💊 Could AI Spark a Revolution in Antidepressants and Battery Tech? This Week in Science
It’s been a busy week for scientists! In this newsletter, I’ll bring you tons of promising AI research updates and the story of one cloned monkey.
AI Meets Psychedelics
AlphaFold, an artificial intelligence program developed by DeepMind, has made another leap in drug discovery. Renowned for its ability to accurately predict protein structures, AlphaFold uses algorithms to model how proteins, the building blocks of life, fold into three-dimensional shapes.
Recently, AlphaFold has identified hundreds of thousands of new molecules with psychedelic properties, marking a potential breakthrough in the development of antidepressants. Traditionally, determining protein structures for pharmaceutical research is a lengthy and labour-intensive process. AlphaFold, however, offers a faster alternative, reducing the time needed to initiate drug research by years in many cases. Yet, studies have shown that AI’s predictions are sometimes less effective than protein structures derived from experimental methods, like X-ray crystallography.
With AlphaFold’s ability to identify psychedelics at an astonishing rate, it seems AI is embracing the spirit of the 1960s. As the hippies used to say, “Make molecules, not war!”
Lithium Light Batteries
Speaking of discoveries, a recent study featured an AI system acting as an eco-friendly alchemist, uncovering a solid electrolyte material that could slash the lithium content in batteries by 70 per cent. Given lithium’s hefty price tag and environmental toll, reducing its use without compromising battery performance has become the battery industry’s version of the holy grail.
AI sifted through more than 32 million candidates, zeroing in on about half a million that showed potential for stability. The focus was on solid-state electrolytes, crucial for battery efficiency. Eventually, researchers pinpointed 18 promising new compositions. And here’s the kicker: by harnessing the power of about a thousand virtual cloud machines, this entire quest took less than 80 hours.
In a survey of 2,700 AI researchers, nearly 58 per cent indicated they believe there is a 5 per cent chance of human extinction due to the development of superhuman AI.
In a small study, a medical chatbot powered by Google’s large language model was rated by testers as more empathetic than actual doctors. Additionally, it surpassed board-certified primary-care physicians in accurately diagnosing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.
A 2020 research showed that people do not trust slow algorithms, and they do not trust fast people.
Survival of the Cloned
A cloned rhesus monkey has outlived expectations, thriving into adulthood for over two years. This marks the first time a cloned member of this species has reached such a milestone.
The success comes from tweaking the usual cloning playbook. Instead of following the usual Dolly-the-sheep method, scientists swapped the cloned embryo’s placenta with one from embryos created via in vitro fertilisation. This switcheroo reduced developmental issues, making the process more efficient and opening doors for using cloned primates in pharmaceutical research and behavioural studies. Now, scientists can create a troupe of genetically identical monkeys for drug trials because who needs diversity in a test subject?
From Dust to Oasis
Sam Matey from The Weekly Anthropocene interviewed Kevin Adkin, a USAID Regional Environment Specialist stationed in Kazakhstan, discussing ongoing efforts to safeguard the rapidly drying Aral Sea.
Environmentalists advocate for establishing an oasis, utilising black saxaul trees native to Central Asia. This initiative aims to stabilise the sand, preventing it from being displaced during frequent sandstorms and dust storms that pose health risks to the local population.
Dirty Air, Forgetful Minds
In a study of over 413,000 UK adults aged 40 to 69 and initially healthy, researchers tracked the impact of air pollution on developing stroke and dementia over 11 years.
They found that 6,484 participants suffered a stroke, 3,813 developed dementia, and 376 experienced both. After adjusting for lifestyle and socioeconomic factors, a clear link emerged between long-term air pollution exposure and a higher risk of dementia, including cases following a stroke. This was true even when pollution levels were below UK standards.
It seems that while the UK’s air might be cleaner than ever, it’s still not clean enough to remember where you left your keys—or to avoid more serious health issues like stroke and dementia.
James Bond and Poor Hygiene Habits
Despite 007’s knack for surviving dramatic and dangerous situations, his biggest health threat might be something as mundane as acute diarrhoea. Over the course of 86 international trips from 1962 to 2021, Bond was only seen washing his hands twice, significantly increasing his risk of this potentially deadly condition.
When a state begins to keep accurate birth records, there’s a significant drop, between 69 and 82 per cent, in the number of people reported to live to 110. This suggests that out of every ten people thought to be supercentenarians, about 7 or 8 are likely not that old, mainly due to previously poor record-keeping.
I guess the appropriate way to conclude today’s newsletter is by wishing you all: “Live long and prosper!” Anyway, thanks for reading! If you liked it, please share this newsletter with a friend.
Illustration: Elia Kabanov feat. MidJourney.