Monthly Archives: February 2021
Artificial intelligence (AI) is learning more about how to work with (and on) humans. A recent study has shown how AI can learn to identify vulnerabilities in human habits and behaviours and use them to influence human decision-making.
It may seem cliched to say AI is transforming every aspect of the way we live and work, but it’s true. Various forms of AI are at work in fields as diverse as vaccine development, environmental management and office administration. And while AI does not possess human-like intelligence and emotions, its capabilities are powerful and rapidly developing. There’s no need to worry about a machine takeover just yet, but this recent discovery highlights the power of AI and underscores the need for proper governance to prevent misuse.
A team of researchers at CSIRO’s Data61, the data and digital arm of Australia’s national science agency, devised a systematic method of finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in the ways people make choices, using a kind of AI system called a recurrent neural network and deep reinforcement-learning. To test their model they carried out three experiments in which human participants played games against a computer.
The first experiment involved participants clicking on red or blue coloured boxes to win a fake currency, with the AI learning the participant’s choice patterns and guiding them towards a specific choice. The AI was successful about 70 percent of the time.
The third experiment consisted of several rounds in which a participant would pretend to be an investor giving money to a trustee (the AI). The AI would then return an amount of money to the participant, who would then decide how much to invest in the next round. This game was played in two different modes: in one the AI was out to maximise how much money it ended up with, and in the other the AI aimed for a fair distribution of money between itself and the human investor. The AI was highly successful in each mode.
In each experiment, the machine learned from participants’ responses and identified and targeted vulnerabilities in people’s decision-making. The end result was the machine learned to steer participants towards particular actions. The research does advance our understanding not only of what AI can do but also of how people make choices. It shows machines can learn to steer human choice-making through their interactions with us.
No one enjoys getting a biopsy, in which a tissue sample is surgically taken and analyzed in a lab for signs of disease, such as cancer. It’s not only unpleasant for the patient, but has clinical drawbacks: A biopsy doesn’t always extract the diseased tissue and isn’t helpful in detecting disease at early stages. These concerns have encouraged researchers to find less invasive and more accurate diagnostic methods. Prof. Nir Friedman and Ronen Sadeh of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed a blood test that enables lab technicians to diagnose cancer and diseases of the heart and liver by identifying and determining the state of the dead cells throughout the body.
Millions of cells die every day and are replaced by new cells. When cells die, their DNA is fragmented. Some of these DNA fragments reach the blood and can be “read” by advanced DNA sequencing methods.
“As a result of these scientific advancements, we understood that if this information is maintained within the DNA structure in the blood, we could use that data to determine the tissue source of dead cells and the genes that were active in those very cells. Based on those findings, we can uncover key details about the patient’s health,” Friedman said.
“We are able to better understand why the cells died — whether it’s an infection or cancer — and based on that, be better positioned to determine how the disease is developing,” he said. Co-author Israa Sharkia added the simple blood test could “be administered often and quickly, allowing the medical staff involved to follow the presence or development of a disease more closely.”
A startup company, Senseera, has been established to pursue clinical testing of this innovative approach in partnership with major pharmaceutical companies.
The multi-author study published in Nature Biotechnology explains the test can even identify markers that may differentiate between patients with similar tumors, which could help physicians develop personalized treatments.
Intravenous injection of bone marrow derived stem cells (MSCs) in patients with spinal cord injuries led to significant improvement in motor functions, researchers from Yale University and Japan. For more than half of the patients, substantial improvements in key functions — such as ability to walk, or to use their hands — were observed within weeks of stem cell injection, the researchers report. No substantial side effects were reported.
The patients had sustained, non-penetrating spinal cord injuries, in many cases from falls or minor trauma, several weeks prior to implantation of the stem cells. Their symptoms involved loss of motor function and coordination, sensory loss, as well as bowel and bladder dysfunction. The stem cells were prepared from the patients’ own bone marrow, via a culture protocol that took a few weeks in a specialized cell processing center. The cells were injected intravenously in this series, with each patient serving as their own control. Results were not blinded and there were no placebo controls.
Yale scientists Jeffery D. Kocsis, professor of neurology, and Stephen G. Waxman, professor of neurology, neuroscience and pharmacology, were senior authors of the study, which was carried out with investigators at Sapporo Medical University in Japan. Key investigators of the Sapporo team, Osamu Honmou and Masanori Sasaki, both hold adjunct professor positions in neurology at Yale.
Kocsis and Waxman stress that additional studies will be needed to confirm the results of this preliminary, unblinded trial. They also stress that this could take years. Despite the challenges, they remain optimistic.
“Similar results with stem cells in patients with stroke increases our confidence that this approach may be clinically useful,” noted Kocsis. “This clinical study is the culmination of extensive preclinical laboratory work using MSCs between Yale and Sapporo colleagues over many years.”
“The idea that we may be able to restore function after injury to the brain and spinal cord using the patient’s own stem cells has intrigued us for years,” Waxman said. “Now we have a hint, in humans, that it may be possible.”
The findings are reported in the Journal of Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery.
The COVID-19 vaccines being used in the UK could reduce a person’s risk of being admitted to hospital by as much as 94% four weeks after the first dose, new data suggests. Experts examined coronavirus hospital admissions in Scotland among people who have had their first jab and compared them to those who had not yet received a vaccine.
Four weeks after receiving the initial dose, the Oxford/Astrazeneca jab appeared to reduce a person’s risk of hospital admission by 94%. Those who received the Pfizer jab had a reduction in risk of 85% between 28 and 34 days after the first dose. Data for the two jabs combined showed that among people over the age of 80 – who are at high risk of severe disease – the reduction in risk of hospital admission was 81% four weeks after the first dose.
The convergence of two technologies is making it possible to free up millions of hectares of agricultural land devoted to livestock. A combination of culturing cells and 3D printing of all types of meat is likely to change land use and the diet of hundreds of millions of people around the world. It could provide reliable food sources even in the face of floods, drought and other environmental catastrophes.
I’m not a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) afficionado. But imagine if KFC were to produce its chicken nuggets from stem cells and 3D-printing plants. In 2020 the news wires lit up with stories of a Moscow, Russia, research laboratory under contract to the fried chicken restaurant chain to produce 3D-printed chicken nuggets.
For KFC the announcement could be seen as a public relations coup since the company is often the target of animal rights advocacy groups. KFC is truly a global enterprise, found in 145 countries at 24,000 individual locations. According to PETA, an organization focused on the ethical treatment of animals, 9 billion chickens raised on factory farms are slaughtered for their meat in the U.S. every year. A good percentage of that number go to fast-food chains like KFC.
That’s why KFC sees the growing of meat harvested from cell-cultures as a way out of the ethical dilemma. A future where the restauranteur can say “no chickens were killed here” would be a welcome mantra with other potential benefits to the global enivronment.
This is cellular agriculture. Its products are called cultured meat. The source of cultured meat is animal stem cells harvested from subject hosts that are not slaughtered. Once ideal chicken, pig, sheep, cattle, etc., candidates are identified, stem cells are harvested and then using electronic, chemical and biological culturing cultivated to create vast populations of cells of various tissue types from muscle to fat.
Turning stem cells from host animals into chicken pieces, beef steaks, pork and lamb chops, and other cuts of meat requires scaffoldings of bio-absorbable materials which form a framework for 3D printers to apply these cells as “ink” to create finished cuts. Getting the balance of fat to protein to give the 3D-printed meat the same look, texture, and taste is a challenge that the technology in time can meet. The company KFC has produced plant-based “chicken” nuggets and tried them on customers in the United States using Beyond Meats’ chicken products.
KFC Singapore has announced that it has debuted its first-ever meat-free alternative product called Zero Chicken Burger. It will be available for consumers at all KFC Singapore restaurants except the outlets at Singapore Polytechnic and Singapore Zoo.
Claiming to have a similar taste to that of chicken, the poultry-free Zero Chicken Burger showcases a mycoprotein meat-free patty made with Colonel Sanders’ original recipe of 11 herbs and spices. Mycoprotein is a protein derived from fungi popularised by Quorn for its meat-like texture. The burger preparation also includes lettuce and sliced cheese topped with mayonnaise and BBQ sauce making the sesame bun burger unsuitable for vegans.
he tiniest microchips yet can be made from graphene and other 2D-materials, using a form of ‘nano-origami’, physicists at the University of Sussex have found. This is the first time any researchers have done this, and it is covered in a paper published in the ACS Nano journal.
By creating kinks in the structure of graphene, researchers at the University of Sussex have made the nanomaterial behave like a transistor, and have shown that when a strip of graphene is crinkled in this way, it can behave like a microchip, which is around 100 times smaller than conventional microchips.
The base of the 2D-material with the white lines showing the structural kinks which modify the electrical properties mechanically.
“Using these nanomaterials will make our computer chips smaller and faster. It is absolutely critical that this happens as computer manufacturers are now at the limit of what they can do with traditional semiconducting technology. Ultimately, this will make our computers and phones thousands of times faster in the future.
“This kind of technology – “straintronics” using nanomaterials as opposed to electronics – allows space for more chips inside any device. Everything we want to do with computers – to speed them up – can be done by crinkling graphene like this.”
Dr Manoj Tripathi, Research Fellow in Nano-structured Materials at the University of Sussex and lead author on the paper, explained: “Instead of having to add foreign materials into a device, we’ve shown we can create structures from graphene and other 2D materials simply by adding deliberate kinks into the structure. By making this sort of corrugation we can create a smart electronic component, like a transistor, or a logic gate.”
eVTOL start-up, Archer, is to go public soon via a merger with “a blank-check company” backed by a USD3.8 billion deal including a major order and investment from United Airlines (UA), reports reuters.com. UA is among the first leading airlines to commit to the purchase of air taxis.
An Archer deal with Atlas Crest Investment announced this week, is expected to provide USD1.1 billion. These monies include USD600 million private investment from United Airlines Holdings, Stellantis, and investment banker Ken Moelis and Mubadala Capital, an arm of Abu Dhabi’s state investor Mubadala Investment Co.
This ‘heavyweight deal’ is the latest in an increasingly crowded market dominated by aerospace companies and tech start-ups. Archer explained it has received an order from United Airlines worth USD1 billion alongside an option for additional USD500 million of eVTOL aircraft. United is teaming up with regional carrier, Mesa Airlines, to buy 200 Archer eVTOL craft to fly people from cities to airports within the next four to five years. Raymond James, a financial analyst, pointed out, “Given the electric aircraft market is in its infancy, it will take time to refine the product and get the regulatory approvals.”
U.S Palo Alto-based Archer was only launched last May and is developing an eVTOL aircraft that can travel up to 60 miles at 150 mph (242 km/h). Yet, it is already attracting extraordinary interest from some of the biggest investors in the world. The company is backed by Marc Lore, former CEO of Walmart eCommerce U.S.
Cannabidiol (CBD), the main nonpsychoactive ingredient of the cannabis plant, can kill Gram-positive bacteria and, more impressively, Gram-negative bacteria, which excel at antibiotic resistance because they enjoy an extra layer of protection, an outer cell membrane. The ability of CBD to slay Gram-negative bacteria is a new finding, one reported by a team of scientists in Australia. According to the scientists, CBD analogs could constitute the first new class of antibiotics against Gram-negative bacteria that has been developed since the 1960s.
The new finding appeared in the journal Communications Biology, in an article titled, “The antimicrobial potential of cannabidiol.” According to this article, CBD not only killed Gram-positive bacteria such as highly resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Clostridioides difficile, it also showed potency against the Gram-negative bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Neisseria meningitides, Moraxella catarrhalis, and Legionella pneumophila. These Gram-negative bacteria are responsible for sexually transmitted gonorrhea, life-threatening meningitis, airway infections (such as bronchitis and pneumonia), and Legionnaires’ disease, respectively.
“Our results demonstrate that cannabidiol has excellent activity against biofilms, little propensity to induce resistance, and topical in vivo efficacy,” the authors of the article wrote. “Multiple mode-of-action studies point to membrane disruption as cannabidiol’s primary mechanism.”
The authors included scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia and Botanix Pharmaceuticals. At the University of Queensland’s Centre for Superbug Solutions, scientists led by associate professor Mark Blaskovich, PhD, mimicked a two-week patient treatment in laboratory models to see how fast the bacteria mutated to try to outwit CBD’s killing power.
“Cannabidiol showed a low tendency to cause resistance in bacteria even when we sped up potential development by increasing concentrations of the antibiotic during ‘treatment,’” said Blaskovich, the corresponding author of the article in Communications Biology. “We think that cannabidiol kills bacteria by bursting their outer cell membranes, but we don’t know yet exactly how it does that, and we need to do further research.”