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The undercurrents of the future. A publication from Medium about technology and people.


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Over at Future Human, our staff writer Emily Mullin writes that a crop of new biotech companies have sprung up to provide better alternatives to breastfeeding. While infant formula, which is based on animal milk, has been around for decades, it differs from human breast milk in many ways. Harnessing advances in biotech, researchers are finding ways to create milk that’s as close as possible to the real thing. Companies are finding ways to synthesize humanlike nutrients, “grow” breast milk in the lab, and even use it to deliver medication.

The advances are cool, but they don’t address the core…

Reengineering Life

The technique could pave the way for a human treatment

Photo illustration. Photo: Tara Moore/Getty Images

Reengineering Life is a series from OneZero about the astonishing ways genetic technology is changing humanity and the world around us.

Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard recently took a step toward a future where hereditary deafness could be corrected with a single injection into the ear. They used a super-precise type of gene editing to temporarily improve hearing in deaf lab mice.

The technique, known as base editing — sometimes called CRISPR 2.0 — allowed them to repair a mutation in the TMC1 gene. …

Reengineering Life

Scientists are testing gene therapy in people who see in monochrome

Photo illustration. Photo: Michael Poehlman/Getty Images

Reengineering Life is a series from OneZero about the astonishing ways genetic technology is changing humanity and the world around us.

People with total color blindness see the world in monochrome — black, white, and shades of gray.

The rare disorder also makes people sensitive to light and reduces the sharpness in their vision. There is currently no cure for it — or even for the more common types of color blindness, which affect only certain colors. But in the future, a one-time treatment known as gene therapy could help these people see in technicolor.

In a small trial in…

Microscopic organisms can extract precious metals from discarded devices

Photo: Johner Royalty-Free/Getty Images

The world produces 50 million tons of e-waste each year — equivalent to 4,500 Eiffel Towers or 125,000 jumbo jets — from old computers, discarded screens, broken smartphones, and damaged tablets. E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, but it also holds metals crucial to tech that could soon become short in supply.

As our reliance on tech increases, there’s a growing need to reduce e-waste while conserving metals vital to building tech products. The solution may lie in the tiniest of organisms: microbes. …

But it still won’t be widely available for at least a year

A photo of Xinhua Yan working at a lab in Cambridge. She is wearing purple gloves and pipetting.
A photo of Xinhua Yan working at a lab in Cambridge. She is wearing purple gloves and pipetting.
Scientist Xinhua Yan works in the lab at Moderna in Cambridge, MA on Feb. 28, 2020. Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe/Getty Images)

Scientists are urgently pursuing vaccines that could protect large numbers of people against the deadly coronavirus. To do this as quickly as possible, one company is skipping early testing steps and fast-tracking a type of vaccine technology that isn’t yet proven effective in people.

While several companies and academic groups are just beginning to develop their vaccines, Moderna, a biotech firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is already injecting healthy participants with an experimental vaccine.

“In trying times, we sometimes do things that perhaps we wouldn’t do if we had an unlimited amount of time,” Michael Diamond, a viral immunologist at…

The assistant director for biotechnology at the Defense Department on why the U.S. needs to go all-in on the next scientific revolution

Photo: MediaNews Group/The Mercury News/Getty Images

Alexander Titus currently serves as the assistant director for biotechnology in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering with the U.S. Department of Defense and was previously a management consultant at McKinsey & Company and a data scientist at Amazon and In-Q-Tel. The views expressed here are his alone and do not represent those of the DoD or the U.S. Government.

I spend my time focused on leveraging biotechnology for the public good, and I’m ecstatic about what we’ll see in the coming years. Biotechnology is advancing at an unprecedented rate, and engineered biology, commonly…

The unproven gene therapy aims to lengthen a person’s telomeres

An elderly woman’s hands with IVs and hospital bracelets.
An elderly woman’s hands with IVs and hospital bracelets.
Photo: cstar55/E+/Getty Images

Would you pay $1 million and fly to South America for a chance to live longer?

Libella Gene Therapeutics, a Kansas-based company that says it is developing a gene therapy that can reverse aging by up to 20 years, is hoping your answer is yes. In an interview with OneZero, the company says it is ready to give an experimental anti-aging therapy to older people at a clinic north of Bogota, Colombia. But that’s not all — it’s also charging people $1 million to participate. …

The co-inventor of the groundbreaking gene editing technology talks to OneZero about a world where illness could be diagnosed in minutes

Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist responsible for foundational work in CRISPR-based genome editing. Credit: UC Berkeley

In 2012, scientists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier published a seminal study describing a tool called CRISPR that could be used to make cuts in DNA. Since then, CRISPR research has taken off, and its ability to edit genes has made it a tantalizing approach to treating disease at its root cause. But CRISPR’s other major trait — searching for a particular genetic sequence — could also make it a breakthrough for detecting disease.

Currently, diagnosing infectious diseases relies on outdated testing methods that can take days to render a result. For cancer patients, new tests that decode the genetic…

Illustrations by Cathryn Virginia

The biotechnology tool best known for gene editing is being used to develop portable, at-home tests for infectious disease and even cancer. It could change how medicine is done.

Today when you get sick, you need to make an appointment to see your doctor. That might take a few days, and during that time, maybe you keep going to work because you’re not sure what’s wrong — or maybe you start to feel worse.

When you finally see a doctor — assuming you have insurance — she might make a probable diagnosis based on your symptoms alone, or run a test to see if you have the flu or another common infection. …

It could lead to a computer-generated speaking tool for the speech impaired

Illustration of electrode placements on the research participants’ neural speech centers, from which activity patterns recorded during speech (colored dots) were translated into a computer simulation of the participant’s vocal tract which then could be synthesized to reconstruct the sentence that had been spoken (sound wave & sentence, below). Credit: Chang lab / UCSF Dept. of Neurosurgery

Scientists are getting closer to developing a computer-generated tool to allow people with severe speech impairments — like the late cosmologist Stephen Hawking — to communicate verbally.

In a paper published today in the journal Nature, a team of researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) report that they’re working on an early computerized system that can decode brain signals from movements made while speaking, and then translate those movements into sounds. The authors said in a press briefing that the study is a proof of principle that it’s possible to synthesize speech by reading brain activity. “It’s…


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