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DO WE REALLY WANT HUMAN-RAT HYBRIDS?
Science is great. Sometimes, it can do some really weird things in its quest for greatness. Sometimes, efforts even raise serious ethical and philosophical questions. Take for example a recent study published in Nature in which human brain cells were transplanted into rats.
Miniature human-brain-like structures transplanted into rats can send signals and respond to environmental cues picked up by the rats’ whiskers, according to a study1. This demonstration that neurons grown from human stem cells can interface with nerve cells in live rodents could lead to a way to test therapies for human brain disorders... Some of the challenges are ethical. People are concerned that creating rodent–human hybrids could harm the animals, or create animals with human-like brains. Last year, a panel organized by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report concluding that human brain organoids are still too primitive to become conscious, attain human-like intelligence or acquire other abilities that might require legal regulation. Pasca says that his team’s organoid transplants didn’t cause problems such as seizures or memory deficits in the rats, and didn’t seem to change the animals’ behaviour significantly. But Arlotta, a member of the National Academies panel, says that problems could arise as science advances. “We can’t just discuss it once and let it be,” she says. She adds that concerns about human organoids need to be weighed against the needs of people with neurological and psychiatric disorders. Brain organoids and human–animal hybrid brains could reveal the mechanisms underlying these illnesses, and allow researchers to test therapies for conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. “I think we have a responsibility as a society to do everything we can,” Arlotta says.
Calling it weird isn’t to say it isn’t useful or even necessary. It’s just weird. https://go.nature.com/3yGlauq
STEALING DATA THROUGH YOUR EYES.
In something that should come as a surprise to just about nobody, Meta’s latest top of the line Oculus Quest Pro may be one of the most advanced consumer VR products, but it also represents an altogether new way for companies to accumulate data on its users. Per Wired,
Meta, as the company that built Facebook is now called, introduced its latest VR headset, the Quest Pro. The new model adds a set of five inward-facing cameras that watch a person’s face to track eye movements and facial expressions, allowing an avatar to reflect their expressions, smiling, winking, or raising an eyebrow in real time. The headset also has five exterior cameras that will in the future help give avatars legs that copy a person’s movements in the real world.
Again, not surprising. https://bit.ly/3RXJ62V
FIXING ANNUAL FLOODING.
Urban flooding is a big problem hitting big cities around the world, especially as the climate continues to short-circuit. A recent article in The Wire India bemoaned government agencies’ inability to address a problem that occurs annually.
This event occurs annually – mild or unexpected rains and city areas get flooded. The next morning witnesses newspaper headlines, followed by TV debates by a few ‘experts’ who explain to us why the floods occurred and what the government should have done or must do to avoid this from happening again. Yet the same cycle repeats year after year… life goes on. In a rather intriguing discussion that I had with a resident of central Mumbai, a part that regularly gets flooded, on how he manages to cope with these five days of extreme inconvenience every year, his answer was disarmingly honest and simple: “because the remaining 360 days are normal”. It would seem that our municipal governance goes by a similar logic.
FIXING A HOLE.
For those of you old enough to remember, there was a time when scientists, some politicians, and even some everyday people were freaking out over a growing hole in the Earth’s ozone layer. A lot of the products used here on Earth, such as chlorofluorocarbons commonly found in hairspray cans and the like, were causing the damage. Long story short, everyone bought in, pitched in, and did something. Surprise, surprise, it actually helped and continues to do so. Per the Associated Press,
The Antarctic ozone hole last week peaked at a moderately large size for the third straight year — bigger than the size of North America — but experts say it’s still generally shrinking despite recent blips because of high altitude cold weather. The ozone hole hit its peak size of more than 10 million square miles (26.4 million square kilometers) on October 5, the largest it has been since 2015, according to NASA. Scientists say because of cooler than normal temperatures over the southern polar regions at 7 to 12 miles high (12 to 20 kilometers) where the ozone hole is, conditions are ripe for ozone-munching chlorine chemicals. “The overall trend is improvement. It’s a little worse this year because it was a little colder this year,” said NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Chief Earth Scientist Paul Newman, who tracks ozone depletion. “All the data says that ozone is on the mend.”
The takeaway? Addressing climate change may actually work if everyone bought into it and did their part. https://bit.ly/3VuZv20
Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend. Let’s be careful out there.
IMAGE CREDIT: Sheila J. Toro.