6. Gene therapy
Though we’re in the midst of the biotechnology revolution, our attention tends to get focused on such things as stem cells, tissue engineering, genome mapping, and new pharmaceuticals. What’s often lost in the discussion is the fact that we already have the ability to go directly into our DNA and swap genes at will. We can essentially trade bad genes for good, allowing us to treat or prevent diseases (such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis) — interventions that don’t require drugs or surgery. And just as significantly, gene therapy could eventually give rise genetic enhancements (like increased memory or intelligence) and life extension therapies. Gattaca is already here, it just hasn’t been distributed yet.
7. RNA interference
The discovery of RNA interference (RNAi) was considered so monumental that it won Andrew Fire and Craig C. Mello the Nobel Prize back in 2006. Similar to gene therapy, RNA interference allows biologists to manipulate the functions of genes. It works by using cells to shut-off or turn down the activity of specific genes, and it does this by destroying or disrupting messenger molecules (for example by preventing mRNA from producing a protein). Today, RNAi is being used in thousands of labs. It’s becoming an indispensable research tool (to create novel cell cultures), it has inspired the creation of algorithms in computational biology studies, and it holds tremendous potential for the treatment of diseases like cancer and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
8. Organic electronics
Traditionally, our visions of cybernetics and the cyborg is one in which natural, organic parts have been replaced with mechanical devices or prostheses. The notion of a half-human, half-machine has very much become ingrained in our thinking — but it’s likely wrong. Thanks to the rise of the nascent field of organic electronics, it’s more likely that we’ll rework the body’s biological systems and introduce new organic components altogether. Already today, scientists have engineered cyborg tissue that can sense its environment. Other researchers have invented chemical circuits that can channel neurotransmitters instead of electric voltages. And as Mark Changizi has suggested, future humans will continue to harness the powers of their biological constitutions and engage in what Stanislas Dehaene calls neuronal recycling.
9. Concentrated solar power
A recent innovation in solar power technology is starting to take the world by storm, though few talk about it. It’s called concentrated solar power (CSP), and it’s a massively distributed system for extracting solar energy with mirrors and lenses. It works by focusing the incoming sunlight into a highly concentrated area. The result is a highly scalable and efficient energy source that is allowing for gigawatt sized solar power plants. Another similar technology, what’s called concentrated photovoltaics, results in concentrated sunlight being converted to heat, which in turn gets converted to electricity. CPV plants will not only solve much of the world’s energy needs, it will also double as a desalination station.
Images: Alila Sao Mai/shutterstock , BitCoin , IEEE Spectrum/R. Stanley Williams , City of Edmonton , somersault18:24/Shutterstock , Medgadget , AlphaGalileo Foundation , Desertec . Top image composed by Dylan Cole.
Source | io9