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Biotech

'Longest Living Human' Says He Is Ready For Death At 145 (telegraph.co.uk) 163

Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes an article from The Telegraph: An Indonesian man who claims to be the longest living human in recorded history has described how he "just wants to die". Mbah Gotho, from Sragen in central Java, was born on December 31, 1870, according to the date of birth on his identity card. Now officials at the local record office say they have finally been able to confirm that remarkable date as genuine. If independently confirmed, the findings would make Mr Gotho a staggering 145 years old -- and the longest lived human in recorded history.
"One of Mr Gotho's grandsons said his grandfather has been preparing for his death ever since he was 122," according to the article. Though he lived long enough to meet his great-great grandchildren, he's already outlived four wives, all 10 of his brothers and sisters, and all of his children.
Democrats

US Patients Battle EpiPen Prices And Regulations By Shopping Online (cnn.com) 351

"The incredible increase in the cost of EpiPens, auto-injectors that can stop life-threatening emergencies caused by allergic reactions, has hit home on Capitol Hill," reports CNN. Slashdot reader Applehu Akbar reports that the argument "has now turned into civil war in the US Senate": One senator's daughter relies on Epi-Pen, while another senator's daughter is CEO of Mylan, the single company that is licensed to sell these injectors in the US. On the worldwide market there is no monopoly on these devices... Is it finally time to allow Americans to go online and fill their prescriptions on the world market?
Time reports some patients are ordering cheaper EpiPens from Canada and other countries online, "an act that the FDA says is technically illegal and potentially dangerous." But the FDA also has "a backlog of about 4,000 generic drugs" awaiting FDA approval, reports PRI, noting that in the meantime prices have also increased for drugs treating cancer, hepatitis C, and high cholesterol. In Australia, where the drug costs just $38, one news outlet reports that the U.S. "is the only developed nation on Earth which allows pharmaceutical companies to set their own prices."
Biotech

Can Cow Backpacks Reduce Global Methane Emissions? (bloomberg.com) 189

Slashdot reader schwit1 shares an article from Bloomberg which argues "It's time to have a conversation about flatulent cows." "Enteric fermentation," or livestock's digestive process, accounts for 22 percent of all U.S. methane emissions, and the manure they produce makes up eight percent more, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency... Methane, like carbon, is a greenhouse gas, but methane's global warming impact per molecule is 25 times greater than carbon's, according to the EPA.
Cargill has tried capturing some of the methane released from cow manure by using domed lagoons, while researchers at Danone yogurt discovered they could reduce methane emissions up to 30% by feeding cows a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (mostly from flax seed). But now Argentina researchers are testing plastic "methane backpacks" which they strap on to the back of cows, and according to the article "have been able to extract 300 liters of methane a day, enough to power a car or refrigerator."
Earth

Wrong Chemical Dumped Into Olympic Pools Made Them Green (arstechnica.com) 180

Z00L00K writes: [Ars Technica reports:] "After a week of trying to part with green tides in two outdoor swimming pools, Olympic officials over the weekend wrung out a fresh mea culpa and yet another explanation -- neither of which were comforting. According to officials, a local pool-maintenance worker mistakenly added 160 liters of hydrogen peroxide to the waters on August 5, which partially neutralized the chlorine used for disinfection. With chlorine disarmed, the officials said that 'organic compounds' -- i.e. algae and other microbes -- were able to grow and turn the water a murky green in the subsequent days. The revelation appears to contradict officials' previous assurances that despite the emerald hue, which first appeared Tuesday, the waters were safe." I would personally have avoided using the green pools, but that's just me. "Hydrogen peroxide is sometimes used in pools -- often to de-chlorinate them," reports Ars. "Basically, the chemical, a common household disinfectant, is a weak acid that reacts with chlorine and chlorine-containing compounds to release oxygen and form other chlorine-containing compounds. Those may not be good at disinfecting pools, but they still may be picked up by monitoring systems. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used to disinfect pools but must be maintained in the waters -- not a one-time dumping -- and can't be used in combination with chlorine." Apparently, the green water irritates eyes and smells like farts.
The Military

How The Navy Tried To Turn Sharks into Torpedos (undark.org) 60

Long-time Slashdot reader v3rgEz writes: Documents recently declassified show one of the odder experimental weapons developed after World War II: Weaponized sharks. Guided by sharp electric shocks, the sharks were trained to deliver explosive payloads -- essentially turning them into living, breathing, remote-controlled torpedoes that could be put to use in the Pacific Theater.
Following years of research on "shark repellent," the Navy spent 13 years building a special head gear for sharks which sensed the shark's direction and tried to deliver shocks if the sharks strayed off-course. The journalist who tracked down details of "Project Headgear" published the recently-declassified information on MIT's journalism site Undark, noting that "The shark wasn't so much a 'torpedo' as a suicide bomber... "
Medicine

8 Paralyzed Patients Learn To Walk Again Using Virtual Reality (gizmodo.com) 17

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: In a new study published in Scientific Reports, eight patients paralyzed with spinal cord injuries exhibited partial restoration of muscle control and sensations in their lower limbs following an extensive training regimen with non-invasive brain-controlled robotics and a virtual reality system. Developed by Duke University neuroscience Miguel Nicolelis and colleagues, the system tapped into the patients' own brain activity to simulate full control of their legs, causing the injured parts of their spinal cord to re-engage. Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) work by establishing direct communication between the brain and a computer, which then allows patients to control external devices with their thoughts, including prosthetic limbs or exoskeletons. Earlier this year, Nicolelis showed that it was possible for a monkey to control a wheelchair with its mind, though with an implanted brain chip. In the new experiment, the system non-invasively recorded hundreds of brain patterns emitted by the brain, collecting these motor commands from those signals, and then translating them into movements. During the year long experiment, Nicolelis and his team investigated the ways in which BMI-based training could influence the ability of paraplegics to walk using a brain-controlled exoskeleton. To augment this process, they turned to virtual reality, which assisted with visualization and mind-body awareness. While in a virtual reality environment, and when hooked up to the exoskeletons, the patients could see virtual representations of the own bodies, and even receive tactile feedback.
Businesses

Google Ventures CEO and Founder Bill Maris Is Leaving (recode.net) 13

According to a report from Recode, the founder and CEO of Google Ventures (GV), Bill Maris, is leaving the firm and its parent company, Alphabet. Recode reports: "Sources say Maris is being replaced by David Krane, a managing partner for the venture arm and one of the earliest corporate communications managers at Google. Maris, an early web entrepreneur, founded Google's venture capital arm in 2009 and quickly built it into a formidable presence in Silicon Valley. In 2015, the firm managed upwards of $2.4 billion in capital. Although GV cut back on investments in Europe and with early stage companies, the firm is still willing to cut checks. For the first six months of this year, it passed Intel Capital as the most active corporate venture arm, according to CB Insights. Under Maris, GV has had some high-profile misses -- most notably, the disastrous app Secret. But those were outweighed by early bets in gigantic startups like Uber, Nest, Slack and Jet.com, which just went to Walmart for $3 billion. Lately, GV has upped its investment in startups working on health and biotech, a strong interest of Maris's." Recode followed up with Maris in a separate report and asked him several questions. When asked why he is leaving, Maris said, "I'm leaving because everything is great."
Earth

6 Million Americans Exposed To High Levels of Chemicals In Drinking Water, Says Study (businessinsider.com) 166

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: A new study out Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters looked at a national database that monitors chemical levels in drinking water and found that 6 million people were being exposed to levels of a certain chemical that exceed what the Environmental Protection Agency considers healthy. The chemicals, known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, are synthetic and resistant to water and oil, which is why they're used in things like pizza boxes and firefighting foam. They're built to withstand the environment. But PFASs also accumulate in people and animals and have been observationally linked to an increased risk of health problems including cancer. And they can't be easily avoided, like with a water filter, for example. You can view the chart to see the tested areas of the U.S. where PFASs exceed 70 ng/L, which is what's considered a healthy lifetime exposure.
Biotech

Scientist Who Sparked 'A Revolution in Chemistry' Dies at 70 (washingtonpost.com) 41

Ahmed Zewail pioneered a technique for using lasers to monitor chemical reactions, which the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said sparked "a revolution in chemistry and adjacent sciences." Slashdot reader Provocateur writes, "The Washington Post has the story...citing his prizewinning research in femtochemistry..."

Slashdot covered Zewail's Nobel prize in 1999, as well as his 2001 claim to have resolved Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. "Mathematics, mechanics, and chemistry were among the fields that gave me a special satisfaction..." he says in the Post's article, adding "for reasons unknown (to me), my mind kept asking 'how' and 'why.' "
Medicine

Stem Cell Researchers Can Now Combine Animal and Human Embryos In The US (sciencemag.org) 92

Slashdot reader sciencehabit quotes an article from Science magazine: The National Institutes of Health announced that the agency soon expects to lift a moratorium on funding for controversial experiments that add human stem cells to animal embryos, creating an organism that is part animal, part human. Instead, these so-called chimera studies will undergo an extra layer of ethical review but may ultimately be allowed to proceed.

Although scientists who support such research welcomed the move, some were left trying to parse exactly what the draft policy will mean. It is "a step in the right direction," says Sean Wu, a stem cell researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who co-authored a letter to Science last year opposing the moratorium. But "we still don't know what the outcome will be case by case," he adds. However, some see the proposal as opening up research in some areas that had been potentially off-limits.

Experiments could include using animals to grow human organs for transplants, although according to the article, some scientists "worry that the experiments could produce, say, a supersmart mouse."
Earth

Florida District Considers Releasing GMO Mosquitos After Cayman Islands Experiment (accuweather.com) 144

It's already underway just 364 miles south of Florida, according to the Associated Press. "The first wave of genetically modified mosquitoes were released Wednesday in the Cayman Islands as part of a new effort to control the insect that spreads Zika and other viruses," according to an article shared by Slashdot reader Okian Warrior: Genetically altered male mosquitoes, which don't bite but are expected to mate with females to produce offspring that die before reaching adulthood, were released in the West Bay area of Grand Cayman Island, according to a joint statement from the Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit and British biotech firm Oxitec.
"What could possibly go wrong?" asks The Atlantic, citing history's great pest-control fails in Hawaii and Australia. But a similar release is already being considered in the Florida Keys, though Accuweather reports it apparently depends on the results of a November referendum which could also "affect the likelihood of Oxitec trials taking place in other parts of the United States."
Science

Scientists Argue the US Ban on Human Gene Editing Will Leave It Behind (vice.com) 183

Alex Pearlman, reporting for Motherboard: As the biotech revolution accelerates globally, the U.S. could be getting left behind on key technological advances: namely, human genetic modification. A Congressional ban on human germline modification has "drawn new lines in the sand" on gene editing legislation, argues a paper published today in Science by Harvard law and bioethics professor I. Glenn Cohen and leading biologist Eli Adashi of Brown University. They say that without a course correction, "the United States is ceding its leadership in this arena to other nations." Germline gene modification is the act of making heritable changes to early stage human embryos or sex cells that can be passed down to the next generation, and it will be banned in the US. This is different from somatic gene editing, which is editing cells of humans that have already been born. The ban, added by the House of Representatives as a rider to the fiscal year 2016 budget, could have far-reaching implications if it continues to be annually renewed, according to the authors. It "undermines ongoing conversations on the possibility of human germline modification" and also affects "ongoing efforts by the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] to review the prevention of mitochondrial DNA diseases," including some kinds of hearing and vision impairments, among other serious illnesses that tend to develop in young children.
Biotech

Google's Alphabet and GSK Forge $715 Million Bioelectronic Firm To Fight Diseases Without Meds (reuters.com) 27

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Google parent Alphabet's life sciences unit are creating a new company focused on fighting diseases by targeting electrical signals in the body, jump-starting a novel field of medicine called bioelectronics. Verily Life Sciences -- known as Google's life sciences unit until last year -- and Britain's biggest drugmaker will together contribute 540 million pounds ($715 million) over seven years to Galvani Bioelectronics, they said on Monday. The new company, owned 55 percent by GSK and 45 percent by Verily, will be based at GSK's Stevenage research center north of London, with a second research hub in South San Francisco. Galvani will develop miniaturized, implantable devices that can modify electrical nerve signals. The aim is to modulate irregular or altered impulses that occur in many illnesses. GSK believes chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and asthma could be treated using these tiny devices, which consist of a electronic collar that wraps around nerves. Kris Famm, GSK's head of bioelectronics research and president of Galvani, said the first bioelectronic medicines using these implants to stimulate nerves could be submitted for regulatory approval by around 2023. GSK first unveiled its ambitions in bioelectronics in a paper in the journal Nature three years ago and believes it is ahead of Big Pharma rivals in developing medicines that use electrical impulses rather than traditional chemicals or proteins.
Biotech

Elizabeth Holmes Finally Releases Theranos Data, Including A 'miniLab' (cnbc.com) 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes Monday outlined the steps she will take to increase transparency regarding the efficacy of the company's testing methods. Speaking at the conference of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, Holmes said that Theranos will partner with other institutions "to validate and publish our results." And Holmes' planned presentation includes research conducted under Institutional Review Board-approved protocols. The company also said it intends to submit its results to a publication for peer-review. Holmes' presentation includes a slate of new products such as its miniLab, a robot that can process samples that normally require manual processing in traditional protocols. Theranos seems to be going back to the research and development drawing board, focusing on these new products instead of its much-debated small-volume blood collection technology. Theranos' miniLab is a self-contained laboratory that allows a robot to run a number of tests on samples. The miniLab contains different modules that allow it to conduct a series of tasks that traditionally would require multiple, separate machines. Theranos used its miniLab to run its Zika nucleic acid-amplification-based assay using finger-prick samples the company collected, some in the Dominican Republic. The samples were shipped back to Palo Alto, California, for analysis. Holmes said the results "demonstrate the miniLab's ability to perform automated, integrated molecular testing comparable to methods that require highly-trained personnel."
Government

Florida Regulators OK Plan To Increase Toxins In Water (washingtontimes.com) 182

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Washington Times: Despite the objection of environmental groups, state environmental regulators voted Tuesday to approve new standards that will increase the amount of cancer-causing toxins allowed in Florida's rivers and streams under a plan the state says will protect more Floridians than current standards. The Environmental Regulation Commission voted 3-2 to approve a proposal that would increase the number of regulated chemicals from 54 to 92 allowed in rivers, streams and other sources of drinking water, news media outlets reported. The Miami Herald reports that under the proposal, acceptable levels of toxins will be increased for more than two dozen known carcinogens and decreased for 13 currently regulated chemicals. State officials back the plan because it places new rules on 39 other chemicals that are not currently regulated. The standards still must be reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but the Scott administration came under withering criticism for pushing the proposal at this time. That's because there are two vacancies on the commission, including one for a commissioner who is supposed to represent the environmental community.
Biotech

'Sister Clones' Of Dolly The Sheep Have Aged Like Any Other Sheep, Study Says (npr.org) 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: About four years ago, Kevin Sinclair inherited an army of clones. "Daisy, Debbie, Denise and Diana," says Sinclair, a developmental biologist at the University of Nottingham in England. "'Sister clones' probably best describes them," Sinclair says. "They actually come from the exactly the same batch of cells that Dolly came from." In an article out Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, Sinclair and his colleagues write that the ewes' age, along with their strapping health, might be a reason for people to start feeling more optimistic about what cloning can do. Dolly's life did not turn out as scientists in the cloning field hoped it would. She died young -- 6 1/2 -- with a nasty lung virus. "That was really just bad luck," Sinclair says, and had "nothing to do" with the fact that Dolly was a clone. It was a daunting concept for those in the cloning field, because, says Sinclair, "If you're going to create these animals, they should be normal in every respect. They should be just as healthy as any other animal that's conceived naturally. If that is not the case, then it raises serious ethical and welfare concerns about creating these animals in the first place." But, the good health of the 13 clones in the Nottingham herd suggest better prospects for the procedure. Sinclair and his colleagues evaluated the animals' blood pressure, metabolism, heart function, muscles and joints, looking for signs of premature aging. They even fattened them up (since obesity is a risk factor for metabolic problems including diabetes) and gave them the standard tests to gauge how their bodies would handle glucose and insulin. The results? Normal, normal, normal. "There is nothing to suggest that these animals were anything other than perfectly normal," says Sinclair. They had slight signs of arthritis (Debbie in particular), but not enough to cause problems. "If I put them in with a bunch of other sheep, you would never be able to identify them," he says.
Biotech

Kurzweil Argues Technology Improves The World, Compares DNA to Code (geekwire.com) 203

Futurist Ray Kurzweil told a Seattle conference specific ways in which technology is already improving our lives. For example, while there's a general perception that the world's getting worse, "What's actually happening is our information about what's wrong in the world is getting better. A century ago, there would be a battle that wiped out the next village, you'd never even hear about it." An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes two of Kurzweil's other interesting insights: "We're only crowded because we've crowded ourselves into cities. Try taking a train trip across the United States, or Europe or Asia or anywhere in the world. Ninety-nine percent of the land is not used... we don't want to use it because you don't want to be out in the boondocks if you don't have people to work and play with. That's already changing now that we have some level of virtual communication..."

[And on the potential of human genomics] "It's not just collecting what is basically the object code of life that is expanding exponentially. Our ability to understand it, to reverse-engineer it, to simulate it, and most importantly to reprogram this outdated software is also expanding exponentially. Genes are software programs. It's not a metaphor. They are sequences of data. But they evolved many years ago, many tens of thousands of years ago..."

Security

Can Iris-Scanning ID Systems Tell the Difference Between a Live and Dead Eye? (ieee.org) 93

the_newsbeagle writes: Iris scanning is increasingly being used for biometric identification because it's fast, accurate, and relies on a body part that's protected and doesn't change over time. You may have seen such systems at a border crossing recently or at a high-security facility, and the Indian government is currently collecting iris scans from all its 1.2 billion citizens to enroll them in a national ID system. But such scanners can sometimes be spoofed by a high-quality paper printout or an image stuck on a contact lens.

Now, new research has shown that post-mortem eyes can be used for biometric identification for hours or days after death, despite the decay that occurs. This means an eye could theoretically be plucked from someone's head and presented to an iris scanner. The same researcher who conducted that post-mortem study is also looking for solutions, and is working on iris scanners that can detect the "liveness" of an eye. His best method so far relies on the unique way each person's pupil responds to a flash of light, although he notes some problems with this approach.

China

CRISPR: Chinese Scientists To Pioneer Gene-Editing Trial On Humans (theguardian.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A team of Chinese scientists will be the first in the world to apply the revolutionary gene-editing technique known as CRISPR on human subjects. Led by Lu You, an oncologist at Sichuan University's West China hospital in Chengdu, China, the team plan to start testing cells modified with CRISPR on patients with lung cancer in August, according to the journal Nature. CRISPR is a game-changer in bioscience; a groundbreaking technique which can find, cut out and replace specific parts of DNA using a specially programmed enzyme named Cas9. Its ramifications are next to endless, from changing the color of mouse fur to designing malaria-free mosquitoes and pest-resistant crops to correcting a wide swath of genetic diseases like sickle-cell anaemia in humans. The Sichuan University trial, it is important to note, does not edit the germ-line; its effects will not be hereditary. What the researchers plan to do is enroll patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, Nature reported, and for whom other treatment options -- including chemotherapy and radiotherapy -- have failed. They will then extract immune cells from the patients' blood and use CRISPR to add a new genetic sequence which will help the patient's immune system target and destroy the cancer. The cells will then be re-introduced into the patients' bloodstream. The Guardian does note that CRISPR was approved for human trials in the U.S., but if it begins on schedule in August the Sichuan University study will beat them to the punch of being the first of its kind.
Biotech

Scientists Find Chemical-Free Way To Extend Milk's Shelf Life For Up To 3 Weeks (digitaltrends.com) 258

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Digital Trends: Researchers at Purdue University and the University of Tennessee have found a non-chemical way to extend regular milk's shelf life to around 2-3 weeks, and without affecting the nutrients or flavor. The technology they've developed involves increasing the temperature of milk by just 10 degrees for less than a second, which is well below the 70-degree Celsius threshold needed for pasteurization. That quick heat blast is still able to eliminate more than 99 percent of the bacteria left from pasteurization. "The developed technology uses low temperature, short time (LTST) in a process that disperses milk in the form of droplets with low heat/pressure variation over a short treatment time in conjunction with pasteurization," Bruce Applegate, Purdue's associate professor in the Department of Food Science, explained to Digital Trends. "The resultant product was subjected to a taste panel and participants had equal or greater preference for the LTST pasteurized milk compared to normally pasteurized milk. The shelf was determined to be a minimum of two weeks longer than the standard shelf life from pasteurization alone." As for whether or not this method will make its way to store shelves, it won't in the near future. "Currently an Ohio-based milk processor is using this technology and distributing the milk," Applegate says. "The unit is approved for processing milk in Ohio and distribution nationwide. The product is currently being distributed, however it has not been labeled as extended shelf life milk. Once the commercial application is validated the milk will be labelled with the extended shelf life." Scientists from Duke University believe there may be a large source of hydrogen gas under the ocean, caused by rocks forming from fast-spreading tectonic plates.

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