DAILY DOSE: China launches the world’s first methane-fueled space rocket; So far, renewable natural gas leaves a lot to be desired.

LandSpace, a Beijing-based firm, has successfully launched the world’s first methane-liquid oxygen space rocket, Zhuque-2, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China. This achievement places China ahead of competitors like SpaceX and Blue Origin in the development of less polluting, safer, and more economical reusable space vehicles. The rocket’s success marks a significant step for the Chinese commercial space sector, which has seen a surge since private investment was allowed in 2014. Furthermore, state media reported China’s plans to send two rockets to the moon by 2030, overcoming their technological hurdle of launching heavy-duty rockets. This mission aims to transport astronauts to the moon, perform scientific tasks, collect samples, and safely return to Earth. In 2020, China became the third nation to retrieve lunar samples following an uncrewed mission. (Al-Jazeera)

Chinese companies, including Baidu and Alibaba, have been heavily investing in generative artificial intelligence, raising around $14 billion over the past six months. However, due to Beijing’s strict regulations, no AI chatbots have been released to the public. Beijing’s tough regulatory environment, stricter than many other countries, is believed to hinder innovation and slow down Chinese companies’ competitiveness. The regulatory measures include algorithm vetting, data export security reviews, and requiring firms to verify the truth and accuracy of AI models and training materials. While this regulation is seen as preemptive and safety-focused, industry executives express concerns about the impact on China’s AI industry’s competitiveness. For now, most Chinese tech firms are focusing on industrial applications of AI, in line with Beijing’s priority of reducing reliance on Western technology. (Reuters)

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is increasingly being utilized as renewable natural gas (RNG), also known as biomethane. It’s obtained by processing biogas, mainly from landfills and wastewater facilities, into pure methane that can integrate seamlessly with conventional natural gas. This process is facilitated through government subsidies and chemical technologies. RNG offers environmental groups, farmers, and oil and gas companies numerous benefits, but its “greenness” is debated. RNG production is heavily reliant on government policy and subsidies, notably the Low Carbon Fuel Standard in California, which has stimulated significant growth in the industry. However, critics argue that the limited supply of RNG, potential environmental damage, and high costs compared to benefits make it less viable as a long-term renewable fuel. Although RNG can reduce methane emissions, its role in the global decarbonization effort should be small, focusing on localized use and fuel cell applications. (PNAS)

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BAKX Therapeutics, a small biotech company specializing in cellular life and death, has decided to shut down due to several challenges, including funding issues. The Massachusetts-based firm confirmed that it would cease operations by July 1, with some key personnel remaining until the month-end for closure activities. The termination of a 2021 licensing deal with Ipsen, a French pharma company, contributed to the closure. The biotech’s scientific focus was on the mitochondrial apoptosis pathway, a potential cancer target. Its primary candidate was BKX-001, intended to induce apoptosis in tumor cells. Despite an initial deal worth $14.5 million with Ipsen, it’s uncertain if BAKX accessed any funds beyond the upfront fee. BAKX’s intellectual property will return to its academic founders for further development. The company’s founder, Sree Kant, expressed hopes of linking his team with other opportunities in the market. (Fierce Biotech)

New research has indicated that humans were present in South America much earlier than initially believed, living alongside now-extinct giant sloths. Scientists analyzed carved ornaments made from the sloths’ bony material, dated 25,000 to 27,000 years ago, suggesting human presence several thousand years before previously assumed. These findings, in addition to evidence from other North and South American sites, necessitate a reconsideration of theories regarding human migration to the Americas. The study, conducted by a team from Brazil, France, and the US, demonstrated the ornaments were crafted shortly after the animals’ death, disproving theories of their being found and carved millennia later. Other recent evidence supports this early migration, including 21,000-23,000-year-old human footprints in New Mexico and potential signs of human occupation in Uruguay and Mexico dating back 30,000 and 26,000 years ago, respectively. These findings suggest multiple waves of migration to the Americas, challenging the conventional single-migration theory. (Associated Press)

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

WORDS: The Biology Guy. (@thebiologyguy)


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