SciTech Briefs

Stephen Hawking gives humanity 1000 years to find planet

Speaking at the Oxford University Union, Stephen Hawking admitted that humanity’s survival is dismal in the distant future, noting that “although the chance of a disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next 1,000 or 10,000 years.”

Many factors can render the planet uninhabitable if given 1,000 years. Global warming does not seem to be slowing, but increasing exponentially. Frequent epidemics, such as the Ebola and Zika viruses, are also on the rise. “By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars,” Hawking remarked. “So a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race.” Premonitions similar to Hawking’s are partially what drive today’s rush for the colonization of Mars.

Source: CNN

Dinosaurs may have existed 20 million years earlier

Paleontologists at Macquarie University employed a novel dating method involving probability to increase the accuracy of the fossil record. A new family tree of over 1,000 species, the largest ever, was assembled to aid in the design of a probabilistic framework of first occurrences of specific species.
Paleontologists found that the likelihood of discovering the very first fossils is very minute, and so introduced probabilistic methods to increase accuracy of their estimates.

They found that the very first dinosaurs were present at the end of the Permian-Triassic period, 250 million years ago, meaning early dinosaurs somehow survived the largest mass extinction event in Earth’s history.

The entire study was published in Biology Letters.

Source: Forbes Science

China uses CRISPR, gene-editing to fight cancer cells

Scientists at Sichuan University injected a patient suffering from metazoic lung cancer with white blood cells that were edited using Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR). This is the first known instance of the application of the CRISPR technology on human beings.
CRISPR are segments of prokaryotic DNA that enable faster, cheaper, and more accurate gene editing. The new white blood cells, T-Lymhotcytes, targeted and attacked rogue cancer cells.

Sichuan University received ethical clearance for its trial within six months. Seeking the same approval would have taken much longer here in the United States. Scientists are hopeful that competition between China, and the U.S. will drive the latter to accelerate gene-editing research.

Source: WIRED

Pluto may have oceans underneath its icy surface

Scientists have newfound evidence of a sub-surface ocean on the icy dwarf-planet Pluto. Analysis of data sent back by NASA’s New Horizon space probe,which made the closest flyby of Pluto last year, shows compelling signs of water bodies below the ice surface. This adds Pluto to the list of worlds in the solar system believed to harbor hidden water oceans, which are highly probable incubators of extra-terrestrial life. Pluto’s oceans are not the most likely candidates for alien sightings, however, due to their harsh, cold conditions.

Pluto’s supposed ocean is estimated to be 150 to 200 kilometers below the surface and 62 kilometers deep. Internal exothermic processes in Pluto’s core are what could keep water liquid despite the planet’s great distance from the sun.

Source: The Huffington Post

Zika virus no longer an international health emergency

The Zika virus, the disease that ravaged Brazil and Florida, is no longer an international emergency according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This does not mean the virus is eradicated or ceased to be a threat, however. “We are not downgrading the importance of Zika,” said Pete Salama, executive director of WHO. “By placing it as a longer-term program of work, we are saying Zika is here to stay and WHO’s response is here to stay.”
The Zika virus was declared a Public Health Emergency in February 2016, after it was linked to birth defects such as microcephaly and neurological complications. The disease will likely continue to spread in areas with the mosquito vector since its spread depends on the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that act as carriers to that virus.

Source: Science

Alaska Airlines flies first biofuel-powered engine

Commercial airline Alaska Airlines flew its first flight with 20 percent biofuel. The fuel was made from forest tree limbs and branches, developed at Washington State University with aid from Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance. Moreover, it is chemically indistinguishable from usual kerosene-based jet fuel.

Joe Sprague of Alaska Airlines commented, “This latest milestone in Alaska’s efforts to promote sustainable biofuels is especially exciting since it is uniquely sourced from the forest residuals in the Pacific Northwest.”
This feat comes at a time when contrails and jet engine emissions are under scrutiny from the environmental community.

Source: Forbes Science