Pondering the Bot

Croped Robot canstockphoto8319620 copy

Robots are now doing surgery and 3-D printing new organs and tissue.  In the not to distant future these robots may be able to change from solid to squishy in order to squeeze through the smallest blood vessels.  Even microscopic ‘Nano-robots’ may be circulating  in our bodies to hunt down cancer cells and destroy them.

And let us not forget the more outdoors-oriented Bots like Robotic Bees that could change the face of agriculture.

robotic bees

Then again every Bot needs a break, so in their time off will they be indulging in making music, painting, or other creative pursuits?

Looks like the Bots are here to stay as helpers to make our lives better.  Or . . . have they already become our overlords?

I’m sure there is nothing to worry about, right?

9 robots that enslaved us

Sleep Well, Folks

Of Mice and Men–Their Brains that is…

MouseYou, me and the little guy over there with the whiskers have a 99% similarity in our genes including the one to make a tail.

Of the 30,000 genes that we share only 300 are unique to each species making mice the mainstay of medical drug research for decades.  Most of the time a good number of similar genes are silent (thank god– that tail thing could be problematic).  The Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle has analyzed the active genes–the ones that send out messages to make functional proteins–verses the dormant ones producing three-dimensional maps of the brains of the two species.  Their results were published in the April issue of Scientific American.

What did they find?

  • There are no significant differences in gene expression between the left side of the brain and the right side casting doubt on the popular concept of the creative right verses the literal left.
  • It appears that the wiring among the 90 billion neurons in our brains is more important than what is going on within the cells themselves. It is the uniqueness of the circuits that defines the species.

Mapping those circuits is a whole other ball game. Think of trying to untangle a pile of intertwined octopuses. The following video is an excellent representation of the complexity involved.

The supporting structures of the brain, the glia—especially the astrocytes (shown in blue on the previous video)—also appear to play a significant role in cognition as well. Human glia progenitor cells that grow into astrocytes have been injected into the brains of fetal mice.  They developed normally and

Mouse and professorproduced mice that scored significantly higher on performance tests than their normal counterparts. While this mix or ‘chimera’ form of mouse/human brain may pose ethical questions, it does open the door to what could potentially be a better mouse model on which to study a wide range of human neurological disorders.

OK SciFi types what can you do with all this?

• Animals that can be trained to work for us? Personally I would like to train one of those smart little guys to clean behind my refrigerator.

•  Animal Overlords? Planet of the Mice anyone?  As long as they are generous with the goat-cheese brie I can deal with it.

•  A world where there are no traumatic or degenerative neurological disorders? Now we’re talking.

Let me know where those inventive minds of yours take you.

The Future’s Looking Good

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 Edit out those bad genes. How cool would this be!

http://www.wfs.org/blogs/len-rosen/genome-editing-technology-promises-new-ways-treat-diseases

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Ah, those crafty little sperm.

http://www.science20.com/news_articles/new_genetics_designer_sperm_fixes_faulty_genes-125515

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An inkjet printer that produces retinal cells. As a physician I have seen a good deal of Macular Degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness in the older population. This technique has the potential to change lives.

http://www.wfs.org/blogs/len-rosen/printing-retinal-cells-could-cure-macular-degeneration

Live Forever?

Live forever? Doesn’t appeal to me although I could go for a few more years of healthy, robust life. What is the secret to longevity? Theoretical physicist, Michio KaKu suggests the answer lies in the study of genetics.

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We often hear about how our life span as humans continues to gradually increase but not so much is said about the quality of that life. How long could we theoretically live? Controversial biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey thinks it could be hundreds of years and he thinks they can be vigorous, enjoyable ones.

Quantum Biology

For years Quantum Mechanics was thought to apply to only the smallest of particles in the universe. The standard view of physics was thought to apply to the larger processes, especially biological ones. That view is changing.

The application of Quantum Mechanics to biological processes is a burgeoning and somewhat controversial field of study. One of the prominent players in the field of Quantum Biology is the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where research has led to intriguing ideas from how retinal proteins work to the synthesis of ATP. For a quick overview of their findings click here.

For a more extended and very humorous insight see MIT physicist Seth Lloyd’s in-depth discussion below.