Scientists transform snails into Cyborgs

Scientists at Michigan University, USA, adopted an unfamiliar strategy to observe the behavior of a single species of snails by transforming them into “cyborgs” so they can keep a track of them and study their survival.

History of invasive snail:

Harnessing power from the living world has always been a dream for humans, and between geothermal, solar, and other sources, we’re getting a step closer every day. Shortly, there might be the availability of more power from the world of tiny shelled creatures.

In the 1970s, wildlife researchers presented an invasive snail, also known as the rosy wolf snail to the Society Island of French Polynesia. As a result the invasive snail has eliminated almost every existing snail species in the surrounding area, representing a destructive loss of biodiversity. However, five species somehow managed to survive, including the Particle hyaline.

Particle hyaline is significant for Polynesians because of its eccentric color, making it exceptionally attractive for use in jewelry. Tree snails are also of pivotal importance for the island forest ecosystems, being a dominant group of native grazers.

Usage of Micro Mote (M3) in solar snails:

With the alliance between the scientists of the University of Michigan and engineers of the world’s smallest computers, scientists acknowledged the reason why Particle hyaline can tolerate more sunlight than its invasive predator. The Particle hyaline crawls at the edges during the daytime while its predator is compelled to hide in the shade.

During the midday sun, the Particle hyaline is able to withstand 10 times more sunlight compared to the rosy wolf snails. The scientists suspect that the predator couldn’t crawl far enough into the forest edge to catch the Particle hyaline because they wouldn’t be able to look for shade if the sunlight became too hot.

In 2014 by the team of researchers at the University of Michigan, developed the world’s smallest complete computer – the Michigan Micro Mote (M3). The tiny computer was attached to the rosy wolf snail’s shell allowing them to wirelessly gather data never before observed, utilizing miniature electronics that could be the start of a new wave of cyborg technology.

Covid-19 Eliminates two flu strains

During the covid-19 pandemic, some scientists encouraged preventive measures against the coronavirus include wearing a mask, hand sanitizing, and social distancing, which could also have resulted or contributed to the elimination of multiple strains of flu.

According to Gizmodo, the researchers couldn’t discover two former usual strains of flu since March 2020. More precisely, the missing strains include the Yamagata strain of influenza B virus and the strain of influenza A virus H3N2.

Comparison of two viruses:

Amazingly, these two types of viruses haven’t shown up for more than a year anywhere in the world. Researchers are unaware if these viruses are truly eliminated, but at present they’re nowhere to found.

To evaluate which flu strains might have vanished, we have to understand how viruses are classified. Ever since the breakout, covid-19 has been compared to influenza because they similarly cause respiratory disease, yet there are apparent differences between these viruses and how they spread. Fortunately, there’s an availability of vaccines and antivirals for the treatment of influenza.

Eliminations of the flu strains:

The elimination of these flu strains is a beneficial effect during the pandemic. According to Gizmodo, many researchers and doctors are playing their valuable part in encouraging the usage of face-masks, social distancing, and quarantine. However, virologist Florian Krammer suggests that although the strains might not have been detected for over a year, we can’t be sure that they have been eliminated entirely. So, the viruses might be residing anywhere in our surroundings.

Even if the strains haven’t been fully eliminated their disappearance still makes the preparation of vaccines easier. Every year researchers are assigned the responsibility to make ‘high-tech guesses’ about which flu strains are more likely to prevail in the following months so that they can prepare preventive doses beforehand.

But, Krammer believes that less diversity among the flu viruses could be a possibility. Reduced flu virus diversity means a tiny pool of circulating viruses to choose from and a greater chance that the strains in an annual vaccine will be successful.

If the current covid-19 preventive measures are keeping us safe from other viruses as well, we might consider face masks, and social distancing even after the pandemic is over, particularly during the winter months when the flu virus is more prevalent.

Florida’s Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Released

British biotech firm Oxitec has successfully begun its experiment of releasing genetically hacked mosquitoes in open air to reduce the population of disease spreading mosquitoes in the Florida Keys region. According to Oxitec, these genetically engineered mosquitoes can become an alternative to pesticides, reducing and ultimately eliminating the species of disease carrying mosquitoes. But releasing an artificially engineered mosquito species in the air? Naturally, this controversial action came with lots of backlash and protests. Will it even work?

Oxitec’s Aim: Curbing The Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes

The Florida Keys is a strip of islands off the Southern tip of Florida. The Aedes aegypti mosquito species make up about 4% of all the mosquito species of Florida, and this is the species that is responsible for diseases like Zika and Dengue. What is interesting about these insects is that only the female mosquitoes bite; according to Oxitec, they plan to reduce the population of female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes by releasing male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with an additional OX5034 gene. When these mosquitoes mate with wild female mosquitoes, this artificial gene will pass on to their offspring.

The special characteristic of this gene is that female mosquitoes cannot survive. Hence, only male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes will survive, dramatically reducing the population of biting and disease transmitting female mosquitoes. While this experiment, if it works, may be a great chemical free way to solve the mosquito related diseases problem in Florida, many experts, activists, and locals are sceptical of it.

Controversies Regarding Oxitec’s Experiment

For starters, people have been highly doubtful of the success of Oxitec’s experiment because of the lack of information and proof regarding the method. In fact, Oxitec has been fighting controversies for the past decade, and has only now proceeded to finally release the mosquitoes. The main issue is that Oxitec has no proof that the experiment will even work! Instead of experimenting in controlled lab conditions, they are releasing the genetically hacked mosquitoes in Florida Keys directly. If their idea doesn’t work, that is if the female mosquitoes born from the gene hacked mosquitoes survive, Florida’s mosquito problem will not be solved and instead a new problem will be created; a new species of mosquitoes flying wild in Florida.

But that’s not all; the locals of Florida Keys have also complained that Oxitec has been invading their privacy during the experiments, which, according to them, are not even for the betterment of the community but for Oxitec to test if their methods work. Some citizens have stated that Oxitec employees tricked and bullied them into participating in the experiment, which they did not even agree with after finding out what it actually was.

Activists and experts also disagree with Oxitec sabotaging nature, especially because there have been no caged trials-the company never proved that the trials are even safe! Oxitec has denied any allegations against its project, and is still confident that the experiment will work. Only time can tell whether Oxitec is right or not.

Fungus Growth Indicates Life on Mars?

The planet Mars has always thought to harbor life because of its physical similarities, as well as its proximity, to Earth. Yet, no solid evidence of any oxygen-breathing existence has been found on Mars, and the search to discover it continues. On 30th July, 2020, NASA launched the Perseverance Rover, which landed on Mars on 18th February, 2021, to look for any signs of pre-existing life by collecting samples of rock and regolith from the Jezero Crater.

The Jezero Crater is believed to have been a lake at some point in the past, but is now dried up. This mission, titled Mars 2020, is meant to look for any signs of ancient microbial life in this crater. However, a team of researchers seem to be far ahead of the Perseverance Rover, because they claim to have discovered signs of life, far advanced than what the Perseverance Rover is expected to look for.

Fungus on Mars!?

The team of researchers, which released its findings in the Advances in Microbiology journal published by Cambridge University Press, boldly claimed that “Fungus-like Martian specimens” are evident in images taken by NASA’s Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, way before the mission of the Perseverance Rover, the whole point of which is to find life on Mars!

Experts and other researchers are highly critical of this claim, displaying concerns regarding the conditions on Mars which “are unfit for any life to barely survive, let alone thrive”, according to Jonathan Clarke, president of Mars Society Australia. Directly finding a growing fungal organism, like the alleged mushrooms, is hence far from possible. Furthermore, nothing in the images proves that the round ball-like objects were ‘growing’ on Mars; Clarke explained that if you find seashells on the beach, it does not mean that they grew there-the situation seems to mimic this seashell expression rather than being evidence of life on Mars.

The Self Proclaimed Scientist

If this whole scenario doesn’t seem dubious enough, one of the authors of the paper is Rhawn Gabriel Joseph, who is infamous in the field of microbiology and astrophysics for promoting unreliable theories regarding life on other planets; he even went as far as starting his own renegade journal to publish his so-called findings.

This time, he did succeed in getting his paper accepted, yet was not safe from critics who shattered his ideas to pieces because of the unconvincing evidence-his reputation does not help either. According to David Flannery, who is part of the NASA Mars 2020 team and a lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology, “We have more than photos, records, instruments that tell us what these materials [in the images] are made of.” There is no evidence at all which even implies that the images captured on Mars display mushrooms or any life forms for that matter.

It is indeed true, and perplexing nonetheless, that a paper stating that Mushrooms have been found to grow on Mars exists; yet, as experts have already stated, it will be difficult for anyone to take these findings seriously because of their dubious nature.

Clean Energy in The United States

One of the goals announced by the Biden administration has been to fight climate change and produce 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. Recently, a large-scale project called ‘Vineyard Wind’, to be built off the coast of Massachusetts, has been given its final approval to become The United States’ first commercial scale offshore wind farm.

A Cleaner Energy Alternative

This idea of a large-scale offshore wind farm is not a new one; it was conceived about 20 years ago, but kept on being opposed and delayed and was ultimately cancelled by the Trump administration. After Biden took the presidential seat, he revived the project in March this year as a part of his plans to control climate change and save the environment.

The project, which is a joint venture of the energy firms Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, is meant to build 84 wind turbines about 12 nautical miles off the coast of Martha Vineyard. According to the New York Times, this $2.8 billion project, Vineyard Wind, would be able to produce 800 megawatts of electricity, which will be enough to power 400,000 homes!

The benefit of this wind farm would be that since it is a renewable source, it will produce clean energy and eliminate a good amount of carbon emissions which are a consequence of burning fossil fuels for energy.

A New Era of Wind Projects-More Jobs?

The approval of Vineyard Wind has opened doors to multiple other wind farm projects, to be taken into consideration. In fact, two small scale wind farms are already operational in the USA, off the coasts of Virginia and Rhode Island. Yet, they produce only 42 megawatts of electricity combined; compared to this, Vineyard Wind is set to produce 800 megawatts of power. The Interior Department is positive that following the expected success of this project, there could be about 2000 more turbines generating wind energy from the coasts of Massachusetts to North Carolina.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland also stated that this new era of wind farm projects will create economic opportunities, “union jobs”, for Americans. But not everyone is as excited about this idea. For one thing, economists are concerned about the promised jobs related to this project, since most of the manufacturing business for these turbines takes place in Europe. But the administration is positive that companies will soon start manufacturing turbines locally as well, and together, the project will create an estimated 3,600 jobs.

Concerned Fishermen

The fishing industry has also put forward some concerns, especially the fact that fishermen would have difficulty navigating and catching fish near the areas where the turbines are to be built, with the largest turbine reported to be as large as two football fields. Anne Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance also expressed her distress by stating that the authorities seem to be more interested in “multinational businesses and energy politics than our environment, domestic food sources, or U.S. citizens.”

Nevertheless, the project is expected to begin this summer and become The United States’ first commercial level offshore wind farm, with the prospects of more to follow.

Mind Control

Remember all the sci-fi movies we watched where our protagonist clad in a smart space-suit would try to control the devices around him with his mind and we were left amazed? Well, in Elon Musk’s world of rapidly-growing technology, it is turning into a real possibility.

The co-founder of Neuralink and the latest mastermind behind every technology, Elon Musk said that his brain interface company will begin its launch with the product that will let users operate the “smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs”. This is especially revolutionary for people with paralysis who will now find it extremely easy to access technology.

Providing a sneak-peak into this plan after the tweets, Neuralink also released a video of a nine-year-old macaque named Pager engaged in a competitive game of Pong using two Neuralink units that were put in its brain six weeks ago.

This revelation could help people with paralysis use the implanted devices to feel more in control of their day-to-day activities and comes as a huge breakthrough.

The device has also opened up discussions around the technology for the visually impaired and Elon Musk says he is not ignorant to those issues either. A fan inquired about their plan for such a device and Musk promptly responded on Twitter saying, “Absolutely doable. Possibly as soon as Neuralink device version 2, highly likely by version 3.”

While it may be some time before Neuralink comes up with the mechanics of sending signals to different parts of a human body, these steps are ensuring steady and rapid growth to make the world a bit smarter every day.

But, how will the device work and what are the ramifications of having it in your brain? However, Musk pointed out that the device will be barely noticeable. “The device is implanted flush with the skull and charges wirelessly, so you look and feel totally normal.”

Right now, we do not have a date for when the tech would be available for public use because, considering the technicalities involved, the health and tech experts would have to work together to see if there are any challenges during the trial period that could potentially put the users at risk.

Even the critics of Elon Musk have praised this initiative and regarded it as an essential step in assisting people with disabilities so that they are also included in all the programs for growth and development in the sector. These plans serve as a long-term investment as they hint towards more meaningful goals for the future of human kind rather than prioritizing the fastest car in the world or finding life beyond Earth, the kind of projects that hold little or no practical value in the life of an average human being.