DAILY DOSE: Hurrican Idalia closes in on Florida coast; Japan frets reputational damage over wastewater release.

ANOTHER HURRICANE MAKING LANDFALL.

Hurricane Idalia, now a Category 4 storm, is heading for Florida’s Big Bend region, an area still recovering from last year’s Hurricane Ian. The National Weather Service in Tallahassee has labeled it as “unprecedented” due to its path. Early Wednesday, Idalia was close to Cedar Key and Tallahassee, moving north. Florida officials, including Governor DeSantis, have urged coastal residents to evacuate, though some chose to stay. Post-hurricane preparations include waived tolls, opened shelters, and 30,000 utility workers on standby. Following Florida, the hurricane is predicted to impact southern Georgia and the Carolinas, both of which have declared emergencies. Idalia previously affected Cuba with heavy rains but caused no major damages or deaths. Florida has issued evacuation notices in 22 counties, closed schools and universities, and halted major airports’ operations. The 2023 hurricane season is anticipated to be especially active due to warmer ocean temperatures. (Associated Press)


REPUTATIONAL DEAL-BREAKER?

Following the release of treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear complex into the sea, fears are growing over potential reputational damage to Japanese products and services in China. This has resulted in many canceling trips to Japan and online boycott campaigns targeting Japanese goods, notably cosmetics. Despite rising anti-Japan sentiment in China, Chinese authorities haven’t intervened in these online boycott appeals. The Global Times, affiliated with China’s Communist Party, noted decreased enthusiasm among Chinese tourists for Japan, highlighting the case of a couple who changed their honeymoon destination post the water release. They remarked on Japan’s “irresponsible behavior.” Previously, China had announced the resumption of group tours to Japan after a three-year pause due to COVID-19. China has labeled the water as “nuclear-contaminated” and has banned seafood imports from Japan. Additionally, Chinese consumers have grown wary of Japanese cosmetics, with reports of returns and social media lists suggesting brands to avoid. (Japan Today)


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GOOGLE AI AND GINKGO BIOWORKS.

Ginkgo Bioworks is entering a five-year artificial intelligence (AI) partnership with Google Cloud to adapt large language model technologies, similar to ChatGPT, for synthetic biology. Instead of utilizing internet images or text, Ginkgo aims to train models on genomic and protein data. As part of the agreement, Ginkgo will designate Google Cloud as its main computing services provider, and in return, Google Cloud will fund Ginkgo to achieve specified milestones over three years. Google Cloud CEO, Thomas Kurian, emphasized Ginkgo’s potential pioneering role in the life sciences sector, using AI to revolutionize our comprehension of biology. Ginkgo’s operations span drug discovery, agriculture, industrial manufacturing, and biosecurity. They aim to create multiple interconnected models for both internal use and for external availability on Google Cloud’s AI marketplace. Boasting a database of over 2 billion unique protein chains, Ginkgo’s initial project is likely to center on proteins, with potential applications in generative design, sequence optimization, and bioengineering techniques for therapeutic developments and production methods. (Fierce Biotech)


LUNAR DISCOVERY.

India’s lunar rover has identified the presence of sulfur and various other elements near the moon’s south pole, according to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). In its mission to find signs of frozen water which could aid future astronaut missions, the rover’s spectroscope also detected elements including aluminum, iron, calcium, chromium, and oxygen on the moon. Emerging from India’s Chandrayan-3 spacecraft after landing near the south pole, the rover will conduct experiments over 14 days. Apart from water, it aims to study the moon’s atmosphere and seismic activities. The rover’s journey was slightly altered upon nearing a 4-meter-wide crater but it continues safely on its new path. This successful lunar landing makes India the fourth country, after the US, Soviet Union, and China, to achieve this feat, highlighting India’s growing prowess in space technology. Interestingly, Russia’s Luna-25 crashed recently in a similar mission. Historically active in space research, India has launched various satellites and is set to embark on its first mission to the International Space Station in collaboration with the US next year. (Associated Press)


UNPROTECTED LAND IN DANGER.

The Biden administration has revoked pollution protections for vast areas of wetlands after a Supreme Court decision restricted its authority to regulate them. The Court’s ruling in May stated that the government couldn’t regulate discharges into wetlands near larger bodies of water unless there’s a “continuous surface connection.” This decision excluded many wetlands from government pollution control as they don’t connect directly to larger waters. Experts believe this would expose many wetlands to unchecked pollution, impacting clean drinking water sources. Responding, the administration issued a regulation that exempts numerous streams, marshes, and wetlands from federal protection. The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in the Sackett case determined that wetlands must be adjacent to “relatively permanent” waters connected to significant navigable waters. The new regulation eliminates the “significant nexus” test, which previously helped determine protection. While environmental groups decry the ruling, developers and industrial companies claim the new regulation is unclear and inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s guidelines. (New York Times)


TREE-REEFS ARE A THING.

Researchers have demonstrated that using structures made from culled pear trees can act as effective replacements for natural hard substrates in soft-bottomed seas, like the Dutch Wadden Sea, where many natural substrates have disappeared due to human activities. These ‘tree-reefs’ were quickly colonized and became biodiversity hubs for marine life, including fish, crustaceans, polyps, and shellfish. Given the scarcity of reefs due to overfishing, dredging, and other human actions, this study presents an affordable and efficient solution to restore lost marine biodiversity. Jon Dickson, the study’s lead author, explained that trees, which used to naturally fall into oceans in pre-agricultural times, have historically provided habitats for marine life. In their experiment, researchers created pyramid structures from 192 culled pear trees and submerged them in the Wadden Sea. Within six months, these tree-reefs saw a proliferation of marine animals. The study suggests such tree-reefs can offer rapid colonization and enhance marine biodiversity. However, questions remain regarding the longevity of these structures and their potential application in other seas. (Frontiers In


SIMULATION HYPOTHESIS REIMAGINED.

Edward Fredkin, a notable US computer scientist and physicist, passed away in June with limited recognition. He introduced the concept of ‘digital physics’, suggesting that the universe’s laws could be based on a computer algorithm. Starting as a Caltech dropout, Fredkin’s significant work began at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and later at Bolt Beranek & Newman, focusing on artificial intelligence research. He advocated for international AI collaboration and pioneered the idea of reversible computing with Tommaso Toffoli. Their work laid foundational ideas for quantum computers. Fredkin believed the universe might operate as a ‘cellular automaton’, a theory which, combined with quantum rules, might explain the universe’s intricacies. His unconventional educational path may have fostered his groundbreaking insights. (Nature)

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

WORDS: The Biology Guy.

IMAGE CREDIT: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.


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