Designer babies, rice batteries and self-cleaning phones

13th Jul 2013 | 08:00

Designer babies, rice batteries and self-cleaning phones

Delving into the world of the future

This Week in Science we may have stumbled upon a real battery breakthrough, and it's all thanks to rice. If that wasn't enough, we've also seen that your next phone could be self-cleaning, a simple blood test could tell you how long you're going to live, and NASA's laid out its ambitious plan to bring a bit of Mars back to our humble little planet.

Rice could hold the answer to our battery-life woes

Battery technology is pretty stagnant right now compared to the rest of the electronics space. Thankfully rice (yes, the foodstuff) might hold the answer to batteries with 10 times the capacity of today's Li-ion cells.

Silicon electrode batteries have the potential to hold 10 times more charge than their graphite cousins, which are currently used in traditional lithium-ion cells. Unfortunately, they degrade rapidly with repeated charge cycles. Rice husks are made of silicon dioxide, which can be converted to pure silicon through chemical processes requiring immense heat, but are also perforated with tiny holes.

How much charge, you ask? About £3.99

That makes the resulting silicon electrodes porous, providing places for the electrons to sit during charging and discharging. That in turn prevents the degradation caused by the swelling and shrinkage normally experienced by electrodes during the charge cycle. While it has yet to be proven whether the rice husk conversion is economically viable, the porous silicon concept has the potential to provide a massive step forward in the evolution of our current battery technology. [PNAS]

Your next phone could be self-cleaning

Corning, the company behind the shrinking phone glass we heard about last week, is working on incorporating a special anti-microbial coating into its next iteration of Gorilla Glass for phones and tablets.

You damn clean ape!

The new glass will apparently be able to kill virtually any bacteria or viruses sitting on the surface of your screen within two hours. Although Corning failed to elaborate on exactly how the glass kills germs, it's likely the surface coating is infused with silver ions that disrupt the membranes and metabolism of germs killing them dead. This is great news given that your phones and other gadgets are normally microbiological cesspools teaming with all manner of microbial life. [MIT]

First ever chromosome-screened IVF baby raises "designer baby" worry

A baby has made history by being the first child to be born via IVF after a being screened for genetic abnormalities pre-implantation. Doctors screened the five-day old embryos checking their DNA for chromosomal abnormalities, ensuring a healthy pregnancy was to take place before proceeding with the rest of the IVF treatment.

Out of the seven embryos screened, four were found to be abnormal. Although whole-genome sequencing wasn't used in this case, the technique could easily be employed, allowing full genetic screening of embryos. At that point, parents could pick and choose which genes and genetic traits their prospective child could have, discarding embryos that don't fit the bill, which raises serious ethical concerns. However, this chromosomal screening technique should dramatically increase the success rate for IVF treatment allowing more mothers to conceive. [New Scientist]

Can a simple blood test tell us how long we're going to live?

Researchers have discovered that the unique chemical 'fingerprints' in the blood, which are left behind as a result of early molecular changes, could give us an indication of how long we're going to live.

Using metabolomic profiling, scientists studying metabolites in the blood found that the levels of 22 separate molecules could be combined to predict the onset of age-related traits in later life. For instance, one molecule, C-glyTrp, is thought to be linked to a number of risk factors for the deterioration of lung function, bone density, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. While it's not quite as easy as peering into a crystal ball, a simple blood test could tell you roughly how long you're likely to live, as long as you look both ways before crossing the road, at least. [IJE]

Forget yoga, choir singing is good for the heart and relaxation

It seems group singing is great for your heart in the same way yoga can be. Researchers have discovered that the heart rates of people who sing in a choir or other group choral event become synchronised.

They also found that your heart rate tends to fluctuate with your breathing, an effect called respiratory sinus arrhythmia, something practised in meditation that's known to be soothing and relaxing. A variable heart rate is also thought to be good for you, as a fairly static heartbeat has been linked with high blood pressure. While the potential medical benefits need to be fully investigated, who knew singing in a choir was the British form of meditation or yoga? [FACN]

NASA's next rover will bring back chunks of the Red Planet

The year might only be 2013, and NASA's current rover, Curiosity, may still be roaming the Red Planet, but NASA's planning ahead. Come 2020, an as-yet unnamed rover will be sent to Mars with a mission to collect samples and return to base.

It's a godawful small affair...

While on the planet the rover will experiment as usual, testing the soil and environment, but it will also package up as many as 31 rock core and soil samples to later bring back to Earth for in-depth, human analysis. This will be the first attempt to launch back off another planet and come home that anyone's ever attempted, and NASA's got seven years to get it built and ready to go. [NASA]

Bursts of hard exercise could help prevent cancer

Everyone knows that exercise has multiple benefits above actually losing weight and getting fit. It sharpens the mind, raises our metabolism, and helps our hearts stay healthy. Now you can add cancer prevention to that list.

Researchers have discovered that acute intense exercise of 60 minutes produces increased levels of growth factors in our blood. Those increased levels of mitogenic factors have been shown to actually inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells, with human blood serum shown to delay tumour growth in test mice. Although it will be difficult to thoroughly test in humans, it demonstrates just how important exercise could be to your prolonged health. [PLoS One]

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