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Shark genome offers insight into quick healing and disease resistance





great white sharkScuba divers in a shark cage observe a great white shark near Guadalupe, Mexico.Westend61/Getty Images

  • Scientists have successfully sequenced the entire genome of the great white shark.
  • Sharks have swum in the planet’s oceans for the last 400 million years. Some experts believe their species-wide longevity stems from a resistance to diseases like cancer and ability to heal quickly.
  • By decoding the shark’s genome, scientists hope to glean new insight into the mechanisms behind these healing powers.
  • There’s even a possibility that the findings could help humans tackle disease in new ways.

Damage-resistant genes. Healing powers. Very low risk of cancer. No, scientists aren’t describing Wolverine or Superman  — those are the powers of the great white shark. 

The star of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster, whose scientific name is Carcharodon carcharias, has a reputation as a meat-eating monster of the sea. But in fact, great white sharks may offer clues about the genetic underpinnings of self-repairing DNA.

For the first time, scientists have successfully sequenced the entire genome of the great white shark. A genome is all of an organism’s genetic material — its genes and DNA. These sharks have 4.63 billion rungs on their DNA ladder, and 41 pairs of chromosomes compared to humans’ 23, a new study revealed.

So this sequencing effort was years in the making. 

But scientists think the work will be worth it, as Mahmood Shivji, a biologist at Nova Southeastern University and a co-author of the new study about the shark genome, told Business Insider.

“Sharks are well known to be able to heal from wounds efficiently, but nobody knows why,” he said.

This new genome could reveal a plethora of genetic secrets that could explain why these animals are so good at healing and fending off disease.

“There’s a tremendous amount to be learned from these highly successfully evolutionary marvels,” Shivji said. “Their function and design is 400 million years of extremely fine-tuned evolution.”

Great white sharks are quick healers

Great whites and other sharks appear to be able to recover from severe wounds — injuries that could come from risky courtship behaviors, fights with other sharks, or harpoon hunting — in just weeks. 

Shivji and his co-authors found that the great white has more genes devoted to blood clotting, along with various proteins that help kick-start new skin and tissue, than any other mammal, fish, or bird. 

“They’ve devoted a significant proportion of their genome to wound healing,” Michael Stanhope, an evolutionary biologist at Cornell University who co-led the study with Shivji, told Wired

Great White shark from Great White triangleSharks can heal wounds more quickly than other vertebrate species.Discovery Channel: Great White Triangle

In addition to this rapid healing, sharks don’t get cancer more often than humans, despite their large size. Scientists generally think the chance of developing cancer should go up with an organism’s body size and life span, since having more cells and a longer life leads to more opportunities for cancer-causing DNA damage to accumulate.

But “it is rare to find a ‘sick’ shark in the wild,” scientists from the Mote Marine Laboratory wrote in a 2018 study.

Great whites can be up to 20 feet long, weigh some 7,000 pounds, and live between 40 and 70 years, so the fact that they don’t have an increased risk of cancer suggests that something in their genome confers additional protection. (Sharks’ typical causes of death involve interactions with humans or simply old age.)

One reason for that, according to the new study, may be that the great white’s genetic code hides a balance of DNA opposites that make the overall genome stable.

On one hand, the genome has a large proportion of “jumping genes”: genes that make copies of themselves then insert themselves into various parts of the genome. Shivji said scientists would expect these genes to make the genome more unstable because they break up DNA strands upon insertion, which raises the risk of errors and damage in the genetic code.

Such genomic instability is associated with higher risk of cancers in humans, as well as other age-related illnesses like Alzheimer’s.

But it turns out that the shark genome balances these jumping genes with stabilizing genes involved in DNA repair, damage response, and damage tolerance.

genome sequencingScientists are still figuring out the applications of genome sequencing, but it offers unprecedented insight into species’ resistance to disease, for example.REUTERS/Larry Downing

So it appears that great white sharks have developed a way to keep their genomes stable despite their large bodies and long lifespans, Shivji said.

Sharks’ genetic ‘superpowers’ could have applications for human health

While the idea that sharks are cancer-proof continues to circulate, the animals can get the disease. There have been 44 reported instances of cancerous lesions among 21 different types of chondrichthyes, a species class that contains sharks and sting rays. Of those 44 reports, about a third were malignant, according to a 2016 study.

That cancer myth is the basis for shark-cartilage pills, the sale of which continues to decimate shark populations worldwide. Great whites are now listed as “vulnerable to extinction” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Shivji emphasized that eating shark products — like taking the cartilage pills or consuming shark fin soup — won’t improve your own genes’ abilities to resist cancer.

“We want to avoid giving the impression to people that if you eat sharks, it’ll cure diseases,” Shivji said. “That’s as silly as saying, ‘if you eat sharks you’ll be able to hold your breath better.'”

But he added that the shark genome could give scientists “information that could be useful for human biomedical applications,” including ways to “fight cancer and age-related diseases, and improve wound healing treatments.”

Any treatments developed based on these findings are still far off, though — Stanhope told Wired that “it will take years of work.”

“Sharks have had over 400 million years to battle test their immune systems and develop this incredible capability,” Shivji said. “We’ve only scratched the very surface of understanding how they do this.”


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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal





A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist





Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’





Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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