Here are the top stories from the past month (in mostly chronological order):
The idea of giving everybody an unconditional, regular income has become increasingly popular in the last few years, partly because employment has become less secure and people fear that increasing automation may cause job losses across many sectors. There are many arguments for and against basic income. Some are concerned with fairness and justice, but many are based on competing ideas about the potential effects. Some argue people would stop working and become dependent on payments, while others believe it would free people to spend time on useful activities like volunteering or caring, and that many wouldn’t work less because they wished to earn more or simply enjoyed it.
It’s the time of year when the MIT Technology Review releases its biggest breakthrough technologies for the year. These are technologies that are expected to have widespread consequences for human life in the coming year.
In a historic first for satellite operations, a commercial spacecraft "helper" has docked with a working communications satellite to provide life-extension services. The companies involved in the meetup — Northrop Grumman and Intelsat — hailed the operation, which took place Tuesday (Feb. 25), as the beginning of a new era that will see robotic spacecraft giving new life to older satellites that are low on fuel or require repairs.
For the first time, scientists found a complete protein molecule in a meteorite — and they’re pretty sure it didn’t come from Earth. After analyzing samples from the meteorite Acfer 086, a team of researchers from Harvard University and the biotech companies PLEX Corporation and Bruker Scientific found that the protein’s building blocks differed chemically from terrestrial protein. As they write in their research, which they shared on ArXiv on Saturday, “this is the first report of a protein from any extra-terrestrial source.”
A team of researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis successfully converted human stem cells into cells capable of producing insulin. These insulin-producing cells were then able to control blood sugar levels in a demonstration involving diabetic mice. “These mice had very severe diabetes with blood sugar readings of more than 500 milligrams per deciliter of blood — levels that could be fatal for a person — and when we gave the mice the insulin-secreting cells, within two weeks their blood glucose levels had returned to normal and stayed that way for many months,” lead researcher Jeffrey Millman, assistant professor at Washington University, said in a statement.
Using technology originally acquired in the US, the Chinese gene giant BGI Group says it will make genome sequencing cheaper than ever, breaking the $100 barrier for the first time. The Shenzhen company says the low cost will be possible with an "extreme" DNA sequencing system it plans to offer that is capable of decoding the genomes of 100,000 people a year. The claim, made today at a DNA technology conference in Marco Island, Florida, could intensify competition between BGI and Illumina, the California firm whose speedy instruments have dominated the gene-sequencing scene for more than a decade.
A far tinier, far more futuristic critter might replace dogs as the preferred explosive detection animal: cyborg grasshoppers. With funding from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have found a way to hack into the insects' sense of smell, in the hopes of using the bugs to detect explosives, according to a paper published on the preprint server bioRxiv.
8) The first human corneas have been 3D printed by scientists - Technique could be used in the future to ensure an unlimited supply of corneas
It means the technique could be used in the future to ensure an unlimited supply of corneas. As the outermost layer of the human eye, the cornea has an important role in focusing vision. Yet there is a significant shortage of corneas available to transplant, with 10 million people worldwide requiring surgery to prevent corneal blindness as a result of diseases such as trachoma, an infectious eye disorder.
In a first for quantum physics, University of Otago researchers have "held" individual atoms in place and observed previously unseen complex atomic interactions. A myriad of equipment including lasers, mirrors, a vacuum chamber, and microscopes assembled in Otago's Department of Physics, plus a lot of time, energy, and expertise, have provided the ingredients to investigate this quantum process, which until now was only understood through statistical averaging from experiments involving large numbers of atoms.
German scientists say that for the first time ever, they’ve created a lab-grown artificial genome that can reproduce itself like a natural one. It’s not quite one of those replicants from “Blade Runner,” but it’s a step toward the holy grail of synthetic biology: fully artificial organisms that can survive and reproduce like the real thing.
In 1991, a devastating car crash left 32-year-old Munira Abdulla with severe brain injuries and in a deep coma. Doctors thought she had no chance of recovery. Yet her story blew up when, miraculously, her brain somehow “rebooted” nearly three decades later. Although disoriented, she was able to call out her son’s name and engage in familiar prayer rituals. Munira’s case is extraordinary. Regaining awareness after long periods of “minimal consciousness,” where she showed intermittant signs of basic consciousness, is already exceedingly rare. Recovering from a long-term vegetative or completely unresponsive state is nearly impossible.
A female cat in Russia that lost all four of her paws to frostbite can walk, run and even climb stairs again, thanks to the veterinarians who replaced her missing limbs with 3D-printed prosthetics made from titanium. The hardy gray feline, named Dymka ("mist" in Russian), is about 4 years old. A passing driver found her in December 2018 in the snow in Novokuznetsk in Siberia and brought her to a clinic in Novosibirsk, according to Russian news site Komsomolskaya Pravda.