Daily Archives: April 29th, 2008

Tuesday Transhumanism

An experimental and potentially powerful way to fight disease, called RNA interference (RNAi), could now be closer to reality, as researchers at MIT and Alnylam, a biotech company based in Cambridge, MA, have addressed a key obstacle to effectively delivering the treatment to targeted cells. The researchers report a method for quickly synthesizing more than a thousand different lipid-like molecules and screening them for their ability to deliver short RNA molecules to cells. They’ve shown that some of these delivery agents are 10 times as effective at delivering RNA than previous methods were.

RNAi, which was first discovered in 1998, has attracted considerable attention as a potential treatment for a wide range of ailments, including cancer, viral infections, genetic diseases, and even heart attacks. Short RNA strands introduced into the cytoplasm of cells block the action of specific genes, while leaving other cellular mechanisms unaffected. This gives scientists a precise tool to stop the expression of specific proteins associated with disease. “You want to shut down just the bad gene–nothing else,” says Robert Langer, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT who led the work developing the new delivery agents. “Most drugs have side effects, in part because of a lack of this type of specificity.” Langer is a member of Alnylam’s scientific advisory board. The work was published this week in Nature Biotechnology.

This is good news to me and my descendents. Genetically triggered diseases kill more people than hand-guns every year (some will dispute that). It sucks having a liver that even turns nutrients from lettuce into sludge in ones arteries.

Novel delivery agents could mean a more targeted way to turn off disease genes.


In his 1986 book, The Engines of Creation, K Eric Drexler set down the long-term aim of nanotechnology – to create an assembler, a microscopic device, a robot, that could construct yet smaller devices from individual atoms and molecules.

For the last two decades, those researchers who recognized the potential have taken diminutive steps towards such a nanoassembler. Those taking the top-down approach have seen the manipulative power of the atomic force microscope (AFM), a machine that can observe and handle single atoms, as one solution. Those taking the bottom-up approach are using chemistry to build molecular machinery.

However, neither the top-down nor the bottom-up approach is yet to fulfill Drexler’s prophecy of functional nanobots that can construct other machines on a scale of just a few billionths of a meter.

Jason Gorman of the Intelligent Systems Division at the US government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) concedes that, “Nanoassembly is extremely challenging.” Yet the rewards could be enormous with the ultimate potential of creating a technology that can construct almost any material from atoms and molecules from super-strong but incredibly lightweight construction materials to a molecular computer or even nanobots that can make other nanobots to solve global problems, such as food, water, and energy shortages.

In Greg Bear’s ‘Queen of Angels’ and ‘Slant’, set fifty years in the future, nano-technology has triggered a small technological Singularity that is developing a post-scarcity world. Old garbage dumps and landfills are mined like coal fields are today because nano-assembling tech is capable of converting any old materials like plastics and rubber into new products. Gorman’s above claims are no bullsh*t.

US researchers have built a proto-prototype nano assembler


A new study has found that it may be possible to train people to be more intelligent, increasing the brainpower they had at birth.

Until now, it had been widely assumed that the kind of mental ability that allows us to solve new problems without having any relevant previous experience — what psychologists call fluid intelligence — is innate and cannot be taught (though people can raise their grades on tests of it by practicing).

But in the new study, researchers describe a method for improving this skill, along with experiments to prove it works.

The key, researchers found, was carefully structured training in working memory — the kind that allows memorization of a telephone number just long enough to dial it. This type of memory is closely related to fluid intelligence, according to background information in the article, and appears to rely on the same brain circuitry. So the researchers reasoned that improving it might lead to improvements in fluid intelligence.

I don’t think this is new news, memory games have been on the market for years and have been touted as great excercise for the ol’ grey matter.

But did they claim to raise intelligence? I can’t recall.

Memory Training Shown to Turn Up Brainpower