Category Archives: General

Congratulations to all the Breakthrough Prize winners

Here’s a list of the winners in Life Sciences. For more, see the press release.

“The 2015 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences

The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences honors transformative advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life, with one prize dedicated to work that contributes to the understanding of Parkinson’s disease.
Alim Louis Benabid, Joseph Fourier University, for the discovery and pioneering work on the development of high-frequency deep brain stimulation (DBS), which has revolutionized the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
C. David Allis, The Rockefeller University, for the discovery of covalent modifications of histone proteins and their critical roles in the regulation of gene expression and chromatin organization, advancing the understanding of diseases ranging from birth defects to cancer.
Victor Ambros, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Gary Ruvkun, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, for the discovery of a new world of genetic regulation by microRNAs, a class of tiny RNA molecules that inhibit translation or destabilize complementary mRNA targets. Each received a $3 million award.
Jennifer Doudna, University of California, Berkeley, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, Helmholtz Center for Infection Research and Umeå University, for harnessing an ancient mechanism of bacterial immunity into a powerful and general technology for editing genomes, with wide-ranging implications across biology and medicine. Each received a $3 million award.”

Learning from girls who don’t age

This is a really well done story about children with ‘syndrome X,’ a condition of severe developmental arrest. Perhaps the most famous of these cases was Brooke Greenberg, who as a teenager still looked like an infant. Genome sequencing will likely reveal the mutations at the core of this disorder, and aging theorists are interested in it since it may offer clues as to how to slow aging.

Antibiotics cause weight gain in both animals and humans

A fascinating story from the NYT:

“[D]ecades of agricultural research has shown that antibiotics seem to flip a switch in young animals’ bodies, helping them pack on pounds.”

“In the 1950s, a team of scientists fed a steady diet of antibiotics to schoolchildren in Guatemala for more than a year,while Charles H. Carter, a doctor in Florida, tried a similar regimen on mentally disabled kids. Could the children, like the farm animals, grow larger? Yes, they could.”

Blog re-design!

Dear readers,

I hope you like the new design of this site. All the previous functions are still here, but it’s been updated with better colors and code.

:)

Sonia

Living to 100 and Beyond

The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt of 100 Plus today, accompanied by a video (embedded below). Reading it is a good way to discover if you’ll like the entire book.

Singularity University expands into Brazil

The SU Blog says: “From its founding, a goal of Singularity University has been to spread its wealth of information beyond the gates of its headquarters at NASA Ames Research Park. Now, just over a year since kicking off its first program with GSP-09, SU is launching its first international program – in Brazil!”

I’m proud to be on the board of Trustees. Here’s Chairman Peter Diamandis discussing the move in English with Portuguese subtitles:

How to Solve the Net Neutrality Issue

I was stunned last week when I saw many prominent tech VCs and CEOs from Silicon Valley sign letters endorsing the FCC’s move towards Net Neutrality, since, if the rule making goes ahead, it will mean regulating the Internet. I happen to know a bunch of these folks, so I decided to call them to see if they really were endorsing regulations for the Net or if something else was going on. Something else was going on. Because the term “Net neutrality” is notoriously difficult to define, and is often put in terms of “free and open,” some people signed the letters without realizing it could lead to new regulations for the Information superhighway (these are busy people who spend more time running their companies than following the ins and outs of the FCC). That said, unsurprisingly, there was a lot of suspicion regarding the phone and cable companies. After many conversations, here is a potential solution that could put an end to Net neutrality games and ensure a bright future for the Net.

The upshot for those of you who don’t want to follow the link:

“If the tech industry and the major ISPs want to avoid government regulation and keep the Internet thriving, they need to come up with a way to solve the disclosure problem on their own in the marketplace.

Verizon has already started taking steps toward a more constructive stance by co-signing a letter with Google supporting an open Internet. Now it is time for all companies involved to take it to the next level. If that happens, U.S. innovators will be much safer from the claims of militant rent-seeking activists and regulators who want to get their hands on the Net.

The creation of TRUSTe helped the tech industry mobilize and avoid heavy-handed privacy regulations like those that befell Europe. Now it is time for ISPs to support an independent, private body to monitor neutrality issues. Such a move would deflate the pro-regulation lobby and allay the concerns of the industry that is driving U.S. growth.”

Facial bones grown from stem cells

This is a fabulous demonstration of how stem cells were used to grow cheek bones for a boy born without them due to a genetic condition.

As with many stem cell procedures, the stem cells were injected into a scaffold (in this case donated dead bone) and the cells brought the bone back to life. A detailed explanation of the process can be found at the Singularity Hub (one of my favorite sites).

Caloric restriction experiments in humans

This is an interesting piece in the NYT on caloric restriction research in humans. The researchers are studying biomarkers in humans who commit to caloric restriction for two years. It would take too long to do a longitudinal study on humans, so this is the next best thing. Surprisingly, the participants actually seem to be enjoying it. The Times quotes one of the subjects as saying this:

“I’ve never gotten so much pleasure in my life,” Beggs told the group, adding that it only confirmed his resolve. “I’m wearing a medium shirt now. I haven’t worn a medium since high school.”

If that’s how people feel when they practice CR properly, one can imagine that this may be an opportunity for an enterprising chef to come up with a “caloric restriction” food service…

New mathematical model may help reverse-engineer the brain

From Rockefeller University via Kurzweil AI.Net:

“The human brain is made up of 100 billion neurons — live wires that must be kept in delicate balance to stabilize the world’s most magnificent computing organ. Too much excitement and the network will slip into an apoplectic, uncomprehending chaos. Too much inhibition and it will flatline. A new mathematical model describes how the trillions of interconnections among neurons could maintain a stable but dynamic relationship that leaves the brain sensitive enough to respond to stimulation without veering into a blind seizure.”

[…]

Explaining the longevity gap b/w the US and other affluent countries

This is one way.

Dr. Samuel Preston (after whom the Preston curve is named) says that the US health care system isn’t the reason for the longevity divide between the US (78 years) and countries like Japan (83 years). Instead, he says, other factors like obesity and the formerly heavy smoking rate among Americans are to blame. The NYT’s John Tierney has a nice summary of the paper here.

JOB OPENING: EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMANITY+

I am on the board of H+ and we are currently looking for a new ED. If you’re interested in science, technology, and its impact on human beings, this would be a good position for you. More details can be found here.

Living in Andorra is good for your health

Here’s an interesting story at CNN on why Andorrans live longer than anyone else in the world. It’s basically what you’d expect: exercise, low stress, lots of friends, healthy food. The piece didn’t mention the elevation, but anyone who has been there knows it is incredibly high in the mountains (and they grow tobacco).

Countries with the top 10 average life span (according to the US Census estimates)

Andorra 82.5
Japan 82.1
San Marino 82
Singapore 82
Australia 81.6
Canada 81.2
France 81
Sweden 80.9
Switzerland 80.8
Iceland 80.7

Lowest 10:

Central African Republic 44.5
Malawi 43.8
Djibouti 43.4
Liberia 41.8
Mozambique 41.2
Sierra Leone 41.2
Lesotho 40.4
Zambia 38.6
Angola 38.2
Swaziland 31.9