The journal Cell reports that nuclei from adult skin cells were introduced into the nuclei of human egg cells (somatic cell nuclear transfer, SCNT) and they successfully developed as embryonic stem cells. This is a first for human cell technology. If I understand the report correctly, a key step was to transfer the donor nucleus into the oocyte without removing the oocyte nucleus first, because the oocyte nucleus needs to form the spindle structure (the filaments that pull apart chromosomes at meiosis). The original oocyte chromosomes disappear–how that works is unclear to me. But the oocyte divides and forms a seemingly normal blastocyst–early stage embryo.
The achievement brings us a step closer to growing customized organs. The problem with embyronic stem cells has always been that they are specific to a donor, but not to the patient who needs the new organs; now, we see a possible route to solving this problem.
But we also come a step closer to human cloning. Why couldn’t the blastocyst be implanted in a womb and continue embryonic development? Other poorly understood technical problems prevent this, but in principle, such a transformed oocyte could develop into a human being.
LiveScience and NBC News quoted my views on the mitochondrial Singularity. “Since Gutenberg invented the printing press, humans have continuously redefined intelligence and transferred those tasks to machines. Now, even tasks considered at the core of humanity, such as caring for the elderly or the sick, are being outsourced to empathetic robots . . . .”
Should we really worry about this? Maybe, as in Brain Plague, our machine descendents will make better humans than ourselves.
So this story really is in the journal Science, not, say the Weekly World News (where “Facebook Will End on May 15“–remember the days when the world was about to end? Nowadays, who cares about the world if Facebook ends). Neuroscientists think they have found a way to “read” what you are dreaming in your sleep.
In this experiment, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) were collected from the brain of a sleeping subject. Magnetic resonance imaging is noninvasive; it involves putting you inside a giant superconducting magnet, which then measures energy transitions between magnetic states of nuclei of an odd-numbered atomic nucleus such as hydrogen or iron. The standard fMRI detects blood flow based on the magnetic iron content of hemoglobin. Essentially, it’s a way to measure which parts of the brain are working harder because they get more blood flow.
First the researchers recorded fMRI patterns within the sleeping brain; then they woke up the subject and asked them to report what they saw in their dreams. By repeating this procedure, the researchers built up a database correlating blood-flow patterns with specific classes of images.
The next stage was to train a computer to correlate fMRI patterns with specific classes of images that the subject visualized, such as a person or a pointed object. Then, the researchers recorded fMRI during sleep–and tried to predict what the subject would report seeing in the dream. Apparently the researchers succeeded with 60% accuracy, far greater than expected by chance. They concluded that people actually see what they claim to see in dreams, rather than “making it up.” That may not sound like rocket science–but suppose it hastens the day when our brains can all be connected in an electromagnetic network.
At the end of the term, Kenyon’s Microbiology lab takes our annual spring trip to the Mount Vernon wastewater treatment plant. Kenyon students brave the huge pipes that collect sewage from miles around, with filters collecting whatever you flush down, from hygiene items to undigested corn. After primary treatment, the “bugs” (treatment microbes) get down to business.
In the anaerobic digester (below) the bacteria break down organics to CO2 and H2, which methanogens convert to methane. The methane travels through the red pipe, and spews out all the time; some gets collected for energy to heat the plant.
Next, the aerobic treatment: huge round vats of aerated water, full of respiring bacteria to break down organics to CO2. The bacteria are preyed on by ciliates, rotifers, and nematode worms, the “king of the floc.”
The proportions of the different microbes are controlled by chlorine. Did you ever see two ton-sized vats of chlorine?And finally–there goes all the treated water into the Kokosing river, to flow back past Kenyon! What goes around comes around.
Most college sophomores spent their summer running toyworlds while catching sun at air-conditioned disappearing beaches. Jenny Ramos Kennedy spent hers at the Havana Institute for Revolutionary Botany, which students called the Botánica. At the Botánica, Jenny worked with ultraphytes, Earth’s cyanide-emitting extraterrestrial invaders. Could she discover how to engineer ultraphyte chromosomes—to control them genetically, before they poisoned the planet?
In a tank on the sixth floor swam an ultraphyte. The creature’s golden cells soaked up ultraviolet, each eyespot scanning the lab. Around the sealed tank, air vents hissed continually in case the alien life form panicked and put out cyanide.
Out the window, beyond the Malecón, a bright streak reached the sea. Kessler debris, from near-Earth orbit, where Homeworld Security was burning the derelict platform. The platform could be seen at night crossing the sky, a silvery moon. The little moon shone in her toybox, the window hovering above her right eye, where Homeworld’s lasers methodically burned into it. But occasional bits broke off and fell toward Earth….
And here is a taste of “Mimesis,” an alien anthropology story by Martha Wells:
Jade spotted Sand as he circled down from the forest canopy, a grasseater clutched in his talons. She said, “Finally.” It would be nice to eat before dark, so they could clear the offal away from the camp without attracting the night scavengers.
It was Balm who said, “I don’t see Fair.”
Jade frowned, scanning the canopy again. They were standing in the deep grass of the platform they had chosen to camp on, and it was late afternoon in the suspended forest and getting difficult to hunt by sight. The open canyons under the heavy canopies of the immense mountain-trees were filled with green shadow. The breeze stirred jungles of foliage that grew on the platforms formed and supported by the immense intertwined tree branches. Raksuran eyes were designed to track movement, and between flocks of colorful birds, treelings, flying frogs and lizards and the myriad of other life, the whole forest was moving. But after a heartbeat’s concentration, Jade could see there was no one else flying anywhere near Sand….
Usually plant-inhabiting beetles are thought to be pests; so what terrorist would release thousands of them in a mall? The Mall of America released 72,000 ladybugs (ladybird beetles) in an effort to control aphids infesting the decorative plants growing throughout the mall area.
Interestingly, such pest control solutions do not entirely wipe out the prey species; they can control it down to a manageable level. This is an example of sustainable pest ecology, something we don’t commonly associate with a mall. Mall of America (in Minnesota) is also known for its passive heating system, via enormous skylights.
While back here on this planet, the Awá people of Brasil are locked in a struggle much like that of Pandora in the film Avatar. The Awá are peaceful people, who normally wear barely more than the Sharers. They adopt orphaned monkeys, even breastfeeding them like babies. But–despite official demarcation of their pathetically small reserve–the reserve is not respected. Loggers encroach, and like the invaders of Pandora, they seek a rich mineral–iron ore.
The Awá’s only hope is Western litigation and public outcry. And despite being murdered and plundered, their enduring sense of humor.