating objects and allowed us to measure the enormous mass of M87’s black hole.”

Black holes are the most mysterious objects in the universe. We have seen what we thought was unseeable. We have taken a picture of a black hole,” said EHT director and Harvard University senior research fellow, Sheperd Doeleman – who led the project involving more than 200 scientists. 

The EHT network detects radiation emitted by particles within the accretion disc that are heated to billions of degrees as they circle the black hole at close to the speed of light – before vanishing

The halo’s crescent-like appearance in the image is because the particles in the side of the disc rotating towards Earth are flung towards us faster and so appear brighter. The dark shadow within marks the edge of the event horizon, the point of no return, beyond which no light or matter can travel fast enough to escape the inexorable gravitational pull of the black hole.

Black holes were first predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity – although Einstein himself was sceptical that they actually existed. Since then, astronomers have accumulated overwhelming evidence that these cosmic sinkholes are out there, including recent detection of gravitational waves that ripple across the cosmos when pairs of them collide. –The Guardian

When EHT launched observations in 2017, the program had two primary targets; Sagittarius A – the black hole in the middle of the Milky Way which has a mass of around 4m suns. The second target was the one which yielded the image above – a supermassive black hole into which the equivalent of 6bn suns of light are estimated to have disappeared. 

Success meant simultaneous coordination between teams and clear skies on several continents at the same time. Observations were coordinated using atomic clocks known as hydrogen masers – which are accurate to within one second every 100 million years. One night in 2017 – the conditions were perfect

We got super lucky, the weather was perfect,” said EHT member Ziri Younsi based at University College London. 

According to The Guardian, the observations are already giving scientists insights into how space behaves near a black hole – where gravity is so extreme that reality as we perceive it becomes distorted beyond recognition. 

Scientists are also hoping to understand more about the origin of jets of radiation that are blasted out from the poles of some black holes at close to the speed of light, creating brilliant beacons that can be picked out across the cosmos.

However, the observations do not yet reveal anything about the black hole’s inscrutable interior.

“The black hole is not the event horizon, it’s something inside. It could be something just inside the event horizon, an exotic object hovering just beneath the surface, or it could be a singularity at the centre … or a ring,” said Younsi. “It doesn’t yet give us an explanation of what’s going on inside.” –The Guardian

EHT science council chair Heino Falcke said: “The big question for me is whether we’ll ever be able to transcend that limit. The answer may be maybe not. That’s frustrating but we’ll have to accept it.”

(Haaretz) Israel’s First Moon Mission Blasts Off From Florida


The unmanned Genesis spaceship, which has already set several records, is scheduled to land on the moon on April 11

The SpaceX rocket that took off from Florida's Cape Canaveral carrying Israel's Beresheet spacecraft, on Thursday, February21, 2019.
The SpaceX rocket that took off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral carrying Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft, on Thursday, February21, 2019.AFP

Early Friday morning at 3:45 A.M. Israel time marked the beginning of a new era for Israeli space research with the launch of the first Israeli spacecraft heading to the moon. The launch set several records: The ship will be the smallest and least expensive spacecraft ever to land on the moon and will put Israel among the ranks of the superpowers, the United States, Russia and China, which have successfully carried out lunar landings of various kinds.

The unmanned Genesis spacecraft (“Beresheet” in Hebrew), which was privately built by the non-profit group SpaceIL in cooperation with Israel Aeronautics Industries, was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a Falcon 9 rocket built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. At a press conference this week, the president of SpaceIL, Morris Kahn, who donated $40 million of the $100 million cost of the spacecraft, said Genesis was presented as a gift to President Reuven Rivlin and declared a national project.

A simulation of Israel's Genesis spacecraft on the moon.
A simulation of Israel’s Genesis spacecraft on the moon.SpaceIL

“We have been on this journey for eight years and it will be completed in two months, with the landing on the moon. We are making history and we are proud to be part of a group that has dreamed and realized the dream that many countries have had but only three have fulfilled,” Kahn said.

In addition to the national pride that the project, which is not entirely a private venture, generates, the symbolic importance of Genesis is huge and the launch has sparked global interest. The spacecraft itself is mostly a demonstration of the capabilities that the project has drawn on. Its scientific mission is simple and the plan is for it to stay on the moon for just two days. Up to this point, only China has had the proven technology necessary for a soft landing on the moon.

Israel’s success could lead to a whole host of future lunar landings and create an entirely different business model in which private firms would offer a range of services. Customers would be able to purchase a spot on a spacecraft for their equipment — ranging from scientific instruments and communications technology to clients who want to spread the ashes of their loved ones on the moon. In the longer term, firms could try to reach the moon to produce products, from precious metals to water that could be used to fuel rockets or to actually settle the moon.

Netanyahu attends an event to watch the launch of the Israeli spacecraft "Beresheet" from the Israel Aerospace Industries control room, in Yehud, Israel, on February 22, 2019.
Netanyahu attends an event to watch the launch of the Israeli spacecraft “Beresheet” from the Israel Aerospace Industries control room, in Yehud, Israel, on February 22, 2019.Eliran Avital

SpaceIL’s project began as an initiative of three young people, Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yehonatan Weintraub, who in 2010 registered for Google’s Lunar XPRIZE competition. The competition ended in March of last year without a winner, but SpaceIL announced that it would continue to pursue the plans. With the assistance of private donors and with the support of Israel’s Science, Technology and Space Ministry, the threesome managed to fulfill their dream with Friday’s launch.

Thirty-two minutes after liftoff, the spacecraft, which was placed on an Indian communications satellite, the main payload of the launch, separated from the Falcon rocket. Several minutes later, personnel in the project’s control room at Israel Aerospace Industries in Yehud, near Ben-Gurion International Airport, made contact with Genesis.

According to plans, the spacecraft’s lunar landing legs opened and were followed by a series of tests of the spacecraft’s systems to verify that they weathered the launch and are functioning well in space. About an hour after the launch, Genesis entered its first orbit of the Earth.

The unmanned Genesis spacecraft “(Beresheet” in Hebrew) ahead of the launch, on February 22, 2019.
The unmanned Genesis spacecraft “(Beresheet” in Hebrew) ahead of the launch, on February 22, 2019.יואב וייס

Genesis’ path toward the moon includes elliptical orbits of increasing size around the Earth, during which the spacecraft makes use of the Earth’s gravitational pull to increase its speed. All told, Genesis is scheduled to travel 6.5 million kilometers (4 million miles), making it the lunar mission with the longest path ever traveled.

On its final orbit, the spacecraft is scheduled to approach the moon itself, to be followed by a complex maneuver in which it will attempt to be pulled into the lunar field of gravity — about 10 days before it actually lands on the moon. If everything goes well, it will orbit the moon until the timing is right for a landing, which is currently scheduled for April 11.

“Our journey to the moon is full of challenges, and therefore our mission is immeasurably complex. Every step that we take successfully will pave the way for the success of the next step, until the landing on the moon,” Ido Anteby, SpaceIL’s CEO, said at this week’s news conference.

Lightweight and at a relatively low price tag 

Genesis, which weighs just 600 kilograms (1,320 pounds), and whose $100 million price tag compares with billions that have been spent on prior lunar missions, was planned without a backup system in the event of a technical malfunction. The spacecraft is a meter and a half tall and 2 meters wide (nearly 5 feet tall and 6 and a half feet wide). Its maximum planned speed is 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) per second.

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It will be carrying equipment to measure the moon’s magnetic field, which astronomers still don’t fully understand. In addition, after the spacecraft lands, it will take a selfie of itself and of the Israeli flag from the lunar surface. Genesis also has a time capsule on board with hundreds of digital files, from details regarding the construction of the spacecraft and the team involved, to national symbols, cultural information and other material collected from members of the public over the years.

One of the motivations leading the various partners in the project to support it is the hope that it will spawn the Israeli equivalent of the Apollo effect in the United States, created in connection with the American program to land a man on the moon, leading up to the actual landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. The Israeli entrepreneurs and their donors hope that a successful Genesis mission will encourage Israeli young people to take an interest in space and science and engineering.

(CNBC) Trump officially directs Pentagon to create Space Force legislation for Congress


  • President Donald Trump signed a directive Tuesday ordering the Pentagon draft legislation for Congress that would created the Space Force as a part of the the U.S. Air Force.
  • This would establish the first military branch in over 70 years.
  • Currently the U.S. Air Force manages the space domain through the U.S. Space Command.

Michael SheetzAmanda MaciasPublished 17 Hours Ago  Updated 14 Hours

President Donald Trump displays the "Space Policy Directive 4" after signing the directive to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Forces in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 19, 2019.

Jim Young | ReutersPresident Donald Trump displays the “Space Policy Directive 4” after signing the directive to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Forces in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 19, 2019.

President Donald Trump signed a directive on Tuesday that ordered the Department of Defense create a Space Force as a sixth military branch.

Known as Space Policy Directive 4 (SPD-4), the directive orders the Pentagon draft legislation for Congress that would create the Space Force as a part of the U.S. Air Force. This would establish the first military branch in 72 years. The Air Force is the nation’s youngest branch and was added shortly after World War II.

“America must be fully equipped to defend our vital interests. Our adversaries are training forces and developing technology to undermine our security in space, and they’re working very hard at that,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Deputy Defense Sec.: Space and cyberspace the two new war-fighting domains

Deputy Defense Sec.: Space and cyberspace the two new war-fighting domains  3:07 PM ET Wed, 19 Sept 2018 | 01:53

“We’re investing in new space capabilities to project military power and safeguard our nation’s interests, especially when it comes to safety and defense,” Trump added.

The National Space Council developed the directive alongside counterparts at the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, National Security Council, Office of Management and Budget, and the White House Counsel’s Office.

Currently the U.S. Air Force manages the space domain through the U.S. Space Command. This proposed Space Force would stand alongside the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. However, the newest branch is expected to be akin to the structure of the Marine Corps, which is a component of the U.S. Department of the Navy but has separate representation on the Joint Chiefs.

The new sister service branch will be represented on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and overseen by an Air Force under secretary for space.

Trump first floated the Space Force idea as a part of his national security strategy March 13. The president described in March how he had originally coined the term as a joke, while discussing U.S. government spending and private investment in space. Trump then directed the Pentagon in June to immediately begin the creation of the new branch.

“I am hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces,” Trump said in June before asking Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to see the directive through.

“Our destiny beyond the Earth is not only a matter of national identity but a matter of national security,” Trump said.

In August, Vice President Mike Pence announced the Pentagon’s detailed plan for President Donald Trump‘s vision of a Space Force.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

(EP) El país con más mujeres científicas es… Portugal

(EP) El porcentaje de portuguesas en carreras de ciencias dobla al de la japonesas.

Una científica en un laboratorio.
Una científica en un laboratorio. Sergio Pérez REUTERS

Sí, ya se sabía que el portugués es quien más corcho tiene del mundo y quien más vino bebe y más bacalao consume; pero lo que nadie calculaba en la tierra del fado es que Portugal fuera el país de las mujeres científicas o, al menos, el país con más mujeres estudiando carreras de ciencias.

Según el estudio de la OCDE The Pursuit of Gender Equality, el 57% de las portuguesas estudian ciencias, tecnologías, ingenierías y/o matemáticas; es el porcentaje más alto del mundo rompiendo todo tipo de estereotipos. Son 17 puntos más que en el Estados Unidos de Silicon Valley, 22 puntos más que en España o Dinamarca y más del doble que en Japón.

La presencia de mujeres en las carreras científicas no se debe a que los presupuestos del Estado derrochen el dinero en esta parte de la educación y aún menos en investigación. Aunque el objetivo del Gobierno es llegar al 1,5% del presupuesto nacional, apenas pasa del 0,8%.

La falta de dinero o de perspectivas no parece desanimar la afición de la portuguesa por las ciencias, aunque son más de ingenierías que de Tecnologías de la Información, donde aún el porcentaje de mujeres es ínfimo. Aún así, en ese terreno destaca Elvira Fortunato, de la Universidad Nova de Lisboa. Sus investigaciones de circuitos integrados sin silicio, es decir, chips de papel, le han valido hace unas semanas una subvención de 3,5 millones de euros del Consejo Europeo de Investigación para dedicar a proyectos de tecnologías amigas del medioambiente.

La encuesta de la Fundación Santos, Global Portuguese Scientist, que rastrea el número de científicos portugueses por el mundo, también certifica esa supremacía femenina. Desde hace años la diáspora científica portuguesa, presente en 50 países, tiene una mayoría femenina (50,3%).

Aunque una cosa son las licenciadas, otra las trabajadoras y muy otra los puestos en la dirección de empresas (en Estados Unidos son mujeres el 57% de los graduados pero solo el 6% de los directivos de empresas de S&P), en Portugal dos mujeres dirigen las dos mayores fundaciones científicas, la Champalimaud (Leonor Beleza) y el Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia (Mónica Bettencourt).

(CNN) A second mysterious repeating fast radio burst has been detected in space


Far outside our Milky Way galaxy, something is causing repeating short bursts of radio waves to be released into space. Scientists have recorded the second repeating fast radio burst to be discovered, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.The finding was also presented at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.These radio bursts are only millisecond-long radio flashes, and such rapid bursts themselves aren’t rare in space.But this is only the second one that has been found to repeat. The mystery about why these bursts happen and where they come from continues, which always spurs believers to think that advanced extraterrestrial civilizations are creating them.The first one, deemed FRB 121102, was discovered in 2015 by the Arecibo radio telescope, and it was revealed in 2018 that the bursts release an enormous amount of energy.

What's sending mysterious repeating fast radio bursts in space?

What’s sending mysterious repeating fast radio bursts in space?This new repeating fast radio burst is called FRB 180814.J0422+73 and was recorded six times coming from the same location, 1.5 billion light-years away.This is one of the very first detections made by the new Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME. The radio telescope was still in its pre-commissioning phase and operating with only a small amount of its full capacity in the summer of 2018 when it detected this and 12 singular fast radio bursts.And although this new detection doesn’t solve the biggest mysteries surrounding the radio bursts, the researchers who recorded it believe that other repeating fast radio bursts will be found — which could allow them to figure out where they originate.”Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there,” said Ingrid Stairs, a member of the CHIME team and an astrophysicist at the University of British Columbia. “And with more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles — where they’re from and what causes them.”

NASA's planet-hunter TESS makes first discoveries

NASA’s planet-hunter TESS makes first discoveriesOne hypothesis is that powerful astrophysical phenomena are causing them. The first repeating fast radio burst was recorded at a frequency of 700 megahertz, but some of the bursts CHIME recorded were as low as 400 megahertz.”[We now know] the sources can produce low-frequency radio waves and those low-frequency waves can escape their environment, and are not too scattered to be detected by the time they reach the Earth,” Tom Landecker, a CHIME team member from the National Research Council of Canada, said in a statement. “That tells us something about the environments and the sources. We haven’t solved the problem, but it’s several more pieces in the puzzle.”

Citizen scientists discover rare exoplanet

Citizen scientists discover rare exoplanetThe low frequency of this new detection could mean that the source of the bursts differ. “Scattering” was detected in the fast radio bursts, which is a phenomenon that helps determine more about the environment surrounding the origin.The CHIME team believes this scattering is indicative of powerful astrophysical objects at the source of the bursts.”That could mean [the source is] in some sort of dense clump like a supernova remnant,” team member Cherry Ng, an astronomer at the University of Toronto, said in a statement. “Or near the central black hole in a galaxy. But it has to be in some special place to give us all the scattering that we see.”And if CHIME was able to make these detections before it was even fully up and running, the researchers are hopeful that the new radio telescope will help them find answers about these mysterious signals.

(Mirror) Mysterious radio signals from space ‘could be aliens’ 1.5 billion light years away

(Mirror) The ‘Fast Radio Bursts’ (FRBs) are only a millisecond-long and were first detected accidentally in 2007, when a burst signal was spotted in radio astronomy data

The latest discovery was made by a Canadian-led team of astronomers on the hunt for FRBs last summer(Image: CHIME /SWNS.COM)

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Radio bursts from outer space which experts suggest could be evidence of aliens have been detected for the second time.

The ‘Fast Radio Bursts’ (FRBs) are only a millisecond-long and were first detected in repeated form accidentally in 2007, when a burst signal was spotted in radio astronomy data collected in 2001.

The new discovery reported in the journal Nature was made by a Canadian-led team of astronomers on the hunt for FRBs last summer.

Most scientists believe they are generated by powerful astrophysical phenomena such as black holes or super-dense neutron stars. But a few have suggested more outlandish theories.

Professor Avid Loeb, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in the US, argues that they could be evidence of incredibly advanced alien technology.

In last year’s discovery, the team detected 13 of the flashes using a new type of radio telescope, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (Chime).

Some believe the signals have come from aliens in deep space (Image: Getty Images)

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One of the FRBs was repeating. Of more than 60 FRBs detected to date, such repeating bursts have only been picked up once before, by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in 2015.

Where the FRBs come from is not known although they are thought to emanate from sources billions of light years away outside our galaxy, the Milky Way.

Chime astrophysicist Dr Ingrid Stairs, from the University of British Columbia, Canada, said: “Until now, there was only one known repeating FRB.

“Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there. And with more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles – where they’re from and what causes them.”

Most of the 13 FRBs showed signs of “scattering” that suggest their sources could be powerful astrophysical objects in locations with special characteristics, the scientists said.

Team member Dr Cherry Ng, from the University of Toronto, Canada, said: “That could mean in some sort of dense clump like a supernova (exploding star) remnant. Or near the central black hole in a galaxy. But it has to be in some special place to give us all the scattering that we see.”

The FRBs could be a sign of intelligent life i n space, according to some (Image: Getty Images/Science Photo Libra)

The new FRBs are are also at unusually low radio frequencies. Most previously detected FRBs have had frequencies of around 1,400 megahertz (MHz), but the new ones fell within a range below 800 MHz.

In 2017 Prof Loeb and Harvard colleague Manasvi Lingham proposed that FRBs could be leakage from planet-sized alien transmitters.

Rather than being designed for communication, they would more likely be used to propel giant space ships powered by light sails.

A light sail works by bouncing light, or in this case radio beams, off a huge reflective sheet to provide forward thrust.

Prof Loeb, who discusses the idea in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, said: “An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking.”

(BBG) China Lands Probe on Far Side of the Moon in a World First


  •  Beijing wants to be one of top aerospace powers by 2030
  •  NASA administrator, Elon Musk congratulate China in tweets

China landed a lunar probe on the far side of the moon, the first ever spacecraft to reach the surface that always faces away from Earth and giving a boost to the country’s ambitious space program.

The Chang’e-4 lunar probe, named after the mythical Moon Goddess, landed at 10:26 a.m. Beijing time Thursday and relayed a picture, the People’s Daily newspaper reported.

The feat caps a series of lunar missions China has launched over the past few years as part of its plan to become one of the world’s top three aerospace powers by 2030. The nation’s space budget is about $8 billion a year, second only to the U.S. The moon landing comes at a time when tensions between the two powers are at a long-time high, with their economic, technological and military rivalry deepening amid China’s quest for dominance.

View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter

China Xinhua News@XHNews

What does the far side of the moon look like?
China’s Chang’e-4 probe gives you the answer.
It landed on the never-visible side of the moon Jan. 3 1,4155:14 AM – Jan 3, 2019934 people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

Aerospace is among sectors President Xi Jinping has identified as key to modernizing China’s economy. That means developing its own technology for planes, rockets, satellites and other spacecraft. In 2017, a state-owned company successfully test flew the nation’s first home-built single-aisle passenger plane. The country has also rolled out an alternative to American-owned GPS, while local startups are racing to launch rockets and microsatellites.

Space Billionaires Now Have a Rival With Even Deeper Pockets

Jim Bridenstine, the administrator at the U.S. National Aeronautics & Space Administration, congratulated China on the accomplishment in a Twitter post, as did billionaire Elon Musk.View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter

Jim Bridenstine@JimBridenstine

Congratulations to China’s Chang’e-4 team for what appears to be a successful landing on the far side of the Moon. This is a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment!3,7394:14 AM – Jan 3, 20191,407 people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

Landing on the unexplored region will enable Chang’e-4’s rover to better study the moon because of the lack of electromagnetic interference from Earth. The rover is equipped with a low-frequency radio spectrometer to help scientists understand “how the earliest stars were ignited and how our cosmos emerged from darkness after the Big Bang,” according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency. Scientists will test whether plants can grow while on the moon, it said.

China’s Rival to GPS Technology Is Looking to Go Global

Chang’e-3, launched in 2013, and its rover Yutu — or Jade Rabbit — surveyed the moon’s geology and natural resources after a soft landing.

In May, China launched a relay satellite called Queqiao that’s now orbiting about 450,000 kilometers (280,000 miles) from Earth, where a gravitational equilibrium can be maintained so it stays on course to relay messages from the rover back to Earth.

A Long March-4C rocket carrying the Queqiao satellite lifts off in Xichang on May 21.Photographer: AFP via Getty Images

China also plans to launch its first Mars probe by the end of this decade, according to a white paper on the country’s space activities issued in 2016. It also aims to build its own space station in 2022, Xinhua reported.

NASA is pursuing a dual path of building a lunar orbital platform and returning astronauts to the moon in the mid-2020s, with the eventual aim to send humans to Mars. The Mars InSight craft landed on the planet on Nov. 26 to study its interior to help answer questions about the early days of the solar system.

(PUB) Lições dos incêndios e das viagens no espaço: Estará tudo relacionado? – Ricardo Cabral

(PUB) Os riscos de catástrofes, naturais ou causadas pelo homem, obrigam-nos a olhar para o espaço como parte integral do nosso futuro colectivo como espécie.

Os incêndios da Califórnia e, em particular, um dos mais recentes e mais mortíferos, conhecido por Camp Fire, com até agora 76 vítimas mortais e quase 1300 desaparecidos, relembram-nos as tragédias em Pedrógão Grande em Junho de 2017 e os incêndios de Outubro de 2017 na região centro do país, que causaram 116 vítimas mortais. E, noutra dimensão, o incêndio na Madeira que chegou a atingir parte do centro do Funchal, causando três vítimas mortais e o pânico.

Já muito se escreveu sobre estes dramas. Pretende-se aqui chamar a atenção para uma parte das implicações financeiras dos incêndios em Portugal e nos EUA.

Em Portugal, pelo menos um relatório técnico (da comissão técnica independente) refere que a causa do incêndio de Pedrógão Grande terá sido uma descarga eléctrica “mediada pela rede de distribuição de energia”.

O Ministério Público “deduziu acusação contra doze arguidos” pelo incêndio de Pedrógão Grande, incluindo dois responsáveis da EDP. Mas, segundo um artigo do Expresso, citado pela Renascença, a EDP não é acusada nem arguida porque a lei não o permitiria. Por outro lado, no contrato de parceria público-privada entre o SIRESP e o Estado, uma cláusula providencial iliba a primeira entidade de responsabilidade em caso de falhas dos sistema de comunicações de emergência durante catástrofes. O resultado, como se sabe, foi que o Estado desistiu de aplicar multas ao SIRESP por considerar que não era possível demonstrar, por falta de provas, falhas do sistema de comunicações de emergência.

Os casos ganham-se na secretaria?

Em suma, a fazer fé na comunicação social, em Portugal, empresas como o SIRESP e a EDP parecem estar ilibadas à partida de responsabilidade nos incêndios, quer pelos contratos, quer pela lei vigente.

O contraste com os incêndios na Califórnia não poderia ser maior. Peritos desse Estado responsabilizam uma das duas principais operadoras eléctricas da Califórnia, a PG&E, por 17 dos 21 grandes incêndios no norte da Califórnia de Outono de 2017, tendo remetido 8 desses casos para a justiça, por eventual violação da lei estadual. O Citigroup estima que a responsabilidade dessa empresa, por esses incêndios de 2017, será de cerca de 15 mil milhões de dólares.

No início de Novembro foi a própria PG&E que informou responsáveis do Estado da Califórnia no próprio dia do incêndio, bem como os seus accionistas e credores no dia seguinte, de falha eléctrica na rede próxima de Camp Fire, sugerindo que poderá vir a ser determinado que a empresa tem responsabilidade na origem do mesmo, e que o seu seguro de responsabilidade civil de 1,4 mil milhões de dólares poderá não ser suficiente para cobrir as previsíveis indemnizações pelos incêndios.

É certo que o governador democrata da Califórnia fez recentemente aprovar uma lei que permite passar os custos das indemnizações para os consumidores de electricidade, a partir de 2019.

Mas, para já, as consequências previstas para a empresa PG&E são dramáticas e, justificadamente, bem. A empresa suspendeu o pagamento de dividendos a accionistas, os preços das suas acções e obrigações caem, a empresa foi obrigada a accionar todas as linhas de crédito junto da banca para obter liquidez e poderá mesmo vir a declarar falência em resultado dos incêndios.

Lições da Califórnia para Portugal

A Presidência da República e o Governo têm dado elevada prioridade à alteração das políticas públicas de prevenção e de combate a incêndios, mas nesta vertente da prevenção de incêndios – a inexistência de riscos financeiros legais por parte de empresas perante situações como as ocorridas em 2017 – afigura-se, que a resposta tem sido escassa, se é que não é nula.

A penalização financeira, criminal e civil, de empresas é fundamental para que as respectivas direcções executivas dêem a necessária prioridade à prevenção de incêndios e de outras catástrofes, “investindo” os recursos necessários.

O ambiente é um desafio tecnológico e económico esquecido

O progresso tecnológico das últimas décadas poderá ter convencido a opinião pública de que as sociedades modernas podem superar os desafios colocados pelo meio ambiente e, em particular, as catástrofes naturais. Porém, mesmo não conhecendo ou ignorando o que dizem os cientistas, a violência dos desastres ambientais mais recentes não pode deixar de abalar essa convicção.

Acresce que não são somente as alterações climatéricas que representam um desafio, traduzindo-se no caso acima em apreço, em incêndios mais violentos e perigosos. Catástrofes naturais representam um risco económico e social enorme, como se viu no caso do tsunami no Japão, sem esquecer o risco de erupções vulcânicas ou de quedas de meteoritos.

De acordo com algumas estimativas, já antigas, os desastres naturais terão vitimado 62 milhões de pessoas desde 1900, um número comparável ao dos mortos da primeira e da segunda guerras mundiais. Ou seja, as catástrofes naturais continuam a ser um dos principais riscos à sobrevivência da espécie humana.

O sector privado não tem incentivos suficientes para se preparar de modo adequado contra esse tipo de riscos.

As pessoas não estão dispostas a, no extremo, abandonar a costa da Califórnia, o Japão ou Lisboa devido ao elevado risco de terramotos ou de tsunamis. Também pretendem continuar a viajar e a viver junto ao mar, apesar do efeito das emissões de dióxido de carbono no efeito estufa e na subida do nível do mar. Ou seja, não querem sacrificar o seu nível de vida por causa de um risco incerto e muito baixo.

E é difícil aos decisores políticos alterar o modelo de desenvolvimento económico e social com vista a minimizar ou mesmo inverter os seus efeitos nefastos no ambiente e, ao mesmo tempo, tomar as medidas adequadas para proteger as populações dos riscos mais catastróficos que a ciência prevê.

Uma nova corrida para o espaço

Esses riscos de catástrofes, naturais ou causadas pelo homem, obrigam-nos a olhar para o espaço como parte integral do nosso futuro colectivo como espécie.

Já aqui se abordou os planos da SpaceX para viagens espaciais inter- e intra-planetárias, com o conceito apelativo de viagens intercontinentais de 30 minutos pelo espaço.

Recentemente, a agência espacial da Rússia, Roscomos, anunciou que conseguiu desenvolver um novo propulsor de plasma com base num reactor nuclear, reutilizável, para viagens espaciais. É um feito notável, que representa um salto qualitativo nos sistemas de propulsão espacial, desde o início da exploração espacial nos anos 50.

As viagens para o espaço e no espaço baseiam-se em princípios da física mecânica: as três leis do movimento de Sir Isaac Newton. Para fazer a nave acelerar numa direcção é necessário expulsar massa na direcção contrária à maior velocidade possível. O que significa que uma nave espacial tem de transportar uma enorme quantidade de massa (e de peso), para a poder expulsar posteriormente e assim acelerar, ganhando velocidade. Também precisa de massa para travar mas, para poupar energia, pode recorrer à força de gravidade do planeta de destino.

Contudo, como é gasta grande quantidade de massa a acelerar a nave, os reactores espaciais para viagens interplanetárias, por exemplo, até Marte, só podem funcionar por um período curto de tempo medido em minutos, o que significa que a velocidade máxima que a nave espacial pode atingir é relativamente baixa, resultando em durações de viagem muito elevadas, o que torna as viagens inter-estelares (entre sistemas estelares distintos) na prática impossíveis e viagens inter-planetárias muito morosas e dispendiosas.

O novo reactor nuclear da Roscomos e tecnologias similares baseadas na propulsão por plasma desenvolvidas nos EUA, em França e noutros paísespoderia funcionar milhares de horas resultando em aceleração da nave espacial durante esse período de tempo e, por conseguinte, em velocidades muito mais elevadas e duração de viagem mais curtas. Também significa que, em teoria, seria necessária muito menos massa para a propulsão no espaço, diminuindo a dimensão e massa da nave que é necessário transportar da Terra para o espaço.

Desenvolvimentos muito positivos, por conseguinte!

(BBG) Meat Has a Replacement But No One Knows What to Call It

(BBG) Battle lines blur over labeling lab-grown substitutes as Big Meat invests in the startups making them.

Lab-grown. Cell-based. Clean. In vitro. Cultured. Fake. Artificial. Synthetic. Meat 2.0. These are all terms that refer to the same kind of food, one that’s not even on the market yet.

But the companies making it have already raised hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investor cash and earned the close attention of U.S. regulators. Rather than methodically slaughtering animals, this industry uses science to grow what it claims is essentially the same thing as traditional meat. Given the planetary damage wrought by mass-market animal husbandry, such cellular agriculture is seen as the future of meat.

But what to name it, and getting people to eat it, is another matter altogether.

Crucial to public acceptance of any consumer product, of course, is branding. But no one can agree what to call this stuff. Originally, there was a push for the label “clean meat.” This was seen as a better alternative to the more clinical “lab-grown meat,” said Bruce Friedrich, co-founder and executive director of the Good Food Institute, which lobbies for these new products.

But then the traditional meat industry weighed in, saying the cellular version shouldn’t be called meat at all. “We’re using the term ‘lab-produced cultured protein,’” said Dan Kovich, deputy director of science and technology at the National Pork Producers Council. Other groups representing meat producers, including the North American Meat Institute, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Chicken Council, also objected to the “clean meat” label.

The U.S. meat industry represents almost $200 billion in sales, according to one industry estimate, and spends millions of dollars annually to keep Washington in its corner. Investing in this new sector could be giving it more leverage in the debate over what to call the product and how it should be labeled for consumers.

Now, other terms seem to be gaining traction, both in the U.S. and abroad. Mark Post, co-founder of Dutch company Mosa Meats, told AgFunder in July that he doesn’t use the “clean meat” label. “It can’t translate into Dutch, French or German, and it kind of suggests that current meat is dirty,” he said. A spokeswoman for the company told Bloomberg the term is “too antagonistic to industry.”

Meat producers have said “clean meat” is offensive, said Sarah Lucas, head of strategy & communications for Mosa Meat. Investors, meanwhile, “haven’t particularly said that they would like us to use one term over another,” she said.

In August, cellular agriculture company Memphis Meats (which counts among its financial backers meat giants Cargill and Tyson) used the term “cell-based” in a letter sent to the White House. The co-signer of the letter was none other the Meat Institute, the meat industry’s main lobbying arm.

“We thought it was reasonable and far better than ‘clean meat,’ which is inappropriate and inaccurate,” Eric Mittenthal of the Meat Institute told Bloomberg. Cell-based is “clear, factual and inclusive,” Eric Schulze, vice president of product and regulation at Memphis Meats, told federal regulators last month during a two-day meeting in Washington. “It is distinct from plant-based proteins and animal-based meats. It differentiates our products while also clearly conveying that cell-based meat is, in fact, real meat.”

JUST Inc., which said it may make its first commercial sale of a cultured chicken product this year, is in the “cultured” camp when it comes to names. Labels should include “a statement of identity which indicates that the product is cultured, as well as the species from which the product is derived,” Peter Licari, chief technology officer, said at the meeting.

JUST “Chicken Bites.”
Source: JUST

Friedrich’s opposition notwithstanding, Good Food Institute Policy Director Jessica Almy told Bloomberg her organization has rethought its position on how to talk about the products, too. “It feels like ‘clean meat’ doesn’t resonate with everybody right now,” she said. Others see this budding consensus in a more cynical light.

“I think the meat industry has done something very clever,” said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group. By investing in companies such as Memphis Meats, it now has a voice from within its own aspiring competition. “They’re not up against the meat industry,” she said of meat substitute companies. “They are the meat industry.

At the meeting last month, officials of the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture listened as industry representatives chewed over the labeling issue. It’s important to protect consumers with transparent labeling, Almy testified, adding that there should be some flexibility in labeling requirements. Meanwhile, Danni Beer of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association said new processes should be spelled out explicitly.

Brian Spears of New Age Meats argued that it would be dishonest to label meat substitutes as anything other than meat, since it’s really the same thing.

“This conversation is feeling more and more premature,” said Tyler Lobdell, a food-law fellow at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, who told Bloomberg the group seeks to ensure that the meat industry doesn’t hamper consumer options. “We just don’t know what the product looks like, so it’s hard to say what’s misleading when there are no products available.”

Barbara Kowalcyk, a professor in the department of food science and technology at Ohio State University, said there are still too many unknowns about the products and how they’re made—including food safety risks—for regulators to make any decisions.

“When I asked questions, there weren’t good responses, and that suggests we’re not ready for prime time,” she said. “Before we put it in the marketplace, we need to know the answers.”

Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

One look at the American food landscape reveals that organic sales are outpacing everything else at the grocery store. Restaurant menus are highlighting the locality and diet of the animals they serve. Consumers are hungry for more natural foods and willing to pay more for them.

Key to the success of any new “meat” product, however, is overcoming what’s colloquially called the “ick” factor, and labeling is a big part of that. Almy contends that consumers aren’t overly concerned with the provenance of their meat (or its substitute). “I don’t think most consumers care how their meat is produced,” she said. “There’s a strong desire to not have requirements about distinguishing the origin of these products.”

Sorscher of CSPI called this approach a “horrible mistake.” Using the example of widespread consumer mistrust of genetically modified organisms in food, she predicted “there would be such a backlash from consumers, it would ultimately undermine these products.” Indeed, only 5 percent of Americans think such meat substitutes should be labeled as “meat” without further explanation, according to a survey conducted by Consumers Union, which has also called for more transparency.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

“The labeling issue surrounding products of cellular agriculture is fundamentally a public policy question,” said Robert Hibbert, a partner at law firm Morgan Lewis who focuses on food and agriculture regulations. Because the FDA has allowed food companies wiggle room around identity standards (think “soy milk”) while also bringing enforcement actions when it sees potential for confusion, Hibbert said, it’s hard to predict how these labels will be treated.

Even those rooting for meat substitutes said consumers deserve to know what they’re getting. Jessica Resler is creative director at Participation Agency, an experiential marketing firm. A vegan who wants to see all slaughterhouses closed, she said a failure to disclose the meat’s origins will anger consumers.

Still, Resler said. “It has to be described on labels, for sure.”

Eventually, consumers will develop their own shorthand for meat substitutes, for good or for ill. “The mass-adopted term is going to be decided by the public.” Nik Contis, a branding expert at PS212, said.

(Axios) Scientists and experts allege anti-nuclear bias in UN climate report


Illustration of the UN climate report casting a shadow on a nuclear power symbol
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A group of roughly three dozen scientists and other energy experts are claiming a seminal United Nations report on climate change is biased against nuclear power.

Why it matters: A global entity like the UN climate panel can have a big impact on the acceptance of nuclear power, as calls to address climate change intensify and the challenges facing the nuclear industry grow around the world.

Show less

The big picture: Nuclear power, which provides 30% of the world’s zero-carbon electricity, is facing international skepticism over past accidents and public fear about its radioactive waste.

  • In the U.S., numerous plants are poised to shut down earlier than their licenses allow — and some already have — due primarily to market and policy hurdles.
  • Natural gas has largely made up the difference after these plants have shut down, so greenhouse gas emissions ticked up in some parts of the U.S.

The details: A letter being sent to leaders of G-20 nations claims the recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes “misinformation about nuclear energy, contrasts nuclear negatively to renewables, and in some cases suggests an equivalency with fossil fuels.”

  • “While IPCC authors note that public fears of nuclear are an obstacle to its diffusion, in several instances they reinforce unfounded fears,” the letter states.

The signatories include:

  • Tom Wigley, a climate scientist at the University of Adelaide in Australia
  • Kerry Emanuel, atmospheric science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • David Lea, professor of earth science at the University of California

What they’re saying: Emanuel told Axios the IPCC’s latest report contains a number of factual errors and displays a bias against nuclear power that many environmental groups struggle with.

“The IPCC says, correctly, that even 1.5 degrees of warming is dangerous, especially for the developing world. We agree with that, on the other hand it throws cold water on what empirically is the fastest way to mitigate emissions we know about today.”
— Kerry Emanuel

He cited a statement in Chapter 5 of the report that says replacing fossil fuel power plants with nuclear energy has mixed effects for human health — despite the millions of premature deaths that occur worldwide from coal-fired electricity, for example.

Jonathan Lynn, an IPCC spokesman, rejected the accusation that the panel has it in for nuclear power, telling Axios: “We completely reject the idea we are biased about nuclear power or anything else.”

  • Jim Skea, a climate researcher who worked on the IPCC study, said “most” low-carbon scenarios the organization laid out assume the share of nuclear power will increase worldwide.

Between the lines: Opposition to nuclear power from environmentalists, policy leaders and the general public likely hampers nuclear power’s growth, but it’s hard to really know how much would change if the opposition lessened or dissolved altogether.

This energy resource faces a lot of challenges independent of its criticism, including high upfront capital costs competing with increasingly cheap wind and solar energy, along with natural gas.

(GUA) Essays reveal Stephen Hawking predicted race of ‘superhumans’

(GUA) Physicist said genetic editing may create species that could destroy rest of humanity

Stephen Hawking
 Stephen Hawking: ‘Some people won’t be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics.’ Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

The late physicist and author Prof Stephen Hawking has caused controversy by suggesting a new race of superhumans could develop from wealthy people choosing to edit their and their children’s DNA.

Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, who died in March, made the predictions in a collection of articles and essays.

The scientist presented the possibility that genetic engineering could create a new species of superhuman that could destroy the rest of humanity. The essays, published in the Sunday Times, were written in preparation for a book that will be published on Tuesday.

“I am sure that during this century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts such as aggression,” he wrote.

“Laws will probably be passed against genetic engineering with humans. But some people won’t be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as memory, resistance to disease and length of life.”

In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Hawking’s final thoughts on the universe, the physicist suggested wealthy people would soon be able to choose to edit genetic makeup to create superhumans with enhanced memory, disease resistance, intelligence and longevity.

Hawking raised the prospect that breakthroughs in genetics will make it attractive for people to try to improve themselves, with implications for “unimproved humans”.

“Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” he wrote. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate.”

The comments refer to techniques such as Crispr-Cas9, a DNA-editing system that was invented six years ago, allowing scientists to modify harmful genes or add new ones. Great Ormond Street hospital for children in London has used gene editing to treat children with an otherwise incurable form of leukaemia.

What is Crispr?

Crispr, or to give it its full name, Crispr-Cas9, allows scientists to precisely target and edit pieces of the genome. Crispr is a guide molecule made of RNA, that allows a specific site of interest on the DNA double helix to be targeted. The RNA molecule is attached to Cas9, a bacterial enzyme that works as a pair of “molecular scissors” to cut the DNA at the exact point required. This allows scientists to cut, paste and delete single letters of genetic code.

However, questions have been raised about whether parents would risk using such techniques for fear that the enhancements would have side-effects.

The astronomer Lord Rees, who was a friend of Hawking at Cambridge University but often disagreed with his peer, noted a sperm bank in California offering only “elite” sperm, including from Nobel prize winners, had closed due to lack of demand.

(PUB) Investigação sobre imunoterapia para o cancro vence Prémio Nobel da Medicina

(PUB) James P. Allison e Tasuku Honjo descobriram novas formas de bloquear os travões do nosso sistema imunitário que se revelaram muito eficazes no tratamento do cancro. “Um novo paradigma na luta contra o cancro”, considerou o comité do Nobel.

O prémio Nobel da Medicina ou Fisiologia de 2018 foi atribuído aos investigadores James P. Allison e Tasuku Honjo pelas descobertas relacionadas com o papel do sistema imunitário na luta contra o cancro, anunciou esta segunda-feira o comité do Nobel no Instituto Karolinska, em Estocolmo (Suécia). O prémio tem um valor de nove milhões de coroas suecas (cerca de 871 mil euros).

“O Prémio Nobel deste ano assinala um marco na luta contra o cancro”, anunciou o comité do Nobel esta segunda-feira, acrescentando que as investigações dos dois laureados representam uma mudança de paradigma. “É um princípio totalmente novo. Neste caso, em vez de ter como alvo as células cancerosas, estas abordagens usam os travões das células do nosso sistema imunitário para travar o cancro.” A descoberta feita pelos dois laureados do Nobel da Medicina aproveita assim a capacidade do nosso sistema imunitário de atacar as células cancerosas estimulando-o e bloqueando os “travões” das células do sistema imunitário, os linfócitos T. Com este bloqueio dos travões, o sistema imunitário acelera, investindo rapidamente nas células cancerígenas.


Tasuku Honjo, um dos premiados com o Nobel da Medicina de 2018, rodeado pela sua equipa assim que soube da distinção DR

O norte-americano James P. Allison estudou uma proteína, a CTLA-4, que funciona como um travão no sistema imunitário, e Tasuku Honjo, da Universidade de Quioto, investigou uma outra proteína, a PD1, e mostrou que ela também funciona como um travão, mas com um mecanismo de acção diferente. Usando estas duas moléculas é possível bloquear os travões e fazer com que o sistema imunitário ganhe em força e velocidade. As duas terapias, que se complementam, mostraram-se surpreendentemente eficazes na luta contra o cancro, com resultados comprovados em tumores como o melanoma, cancro dos pulmões e dos rins.

“Até as descobertas feitas pelos laureados da Medicina de 2018, o progresso no desenvolvimento clínico foi modesto”, considerou o comité, sublinhando que são os “resultados fantásticos” das investigações que justificaram a escolha. A terapia de controlo (checkpoint) imunitário, como é conhecida, revolucionou o tratamento do cancro e mudou fundamentalmente a maneira como encaramos esta doença.

Por volta das 9h30 da manhã, foi publicado um tweet na conta do Prémio Nobel que anunciava que o vencedor já tinha sido escolhido. “Alguém está a receber notícias emocionantes de Thomas Perlmann, o secretário-geral do comité do Nobel.”

Em 2017, o Prémio Nobel da Medicina ou Fisiologia foi atribuído a três cientistas norte-americanos, Michael Rosbash, Jeffrey Connor Hall e Michael Warren Young, por descobertas sobre os mecanismos moleculares que controlam o ritmo circadiano.

(OBS) Fátima Carneiro eleita a patologista mais influente do mundo

(OBS) A distinção foi atribuída à investigadora pela revista científica “The Pathologist” que, ao longo de dois meses, inquiriu patologistas de todo o mundo sobre quem consideravam merecedor do título.

Foi “com surpresa” e “enquanto estava a trabalhar e a ver o email” que Fátima Carneiro, professora da Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade do Porto (FMUP) e diretora do serviço de Anatomia Patologia do Centro Hospitalar São João (CHSJ), recebeu a notícia de que tinha sido considerada a patologista mais influente do mundo. 

A distinção foi atribuída pela revista científica “The Pathologist” que, ao longo de dois meses, inquiriu patologistas “dos quatro cantos do mundo” sobre quem consideravam ser o merecedor do título. Este ano, Fátima Carneiro — que integra também o Instituto de Patologia e Imunologia Molecular da U.Porto (Ipatimup), atualmente integrado no i3S — foi destacada pelas suas capacidades enquanto patologista e professora universitária, ficando, desta forma, no primeiro lugar na lista das 100 posições.

Além disso, entre os colegas de profissão, Fátima Carneiro é destacada não só enquanto uma perita na sua área de especialidade, mas, também, pelas suas capacidades de liderança”, refere a FMUP num comunicado enviado esta quinta-feira.

Apesar de ser a primeira vez que chegou ao primeiro lugar, esta não é uma estreia da investigadora na lista. Em 2015 já tinha feito parte dos 100 mais influentes, num ano em que foi o médico português Manuel Sobrinho Simões — também ele docente da FMUP, fundador do Ipatimup, e patologista no CHSJ — o profissional considerado o patologista mais influente a nível mundial (e que este ano também está presente na lista).

Para Fátima Carneiro, apesar de esta ser uma distinção “que é de orgulho para quem o recebe”, o mais importante é que se trata de “um reconhecimento de uma visão de uma realidade particular, criada num determinado ambiente de trabalho e de um conjunto de pessoas que se apaixonaram por esta forma de estar na patologia”.

Apesar de tudo, o que nós temos é uma competição entre patologistas dos quatro cantos do mundo e o facto de Portugal ficar à frente de candidatos excelentes como a dos Estados Unidos ou do Reino Unido, é um reconhecimento importante para o país. Trazer a patologia portuguesa a uma fórum internacional dá-me alegria, não posso esconder”, referiu Fátima Carneiro ao Observador.

Natural de Angola (1954), Fátima Carneiro licenciou-se em Medicina pela FMUP em 1978 e é atualmente Professora Catedrática da mesma instituição e diretora do Serviço de Anatomia Patológica do Centro Hospitalar São João. No que diz respeito à academia e à investigação, a docente da FMUP é autora de mais de 250 artigos científicos e contribuiu para o desenvolvimento de vários capítulos de livros de especialidade.

Numa área que considera estar “um pouco abandonada”, mas que “é essencial para o exercício da Medicina com as suas exigências atuais”, a investigadora reforça a importância de uma aposta crescente na patologia. “É preciso uma aposta muito maior e é preciso consolidar o que existe, para criar estruturas que possam dar apoio permanente, para continuar a formar patologistas com qualidade e de uma forma integrada, para que possam exercer as suas funções, que são de uma imensa responsabilidade”, explicou ao Observador.

Sobre o seu percurso, Fátima Carneiro destaca à revista britânica, além do envolvimento no ensino e na atividade de diagnóstico, “um especial orgulho em ter conseguido atingir a senioridade na sua área de investigação, o cancro gástrico, e de todas as parcerias de investigação e ensino que estabeleci ao longo da carreira em quatro os continentes”.

A investigadora dirigiu também vários projetos internacionais, foi presidente da Sociedade Europeia de Patologia (2011-2013) e, em Portugal, coordenou a Rede Nacional de Bancos de Tumores (2008). Atualmente Fátima Carneiro preside a Academia Nacional de Medicina Portuguesa.

(Economist) Can inequality only be fixed by war, revolution or plague?

(Economist) A book excerpt and interview with Walter Scheidel, author of “The Great Leveler”.

IN AN age of widening inequality, Walter Scheidel believes he has cracked the code on how to overcome it. In “The Great Leveler”, the Stanford professor posits that throughout history, economic inequality has only been rectified by one of the “Four Horsemen of Leveling”: warfare, revolution, state collapse and plague.

So are liberal democracies doomed to a repeat of the pattern that saw the gilded age give way to a breakdown of society? Or can they legislate a way out of the ominous cycle of brutal inequality and potential violence?

“For more substantial levelling to occur, the established order needs to be shaken up,” he says. “The greater the shock to the system, the easier it becomes to reduce privilege at the top.” Yet nothing is inevitable, and Mr Scheidel urges that society become “more creative” in devising policies that can be implemented. The Economist’s Open Future initiative asked Mr Scheidel to reply to five questions. An excerpt from the book appears thereafter.

*    *    *

The Economist: Is society incapable of tackling income inequality peacefully?

Walter Scheidel: No, but history shows that there are limits. There is a big difference between maintaining existing arrangements that successfully check inequality—Scandinavia is a good example—and significantly reducing it. The latter requires real change and that is always much harder to do: think of America or Britain, not to mention Brazil, China or India. The modern welfare state does a reasonably good job of compensating for inequality before taxes and transfers. However for more substantial levelling to occur, the established order needs to be shaken up: the greater the shock to the system, the easier it becomes to reduce privilege at the top.

The Economist: Haven’t liberal democracy and capitalism tackled inequality in lots of areas if you look at it with the right frame, from LBJ’s Great Society to Deng’s economic reforms?

Walter Scheidel: Democracies have certainly made some progress in addressing various types of inequality: consider gender, race and disability. In America, transfer programmes from the New Deal to the Great Society managed to mitigate income inequality. But all that has since been reversed. China’s economic reforms since the 1980s have actually greatly increased inequality as a by-product of rapid economic growth. Capitalism is a great means of making the poor less poor, but it also continues to make the rich richer still.

The Economist: Are we really living in an unfathomable period of wealth inequality—or was the relatively equal society that followed the second world war the real aberration?

Walter Scheidel: When we view history over the long run we can see that this experience was certainly a novelty. We now know that modernisation as such does not reliably reduce inequality. Many things had to come together to make this happen, such as very high income and estate taxes, strong labour unions, and intrusive regulations and controls. Since the 1980s, liberalisation and globalisation have allowed inequality to rise again. Even so, wealth concentration in Europe is nowhere near as high as it was a century ago. America, meanwhile, is getting there—which shows that it all depends on where you look.

The Economist: If equality can only come about by war, revolution, state-collapse or plague, then is there an argument that we should simply learn to adapt to a new gilded age?

Walter Scheidel: No, but we need to appreciate that measures that worked well in the past may have done so because they were taken in the unique context of massive violent shocks and threats: the world wars and communism. This requires us to be more creative in dealing with inequality. Above all we must think harder about feasibility. It is not enough for economists to come up with recipes to reduce inequality, we also need to figure out how to implement them in an environment that is politically polarised and economically globalised. Both factors limit our scope for intervention.

The Economist: How do artificial intelligence and automation fit in to your thinking? Will they be a calamity for employment and thus for equality? Or might they unleash extraordinary productivity and improvements in living standards that actually narrow inequality?

Walter Scheidel: Ideally we would like education to keep up with technological change to make sure workers have the skills they need to face this challenge. But in practice there will always be losers, and even basic-income schemes can take us only so far. At the end of the day, someone owns the robots. As long as the capitalist world system is in place, it is hard to see how even huge productivity gains from greater automation would benefit society evenly instead of funnelling even more income and wealth to those who are in the best position to pocket these gains.

*    *    *

Excerpt from “The Great Leveler” (Princeton University Press, 2017), by Walter Scheidel

There was always one Big Reason behind every known episode of substantial leveling. There was one Big Reason why John D. Rockefeller was an entire order of magnitude richer in real terms than his richest compatriots one and two generations later, why the Britain of Downton Abbey gave way to a society known for universal free healthcare and powerful labor unions, why in industrialized nations around the globe the gap between rich and poor was so much smaller in the third quarter of the twentieth century than it had been at its beginning – and, indeed, why a hundred generations earlier ancient Spartans and Athenians had embraced ideals of equality and sought to put them into practice. There was one Big Reason why by the 1950s the Chinese village of Zhangghuangcun had come to boast a perfectly egalitarian distribution of farmland; one Big Reason why the high and mighty of Lower Egypt 3,000 years ago had to bury their dead with hand-me-downs or in shoddily manufactured coffins, why the remnants of the Roman aristocracy lined up for handouts from the pope and the successors of Maya chiefs subsisted on the same diet as hoi polloi; and one Big Reason why humble farmhands in Byzantine and early Islamic Egypt and carpenters in late medieval England and hired workers in early modern Mexico earned more and ate better than their peers before or after. These Big Reasons were not all the same, but they shared one common root: massive and violent disruptions of the established order. Across recorded history, the periodic compressions of inequality brought about by mass mobilization warfare, transformative revolution, state failure, and pandemics have invariably dwarfed any known instances of equalization by entirely peaceful means.

History does not determine the future. Maybe modernity really is different. In the very long run, it may well turn out to be. It may put us on a trajectory toward singularity, a point at which all human beings merge into a globally interconnected hybrid body-machine super-organism and no longer have to worry about inequality. Or perhaps technological advances will instead take inequalities to new extremes by separating a biomechatronically and genetically enhanced elite from ordinary mortals, the latter perpetually kept at bay by the ever more superior capabilities of their overlords. Or, just as likely, none of the above – we may be moving toward outcomes we cannot even yet conceive. But science fiction takes us only so far. For the time being, we are stuck with the minds and bodies we have and with the institutions they have created. This suggests that the prospects of future leveling are poor. It will be a challenge for the social democracies of continental Europe to maintain and adjust elaborate systems of high taxation and extensive redistribution or for the richest democracies of Asia to preserve their unusually equitable allocation of pretax incomes to stem the rising tide of inequality, which can grow only stronger as ongoing globalization and unprecedented demographic transformations add to the pressure. It is doubtful whether they will manage to hold the line: inequality has been inching up everywhere, a trend that undeniably works against the status quo. And if the stabilization of existing distributions of income and wealth will be increasingly difficult to achieve, any attempt to render them more equitable necessarily faces even bigger obstacles.

For thousands of years, history has alternated between long stretches of rising or high and stable inequality interspersed with violent compressions. For six or seven decades from 1914 to the 1970s or 1980s, both the world’s rich economies and those countries that had fallen to communist regimes experi­enced some of most intense leveling in recorded history. Since then, much of the world has entered what could become the next long stretch – a return to persistent capital accumulation and income concentration. If history is anything to go by, peaceful policy reform may well prove unequal to the growing challenges ahead. But what of the alternatives? All of us who prize greater economic equality would do well to remember that with the rarest of exceptions, it was only ever brought forth in sorrow. Be careful what you wish for.


Excerpted from “The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century”. Copyright © 2017 by Walter Scheidel. Used with permission of Princeton University Press. All rights reserved.

(SkyNews) SETI scientists spot 72 signals ‘from alien galaxy’ 3bn light years away

(SkyNews) Scientists do not yet know what causes the mysterious fast radio bursts, but a form of alien transportation has been suggested.

The Green Bank Telescope is seen in Green Bank, West Virginia on May 29, 2018. - Green Bank is part of the US Radio Quiet Zone, where wireless telecommunications signals are banned to prevent transmissions interfering with a number of radio telescopes in the area. The largest steerable telescope in the world, the Green Bank Telescope, enables scientists to listen to low-level signals from different places in the universe. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDRE
Image:The mysterious signals were found in data collected by the Green Bank Telescope in the US

Scientists searching for extraterrestrial life say they have spotted 72 mysterious signals from an alien galaxy using artificial intelligence (AI).

The researchers at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute discovered the unusual signals when examining 400 terabytes of radio data from a dwarf galaxy three billion light years away from Earth.

Almost all artificial intelligence technology involves automating data analysis, combing through huge data sets to identify patterns or unusual occurrences.

The signals they spotted – fast radio bursts (FRBs) – are bright and quick pulses which were first discovered in 2007 and are believed to come from distant galaxies, although it is not yet know what causes them.

“The nature of the object emitting them is unknown,” SETI said, adding: “There are many theories, including that they could be the signatures of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligent life.”

Scientists solve mystery of 'alien' Wow! signal

Scientists solve mystery of ‘alien’ Wow! signal

Researchers now believe they have discovered where the famous alien “Wow!” signal originated from

Last year, scientists at Harvard University suggested that FRBs could result from energy leaks from powerful transmitters built by alien civilisations in order to send giant light sail ships on interstellar voyages.

A light sail would use the tiny amount of pressure exerted by light to produce a small but constant acceleration which allows a spacecraft to reach a great speed.

The FRBs were detected in data collected by the Green Bank Telescope, part of the US Radio Quiet Zone, where wireless communications signals are banned to prevent interference with the telescopes.

Gerry Zhang, a PhD student at Berkeley, developed the machine-learning algorithm used to examine the 400tb of data, in which another researcher had already identified 21 FRBs.

“Gerry’s work is exciting not just because it helps us understand the dynamic behavior of FRBs in more detail,” said SETI’s Dr Andrew Siemion, “but also because of the promise it shows for using machine learning to detect signals missed by classical algorithms.”

Dr Siemion added: “These new techniques are already improving our sensitivity to signals from extraterrestrial technologies.”

The results of their research have been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

(GUA) Air pollution causes ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence, study reveals

(GUA) Impact of high levels of toxic air ‘is equivalent to having lost a year of education’

Air pollution in China is three times above World Health Organisation limits.
 Air pollution in China is three times above World Health Organisation limits. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health.

The research was conducted in China but is relevant across the world, with 95% of the global population breathing unsafe air. It found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.

“Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge,” said Xi Chen at Yale School of Public Health in the US, a member of the research team. “But we know the effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men, and for those with low education. If we calculate [the loss] for those, it may be a few years of education.”

Previous research has found that air pollution harms cognitive performance in students, but this is the first to examine people of all ages and the difference between men and women.

The damage in intelligence was worst for those over 64 years old, with serious consequences, said Chen: “We usually make the most critical financial decisions in old age.” Rebecca Daniels, from the UK public health charity Medact, said: “This report’s findings are extremely worrying.”

Air pollution causes seven million premature deaths a year but the harm to people’s mental abilities is less well known. A recent study found toxic air was linked to “extremely high mortality” in people with mental disordersand earlier work linked it to increased mental illness in children, while another analysis found those living near busy roads had an increased risk of dementia.

The new work, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysed language and arithmetic tests conducted as part of the China Family Panel Studies on 20,000 people across the nation between 2010 and 2014. The scientists compared the test results with records of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide pollution.

They found the longer people were exposed to dirty air, the bigger the damage to intelligence, with language ability more harmed than mathematical ability and men more harmed than women. The researchers said this may result from differences in how male and female brains work.

Derrick Ho, at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the impact of air pollution on cognition was important and his group had similar preliminary findings in their work. “It is because high air pollution can potentially be associated with oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, and neurodegeneration of humans,” he said.

Chen said air pollution was most likely to be the cause of the loss of intelligence, rather than simply being a correlation. The study followed the same individuals as air pollution varied from one year to the next, meaning that many other possible causal factors such as genetic differences are automatically accounted for.

The scientists also accounted for the gradual decline in cognition seen as people age and ruled out people being more impatient or uncooperative during tests when pollution was high.

Air pollution was seen to have a short-term impact on intelligence as well and Chen said this could have important consequences, for example for students who have to take crucial entrance exams on polluted days.

“But there is no shortcut to solve this issue,” he said. “Governments really need to take concrete measures to reduce air pollution. That may benefit human capital, which is one of the most important driving forces of economic growth.” In China, air pollution is declining but remains three times above World Health Organisation (WHO) limits.

According to the WHO, 20 of the world’s most polluted cities are in developing countries. China, home to several of those cities, has been engaged in a “war against pollution” for the past five years.

A migrant worker listens to the radio on his tricycle cart.
 A migrant worker listens to the radio on his tricycle cart. Photograph: Andy Wong/AP

The results would apply around the world, Chen added. The damage to intelligence was likely to be incremental, he said, with a 1mg rise in pollution over three years equivalent to losing more than a month of education. Small pollution particles are known to be especially damaging. “That is the same wherever you live. As human beings we have more in common than is different.”

Aarash Saleh, a registrar in respiratory medicine in the UK and part of the Doctors Against Diesel campaign, said: “This study adds to the concerning bank of evidence showing that exposure to air pollution can worsen our cognitive function. Road traffic is the biggest contributor to air pollution in residential areas and the government needs to act urgently to remove heavily-polluting vehicles from our roads.”

Daniels said: “The UK’s air is illegally polluted and is harming people’s health every day. Current policies are not up to the scale of the challenge: government must commit to bringing air pollution below legal limits as soon as possible.”

(VanityFair) Inside the Very Big, Very Controversial Business of Dog Cloning


a black and white puppy sitting on blankets in an incubator
Recently born clones share an incubator.

Barbra Streisand is not alone. At a South Korean laboratory, a once-disgraced doctor is replicating hundreds of deceased pets for the rich and famous. It’s made for more than a few questions of bioethics.

The surgeon is a showman. Scrubbed in and surrounded by his surgical team, a lavalier mike clipped to his mask, he gestures broadly as he describes the C-section he is about to perform to a handful of rapt students watching from behind a plexiglass wall. Still narrating, he steps over to a steel operating table where the expectant mother is stretched out, fully anesthetized. All but her lower stomach is discreetly covered by a crisp green cloth. The surgeon makes a quick incision in her belly. His assistants tug gingerly on clamps that pull back the flaps of tissue on either side of the cut. The surgeon slips two gloved fingers inside the widening hole, then his entire hand. An EKG monitor shows the mother’s heart beating in steady pulses.

Just like that the baby’s head pops out, followed by its tiny body. Nurses soak up fluids filling its mouth so the tyke can breathe. The surgeon cuts the umbilical cord. After some tender shaking, the little one moves his head and starts to cry. Looking triumphant, the surgeon holds up the newborn for the students to see—a baby boy that isn’t given a name but a number: he is a clone.

This is not some sci-fi, futuristic scenario—it’s happening right now, in Seoul, South Korea. The newborn, however, is not a human. It’s a puppy, a breed called Central Asian Ovcharka. He weighs only a few ounces, and his fur, slickened by fluid, is covered in black and white splotches, like a miniature Holstein. His eyes are not yet open. When he cries, it’s a barely perceptible squeak. The surgeon, Hwang Woo-suk, unclips his microphone and holds it close to little 1108’s mouth, amplifying its mewling over a loudspeaker so the students can hear its plaintive, what-the-hell-just-happened whine—eeee, eeee, eeee.

Hwang’s assistants, meanwhile, are busy suturing up the mother, a Labrador-sized mutt with shaggy yellow fur who was specially bred to give birth to and nurse cloned puppies. “She’s a mixed breed,” explains Jae Woong Wang, a canine-reproduction researcher who works for Hwang here at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, the world’s first company dedicated to cloning dogs. “We breed the surrogate moms to be docile and gentle.”

A surgical assistant preps a surrogate to receive a cloned embryo.

Photograph by Thomas Prior.

Clone 1108 mews into Hwang Woo-suk’s microphone right after being born.

Photograph by Thomas Prior.

It has been more than two decades since the world collectively freaked out over the birth of Dolly the Sheep, the first-ever mammal cloned from an adult cell. The media jumped on the fear implicit in creating genetic replicas of living beings: Time featured a close-up of two sheep on its cover, accompanied by the headline “Will There Ever Be Another You?” Jurassic Park, meanwhile, was terrifying audiences with cloned T. rexes and velociraptors that broke free from their creators and ran amok, eating lawyers and terrorizing small children. But over the years, despite all the Jurassic sequels, the issue faded from the public imagination, eclipsed by the rapid pace of scientific and technological change. In an age of gene editing, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence, our dread of cloning now seems almost quaint, an anxiety from a simpler, less foreboding time.

Then, last March, Barbra Streisand came out as a cloner. In an interview with Variety, the singer let slip that her two Coton de Tulear puppies, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, are actually clones of her beloved dog Samantha, who died last year. The puppies, she said, were cloned from cells taken from “Sammie’s” mouth and stomach by ViaGen Pets, a pet-cloning company based in Texas that charges $50,000 for the service. “I was so devastated by the loss of my dear Samantha, after 14 years together, that I just wanted to keep her with me in some way,” Streisand explained in a New York Times opinion piece, after the news provoked an outcry from animal-rights advocates. “It was easier to let Sammie go if I knew that I could keep some part of her alive, something that came from her DNA.”

Cloning pets is “like The Handmaid’s Tale,” says one ethicist. “It’s a canine version of reproductive machines.”

Ethicists from the White House to the Vatican have long debated the morality of cloning. Do we have the right to bioengineer a copy of a living creature, especially given the pain and suffering that the process requires? It can take a dozen or more embryos to produce a single healthy dog. Along the way, the surrogate mothers may be treated with hormones that, over time, can be dangerous, and many of the babies are miscarried, born dead, or deformed. When a dog was first cloned, in 2005—a scientific achievement that Time hailed as one of the breakthrough inventions of the year—it took more than 100 borrowed wombs, and more than 1,000 embryos. “Surrogate mothers are a little bit like The Handmaid’s Tale,” says Jessica Pierce, an ethicist and dog expert who teaches at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado. “It’s a canine version of reproductive machines.”

Yet here in the operating room at Sooam, everyone is all smiles—especially the veterinarian representing the customer who paid for Clone 1108. A slender man whose employer is Middle Eastern royalty, he stands in scrubs next to Dr. Hwang, posing for photos with the newborn pup. It’s a moment that has become almost as routine as it is lucrative for Sooam: over the past decade, the company has cloned more than 1,000 dogs, at up to $100,000 per birth. “Yes, cloning has become a business,” says Wang. If a dog owner provides DNA from a deceased pet quickly enough—usually within five days of its death—Sooam promises a speedy replacement. “If the cells from the dead dog are not compromised,” Wang explains, “we guarantee you will get a dog within five months.”

It’s fitting, perhaps, that the man at the center of the controversy over canine cloning is Hwang Woo-suk. The surgeon was, briefly, a hero of South Korea. In 2004, while serving on the faculty at Seoul National University, he co-authored a story in the prestigious journal Science asserting that he and his team had successfully cloned a human embryo. A year later, he created the world’s first cloned dog. Using a cell from the ear of an Afghan hound, Hwang impregnated 123 surrogate mothers, only one of which gave birth to a pup that survived. He named it Snuppy—an amalgam of “Seoul National University” and “puppy.” In 2006, however, Hwang was kicked off the faculty when it was revealed that his claim to have cloned a human embryo was a spectacular hoax. The university determined that Hwang had fabricated evidence, embezzled government funds, and illegally paid for donor eggs from female researchers in his lab. After tearfully apologizing, he was sentenced to two years in prison, but escaped serving time when a judge suspended the sentence, writing in the verdict that Hwang “has shown he has truly repented for his crime.”

Undeterred, Hwang founded Sooam to continue his research. At first, he concentrated on cloning pigs and cows, which still makes up a sizable part of the company’s business. Then, in 2007, he was contacted by a representative of John Sperling, the billionaire founder of Phoenix University. Sperling had a girlfriend whose dog, Missy, had died a few years earlier. “She wanted to see Missy again,” says Wang, the Sooam researcher. Hwang cloned Missy in 2009, launching the lab’s foray into the commercial duplication of dogs.

Hwang Woo-suk delivers Clone 1108 for a customer who is Middle Eastern royalty. The procedure costs $100,000.

Photograph by Thomas Prior.

The process itself, fine-tuned over years of trial and error, is known as “somatic cell nuclear transfer.” It starts with an egg from a donor dog. Using a high-powered microscope, scientists poke a micro-hole in the egg and remove the nucleus, where the DNA is housed. They then replace the nucleus with a cell from the dog that is being cloned—usually from its skin or inside its cheek. Finally, the hybrid egg is blasted with a short burst of electricity to fuse the cells and begin cell division. The embryo is then imbedded in a surrogate’s womb. If the transfer takes, a puppy will be born some 60 days later.

The day after Hwang delivers Clone 1108, he agrees to meet me at Sooam’s headquarters, an imposing stone structure that hugs one of the many steep, wooded hills on the southern outskirts of Seoul. Built in 2011, the building looks like a modern-day version of Frankenstein’s castle, its imposing tower offset by a touch of Bauhaus. Hwang refuses most interviews, in part because he speaks limited English, and in part, one suspects, because he isn’t keen to relive his controversial past. Dressed in a light-gray suit, he greets me with a smile that lights up his whole face, which looks younger than his 64 years. He bows slightly and promises, with the reassuring look of an old friend, to answer any questions I submit via e-mail.

Why, I ask him, do so many people want to clone their dogs? “The main reason,” he replies, “is that their beloved companion dogs are like family members, and they would like to have as close to a continuation of that companionship as possible.” He makes clear, though, that customers do not get an exact replica of their dog. Clones often look like the original dog, and share some traits, but they don’t have the original dog’s memories, and their upbringing is inevitably different. “Cloned puppies are like identical twins born at a later date,” Hwang tells me. “A twin out of time.”

And why is the cloning process so expensive? “Unlike other species,” he explains, “there are currently no effective protocols for the in-vitro maturation of canine oocytes.” Translation: the eggs have to be harvested from donor dogs, which go into heat only twice a year, rather than grown in a lab, making them more difficult and expensive to obtain.

When I inquire about ethics, Hwang is brief. “Animal-cloning ethics and human-cloning ethics have completely different values,” he says. “Here in Sooam we are steadfastly against human cloning, but we believe that animal cloning can bring us benefits and help us contribute socially.”

Eleven of the 49 clones Sooam made of Miracle Milly, the world’s smallest Chihuahua.

Photograph by Thomas Prior.

Hwang is quick to tout the broader benefits of his work in cloning. His staff’s research into stem cells and embryo development has generated dozens of scientific papers that aim to better understand cell development in animals, and to more effectively treat human diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Sooam has a grant from the South Korean government to create a model to screen drugs for melanoma. In a nod to Jurassic Park, Hwang is also using intact tissue frozen for thousands of years in Siberia to attempt to resurrect the woolly mammoth, fusing ancient cells recovered from the frozen tundra with donor eggs from modern-day elephants—a process he hopes can be used to clone other extinct animals, like the Pyrenean ibex, and endangered species like the Ethiopian wolf. But despite Hwang’s years of quiet accomplishment, and supporters who claim he was the victim of a conspiracy to discredit him, the shame of his past deceit has not been forgiven: the South Korean government continues to bar Hwang from conducting research with human eggs and stem cells.

At Sooam’s headquarters, Hwang ends our meeting by handing me a peach-colored gift bag full of cosmetics. “For your wife or girlfriend,” he says with a bow. I had already visited the floor upstairs where Sooam uses enzymes and stem cells to make a variety of lotions, cleansing oils, and eye creams, marketed under names like Beauté de Cell, JunéCell, and Beauté de Cell Homme for men. I thank Hwang for the gift, though I’m not exactly wild about the thought of lathering stem cells on my face.

It was Barry Diller, the media mogul, who inspired Barbra Streisand to opt for cloning after the death of her Coton de Tulear. Streisand loved her pet so much that in 2016, she ended a Netflix special of one of her rare concerts with a tribute to Sammie. In the video, she sings a rendition of her hit “Closer” as snapshots fade in and out of the dog cavorting and cuddling with Streisand and her husband, James Brolin.

Diller told Streisand that after the death of his own dog, Shannon, he paid Sooam to clone the Jack Russell terrier. The result was three genetic replicas of Shannon. Two live in Diller’s Beverly Hills mansion: Tess, short for “test tube,” and DiNA, a play on DNA. The third, Evita, lives in the Connecticut home of Diller and his wife, Diane von Furstenberg. “These dogs, they’re the soul of Shannon,” Diller told The New York Times. “Diane was horrified that I was doing this, but she’s switched now to say, ‘Thank God you did.’” Streisand also wound up with three clones, one of which went to the 13-year-old daughter of her A&R man at Columbia Records.

ViaGen, the Texas-based company that cloned Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, launched in 2002 to store and preserve the DNA of cows, pigs, and horses. Eventually, the company took over some of the stored tissue from the first-ever cat-cloning company, Genetic Savings and Clone, and acquired patents for technologies developed by the scientists who cloned Dolly the Sheep. At first ViaGen licensed the tech to Sooam, before starting a dog-cloning service of its own two years ago.

The lab’s kennels.

Photograph by Thomas Prior.

A pair of clones.

Photograph by Thomas Prior.

Streisand knows that Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett aren’t exact replacements for Sammie. “They have different personalities,” she told Variety. “I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have Sammie’s brown eyes and her seriousness.” That’s because genes are only one factor among many that shape a clone’s looks, personality, behavior. “The dogs are genetic duplicates,” explains Wang, the researcher at Sooam, “but the environment they grow up in also plays a big role in how they will look and act.”

Not everyone who clones a dog is as well off as Streisand. When Tom Rubython, a magazine publisher in Northampton, England, lost his cherished cocker spaniel, Daisy, he knew it was “ridiculous” to have Sooam clone her. “It was not a sensible decision,” he says. “My wife wasn’t very happy about it. But Daisy was special. I had a real connection with her.” Rubython owned two other spaniels who came from the same litter as Daisy, but he had no interest in cloning them. Nor was he interested in simply getting another dog from the same breed. “I don’t believe I would have gotten another dog if I didn’t do this,” he says.

To raise the $100,000 needed to clone Daisy, Rubython had to give up something else he loved. “I have money, but I’m not wealthy,” he says. “I had to sell two cars to pay for it.” He sends me photographs of the cars: a brand-new silver-blue Mercedes SL, and a cream-colored classic SL. “Now I drive a Mini,” he sighs. He also sends me a photo of Daisy, a gray spaniel with flecks of white and black. She has that bedraggled, old-dog look. The two clones, named Mabel and Myrtle, have thick fur and a playful gleam in their eyes. “They are very similar,” says Rubython, “but not the same. One of them looks very similar to the original, another looks like her sister. It’s 85 percent, against 100 percent.” But in every respect, they are indistinguishable from natural-born dogs. “They are staring at me right now,” Rubython says. “They know I’m talking about them.”

Researchers at Sooam, who insist that their cloning process is ethical, are eager to make it more efficient. “The hardest thing about cloning dogs is finding fresh eggs,” says Yeonwoo Jeong, director of Sooam’s biotech research. He hopes to one day grow eggs in the lab, using stem-cell technologies, rather than going through the time and expense to surgically extract eggs from other animals.

According to Jeong, Sooam has dramatically improved the cloning process since Snuppy was born 13 years ago. The company insists that it does not inject surrogates with hormones to induce ovulation, and says that most of the embryos that don’t make it die early in the pregnancy. Today, Jeong says, achieving one viable pregnancy requires implants of multiple embryos in only three dog moms—down from the hundreds of embryos and surrogates it took to give birth to Snuppy. “Through research,” he says, “we have minimized the stress on the dogs.”

It was Barry Diller who inspired Streisand to opt for cloning after the death of her beloved Sammie.

Other researchers scoff at such claims. “I don’t believe they are getting one out of three,” says Rudolf Jaenisch, a leading expert on stem cells and cloning techniques at the Whitehead Institute in Boston. “Cloning is inefficient. You lose many clones. Some die in implantation. You also get abnormal epigenetics”—changes in the animal’s DNA as it ages. “When you take somatic cells from older animals and put them into an egg that will need to develop from an embryo into a viable animal, you get mistakes from the old DNA that would not occur in a naturally produced embryo.” Most of the dogs, he adds, don’t live a normal life span—although it’s hard to know for certain, since most of the dogs cloned to date are just a few years old.

Hank Greely, a bioethicist at Stanford, wonders what happens to the two out of three clones that don’t make it. “Are they delivered deformed or stillborn? Are they born in pain?” What makes cloning dogs unethical, he says, is when it causes more suffering than natural reproduction. During the process, critics say, surrogate mothers often receive injections of hormones to make them receptive to the embryos. “It’s the same hormones used in humans going through I.V.F.,” says CheMyong Jay Ko, who directs a research lab on reproduction and stem cells at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Injecting these hormones is not good for the dogs, particularly when it’s repeated over and over again.”

After Streisand revealed the origins of Miss Scarlett and Miss Violet, animal-rights activists launched a Twitter campaign called #adoptdontclone, urging people who lose their pets to choose a dog from among the millions of natural-borns that have no home. “People who pay $100,000 to create a new dog seem to forget that there are so many that have no one who cares about them,” says Vicki Katrinak, head of animal-research issues for the Humane Society. “We’re opposed to cloning of any animal for profit.”

The clone researchers at Sooam insist that they provide a necessary service for grieving dog lovers. “After death, it’s hard for people who were really close to their dogs,” says Wang. “For those people, a clone is the alternative to a funeral. Some people taxidermy their dogs, others cremate them. Cloning is another way of dealing with death—the closest thing to getting back the lost dog, or a part of it.”

Hwang Woo-suk at the Sooam lab in Seoul. “Cloned puppies are like identical twins born at a later date,” he says. “A twin out of time.”

Photograph by Thomas Prior.

It’s early morning, and I’m waiting with Wang in front of Sooam’s headquarters. The clone puppies are about to arrive for their morning playtime.The company cares for client’s copies until their owners are able to take them home, according to the quarantine laws in their home countries. I don’t know what to expect. With Sooam’s imposing “castle” looming over the big, grassy lawn, it feels like a scene out of some futuristic dystopia—clean and orderly and slightly unsettling.

So I’m startled when the puppies arrive and they are just . . . puppies. They come tumbling out of a dog crate and into a fenced-in play area. Immediately, they start dashing about. Feather-light Pomeranians become puffy blurs of white fur; what seems like dozens of Chihuahuas chase one another in circles, tiny pink tongues dangling. Wang tells me that Sooam has cloned a total of 49 Chihuahuas, all of them copies of “Miracle Milly,” a dog from Puerto Rico that holds the Guinness record as the world’s smallest Chihuahua. “We made 49 because we were curious about the smallness,” explains Jeong, the head researcher. “Would it transfer?” He shakes his head. “It didn’t—the clones turned out bigger.”

You can’t help but fall in love with these puppies. It’s weird to imagine most of them are copies of dead dogs, but they make you smile as they swarm you, wanting their tummies rubbed. When human minders in blue uniforms approach, the weeks-old canines swarm them too, thrilled to play with people. Around their little necks are collars with numbers written in Magic Marker—1078, 1092, 1094.

When playtime is over, Wang leads me back into the building and shows me the kennel where the puppies live. I see little 1108, born the day before. For now he’s being kept in an incubator, but he looks healthy and robust, curious about what’s going on around him. In one pen a yellow-haired surrogate mother is nursing a pup. One of the minders places 1108 next to a teat, and the newborn immediately starts to suckle, its eyes barely open. The mother doesn’t seem to mind. She lets the puppy feed, and then stands up and paces in her pen, wagging her tail. I scoop up a Saluki, No. 1102, who is four weeks old. He licks my hand and promptly falls asleep in my lap. I don’t want to move lest I disturb him.

When Louise Brown, the first “test tube” baby, was born in 1978 using in-vitro fertilization, people feared the worst. Many religious leaders denounced I.V.F. as unnatural; even James Watson, who co-discovered the double-helix shape of DNA, predicted that “all hell will break loose, politically and morally.” Then people saw that the babies were just babies, and the outrage evaporated. Today, more than seven million babies have been born worldwide using I.V.F. and other forms of assisted reproduction.

When I ask Jeong if the technology currently exists to clone humans, he repeats Sooam’s talking point: that the company has no interest in copying humans. He points out, however, that scientists in China successfully cloned primates earlier this year, creating two long-tailed macaques named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua. “These monkeys are very close to us genetically,” says Jeong, “which means you should be able to clone a human.”

The macaque “success,” however, took 63 surrogate mothers to create two healthy monkeys—a process unlikely to be tolerated in human cloning. “Can you imagine making human clones and using that many human surrogate mothers?” asks Greely, the Stanford bioethicist. “And can you imagine a human clinical trial being approved? What if you ended up with a deformed or damaged human baby?”

A Sooam employee brings the Chihuahuas and other clones outdoors.

Photograph by Thomas Prior.

Clones of the same Saluki rest at Sooam. “A clone,” says one researcher, “is an alternative to a funeral.”

Photographs by Thomas Prior.

It won’t be long, researchers say, before grief-sticken parents try to clone a child they lost.

These days, though, the real push among scientists isn’t just to clone a human being—it’s to rewrite our DNA to better treat diseases and create new, improved versions of ourselves. “There isn’t much point in just copying a person,” says George Church, a Harvard geneticist who is also working to clone the woolly mammoth. “You would want to create an improved version, with DNA for cancer, say, edited out.” Cloning, it seems, is a now antiquated fear. The lightning-quick advance of technology has given us new stuff to be scared about—the rampaging dinosaurs of Jurassic Park supplanted by the perhaps more-human-than-human replicants of Westworld.

Despite government bans, science is closer than ever to successfully cloning a human. “Grief-stricken parents lose a toddler, and they’re billionaires,” says Greely. “They want another child as close as possible to the one they lost. This is a human version of what is happening when people lose a pet they love.” If distraught parents think a clone would resemble 85 percent of their child’s appearance and personality—roughly what Tom Rubython got with one of his clones—it’s only a matter of time until pressure will inexorably mount to give it a shot. If there’s enough demand, the market will do its best to respond.

Hwang Woo-suk once dreamed of being the first scientist to clone a human embryo. He wanted it so much, in fact, that he tried to con the world into believing he had done it. Now, given the restrictions placed on his research, he’s unlikely to ever get a crack at creating the first human Dolly, even if he wanted to. So he bio-engineers pigs and cows to study disease, tinkers with resurrecting the woolly mammoth, and runs his lucrative cloning empire, delivering little 1109, and beyond. There will always, it seems, be another grief-stricken customer, desperate to replace a lost companion: another Barbra Streisand, visiting the grave of her beloved Sammie, with Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett perched next to her in their stroller—two identical puffs of white fur, gazing at the tombstone of the dog they are.

An award-winning science journalist and best-selling author, Duncan is C.E.O. and curator of Arc Fusion, which focuses on the fusion of health, biomedicine, and I.T. His latest book, Talking to Robots: Tales from Our Human-Robot Futures(Dutton), will be published in 2019.

(BBG) The Key to Saving the Planet May Be Under the Sea

(BBG) Making carbon storage work is critical to fighting climate change. The question is where to put it all.

A Cold War-era joke has an American economist asking a Soviet peer how the communist economy is progressing. “In a word: good” the Russian responds. “In two words: not good.”

So it goes this century with the rapidly changing energy industry. Advances are taking place in clean energy, transport and efficiency that may have rightfully been considered miraculous a decade ago.

But here’s the catch: As fast as everything is proceeding, it’s still not fast enough. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported last year that a critical technology—capturing carbon dioxide emissions from generators and either burying or otherwise disposing of them—isn’t expanding fast enough. The IEA reported that current “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) facilities are capable of handling just 7.5 percent of the emissions that the world will need eliminated every year by 2025. That’s necessary if nations are to meet the goal of keeping any increase in global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

In China, researchers have been looking for ways to accelerate CCS. They decided to look out to sea.

On land, CCS isn’t just promising in principle—it’s been shown to work. There will be more than 20 large-scale capture facilities available by the end of the year, according to the Global CCS Institute. But there’s still concern about making sure the CO2, once buried, stays buried. The same can be said for the idea China has about burying CO2 at sea. For companies and countries to exploit the vastness of the ocean floor, they also need some kind of confidence that it’ll stay there.

By studying the long-term interactions of major physical forces in “unconsolidated marine sediment” such as loose silt, clay and other permeable stuff below the sea floor, researchers Yihua Teng and Dongxiao Zhang report that extreme conditions at the bottom of the ocean essentially hold CO2 in place, “which makes this option a safe storage.”

Under great pressure and low temperature, CO2 and water trapped in the sediment below the sea floor crystallize into a stable ice called hydrate. (Through a similar process, energy-rich methane freezes with water beneath the ocean and terrestrial permafrost, a potential source of energy being scrutinized by ChinaJapan, the U.S. and others.) The new paper on CCS demonstrates through simulation that the hydrates become an impermeable “cap” that keeps the CO2 below it from migrating back up to the sea floor.

Peking University’s carbon capture and storage research receives support from the multinational metals, mining, and petroleum company BHP Billiton Ltd., according to the paper.

The research appears this week in the journal Science Advances. The study should provide some confidence, they write, that ocean CO2 storage remains a viable tool in the push to reduce emissions of the most dangerous heat-trapping gas, even as commercialization of the process remains way off. In the meantime, there are other questions to answer, including how CO2 may behave differently under different kinds of geological conditions.

The big assumption, as with most underground CO2 storage scenarios, is that there’s no telling what the Earth’s living geology will do over the centuries and millennia. Fractures in the subsea sediment, either preexisting or created by tectonics or CO2 injection itself, could open a pathway for CO2 to escape—though significant uncertainty remains.

“In our assumption,” they write, “the unconsolidated marine sediment is intact.”