NASA has announced two new potential robotic missions — One is to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, since scientists think comets contain materials from our early solar system, such as ancient ice, rock, and even complex carbon-based molecules. The other heads to Saturn’s moon Titan. Titan is the second-largest moon in the solar system, larger even than planet Mercury, and has a dense atmosphere. These missions are the finalists from 12 proposals submitted to the New Frontiers program back in April. Only one of them will move forward and launch in the mid-2020s.
~ I’m for Titan, which may even host life and structures formed from vinyl cyanide.
Consumers in Germany were paid to use electricity this holiday season — The cost of electricity in Germany has decreased so dramatically in the past few days that major consumers have actually been paid to use power from the grid. While “negative pricing” is not an everyday occurrence in the country, it does occur from time to time, and did this past holiday weekend.
~ Merry Christmas! Let’s put another roast on.
Crispr humans may be on the way — This was the year that prediction felt like it was starting to come true. US scientists used the CRISPR gene editing technique to treat a common genetic heart disease in a human embryo. Many more diseases were successfully treated in mice using CRISPR. Hell, a particularly enthusiastic biohacker even spontaneously injected himself with muscle-growth genes while giving a talk at a conference.
But if 2017 was the year that the potential of CRISPR began to come into focus, 2018 may be the year that potential begins to be realised.
Next year, the first human trials of CRISPR-based treatments in the US and Europe are slated to begin.
~ Crispr humans won’t need ironing.
But Crispr’s days are numbered — In less than five years, the gene-editing technology known as Crispr revolutionized the face and pace of modern biology. Since its ability to find, remove, and replace genetic material was first reported in 2012, scientists have published more than 5000 papers mentioning Crispr. Biomedical researchers are embracing it to create better models of disease. And countless companies have spun up to commercialise new drugs, therapies, foods, chemicals, and materials based on the technology. But Crispr Classic is somewhat clunky, unreliable, and a bit dangerous: it can’t bind to just any place in the genome. It sometimes cuts in the wrong places and it has no off-switch. So scientists are working to tweak the technology.
~ Bring on the crisper Crispr!
Naughty Neanderthals — Qiaomei Fu is a leader among a cadre of scientists applying modern, next-generation gene-sequencing techniques to the study of ancient humans. The geneticist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing, she has so far unearthed a prehistory shaped by dramatic displacement, migration — and interspecies action.
Qiaomei Fu is regarded as one of the young stars of genetic anthropology, and has published a string of studies shedding light on our ancestors’ raunchy pasts. It seems that sex between modern humans and Neanderthals went on for longer than we’d previously thought. Fu has now founded her own lab in China.
~ Some people find them attractive to this day.