Downloadable medicine and other science stories of the week

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

Beyond GMOs. Agriculture firms like Monsanto and Syngenta are researching into RNA interference sprays which could provide genetics-based protection from pests without altering the genome of the plant itself. This technology could usher in a new revolution in biotechnology for agriculture.

Robot evolution. Scientists are building robots that build other robots and learn how to build better robots as they gain experience. This research aims to design robots which can adapt and learn how to do their jobs better over time.

Downloadable medicine. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved first 3D printed pills, opening a door to the future of downloadable medicine. Here’s why it matters.

Yeast pain-killers. Scientists have engineered yeast that can turn sugar into thebaine, the key opiate precursor to morphine and other powerful painkilling drugs. To achieve this researchers spliced 23 genes from plants, bacteria and rats into the yeast. This is a huge step forward for bio-manufacturing and has some wondering if yeast could one day produce illegal drugs such as heroin.

Investments in genome editing. Bill Gates and other investors pour $120 Million into genome editing start-up Editas Medicine which holds the patent for the CRISPR Cas 9 genome editing tool. Editas Medicine is one of the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Technology Pioneer companies.

Octopus decoded. Scientists have decoded the octopus genome. This work paves the way for more research which aims to understand how this incredible creature evolved such special physiology – the ability to change colours, regenerate limbs and control flexible limbs – and it’s incredible intelligence.

Pig implants. Scientists are making major gains in the science of growing human organs inside pigs. While this sounds like a plot from science-fiction, this technology could save countless lives by ending the shortage of implantable organs given by human donors.

Perihelion. Comet 67P and the Rosetta space craft that is following it have made their closest approach to the sun. The warmth of the sun is what causes the comet to develop a tail – produced by dramatic jets of dust and gas that fly off the comet. At current rates the comet is losing 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water each day.

The shape of disruption. Just when you thought there was nothing new in the world of tiling, mathematicians discovered the existence of a new type of pentagon which can cover a flat surface using only identical copies of the same shape leaving neither gaps nor overlaps. This is the fifteenth such pentagon ever discovered. This is a big deal. Seriously.

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

Image: A farmer sprays chemical pesticide on a rice paddy field in Ninh Binh province, south of Hanoi, Vietnam May 7, 2015. Photo taken on May 7, 2015. REUTERS/Kham

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