Connect with us

This article first appeared in The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly biotech newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Thursday, and read articles like this first, sign up here 

Six weeks ago, I pre-ordered the “Firefly Petunia,” a houseplant engineered with genes from bioluminescent fungi so that it glows in the dark. 

After years of writing about anti-GMO sentiment in the US and elsewhere, I felt it was time to have some fun with biotech. These plants are among the first direct-to-consumer GM organisms you can buy, and they certainly seem like the coolest.

But when I unboxed my two petunias this week, they were in bad shape, with rotted leaves. And in a day, they were dead crisps. My first attempt to do biotech at home is a total bust, and it cost me $84, shipping included.

My plants did arrive in a handsome black box with neon lettering that alerted me to the living creature within. The petunias, about five inches tall, were each encased in a see-through plastic pod to keep them upright. Government warnings on the back of the box assured me they were free of Japanese beetles, sweet potato weevils, the snail Helix aspera, and gypsy moths.

The problem was when I opened the box. As it turns out, I left for a week’s vacation in Florida the same day that Light Bio, the startup selling the petunia, sent me an email saying “Glowing plants headed your way,” with a UPS tracking number. I didn’t see the email, and even if I had, I wasn’t there to receive them.

That meant my petunias sat in darkness for seven days. The box became their final sarcophagus.

My fault? Perhaps. But I had no idea when Light Bio would ship my order. And others have had similar experiences. Mat Honan, the editor in chief of MIT Technology Review, told me his petunia arrived the day his family flew to Japan. Luckily, a house sitter feeding his lizard eventually opened the box, and Mat reports the plant is still clinging to life in his yard.

Dead potted petunia next to it's packaging, which reads
One of the ill-fated petunia plants and its sarcophagus. Credit: Antonio RegaladoANTONIO REGALADO

But what about the glow? How strong is it?

Mat says so far, he doesn’t notice any light coming from the plant, even after carrying it into a pitch-dark bathroom. But buyers may have to wait a bit to see anything. It’s the flowers that glow most brightly, and you may need to tend your petunia for a couple of weeks before you get blooms and see the mysterious effect.

“I had two flowers when I opened mine, but sadly they dropped and I haven’t got to see the brightness yet. Hoping they will bloom again soon,” says Kelsey Wood, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Davis.

She would like to use the plants in classes she teaches at the university. “It’s been a dream of synthetic biologists for so many years to make a bioluminescent plant,” she says. “But they couldn’t get it bright enough to see with the naked eye.”

Others are having success right out of the box. That’s the case with Tharin White, publisher of EYNTK.info, a website about theme parks. “It had a lot of protection around it and a booklet to explain what you needed to do to help it,” says White. “The glow is strong, if you are [in] total darkness. Just being in a dark room, you can’t really see it. That being said, I didn’t expect a crazy glow, so [it] meets my expectations.”

That’s no small recommendation coming from White, who has been a “cast member” at Disney parks and an operator of the park’s Avatar ride, named after the movie whose action takes place on a planet where the flora glows. “I feel we are leaps closer to Pandora—The World of Avatar being reality,” White posted to his X account.

Chronobiologist Brian Hodge also found success by resettling his petunia immediately into a larger eight-inch pot, giving it flower food and a good soaking, and putting it in the sunlight. “After a week or so it really started growing fast, and the buds started to show up around day 10. Their glow is about what I expected. It is nothing like a neon light but more of a soft gentle glow,” says

Read More

————

By: Antonio Regalado
Title: My biotech plants are dead
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/04/26/1091859/my-biotech-plants-are-dead/
Published Date: Fri, 26 Apr 2024 10:00:00 +0000

Continue Reading

Tech

This grim but revolutionary DNA technology is changing how we respond to mass disasters

2RH3G6B

Seven days

No matter who he called—his mother, his father, his brother, his cousins—the phone would just go to voicemail. Cell service was out around Maui as devastating wildfires swept through the Hawaiian island. But as Raven Imperial kept hoping for someone to answer, he couldn’t keep a terrifying thought from sneaking into his mind: What if his family members had perished in the blaze? What if all of them were gone?

Hours passed; then days. All Raven knew at that point was this: there had been a wildfire on August 8, 2023, in Lahaina, where his multigenerational, tight-knit family lived. But from where he was currently based in Northern California, Raven was in the dark. Had his family evacuated? Were they hurt? He watched from afar as horrifying video clips of Front Street burning circulated online.

2RH3G6B 1
Much of the area around Lahaina’s Pioneer Mill Smokestack was totally destroyed by wildfire.ALAMY

The list of missing residents meanwhile climbed into the hundreds.

Raven remembers how frightened he felt: “I thought I had lost them.”

Raven had spent his youth in a four-bedroom, two-bathroom, cream-colored home on Kopili Street that had long housed not just his immediate family but also around 10 to 12 renters, since home prices were so high on Maui. When he and his brother, Raphael Jr., were kids, their dad put up a basketball hoop outside where they’d shoot hoops with neighbors. Raphael Jr.’s high school sweetheart, Christine Mariano, later moved in, and when the couple had a son in 2021, they raised him there too.

From the initial news reports and posts, it seemed as if the fire had destroyed the Imperials’ entire neighborhood near the Pioneer Mill Smokestack—a 225-foot-high structure left over from the days of Maui’s sugar plantations, which Raven’s grandfather had worked on as an immigrant from the Philippines in the mid-1900s.

Then, finally, on August 11, a call to Raven’s brother went through. He’d managed to get a cell signal while standing on the beach.

“Is everyone okay?” Raven asked.

“We’re just trying to find Dad,” Raphael Jr. told his brother.

Raven Imperial sitting in the grass
From his current home in Northern California, Raven Imperial spent days not knowing what had happened to his family in Maui.WINNI WINTERMEYER

In the three days following the fire, the rest of the family members had slowly found their way back to each other. Raven would learn that most of his immediate family had been separated for 72 hours: Raphael Jr. had been marooned in Kaanapali, 4 miles north of Lahaina; Christine had been stuck in Wailuku, more than 20 miles away; both young parents had been separated from their son, who escaped with Christine’s parents. Raven’s mother, Evelyn, had also been in Kaanapali, though not where Raphael Jr. had been.

But no one was in contact with Rafael Sr. Evelyn had left their home around noon on the day of the fire and headed to work. That was the last time she had seen him. The last time they had spoken was when she called him just after 3 p.m. and asked: “Are you working?” He replied “No,” before the phone abruptly cut off.

“Everybody was found,” Raven says. “Except for my father.”

Within the week, Raven boarded a plane and flew back to Maui. He would keep looking for him, he told himself, for as long as it took.

That same week, Kim Gin was also on a plane to Maui. It would take half a day to get there from Alabama, where she had moved after retiring from the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office in California a year earlier. But Gin, now an independent consultant on death investigations, knew she had something to offer the response

Read More

————

By: Erika Hayasaki
Title: This grim but revolutionary DNA technology is changing how we respond to mass disasters
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/05/16/1092484/rapid-dna-analysis-ande-mass-disaster-victim-identification-maui/
Published Date: Thu, 16 May 2024 09:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/how-cuddly-robots-could-change-dementia-care/

Continue Reading

Tech

How cuddly robots could change dementia care

db1e980d5227235c2c06ad4cb8b08f1b

This article first appeared in The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly biotech newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Thursday, and read articles like this first, sign up here 

Last week, I scoured the internet in search of a robotic dog. I wanted a belated birthday present for my aunt, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Studies suggest that having a companion animal can stave off some of the loneliness, anxiety, and agitation that come with Alzheimer’s. My aunt would love a real dog, but she can’t have one.

That’s how I discovered the Golden Pup from Joy for All. It cocks its head. It sports a jaunty red bandana. It barks when you talk. It wags when you touch it. It has a realistic heartbeat. And it’s just one of the many, many robots designed for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

This week on The Checkup, join me as I go down a rabbit hole. Let’s look at the prospect of  using robots to change dementia care.

Golden pup robot with red kerchief

As robots go, Golden Pup is decidedly low tech. It retails for $140. For around $6,000 you can opt for Paro, a fluffy robotic baby seal developed in Japan, which can sense touch, light, sound, temperature, and posture. Its manufacturer says it develops its own character, remembering behaviors that led its owner to give it attention.  

Golden Pup and Paro are available now. But researchers are working on much more sophisticated robots for people with cognitive disorders—devices that leverage AI to converse and play games. Researchers from Indiana University Bloomington are tweaking a commercially available robot system called QT to serve people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The researchers’ two-foot-tall robot looks a little like a toddler in an astronaut suit. Its round white head holds a screen that displays two eyebrows, two eyes, and a mouth that together form a variety of expressions. The robot engages people in conversation, asking AI-generated questions to keep them talking.

The AI model they’re using isn’t perfect, and neither are the robot’s responses. In one awkward conversation, a study participant told the robot that she has a sister. “I’m sorry to hear that,” the robot responded. “How are you doing?”

But as large language models improve—which is happening already—so will the quality of the conversations. When the QT robot made that awkward comment, it was running Open AI’s GPT-3, which was released in 2020. The latest version of that model, GPT-4o, which was released this week, is faster and provides for more seamless conversations. You can interrupt the conversation, and the model will adjust.

The idea of using robots to keep dementia patients engaged and connected isn’t always an easy sell. Some people see it as an abdication of our social responsibilities. And then there are privacy concerns. The best robotic companions are personalized. They collect information about people’s lives, learn their likes and dislikes, and figure out when to approach them. That kind of data collection can be unnerving, not just for patients but also for medical staff. Lillian Hung, creator of the Innovation in Dementia care and Aging (IDEA) lab at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, told one reporter about an incident that happened during a focus group at a care facility. She and her colleagues popped out for lunch. When they returned, they found that staff had unplugged the robot and placed a bag over its head. “They were worried it was secretly recording them,” she said.

On the other hand, robots have some advantages over humans in talking to people with dementia. Their attention doesn’t flag. They don’t get annoyed or angry when they have to repeat themselves. They can’t get stressed.

What’s more, there are increasing numbers of people with dementia, and too few people to care for them. According to the latest report from the Alzheimer’s Association, we’re going to need more than a million additional care workers to meet the needs of people living with dementia between 2021 and 2031. That is the largest gap between labor supply and demand for any single occupation in the United States.

Have you been in an understaffed or poorly staffed memory care facility? I have. Patients are often sedated to make them

Read More

————

By: Cassandra Willyard
Title: How cuddly robots could change dementia care
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/05/17/1092604/how-cuddly-robots-could-change-dementia-care/
Published Date: Fri, 17 May 2024 10:00:00 +0000

Continue Reading

Tech

The Download: cuddly robots to help dementia, and what Daedalus taught us

This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

How cuddly robots could change dementia care

Companion animals can stave off some of the loneliness, anxiety, and agitation that come with Alzheimer’s disease, according to studies. Sadly, people with Alzheimer’s aren’t always equipped to look after pets, which can require a lot of care and attention.

Enter cuddly robots. The most famous are Golden Pup, a robotic golden retriever toy that cocks its head, barks and wags its tail, and Paro the seal, which can sense touch, light, sound, temperature, and posture. As robots go they’re decidedly low tech, but they can provide comfort and entertainment to people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Now researchers are working on much more sophisticated robots for people with cognitive disorders—devices that leverage AI to converse and play games—that could change the future of dementia care. Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly health and biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

What tech learned from Daedalus

Today’s climate-change kraken may have been unleashed by human activity, but reversing course and taming nature’s growing fury seems beyond human means, a quest only mythical heroes could fulfill.

Yet the dream of human-powered flight—of rising over the Mediterranean fueled merely by the strength of mortal limbs—was also the stuff of myths for thousands of years. Until 1988.

That year, in October, MIT Technology Review published the aeronautical engineer John Langford’s account of his mission to retrace the legendary flight of Daedalus, described in an ancient Greek myth. Read about how he got on.

—Bill Gourgey

The story is from the current print issue of MIT Technology Review, which is on the fascinating theme of Build. If you don’t already, subscribe now to receive future copies once they land.

Get ready for EmTech Digital

AI is everywhere these days. If you want to learn about how Google plans to develop and deploy AI, come and hear from its vice president of AI, Jay Yagnik, at our flagship AI conference, EmTech Digital. We’ll hear from OpenAI about its video generation model Sora too, and Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, will also join MIT Technology Review’s executive editor Amy Nordrum for an exclusive interview on stage.

It’ll be held at the MIT campus and streamed live online next week on May 22-23. Readers of The Download get 30% off tickets with the code DOWNLOADD24—register here for more information. See you there! 

Thermal batteries are hot property

Thermal batteries could be a key part of cleaning up heavy industry and cutting emissions. Casey Crownhart, our in-house battery expert, held a subscriber-only online Roundtables event yesterday digging into why they’re such a big deal. If you missed it, we’ve got you covered—you can watch a recording of how it unfolded here.

To keep ahead of future Roundtables events, make sure you subscribe to MIT Technology Review. Subscriptions start from as little as $8 a month.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 OpenAI has struck a deal with Reddit 
Shortly after Google agreed to give the AI firm access to its content. (WSJ $)
The forum’s vocal community are unlikely to be thrilled by the decision. (The Verge)
Reddit’s shares rocketed after news of the deal broke. (FT $)
We could run out of data to train AI language programs. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Tesla’s European gigafactory is going to get even bigger
But it still needs German environmental authorities’ permission. (Wired $)

3 Help! AI stole my voice
Voice actors are suing a startup for creating digital clones without their permission. (NYT $)
The lawsuit is seeking to represent other voiceover artists, too. (Hollywood Reporter $)

4 The days of twitter.com are over
The platform’s urls had retained its old moniker. But no more. (The Verge)

5 The aviation industry is desperate for greener fuels
The future of their businesses depends on it. (FT $)
A new report has warned there’s no realistic or scalable alternative. (The Guardian)
Everything you need to know about the wild world of alternative jet fuels. (MIT Technology Review)

6 The time for a superconducting supercomputer is now
We need to overhaul how we compute. Superconductors could be the answer. (IEEE Spectrum)
What’s next for the world’s fastest supercomputers. (MIT Technology Review)

7 How AI destroyed a once-vibrant online art community
DeviantArt used to be a hotbed of creativity. Now it’s full of bots. (Slate

Read More

————

By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: cuddly robots to help dementia, and what Daedalus taught us
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/05/17/1092631/the-download-cuddly-robots-to-help-dementia-and-what-daedalus-taught-us/
Published Date: Fri, 17 May 2024 12:10:00 +0000

Continue Reading

Trending