Welcome to Technology Tuesday! On Tuesdays, The Job Shop Blog brings you our 5 top science and technology news stories from around the web.
This week: A “holodeck” for animals, a mind controlled video game, a gene editing cure for ALS, a Chinese woman is cryogenically frozen, and cyborg bacteria improve upon the process of photosynthesis.
Scientists Create a “Holodeck” for Mice, Flies, and Fish
We now have more proof that yesterday’s science fiction is today’s science fact.
In an example of how science fiction can inspire actual science research, an international team of scientists has developed a working “holodeck.” This space is capable of projecting and simulating a virtual world in which animals can be studied.
In the world of Star Trek, the “holodeck” is a space capable of simulating any virtual world. It serves as a staging environment for various virtual reality simulations — the Danger Room where the X-men train is very similar. According to University of Freiburg biology professor Andrew Straw, such an environment could be particularly useful at helping us understand how the brain works.
Test Your Telekinetic Abilities in this Mind Controlled Virtual Reality Game
Part of the appeal of virtual reality (VR) is the ability to control the digital world using only your hands and simple movements. Startup company Neurable, in collaboration with the Madrid-based company Estudiofuture, is eliminating controllers and hand movements altogether with their first game: Awakening, which aims to show what it’s like to have telekinetic abilities.
Neurable Vice President Michael Thompson announced the game last week ahead of its appearance at the computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH. The game, set to be released in VR arcades in 2018, has a story similar to that of the Netflix series Stranger Things: “You are a child held prisoner in a government science laboratory. You discover that experiments have endowed you with telekinetic powers. You must use those powers to escape your cell, defeat the robotic prison guards, and free yourself from the lab.”
RNA Editing Treats ALS and Huntingtons
The most efficient and effective gene-editing tool in use today is CRISPR-Cas9. Just this year, researchers have successfully used it for a wide variety of experiments, from modifying garden vegetables to encoding a GIF in bacterial DNA. Most recently, the tool was used to remove a genetic disease from a human embryo.
Although undeniably powerful, CRISPR-Cas9 does have its limitations; it can only target DNA. To extend its capabilities to include RNA editing, researchers from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine developed a modification of CRISPR, and they’re calling their tool RNA-targeting Cas9 (RCas9).
For the First Time a Woman in China Cryogenically Frozen
Cryonics is the practice of deep-freezing recently deceased bodies (or even just the brains of those who have recently died) in the hopes of one day reviving them. It has been the subject of serious scientific exploration and study — as well as a fair share of pseudoscience, lore, and myth. Fictional accounts like Batman’s Iceman, and the (untrue) rumors of Walt Disney being cryogenically frozen have, unfortunately, cast a speculative shadow over the field of cryonics.
But recently, for the first time ever in China, a woman has been cryogenically frozen. Zhan Wenlian died at the age of 49 from lung cancer and her husband, Gui Junmin, “volunteered” her for the cryonic procedure. Both he and his late wife wanted to donate her body to science to “give back to society.” He told Mirror UK that he was initially “pitched” the idea of cryonics with it being described as a “life preservation project.”
Cyborg Bacteria Could Revolutionize Energy Production with Artificial Photosynthesis
Although most life on Earth relies upon photosynthesis as its source of energy, the process has a weak link: chlorophyll. Plants and other organisms use the green pigment to harvest sunlight during photosynthesis, but it is rather inefficient. To that end, scientists have been searching for ways to upgrade natural photosynthesis so humans would be able to capture and use energy from the Sun more efficiently.
Now, Kelsey K. Sakimoto, a researcher at Peidong Yang’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley, has come up with a new alternative to natural photosynthesis: cyborg bacteria that were trained to cover themselves in solar panels that are much more efficient than chlorophyll at converting sunlight into useful compounds.