Nature: 2020 visions

For the first issue of the new decade, Nature asked a selection of leading researchers and policy-makers where their fields will be ten years from now. We invited them to identify the key questions their disciplines face, the major roadblocks and the pressing next steps.

Contributions include: Peter Norvig on search, David A. Relman on the microbiome, David B. Goldstein on personalized medicine, Daniel M. Kammen on energy, Daniel R. Weinberger on mental health, Leslie C. Aiello on hominin palaeontology, George Church on synthetic biology, John L. Hennessey on universities, Jeffrey Sachs on global governance, Adam Burrows on astronomy, Gary P. Pisano on drug discovery, Joshua R. Goldstein on demographics, Paul Anastas on chemistry, Richard Klausner and David Baltimore on the National Institutes of Health, David R. Montgomery on soil, Thomas M. Baer and Nicholas P. Bigelow on lasers, Robert D. Holt on ecology, Jeremy K. Nicholson on metabolomics.

Source: Nature.

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Bacteria is put to work turning microgears


Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University have discovered that common bacteria can turn microgears when suspended in a solution, providing insights for designs of bio-inspired dynamically adaptive materials for energy.

“The ability to harness and control the power of bacterial motion is an important requirement for further development of hybrid biomechanical systems driven by microorganisms,” said Argonne physicist and principal investigator Igor Aronson. “In this system, the gears are a million times more massive than the bacteria.”

Source: R&D Magazine.

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The Political Roots of “Overhumanism”

This paper argues that the emergence of “overhumanism”* in Italy is a troubling development, both for Italian and international transhumanism, due to overhumanism’s association with Fascism. The main overhumanist writers seem to view their version of transhumanism as a cultural and spiritual movement with deep historical roots, and see Fascism as its first political manifestation. Italian overhumanism is heavily influenced by the “Nouvelle Droite”, a fringe political movement that emerged from the French neofascist microcosm in the late ’70s/early ’80s, and which attempted to bring far-right ideas into the mainstream by discarding the trappings of historical Fascism in order to convey a similar message in a less unpalatable form. In common with the Nouvelle Droite, it borrows heavily from the extreme left (anti-americanism, anti-clericalism, opposition to globalisation), and has adopted neopaganism as a religious stance. While affirming the importance of science in modern life, this hybrid offspring of neofascism also maintains more traditional far-right positions such as elitism, antiegalitarianism and an interest in ethnic identity that crosses into differentialist racism.

Source: Estropico.

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Tests Begin on Drugs That May Slow Aging

It may be the ultimate free lunch — how to reap all the advantages of a calorically restricted diet, including freedom from disease and an extended healthy life span, without eating one fewer calorie. Just take a drug that tricks the body into thinking it’s on such a diet.

It sounds too good to be true, and maybe it is. Yet such drugs are now in clinical trials. Even if they should fail, as most candidate drugs do, their development represents a new optimism among research biologists that aging is not immutable, that the body has resources that can be mobilized into resisting disease and averting the adversities of old age.

This optimism, however, is not fully shared. Evolutionary biologists, the experts on the theory of aging, have strong reasons to suppose that human life span cannot be altered in any quick and easy way. But they have been confounded by experiments with small laboratory animals, like roundworms, fruit flies and mice. In all these species, the change of single genes has brought noticeable increases in life span.

Source: NYTimes.

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Synthetic cells get together to make electronics

A network of artificial cells that work together to act as an AC/DC converter has been built. Demonstrating that synthetic cells can team up to achieve such feats is a step towards building synthetic tissues to interface biology with electronics, says the team of chemists behind the work.

Synthetic biologists have show they can reprogram living cells to make them produce drug compounds, and are even working towards building cells from scratch to create artificial life.

But that work focuses on only individual cells, says Hagan Bayley at the University of Oxford. He’s more interested in making artificial tissue in which individual synthetic cells work together.

Bayley’s group, working with colleagues at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, has made a step towards that goal by connecting together multiple artificial “protocells” so that they share electrical signals.

Source: New Scientist.

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