10 science stories of the week

Welcome to your weekly science update – a curated list of this week’s most interesting stories in science.

The internet of (hackable) things. Last week Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles following a Wired magazine article demonstrating how hackers could remotely hijack “smart” cars. This week Wired follows up with a disturbing report of hackers who can take control of “smart” sniper rifles – shutting them down or even changing their targets.

Hacking cellular machinery. Scientists have created a synthetic ribosome that has the potential to produce designer enzymes. The work is in early stages but could one day lead to novel therapeutics and new ways to synthesize chemicals and polymers.

The rise and fall of trans-fats. Once the darling of the food industry and nutritionists, the hydrogenated vegetable oils, or trans-fats, that began replacing butter and lard (saturated fats) in food products in the 1980s have now all but disappeared from our shelves and finally been ruled unsafe for human consumption by the US Food and Drug Administration. But what are trans fats and how did they ooze their way into our diets and out again?

GMO generics. With Monsanto’s famous genetically modified Round-Up Ready line of seeds going off-patent, cheaper generics are beginning to emerge and could transform the agriculture sector as they have the pharmaceutical industry over the past decade.

Billions for immunotherapy $1.7 billion from Sanofi, $1 billion from Celgene, and millions raised by emerging start-ups – the pharmaceutical industry is rushing in to develop new treatments that train the human immune system to identify and fight cancer cells.

From Beijing genomics to Artificial Intelligence. A renowned Chinese scientist who has led many breakthroughs in the field of genomics has left BGI, the genome sequencing company he helped to create 16 years ago to take on what he calls the challenge of a lifetime: developing an artificial intelligence which can help people live longer and better lives.

Laboratories of life. After 8 months of analysis, scientists conclude that comets, like the one humankind landed a robotic probe on last November, have all the organic materials needed to sow the seeds of life on a planet. The evidence supports the theory that comets could have brought water and other life sustaining compounds to Earth back when the solar system was young.

Dense and beautiful. Six years of work by Harvard researchers has resulted in an intricate map of a sliver of a mouse’s brain barely the size of a dust mite. What they found was an astonishing level of complexity densely packed together. This is the first and most detailed work of its kind and it is helping scientists gain important insights into how the human brain works. And for those who want more context on the study and the people behind it, see this article from science writer Carl Zimmer from 2014.

Resurrection plants. With California experiencing the worst drought in 1,200 years, farmers and policy makers are looking to scientists to help prevent the collapse of one of the world’s breadbaskets. Better understanding of plants and animals that can survive without any water – in some cases for up to 100 years – may shine a light on the future of drought resistant crops.

How to reap long-term rewards. With new data from the Rosetta comet mission and spectacular images of ice flows on Pluto capturing headlines it’s a great time to reflect on how humankind can achieve such long term-goals, especially when the lag time from concept to outcomes can take decades.

Author: David Gleicher is Senior Programme Manager, Science and Technology, at the World Economic Forum.

Image: A worker walks through farm fields in Los Banos, California, United States, May 5, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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