Saturday, March 19, 2016

possibilities: dna engineering to reduce oxidative stress

Science | Making the most of too much sun

In sandy crusts of the desert lives a single-celled algae, Chlorella ohadii. Although too much sun will fry people and algae alike, this species survives and thrives in the harsh desert climate. Treves et al. explore the adaptations the algae taps as light conditions shift from enough to too much. In many plants and algae, excess light causes the photosynthetic system to generate singlet oxygen, which in turn causes oxidative damage to nearby proteins. C. ohadii can reroute electrons between radiative and nonradiative pathways, thus limiting the photodamage. An increase in the range of sunlight that can be productively assimilated may find biotechnological and agricultural applications.

replicant off-switch

Science | Engineering a bacterial “Deadman” walking
One of the most successful areas of synthetic biology is modifying microorganisms for applications in biotechnology. However, these engineered microbes could pose a risk if released into open environments. To overcome this, Chan et al. engineered two modular gene circuits into the bacteria Escherichia coli that act as kill switches. The “Deadman” circuit requires a specific small molecule to prevent a toxin from being expressed and killing the cell. In the “Passcode” circuit, small molecules must induce two transcription factors to inhibit toxin expression. An advantage over other biocontainment systems is that these circuits can be reprogrammed to respond to different inputs or to induce different killing mechanisms.

social learning

Science | Flipping for higher exam scores
Active problem-solving in a collaborative environment leads to more effective learning than a traditional lecture. Weaver and Sturtevant report on a 3-year study of a flipped chemistry majors' sequence (lectures are watched outside of class and students participate in group problem-solving and whole-class discussions during scheduled class time). Results collected from standardized exams showed that the grades of students in the flipped class were significantly higher than those of students in the traditional class. Data collected on the student perspective stressed the importance of carefully planning how the course is taught and carried out, as this will influence the effect it has on students. Overall, this study supports the idea that larger-enrollment courses can be taught using a flipped model.

very curious...

Science | Animal magnetoreception
Migratory birds orient to Earth's magnetic field when blue-to-ultraviolet light stimulates a protein called cryptochrome 1a (Cry1a), present in the birds' retinal photoreceptor cone cells. Using an antibody that recognizes light-activated avian Cry1a, Nieβner et al. detected the mammalian homolog Cry1 in the blue light–sensitive cones of Carnivora families, including Canidae (dogs, wolves, and foxes), Mustelidae (badgers, otters, and ferrets), Ursidae (bears), and some primates (macaques and orangutans). Its location suggests that Cry1 does not regulate circadian rhythms or help animals perceive color. Whether Cry1 functions in a magnetic sense or whether mammals have different magnetoreception mechanisms remains unclear.

Civilization 2.0: social learning and augmenting to maximize rationality

Global Guerrillas | Instant Learning and the Next Economy
Let's face it.  Human biological evolution is very slow.  Our bodies and minds are roughly the same as they were ten thousand years ago.
That hasn't held us back though.
Thousands of years ago, we learned an unique way to transcend the limits of biological evolution.  We learned that we can rapidly evolve as a group by gathering, storing, and sharing the experiences of individuals.  
Technology has accelerated this process.  It allows us to allocate an increasing percentage of our population to it (from scientists to teachers), more easily gather and store its torrents of information (computers and Moore's law), and share it instantly across the entire globe (the Internet and smartphones).  
However, all of that earlier innovation is child's play compared to what is now possible. With limited AGI, it will be possible to exponentially accelerate the gathering, improvement, and sharing of human understanding.  Here's how this is done in its most basic form (currently called cloud robotics):
  • An AGI learns a task or a concept through experience (this is becoming very easy to do with model free deep learning, Big Data and Big Sim as I pointed out yesterday).
  • That understanding is packaged, uploaded, and stored in the cloud.
  • Any other AGI can download that understanding as needed.
This is clearly a formula for radically accelerating the growth of human experience.  A radical upgrade to the existing process.