Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS)

Latest S&T Developments from around the world (opinions/ideas)

JIUQUAN SATELLITE LAUNCH CENTER, CHINA — China launched a three-member crew to its orbiting space station on Thursday as part of its ambitious program that aims to put astronauts on the moon by 2030. The Shenzhou-18 spacecraft lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northwestern China atop a Long March 2-F rocket at 8:59 p.m. (1259 GMT).

The spacecraft’s three-member crew will relieve the Shenzhou-17 team, which has been staffing China’s Tiangong space station since last October. The China Manned Space Agency, or CMSA, held a send-off ceremony — complete with flag-waving children and patriotic music — for the Shenzhou-18 crew earlier on Thursday, as the three astronauts prepared to enter the spacecraft.

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MIT scientists have introduced a ground-breaking method called BioAutoMATED, aimed at generating artificial intelligence (AI) models tailored for biological research. This innovative approach equips researchers with a powerful tool to enhance their comprehension of biological events and processes, paving the way for accelerated scientific advancements across various fields through the integration of AI capabilities. BioAutoMATED is an automated machine-learning system that simplifies the construction of models for biological datasets, addressing the challenges associated with biological sequences like DNA, RNA, Proteins, and Glycan. The open-source code encourages researchers to collaborate and improve the technology, promoting its accessibility to all biological researchers.

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The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and biotechnology, whilst in its infancy, presents significant opportunities and risks, and proactive policy is needed to manage these emerging technologies. Whilst AI continues to have significant and broad impact, its relevance and complexity magnify when integrated with other emerging technologies. The confluence of Machine Learning (ML), a subset of AI, with gene editing (GE) in particular can foster substantial benefits as well as daunting risks that range from ethics to national security. These complex technologies have implications for multiple sectors, ranging from agriculture and medicine to economic competition and national security. Consideration of technology advancements and policies in different geographic regions, and involvement of multiple organisations further confound this complexity.

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A recent study reveals that the excessive extraction of groundwater for drinking and irrigation has led to a 1.57-inch (3.98-centimeter) shift in the Earth’s axis. Although this shift does not directly impact climate change, the study suggests that the overuse of groundwater, driven by climate change, may have indirectly contributed to the shift. The research, conducted by academics from various countries, examined data from climate models focusing on polar movements between 1993 and 2010. They found that 2.15 giga-tons of water, equivalent to a 6.24-millimeter rise in sea levels, were extracted from underground, leading to the observed shift. The study underscores the connection between water distribution on Earth and the melting of polar and mountain glaciers, as well as groundwater depletion. This movement resulted in a total impact of 30.89 inches (78.46 cm) over the study period, corresponding to an annual shift of 1.71 inches (4.34 cm) towards the 64.16 east longitude.

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Researchers at PSI and the University of Barcelona have successfully explained the peculiar behavior of microgels through neutron beam measurements. The researchers have confirmed their 2016 hypothesis, which attributes this phenomenon to the arrangement of positively charged counterions forming a cloud around the negatively charged microgel. This breakthrough understanding of microgel behavior opens up new opportunities for applications in materials and pharmaceutical research. Tailored microgels can find use in various industries, including oil, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals, where they can be employed to adjust viscosity, provide desired consistency in creams, and act as smart carriers for drug delivery.

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Scientists have achieved a groundbreaking feat by genetically engineering female fruit flies to undergo ‘virgin birth’ known as parthenogenesis, where offspring are produced without mating. The study demonstrated that the genetically modified flies reproduced asexually, and their offspring also inherited the trait across generations. The research provides a significant first in the animal kingdom and showcases the potential of inducing parthenogenesis in sexually reproducing species.

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