SciTech Roundup, 4/18
Creating artificial gravity in space
As NASA continues to answer our questions about space, they will require increasingly longer trips in space. To do so, their personnel will likely need to stay in a station with artificial gravity, but generating artificial gravity requires the station to spin, and people can't handle too much spinning without getting sick. But, to get the same artificial gravity with minimal spinning, you need a giant station. Zac Manchester, an assistant professor in the Robotics Institute, paired up with Jeff Lipton from the University of Washington to propose an idea to create a kilometer-length station that folds up into a small space during launch, but will unfold to its full length in space. NASA granted the pair $500,000 over the next two years to continue their research and build prototypes of their proposal.
Using extracellular vesicles in body tissues
When body parts like joints fail, some get metal implants that supplement or restore their body's function. But sometimes the body recognizes the metal as a foreign object and tries to reject it. Researchers in the biomedical engineering and material science engineering department are investigating a way to build body tissues that are less likely to be rejected by the body using extracellular vesicles. Extracellular vesicles can encapsulate lipids, nucleotides, enzymes, and other things used to repair body tissues, with an outer layer that prevents the immune system from reacting. However, extracellular vesicles are often cleared from the body very quickly, requiring high doses to offset how quickly they are cleared. To combat this, the researchers added a chemical tag to the outer layer of the extracellular vesicles that better immobilizes them in implants, allowing them to more effectively repair body tissues.
He Jiankui caused an uproar in the international science community after he announced that he had successfully created two genetically modified babies. He and collaborators illegally used CRISPR gene-editing technology by forging ethical review documents, then attempted to edit genes in twin embryos that were in-vitro fertilized before implanting them into the uterus. While scientists don't completely know the status of the babies' health, critics say that we do not understand the repercussions of gene-editing technology enough to warrant its use. He Jiankui was released from prison in the beginning of April after a three-year prison sentence.
Elon Musk is offering to buy Twitter for $54.20 a share, amounting to $43 billion in total. Musk wants to privatize Twitter, though he insisted in a Vancouver TED conference that this was not for profit. He claims his main objective is to promote Twitter as a platform of free speech by adding features such as editing tweets, making the Twitter algorithm open-source, and changing content moderation. He already has a 9.2 percent stake in the company, and was offered a board position, which he initially accepted but later rejected. It is possible that he will not go forward with the offer. However, Musk says that if his requested changes are made, he may retract his bid, and experts doubt whether he truly has the spending money to buy another company when most of his wealth is tied up with his other companies. Twitter's board of directors also do not seem to take kindly to Musk's offer, responding with a "shareholder rights plan" that would allow other shareholders to buy stock at a discounted price if Musk attempts to buy out the company's shares, diluting Musk's share.
As cases in Shanghai climb, China's zero-COVID policy means that the city is to be completely locked down until there are no more cases. In the current situation, many Shanghai residents are losing income, lack access to food, and have to stay in poorly maintained quarantine centers. So far there have been few serious cases: 90 percent of cases are asymptomatic, with only nine becoming seriously ill, and no deaths. Experts say that severity is low right now only because the cases are in the younger generation, but since China has not focused on vaccinating older generations, if the elderly get infected, their cases could be more severe. Many cities in China are now trying to incentivize the elderly to get vaccinated, with door-to-door campaigns and even giving out 500 yuan ($78) gift cards.