DAILY DOSE: India launches spacecraft aimed at the moon; CRISPR can make paper sustainable, maybe.

India’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), has launched Chandrayaan-3, a spacecraft aimed at landing a rover on the moon’s far side. The successful launch marked a renewed attempt following the failed mission four years ago due to a software glitch. The spacecraft, including an orbiter, lander, and rover, will provide scientific data on lunar soil and rocks. This achievement brings India one step closer to becoming the fourth country to land on the moon, after the US, Soviet Union, and China. Chandrayaan-3’s mission is a significant part of India’s expanding space technology, which also includes plans for the country’s first mission to the International Space Station next year, and the aim to launch an Indian astronaut from Indian soil by 2024. India’s space sector, which has launched 424 satellites for 34 countries, has the potential to be a trillion-dollar economy in the future. (Associated Press)

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (I.A.R.C.) has stated that aspartame, an artificial sweetener found in thousands of low-sugar foods and diet drinks, may possibly cause cancer. This marks the first time the international body has publicized its stance on aspartame. The declaration is based on limited evidence from three studies associating consumption of artificially sweetened beverages with an increase in liver cancer cases. However, another WHO committee held firm on its safe consumption level assessment. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has challenged the I.A.R.C.’s findings, reasserting its position that aspartame is safe. This has ignited further debate globally and could lead to confusion among consumers. The I.A.R.C. has called for further research, and consumers with high aspartame intake have been advised to consider switching to water or other unsweetened drinks. (New York Times)

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first over-the-counter contraceptive pill, Opill, produced by Perrigo (PRGO.N). This landmark approval will allow millions of American women to access birth control without needing a prescription. This comes as more states ban abortion after the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court last year. Opill, a “minipill,” uses progestin, not containing estrogen as combination pills do. To avoid pregnancy, it must be taken within the same three hours every day. The approval will aid in overcoming barriers to obtaining contraceptives, such as cost, time, transportation, and childcare issues. However, critics argue for physician involvement in health decisions, especially for teenagers. Perrigo will share pricing plans next week, with availability expected by next year’s first quarter. (Reuters)

In the wake of discrepancies between state laws and various high-profile lawsuits in the US, there’s an ongoing effort to standardize the legal determination of death. A team of neurologists, physicians, lawyers, and bioethicists is working to update the Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA) through the Uniform Law Commission (ULC). This effort aims to clarify the definition of brain death, specify testing consent requirements, deal with family objections, and provide guidance for future changes in medical standards. However, the project has sparked increasing concern due to polarized politics and growing skepticism towards scientific expertise. Moreover, the issue has serious implications for intensive care units and the organ transplant system. Current legal definitions recognize two forms of death: irreversible cessation of heart and respiratory function or all brain functions. Some believe this duality is outdated due to advancements in medical technology, while others contend that the language used needs to be revised for clarity and precision. The ULC is set to finalize its recommendations by mid-2024. (Nature)

The International Seabed Authority (ISA), responsible for regulating deep-sea mining, is rushing to finalize regulations amid fear that companies may apply for permits without adequate environmental standards in place. Deep-sea ecosystems rich in nickel, copper, cobalt, and manganese are crucial for the energy transition, but the lack of regulation raises concerns over damage to these ecosystems. Ocean law expert Pradeep Singh believes that states are more inclined towards having regulations in place before granting mining permits. However, The Metals Company, backed by the Pacific Island nation of Nauru, may trigger an obscure “two-year rule” if the ISA fails to finalize regulations, forcing the ISA to consider any applications. Some expect a decision to defer action until regulations are complete or a temporary pause on mining. At the same time, others believe the negotiations will be extended, allowing more time to deal with economic and competitive aspects. Environmental organizations, multinational corporations, and some states support a pause or moratorium on deep-sea mining. (The Grist)

Researchers from North Carolina State University have used CRISPR gene-editing technology to engineer poplar trees with reduced lignin content, potentially reducing the environmental impact of paper production. The team created a computer model to analyze nearly 70,000 gene-editing combinations and identified 347 that could safely increase cellulose, decrease lignin, or do both without causing deformities in the trees. After growing the genetically engineered trees in a greenhouse, the team found that the most successful varieties had a lignin reduction of 49.1% and a cellulose-to-lignin increase of 228%. This could lead to a 40% increase in paper output, a 20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions, and approximately $1 billion in additional profits for a typical paper mill. While promising, these engineered trees still need to undergo field trials and pass regulatory scrutiny before they can be commercially adopted. (Science)

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

WORDS: The Biology Guy. (@thebiologyguy)


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