Coronavirus: Experts warn of bioterrorism after pandemic

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The Council of Europe has warned of a potential increase in the use of biological weapons, like viruses or bacterias, in a post-coronavirus world. Terrorists would not forget “lessons learned” during the pandemic.

Security experts from the Council of Europe have warned that the global coronavirus outbreak may increase the use of biological weapons by terrorists in the future.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how vulnerable modern society is to viral infections and their potential for disuption,” the council’s Committee on Counter-Terrorism said in a statement.

The deliberate use of disease-causing agents — like viruses or bacterias — as an act of terrorism “could prove to be extremely effective.”

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Crumpled graphene makes ultra-sensitive cancer DNA detector

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Graphene-based biosensors could usher in an era of liquid biopsy, detecting DNA cancer markers circulating in a patient’s blood or serum. But current designs need a lot of DNA. In a new study, crumpling graphene makes it more than ten thousand times more sensitive to DNA by creating electrical “hot spots,” researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found.

Crumpled graphene could be used in a wide array of biosensing applications for rapid diagnosis, the researchers said. They published their results in the journal Nature Communications.

“This sensor can detect ultra-low concentrations of molecules that are markers of disease, which is important for early diagnosis,” said study leader Rashid Bashir, a professor of bioengineering and the dean of the Grainger College of Engineering at Illinois. “It’s very sensitive, it’s low-cost, it’s easy to use, and it’s using graphene in a new way.”

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Old human cells rejuvenated with stem cell technology

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Old human cells can become more youthful by coaxing them to briefly express proteins used to make induced pluripotent cells, Stanford researchers and their colleagues have found. The finding may have implications for aging research.

Old human cells return to a more youthful and vigorous state after being induced to briefly express a panel of proteins involved in embryonic development, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The researchers also found that elderly mice regained youthful strength after their existing muscle stem cells were subjected to the rejuvenating protein treatment and transplanted back into their bodies.

The proteins, known as Yamanaka factors, are commonly used to transform adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells can become nearly any type of cell in the body, regardless of the cell from which they originated. They’ve become important in regenerative medicine and drug discovery.

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YC startup Felix wants to replace antibiotics with programmable viruses

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Right now the world is at war. But this is no ordinary war. It’s a fight with an organism so small we can only detect it through use of a microscope — and if we don’t stop it, it could kill millions of us in the next several decades. No, I’m not talking about COVID-19, though that organism is the one on everyone’s mind right now. I’m talking about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

You see, more than 700,000 people died globally from bacterial infections last year — 35,000 of them in the U.S. If we do nothing, that number could grow to 10 million annually by 2050, according to a United Nations report.

The problem? Antibiotic overuse at the doctor’s office or in livestock and farming practices. We used a lot of drugs over time to kill off all the bad bacteria — but it only killed off most, not all, of the bad bacteria. And, as the famous line from Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park goes, “life finds a way.”

Enter Felix, a biotech startup in the latest Y Combinator batch that thinks it has a novel approach to keeping bacterial infections at bay – viruses.

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If we can make animals smarter, should we?

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In science fiction stories, research can accidentally create superintelligent animal species. As the ability to alter animals’ brains grows, some say we should be wary of fiction becoming reality.

This article appears in VICE Magazine’s Stupid Issue, which is dedicated to the entertaining, goofy, and just plain dumb. It features stories celebrating ridiculous ideas, trends, and products; pieces arguing that unabashed stupidity can be a great part of life; and articles calling out the bad side of stupidity.

In the 2011 movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, James Franco plays a scientist developing a treatment for Alzheimer’s. The drug, ALZ-112, is designed to restore a human’s brain function, and when tested on a healthy chimpanzee, it causes the monkey’s intelligence to increase dramatically. She passes the intelligence on to her baby, Caesar, who goes on to lead a pack of super-intelligent apes and releases a version of the drug that’s fatal to humans.

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5 incredible synthetic biology holy grails that could change the world

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Investors are still waiting for next-generation biotech to deliver on its enormous promise and potential, but just one of these Holy Grails would make the wait worth it.

 Biotechnology has come a long way since 1978, when Herbert Boyer successfully demonstrated that human insulin could be produced from bacteria engineered with recombinant DNA. The breakthrough technology pushed a little-known company called Genentech into the spotlight and forever changed the world. Genentech was acquired by Roche for $46.8 billion in 2009. The American bioeconomy — biotech crops, biochemicals, and biologic drugs — generated an estimated $324 billion of gross domestic product in 2012. And millions of people worldwide today rely on insulin and other biologic drugs daily.

You could argue that recombinant DNA was the first Holy Grail technology delivered by the field. Several more have followed. In fact, we’ve recently been treated to the development and ongoing commercialization of the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR — a true game-changer for the biotech ecosystem. Headache-inducing legal entanglements aside, CRISPR promises to help synthetic biology deliver on its enormous potential and could even be an integral tool needed to produce several other world-changing Holy Grails. Some are closer to reality than investors may think.

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3D Printing humans: A quick review of 3D Bioprinters

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It was only a matter of time before the iconic scene from 1997’s The Fifth Element became a reality. In the film Milla Jovovich’s character, Leeloo, is entirely rebuilt using her dead hand as a template. The resurrection is performed by a surgical robot that collects slices of heterogeneous tissue, generated from a yellow bio-ink, and places them rapidly in sequence, followed by the addition of softer tissues via long red fibres.

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Amazon is working to develop biometric scanners to link handprints to credit cards, allowing shoppers to buy with the swipe of their palm

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  • Amazon is working with credit card companies to create terminals to allow users to pay for items with biometric data from their handprint.
  • The online retailer previously patented such technology, which had been presumed to be used at its Whole Food stores
  • Amazon currently allows shoppers at its Amazon Go grocery store to pay for items without ever going through a checkout process by downloading the Amazon Go app.
  • The technology could give Amazon more information about consumer spending habits, which could allow them to charge a higher rate to advertisers.

Amazon has plans to create payment terminals that would allow shoppers to link a credit card with their own handprint, allowing them to pay at brick-and-mortar stores by simply waving their hand across a scanner, according to a report Saturday from The Wall Street Journal.

The WSJ reported that discussions to create the pay-by-hand terminals are in their early stages, though Amazon has already begun the development process with Visa and is in talks to work with MasterCard.

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The major discoveries that could transform the world in the next decade

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Here’s what scientists are really excited about.

The last decade ushered in some truly revolutionary advances in science, from the discovery of the Higgs boson to the use of CRISPR for Sci-Fi esque gene editing. But what are some of the biggest breakthroughs still to come? Live Science asked several experts in their field what discoveries, techniques and developments they’re most excited to see emerge in the 2020s.

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Lab-grown meat also creates an unexpected benefit: Ethical zebra burgers

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“What are the odds that these animals contain the tastiest, most nutritionally rich food offerings?”

The term “cultivated meat” is industry’s preferred language for the admittedly unappetizing-sounding “lab-grown meat,” and it has the potential to actually change the world.

This lab-grown meat could reduce the various impacts of raising animals for slaughter, which is the second-largest source of global warming emissions, as well as save sentient beings from needless cruelty.

The technology behind cultivating meat involves taking stem cells from the muscle of a living animal, which are then fed a serum rich in nutrients. This causes the cells to proliferate and transform into muscle cells. That’s when lab technicians step in and encourage these multiplying cells to take shape and form fibers. The fibrous material is then placed in a vat, which provides the ideal conditions to stimulate growth. Eventually, the tissue grows to the point where it can be cooked and eaten.

Voila, you’ve got yourself a lab-grown hamburger.

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Mini brains grown in the laboratory produce brainwaves. Now what?

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It’s hard to study the human brain. It is the most complex in the animal kingdom with its massive collection of neurons, 80-100 billion to be exact, three times more than chimpanzees. Research relating our brains to the brains of mice and monkeys can only go so far. And because of this complexity, scientists often came up short when studying diseases such as schizophrenia, autism, and Alzheimer’s in the brains of monkeys and mice.

Enter minibrains.

Minibrains are small clusters of human brain cells that can be grown in a Petri dish. Floating through the agar, these small gray lumps don’t look particularly impressive, but they are allowing scientists to study actual living human brain tissue in ways they couldn’t before.

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Scientists create a device that can mass-produce human embryoids

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These human embryo-like structures (top) were synthesized from human stem cells; they’ve been stained to illustrate different cell types. Images (bottom) of the “embryoids” in the new device that was invented to make them. Yi Zheng/University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Scientists have invented a device that can quickly produce large numbers of living entities that resemble very primitive human embryos.

Researchers welcomed the development, described Wednesday in the journal Nature, as an important advance for studying the earliest days of human embryonic development. But it also raises questions about where to draw the line in manufacturing “synthetic” human life.

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