STOCKHOLM — Two scientists won the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for developing a way of editing genes likened to “molecular scissors” that offer the promise of one day curing inherited diseases.
Working on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna came up with a method known as CRISPR-cas9 that can be used to change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision. It is the first time two women have won the chemistry Nobel together.
Their work allows for laser-sharp snips in the long strings of DNA that make up the “code of life,” allowing scientists to precisely edit specific genes to remove errors which lead to disease.
“There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all,” said Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry. “It has not only revolutionized basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to groundbreaking new medical treatments.”
Gustafsson said that, as a result, any genome can now be edited “to fix genetic damage.”
But he cautioned that the “enormous power of this technology means we have to use it with great care.”
It has already raised serious ethical questions. Most of the world became more aware of CRISPR in 2018, when Chinese scientist He Jiankui revealed he had helped make the world’s first gene-edited babies, to try to engineer resistance to future infection with the AIDS virus. His work was denounced worldwide as unsafe human experimentation because of the risk of causing unintended changes that can pass to future generations, and he’s currently in prison.
In September, an international panel of experts issued a report saying it’s still too soon to try to make genetically edited babies because the science isn’t advanced enough to ensure safety, but they mapped a pathway for any countries that want to consider it.
Charpentier, 51, spoke of the shock of winning.
“Strangely enough I was told a number of times (that I’d win), but when it happens you’re very surprised and you feel that it’s not real,” she told reporters by phone from Berlin after hearing of the award, announced in Stockholm by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. “But obviously it’s real, so I have to get used to it now.”
“I was very emotional,” she added.
When asked about the significance of two women winning, Charpentier said that while she considers herself first and foremost a scientist, she hoped it would encourage others.
“I wish that this will provide a positive message to young girls who would like to follow the path of science,” said Charpentier, who is currently the director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin.
Doudna told The Associated Press of her own surprise — including that she learned she’d won from a reporter.
“I literally just found out, I’m in shock,” she said. “I was sound asleep.”
“My greatest hope is that it’s used for good, to uncover new mysteries in biology and to benefit humankind,” said Doudna, who is affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley and is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports AP’s Health and Science Department.
The breakthrough research done by Charpentier and Doudna was only published in 2012, making the discovery very recent compared to many Nobel wins that are often only honoured after decades have passed.
Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, a member of the Nobel Committee, noted that the method developed by the two biochemists has revolutionized the life sciences.
“The genetic scissors were discovered just eight years ago, but have already benefited humankind greatly,” she said.
The Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT have been in a long court fight over patents on CRISPR technology, and many other scientists did important work on it, but Doudna and Charpentier have been most consistently honoured with prizes for turning it into an easily usable tool.
Dr. Francis Collins, who led the drive to map the human genome, said CRISPR “has changed everything” about how to approach solutions to diseases with a genetic cause, such as sickle cell disease.
“You can draw a direct line from the success of the human genome project to the power of CRISPR-cas to make changes in the instruction book,” said Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health that helped fund Doudna’s work.
The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and prize money of 10 million kronor (more than $1.1 million), courtesy of a bequest left more than a century ago by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel. The amount was increased recently to adjust for inflation.
On Monday, the Nobel Committee awarded the prize for physiology and medicine to Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and British-born scientist Michael Houghton for discovering the liver-ravaging hepatitis C virus. Tuesday’s prize for physics went to Roger Penrose of Britain, Reinhard Genzel of Germany, and Andrea Ghez of the United States for their breakthroughs in understanding the mysteries of cosmic black holes.
The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of literature, peace and economics.
Larson reported from Washington, and Jordans from Berlin. AP Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione contributed from Milwaukee.
Read more stories about Nobel Prizes past and present by The Associated Press at https://www.apnews.com/NobelPrizes
David Keyton, Christina Larson And Frank Jordans, The Associated Press
Astronomers scout metal-rich asteroid thought to be worth 10,000 quadrillion dollars – ZME Science
Most asteroids are made of plain rock or ice — but not ’16 Psyche’.
According to recent observations perform using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the chunky asteroid from the solar system’s main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is mostly made of nickel and iron. This makes it an extremely atypical asteroid and a very valuable one — it’s worth as much as $10,000 quadrillion in raw resources by some estimates, or almost 70,000 times the value of the global economy in 2019.
Billionaires: ‘hold my beer’
Psyche spans 140 miles (225 km) in diameter, making it one of the largest objects in the main asteroid belt. In fact, Psyche is so large it was easily discovered using 19th-century technology in 1852.
The novelty is that now scientists have reported in The Planetary Science Journal the asteroid’s composition.
Scientists previously had some hints that Psyche is a dense, largely metallic object. This assumption has now been confirmed thanks to observations at two specific points in the asteroid’s rotation that offered a view of both sides of Psyche at ultraviolet wavelengths.
For the first time, astronomers have recorded iron oxide ultraviolet absorption bands in any asteroid. This is a clear indication that oxidation is occurring on the surface of the asteroid. Its high density suggests that the oxidated metals are nickel and iron. In fact, the entire asteroid might be the leftover core of a failed planet that never succeeded in forming into one.
“We’ve seen meteorites that are mostly metal, but Psyche could be unique in that it might be an asteroid that is totally made of iron and nickel,” Dr. Tracy Becker, Southwest Research Institute planetary scientist and co-author of the new study, said in a statement. “Earth has a metal core, a mantle and crust. It’s possible that as a Psyche protoplanet was forming, it was struck by another object in our solar system and lost its mantle and crust.”
The oxidation is believed to be caused by the solar wind. This flow of charged particles from the sun’s corona is responsible for the beautiful tails of comets, the formation of auroras in Earth’s atmosphere, and, in this case, the space weathering of Psyche.
Such metal asteroids are extremely rare, which is why Psyche was shortlisted in 2017 for a mission to study it closely using a spacecraft. The mission, which will be operated by NASA, is slated for a 2022 launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. The unmanned spacecraft would become the first to visit a body almost entirely made of metal, learning more about the asteroid as well as the solar system.
Since Psyche is believed to be as old as the solar system itself, findings from the mission could enrich our understanding of how planets form. Besides the scientific value of the mission, if you take into account the size of the asteroid and its metal composition, its total economic value could add up to $10,000 quadrillion, or $10 million trillion. That’s quite the incentive to visit the asteroid — provided, of course, we one day develop the technology to mine and retrieve metals from such asteroids.
“To understand what really makes up a planet and to potentially see the inside of a planet is fascinating,” Becker said.
“Once we get to Psyche, we’re really going to understand if that’s the case, even if it doesn’t turn out as we expect … any time there’s a surprise, it’s always exciting,” he added.
NASA’s Hubble Telescope Captures a Rare Metal Asteroid Worth 70,000 Times the Global Economy
Humans just got one more reason to journey to outer space. There’s a rare asteroid the size of Massachusetts orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, and it’s worth an estimated $10,000 quadrillion.
The rarity, known as 16 Psyche, was actually discovered back in 1852, but NASA’s Hubble Telescope has finally given earth-dwellers a closer look. The new study, which was published this week in The Planetary Science Journal, indicates that asteroid’s composition is key to its astronomical value.
To put this touted figure into perspective, when written out in full it boasts a line of zeros that could nearly stretch to the asteroid itself. That’s $10,000,000,000,000,000,000. This makes Psyche 70,000 times more valuable than the global economy, worth about $142 trillion in 2019, or enough to buy and sell Jeff Bezos, whose net worth is just shy of $200 billion, about 50 million times. That’s all thanks to some heavy metal.
Psyche, which spans 140 miles in diameter, appears to made entirely of iron and nickel. This metallic construction sets it apart from other asteroids that are usually comprised of rock or ice.
“We’ve seen meteorites that are mostly metal, but Psyche could be unique in that it might be an asteroid that is totally made of iron and nickel,” said Dr. Tracy Becker, a planetary scientist and author of the new paper, said in a statement.
So, how did the pricey asteroid come to be? According to Becker, it’s possible that Psyche is the leftover core of a planet that never properly formed because it was hit by objects in our solar system and effectively lost its mantle and crust.
The asteroid is currently about 230 million miles from Earth in the Solar System’s main asteroid belt, orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. And, unsurprisingly, NASA is planning to visit it again. In 2022, the administration plans to launch a Psyche spacecraft to further study the asteroid.
If they could just kindly bring the asteroid back, every person on the planet—all 7.5 billion of us—would get roughly $1.3 billion.
Source:- Robb Report
Ice loss to add 0.4C to global temperatures: Study
The loss of billions of tons of ice from Earth’s frozen spaces is likely to increase global temperatures by an additional 0.4 degrees Celsius, according to research Tuesday highlighting the danger of a “vicious circle” of warming.
Arctic summer sea ice levels have declined by more than 10 percent each decade since the late 1970s and mountain glaciers have shed roughly 250 billion tons of ice annually over the last century.
Ice loss from the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets is accelerating and already outstripping what scientists until recently believed to be the worst-case melt scenarios.
Decades of studies have sought to quantify how Earth’s melting ice will contribute to sea level rise — Antarctica and Greenland alone contain enough frozen water to boost oceans’ height by around 60 meters.
But little research has tried to predict how ice loss will add to the already 1.0 degree C of global warming emissions from fossil fuels since the start of the Industrial Era.
Scientists at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) used a climate model that includes components on atmosphere, ocean, sea- and land-ice data to predict temperature change from ice loss under a variety of emissions scenarios.
They found that under current levels of atmospheric CO2 — roughly 400 parts per million — the melting of Arctic sea ice, mountain glaciers and the polar ice caps would raise temperatures by 0.4C.
That’s on top of the 1.5C of warming our current emissions levels have rendered all but inevitable, and the safer cap on global warming aimed for in the Paris climate accord.
The main driver of temperature gain from ice loss would be due to a process known as albedo feedback, in which heat reflective bright ice is replaced by absorbent darker sea water and/or soil.
“If global ice masses shrink, this changes how much of the sunlight that hits the Earth’s surface is reflected back into space,” said lead author Nico Wunderling.
He likened the albedo effect to wearing either white or black clothes in summer.
“If you wear dark, you heat up more easily,” Wunderling noted.
This is one of Earth’s so-called climate “feedback loops”, in which increased temperatures lead to further ice loss, which in turn further increases temperatures.
Other ways that temperatures would rise further as ice receded include increased water vapor in the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effects, said authors of the study published in Nature Communications.
Looking solely at Arctic sea ice — which unlike polar ice caps might be totally absent during summer months within decades — they found its melt would contribute 0.2C to global temperatures alone.
The largest ice masses in Greenland and West Antarctica, by comparison, are huge and will likely take centuries to melt fully even if emissions continue their unabated growth.
But the authors highlighted the risk that those enormous bodies of frozen water could soon reach a point of no return as temperatures creep ever higher.
Given the unknowns surrounding ice cap tipping points, Wunderling told AFP it would be best to act in “a risk-averse” way and try to drag down emissions as soon as possible.
“With continued global warming, it becomes more and more likely that we cross tipping points -– not just in the ice-sheets, but also in other parts of the climate system,” he said.
“If the Paris Agreement is fulfilled we can avoid many of the strongest and potentially irreversible impacts on Earth’s ice masses, the global climate and humanity.”
Source:- The Jakarta Post – Jakarta Post
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