Issue #359

This week - the rise of AI companions; a new way to scan brains; a robotic rat; results from the first US trial of genetically modified mosquitoes; and more!


More Than A Human

► New Way to Scan Brains - Sixty Symbols (18:37)

In this video, Matt Brookes shows a new type of brain-scanning device he and his team is working on. The device promises to replace the current massive scanners with something much smaller that can be worn on the head (plus a special room to cancel out Earth's magnetic field).

Artificial Intelligence

► The Rise of A.I. Companions (17:34)

ColdFusion explores the world of AI companions or AI friends - something that sounded like sci-fi just a couple of years ago but is becoming a reality.

Researchers Gain New Understanding From Simple AI

Artificial neural networks dealing with natural language processing are extremely hard to understand. The bigger the network, the more complex understanding of their inner working is. So some researchers went the other way and tried to see how hard would be to understand a much smaller network. They have proven it is possible and in a follow-up paper, they also showed their findings can be applied to bigger networks, opening a possibility of understanding how these networks work.

Robotics

Robotic Rat Climbs, Crawls, and Turns on a Dime

We've seen many animal-like robots in recent years and now Chinese researchers have added rats to the list. Named SQuRo (small-sized Quadruped Robotic Rat), the robot can walk, crawl, and climb over objects, and turn sharply with unprecedented agility.

Biotechnology

Biotech firm announces results from first US trial of genetically modified mosquitoes

Researchers from Oxitec have completed the first open-air study of genetically engineered mosquitoes in the United States. The results, according to the biotechnology firm running the experiment, are positive. But larger tests are still needed to determine whether the insects can achieve the ultimate goal of suppressing a wild population of potentially virus-carrying mosquitoes.

A Startup Is Engineering Trees to Grow Faster and Capture More Carbon

Living Carbon is a startup that aims to create better trees to capture carbon from the atmosphere by improving the efficiency of photosynthesis in poplar trees. They selected genes from pumpkin and green algae that would enable the poplars to have lower photorespiration rates (meaning the tree would lose less energy and retain more carbon) and inserted the genes into the trees’ DNA. In a paper published in February on the pre-print server bioRxiv, the company reported that its genetically enhanced poplars grew more than 1.5 times (53%) faster, had a higher rate of photosynthesis, and drew down more carbon than non-engineered trees.

Parallel transmission in a synthetic nerve

In this paper, researchers describe an artificial nerve they have created. They showed their synthetic nerves could create electrical signals and may be used in next-generation implants, soft machines and computing devices.

How engineered microbes could cut aviation emissions

With improvements in genetic engineering and funding from United Airlines, Cemvita hopes to achieve what startups 10 years ago failed to achieve - a sustainable jet biofuel produced by engineered bacteria.

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