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Archive for the ‘biological’ category

Jul 29, 2016

Smart bricks would enable walls capable of generating electricity, clean water and oxygen

Posted by in categories: biological, habitats, robotics/AI

A lot of things are becoming “smart” these days, but bricks might not be something you’d expect to be added to the list. On the way to buildings that act like “large-scale living organisms,” scientists at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are developing smart bricks that would make use of microbes to recycle wastewater, generate electricity and produce oxygen.

Microbial fuel cells (MFCs), which will be embedded in the bricks to give them their “smart” capabilities, have proven handy in the past, with researchers demonstrating how they can be used to generate electricity from human urine, dead flies or just plain old mud.

“Microbial fuel cells are energy transducers that exploit the metabolic activity of the constituent microbes to break down organic waste and generate electricity,” says Ioannis Ieropoulos, professor at UWE Bristol’s Robotics Laboratory. “This is a novel application for MFC modules to be made into actuating building blocks as part of wall structures. This will allow us to explore the possibility of treating household waste, generating useful levels of electricity, and have ‘active programmable’ walls within our living environments.”

Jul 28, 2016

Will You Ever Love a Robot?

Posted by in categories: biological, robotics/AI

“In a sense, we’re all meat robots.” Chief Scientist at Hanson Robotics blurs the lines between biological and engineered robotics in this short yet fascinating excerpt.

Jul 26, 2016

Genetic factors are responsible for creating anatomical patterns in the brain cortex

Posted by in categories: evolution, genetics, neuroscience

Studies are showing that anatomical patterning found in the brain’s cortex may be controlled by genetic factors.


The highly consistent anatomical patterning found in the brain’s cortex is controlled by genetic factors, reports a new study by an international research consortium led by Chi-Hua Chen of the University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas Schork of the J. Craig Venter Institute, published on July 26 in PLOS Genetics.

The human brain’s wrinkled cerebral cortex, which is responsible for consciousness, memory, language and thought, has a highly similar organizational pattern in all individuals. The similarity suggests that genetic factors may create this pattern, but currently the extent of the role of these factors is unknown. To determine whether a consistent and biologically meaningful pattern in the cortex could be identified, the scientists assessed brain images and genetic information from 2,364 unrelated individuals, brain images from 466 twin pairs, and transcriptome data from six postmortem brains.

They identified very consistent patterns, with close genetic relationships between different regions within the same brain lobe. The frontal lobe, which has the most complexity and has experienced the greatest expansion throughout the brain’s evolution, is the most genetically distinct from the other lobes. Their results also suggest potential functional relationships among different cortical brain regions.

Jul 21, 2016

Landscape architect Bradley Cantrell on his “cyborg ecologies”

Posted by in categories: biological, cyborgs

“As our technologies have gotten more advanced, [we have] more and more control over…deeper levels of biological life.” — Bradley Cantrell.

Jul 21, 2016

Scientists program cells to remember and respond to series of stimuli

Posted by in category: biological

Engineers have programmed cells to remember and respond to events. This approach to circuit design enables scientists to create complex cellular state machines and track cell histories.

Jul 20, 2016

Proteins that move DNA around in a bacterium are surprisingly similar to those in our own cells

Posted by in categories: bioengineering, biotech/medical, evolution, singularity

Perfecting Synthetic biology — this definitely is advancement forward in the larger Singularity story.


In both higher organisms and bacteria, DNA must be segregated when cells divide, ensuring that the requisite share of duplicated DNA goes into each new cell. While previous studies indicated that bacteria and higher organisms use quite different systems to perform this task, A*STAR researchers have now found a bacterium that uses filaments with key similarities to those in multicellular organisms, including humans.

Robert Robinson from the A*STAR Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology has a long-standing interest in what he calls the “biological machines” that move DNA around when cells divide. He and his co-workers had gleaned from gene sequencing analysis that there was something distinctive about the DNA-moving machinery in the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.

Continue reading “Proteins that move DNA around in a bacterium are surprisingly similar to those in our own cells” »

Jul 20, 2016

Former journalist who embedded with DARPA delivers ‘Radical Evolution’ seminar

Posted by in category: evolution

ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. — Former Washington Post reporter, Joel Garreau, Lincoln professor of Law, Culture, and Values at Arizona State University spoke at Heritage Hall on his book “Radical Evolution,” here, July 14.

Garreau, whose seminar provoked thoughts on the future of Army sustainment, logistics and warfighter readiness, was invited to speak as part of ASC Commanding General Maj. Gen. Kevin O’ Connell’s Leadership Professional Development seminar series.

Garrea’s main argument is that for the first time in human history, we now have the technological ability to take control of our evolution.

Jul 16, 2016

Beware the Rise of Gerontocracy: Some Hard Lessons for Transhumanism, Not Least from Brexit

Posted by in categories: aging, biological, ethics, futurism, governance, government, homo sapiens, human trajectories, life extension, neuroscience, policy, strategy, thought controlled, transhumanism

Transhumanists will know that the science fiction author Zoltan Istvan has unilaterally leveraged the movement into a political party contesting the 2016 US presidential election. To be sure, many transhumanists have contested Istvan’s own legitimacy, but there is no denying that he has generated enormous publicity for many key transhumanist ideas. Interestingly, his lead idea is that the state should do everything possible to uphold people’s right to live forever. Of course, he means to live forever in a healthy state, fit of mind and body. Istvan cleverly couches this policy as simply an extension of what voters already expect from medical research and welfare provision. And while he may be correct, the policy is fraught with hazards – especially if, as many transhumanists believe, we are on the verge of revealing the secrets to biological immortality.

In June, Istvan and I debated this matter at Brain Bar Budapest. Let me say, for the record, that I think that we are sufficiently close to this prospect that it is not too early to discuss its political and economic implications.

Two months before my encounter with Istvan, I was on a panel at the Edinburgh Science Festival with the great theorist of radical life extension Aubrey de Grey, where he declared that people who live indefinitely will seem like renovated vintage cars. Whatever else, he is suggesting that they would be frozen in time. He may actually be right about this. But is such a state desirable, given that throughout history radical change has been facilitated generational change? Specifically, two simple facts make the young open to doing things differently: The young have no memory of past practices working to anyone else’s benefit, and they have not had the time to invest in those practices to reap their benefits. Whatever good is to be found in the past is hearsay, as far as the young are concerned, which they are being asked to trust as they enter a world that they know is bound to change.

Questions have been already raised about whether tomorrow’s Methuselahs will wish to procreate at all, given the time available to them to realize dreams that in the past would have been transferred to their offspring. After all, as human life expectancy has increased 50% over the past century, the birth rate has correspondingly dropped. One can only imagine what will happen once ageing can be arrested, if not outright reversed!

Continue reading “Beware the Rise of Gerontocracy: Some Hard Lessons for Transhumanism, Not Least from Brexit” »

Jul 13, 2016

Viruses revealed to be a major driver of human evolution

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, evolution

The constant battle between pathogens and their hosts has long been recognized as a key driver of evolution, but until now scientists have not had the tools to look at these patterns globally across species and genomes. In a new study, researchers apply big-data analysis to reveal the full extent of viruses’ impact on the evolution of humans and other mammals.

Their findings suggest an astonishing 30 percent of all adaptations since humans’ divergence with chimpanzees have been driven by .

“When you have a pandemic or an epidemic at some point in evolution, the population that is targeted by the virus either adapts, or goes extinct. We knew that, but what really surprised us is the strength and clarity of the pattern we found,” said David Enard, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and the study’s first author. “This is the first time that viruses have been shown to have such a strong impact on adaptation.”

Jul 13, 2016

Repurposing the ribosome for synthetic biology

Posted by in categories: bioengineering, biological, education, sustainability

Over the past several years, Northwestern Engineering’s Michael Jewett did the seemingly impossible. He overcame the critical barrier to making mutant ribosomes, the core catalyst in cells that are responsible for life.

Now, with funding from the Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURI) program, Jewett is ready to take this research to the next level. Along with a multi-school team, he plans to use engineer and repurpose the ribosome to make new kinds of polymers for flow batteries.

“We are in a new era of biomaterial design,” Jewett said. “So far, the ribosome has been this untouchable biomolecular machine — one that we couldn’t engineer or modify. Now, armed with recent advances in our ability to construct new versions, new applications may only be limited by our imagination.”

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