Fountain of Youth?

Gob hanging open…

Researchers were able to turn back the molecular clock by infusing the blood stem cells of old mice with a longevity gene and rejuvenating the aged stem cells’ regenerative potential. The findings will be published online Thursday, Jan. 31, in the journal Cell Reports.
The biologists found that SIRT3, one among a class of proteins known as sirtuins, plays an important role in helping aged blood stem cells cope with stress. When they infused the blood stem cells of old mice with SIRT3, the treatment boosted the formation of new blood cells, evidence of a reversal in the age-related decline in the old stem cells’ function.
 “We already know that sirtuins regulate aging, but our study is really the first one demonstrating that sirtuins can reverse aging-associated degeneration, and I think that’s very exciting,” said study principal investigator Danica Chen, UC Berkeley assistant professor of nutritional science and toxicology. “This opens the door to potential treatments for age-related degenerative diseases.”

Super Super-Capacitor

I just picked up on this on Singularity Hub. Game Changer?

The Super Supercapacitor | Brian Golden Davis from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

What if you could charge your phone, tablet, or laptop in 30 seconds and have it work all day long? That’s the promise presented in a short film titled The Super Supercapacitor that profiles the work of UCLA inorganic chemistry professor Ric Kaner, whose research focused on conductive polymers and next generation materials.

Hair Cell Regeneration

Well, after years of working with noisy machinery – up until 2001 I had operated milling machines and lathes for many years then, when I went self-employed, I used mowers, chainsaws, hedge cutters and strimmers – I’m often finding myself mentally replaying stuff that people have said because I didn’t hear it properly. At some point, probably in the next ten years, I’m going to need a hearing aid, but damn I would much prefer the damage repaired at its root:

In the Jan. 10 issue of Neuron, Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School researchers demonstrate for the first time that hair cells can be regenerated in an adult mammalian ear by using a drug to stimulate resident cells to become new hair cells, resulting in partial recovery of hearing in mouse ears damaged by noise trauma. This finding holds great potential for future therapeutic application that may someday reverse deafness in humans.

This is the kind of article that undermines my usual pessimism.

Steam Punk Zeppelins!

Here’s a little taste of what some fans get up to when you’re not keeping a careful eye on them. I’ve been asked to name a starship simulator and to provide some tongue in cheek names for some airships, which I’m glad to do. The starship simulator could so easily be Schrodinger’s Box out of The Engineer (esp. when you look at that caravan). I’ll hand over to Paul Mackay now:

HMAS Absence of Gravitas is a 1969 Carlight Cassetta caravan with a ‘victorianised’ interior. We have used a back projection system to project from outside onto the interior front windows so it actually looks like you are in the gondola of an airship with the horizons:


The control linkages use miniature potentiometers to feed control inputs into the sim which runs into a PC running Flight Sim 2004 with an airship mod. There is a navigator’s station (uses a real map as location is real world correct and can plot routes using it). The engineers panel has 4 separate throttles which can all be set independently, useful if you want to chuck in a failure or fire scenario. The helmsman controls the nose pitch and engine angle (as they rotate up and down in modern airships). There is usually a captain as well.

Big brother is moving towards constructing a second sim that will be able to run several different software packages – i.e submarine, starship or airship. The problem with the caravan sim is that we can’t bring it indoors whereas the second sim (that we would like you to name) comes in collapsible sections that can be erected in pieces. 
The second will run a package called Artemis which is a multi station starship bridge simulator hoping you might be able to come up with a name for the starship sim. (see diagram above, its only half finished).
As I said earlier, we we run a gift shop at shows…we make and sell merchandise related to the sim – mostly my steampunk jewellery but also things like pewter cast airship keyrings, badges etc. We are also hoping to commission a poster of lots of scale drawings of various ‘ships of the line’ – all imaginary airships as if we had this whole alternative historical backstory, with the ‘Absence of Gravitas’ as just one of the fleet. We were wondering if you wanted to give us a few tongue in cheek bombastic airship names as well – think I might have to call one of them ‘Penny Royal’ if you don’t mind.
Anyway, just thought you might be interested in the sort of stuff your fans get up to when we aren’t waiting for the next book.

We have some masters getting 3D modelled in Holland at the mo, then we make silicon moulds from them and use them to cast models in pewter to sell to punters. The sims have to pay their way in the diesel etc. to get it to shows, we don’t profit much but it pays its way.

Regards and can’t wait for more writings

Cyborg Asher

About three years ago I realized that my eyes were no longer perfect and that when the light was bad I needed reading glasses. I started off at about +1.00 but have since progressed (or rather regressed) to +2.50. Then, at the start of this year (or maybe the end of last) I noticed that when looking at the DVD player I could see it clearly through one eye but it was a blur through the other. In February I duly went to an optician for the first time and ended up with prescription glasses for reading and was told I was border-line for driving. This was no fun at all.
Now, Caroline was very short-sighted, so much so in fact that she couldn’t read signs in the high street without glasses. She had laser eye surgery to correct this and now just needs reading glasses. I was therefore attracted to the idea of  having similar surgery myself at least to equalize my eyes so I only need the kind of reading glasses you can pick up for a few quid just about anywhere, so I booked a free consultation at Ultralase to find out what could be done.
It turns out I now have a nicely miss-matched pair of eyes. Sitting at this computer screen I can see the text fairly clearly with my left eye, but through my right eye it is blurred. Conversely, if I sit watching the TV I can read the numerals on the DVD player with my right eye but it’s a blur through my left. Now I have choices. If I have my left eye sorted by laser my distance vision will be fine but I’ll need reading glasses. If I have my right eye done I’ll need glasses for distance (driving and the like) but not for reading. But there’s another choice.
I’d heard that there are now treatments for presbyopia (needing reading glasses as you get older) but couldn’t figure how shaping the cornea for that worked at the other range of your vision. I was then told that perhaps the best for me would be IOLs – intra-ocular lenses. These are usually used in cataract operations but in the past basically had one setting so you could have your distance vision but would need reading glasses. Now, however, they have multi-focus IOLs. I was very wary, but according to the blurbs I’ve read, 80% of people that have these require no glasses at all. It also turns out that the operation is 25 minutes per eye, no stitches and an added advantage is that I’ll never get cataracts.
I’ve made an appointment to see the surgeon to get some more gen and I’ve been reading about this operation on the internet. I may well decide to go for it. Firstly because of the high probability of getting my vision back and secondly, well, a science fiction writer who is also a cyborg?  

Cellweld – TM

In my books I often do surgical scenes in which cell welders and bone welders are used. It seems to me that I can now properly describe and extrapolate that technology. But of course now I must think in terms of reprinting missing limbs and organs, or even reprinting an entire body. Growing such stuff in the good old sfnal amniotic tank is old now.

The 2D structures being printed with the bio-ink enables exquisite control over cell distribution and this already presents exciting opportunities to improve drug screening and toxicology testing processes. Building on this, 3D bio-printing, with which patient-specific tissue replacements could be fabricated, is within the grasp of researchers.  

Cool Lasers

I’ve been reading a lot of science articles in the mornings as anyone who follows me on Twitter @nealasher or Facebook will be aware, but this one I have to put here.
As an SF writer you’re always in danger of being tripped up by the science geek who will point out your errors. Back in The Line of Polity(I think) I used ‘laser cooling’ for a space ship and someone – in a review I believe – dismissed this as a ridiculous idea.

In micro electronics heat often causes problems and engineers have to put a lot of technical effort into cooling, for example micro chips, to dissipate heat that is generated during operation. Austrian physicists have now suggested a concept for a laser that could be powered by heat. This idea may open a completely new way for cooling microchips.

Moore's Law for Batteries?

Most of you reading this have heard of Moore’s Law and most of you are familiar with the idea of the technological singularity and that Moore’s law is just one element on that exponential curve. Other elements include the steady reduction in cost of that computing. This in turn relates to the shrinking time and cost of decoding a genome … if you want to learn more about all that just head over to the Singularity Hub and do some reading, or watch a few Ray Kurzweil interviews.
But I’ve been thinking about batteries and other forms of power storage. We have exoskeletons now that enable the crippled to walk and, if you check out ‘Boston Dynamics’ on You Tube you’ll find some excellent robots. But these exoskeletons, even though they have FDA approval and are being trailed in America have unwieldy and short-lived power packs, while the robots you mostly see are running at the end of a power cable. We need smaller or more powerful batteries, super- and ultra-capacitors so, what I was wondering is, is there a Moore’s Law for batteries? Opinions vary:
Energy efficiencies have gotten pretty good…but the scary thing when you look at it from a capacity and efficiency standpoint with regard to weight and volume, it hasn’t really changed that much. It’s clearly improving, and I think costs have gotten a little bit better, but not all that much either. When you compare it with the electronics that we’re using it with and Moore’s Law, it’s basically standing still,”
...because there’s not currently a Moore’s Law for batteries, and I’m doubtful that we’re going to ever hit a Moore’s Law-style pace of accelerated progress and lowered costs for batteries. Yes, batteries will come down in price and become smaller, but at nowhere near the same speed — and with a lot less progress — as to be able to be compared to Moore’s Law.
Sure, the Moore’s Law of electric cars  – “the cost per mile of the electric car battery will be cut in half every 18 months” — will steadily drive the cost down, says Agassi, but only once we get scale production going. U.S. companies can do that on their own or in collaboration with Chinese ones. 
But I guess we have to remember what an exponential curve looks like and remember we might not be on the rapid up slope with batteries – on this one we might well be right down in the bottom left of that blue box.
What do you think?  

Complete Genomics

Interesting article and video clip over at Singularity Hub

Reid expects single cell sequencing to be commercially available within two years, and he’s very optimistic about the potential of whole genome sequencing in the fight against cancer. “I don’t think my kids are going to worry about cancer. I think we’re going to nail it in my lifetime. We’re never going to be able to stamp it out [completely] because they are mutations, and mutations are going to happen. But we’re going to be able to treat it. We’re going to turn cancer into a chronic disease, not a death sentence.”