Xenobots, tiny living machines, can duplicate themselves.
Strange and complex behavior of frog cell blobs
A xenobot “parent,” shaped like a hungry Pac-Man (shown in red false color), created an “offspring” xenobot (green sphere) by gathering loose frog cells in its opening.
Tiny “living machines” made of frog cells can make copies of themselves. This newly discovered renewal mechanism may help create self-renewing biological machines.
According to Kirstin Petersen, an electrical and computer engineer at Cornell University who studies groups of robots, “this is an extremely exciting breakthrough.” She says self-replicating robots are a big step toward human-free systems.
Researchers described the behavior of xenobots earlier this year (SN: 3/31/21). Small clumps of skin stem cells from frog embryos knitted themselves into small spheres and started moving. Cilia, or cellular extensions, powered the xenobots around their lab dishes.
The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Dec. 7. The xenobots can gather loose frog cells into spheres, which then form xenobots.
The researchers call this type of movement-induced reproduction kinematic self-replication. The study's coauthor, Douglas Blackiston of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, and Harvard University, says this is typical. For example, sexual reproduction requires parental sperm and egg cells. Sometimes cells split or budded off from a parent.
“This is unique,” Blackiston says. These xenobots “find loose parts in the environment and cobble them together.” This second generation of xenobots can move like their parents, Blackiston says.
The researchers discovered that spheroid xenobots could only produce one more generation before dying out. The original xenobots' shape was predicted by an artificial intelligence program, allowing for four generations of replication.
A C shape, like an openmouthed Pac-Man, was predicted to be a more efficient progenitor. When improved xenobots were let loose in a dish, they began scooping up loose cells into their gaping “mouths,” forming more sphere-shaped bots (see image below). As many as 50 cells clumped together in the opening of a parent to form a mobile offspring. A xenobot is made up of 4,000–6,000 frog cells.
Petersen likes the Xenobots' small size. “The fact that they were able to do this at such a small scale just makes it even better,” she says. Miniature xenobots could sculpt tissues for implantation or deliver therapeutics inside the body.
Beyond the xenobots' potential jobs, the research advances an important science, says study coauthor and Tufts developmental biologist Michael Levin. The science of anticipating and controlling the outcomes of complex systems, he says.
“No one could have predicted this,” Levin says. “They regularly surprise us.” Researchers can use xenobots to test the unexpected. “This is about advancing the science of being less surprised,” Levin says.
More on Science
1 month ago
How monkeypox spreads (and doesn't spread)
Monkeypox was rare until recently. In 2005, a research called a cluster of six monkeypox cases in the Republic of Congo "the longest reported chain to date."
That's changed. This year, over 25,000 monkeypox cases have been reported in 83 countries, indicating widespread human-to-human transmission.
What spreads monkeypox? Monkeypox transmission research is ongoing; findings may change. But science says...
Most cases were formerly animal-related.
According to the WHO, monkeypox was first diagnosed in an infant in the DRC in 1970. After that, instances were infrequent and often tied to animals. In 2003, 47 Americans contracted rabies from pet prairie dogs.
In 2017, Nigeria saw a significant outbreak. NPR reported that doctors diagnosed young guys without animal exposure who had genital sores. Nigerian researchers highlighted the idea of sexual transmission in a 2019 study, but the theory didn't catch on. “People tend to cling on to tradition, and the idea is that monkeypox is transmitted from animals to humans,” explains research co-author Dr. Dimie Ogoina.
Most monkeypox cases are sex-related.
Human-to-human transmission of monkeypox occurs, and sexual activity plays a role.
Joseph Osmundson, a clinical assistant professor of biology at NYU, says most transmission occurs in queer and gay sexual networks through sexual or personal contact.
Monkeypox spreads by skin-to-skin contact, especially with its blister-like rash, explains Ogoina. Researchers are exploring whether people can be asymptomatically contagious, but they are infectious until their rash heals and fresh skin forms, according to the CDC.
A July research in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that of more than 500 monkeypox cases in 16 countries as of June, 95% were linked to sexual activity and 98% were among males who have sex with men. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus encouraged males to temporarily restrict their number of male partners in July.
Is monkeypox a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
Skin-to-skin contact can spread monkeypox, not simply sexual activities. Dr. Roy Gulick, infectious disease chief at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, said monkeypox is not a "typical" STI. Monkeypox isn't a STI, claims the CDC.
Most cases in the current outbreak are tied to male sexual behavior, but Osmundson thinks the virus might also spread on sports teams, in spas, or in college dorms.
Can you get monkeypox from surfaces?
Monkeypox can be spread by touching infected clothing or bedding. According to a study, a U.K. health care worker caught monkeypox in 2018 after handling ill patient's bedding.
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, believes "incidental" contact seldom distributes the virus. “You need enough virus exposure to get infected,” she says. It's conceivable after sharing a bed or towel with an infectious person, but less likely after touching a doorknob, she says.
Dr. Müge evik, a clinical lecturer in infectious diseases at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, says there is a "spectrum" of risk connected with monkeypox. "Every exposure isn't equal," she explains. "People must know where to be cautious. Reducing [sexual] partners may be more useful than cleaning coffee shop seats.
Is monkeypox airborne?
Exposure to an infectious person's respiratory fluids can cause monkeypox, but the WHO says it needs close, continuous face-to-face contact. CDC researchers are still examining how often this happens.
Under precise laboratory conditions, scientists have shown that monkeypox can spread via aerosols, or tiny airborne particles. But there's no clear evidence that this is happening in the real world, Rasmussen adds. “This is expanding predominantly in communities of males who have sex with men, which suggests skin-to-skin contact,” she explains. If airborne transmission were frequent, she argues, we'd find more occurrences in other demographics.
In the shadow of COVID-19, people are worried about aerosolized monkeypox. Rasmussen believes the epidemiology is different. Different viruses.
Can kids get monkeypox?
More than 80 youngsters have contracted the virus thus far, mainly through household transmission. CDC says pregnant women can spread the illness to their fetus.
Among the 1970s, monkeypox predominantly affected children, but by the 2010s, it was more common in adults, according to a February study. The study's authors say routine smallpox immunization (which protects against monkeypox) halted when smallpox was eradicated. Only toddlers were born after smallpox vaccination halted decades ago. More people are vulnerable now.
Schools and daycares could become monkeypox hotspots, according to pediatric instances. Ogoina adds this hasn't happened in Nigeria's outbreaks, which is encouraging. He says, "I'm not sure if we should worry." We must be careful and seek evidence.
12 days ago
Here's what to expect from NASA Artemis 1 and why it's significant.
NASA's Artemis 1 mission will help return people to the Moon after a half-century break. The mission is a shakedown cruise for NASA's Space Launch System and Orion Crew Capsule.
The spaceship will visit the Moon, deploy satellites, and enter orbit. NASA wants to practice operating the spacecraft, test the conditions people will face on the Moon, and ensure a safe return to Earth.
We asked Jack Burns, a space scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder and former member of NASA's Presidential Transition Team, to describe the mission, explain what the Artemis program promises for space exploration, and reflect on how the space program has changed in the half-century since humans last set foot on the moon.
What distinguishes Artemis 1 from other rockets?
Artemis 1 is the Space Launch System's first launch. NASA calls this a "heavy-lift" vehicle. It will be more powerful than Apollo's Saturn V, which transported people to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s.
It's a new sort of rocket system with two strap-on solid rocket boosters from the space shuttle. It's a mix of the shuttle and Saturn V.
The Orion Crew Capsule will be tested extensively. It'll spend a month in the high-radiation Moon environment. It will also test the heat shield, which protects the capsule and its occupants at 25,000 mph. The heat shield must work well because this is the fastest capsule descent since Apollo.
This mission will also carry miniature Moon-orbiting satellites. These will undertake vital precursor science, including as examining further into permanently shadowed craters where scientists suspect there is water and measuring the radiation environment to see long-term human consequences.
Artemis 1 will launch, fly to the Moon, place satellites, orbit it, return to Earth, and splash down in the ocean. NASA.
What's Artemis's goal? What launches are next?
The mission is a first step toward Artemis 3, which will lead to the first human Moon missions since 1972. Artemis 1 is unmanned.
Artemis 2 will have astronauts a few years later. Like Apollo 8, it will be an orbital mission that circles the Moon and returns. The astronauts will orbit the Moon longer and test everything with a crew.
Eventually, Artemis 3 will meet with the SpaceX Starship on the Moon's surface and transfer people. Orion will stay in orbit while the lunar Starship lands astronauts. They'll go to the Moon's south pole to investigate the water ice there.
Artemis is reminiscent of Apollo. What's changed in 50 years?
Kennedy wanted to beat the Soviets to the Moon with Apollo. The administration didn't care much about space flight or the Moon, but the goal would place America first in space and technology.
You live and die by the sword if you do that. When the U.S. reached the Moon, it was over. Russia lost. We planted flags and did science experiments. Richard Nixon canceled the program after Apollo 11 because the political goals were attained.
Large rocket with two boosters between two gates
NASA's new Space Launch System is brought to a launchpad. NASA
50 years later... It's quite different. We're not trying to beat the Russians, Chinese, or anyone else, but to begin sustainable space exploration.
Artemis has many goals. It includes harnessing in-situ resources like water ice and lunar soil to make food, fuel, and building materials.
SpaceX is part of this first journey to the Moon's surface, therefore the initiative is also helping to develop a lunar and space economy. NASA doesn't own the Starship but is buying seats for astronauts. SpaceX will employ Starship to transport cargo, private astronauts, and foreign astronauts.
Fifty years of technology advancement has made getting to the Moon cheaper and more practical, and computer technology allows for more advanced tests. 50 years of technological progress have changed everything. Anyone with enough money can send a spacecraft to the Moon, but not humans.
Commercial Lunar Payload Services engages commercial companies to develop uncrewed Moon landers. We're sending a radio telescope to the Moon in January. Even 10 years ago, that was impossible.
Since humans last visited the Moon 50 years ago, technology has improved greatly.
What other changes does Artemis have in store?
The government says Artemis 3 will have at least one woman and likely a person of color.
I'm looking forward to seeing more diversity so young kids can say, "Hey, there's an astronaut that looks like me. I can do this. I can be part of the space program.”
3 months ago
The InSight lander from NASA has recorded the greatest tremor ever felt on Mars.
The magnitude 5 earthquake was responsible for the discharge of energy that was 10 times greater than the previous record holder.
Any Martians who happen to be reading this should quickly learn how to duck and cover.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, reported that on May 4, the planet Mars was shaken by an earthquake of around magnitude 5, making it the greatest Marsquake ever detected to this point. The shaking persisted for more than six hours and unleashed more than ten times as much energy as the earthquake that had previously held the record for strongest.
The event was captured on record by the InSight lander, which is operated by the United States Space Agency and has been researching the innards of Mars ever since it touched down on the planet in 2018 (SN: 11/26/18). The epicenter of the earthquake was probably located in the vicinity of Cerberus Fossae, which is located more than 1,000 kilometers away from the lander.
The surface of Cerberus Fossae is notorious for being broken up and experiencing periodic rockfalls. According to geophysicist Philippe Lognonné, who is the lead investigator of the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, the seismometer that is onboard the InSight lander, it is reasonable to assume that the ground is moving in that area. "This is an old crater from a volcanic eruption."
Marsquakes, which are similar to earthquakes in that they give information about the interior structure of our planet, can be utilized to investigate what lies beneath the surface of Mars (SN: 7/22/21). And according to Lognonné, who works at the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris, there is a great deal that can be gleaned from analyzing this massive earthquake. Because the quality of the signal is so high, we will be able to focus on the specifics.
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1 month ago
5 ways to never run out of article ideas
“Perfectionism is the enemy of the idea muscle. " — James Altucher
Writer's block is a typical explanation for low output. Success requires productivity.
In four years of writing, I've never had writer's block. And you shouldn't care.
You'll never run out of content ideas if you follow a few tactics. No, I'm not overpromising.
Take Note of Ideas
Brains are strange machines. Blank when it's time to write. Idiot. Nothing. We get the best article ideas when we're away from our workstation.
In the shower
In our dreams
During dull chats
In the gym
No accident. The best ideas come in the shower, in nature, or while exercising.
(Your workstation is the worst place for creativity.)
The brain has time and space to link 'dots' of information during rest. It's eureka! New idea.
If you're serious about writing, capture thoughts as they come.
Immediately write down a new thought. Capture it. Don't miss it. Your future self will thank you.
As a writer, entrepreneur, or creative, letting ideas slide is bad.
I recommend using Evernote, Notion, or your device's basic note-taking tool to capture article ideas.
It doesn't matter whatever app you use as long as you collect article ideas.
When you practice 'idea-capturing' enough, you'll have an unending list of article ideas when writer's block hits.
More books, films, Medium pieces, and Youtube videos I consume, the more I'm inspired to write.
What you eat shapes who you are.
Celebrity gossip and fear-mongering news won't help your writing. It won't help you write regularly.
Instead, read expert-written books. Watch documentaries to improve your worldview. Follow amazing people online.
Develop your 'idea muscle' Daily creativity takes practice. The more you exercise your 'idea muscles,' the easier it is to generate article ideas.
I've trained my 'concept muscle' using James Altucher's exercise.
Write 10 ideas daily.
Write ten book ideas every day if you're an author. Write down 10 business ideas per day if you're an entrepreneur. Write down 10 investing ideas per day.
Write 10 article ideas per day. You become a content machine.
It doesn't state you need ten amazing ideas. You don't need 10 ideas. Ten ideas, regardless of quality.
Like at the gym, reps are what matter. With each article idea, you gain creativity. Writer's block is no match for this workout.
Perfectionism is bad for writers. You'll have bad articles. You'll have bad ideas. OK. It's creative.
Writing success requires prolificacy. You can't have 'perfect' articles.
“Perfectionism is the enemy of the idea muscle. Perfectionism is your brain trying to protect you from harm.” — James Altucher
Vincent van Gogh painted 900 pieces. The Starry Night is the most famous.
Thomas Edison invented 1093 things, but not all were as important as the lightbulb or the first movie camera.
Mozart composed nearly 600 compositions, but only Serenade No13 became popular.
Always do your best. Perfectionism shouldn't stop you from working. Write! Publicize. Make. Even if imperfect.
Write Your Story
Living an interesting life gives you plenty to write about. If you travel a lot, share your stories or lessons learned.
Describe your business's successes and shortcomings.
Share your experiences with difficulties or addictions.
More experiences equal more writing material.
If you stay indoors, perusing social media, you won't be inspired to write.
Have fun. Travel. Strive. Build a business. Be bold. Live a life worth writing about, and you won't run out of material.
22 days ago
I sold 100 copies of my book when I had anticipated selling none.
After a decade in large tech, I know how software engineers were interviewed. I've seen outstanding engineers fail interviews because their responses were too vague.
So I wrote Nail A Coding Interview: Six-Step Mental Framework. Give candidates a mental framework for coding questions; help organizations better prepare candidates so they can calibrate traits.
Recently, I sold more than 100 books, something I never expected.
In this essay, I'll describe my publication journey, which included self-doubt and little triumphs. I hope this helps if you want to publish.
It was originally a Medium post.
How did I know to develop a coding interview book? Years ago, I posted on Medium.
This story got a lot of attention and still gets a lot of daily traffic. It indicates this domain's value.
Converted the Medium article into an ebook
The Medium post contains strong bullet points, but it is missing the “flesh”. How to use these strategies in coding interviews, for example. I filled in the blanks and made a book.
I made the book cover for free. It's tidy.
Shared the article with my close friends on my social network WeChat.
I shared the book on Wechat's Friend Circle (朋友圈) after publishing it on Gumroad. Many friends enjoyed my post. It definitely triggered endorphins.
In Friend Circle, I presented a 100% off voucher. No one downloaded the book. Endorphins made my heart sink.
Several days later, my Apple Watch received a Gumroad notification. A friend downloaded it. I majored in finance, he subsequently said. My brother-in-law can get it? He downloaded it to cheer me up.
I liked him, but was disappointed that he didn't read it.
The Tipping Point: Reddit's Free Giving
I trusted the book. It's based on years of interviewing. I felt it might help job-hunting college students. If nobody wants it, it can still have value.
I posted the book's link on /r/leetcode. I told them to DM me for a free promo code.
Momentum shifted everything. Gumroad notifications kept coming when I was out with family. Following orders.
As promised, I sent DMs a promo code. Some consumers ordered without asking for a promo code. Some readers finished the book and posted reviews.
My book was finally on track.
A 5-Star Review, plus More
A reader afterwards DMed me and inquired if I had another book on system design interviewing. I said that was a good idea, but I didn't have one. If you write one, I'll be your first reader.
Later, I asked for a book review. Yes, but how? That's when I learned readers' reviews weren't easy. I built up an email pipeline to solicit customer reviews. Since then, I've gained credibility through ratings.
I wouldn't have gotten 100 if I gave up when none of my pals downloaded. Here are some lessons.
Your friends are your allies, but they are not your clients.
Be present where your clients are
Request ratings and testimonials
gain credibility gradually
I did it, so can you. Follow me on Twitter @imgracehuang for my publishing and entrepreneurship adventure.
4 months ago
The latest “bubble indicator” readings.
As you know, I like to turn my intuition into decision rules (principles) that can be back-tested and automated to create a portfolio of alpha bets. I use one for bubbles. Having seen many bubbles in my 50+ years of investing, I described what makes a bubble and how to identify them in markets—not just stocks.
A bubble market has a high degree of the following:
- High prices compared to traditional values (e.g., by taking the present value of their cash flows for the duration of the asset and comparing it with their interest rates).
- Conditons incompatible with long-term growth (e.g., extrapolating past revenue and earnings growth rates late in the cycle).
- Many new and inexperienced buyers were drawn in by the perceived hot market.
- Broad bullish sentiment.
- Debt financing a large portion of purchases.
- Lots of forward and speculative purchases to profit from price rises (e.g., inventories that are more than needed, contracted forward purchases, etc.).
I use these criteria to assess all markets for bubbles. I have periodically shown you these for stocks and the stock market.
What Was Shown in January Versus Now
I will first describe the picture in words, then show it in charts, and compare it to the last update in January.
As of January, the bubble indicator showed that a) the US equity market was in a moderate bubble, but not an extreme one (ie., 70 percent of way toward the highest bubble, which occurred in the late 1990s and late 1920s), and b) the emerging tech companies (ie. As well, the unprecedented flood of liquidity post-COVID financed other bubbly behavior (e.g. SPACs, IPO boom, big pickup in options activity), making things bubbly. I showed which stocks were in bubbles and created an index of those stocks, which I call “bubble stocks.”
Those bubble stocks have popped. They fell by a third last year, while the S&P 500 remained flat. In light of these and other market developments, it is not necessarily true that now is a good time to buy emerging tech stocks.
The fact that they aren't at a bubble extreme doesn't mean they are safe or that it's a good time to get long. Our metrics still show that US stocks are overvalued. Once popped, bubbles tend to overcorrect to the downside rather than settle at “normal” prices.
The following charts paint the picture. The first shows the US equity market bubble gauge/indicator going back to 1900, currently at the 40% percentile. The charts also zoom in on the gauge in recent years, as well as the late 1920s and late 1990s bubbles (during both of these cases the gauge reached 100 percent ).
The chart below depicts the average bubble gauge for the most bubbly companies in 2020. Those readings are down significantly.
The charts below compare the performance of a basket of emerging tech bubble stocks to the S&P 500. Prices have fallen noticeably, giving up most of their post-COVID gains.
The following charts show the price action of the bubble slice today and in the 1920s and 1990s. These charts show the same market dynamics and two key indicators. These are just two examples of how a lot of debt financing stock ownership coupled with a tightening typically leads to a bubble popping.
Everything driving the bubbles in this market segment is classic—the same drivers that drove the 1920s bubble and the 1990s bubble. For instance, in the last couple months, it was how tightening can act to prick the bubble. Review this case study of the 1920s stock bubble (starting on page 49) from my book Principles for Navigating Big Debt Crises to grasp these dynamics.
The following charts show the components of the US stock market bubble gauge. Since this is a proprietary indicator, I will only show you some of the sub-aggregate readings and some indicators.
Each of these six influences is measured using a number of stats. This is how I approach the stock market. These gauges are combined into aggregate indices by security and then for the market as a whole. The table below shows the current readings of these US equity market indicators. It compares current conditions for US equities to historical conditions. These readings suggest that we’re out of a bubble.
1. How High Are Prices Relatively?
This price gauge for US equities is currently around the 50th percentile.
2. Is price reduction unsustainable?
This measure calculates the earnings growth rate required to outperform bonds. This is calculated by adding up the readings of individual securities. This indicator is currently near the 60th percentile for the overall market, higher than some of our other readings. Profit growth discounted in stocks remains high.
Even more so in the US software sector. Analysts' earnings growth expectations for this sector have slowed, but remain high historically. P/Es have reversed COVID gains but remain high historical.
3. How many new buyers (i.e., non-existing buyers) entered the market?
Expansion of new entrants is often indicative of a bubble. According to historical accounts, this was true in the 1990s equity bubble and the 1929 bubble (though our data for this and other gauges doesn't go back that far). A flood of new retail investors into popular stocks, which by other measures appeared to be in a bubble, pushed this gauge above the 90% mark in 2020. The pace of retail activity in the markets has recently slowed to pre-COVID levels.
4. How Broadly Bullish Is Sentiment?
The more people who have invested, the less resources they have to keep investing, and the more likely they are to sell. Market sentiment is now significantly negative.
5. Are Purchases Being Financed by High Leverage?
Leveraged purchases weaken the buying foundation and expose it to forced selling in a downturn. The leverage gauge, which considers option positions as a form of leverage, is now around the 50% mark.
6. To What Extent Have Buyers Made Exceptionally Extended Forward Purchases?
Looking at future purchases can help assess whether expectations have become overly optimistic. This indicator is particularly useful in commodity and real estate markets, where forward purchases are most obvious. In the equity markets, I look at indicators like capital expenditure, or how much businesses (and governments) invest in infrastructure, factories, etc. It reflects whether businesses are projecting future demand growth. Like other gauges, this one is at the 40th percentile.
What one does with it is a tactical choice. While the reversal has been significant, future earnings discounting remains high historically. In either case, bubbles tend to overcorrect (sell off more than the fundamentals suggest) rather than simply deflate. But I wanted to share these updated readings with you in light of recent market activity.