The Potato Controversy


Genetically Modified food has been controversial for many years now, and has a long history of arguments between food manufacturing companies and people against ‘unnatural’ food. The new chapter in this story involves none other than a potato.

Simplot, a company known for its normal and genetically modified potatoes, has created a new product which they call ‘the Innate Potato’, because of how natural it is compared to other GM crops.

To make this potato novel and unique in the GM market, Simplot has created it using RNA interference technology. This method uses RNA strands from other potatoes with different characteristics and mashes them together, to create a sort of Frankenstein Monster potato. The result is much more appealing than the name suggests. By combining many positive qualities from different potatoes, you end up with a potato with numerous benefits. This particular potato, for example, has proven resistant to bruises, and produces fewer carcinogens when fried. Usually, when normal potatoes are fried, the amino acid asparagine can react to form acrylamide, a suspected carcinogen. When tested, Innate Potato produced up to 75% less acrylamide when heated.

mcfries

Someday in the future, it is possible that McDonalds fries are made from genetically modified potatoes

Not only that, but since it only uses genes from natural potatoes, and doesn’t use genetic material from other species like bacteria, it is immune to many of the usual complaints of GM-haters, which dislike the idea of mixing genes between two opposite species.

In spite of the strong opposition, the Innate Potato has already been approved by the USDA, (the Unites States Department of Agriculture), so it could potentially be sold to customers anytime now. In fact, rumour has it that McDonalds, one of Simplot’s biggest customers, might use the potato in the near future to make their well-known McFries. This, of course, has caused a heated debate where some opposers of these potatoes are pressuring the fast food company to reject them. McDonalds’ decision concerning this matter is still unknown.

However, Simplot only plans to grow a limited number of these super potatoes for now, so regardless of McDonalds’ decision we’ll probably have to wait quite some time to taste them.

Until then, McFries are still delicious.

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The Hawking Horizon


Black holes are a phenomenon that the greatest scientists of our time have tried to understand, but is proving to be quite the challenge.

However, after many years of thought put into it, there were some theories that were thought to be true. But then came none other than Stephen Hawking, and turned the world upside down.

Up until now, it was believed by most that black holes have something called the event horizon, an imaginary line where nothing that crosses it can go back, even light. Hawking, in his most recent paper “Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes”, says that there is no such thing as an event horizon, but rather an apparent horizon. Basically, it’s the same thing, but less strict in shape (due to continuous quantum fluctuations) and which can occasionally let matter and energy out but changing them enough so they can’t be recognized.

hawking

Stephen Hawking, has a new theory which doesn’t disappoint

The black hole puzzle has been treated using our two basic physical theories: quantum mechanics and general relativity. However, these two laws don’t get along that well, so when you mix them, anything can happen.

In this case, the weird happened when a black hole evaporates. Quantum mechanics says that matter (or information) cannot be lost, so it would leave the black hole through radiation. But in doing so, it would release outstandingly high amounts of energy, creating, literally, a firewall. But general relativity says that you can’t cross an event horizon, and this disagreement between the theories creates a paradox. Or as it is commonly known, the firewall paradox.

Let’s put it this way. If an astronaut was falling down into a black hole, quantum mechanics says that it would die of radiation and burning thanks to the firewall. General relativity says that it will be trapped in the black hole, since it can cross back the event horizon, and will die of the extreme gravitational conditions inside this phenomenon. In either case, our space explorer doesn’t survive, but in different ways.

The famous scientist has proposed the existence of this apparent horizon to solve this problem. If it was true, it would cancel the paradox, but it would create something else.

black hole

A Balck Hole, one of the biggest enigmas for scientists, even the greatest.

With this new horizon, matter or energy could escape, but it would also scramble them up, because of a black hole’s gravity, so even though they could potentially get out, they will have been so messed up that they could not be reconstructed. It would not be destroyed, so it agrees with quantum mechanics, but it’s original structure will be lost.

This polemic statement has already provoked a response from many scientists, since it would completely change our current definition of a black hole, a region in space from which nothing can escape; or so it was thought.

 

Edge.org


edge org

Logo from Edge.org

Edge.org is a website founded with the sole purpose of joining the greatest minds of this world together to make the extraordinary happen. To do this, a question is asked every year, about the world as we know it and how it can change, and everyone is free to answer it. Over 15 years of opinions, thoughts and ideas are stored in this site, the online version of the ‘Reality Club’, the famous group of intellectuals that came together to discuss the questions they couldn’t answer. Currently, and due to its popularity, many well-known scientists answer it every year to motivate everyone to think about the world around them.

This year’s question is:

 What scientific idea is ready for retirement?

 Many famous scientists have contributed to this project with their ideas, some examples being:

Richard Dawkins, biologist, professor at Oxford and author; who believes that essentialism is obsolete. This is a term used to describe the way humans think of everything belonging to a separate fraction, with nothing being able to exist in between. Like what happens when people argue about abortions, saying that at one point it isn’t human yet, but at another it is. It is supposed to be gradual, where it is a quarter human, then 3 quarters… where the distinguishable point in which an embryo becomes human can’t be discerned completely

Irene Pepperberg, author, researcher and lecturer at Harvard University; believes human superiority is not true. Although it is true that humans are special, other animals are too. Humans can’t detect very slight changes of temperature like some snakes, we can’t see ultraviolet light like bees, and we can’t migrate for hundreds of kilometers by using an ‘internal GPS’.

Azra Raza, professor in Medicine in Columbia University, New York; says that cancer research in mice is not useful. Cancer develops differently in mice than in humans, and adding human cancer cells to rats would involve injecting drugs to suppress an immunological response, which would affect the results. Altogether, results from such experiments don’t provide an accurate depiction of a drug’s usefulness.

To answer the question, in my opinion, the term reality is no longer practical. The definition of reality is “the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them”.

However, nowadays, with all these theories about alternate universes, or quantum physics, I feel like we no longer know what is real, what really happens, but rather what we think happens or what data use for our calculations.

The theory of multiverses and infinity, where every possible outcome to a situation happens but in another universe, is mindboggling, because even though to us there is only one reality, if this theory is correct, there is another one of us whose reality is different. So who is right? Are we both right? But how do we know the answer?

Another example of this situation is virtual reality, having a world online. You can play a game on the internet, build a house in it, etc. but once you go offline, is that house really there? It’s not physical, at least in the traditional way, but more like an idea stored in chips and computers.

And every time a new theory is thought of, when calculations go wrong or results given don’t agree with predictions, theoretical values can used, so we are not actually describing reality, but our reality where we idealize every quantity to get an understandable result.

With these manipulations of reality, we can’t really know what actually happens and what we hope/believe happens, so reality is no longer real.

If you want to share your opinion, go to www.edge.org and answer it yourself!

Is Animal Testing Justifiable?


Animal testing (or vivisection) has the whole scientific community divided in two. Some people argue it’s necessary, others say it’s cruel. If you are undecided or just like arguing and need some arguments, here are some pros and cons on animal testing.

In favour:

  • Testing different substances on animals may help find one that can be used as a treatment for diseases. Antibiotics, vaccines, cancer drugs…. were all found thanks to this type of experimentation
  • It improves human health. Therefore, animal experimentation for medical uses should be acceptable. However, cosmetic testing shouldn’t since it doesn’t help anyone in such an important and essential way
  • Since experiments are on animals and not on humans, human harm is reduced, and thanks to the treatments discovered lives are saved
  • Animals are the best method since they can simulate humans. We are both organisms with an identical genetic code

Against it:

  • Animals used are killed or have their lives ruined. This can happen if they spend their lives in cages or with mutations/disabilities that make there lives miserable
  • Animals can be injected or applied substances that produce: irritation, cancer, crippling, burning, poisoning and ultimately, death
  • 90% of drugs used on animals never succeed. So only 1 in 10 experiments has some use. The rest cause animals to die in vain because their death has had no direct benefit to humans. And sometimes, this ‘use’ is a new laundry detergent or a new eye shadow.
  • The price of buying the animal, feeding it…. can get very costly, even worse if you think that its probably going to be useless
  • Animals and humans are never exactly the same. When you see a dog down the street you would never think he’s like you at all!
  • Drugs may react differently on different organisms because there may be some unknown factor that is forgotten and its effects not taken into account. So its results may not be applicable to humans
  • Also, if animals are under stress (like when they are trapped in a laboratory cage, being injected with dangerous chemicals…) the drug might react differently
  • How about instead of creating drugs to cure obesity and other lifestyle-related diseases, people start eating healthier and doing more exercise, and stop using drugs like alcohol and tobacco, or even having a cleaner environment?
  • Some people say there are laws that protect animals from being too damaged. But the AWA (Animal Welfare Act) doesn’t cover all animals. Mice, rats, birds, reptiles and amphibians are not covered
  • There are many alternative methods that combined can bring similar or maybe even better results than animal testing. Examples are:
    • Organs-on-a-chip – Cells from different organs, such as the lungs, are inserted in a structure that mimics the organ, so its effect on it can be studied.
    • In vitro testing – Humans can donate cells that are added to a test tube which is screened for toxicity or another factor
    • Skin or Liver Substitute – These are complex systems that are created to be almost identical to the human skin (to test for cosmetics or skin treatments) or the liver (to see how the body breaks down substances)
    • MRI and other – To see how different chemicals react on the brain, advanced brain scanning in real time can be used

However, although this previous information is crucial to make a decision, the ultimate factor is emotion. How do you feel about a child dying because scientists were too concerned of the ethical problems to use animals to find a cure for his disease? Or about a poor, innocent animal being tortured during his whole live for an experiment that may be completely useless?

For more information:

http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-experimentation/

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The Scientific Event of the Year: Debate: Darwin vs. God: Part 2


Dawkins and Williams after the debate

Dawkins and Williams after the debate

Yesterday, people from all around the world were able to watch one of the most important events of the year at Oxford University or by the Internet.

At Sheldonian Theatre, zoologist Richard Dawkins debated about the origin of human nature and the universe with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The debate, considered as a battle between science and religion, was calm and polite, but with some sense of humour of the debaters.

Each debater respected and admired each other’s arguments, although after they had to argue it.

Anthony Kenny

The debate started with the philosopher Anthony Kenny asking for no applauses, and continued with the funny comment ‘I come representing ignorance’.

He actively collaborated in the debate, sometimes looking as a third debater. He gave the debate a relaxed but formal atmosphere, and asked new discussions to both debators.

Rowan Williams

One of the head of the Anglican Church’s arguments debated about conscience, and of the need of God to explain it. He also had to admit that the Bible didn’t explain scientifically the creation of the Universe, but he argued that the Bible’s authors just wrote what God told them to.

Richard Dawkins

The biologist occupied the major part of the debate, defending Darwin’s ideas about evolutionism and stating that humans are a product of only evolution, with no intervention by God.

He was sarcastic about the existence of God, but had to admit he can’t disprove the existence of God, and once, he even had to admit he did not disbelief in God totally, but thought the chances of it existing were very, very low.

If you weren’t able to see the debate, you can watch it again at http://fsmevents.com/sophiaeuropa/

The Scientific Event of the Year: Debate: Darwin vs. God


Today’s special report is dedicated to Richard Dawkins and the archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Richard Dawkins is one of the world’s most known biologists and one of the major supporters of Darwinism. Studying zoology at Oxford, he then moved to teaching at California University. His known books, The Selfish Genes and The Extended Phenotype, have given him the title of Darwin’s Bulldog, due to its fierce defence of Darwin’s ideas.

On the other side, there is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. He is also worldwide known as one of the most passionate teologists, defender of the Anglican Church, and is the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury. As Dawkins, he studied at Oxford, but theology. He’s done lectures in numerous universities, specially in Cambridge, where he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity, in 1989.

Returning to the news, today, Thursday the 23rd, Oxford University holds one of the most interesting and passionate debate of the year, the eternal debate of Darwin and God, at the Sheldonian Theatre.

In this debate, being the theme the nature of human beings and their origin, the biologist will defend Darwin’s ideas of evolutionism and natural selection, whilst the Archbishop will state the Church’s point of view, debating about creationism and Adam and Eve.

The tickets to this outstanding event, organised by the University Of Oxford Theology Department have already been sold out, being chaired by philosopher Anthony Kenny.

At 16:00 and until 17:30 (London UTC), people without tickets will be able to watch it live at www.originsofnature.com