Archive for August, 2016

Crispr-Cas9: The Molecular Scissors

Despite sounding like the latest brand of potato crispy snacks, the Crispr-Cas9 technique is actually nothing to do with food. In fact it is a gene editing technique that acts like a scissors at a molecular level, which can cut out sections of a person’s DNA and replace it with new ones.

Oncologists at West China Hospital of Sichuan University  are going to practice this gene editing on human volunteers for the first time this month. Crispr-Cas9 is actually short for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”. It was dubbed the breakthrough of the year 2015 by the US based journal, “Science”.

The gene editing trials will hope to cure lung cancer by removing a gene encoding a protein called PD-1. 10 volunteers have been picked who are already suffering from advanced lung cancer and have undergone chemo and radiation therapy already.

There likely to be many uncertainties associated with the science project as no one has undertaken an exercise of this nature before. The Chinese scientists will be monitoring all patients during the clinical trials diligently to ensure safety of the patients. If tests prove successful, there is further scope to expand the studies and allow more patients to undergo the potentially life altering treatment.

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3-D Food Printing

Think back to your favourite science fiction movie and you will be immediately reminded of the automatic food manufacturing unit in the futuristic home. A machine in the wall, or on the kitchen counter where you simply punch in a couple of buttons and piping hot food of your choice is assembled and served to you almost immediately.

Now guess what? Scientists at the Columbia University are  working on a project which will involve producing edible items using a 3-D printer. While the experimental science project is no where near ready to replace conventional cooking for the human household, it is getting interesting to see just how this concept will develop in the future.

Hod Lipson who is working on this project said that the food printers will not solve all our nutritional needs nor cook everything we should eat, but they will produce an infinite variety of customized, fresh, nutritional foods on demand, transforming digital recipes and basic ingredients supplied in frozen cartridges into healthy dishes that can supplement our daily intake.

Now does that sound like the scene in the sci fi movie coming true in real life? Sure does to me. Wonder what the 3-D printed food will actually taste like?! I can just see a speciality restaurant taking shape.

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Remote Pet Play

Looking after the welfare of a pet is a huge responsibility. It’s like taking care of a human baby. A puppy or a kitten is like a family member who never grows up. The pet is going to be dependent on you all of it’s short life. Of course the sheer joy that a pet brings into your life is more than enough reason to get one.

What happens when you have to leave the house for long periods of time for work each day? There is a good chance that you pet got bored and was hyperactive and ended up damaging something at home. From chewed up hair brushes to crashing television screens, pets have been known to cause all kinds of trouble when their owners are not at home.

Now wouldn’t it be great if you could keep your pet busy even when you are physically not present? That’s what the PlayDate allows you to do. It’s a ball for your pet to play with which has a inbuilt camera, speaker and microphone. It logs on to the WiFi and can be controlled by your smart phone via an app. This nifty little science project allows you to play remotely with your pet anytime during the day.

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Noise Cancelling Dentist Drill

One of the worst things about having to visit the dentist is the sound of the high speed drill that comes right into your mouth and causes your ears immense distress. The mere thought of the shrill sound is enough to give brave hearts nightmares. So it is indeed good news when a new invention can help cancel out that noise and make your visit to the dentist a little bit more peaceful.

Researchers at King’s College London, Brunel University and London South Bank University came together to work on this science project which was the brain child of Professor Brian Millar of King’s Dental Institute. The dentist was well aware of the psychological trauma that the noisy drill caused and was wondering if the principle of noise cancelling could help.

The sounds of the dental consulting room are converted into a digital signature, which is processed by a chip to monitor the sounds of the drill as recorded by a mike. Then the inverted sound is created to cancel the noise and thereby reduce the sound of the drill. The patient is still able to hear the voice of the dentist and not all noises disappear. It does however even have the option of playing an mp3 track to soothe patient.

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Robots in Walmart

While the world will eventually see AI robots serving people in supermarkets in the future, there is a single task that they are already quite proficient in performing. Shelf Stacking is a routine and monotonous job which can be adequately performed by robots. While it will take away low paying jobs at the supermarket from humans, it will also make it much easier and faster for the store to maintain it’s inventory.

4D Retail Technology is a Canadian firm that has come up with a Segway mounted robot that can inventory an entire supermarket in about an hour. The robot called the Space Genius uses AI to roll through the aisles, while digital cameras take pictures and run them through an object recognition software.

This allows the robot to determine exactly what all is available on the shelves and in what quantity. It then lets the stackers know what needs to be replaced, making it possible for the customer to always find what they need on the shelves of the supermarket when they visit. Now that is a science project which need a fair bit of fine tuning, but will become a major asset to the retail industry.

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World’s Most Advanced Prosthetic Hand

The primary reason why robotic arms were not as good as human hands was the ability of humans to pick up and manipulate very small objects with ease. An ease with which robots were unable to function till the team of researchers at Yale University and the University of Washington went ahead and developed this latest prosthetic hand.

Led by professor Zhe Hu, the team had 3D printed replicas of the bones found in a normal human hand. These pieces were then joined together by Spectra, a polyethene fibre. The contours of regular muscles found in a human hand were made up of sheets of rubber which were laser cut for precision.

Now that they have succeeded in producing amazing manual dexterity in the prosthetic hand, the team is now working on covering this framework with actual human skin tissue. Should they succeed to make the human tissue grow on the frame of this prosthetic hand, it will be a very life like prosthetic for people who have lost a hand.

In addition this science project has the additional benefit of being used as a remotely operated hand which can be asked to carry out sensitive tasks in a hostile environment. Think sending the hand out  instead of the full astronaut or maybe operating parts of a nuclear power plant.

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