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Botanists Rediscover a Rare Hawaiian Flower Thought To Be Extinct -- Thanks To a Drone

1 hour 58 min ago
Hibiscadelphus woodii, a relative of the hibiscus flower thought to be extinct, has been spotted by a drone on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The last known sighting of H. woodii was in 2009. Quartz reports: In 2016, Ben Nyberg, a drone specialist, began working with the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai to scope out extreme spots in the verdant valleys of the island. He's found examples of several rare species over the last few years, expanding the number of their individuals known to exist in the wild by a few here and there. But on a sunny day in February 2019, the drone's camera picked up an even more exciting tuft of flora. Nyberg and [botanist Ken Wood who discovered the flower in 1991] stood on a ledge over a sheer wall of green. They'd hiked 700 ft down from the top of the Kalalau Valley cliffs to get there, but couldn't get farther down into the valley, so Nyberg flew a drone another 800 ft down to look at a particularly verdant patch. "It's probably never been looked at," he says. Wood could tell from afar that it was a patch of native vegetation. On an island plagued by invasive plant species, that is always a welcome sight. And then they saw it on the monitor: Hibiscadelphus woodii, like a ghost from the recent past, yet very much alive. They were thrilled. "There were some high fives for sure," Nyberg says. In the drone footage, as the fluted cliffs slowly come into closer view, what first seems to be a carpet of green differentiates itself into individual plants, until eventually an unassuming little tree is in frame. To the untrained eye, it might be lost in the wash of its green surroundings but Wood knew it immediately to be the rare hibiscus relative he discovered in the 1990s. In the video here, you can see it at around the 00:58 mark. As far as Nyberg knows, it's the first time a drone has been used to rediscover a species of plant thought to be extinct.

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Greenland Is Melting Even Faster Than Experts Thought, Study Finds

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 23:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: Climate change is eliminating giant chunks of ice from Greenland at such a speed that the melt has already made a significant contribution to sea level rise, according to a new study. With global warming, the island will lose much more, threatening coastal cities around the world. Forty percent to 50% of the planet's population is in cities that are vulnerable to sea rise, and the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is bad news for places like New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Mumbai. Researchers reconstructed the mass balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet by comparing estimates of the amount of ice that has been discharged into the ocean with the accumulation of snowfall in the drainage basins in the country's interior for the past 46 years. The researchers found that the rate of ice loss has increased sixfold since then -- even faster than scientists thought. Since 1972, ice loss from Greenland alone has added 13.7 millimeters (about half an inch) to the global sea level, the study estimates. The island's ice sheet is the leading source of water added to the ocean every year.

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'Longevity Gene' Responsible For More Efficient DNA Repair

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 21:00
Researchers at the University of Rochester have discovered that the gene "sirtuin 6" (SIRT6) is responsible for more efficient DNA repair in species with longer lifespans. "The research illuminates new targets for anti-aging interventions and could help prevent age-related diseases," reports Phys.Org From the report: SIRT6 is often called the "longevity gene" because of its important role in organizing proteins and recruiting enzymes that repair broken DNA; additionally, mice without the gene age prematurely, while mice with extra copies live longer. The researchers hypothesized that if more efficient DNA repair is required for a longer lifespan, organisms with longer lifespans may have evolved more efficient DNA repair regulators. Is SIRT6 activity therefore enhanced in longer-lived species? To test this theory, the researchers analyzed DNA repair in 18 rodent species with lifespans ranging from 3 years (mice) to 32 years (naked mole rats and beavers). They found that the rodents with longer lifespans also experience more efficient DNA repair because the products of their SIRT6 genes -- the SIRT6 proteins -- are more potent. That is, SIRT6 is not the same in every species. Instead, the gene has co-evolved with longevity, becoming more efficient so that species with a stronger SIRT6 live longer. The researchers then analyzed the molecular differences between the weaker SIRT6 protein found in mice versus the stronger SIRT6 found in beavers. They identified five amino acids responsible for making the stronger SIRT6 protein "more active in repairing DNA and better at enzyme functions." When the researchers inserted beaver and mouse SIRT6 into human cells, the beaver SIRT6 better reduced stress-induced DNA damage compared to when researchers inserted the mouse SIRT6. The beaver SIRT6 also better increased the lifespan of fruit flies versus fruit flies with mouse SIRT6. The study has been published in the journal Cell.

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Employees Call On Microsoft To Protect GitHub From China Censors

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 20:20
The GitHub repository at "996.ICU" in China has been calling out tech companies in the country that pressure their employees to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days per week. "Since it went up last month, the page has been starred over 229,000 times, making it one of the most popular GitHub repositories on the site," reports PC Magazine. "But now a group of Microsoft employees are worried the Chinese government will force their employer to take the page down. So in response, they've been circulating an internal letter, urging Microsoft to stand up to any potential pressure to censor the GitHub page." From the report: "We encourage Microsoft and GitHub, companies which firmly believe in a healthy work-life balance, to keep the 996.ICU GitHub repository uncensored and available to everyone," reads the letter, which was shared with PCMag and started circulating internally on Sunday. The GitHub repository now hosts a list of over 140 Chinese companies that allegedly demand their employees work 60 hours a week. Many foreign media outlets have also reported on the protest page. But reportedly, some attempts have been made to censor mention of the 996.ICU repository within China. Domestic browsers from Tencent, Qihoo 360, and Xiaomi recently prevented users from visiting the GitHub page, according to Abacus. It's why a group of Microsoft employees based largely in the U.S. decided to circulate a protest letter calling on Redmond to protect the GitHub page from censorship. Microsoft hasn't commented, but the company's two other web properties, Bing and LinkedIn, "have been forced to comply with the country's strict censorship demands," the report notes.

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Tesla Will Allow Aggressive Autopilot Mode With 'Slight Chance of a Fender Bender'

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 19:40
During Tesla's "Autonomy Investor Day" today, Elon Musk said that the company will someday allow drivers to select aggressive modes of its Autopilot driver assistance system that have a "slight chance of a fender bender." "Musk didn't say when Tesla might roll out that option, only that the company would have to have "higher confidence" in Autopilot's capabilities before allowing it to happen," reports The Verge. From the report: "Do you want to have a nonzero chance of a fender bender on freeway traffic?" Musk asked at the event, which was for investors in the company. He dubbed it "LA traffic mode," because "unfortunately, [it's] the only way to navigate LA traffic." Tesla already allows its owners to select a "Mad Max" setting for Navigate on Autopilot, which is a feature that handles highway driving from on-ramp to off-ramp. The Mad Max setting makes quicker lane changes than if the car is in "Mild" or "Average" modes. Musk suggested Tesla will eventually allow drivers to choose "gradually more aggressive behavior" by "dial[ing] the setting up." Musk also said Tesla's full self-driving computer is now in all new Model 3, X and S vehicles, and a next-gen chip that's "three times better" than the current system is already "halfway done."

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NIH, FBI Accuse Scientists In US of Sending IP To China, Running Shadow Labs

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 19:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas has forced out three senior researchers with ties to China. The move comes amid nationwide investigations by federal officials into whether researchers are pilfering intellectual property from U.S. research institutions and running "shadow laboratories" abroad, according to a joint report by Science magazine and the Houston Chronicle. The National Institutes of Health began sending letters to the elite cancer center last August regarding the conduct of five researchers there. The letters discussed "serious violations" of NIH policies, including leaking confidential NIH grant proposals under peer review to individuals in China, failing to disclose financial ties in China, and other conflicts of interest. MD Anderson moved to terminate three of those researchers, two of whom resigned during the termination process. The center cleared the fourth and is still investigation the fifth. MD Anderson isn't the only institution dealing with this issue. The NIH sent similar letters to at least three other institutions, according to reporting by Science and the Houston Chronicle. Some advocates expressed concern over what they considered racial profiling while other researchers worried that such efforts to protect intellectual property would actually backfire. "These are the top talents foreign countries have been trying to recruit unsuccessfully," said Steven Pei, a University of Houston professor critical of the actions by MD Anderson. "We are now pushing them out of the Texas Medical Center, out of Houston, out of Texas, and out of the U.S. It seems we're helping foreign countries to accomplish what they could not do by themselves. We are hurting the American competitiveness."

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Toyota Establishes Research Institute In China To Study Hydrogen, Green Tech

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 18:20
Japan announced on Sunday it was setting up a research institute in Beijing in partnership with Tsinghua University to study car technology using hydrogen power and other green technologies that could ease environmental problems in China. Reuters reports: The initiative, outlined by Toyota's President and Chief Executive Akio Toyoda in a speech at Tsinghua University, is part of the Japanese carmaker's efforts to share more technology with China as it seeks to expand its business in the country by beefing up manufacturing capacity and distribution channels, a source close to Toyota said. The Tsinghua-Toyota Joint Research Institute will conduct research into cars and new technology to solve environmental problems in China, including reducing traffic accidents, Toyota said in a statement. The institute will "cooperate in research not only related to cars for Chinese consumers, but also in research related to active utilization of hydrogen energy that can help solve China's energy problems," the company said. The move dovetails with Toyota's announcement this month that it would offer carmakers and suppliers around the world free access to nearly 24,000 patents for electric vehicle technologies.

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TurboTax Uses Dark Patterns To Trick You Into Paying To File Your Taxes

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 17:40
ProPublica reports on the shady tactics TurboTax and other tax software companies use to prevent most Americans from filing their taxes for free. According to an agreement with the IRS, tax software companies are supposed to offer a "Free File" product to Americans making less than $66,000 a year. From the report: Here's what happened when we went looking. Our first stop was Google. We searched for "irs free file taxes." And we thought we found what we were looking for: Ads from TurboTax and others directing us to free products. The first link looked promising. It contained the word "free" five times! We clicked and were relieved to see that filing for free was guaranteed. We started the process by creating the profile of a TaskRabbit house cleaner who took in $29,000. We entered extensive personal information. TurboTax asked us to click through more than a dozen questions and prompts about our finances. After all of that, only then did we get the bad news: TurboTax revealed this wasn't going to be free at all. Turns out the house cleaner didn't qualify because he is a independent contractor. The charge? $119.99. Then we tried with a second scenario. We went back to TurboTax.com and clicked on "FREE Guaranteed." This time, we went through the process as a Walgreens cashier without health insurance, entering personal information and giving the company lots of sensitive data. Again, TurboTax told us we had to pay -- this time because there's an extra form if you don't have insurance. The charge? $59.99. But wait. Are the house cleaner and the cashier not allowed to prepare and file their taxes for free because of their particular tax situations? No! According to the agreement between the IRS and the companies, anyone who makes less than $66,000 can prepare and file their taxes for free. After doing some digging in the source code, ProPublica found that TurboTax had branded them as "Non Free File Alliance" or NONFFA. "Even though TurboTax could tell we were eligible to file for free, the company never told us about the truly free version. It turns out that if you start the process from TurboTax.com, it's impossible to find the truly free version. The company itself admits this." Another Google search brought them to a page with two options: "See If You Qualify" and "Start for Free." The "Start for Free" link brought them back to the version of TurboTax where they had to pay, but the "See If You Quality" link finally took them to the real Free File program.

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Charter Avoids Getting Kicked Out of New York, Agrees To New Merger Conditions

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 17:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Charter Communications won't be kicked out of New York after all. Nine months after a New York government agency ordered Charter to leave the state over its alleged failure to comply with merger conditions, state officials have announced a settlement that will let Charter stay in New York in exchange for further broadband expansions. The settlement will enforce a new version of the original merger conditions and require a $12 million payment, about half of which could help other ISPs deploy broadband. The State Public Service Commission (PSC) had voted in July 2018 to revoke its approval of Charter's 2016 purchase of Time Warner Cable (TWC), saying Charter failed to meet interim deadlines for broadband-expansion requirements. The order, which came just a month after a $2 million fine, would have required Charter to sell the TWC system to another provider. But the PSC never enforced the merger revocation order as it repeatedly granted deadline extensions to Charter while the sides held settlement talks. The result is a proposed settlement between Charter and the state Department of Public Service (DPS) that was announced Friday. "Pursuant to the agreement, Charter would expand its network to provide high-speed broadband service to 145,000 residences and businesses entirely in Upstate New York; the network expansion would be completed by September 30, 2021 in accordance with a schedule providing frequent interim enforceable milestone requirements; and Charter will pay $12 million to expand broadband service to additional unserved and underserved premises," a DPS statement said. Half of the $12 million could go back to Charter but they'd "have to use it to deploy broadband to locations in addition to the 145,000 already required," the report notes. "The other $6 million would fund broadband deployment projects in a competitive bidding process, and it could thus end up going to Charter's competitors -- although Charter would be eligible to bid for the funding, too."

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Tesla's Full Self-Driving Computer is Now in All New Cars and a Next-Gen Chip is Already 'Halfway Done'

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 16:24
The Tesla computer, a new custom chip designed to enable full self-driving capabilities, is now in all new Model 3, X and S vehicles, CEO Elon Musk said during the company's Autonomy Day. From a report: Tesla switched over from Nvidia's Drive platform to its own custom chip for the Model S and X about a month ago and for the Model 3 about 10 days ago, Musk said. "All cars being produced all have the hardware necessary -- computer and otherwise -- for full self-driving," Musk said. "All you need to do is improve the software." Work is also already underway on a next-generation chip, Musk added. The design of this current chip was completed "maybe one and half, two years ago." Tesla is now about halfway through the design of the next-generation chip. Musk wanted to focus the talk on the current chip, but he later added that the next-generation one would be "three times better" than the current system and was about two years away.

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Google Walkout Organizers Say They're Facing Retaliation

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 15:44
Two employee activists at Google say they have been retaliated against for helping to organize a walkout among thousands of Google employees in November, and are planning a "town hall" meeting on Friday for others to discuss alleged instances of retaliation. Wired: In a message posted to many internal Google mailing lists Monday, Meredith Whittaker, who leads Google's Open Research, said that after Google disbanded its external AI ethics council on April 4, she was told that her role would be "changed dramatically." Whittaker said she was told that, in order to stay at the company, she would have to "abandon" her work on AI ethics and her role at AI Now Institute, a research center she cofounded at New York University. Claire Stapleton, another walkout organizer and a 12-year veteran of the company, said in the email that two months after the protest she was told she would be demoted from her role as marketing manager at YouTube and lose half her reports. After escalating the issue to human resources, she said she faced further retaliation. "My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I'm not sick," Stapleton wrote. After she hired a lawyer; the company conducted an investigation and seemed to reverse her demotion. "While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day," she wrote.

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Podcast Wars: $100 Million Startup Luminary To Launch Tomorrow Without Some Publicly Available Popular Podcasts

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 15:00
Luminary, a $100 million venture-backed podcasting company, will debut its service tomorrow. It offers two tiers to customers: subscription-based shows without ads or podcasts for free but deal with ads as a price. But it has already ruffled some feathers. From a report: When it rolls out to the public on iOS, Android, and the web, Luminary's podcast app will be missing some of the industry's biggest shows, including The New York Times's The Daily and Gimlet Media shows like Reply All and Homecoming. Shows by Anchor's network of smaller creators won't be on the app, nor will series from Parcast, both of which are owned by Spotify. By withholding their shows, the Times and Spotify are setting Luminary up to fail -- or at least struggle to get off on the right foot with users. It certainly seems like the first shot fired in the inevitable premium podcast war and could destabilize one of the first buzzy, well-funded entrants before it can make a dent in the industry. The decisions that happen now will reshape the way podcasts are distributed in the future.

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Facial Recognition Creeps Up on a JetBlue Passenger

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 14:13
An anonymous reader shares a report: A boarding technology for travelers using JetBlue is causing controversy due to a social media thread on the airline's use of facial recognition. Last week, traveler MacKenzie Fegan described her experience with the biometric technology in a social media post that got the attention of JetBlue's official account. She began: "I just boarded an international @JetBlue flight. Instead of scanning my boarding pass or handing over my passport, I looked into a camera before being allowed down the jet bridge. Did facial recognition replace boarding passes, unbeknownst to me? Did I consent to this?" JetBlue was ready to offer Twitterized sympathy: "You're able to opt out of this procedure, MacKenzie. Sorry if this made you feel uncomfortable." But once you start thinking about these things, your thoughts become darker. Fegan wanted to know how JetBlue knew what she looked like. JetBlue explained: "The information is provided by the United States Department of Homeland Security from existing holdings." Fegan wondered by what right a private company suddenly had her bioemtric data. JetBlue insisted it doesn't have access to the data. It's "securely transmitted to the Customs and Border Protection database." Fegan wanted to know how this could have possibly happened so quickly. Could it be that in just a few seconds her biometric data was whipped "securely" around government departments so that she would be allowed on the plane? JetBlue referred her to an article on the subject, which was a touch on the happy-PR side. Fegan was moved, but not positively, by the phrase "there is no pre-registration required."

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Amazon is Now Making Its Delivery Drivers Take Selfies

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 13:25
Amazon is now making its delivery drivers take selfies, in a bid to reduce fraud. Using facial recognition, the company will verify drivers' identities to make sure they are who they say they are. From a report: The new requirements appeared on the Amazon Flex app to drivers, notifying them that they needed to take a selfie before continuing work. Of course, Amazon warns drivers to "not take a selfie while driving." By asking drivers to take selfies, Amazon could be preventing multiple people from sharing the same account. These efforts could screen out anyone who is technically unauthorized from delivering packages, such as criminals who are attempting to use Amazon Flex as an excuse to lurk in front of people's homes.

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WiFi Finder, a Popular Hotspot Finder App, Exposed 2 Million Wi-Fi Network Passwords

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 12:45
A popular hotspot finder app for Android exposed the Wi-Fi network passwords for more than two million networks. From a report: The app, downloaded by thousands of users, allowed anyone to search for Wi-Fi networks in their nearby area. The app allows the user to upload Wi-Fi network passwords from their devices to its database for others to use. That database of more than two million network passwords, however, was left exposed and unprotected, allowing anyone to access and download the contents in bulk. Sanyam Jain, a security researcher and a member of the GDI Foundation, found the database and reported the findings to TechCrunch. We spent more than two weeks trying to contact the developer, believed to be based in China, to no avail. Eventually we contacted the host, DigitalOcean, which took down the database within a day of reaching out. "We notified the user and have taken the [server] hosting the exposed database offline," a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

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Nokia 9 Buggy Update Lets Anyone Bypass Fingerprint Scanner With a Pack of Gum

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 12:03
A buggy update for Nokia 9 PureView handsets has apparently impacted the smartphone model's in-screen fingerprint scanner, which can now be bypassed using unregistered fingerprints or even with something as banal as a pack of gum. From a report: Multiple users have complained about this problem over the weekend, after installing an OS update (v4.22) released on April 18. The update was meant to improve the phone's in-screen fingerprint scanner module -- so that users won't have to press their fingers too hard on the screen before the phone unlocks -- yet it had the exact opposite effect the company hoped for. While initially, the reported issues appeared to be new, a video recorded by another user showed the same problem (unlocking phones with unregistered fingerprints) even before the v4.22 update, meaning that the update just made the unlocking bug worse than it already was.

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Samsung's Galaxy Fold Smartphone Release Delayed

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 11:23
Samsung Electronics is delaying the expected Friday rollout of its Galaxy Fold smartphone [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source] until at least next month, WSJ reported Monday citing people familiar with the matter, the latest fallout from a product headache that began with tech reviewers reporting their test devices had malfunctioned. From the report: The Galaxy Fold phone -- priced at nearly $2,000 and the industry's first mainstream foldable-screen device -- was slated to hit shelves this week in the U.S. But problems with phones being used by reviewers have changed those plans, the people said. The new rollout is expected in the coming weeks, though a firm date has yet to be determined, they said. Though the company's internal investigation remains ongoing, the Galaxy Fold phone's reported issues stem from problems affecting the handset's hinge and extra pressure applied to the internal screen, the people said. A Samsung spokeswoman didn't have immediate comment. The company had previously said it would adhere to its plans for the Galaxy Fold phones to hit shelves on April 26 in the U.S. The delayed launch came hours after Samsung abruptly scrapped prerelease media events planned for Hong Kong on Tuesday and Shanghai on Wednesday.

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Apple Spends More Than $30 Million on Amazon's Cloud Every Month, Making It One of the Biggest AWS Customers

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 10:41
As Apple and Amazon compete for a greater share of consumer dollars and attention, they also have a particularly intimate business relationship: Apple is spending more than $30 million a month on Amazon's cloud, CNBC reported Monday, citing citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: Apple's cloud expenditure reflects the company's determination to deliver online services like iCloud quickly and reliably, even if it must depend on a rival to do so. [...] In a February job posting, Apple said it was looking for someone who could "lead and architect our growing AWS footprint." Indeed, that expenditure is on track to expand. At the end of March, Apple's spending was on track to average more than $30 million per month in the first quarter of 2019. That would be more than 10 percent higher than a year earlier, according to two people familiar with the spending. If Apple's AWS use stays at those levels for the rest of 2019, its annual spending would exceed $360 million. Apple spent approximately $350 million in 2018, one of these people said.

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EU Votes To Create Gigantic Biometrics Database

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 10:00
The European Parliament voted last week to interconnect a series of border-control, migration, and law enforcement systems into a gigantic, biometrics-tracking, searchable database of EU and non-EU citizens. From a report: This new database will be known as the Common Identity Repository (CIR) and is set to unify records on over 350 million people. Per its design, CIR will aggregate both identity records (names, dates of birth, passport numbers, and other identification details) and biometrics (fingerprints and facial scans), and make its data available to all border and law enforcement authorities. Its primary role will be to simplify the jobs of EU border and law enforcement officers who will be able to search a unified system much faster, rather than search through separate databases individually. "The systems covered by the new rules would include the Schengen Information System, Eurodac, the Visa Information System (VIS) and three new systems: the European Criminal Records System for Third Country Nationals (ECRIS-TCN), the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)," EU officials said last week.

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Scientists Create 'Living' Machines That Eat, Grow, and Evolve

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 06:34
elainerd (Slashdot reader #94,528) shares an article from The Next Web: Scientists from Cornell University have successfully constructed DNA-based machines with incredibly life-like capabilities. These human-engineered organic machines are capable of locomotion, consuming resources for energy, growing and decaying, and evolving. Eventually they die. That sure sounds a lot like life, but Dan Luo, professor of biological and environmental engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell, who worked on the research, says otherwise. He told The Stanford Chronicle, "We are introducing a brand-new, lifelike material concept powered by its very own artificial metabolism. We are not making something that's alive, but we are creating materials that are much more lifelike than have ever been seen before." Just how lifelike? According to the research they're on par with biologically complex organisms such as mold.... "Dynamic biomaterials powered by artificial metabolism could provide a previously unexplored route to realize 'artificial' biological systems with regenerating and self-sustaining characteristics." Basically, the Cornell team grew their own robots using a DNA-based bio-material, observed them metabolizing resources for energy, watched as they decayed and grew, and then programmed them to race against each other... Lead author on the team's paper, Shogo Hamada, told The Stanford Chronicle that "ultimately, the system may lead to lifelike self-reproducing machines."

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