World’s First ‘Three Parent Baby’ Born Thanks to a New Fertility Technique

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World’s First ‘Three Parent Baby’ Born Thanks to a New Fertility Technique

Yesterday 1:33pm
Image: Zeiss Microscopy

A new reproductive technique in which a baby is produced with the genetic material from three distinct parents has yielded its first human.

 As reported in New Scientist, the baby was born five months ago in Mexico with the help of US researchers. The three-parent reproductive technique, known as mitochondrial donation or pronuclear transfer, is not yet legal in the United States, but it is under serious discussion. The method was approved two years ago in the UK, but that country has yet to produce its first “three-parent” child.

 This therapy stops serious conditions from being passed down from mother to child. In this case, the five-month old boy was born to a Jordanian mother who was at risk of passing down a fatal and debilitating genetic disorder called Leigh Syndrome, which affects the developing nervous system. The mother had previously lost two children to the disorder, so she sought the help of John Zhang, a researcher at the New Hope Fertility Center in New York City. As noted in New Scientist, Zhang performed the procedure in Mexico, where “there are no rules,” adding that “[saving] lives is the ethical thing to do.”

Mitochondria are the powerpacks that fuel every human cell, and just like the nucleus, they contain DNA. Unfortunately, inherited defects in mitochondrial DNA can cause severe or even fatal results. To overcome this problem, scientists extract two eggs—one from the mother and one from a donor. The nucleus of the donor egg is removed, leaving the mitochondria intact, and replaced by the mother’s nucleus. The resulting embryo is free from the inherited defect, resulting in a potentially healthy baby—albeit it with three parents.

 Zhang and his colleagues tested the baby’s mitochondria, and found that less than one percent contains the harmful mutation. It usually takes about 18 percent of mitochondria to be affected before problems set in.

The technique is considered controversial by some because of the unorthodox number of parents. But bear in mind that a scant 0.1 percent of genetic information is being transferred by the donor. This concern is basically a non-issue, and people need to get over it. Also, this is not the first time that a baby has been born with three parents; it simply marks the first time it’s been done using this new technique.

 More important are the questions of safety and efficacy. Running off to Mexico to perform a procedure because it’s still illegal in the United States may push the science forward, but it’s clearly sending the wrong message.

[New Scientist]

George is a contributing editor at Gizmodo and io9.

SpaceX Wants to Venture Much Further Out Into the Solar System

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SpaceX Wants to Venture Much Further Out Into the Solar System

All images: Flickr / SpaceX

Elon Musk finally revealed his plans for a mission to Mars today. But a new set of images from SpaceX show the Interplanetary Transport System going even further in the solar system than the Red Planet.

As we speculated yesterday, the plans for the ITS do, indeed, go well beyond Mars. Musk confirmed an interest in traveling elsewhere in the solar system, especially to Europa, during his speech today—and SpaceX confirmed in a tweet and with this new artwork, as well.

In the latest renderings from SpaceX, you can see the ITS heading past Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, and also Saturn’s rings. Other destinations appear to include Titan, Enceladus, Europa, or others. But before the ITS can make it way out there, the spacecraft has to show that it can get to Mars first.

How Elon Musk Plans to Go to Mars

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How Elon Musk Plans to Go to Mars 

Yesterday 3:28pm
Image: Flickr / SpaceX

SpaceX plans to build a “self-sustaining city” on Mars, according to its founder Elon Musk. But, while we now know a lot more about how SpaceX plans to get to Mars, details about how people will actually survive up there remain sketchy.

 Musk dropped the news on Tuesday during an address at the International Astronautical Congress meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he had promised to reveal how the company planned to send people to live on Mars.

“I don’t have an immediate doomsday prophecy,” said Musk, but he noted that he saw only two possible paths forward. “One path is to stay on Earth forever, and there will be some extinction event. The alternative is to become a multi-planetary species, which I hope you will agree is the right way to go.”

A view of Mars from inside the spaceship (Image: SpaceX)

The plan comes less than a month after the company’s rockets were grounded following a mysterious explosion that caused a Falcon 9 to burst into flames on the launchpad. Since then, the company has released the results of an initial investigation, tracing the fire back to a breach in the rocket’s heliumsupply, and announced that it plans to take to the skies again by November.

 Right before the presentation, SpaceX released a mini-preview of what we could expect from its new Interplanetary Transport System. The system was previously called the Mars Colonial Transporter, until just a few weeks ago,when Musk changed the name after suggesting that it could take us to other destinations in the solar system.

As noted earlier, the video gives us a pretty good idea of the sequence of events for how the system would work:

In the video, first, we see the rocket lift-off from Cape Canaveral’s Launchpad 39a with 28,730,000 pounds of thrust behind it. After stage separation, the spaceships parks in orbit while the booster returns to Earth—where it lands. A propellant tanker is loaded onto the booster to refuel the spaceship in orbit for its trip to Mars. The tanker returns to Earth and the spaceship heads for Mars. The solar arrays deploy and the ships coasts until it finally enter Mars’ orbit. The ship lands on the Martian surface and then we get a glimpse of the astronauts looking out onto the Martian plains.

What we didn’t see in the video, however, is any kind of infrastructure that would support those astronauts to keep them alive after landing. Based on Musk’s comments, it sounds like SpaceX intends to send colonizers to a permanent city on the Red Planet. With 1,000 ships and 200 people per ship, Musk estimated that it would take 40 to 100 years to achieve a fully self-sustaining civilization on Mars.

 One of the big barriers to doing that is the cost, which Musk estimated at about $10 billion. The SpaceX founder detailed four ways that he believed a ticket to Mars would become a possible purchase for many people—similar to buying a house. These methods include using reusable rockets, refuelling the spaceship in space, and using a methane fuel instead of traditional rocket fuels. Finally, that methane fuel could be harvested on Mars itself.

We also learned quite a bit about the rocket and what it would be like to travel to Mars. Just like the Falcon 9, the rocket booster on the Interplanetary Transport System will land and be re-used. (SpaceX has landed a number of its Falcon 9 rockets after flight, but hasn’t yet flown one of the used rockets back into space.) A key feature of the rocket re-usage plan is to send their Mars rockets back into space, so seeing a Falcon 9 rocket successfully make a second trip will be critical to convincing people that the plan is plausible.

 The new SpaceX rocket will be incredibly large, dwarfing even the company’s Falcon Heavy and the world’s last tallest rocket, the now-defunct Saturn V.

If being locked into a spaceship for months at a time with a bunch of your fellow humans sounds a little grim, though, Musk says not to worry. “It’ll be, like, really fun to go—you’ll have a great time,” he says. Key to doing that will be making the inside of the rocket comfortable for the long ride, which for initial trips will last 80 days. Musk says that he eventually believes a trip could be brought down to a single month.

But whether this is really doable depends a lot on whether SpaceX can actually get the money together. “I would say it’s going to be a challenge to fund this whole project,” Musk noted. He spent a lot of time today talking about the economics of an individual ticket, which he said could drop as low as $100,000.

Musk hinted that he would personally be devoting assets to the project. “I really don’t have any other motivation for personally accumulating assets, except to make the biggest contribution I can to making life multi-planetary,” he said. But even then, there would still need to be significant outside investment.

 “I know there’s a lot of people in the private sector interested in funding a trip to Mars, hopefully there will be interest in the government side as well,” Musk said. “Ultimately this will be a huge private-public partnership.”

How quickly all this could happen would, in large degree, depend on whether that funding comes through at all. But if the money is there and all goes as planned on the technical side, Musk said we could see Mars flights begin as soon as 2023—although he cautioned that the timeline was still in-flux. He also kept to SpaceX’s original date for when we would see Red Dragon missions head to Mars in 2018 with payloads between 2 or 3 tons.

But while he described the project as a “self-sustaining city,” Musk did not go into detail about the kind of long-term infrastructure that would keep people alive once they got there.

 “The goal of SpaceX is really to build the transport system,” said Musk, before suggesting that the Martian colonists themselves would do much of the building. “Who wants to be among the first to build everything, from refineries to the first pizza joint?” Musk asked.

But before we can build a pizza joint on Mars, people will need a whole lot of other things, including but not limited to clean and usable water, a space habitat capable of withstanding Martian environments, some kind of transport, and presumably some more people who would eat there. Musk also failed to explain who—if anyone—is actually going to build and maintain that basic infrastructure. Without it, the plan is unlikely to succeed.

For what it’s worth, Musk says that he’d like to make the trip to Mars himself—but only after putting together a Plan B for his company, in case of disaster. “I would definitely like to go to orbit and visit the space station and then ultimately go to Mars,” he said. “I have to make sure if something goes wrong on the flight and I die there’s a good succession plan and the mission of the company continues.”

 If SpaceX’s plans to get to Mars do succeed, though, we could be looking at trips even further out. As I noted yesterday, Musk has hinted at the possibility of using this transport system to go beyond Mars—and it appears that future plans could be heading that way.

“If we have a propellent depot, you can go from Mars to Jupiter, no problem,” Musk said. “It means full access to the entire greater solar system.” He noted a particular interest in traveling to Europa.

The first step, though, would be establishing regular travel—or even a first trip—to Mars. And to see if that’s really possible, we’ll have to wait.

Ria Misra

This Woman Lived With a Mystery “Pregnancy” for 3 Years

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This Woman Lived With a Mystery “Pregnancy” for 3 Years

Warning: The images in this post are graphic.


How Self-Driving Cars May Change The World

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“this is an article sent in by Sally Thomas ” :

How Self-Driving Cars May Change The World

Self-driving cars. Some are horrified by the prospect. Others are excited. Whatever you think of them, however, they’re on their way. We’ve got the technology, and governments are working even now on putting legislative infrastructures in place which will allow their use. Quite what form these infrastructures will take remains to be seen – but it looks pretty certain that the first commercial driverless cars will be hitting a road near you pretty soon. One day, you may even own one yourself. Or possibly not, if driverless technology changes vehicle ownership trends (as it may well do…). Plenty of people think that driverless cars will bring sweeping changes to the world in their wake. This might be true, it might not – it all depends on what legislation accompanies their advent, and how the public receive and use them. However, let’s go out on a limb and have a look at some of the changes which could, potentially, take place with driverless cars…

General Motors’ Firebird II was described as having an “electronic brain” that allowed it to move into a lane with a metal conductor and follow it along

The Transportation Industry Could Transform

The industry most obviously and immediately affected by driverless technology will be the transportation industry. If your vehicle drives itself, it does not need a driver, after all. Lots of people are worried that this will put those currently employed to drive out of a job. However, this may not necessarily be the case. After all, while a driverless lorry may be able to get your parcel to your street, it can’t carry it to your door and get your signature. And while a driverless bus may be able to get you from A to B, it can’t provide security, or answer your queries about tickets. While there may well be technological solutions around both of these problems, it also seems likely at the moment that governments will insist on having someone qualified to take manual control of any driverless commercial vehicle on board while the vehicle is in operation – whether or not they are actually driving it themselves. So the outlook for bus drivers and delivery people isn’t as bleak as it may seem!

Ownership May Alter

For private vehicles, it could transpire that people will come to see cars as more of a service to be called up as and when needed rather than as individual possessions. If you can direct your car by remote control, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be out and about transporting other people from place to place when you don’t need it yourself. This poses some interesting questions for the private car industry. For example, if you can happily co-own a car with a group of other people, and if none of you are actually driving the car themselves, how will the current system of needing to be insured on the car you drive work? Will vehicle companies offer subscription services via which users can call up cars when they need them, rather than owning their own – like a remote control taxi, only cheaper? All very interesting, and something that the automotive industry is currently working upon rather feverishly!

The Volvo S60 Drive Me autonomous test vehicle is considered Level 3 autonomous driving.

Parking Won’t Be A Problem

If you can send your car off to park itself, and call it back when you need it, the problem of parking suddenly ceases to be an issue. Indeed, we could potentially free up an awful lot of land space currently occupied by car parks which must needs be within walking distances of houses, shops, workplaces etc. If self-driving cars could take themselves to a single depot when not actively transporting people, that eliminates at a stroke the necessity for shopping center and office car parks. You could even grub up your drive and turn it into a garden, or convert your garage into a games room!

Tesla Model S Autopilot system is suitable only on limited-access highways not for urban driving. Among other limitations, Autopilot can not detect pedestrians or cyclists.

The Look Of Vehicles Will Change

As you’d expect, proponents of driverless vehicles currently claim that they’ll be a lot safer than what we’ve got at the moment. Whether or not that is the case remains to be seen – but it’s almost certain that the safety specs for driverless cars will be different to those of manually driven cars. For a start, they’re likely to have electric engines, which are considerably smaller than petroleum-driven engines. While they’ll need space for the computer tech which will drive the car, these can also be rendered pretty small. So spacious hoods to house hefty engines simply won’t be needed. Currently, there’s a good argument for keeping a large ‘crumple zone’ regardless of what’s under the hood, as it helps to protect passengers during head-on collisions. However, the likelihood is that driverless car passengers will be in the back rather than the front of the car, meaning that the vehicle as a whole can be a hell of a lot smaller without sacrificing any ‘crumple zone’ advantages.