What We're Reading
Hello BMSA readers, happy 2020! Here are some great reads to start your decade off the right way.
The controversial next step in nutrition labeling
Contributor Claire Millard
How would you feel if your menu told you how much exercise it would take to burn off those calories you were just about to eat?
Would knowing how much physical exercise it would take to burn off that meal change what you decide to eat?
In an experiment conducted in Britain, researchers examined the effects of this new labeling technique called Physical Activity Calorie Equivalent, or PACE, providing consumers with the amount of physical activity required to burn off the calories they are about to ingest. Although findings suggest that it could be an effective guideline for the general public - giving a more meaningful number to consider than an arbitrary calorie count that many do not understand the relevance of - there are significant concerns surrounding eating disorders that could result from these types of guidelines. So naturally, the next question is, would you order a 30-minute-run muffin?
Tiny 'xenobots' assembled from cells promise advances from drug delivery to toxic waste clean-up
Contributor Ramtin Hakimjavadi
This week, an article in Science Daily describes a scientific breakthrough that will excite science fanatics and spawn uneasiness in those who worry about rapid technological change. Computer scientists from the University of Vermont collaborated with biologists from Tufts University to repurpose living African frog cells into an entirely new life-form.
Using an evolutionary algorithm on the Deep Green supercomputer cluster at UVM's Vermont Advanced Computing Core, researchers were able to simulate a hundred iterations of their synthetic organism. An evolutionary process of trial and error that would occur over hundreds of thousands of years in nature took only a few months of processing at UVM’s supercomputer cluster. Once the best ‘version’ was tested, the in silico design was brought to real life, spawning a completely new programmable life-form - the ‘xenobot’.
Some of the experiments performed on the xenobot thereafter seem, quite literally, unnatural. For example, to test cellular regeneration, the “sliced the robot almost in half” to observe how the xenobot stitched itself back up.
Beyond the peculiar nature of the organism, the xenobot holds promise of achieving great feats in science and medicine. For example, the scientists were able to repurpose a hole in the body of the xenobot to act as a pouch - a step towards intelligent drug delivery by computer-designed organisms.
As we begin the new decade in 2020, this breakthrough joins a broader shift towards autonomous systems that increasingly shape and change modern society in fundamental ways.
Contributor Si-Cheng Dai
Language tends to evolve naturally over time — the introduction of “y’all,” or even “y’inz,” to fill the void of a plural “you” to give just one example. Strong social movements, however, can also allow language to evolve, and nothing testifies more to that fact than the awarding of the word of the year and word of the decade to pronouns. Specifically, “(my) pronouns,” or the pronouns one uses to identify themselves, won the annual title; and “they,” a word now used as a third-person singular pronoun, won the decennial title. By banding together to fight for a just cause, people managed to breach the “closed class” of pronouns within a decade — maybe accepting that language is the next step to changing our world views.
Contributor Vicky Chang
When you think of the “hardiest animal in the world,” a moss piglet is perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind. These little aquatic organisms, also known as water bears or tardigrades, are able to withstand extreme temperatures, years of dehydration, and even a trip to outer space, but even that does not keep them off the list of cute animals affected by climate change. A study looked at the effects of climate change-associated stressors on a species of tardigrades native to the Antarctic and found that while individual organisms were robust enough to cope with the stress, fewer eggs were produced during their lifetime. To think that even an animal as hardy as the tardigrade may be at risk really goes to show the limitless extent to which climate change affects our biological world.