mRNA Vaccine Wins Nobel Prize - H+ Weekly - Issue #435
This week - the Dublin Longevity Declaration; Anthropic in talks with Google for another $2B investment; plastic-eating bacteria; a programmable DNA computer; and more!
This year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman - two scientists whose work greatly contributed to our understanding of RNA and played a key role in developing mRNA vaccines.
In the press release, The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet wrote:
The discoveries by the two Nobel Laureates were critical for developing effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 during the pandemic that began in early 2020. Through their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times.
Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman will share the 11m Swedish kronor (around $1 million) prize.
Scientists have been working on using mRNA for therapies since the 1990s. However, the first attempts to use mRNA in medicine were unsuccessful because the immune system identified them as threats and destroyed them. At the same time, the immune system triggered massive inflammatory responses, making mRNA vaccines unsafe.
In 2005, Karikó and Weissman made a breakthrough. The pair discovered how to tweak the mRNA molecules to not trigger severe immune system responses and inflammation. Their research in 2008 and 2010 further showed the validity of mRNA in medicine to treat diseases. These breakthroughs made mRNA technology usable for creating safe and effective vaccines.
Fifteen years after their breakthrough discovery, mRNA vaccines played a key role in developing effective vaccines against COVID-19. According to one research study, COVID-19 vaccines saved between 14.4 million and 19.8 million lives globally.
mRNA vaccines went from being ridiculed and considered a dead-end method to becoming one of the most powerful tools modern medicine has. Karikó and Weissman's work, alongside research done during the COVID-19 pandemic, established mRNA vaccines as a valid candidates to treat various diseases. The list includes autoimmune diseases, cancers, food and environmental allergies, bacterial diseases, and insect-borne diseases. Weissman and his team are working on applying mRNA vaccines to treat sickle cell anemia, amyloidosis, HIV, norovirus, and malaria.
“The future is now,” Weissman says, quoted in Scientific American. “These therapeutics are in people right now.”
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🦾 More than a human
Dublin Longevity Declaration
A group of over 60 leading longevity scientists have signed the Dublin Longevity Declaration calling world leaders to join their efforts in addressing the effects of ageing and even reversing the ageing process. They argue that even a five-year extension in human healthspan would save trillions per year in healthcare costs, provide extra life quality and address the demographic issues. The signatories acknowledge that making this vision a reality with cost billions and will raise many questions, but they assert addressing ageing will pay itself off many times over. If you support the Dublin Longevity Declaration, you can add your signature here.
Age1’s Alex Colville on why moonshots have a superpower that is derisking longevity
Longevity.Technology speaks with Alex Colville of Age1, a recently launched VC firm on a mission to lead investments in longevity science moonshot and to advance novel therapeutics, tools and technologies that target ageing and age-related disease. Colville shares his thoughts on how longevity started to get traction in recent years and moved from the fringes of science to the stage it is now - a new field that is gaining scientific credibility and interest from investors. “We are so close to the future we want – a lot of hard work is tucked into it, but we are so close,” says Colville.
Elon Musk wants more bandwidth between people and machines. Do we need it?
Recently, Elon Musk announced that Neuralink is looking for patients willing to take part in the first clinical trials of Neuralink’s brain-computer interface. One of the company's goals is to increase the bandwidth between people, or people and machines, by a factor of 1000 or more. Antonio Regalado from MIT Technology Review decided to check these claims and what could this increased bandwidth look like. What Regalado found from speaking with neuroscientists is that more bandwidth could make a difference. But not in speeding up speech, but in unexpected forms of thought transfer, like sharing mental images or emotions. However, this is still quite some time away. In the near future, this increased bandwidth can be very useful in restoring communication with people who for one reason or another lost the ability to communicate with other people.
One-hour training is all you need to control a third robotic arm
How much time do you think you’ll need to learn to control a third robotic arm? According to researchers from the UK and Australia, people can learn to use extra robotic arms as effectively as working with a partner in just one hour of training. It’s worth noting that the participants in the experiments did not use real robotic arms - they were learning to control virtual robotic arms. Nevertheless, this result is promising as it shows that we can very quickly learn to use extra arms. The full research paper can be found here.
🧠 Artificial Intelligence
Anthropic in Talks to Raise $2 Billion From Google and Others Just Days After Amazon Investment
Just a week ago, Anthropic announced a $1.25 billion investment from Amazon with an option to add another $2.75 billion in the future. Now, reports have emerged that Anthropic is in talks with Google to invest another $2 billion. Google has already invested $300 million into Anthropic in late 2022 which gave them a 10% share in the company. With all these new investments, the AI startup plans to raise its valuation from $4 billion to $20 billion to $30 billion. Founded by former OpenAI employees in 2021, Anthropic is offering Claude, its own large language model as a competitor to OpenAI ChatGPT.
Training self-driving AIs requires a lot of real-life road video footage for AI to learn how to deal with this complex and unpredictable environment. But getting that footage is a challenging task. This is where Wayve's GAIA-1 comes into play. GAIA-1 is a generative model designed and trained to generate realistic footage of roads to train self-driving AIs. This week, Wayve released an upgraded version of GAIA-1 capable of generating realistic videos for every scenario a self-driving car may encounter on the road, from various weather conditions to different traffic levels and behaviours.
Facebook’s new AI stickers can generate Elmo with a knife
Last week, Facebook introduced AI-generated stickers to the Messenger app, allowing users to create custom stickers from a text prompt. Now Facebook learns the hard way that if you give this kind of power to the people on the internet, they will abuse it to create questionable stickers.
Google Assistant is getting AI capabilities with Bard
Google Assistant is going to get an AI upgrade. At the Made by Google event, the company announced plans to integrate Bard into the Assistant. Apart from being able to answer questions in a natural way, this integration will enable the Assistant to do more complex tasks, such as accessing Google apps, like Gmail and Google Drive, to perform various tasks. As an example, Google showed how Assistant can catch you up with important emails. Assistant can use text queries, voice and images as input. Assistant with Bard is expected to first be available in a limited set of markets before being rolled out to more people in the coming months.
Superhuman Speed: How Autonomous Drones Beat the Best Human Racers
This article brings closer to us the world of autonomous drone racing and how engineers and researchers make a computer able to control a small racing drone going over 100km/h on a race track. The article follows a group from the University of Zurich as they prepare their drones and AI to race against the best human-racing drone pilots in a fair fight. Along the way, it explains the challenges facing the engineers to make the drone fly as quickly as possible and shows how people reacted to the superhuman speed the AI can fly the drones.
Chipotle robots may soon construct your salads and bowls
Chipotle is testing new robots in their kitchens. The robot, developed in collaboration with Hyphen, a kitchen technology company, will build bowls and salads to customer specifications which human employees will then put into burritos, tacos and quesadillas. The robot is currently being tested at Chipotle Cultivate Center in Irvine, California. If the tests are successful, Chipotle will start rolling out the robots to other restaurants, starting with locations in Southern California.
Farm robots inspired by ant brains
Robots are coming to our farms to help with rooting out weeds and scanning the crops, both from the ground and from the air. But the problem is how these robots can navigate through the dense vegetation in the field. One team of researchers looked at ants for inspiration to solve this problem. They built a robot that collects images along unfamiliar routes and passes them to an algorithm based on circuitry found in the brains of insects. The algorithm then creates a map of the field, similar to how ants do it. The researchers tested their neural model along challenging routes on uneven, muddy, vegetation-dense fields and achieved positive results. They said their research shows promise for future applications in agriculture, forestry and environmental monitoring.
Insect cyborgs: Toward precision movement
In order to build the best possible robots, roboticists turn to nature for inspiration. A group of researchers from Japan and Germany, who study insects to create new robots, recently published their findings on the precise control of insect leg muscles using electrical signals. Their research can contribute to the ongoing efforts to create more capable and highly mobile biohybrid robots. If you're interested in learning more about biorobots, you can find an article on the topic here.
‘We are just getting started’: the plastic-eating bacteria that could change the world
In the quest to solve plastic pollution, researchers are turning to nature for help. The first plastic-eating bacteria in 2001 has been discovered in 2001 and they gained a lot of attention from microbiologists in recent years. Teams around the world are either tweaking using genetic engineering the enzymes produced by these bacteria or searching in caves, mangroves and other environments for new species of bacteria that evolved to eat plastic. All these groups have the same goal - to find an efficient process of degrading plastics using enzymes to address the global plastic pollution problem.
Programmable DNA Machines Offer General-Purpose Computing
Chinese scientists have published a paper describing a programmable DNA computer using DNA-based programmable gate arrays for general-purpose DNA computing. The team says they can program a single array to implement more than 100 billion distinct circuits. “Our team has been working in the field of DNA computing for many years,” says study coauthor Fei Wang, a molecular engineer at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. “During our work, we gradually realized that existing DNA circuit design processes were application-specific. We always needed to design a set of molecules for a new function, which is time-consuming and not friendly to nonexperts, limiting the development and application of DNA computing.”
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