Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology
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Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology
Transhumanism, abbreviated as H+ or h+, is an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.

Synthetic biology is the design and construction of biological devices and systems for useful purposes.
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Brown unveils wireless brain sensor prototype

Brown unveils wireless brain sensor prototype | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it
In a significant advance for brain-machine interfaces, engineers at Brown University have developed a novel wireless, broadband, rechargeable, fully implantable brain sensor that has performed well in animal models for more than a year.
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Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt: apparently a transhumanist

It makes a lot of sense for the Google people to be transhumanist, with Sergey Brin and Larry Page working with the Singularity University, but still I was surprised to hear this on the new Colbert Report (of the 23rd of April):

Colbert: Can I live forever?
Schmidt: Yes.
Colbert: Really?
Schmidt: But not now. They need to invent some more medicine.
Colbert: So I can live forever, but later. So I just need to live long enough for later to become now.
Schmidt: But your digital identity will live forever. Because there's no delete button.
Colbert: On me?
Schmidt: That's correct.
Colbert: That's profound.

He seemed quite serious, too.

 

 

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The Meaning of (Making) Life

The Meaning of (Making) Life | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it

Christina Agapakis is a rising star among the new generation of biology researchers. Trained in the science of custom-building organisms known as synthetic biology, the UCLA researcher likes to think about the way her field intersects with culture and industry more broadly.

Case in point: Through a program of the BioBricks Foundation, she worked with artist Sissel Tolaas to create cheeses cultured with the microbes that help produce our body odor. The project highlights the meaning that humans assign to the productions of the invisible world of bacteria. And Agapakis wants us to rethink our relationships with the microbial communities that live in and around us.

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Glowing Plants: Natural Lighting with no Electricity

Create GLOWING PLANTS using synthetic biology and Genome Compiler's software - the first step in creating sustainable natural lighting

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The Art of Life in the Anthropocene by by David Biello

The Art of Life in the Anthropocene by  by David Biello | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it

THE RED VEINS of a certain pink petunia flower come courtesy of human DNA — the A’s, C’s, T’s, and G’s that teach a cell how to build itself. With the help of a virus, Brazilian-born Eduardo Kac was able to stitch human DNA — his own — into a petunia, veining the flower’s petals in red by generating an antibody with a snippet of his genetic code. This so-called “Edunia” is neither the product of genetic research, per se, nor botanical gamesmanship. Kac is simply an artist, and the Edunia (along with limited edition seed packs) has been exhibited from Minneapolis to Barcelona, a show he calls “Natural History of the Enigma.”

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Transhumanism panel discussion organized by the Karl Jaspers Society of North America

This is a panel discussion organized by the Karl Jaspers Society of North America that took place at the 87th Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Society (San Francisco, March 2013). Speakers in order of appearance: Gregory J. Walters 0:00 (Saint Paul University-Ottawa), Max More 01:36 (President and CEO of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation), John P. Sullins 16:39 (Sonoma State University), Francesca Ferrando 32:15 (Università di Roma Tre)
First Round of Discussion 48:30
Dale Carrico 01:23:50 (University of California Berkeley), Bradley Carmack 01:38:56 (Mormon Transhumanist Association), Stephen A. Erickson 01:50:50 (Pomona College).
Second Round of Discussion 02:04:40
Presentations are 15 minutes each with a discussion period after each set of three presenters. The discussion includes also comments from the audience such as Chung-Ying Cheng 01:02:07 (University of Hawai'i at Mānoa), Alan M. Olson 02:18:00 (Boston University), Purushottama Bilimoria 02:43:22 (Deakin University and Melbourne University, Australia), and others.
Printed versions of the full papers are published in Volume 8/2 of Existenz (www.existenz.us) an open access journal of the Karl Jaspers Society of North America.

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Harvard's Wyss Institute and Sony DADC Announce Collaboration on Organs-on-Chips : Wyss Institute at Harvard

Harvard's Wyss Institute and Sony DADC Announce Collaboration on Organs-on-Chips : Wyss Institute at Harvard | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it

Human Organs-on-Chips are composed of a clear, flexible polymer about the size of a computer memory stick, and contain hollow microfluidic channels lined by living human cells -- allowing researchers to recapitulate the physiological and mechanical functions of the organs, and to observe what happens in real time. The goal is to provide more predictive and useful measures of the efficacy and safety of new drugs in humans -- and at a fraction of the time and costs associated with traditional animal testing.

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CGS : Inheritable Genetic Modification

CGS : Inheritable Genetic Modification | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it

Inheritable genetic modification (IGM, also called germline engineering) means changing the genes passed on to future generations. The genetic changes would be made in eggs, sperm or early embryos; modified genes would appear not only in the person who developed from that gamete or embryo, but also in all succeeding generations. IGM has not been tried in humans. It would be by far the most consequential type of genetic modification as it would open the door to irreversibly altering the human species.

Proposals for inheritable genetic modification in humans combine techniques involving in vitro fertilization (IVF), gene transfer, stem cells and research cloning.

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Longer Life Through Sexbots? Dream On!

Longer Life Through Sexbots? Dream On! | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it
Research linking sex with longevity has led to some wildly exaggerated claims

 

Recently, I came across an article on a transhumanist website that made the amazing claim that in the not-so-distant future, people will improve their life expectancy by having sex with robots programmed to give them ‘super-orgasms.’ Transhumanists believe that it will one day be possible to vastly expand the human lifespan through technology. Various means of extending human longevity have been proposed but this seems like one of the wackier ones. Transhumanists are not alone in their belief that human lifespan can be extended through sex. Celebrity medic Dr Mehmet Oz goes so far as to advise people that if they have 200 orgasms a year they will extend their life by six years. While there is some evidence linking more frequent orgasms to longer life, the claims by Dr Oz and the transhumanists extrapolate far beyond the available evidence.

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GoFlow - Do it yourself self improvement kit

GoFlow - Do it yourself self improvement kit | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it
tDCS is a form of neurostimulation which uses a constant, low current delivered directly to the brain via small electrodes to effect brain function.

 

The US Army and DARPA both currently use tDCS devices to train snipers and drone pilots, and have recorded 2.5x increases in learning rates. This incredible phenomenon of increased learning has been documented by multiple clinical studies as well.

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Medical devices powered by the ear itself - MIT News Office

Medical devices powered by the ear itself - MIT News Office | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it

Deep in the inner ear of mammals is a natural battery — a chamber filled with ions that produces an electrical potential to drive neural signals. In today’s issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology, a team of researchers from MIT, the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) demonstrate for the first time that this battery could power implantable electronic devices without impairing hearing.

The devices could monitor biological activity in the ears of people with hearing or balance impairments, or responses to therapies. Eventually, they might even deliver therapies themselves.

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8 Month Old Deaf Baby's Reaction To Cochlear Implant Being Activated

This 8 month old baby became deaf after contracting viral meningitis aged 4 months. His parents were given a choice as the disease rapidly ossified his cochlear and would have made him irreversibly deaf within weeks. Watch the moment as his cochlear implant is activated and he hears sound for the first time, and his mother's voice.
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Lady Gaga - Born This Way

WRITTEN BY LADY GAGA. EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: VINCENT HERBERT. DIRECTED BY NICK KNIGHT. CHOREOGRAPHY BY LAURIE ANN GIBSON. #VEVOCertified on Oct. 3, 2012. http:/...
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Scientists create 'sixth sense' brain implant to detect infrared light

Scientists create 'sixth sense' brain implant to detect infrared light | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it
A brain implant which could allow humans to detect invisible infrared light has been developed by scientists in America.

 

Scientists have created a "sixth sense" by creating a brain implant through which infrared light can be detected.

Although the light could not be seen lab rats were able to detect it via electrodes in the part of the brain responsible for their sense of touch.

Similar devices have previously been used to make up for lost capabilities, for example giving paralysed patients the ability to move a cursor around the screen with their thoughts.

But the new study, by researchers from Duke University in North Carolina, is the first case in which such devices have been used to give an animal a completely new sense.

Dr Miguel Nicolelis said the advance, reported in the Nature Communications journal this week, was just a prelude to a major breakthrough on a "brain-to-brain interface" which will be announced in another paper next month.

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Coke, LanzaTech Join Biotech Industry Group

Coke, LanzaTech Join Biotech Industry Group | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it

Coca-Cola Co., LanzaTech, Lignol Energy, Plum Creek and three other businesses have joined the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a group that represents companies developing innovative industrial biotechnology products and processes.

Other additions to the industry group include American Science and Technology, Calysta Energy and Neol Biosolutions.

Scott Vitters, general manager of the PlantBottle Packaging Platform at Coca-Cola also has joined the governing board of the group’s industrial and environmental section, which represents companies at every stage of the value chain in renewable feedstock, biofuel, bio-based product and renewable chemical production.

Coca-Cola produces PlantBottle packaging, a fully recyclable plastic beverage bottle made from up to 30 percent renewable biomass. Last year the company partnered with JBF Industries to further expand production of the plant-based material used in its PlantBottle packaging. JBF Industries will build the world’s largest facility for the production of bio-glycol, the key ingredient used in the manufacture of the plant bottle.

Coca-Cola is also working with Ford, H.J. Heinz, Nike and Proctor & Gamble to accelerate the development and use of 100 percent plant-based PET materials and fiber in their products. The companies formed a strategic group called Plant PET Technology Collaborative to build on Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle packaging technology.

Other new members to the BIO industry group are developing a range of biotech products, processes, or in the case of Plum Creek, a private forest and timber manager, sourcing feedstock.

LanzaTech has developed a fermentation process that produces low carbon fuels and chemicals from waste gas and Calysta Energy, based in Menlo Park, Calif., converts natural gas to fuels and chemicals.

Chicago-based American Science and Technology has created a process for converting biomass to sugars and bio-oil for renewable fuels and chemicals as well as lignin for bio-based products.

Canadian company Lignol Energy is developing biorefining technologies for cellulosic biofuels, renewable chemicals and bio-based products. Neol Biosolutions, based in Spain, is a joint venture between energy company Repsol and Neuron Bio to optimize microbes for converting biomass to renewable fuel.

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Del Monte secures USDA approval for GM pineapple

Del Monte secures USDA approval for GM pineapple | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it

Del Monte Fresh Produce has won approval from the USDA to ship genetically engineered pineapple into the US.

The Del Monte Fresh Produce Co., based in the Cayman Islands, has developed a transgenic pineapple that has tissue of a "novel rose color."

The company has altered the fruit to "overexpress" a gene derived from the tangerine and to suppress other genes, increasing accumulation of lycopene, according to its submission to the USDA.

The plant's flowering cycle has also been changed to provide for more uniform growth and quality.

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has found that the "Rosé" cultivar is a regulated transgenic crop but does not require a biotechnology permit to export the crop to the US.

The transgenic fruit "does not have the ability to propagate and persist in the environment once they have been harvested," according to USDA APHIS.

According to Del Monte's submission, pineapples are commercially grown in a "monoculture" that prevents seed production, as the plant's flowers aren't exposed to compatible pollen sources.

Even if a seed did form, it would be unlikely to germinate and grow without human intervention, the company said. Temperatures in most of the US are not hospitable to pineapples, and importation into Hawaii is already banned for plant sanitation reasons.

Del Monte's submission notes that the company is still seeking approvals from the US Food and Drug Administration, which also regulates transgenic food, and the government of Costa Rica, where the crop is grown.

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Fertility needs in high-yielding corn production

Although advances in agronomy, breeding, and biotechnology have dramatically increased corn grain yields, soil test values indicate that producers may not be supplying optimal nutrient levels. Moreover, many current nutrient recommendations, developed decades ago using outdated agronomic management practices and lower-yielding, non-transgenic hybrids, may need adjusting.

 

Researchers with the University of Illinois Crop Physiology Laboratory have been re-evaluating nutrient uptake and partitioning in modern corn hybrids.

"Current fertilization practices may not match the uptake capabilities of hybrids that contain transgenic insect protection and that are grown at planting densities that increase by about 400 plants per acre per year," said U of I Ph.D. student Ross Bender. "Nutrient recommendations may not be calibrated to modern, higher-yielding genetics and management."

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The Super Protein That Can Cut DNA and Revolutionise Genetic Engineering

The Super Protein That Can Cut DNA and Revolutionise Genetic Engineering | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it

When scientists Phillipe Horvath and Rodolphe Barrangou set out to find a better way to make yogurt, they didn’t expect to stumble across one of the future’s most promising discoveries: a super protein that can accurately cut DNA — and could perhaps revolutionise genetic engineering.
The protein, called Cas9, can be exploited to snip strands of DNA in exactly the place researchers want. It doesn’t make genetic engineering easy, but does make it much, much easier — as it allows researchers to splice sequences of DNA together affordably, with unprecedented accuracy.
So how does it work?

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Transcriptors & Boolean Integrase Logic (BIL) gates, explained

How do transcriptors and transcriptor-enabled genetic logic work? A rough video primer detailing work presented in Bonnet et al., "Amplifying Genetic Logic Gates," as published in Science on 28 March 2013.
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Frankenstein's Cat: New Book Shines Light on the 'Brave New World' of GMO Animals - Forbes

Frankenstein's Cat: New Book Shines Light on the 'Brave New World' of GMO Animals - Forbes | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it

Ron Bailey, science writer for Reason, contends that the transhumanism movement “epitomizes the most daring, courageous, imaginative, and idealistic aspirations of humanity.” Is he right? Or is it one of the ‘world’s most dangerous ideas’, as conservatives such as Francis Fukuyama or über liberal organizations like the Council for Responsible Genetics and the Center for Genetics and Society would have it?


Dr. Frankenstein’s creation is the metaphor for transhumanism gone bad. The children’s book writer Curtis Jobling toyed with the theme in his 2001 children’s book, Frankenstein’s Cat, in which he imagined a kind of prequel to Mary Shelley’s masterpiece: the mad scientist’s first creation, a cat he named Nine—not because cats have “nine lives,” but because that’s how many cats it took to make him.

Now science writer Emily Anthes has moved from fiction to fact with the publication of Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts. It’s an animated review of the many ways in which biotechnologists have altered some of the non-human cohabitants of our planet. But it’s far more than just a fascinating read about animal manipulation. As it touches the third rail of “manipulating Nature,” which seems to irritate non-religious liberals as much as evangelicals, its implications go far beyond controversies associated with animal biotechnology to the ethics of “positive eugenics” in humans.

Anthes’s Frankenstein’s Cat colorfully explores all the fascinating and in some cases gruesome ways humans are reshaping the animal kingdom. She discusses how genetic engineering could help rescue endangered species from extinction or create new animals—from sensor-wearing seals, cyborg beetles, a bionic bulldog and (get this, Mary Shelley) the world’s first cloned cat.

The modifications are linked to the possibility of doing genuine good for the world. Citing just one of her many examples, scientists at Cambridge University and Scotland’s Roslin Institute—the facility that created Dolly, the cloned sheep, in 1996—have developed chickens that can’t spread avian flu to others in their flock, opening up the possibility of developing flu resistant animals. “Given how hard it is to develop vaccines to combat the rapidly evolving flu virus, this genetic modification could end up saving the lives of many birds, and perhaps humans,” she writes.

The raging debate over the ethics of animal enhancement or transanimalism foreshadows the emerging public discussion over manipulating humans. It’s understandable if these new technologies stir concern. The idea of humanity entering into an advanced state of biological existence while leaving behind the rest of nature can be disconcerting, Anthes suggests. But she thoughtfully pleas for reasoned contemplation and discussion rather than knee jerk reactions.

“Humans are a force of nature—we are, in some senses, the force of nature—and we influence animals whether we intend to or not,” she writes. “So the real question, going forward, is not whether we should shape animals’ bodies and lives, but how we should do so—with what tools, under what circumstances, and to what end. Are the needs of other species truly best served by leaving them to fend for themselves in a world that we have come to dominate?”

Anthes often stresses that genetic engineering itself isn’t “good” or “bad”; rather, it’s how we use it. As she noted in a recent New York Times article on the debate over genetically modified salmon, “We shouldn’t let political calculations or unfounded fears keep these products off the market. If we do that, we’ll be closing the door on innovations that could help us face the public health and environmental threats of the future, saving countless animals—and perhaps ourselves.”

Enhancement biotechnologies have the potential to profoundly impact human and animal life as we know it. We are on the cusp of developing enhancements leading to health and wellness, improved longevity, increased intelligence and memory, improved psychological control, and many other novel capacities. We’ve already witnessed some promising pioneering transhumanism success stories, such as advances in synthetic biology and mitochondrial replacement techniques designed to avoid the transmission of debilitating or fatal genetic diseases, which, if approved, would be the first instance of regulatory approval for modification of the human germ line.

Enhancement offers an unprecedented opportunity to transcend biological limitations, both for us and for the animals we share our lives with—if executed thoughtfully. These benefits include not just what might be gained, but also what could be discarded.

We may actually be compelled, ethically, to move forward with animal enhancements, writes George Dvorsky, the Canadian futurist and chairman at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. We should be actively debating “whether or not we are morally obligated to biologically enhance nonhuman animals and integrate them into human and posthuman society. … The suggestion that posthumans will live amongst post-apes and post-elephants misses the point that a convergence of intelligences awaits us in our future.”

Thank you, Emily, for stirring the pot. Let the public discussion continue.

 

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Can We Have Brain-to-Brain Communication?

Michio Kaku says this brain-to-brain communication would involve not just the exchange of information, but also the transmission of emotions and feelings, "because these are also part of the fabric of our thoughts."
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Your Brain Is Hooked on Being Right

Your Brain Is Hooked on Being Right | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it

I'm sure it's happened to you: You're in a tense team meeting trying to defend your position on a big project and start to feel yourself losing ground. Your voice gets louder. You talk over one of your colleagues and correct his point of view. He pushes back, so you go into overdrive to convince everyone you're right. It feels like an out of body experience — and in many ways it is. In terms of its neurochemistry, your brain has been hijacked.

 

In situations of high stress, fear or distrust, the hormone and neurotransmitter cortisol floods the brain. Executive functions that help us with advanced thought processes like strategy, trust building, and compassion shut down. And the amygdala, our instinctive brain, takes over. The body makes a chemical choice about how best to protect itself — in this case from the shame and loss of power associated with being wrong — and as a result is unable to regulate its emotions or handle the gaps between expectations and reality. So we default to one of four responses: fight (keep arguing the point), flight (revert to, and hide behind, group consensus), freeze (disengage from the argument by shutting up) or appease (make nice with your adversary by simply agreeing with him).

 

All are harmful because they prevent the honest and productive sharing of information and opinion. But, as a consultant who has spent decades working with executives on their communication skills, I can tell you that the fight response is by far the most damaging to work relationships. It is also, unfortunately, the most common.

 

That's partly due to another neurochemical process. When you argue and win, your brain floods with different hormones: adrenaline and dopamine, which makes you feel good, dominant, even invincible. It's a the feeling any of us would want to replicate. So the next time we're in a tense situation, we fight again. We get addicted to being right.

 

I've coached dozens of incredibly successful leaders who suffer from this addiction. They are extremely good at fighting for their point of view (which is indeed often right) yet they are completely unaware of the dampening impact that behavior has on the people around them. If one person is getting high off his or her dominance, others are being drummed into submission, experiencing the fight, flight, freeze or appease response I described before, which diminishes their collaborative impulses.

 

Luckily, there's another hormone that can feel just as good as adrenaline: oxytocin. It's activated by human connection and it opens up the networks in our executive brain, or prefrontal cortex, further increasing our ability to trust and open ourselves to sharing. Your goal as a leader should be to spur the production of oxytocin in yourself and others, while avoiding (at least in the context of communication) those spikes of cortisol and adrenaline.

 

Here are a few exercises for you to do at work to help your (and others') addiction to being right:

 

Set rules of engagement. If you're heading into a meeting that could get testy, start by outlining rules of engagement. Have everyone suggest ways to make it a productive, inclusive conversation and write the ideas down for everyone to see. For example, you might agree to give people extra time to explain their ideas and to listen without judgment. These practices will counteract the tendency to fall into harmful conversational patterns. Afterwards, consider see how you and the group did and seek to do even better next time.

 

Listen with empathy. In one-on-one conversations, make a conscious effort to speak less and listen more. The more you learn about other peoples' perspectives, the more likely you are to feel empathy for them. And when you do that for others, they'll want to do it for you, creating a virtuous circle.

 

Plan who speaks. In situations when you know one person is likely to dominate a group, create an opportunity for everyone to speak. Ask all parties to identify who in the room has important information, perspectives, or ideas to share. List them and the areas they should speak about on a flip chart and use that as your agenda, opening the floor to different speakers, asking open-ended questions and taking notes.

 

Connecting and bonding with others trumps conflict. I've found that even the best fighters — the proverbial smartest guys in the room — can break their addiction to being right by getting hooked on oxytocin-inducing behavior instead.

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Some wires and a nine-volt battery can boost learning

Some wires and a nine-volt battery can boost learning | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it

Last year a succession of volunteers sat down in a research lab in Albuquerque, New Mexico to play DARWARS Ambush!, a video game designed to train US soldiers bound for Iraq. Each person surveyed virtual landscapes strewn with dilapidated buildings and abandoned cars for signs of trouble — a shadow cast by a rooftop sniper, or an improvised explosive device behind a rubbish bin. With just seconds to react before a blast or shots rang out, most forgot about the wet sponge affixed to their right temple that was delivering a faint electric tickle. The volunteers received a few milliamps of current at most, and the simple gadget used to deliver it was powered by a 9-volt battery.

 

It might sound like some wacky garage experiment, but Vincent Clark, a neuroscientist at the University of New Mexico, says that the technique, called transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS), could improve learning. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded the research in the hope that it could be used to sharpen soldiers' minds on the battlefield. Yet for all its simplicity, it seems to work.

 

Volunteers receiving 2 milliamps to the scalp (about one-five-hundredth the amount drawn by a 100-watt light bulb) showed twice as much improvement in the game after a short amount of training as those receiving one-twentieth the amount of current1. "They learn more quickly but they don't have a good intuitive or introspective sense about why," says Clark.

 

The technique, which has roots in research done more than two centuries ago, is experiencing something of a revival. Clark and others see tDCS as a way to tease apart the mechanisms of learning and cognition. As the technique is refined, researchers could, with the flick of a switch, amplify or mute activity in many areas of the brain and watch what happens behaviourally. The field is "going to explode very soon and give us all sorts of new information and new questions", says Clark. And as with some other interventions for stimulating brain activity, such as high-powered magnets or surgically implanted electrodes, researchers are attempting to use tDCS to treat neurological conditions, including depression and stroke. But given the simplicity of building tDCS devices, one of the most important questions will be whether it is ethical to tinker with healthy minds — to improve learning and cognition, for example. The effects seen in experimental settings "are big enough that they would definitely have real-world consequences", says Martha Farah, a neuroethicist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

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Sheila Nirenberg: A prosthetic eye to treat blindness

At TEDMED, Sheila Nirenberg shows a bold way to create sight in people with certain kinds of blindness: by hooking into the optic nerve and sending signals from a camera direct to the brain.
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Bone conduction implants, How it works?

Bone conduction implants, How it works? | Transhumanism + Synthetic Biology | Scoop.it
The Baha hearing aid system works by using bone conduction to transfer sound to the inner ear, naturally.
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