Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Download: discovering proteins and the climate crisis in Pakistan

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Shreya Christina
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This is today’s edition The download, our weekday newsletter that gives a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

An AI that can design new proteins could help unlock new treatments and materials

What happened?: A new AI tool could help researchers discover previously unknown proteins and design entirely new ones. When used, it could help unlock the development of more efficient vaccines, accelerate research into cancer cures, or lead to completely new materials.

How it works: ProteinMPNN, developed by a group of researchers at the University of Washington, provides scientists with a tool that complements DeepMind’s AlphaFold tool’s ability to predict the shapes of all proteins known to science. ProteinMPNN will help researchers with the reverse problem. If they already have an exact protein structure in mind, it will help them find the amino acid sequence that folds into that shape.

Why it matters: Proteins are fundamental to life and understanding their form is essential to working with them. Traditionally, researchers develop proteins by modifying the proteins found in nature, but ProteinMPNN will open up a whole new universe of possible proteins for researchers to design from scratch. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Read more:

+ DeepMind has predicted the structure of almost every protein known to science.And it’s giving away the data for free, which could spur new scientific discoveries. Read the full story.

+ This is why Demis Hassabis started DeepMind. AlphaFold has changed the way researchers work and set DeepMind on a new course. Read the full story.

Climate change ‘fingerprints’ are evident in Pakistan’s devastating floods

What we know: Climate change has very likely intensified the South Asian monsoon that has swept over Pakistan in recent weeks, killing more than 1,000 people and destroying nearly 2 million homes. That’s according to a new analysis from World Weather Attribution, a network of scientists who use climate models, weather observations and other tools to determine whether global warming has increased the likelihood or severity of recent extreme weather events.

What we don’t know: It is not clear exactly how big the role of climate change was. Using climate models to pinpoint the role of global warming in amplifying the entire monsoon season has proven difficult, due to a combination of the wide variability in patterns of heavy rainfall over long periods, natural processes at work that models may not fully capture, and the peculiarities of the weather of the territory. And the weather in the country is likely to get even more extreme. Read the full story.

—James Temple

The must reads

I’ve scoured the internet to find today’s funniest/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Uber appears to have been hacked by a teenager
An 18-year-old claims to be behind the cybersecurity breach that compromised the company’s internal systems. (NYT $)
+ Meanwhile, the services work normally for customers. (Bloomberg $)

2 An AI Used Medical Notes To Teach Itself To Recognize Diseases On Chest X-rays
By teaching AI models to read existing reports, researchers don’t have to manually label the data. (MIT Technology Review)

3 The U.S. Government’s Huge Database Of Traveler Data Is Growing Fast
Data from phones and other devices is kept for 15 years. (WP $)

4 The White House Wants Congress To Drop Social Media Immunity
Tech companies are protected by Section 230, which means they are not legally liable for content posts by their users. (Reuters)
+ This is why it is worth saving. (MIT Technology Review)
+ We need clearer guidelines for what constitutes harmful content online. (The information $)
+ Senators are asking better questions of Big Tech these days. (Slate $)

5 Millions of people in India have geotagged their homes
The move, which was part of the country’s Independence Day celebrations, has upset privacy advocates. (Rest of the world)

6 Organic Molecules Found in Rocks on Mars
They could prove that life flourished there. (wired $)
+ The microbes may have lived in saline lakes. (Motherboard)
+ The best places to find extraterrestrial life in our solar system. (MIT Technology Review)

7 The Most Advanced AI Systems Can Blast Even Their Creators
That’s kind of the point of deep learning. (The Atlantic Ocean $)

8 Into the wild world of leg extension
More and more men are willing to have their legs broken to make them look taller – for a price. (GQ)
+ Bionic limbs could also be more widely available within a decade. (Neo.Life)

9 TikTok is the new Google
Why trust a restaurant’s website when TikTok shows you what their food looks like? (NYT $)

10 The Race To Slow Aging
Tinkering with someone’s epigenetic age is a place to start. (Neo.Life)
+ Outdated clocks are meant to predict how long you will live. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“Facebook is a bit extinct.”

—Natasha Hunt Lee, 25, explains why Gen Z is embracing new digital ways to invite friends to parties outside of the social network to New York Times.

The big story

Two sick kids and a $1.5 million bill: one family’s race for gene therapy treatment

October 2018

Jennie and Gary Landsman launched an online appeal to rescue their sons on Thanksgiving of 2017. In a touching video, the couple describes how their two sons, Benny, then 18 months, and Josh, four months — both have a fatal genetic brain disorder called Canavan. -disease. It is extremely rare – so rare, in fact, that there is no reliable understanding of how many children are born with it. Relatively few researchers study Canavan, and no drugs are approved to treat it.

The Landsmans refused to accept the doctors’ advice to put their sons at ease until they died. Instead, they learned: There may be a way to fix the genetic flaw in the boys’ brains. But the family would have to pay for it themselves. And it would be expensive.

The Landsmans had discovered gene therapy, a technology that uses viruses to add healthy genes to cells with defective ones. The medical logic of the technology is especially irresistible to parents of children with the rarest diseases on Earth, as it suggests the ultimate bug fix. The problem is: who is going to pay? Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Do you have an idea?Give me a callortweet them to me.)

+ If you enjoyed the great TV hit The White Lotus, The resort should be right up your alley.
+ Why? follow your feeling is not necessarily the path to happiness.
+ As we head into fall, here are some of the best horror movies on netflix straight away.
+ I didn’t know it was possible to make butter even tastier, but it turns out it’s possible!
+ This Roman Coin Collection is quite astonishing.

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