By MIKE MAGEE
Not surprisingly, my nominee for “word of the year” involves AI, and specifically “the language of human biology.”
As Eliezer Yudkowski, the founder of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute and coiner of the term “friendly AI” stated in Forbes:
“Anything that could give rise to smarter-than-human intelligence—in the form of Artificial Intelligence, brain-computer interfaces, or neuroscience-based human intelligence enhancement – wins hands down beyond contest as doing the most to change the world. Nothing else is even in the same league.”
Perhaps the simplest way to begin is to say that “missense” is a form of misspeak or expressing oneself in words “incorrectly or imperfectly.” But in the case of “missense”, the language is not made of words, where (for example) the meaning of a sentence would be disrupted by misspelling or choosing the wrong word.
By KIM BELLARD
I was tempted to write about the work being done at Wharton that suggests that AI may already be better at being entrepreneurial than most of us, and of course I’m always interested to see how nanoparticles are starting to change health care (e.g., breast cancer or cancer more generally), but when I saw what researchers at China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University have done with DNA-based computers, well, I couldn’t pass that up.
If PCs helped change the image of computers from the big mainframes, and mobile phones further redefined what a computer is, then DNA computers may cause us to one day – in the lifetime of some of you — look back at our chip-based devices as primitive as we now view ENIAC.
It’s been almost 30 years since Leonard Adleman first suggested the idea of DNA computing, and there’s been a lot of excitement in the field since, but, really, not the kind of progress that would make a general purpose DNA computer seem feasible. That may have changed.
At the risk of introducing way too many acronyms, the Chinese researchers claim they have developed a general purpose DNA integrated circuit (DIC), using “multilayer DNA-based programmable gate arrays (DPGAs).” The DPGAs are the building blocks of the DIC and can be mixed and matched to create the desired circuits. They claim that each DPGA “can be programmed with wiring instructions to implement over 100 billion distinct circuits.”
They keep track of what is going on using fluorescence markers, which probably makes watching a computation fun to watch.
One experiment, involving 3 DPGAs and 500 DNA strands, made a circuit that could solve quadratic equations, and another could do square roots. Oh, and, by the way, another DPGA circuit could identify RNA molecules that are related to renal cancer. They believe their DPGAs offers the potential for “intelligent diagnostics of different kinds of diseases.”
DNA tracking DNA.
By KIM BELLARD
Did you know we are living in the Zettabyte Era? Honestly, did you even know what a zettabyte is? Kilobytes, gigabytes, maybe even terabytes, sure, but zettabytes? Well, if you ran data centers you’d know, and you’d care because demand for data storage is skyrocketing (all those TikTok videos and Netflix shows add up). Believe it or not, pretty much all of that data is still stored on magnetic tapes, which have served us well for the past sixty some years but at some point, there won’t be enough tapes or enough places to store them to keep up with the data storage needs.
That’s why people are so keen on DNA storage – including me.
A zettabyte, for the record, is one sextillion bytes. A kilobyte is 1000 bytes; a zettabyte is 10007. Between gigabytes and zettabytes, by powers of 1000, come terabytes, petabytes, and exabytes; after zettabyte comes yottabytes. Back in 2016, Cisco announced we were in the Zettabyte Era, with global internet traffic reaching 1.2 zettabytes. We’ll be in the Yottabyte Era before the decade is out.
Recently, the US Preventative Services Task Force reiterated its recommendation that women not undergo routine screening for ovarian cancer. This was remarkable, not simply because it was a recommendation against screening, but because the task force was making the recommendation again, and this time even stronger.
The motivation for the recommendation was simple: a review of years’ worth of data indicates that most women are more likely to suffer harm because of false alarms than they are to benefit from early detection. These screenings are a hallmark of population medicine—an archetypal form of medicine that does not attempt to distinguish one individual from another. Moving beyond the ritualistic screening procedures could help reduce the toll of at least $765 billion of wasted health care costs per year.
We already know the common changes in the DNA sequence that identify people who have higher risk of developing ovarian, breast or prostate cancer and most other types of cancer. Consumers can now readily obtain this information via personal genomic companies like 23andMe or Pathway Genomics. But we need to do much more DNA sequencing to find the less common yet even more important variations—those which carry the highest risk of a particular cancer. Such research would be easy to accomplish if it were given top priority and it would likely lead to precision screening. Only a small fraction of individuals would need to have any medical screening. What’s more, it will protect hundreds of thousands of Americans from being unnecessarily harmed each year.