Daniel Lemire's blog

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Science and Technology links (May 5th, 2017)

Lungs make blood cells:

In experiments involving mice, the team found that they produce more than 10 million platelets (tiny blood cells) per hour, equating to the majority of platelets in the animals’ circulation.

Scientists have edited the genes of monkey embryos.

The American government funds medical research through the Share on facebook National Institutes of Health (NIH). Funding agencies tend to fund a few people very well, while most researchers struggle for funding. That’s a problem because science benefits when diverse avenues are explored. Meanwhile, throwing more money at an already rich laboratory does not improve outputs. By introducing a cap whereas no research can receive more than three times the funding of a regular research, they will be able to award 1600 new grants. Though the NIH did not comment on age, it is very likely that this is a generational transfer, the new grants will be handed out to younger researchers and the cap will tend to affect older researchers.

Google is accurately reading street names and business names from store fronts.

Applying these large models across our more than 80 billion Street View images requires a lot of computing power.

When exercising hard, you hit a “wall” where you have to stop due to exhaustion. This is caused by glucose depletion. Though your muscles can go on even after the glucose is depleted, burning fat instead, your brain cannot. Your brain must have glucose. Interestingly, this means that no matter how much of an athlete you are, at some point you will hit this wall because your muscles do use up glucose when it is available. Still, people in better shape go on for longer. How do they do it? By burning less glucose and more fat. You can get the desired result by training. Training is hard work. Fan et al. show that you can get the same greatly extended endurance without training at all, just by supplementing with something called PPARδ. It has been described as exercise in a pill. Speaking for myself, I am never running another mile in my life, I’ll wait for PPARδ pills.

You cannot drown in quicksand:

If you end up in quicksand, don’t panic. Quicksand is denser than a human, which means that, at the worst, you won’t sink in much further than your waist (…)

As you get older, you just do not learn as well as you used to. Eventually, your cognitive abilities decline. We used to think that this was caused by a depletion of brain cells in the cortex, or by some degradation of the neurons, but it is no longer so evident. Wu et al. propose a rather daring theory: that we could reshape our cognitive abilities as we age by imitating infants.

Although intellectual engagement is a significant factor associated with adult cognitive health, it is unclear what it includes, why and how it declines across the lifespan (…) This integrative review introduces a novel theoretical life course framework that synthesizes research on early childhood experiences and cognitive aging to address the following three points. First, we specify six critical factors of intellectual engagement for long-term, broad cognitive development: (a) open-minded input-driven learning, (b) individualized scaffolding, (c) growth mindset, (d) forgiving environment, (e) serious commitment to learning, and (f) learning multiple skills simultaneously. We show that these factors increase basic cognitive abilities (e.g., working memory, inhibition) and promote far transfer. Second, we trace the decline of the six factors from infancy to aging adulthood (broad learning to specialization). Finally, we propose that these six factors can be applied to expand cognitive functioning in aging adults beyond currently known limits.

The idea is that if you keeping trying to expand your mind, keep learning in different directions, allow yourself to remain open and to make mistakes… you might actually remain sharp. Or not. It is speculative.

It seems that many cancers are indeed the result of poor lifestyle choices:

unavoidable intrinsic risk factors [such as cell division] contribute only modestly, less than 10-30 percent, to the development of many common cancers

Arthritis is no fun. Lots of people suffer from joint pains and there is just about nothing that doctors can do. I know a lot of people close to me who have problems with their knees. New research suggests that removing senescent cells can help heal the joints. Senescent cells are bad cells that should die but rather remain around and accumulate with age. The good news is that we have commercial technology to safely removed senescent cells. Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s CEO) has invested in at least one company that is developing senolytic therapies. Meanwhile some other people are working on an arthritis “vaccine” based on stem cells.

Air-free pneumatic tires are coming.

General Motors CEO thinks that autonomous cars are going to come sooner than we think.

NASA has received the mandate to send us to Mars in the 2030s. They have published somewhat vague slides about their plans (PDF).