May 30, 2018

From robot-filled megacities where software monitors, well, everything, to massive gene-editing breakthroughs (yes, gene editing!), 2018 already has a metric crap ton going for it. Let’s dispense with this intro. and dive into how the near future is set to rock our lives…

 

1. The Sensing City

The city of the future is coming like something ripped straight out of fanciful cinema.

Alphabet, Inc.—that would be the parent company of Google for you non-techies—is working with the Canadian government on “Quayside,” a project ripe to reimagine the urban neighborhood. 

Set to transform Toronto’s industrial waterfront, the would-be city’s policies, technologies, and overall design will be informed by a vast sensor network that will pull data on air quality, noise levels, and yeah, even the activities of the citizenry. The underlying software running everything will be open so that third-party companies can build their own services, meaning things may get pretty crazy pretty fast—a couple of the goals are for all transportation to be shared and autonomous, and for robots to handle all the tedious BS such as mail delivery. Really!

If successful, there are already American cities queued up for the Sensing City makeover, including LA, San Francisco, Denver, and Boston.

 

2. Reading Your Genetic Fortunes

 

How do you feel about your future children getting a “DNA report card” of sorts at birth? (Hell, how do your friends and family feel about you procreating at all, for that matter?)

In all seriousness, there’s a sea of change afoot in science’s ability to predict the odds of a child developing cancer, suffering from heart disease, falling prey to addiction, or even developing superior intelligence. Scientists have discovered through vast genetic studies that many behaviors, traits, and the propensity for someone to develop a disease are the result of a number of identifiable genes that can then be used to create a “polygenic risk score.” While this score isn’t a diagnosis of a disease, it does offer probabilities that can help us be proactive in combating deficiencies.

The potential downside? Genetic discrimination a la the film Gattaca, which presented a vision of the future where genetic selection and eugenics led to some pretty messed up junk. Starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, it’s definitely worth a view for any of you sci-fi nerds out there.

 

3. Exploring the Interior of Mars

 

Forget just exploring the surface of Mars. NASA’s new InSight Probe, launched May 5, is set to discover how the inner workings of the Red Planet work.

Scheduled to touch down on the planet on Nov. 26 at around 3 p.m. EST, the probe will land on the lava plains of Elysium Planitia on the Martian surface. It will then become the first mission to ever investigate the deep interior of the Red Planet, seeking to detect “marsquakes” and other subsurface phenomenon. Space geeks everywhere hope it will shed light on how Mars—and even our own little blue planet—first formed.

Further reading.

 

4. Artificial Embryos

 

No egg? No sperm? No problem.

Researchers at the University of Michigan, University of Cambridge, and Rockefeller University have changed the way life can be created. Using stem cells that have simply been pulled from another embryo, the teams of embryologists have managed to grow mouse embryos without eggs and sperm. Apparently, stem cells have the ability to self-organize into synthetic embryos, paving the way for “birthing” mammals without an egg. While bioethical questions exist, it will make it simpler for researchers to study and understand the beginnings of life.

 

5. Gene Editing Human Trials

 

Gene. Editing.

Yup, we saved the craziest item for last. If you haven’t had your finger on the pulse of breakthrough science, researchers back in 2013 first used CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats)-Cas9 gene-editing technology to edit human cells in a dish. We’re talking about targeting a stretch of genetic code and editing the DNA at precise junctures by using an enzyme to cut strands.

Yeaaahhhh. It sounds insane, but this is real life, folks.

The big news is that biotech firm CRISPR Therapeutics has been cleared to start a clinical trial in humans (not in a dish) in an effort to cure beta thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder. The trial will begin later this year in Europe.

Read more!