6 Science Breakthroughs Of 2016 That Might Save Humanity
If the year of our Lord 2016 were a corporeal being, we'd tell it to unhinge its jaw and bite our entire ass. But it's easy to forget that even in a year overflowing with the deaths of beloved celebrities, rampant police violence, rampant regular violence, and some sort of election (we think), science just keeps right on trudging through the sludge of human misery to bring us incredible advances that are sure to make us all immortal or, at the very least, make cows fart a lot less.
Feeding Cows Seaweed Could Help Save The World
When you hear the term "global warming," you probably picture a freeway packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic, the commuters collectively belching a cloud of deadly gas directly up Mother Nature's nostrils. The fact of the matter, however, is that transportation emissions account for just 14 percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions.
Some of which are totally worth it though.
As a point of comparison, agriculture is responsible for much more -- nearly a quarter of said emissions, all told. In fact, livestock alone is responsible for at least 14.5 percent of the planet-baking gases being released worldwide, and you know what they say: You can lead a man to a Prius, but asking him to give up prime rib is a good way to get a motherfucker shanked.
See, modern livestock are fed a grain-based diet that, while efficient, results in greatly increasing the animals' gas production. The animals simply didn't evolve to efficiently digest such a rich diet, and this results in the continuous release of methane, which has as much as 36 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, demand for meat, while stable in the developed world, is steadily increasing in developing countries -- there are now 1.5 billion cows on earth.
And much like your trucker-hat-loving uncle whom you only see at Thanksgiving dinner, the burps and farts of our livestock are spoiling the environment for everyone.
The solution isn't metric shit-tons of Beano, but it's close. Australian researchers discovered a species of seaweed (Asparagopsis taxiformis, which sounds like a spell Harry Potter would cast to make Voldemort's pee smell bad) that, when fed to livestock in amounts as little as two percent of their diet, almost magically slashes the animals' methane production by 50 to 70 percent.
If any nation was going to figure out how to harness farts for the common good it was going to be Australia.
If you're picturing herds of cattle in pool floaties slowly munching their way across the Atlantic, it's (sadly) much simpler than that. All it takes is a quick sprinkle of this miracle seaweed atop the cattle's usual feed, in much the same way a chef sprinkles your sea bass with fine herbs or a Taco Bell employee sprinkles your burrito with pubic hairs. If it works (they're still testing it) this little trick could be the equivalent of wiping out an entire large country's greenhouse emissions. See? It's very possible the world will be saved by just the dumbest-sounding bullshit.
A Condom-Free Male Birth Control Method Is Much Closer To Market
For the past half century, the burden of birth control has fallen squarely on the shoulders of women (well, actually it's fallen right around crotch level, but you know what we mean). Despite decades of empty "we're working on it, seriously" promises by scientists at large, we still don't have a safe, reversible contraceptive method for men that doesn't involve rolling a balloon on it -- though we're now much closer. And we're not talking about the birth control shot for men that, according to your Facebook feed at least, failed because men are absolute wusses.
No, we're talking about a product that has been in development since 2010 and, despite having bounded straight over a giant hurdle on its way to market this year, seemingly slipped right under the media's radar. That product is Vasalgel, and the aforementioned hurdle was that when tested on rabbits, it was proven effective at preventing pregnancy for a full year. And what better proof of a birth control's potency than to stand up to a veritable rabbit-load of fuckin'?
"Sir, once again, it's not necessary for you to bring in a highlight video of your sexual encounters. A simple number will do."
So, how does it work? Well, the bad news is that Vasalgel has the least appealing administration method possible: a shot straight to the dick area. The injection is about as painless as such a thing can be (in addition to being a tiny fraction of what women have to put up with) and while a vasectomy takes a destructive approach to preventing pregnancy, Vasalgel is more constructive (in much the way a cement truck is constructive). Specifically, it's a gel that fills and blocks the vas deferens, thus stopping sperm from passing like a tiny Gandalf, while still allowing fluids to flow normally.
Also unlike a vasectomy, the treatment is reversible -- should a recipient decide his life is filled with far too many restful nights, the gel can be flushed out to let his little swimmers free.
Which, of course, involves another needle to the goolies.
With the animal trials out of the way, human trials are expected to start within the next year. And the best part is that, since the treatment is not hormonal, it doesn't carry the nasty side effects of more traditional methods, the tortured squeals that accompany its administration notwithstanding (seriously, you'll get over it).
A Baby Was Born From Three Parents (And Thus Bypassed A Genetic Disease)
OK, we should make it clear right away that the "child born from three parents" thing wasn't a case of science saying, "This has never happened before, right? Let's try it!" There was a life-saving reason for it.
"If we don't have a three-way right now, I'm going to die!"
Let's rewind a bit. For 20 years, an unnamed couple from Jordan had been attempting to start a family. A series of miscarriages led up to the birth of their first daughter in 2005 -- but she tragically died at six years old. Their second child lived only eight months. That's when the couple discovered that the mother was passing on the genes for Leigh syndrome, a rare genetic mutation that stashes away deep inside a mother's mitochondria and spells bad, bad news for babies.
Enter Dr. John Zhang of New Hope Fertility Center in New York. Zhang and his team had been developing a so-called "three-parent" technique as a way to skirt around the inheritance of mitochondrial diseases. The catch? The technique is totally not yet approved in the U.S., so Zhang's team took a cue from movie outlaws and hightailed it to Mexico where, as Zhang put it, "there are no rules."
"Except for the thing about drinking the water."
Taking one egg from the mother and another from a donor, he removed the nucleus from the mother's and replaced that of the donor's egg with it. The result was an ovule that contained nucleic DNA from the mother, but mitochondrial DNA from the donor. The egg was then fertilized with the father's sperm and implanted in the mother, thereby creating a child with DNA from three different parents.
On April 6, 2016, the couple gave birth to a happily Kuato-free baby boy. The better news is that he's also Leigh syndrome-free, and embryologists in more ethically stingy countries are hopeful that Zhang's bold maneuver will kickstart the acceptance of the three-parent technique worldwide. Nobody will have any reason to protest that, right?
Portable HIV Testers Could Make AIDS As Manageable As Diabetes
It's not exactly new news that we've gotten much better at dealing with HIV. Thanks to antiretroviral drugs and monitoring techniques that can track the patient's viral load, it doesn't have to be a death sentence. The problem? Regular viral load testing requires ready access to modern medical facilities, and two-thirds of the world's new HIV infections occur in sub-Saharan Africa -- a place that, last time we checked, hasn't exactly served as the setting for any TV hospital dramas.
At least not until Netflix picks up our Mogadishu Medical pilot.
In order to entirely tackle the HIV epidemic, then, testing must become more accessible. And that's where Dr. Rajesh Gurrala and his compatriots from London's Imperial College come in: As detailed in the journal Scientific Reports, Gurrala teamed up with other infectious-disease experts (plus a few electronics gurus) to develop a CMOS-chip based viral load monitor that, most importantly, fits on a device the size of a USB stick. Also, the device returns its results in just 20 minutes. That's less time than it took us to get a goddamned flu shot at Target.
Not including the time we spent looking at Lego in the toy aisle before and after either.
If the technology becomes commonplace, it's easy to envision a day when, much as a diabetes sufferer uses their portable monitor to check their blood sugar and determine that if they need an immediate tiramisu infusion, an HIV sufferer will be able to easily check their viral load before going back to living a long, otherwise normal life. Again -- not a miracle cure, but a big difference.
We May Be Able To Erase Irrational Fears (With Drugs)
Imagine a future without phobias. Public speaking wouldn't require adult diapers, people could freely vacation to Australia without first taking out expensive venom insurance, and root canals would ... well, no, dentists would still be the spawn of Satan. Plus, the sudden disappearance of xenophobia might cause the internet to implode upon itself.
"As if millions of voices cried out 'cuck' and were suddenly silenced."
Still, the pros of wiping away our crippling irrational fears would vastly outweigh the cons. Psychology's current go-to method of treating phobias is to lock patients within the safe confines of a psychologist's office and scream "BOO!" at them until their fears subside, but exposure therapy alone is often ineffective or palliative. According to University of Amsterdam psychology professor Merel Kindt, the solution is to enhance the experience with drugs.
Kindt and Co gathered up a bunch of arachnophobes and shoved big, hairy tarantulas all up in their faces. One group got spiderated after taking propranolol (a beta blocker commonly used to combat high blood pressure due to its calming effects), another was given a placebo, and a third group (known to the rest of the participants as "those lucky sumbitches") took propranolol without ever setting foot near a spider. The participants who received the spider/propranolol treatment were able to touch the spider within days and hold it within months -- and even a year later, their fear had not returned.
Look, we're all about dealing with phobias here, but what is the upside to being able to hold a spider???
Now, to be clear, the drug didn't pull some sort of Total Recall on their gray matter -- the participants perfectly remembered that spiders once made them shit their pants clean off. They just weren't afraid of them anymore. These are, after all, physical reactions.
Meanwhile, drugs such as MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin also appear to boast anxiety-busting properties. In two recent studies on psychedelics -- the most rigorous studies of their kind in the nearly half-century since Richard Nixon declared his war on drugs -- cancer patients who received psychotherapy after shrooming out walked away with a reduced fear of death, less anxiety, and lower levels of depression -- all after a single trip to magic mushroom land, mind you -- and the effect hadn't subsided after six months.
Nor had their new found love for Phish.
In another study performed by MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, presumably not a recipient of significant government funding), researchers found that combining prolonged psychotherapy sessions with hefty doses of MDMA (or, as the kids call it, ecstasy) can induce a similar spiritual liberation (as well as a crippling craving for Faygo) in patients with terminal illness. Other researchers have suggested that E may be useful in easing the social anxiety experienced by adults with autism.
Hey, you know how we marvel at how old-timey medicines used to openly boast their Heroin and Cocaine content, laughing at how incredibly casual they were about these dangerous substances? Well, the future may laugh at us for the exact opposite reason.
Phone Chargers Are One Step Closer To Obsolescence, Humanity Is One Step Closer To Vindicating Tesla
In the late 19th century, the internet's demigod Nikola Tesla had a dream: to provide electricity to the masses without criss-crossing the great American landscape with a plethora of unsightly wires. Here in the 21st century, though we tend to toss the term "wireless" around all willy nilly, the fact of the matter is that our ever-draining batteries still keep us slaves to the wire -- and that's only cool if you're brainstorming names for a thrash metal band.
Over the past year, however, researchers have made major breakthroughs in bringing Tesla's dream closer to reality. Using a combination of far less power-hungry wireless devices and the capability to feed said devices energy via the WiFi signal itself, University of Washington engineers are heralding in a near-future in which every box of perishable food will contain a temperature sensor, no smoke detector will never squeal for new batteries, and your smartphone won't have you constantly scrambling for a power outlet.
You will, however, be scrambling for cover once Big Brother starts watching you from anywhere there's a WiFi signal.
The team approached the dilemma from two fronts. First, there's passive WiFi: By replacing the current method of wireless communication (in which routers and devices constantly blabber to one another) with one in which the devices only speak when spoken to, they were able to reduce said devices' power consumption by 10,000 times which we think means they ... generate power?
Then, in order to feed those devices the miniscule amount of power required, the team developed WiFi routers capable of providing "Power Over Wi-Fi." PoWiFi works by configuring the router to use the channels not dedicated to data transmission to send out a constant, superfluous wireless signal capable of powering small computing sensors ... or even charging batteries.
Though iPhones will still use a slightly different frequency than everyone else, because fuck you.
Currently the researchers have only used the technology to power devices such as low-resolution cameras, but you can bet the advancements will come fast. The possibilities are mind-boggling. The ability to function without depending on wires or batteries would change the design and possibilities of, well, most of the stuff you own.
That might even be cool enough to overcome the rampant PoWiFi health scares that will immediately follow.
For more reasons the future is something to look forward to, check out 5 Medical Breakthroughs That Make Life Shockingly Easy and 5 Breakthroughs In Tech (That Make Us Look Really Dumb).
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