Spectacular breakthrough: If the stem cells of our DNA are defective, many diseases can result…
Ordinary people usually do not understand in detail how a computer works. Something with electronics, circuit boards, bits and bytes, with copper wire and fiber optic cables and such undefined metal particles. It gets even more incomprehensible – and amazing – when you look at the computers that researchers are currently working on and where breakthroughs are pending in 2023. It is well known that quantum computers are the next step in computing. Less well known are biocomputers, a research field about whose progress an international research symposium will be held in Hawaii in the first week of January 2023. Biocomputers are based on DNA and amino acids. By manipulating natural chemical reactions that occur in these substances, researchers can perform storage and computational functions. In the future, biocomputers could be stored on the DNA of living cells. This technology could store almost unlimited amounts of data and allow biocomputers to perform complex calculations beyond our current capabilities.
Simply cut away wrong DNA
Genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia, in which red blood cells do not form properly, have so far been difficult to treat. This is because the stem cells, which form the other cells, are already damaged. Crispr-Cas9 technology (Crispr technology for short) tries to solve such problems at the “source” – the genetic material – so to speak. In this process, a person’s own stem cells are removed and the faulty gene is modified using Crispr technology before the person’s “repaired” cells are “inserted” again – and can then produce additional, specialized cells such as red blood cells without errors.
Promising results are already available from clinical trials using the Crispr system to treat two genetic blood disorders. The treatment is being developed by Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Crispr Therapeutics. Vertex is expected to submit an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March for approval of the technology for people with blood disorders. Approval could therefore take place as early as next year. Not only would this make sickle cell anemia curable, such an approval would also be the starting signal for various other tailor-made “Crispr gene editing” therapies that could be used for other genetic diseases.
mRNA vaccines could prevent many diseases
They were first used during the Covid-19 pandemic: mRNA vaccines. Biontech in Mainz and Pfizer in New York are now developing a whole range of new vaccines using this technology. Biontech is expected to start trials of mRNA vaccines against malaria, tuberculosis and genital herpes in the coming weeks. In general, various forms of herpes should soon be under control: In cooperation with Pfizer, the company is also testing an mRNA-based vaccine candidate to reduce shingles. Also triggered by a herpes virus, shingles is a possible late consequence of the common chickenpox or smallpox, again a herpes virus.
The well-known waves of illness in winter could also soon be history: last November, Biontech and Pfizer started the phase I study of an mRNA vaccine that is intended to protect against both Covid-19 and flu.
The beginning of the end of Google
If you ask Google something, you get links. If you log into the openai.com site and ask the AI-based chatbot «Chat GPT» something, you will get a written answer. In response to the question: “What should I do with children during the holidays in Chur?” you get ten concrete suggestions, and the bot wishes you a lot of fun and a nice time. But “Chat GPT” can do much, much more: write stories, program websites, solve differential equations, explain historical processes, answer philosophical and ethical questions and spit out the best chocolate cake recipe. He writes a letter to the tax authorities, tells me what to attach, and explains dark matter or what caused the First World War. All in all, the chatbot is miles ahead of Google when it comes to interaction: You get personalized, detailed answers without having to click through ads and too much information. The whole thing is great fun. And: The more users use the chatbot, the better it continuously gets.
In the near future, such AI-based “answering machines” could seriously compete with established search engines like Google and permanently change the way we use the internet. At the same time, they contain dangers that are already alarming researchers. For one, the platform offers endless potential to bypass school and college papers. More importantly, since artificial intelligence derives its information from what people have written on the internet, it is also prone to error. Researchers are therefore calling for regulation.
But one thing is clear: Anyone who has used «Chat GPT» will only have a disparaging smile left for Google.
Measuring the Universe
Last year the world marveled at the beautiful and detailed images the James Webb Space Telescope provided of our universe. The instrument was launched into space by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in late 2021.
But James Webb is just the beginning: ESA plans to launch the Euclid telescope in the third quarter of this year. It is designed to enter solar orbit and send images back to ESA for six years. This is how a 3D map of the universe should be created.
The space organizations of other countries are also planning big things for 2023: The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is examining and mapping the X-rays of distant stars and is working on a mission to explore the Milky Way. Chile, meanwhile, is currently building the Vera C. Rubin telescope, which has a camera with a resolution of over 3000 million pixels and will start taking pictures in July.