Frozen Embryos

In 2022 a couple in Portland welcomed twins into the world. Whilst the chance of giving birth to twins is much smaller than a single child, what makes these twins even more extraordinary is that these children were born from embryos that had been frozen 30 years previously.

The babies were reported to be normal in every aspect, despite already being over 30 years old when they were born, after being perfectly preserved in liquid nitrogen at negative 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The embryos were frozen in 1992 with the intention of being used for IVF (In-vitro fertilization) for a different couple. However, in 2007 that couple donated the embryos to the National Embryo Donation Center.

A viable embryo frozen in time which could then go one to become a child 30 years later, is a modern miracle, it’s not the first time embryos have successfully been transplanted in the future. Prior to 2022, the longest embryo to child gap had been 28 years. It just goes to show that the freezing process results in a stasis of the biological process which might theoretically mean that time doesn’t matter – could an embryo from 1992 be used successfully in 2092 to produce a child from the past?

Could this also help with the prospect of being cryogenically frozen to be reanimated at some time in the future?

The prospect of helping many childless couples in the future seems a lot brighter and promising, especially as mankind’s survival is becoming more and more precarious. Not only from climate change and global wars, but on the basic level of human reproduction.

Earlier in 2022 a team of scientists looked at over 250 studies from around the world to get a general idea of the global sperm count over the last 50 years. Incredibly, from 1973 to 2018 sperm count dropped by 1.2 percent per year until 2000, but then began dropping at a faster rate of 2.6 percent per year.

“We have a serious problem on our hands that, if not mitigated, could threaten mankind’s survival,” explained Professor Hagai Levine. “We urgently call for global action to promoted healthier environments for all species and reduce exposures and behaviors that threaten our reproductive health.”

With this alarming global decreases in sperm count, the use of frozen embryo’s in the future could be mankind’s best hope for survival.

Space Blood Mutations

There are many risks to be considered when sending someone into space, but no one ever predicted that an astronaut’s blood might genetically mutate as a result of leaving Earth. But this is exactly what researchers discovered when they examined the blood samples from 14 NASA astronauts who were active in missions between 1998 and 2001.

The blood samples, which were decades old, all showed a specific DNA mutation. Although they didn’t believe the mutations were serious enough to cause a major threat to the astronauts long term heath, it underlines the need for regular screenings, particularly for those heading off on longer missions in the future.

The mutation is caused by exposure to excess ultraviolet radiation and chemotherapy, and is known as Hematopoiesis, and shows a high proportion of blood cells from a single clone, compared to a normal blood sample. It seems possible that due to the length of exposure of astronauts to high levels of space radiation, the Hematopoiesis mutation is more likely, especially considering that every one of the blood sample tested from the astronauts showed exactly the same result. Hematopoiesis is similar to mutations we might normally see in older individuals, but in the samples taken, the median age of the astronauts was much younger at only 42.

David Goukassian, professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, explained that “astronauts work in an extreme environment where many factors can result in somatic mutations, most importantly space radiation, which means there is a risk that these mutations could develop into clonal hematopoiesis.”

With the prospect of heading to Mars in the future, or developing a potential colony on the moon, the expectation of longer exposure to space radiation is a hot topic for NASA, who have already made proposals to change the radiation limit that astronauts can be exposed to.  This latest study seems to add weight to this proposal.

Goukassian added that “the presence of these mutations does not necessarily mean that the astronauts will develop cardiovascular disease or cancer, but there is the risk that, over time, this could happen through ongoing and prolonged exposure to the extreme environment of deep space.”

Space Cave Dwellers

Fancy living in a cave in space? That appears to be the potential solution for astronauts looking to live on Mars. The Geological Society of America has identified nine different potential caves that they believe could be viable for colonization should astronauts reach Mars.

The environment on the surface of Mars is known to be harsh so protection from the elements is essential, and naturally occurring caves could provide an immediate answer. With temperatures dropping to below minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit, exposure to harsh solar radiation and even the danger posed by meteorites, it’s no wonder a cave could be the solution!

The potential nine habitable caves have been narrowed down from over one thousand identified, based on factors including distance from potential landing sites, as well as elevation level.  It’s also important that the caves extend underground, allowing enough space for astronauts, their equipment, as well as supplies. The next stage is to maneuver the NASA rovers into the area to get a surface-level look.

Once suitable caves have been located, a team of planetary scientists from the Washington Academy of Sciences suggest settlements are constructed into the caverns lava tubes. This would provide potentially 82 percent protection from solar radiation. The idea of building in the lava tubes is not a new one – as recently as 2017, Japan’s space agency made the same suggestion for Moon settlement.

The moon is certainly a lot more accessible than Mars, but the problems are very similar. The moon has no atmosphere resulting in temperature variations and radiation risks. Lava tubes are structurally very stable. Once the lava has stopped and drained out, the remaining tubes are strong solid structures, often large enough to house a city.

A potential lunar base has been identified near Marius Hills, a set of volcanic domes which as yet have an unknown depth. The US government has been noted to say the “the moon was ‘a vital strategic goal’ that would improve our ability to travel further than ever before” – possibly hinting at a colonized Mars.

Earlier this year NASA researchers discovered “pits” in the moon surface that maintain a temperature of 63 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the normal surface temperature range of between minus 280 and positive 260 degrees. The pits are shaded from the Sun, trapping heat during the night whilst protecting it from heat exposure during the day. These pits could protect astronauts and might even join to cave structures capable of providing homes.

Researchers are looking into the possibility of using remotely operated robots and drones to explore the pits and cave systems further.

“Humans evolved living in caves, and to caves we might return when we live on the Moon.”

Arming Robots

It’s another step closer to the story line from James Cameron’s Terminator movies, but one that’s being seriously considered by police in Oakland. They believe that the society we now live in justifies taking a bold step forward in weaponizing robots.

Oakland Police have added a “Percussion Actuated Nonelectric Disruptor (PAN Disruptor) as a top priority for 2022. A PAN is a laser-aimed shotgun-like attachment for wheeled robots which until now have previously been used in war zones or for sending in to diffuse or detonate a bomb. These robots are not autonomous. Similar robots have been weaponized by the US military with machine guns, although the military say they are for shooting suspected explosive devices. The gun can be loaded with blanks as well as live rounds making them potentially lethal.

 “One can imagine applications of this particular tool that may seem reasonable,” said Liz O’Sullivan, CEO of the AI bias-auditing startup Parity and a member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, “but with a very few modifications, or even just different kinds of ammunition, these tools can easily be weaponized against democratic dissent.”

Oakland Police Department had originally promised to only use the killing machines when deemed necessary, during “certain catastrophic, high-risk, high-threat, or mass casualty events.” However, they would not rule out the potential to use live ammunition “if they need it for some situation later on.”

A 2021 subcommittee meeting looked at the potential for arming robots, and agreed the robots could not be used to kill humans, but would allowed them to be armed with pepper spray.

“We will not be arming robots with lethal rounds anytime soon,” Lieutenant Omar Daza-Quiroz told the Intercept. “If and when that time comes each event will be assessed prior to such deployment.”

Incredibly this isn’t the only police department that is considering upgrading their staff. In 2016 Dallas Police Department used a wheeled robot to take down an alleged cop-killing sniper. The robot placed a bomb near the suspect who was cornered in a parking garage. Allegedly the suspect said he’d placed explosives around the city. “After a prolonged shootout we saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on it for it to detonate where the suspect was. Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger,” explained Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown.

Also, in 2014 Albuquerque police deployed a bomb robot to release tear gas on an armed suspect.

In a similar way, North Dakota has legalized the use of police drones equipped with tasers and pepper spray. It seems like Oakland Police is merely following a trend to weaponize robots, which hopefully will continue to remain in the control of a human operator.

Reassured yet? Whilst the use of a robot in dangerous situations will undoubtedly save the lives of police and emergency responders, arming a robot could be a step too far.

Living Longer

With the world on the brink of a potential nuclear Armageddon, sea levels rising, and micro plastics poisoning our oceans as well as our bodies, perhaps the last thing on your mind right now would be how to extend the length of time you endure on planet Earth. However, scientists have discovered a way to extend the life expectancy of mice by ten percent – which some people are considering a potential answer to extending human life.

Scientists from Harvard Medical School, administered a drug called Rapamycin into 130 genetically different mice during the first 45 days of life through their mother’s milk. 40 other mice also took part in the study, acting as a control group, and were not provided with Rapamycin. All of the 170 mice were kept in exact conditions until they reached a natural end to their life.

Those mice who had received Rapamycin during the early days of their lives lived significantly longer than those who hadn’t. Not only did they live longer, but scientists also believed that the aging process actually slowed down in the male mice, taking them longer to progress through the normal life cycles expected in rodents. In addition, the male mice were also faster, stronger and healthier than normal.

But why would this be? Once the study had finished the scientists found that there were cellular changes that made the mice live longer. They appeared to have younger liver transcriptomes (genetic codes) giving additional fuel to the hypothesis than the secret to anti-ageing begins with our early development.

“Overall, the results demonstrate that short-term Rapamycin treatment during development is a novel longevity intervention that acts by slowing down development and aging,” the study explains, “suggesting that aging may be targeted already early in life.”

Researchers have also tested the drug on a crustacean with similar results.

Rapamycin is an immunosuppressive drug used in the treatment of cancers, as well as being used to prevent rejection during organ transplants, but has gained the attention of medical scientists as a potential anti-ageing drug.

This study could be merely the beginning to a whole new scientific breakthrough in extending life on earth. Although it appears to work in mice, the administration of Rapamycin for humans could be a long way away, with health implications for a human remaining unclear.

Cancer Killing Virus

A genetically modified form of the Herpes virus has been successfully used to attack tumors in cancer patients. Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust created this unusual solution from the virus that causes the cold sore!

Even though this is in its early stages of development and requires many more follow up trials and studies, the initial results seem to be positive.

Krzysztof Wojkowski from West London was diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland in 2017. “I was told there were no options left for me and I was receiving end-of-life care,” he explains. “It was devastating, so it was incredible to be given the chance to join the trial.”

The trial works by injecting the virus (RP2) directly into the tumor. The virus invades the cancer cells, causing them to burst and activating the patient’s immune system to help.

“I had injections every two weeks for five weeks which completely eradicated my cancer. I’ve been cancer-free for two years now.”

There were 40 participants in the trial – nine had the RP2 injections, while the rest had a combined treatment of RP2 and another drug called nivolamb. The tumors of three of the patients who had the RP2 injections shrunk after treatment.

Project lead researcher Kevin Harrington said, “It is rare to see such good response rates in early stage clinical trials, as their primary aim is to test treatment safety, and they involve patients with very advanced cancers for whom current treatments have stopped working.”

Using viruses to attack cancers isn’t actually a new treatment. In 2021 researchers from the University of Zurich modified a respiratory virus called adenovirus, to enter tumor cells and deliver genes that tricked tumor cells into producing therapeutic antibodies.

“We trick the tumor into eliminating itself through the production of anti-cancer agents by its own cells,” said Sheena Smith at University of Zurich.

Whilst traditional therapies such as Chemotherapy and radiotherapy attack the normal healthy cells in a patient’s body, this doesn’t happen when using viral based therapies. Interestingly the recent COVID vaccines utilize adenoviruses.