Discovered: cheaper DNA sequencing, a hopeful HIV mouse study, chewing gum for weight loss, when robots act self-aware, and a math model to identify the origin of one's beer.
- DNA sequencing is much, much cheaper. You know when you buy an expensive, overly priced laptop that will inevitably be half the price a few years later? Well, the same sort of rapid technological evolution is happening in the human genome sequencing biz, except much, much faster, The New York Times reports in an article explaining how researchers are swamped with sorting out the massive amounts of data they have access to: "sequencing a human genome — all three billion bases of DNA in a set of human chromosomes — plunged to $10,500 last July from $8.9 million in July 2007, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute." Again, that's a drop from $8.9 million to a little over 10 grand in four years--which seems great, except probably for the people who paid for the technology in June 2007. [The New York Times]
- One possible drawback to a hoped-for appetite-suppressing 'chewing gum.' And that would be people who don't need the product using it. But maybe that's getting ahead of the research. In lab rat based studies, there's been hopeful progress on what could one day be chewing gum that would be prescribed to obese patients looking for a weight loss alternative, Scientific American reports. Which would appear to be a big development if it keeps progressing. But the researcher behind the project, Syracuse Chemist Robert Doyle, also suggested one way that the possible future product could be easily abused--by the already thin taking his product to just get thinner. "Some people will see this as a way out, a way to be insanely thin," Doyle said to the magazine. "And I understand the market would be vast for people who want to lose a few pounds. But my aim here is help patients who have a medical need to lose weight." [Scientific American]
- Mouse study that used a protective gene against HIV will be tested on humans in a couple years. While studies in mice are mostly conducted for possible future applications to humanity, enthusiasm seemed to be kept in check in the Associated Press's account of a study that "involved injecting mice with a protective gene" against an HIV infection that "appeared to have 100 percent protection" among the mice involved. The study, which the researchers say will be tested in people "in a couple of years," did get some praise from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, but he was described as relaying "that mouse results don't always pan out in human studies." [Associated Press]
- No longer will you fool researchers about where their beer came from. Because University of Seville researchers are saying they've developed a "technique based on chemical patterns" (i.e. looking at the different base ingredients, it appears) and mathematical analysis to suss out the difference in country origin between beers. "German, Spanish and Portuguese beers have been detected with 99% accuracy thanks to the model." We're not really sure about the practical implications for this. But we suspect that if the University of Seville researchers, if they had their tools with them, might do much better in a blind bar beer taste test than the average person. [Eurekalert]
- QBO becomes only the latest robot to recognize itself in the mirror. The video of the short, wide-eyed, almost Wall-E-like machine gazing at itself in the mirror was hailed as a moment for robot self-awareness evolution yesterday. And we'd guess it's because it's response, "Oh, this is me. Nice," was a nice touch by its programmers. But, as New Scientist points out, robots have been having these types of moments for years. In 2007 The New York Times magazine had a robot think-piece, which starred Nico, a robot who spent a long time waving its arm in front of a mirror and "correctly identified its own moving arm as 'self.'” That doesn't really detract from the still pretty cool moment of watching QBO do something similar now. [New Scientist, New York Times]