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Submission + - Gene drives: The good, the bad, and the hype ( 1

Lasrick writes: Under normal circumstances, a specific gene has a 50 percent chance of being transmitted to an offspring, but over time, some genes may disappear from a population, especially if the gene in question makes the population less fit. A gene drive is the process by which scientists force an altered gene into an animal population to permit the inheriting of a desired trait at a higher rate and with greater certainty than through natural reproduction alone. Gene drives are not new and they can occur naturally, for example when a gene produces multiple copies of itself in a genome, or when a gene disables or destroys other genes to increase inheritance odds.

Genetic alterations of domesticated plants and animals are not new, either. The novelty of recent gene drives resides in the use of the Crispr technique, which not only allows gene editing with precision, speed, and economy, but also has the potential of ensuring that alterations made in wild animals will persist in nature. Gene drives are being investigated as tools to eradicate infectious diseases or control pests that cause agricultural, economic, and environmental damages; yet they have also raised security concerns. Sonia Ben Quagrham-Gormley and Kathleen Vogel write about the good, the bad, and the hype of gene drives and find that there's been too much hype and not enough empirical data around the security issue, especially when it comes to the bioweapons threat.

Submission + - Even US military is looking at blockchain technology—to secure nuclear wea (

Lasrick writes: Blockchain technology has been slow to gain adoption in non-financial contexts, but it could turn out to have invaluable military applications. DARPA, the storied research unit of the US Department of Defense, is currently funding efforts to find out if blockchains could help secure highly sensitive data, with potential applications for everything from nuclear weapons to military satellites.

Submission + - A changing climate for coral reefs (

Dan Drollette writes: Coral bleaching has been in the news. But how is it different from coral death, what does it mean, what are the long-term prospects, and why should we care? From an Aussie scientist, who has been studying the Great Barrier Reef and the effects of climate change for nearly 3 decades.

Submission + - Alaska Oil Reserves May Have Grown 80% on Giant Discovery (

schwit1 writes: A small company just announced that it has made a “world-class” oil discovery in Alaska, which could be the largest find in the state in years.

Caelus Energy LLC, a small company backed by private equity, says that it has discovered oil on Alaska’s northern coast. The field could hold as much as 6 billion barrels of oil, with about 1.8 to 2.4 billion barrels considered to be recoverable. If that is the case, the discovery would instantly raise Alaska’s statewide recoverable oil reserve base by about 80 percent.

But producing the oil will not be easy. Drilling must take place in the winter. To drill the field, the tentative plan would be to build manmade islands to drill through. Oil produced in the shallow water of Smith Bay will need to be moved somehow. Caelus will have to build an $800 million pipeline that travels 125 miles, connecting to an existing pipeline system in Prudhoe Bay.

“It’s a really exciting discovery for us, and we think it’s really exciting for the state of Alaska,” Caelus CEO Jim Musselman said in a phone interview with Bloomberg. “They need a shot in the arm now.”

“It is not going to be easy, but we’ve had projects like this around the world,” Musselman told The Wall Street Journal. He formerly led Kosmos Energy when it recorded a massive oil discovery of the coast of Ghana about a decade ago.

The one thing that Caelus has in its favor is strong support from the state of Alaska. Desperate to halt declining output and cratering state revenues, the Alaskan government has been frantically searching for ways to increase oil production. Output has been falling from Alaska’s aging North Slope, with production down below 500,000 barrels per day from a peak in the late 1980s at over 2 million barrels per day.

Submission + - Tackling near and far AI threats at once

Lasrick writes: Artificial intelligence experts are divided over the threat of superintelligent computers. One group argues that even though these machines may be decades or centuries away, the scale of the catastrophe they could cause is so great, we should take action now to prevent them from taking over the world and killing everyone. Another group dismisses the fear of superintelligent computers as speculative and premature, and prefers to focus on existing and near-future AI. Seth Baum of the Catastrophic Risk Institute believes there is common ground here, and that both groups can and should work together. He outlines the three areas they should work on, starting with putting their collective emphasis on technology for the benefit of society.

Submission + - SPAM: Mass. Natnal Guard, State Police raid 81-year-old's home, seize single Pot Plant

schwit1 writes: All that remains of the solitary marijuana plant an 81-year-old grandmother had been growing behind her South Amherst home is a stump and a ragged hole in the ground.

Margaret Holcomb said she was growing the plant as medicine, a way to ease arthritis and glaucoma and help her sleep at night. Tucked away in a raspberry patch and separated by a fence from any neighbors, the plant was nearly ready for harvest when a military-style helicopter and police descended on Sept. 21.

Link to Original Source

Submission + - Why carbon capture is no panacea (

Dan Drollette writes: To fight climate change with carbon capture and storage technology, we'd have to complete one new carbon capture facility every working day for the next 70 years. It's better to switch to a diet of energy conservation, efficiency, and renewables, rather than rely on this technology as a kind of emergency planetary liposuction.

Submission + - Careful, we might nuke you: The consequences of rejecting a nuclear no-first-use (

Lasrick writes: Since developing nuclear weapons in 1945, the United States has maintained the right to use them first against another country, regardless of whether that country launched a nuclear attack at the US. Over the past several months President Obama has considered changing that “first-use” optional policy to one under which the US declares that it will only use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack, a 'no-first-use' posture. Press reports now assert that key members of the president’s cabinet all opposed the move, including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the no-first-use debate, but unfortunately, there may be negative consequences for raising the issue publicly and then rejecting it. Nuclear security expert James Doyle explains what those consequences are.

Submission + - How likely is an existential catastrophe? More likely than you think (

Lasrick writes: The average American is at least 1,500 times more likely to die in a human extinction catastrophe than in a plane crash. That's according to this article by Phil Torres, founding director of the X-Risks Institute. As Torres points out: 'In the past few decades, the number of existential risk scenarios has risen, and it will likely rise even more this century. Consider that only 72 years ago, prior to the first atomic bomb exploding in the New Mexico desert, Homo sapiens faced only a handful of existential risks—all of them natural—including asteroid and comet impacts, supervolcanic eruptions, and global pandemics. Today the situation is quite different...' Some eye-opening stats from the article: A survey of experts found a 19 percent chance of human extinction this century; the average American is at least 1,500 times more likely to die in a human extinction catastrophe than in a plane crash, and almost 50 times more likely to see civilization collapse than to die in a vehicular accident. Torres acknowledges that these stats seem suspiciously high, but argues they should be taken seriously, and goes on to elaborate where the threats come from.

Submission + - Questions for the presidential candidates on nuclear terrorism and weapons (

Dan Drollette writes: A rare thing is happening in this campaign: the control that the president of the United States wields over the US nuclear arsenal is under serious discussion. So, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists asked its contributors — such as Siegfried Hecker, who headed the Los Alamos National Laboratory for a dozen years — for a few questions to ask our presidential candidates.

Submission + - Climate science, nuclear war, and the humanitarian impacts debate (

Dan Drollette writes: What would happen to the rest of the planet if "just" 50 to 100 Hiroshima-size weapons were used in a limited nuclear war — like, say, between India and Pakistan? A team of atmospheric and environmental scientists walk us through it, and find that the resulting nuclear winter would be far more disastrous than previously thought.

Submission + - Your exotic pet is actually a bioweapon (

Lasrick writes: Laura Kahn at Princeton's Program on Science and Global Security writes about how security experts, including some in the US military, are becoming concerned about the potential for adversaries to deliberately introduce non-native species as biological weapons. But, as Kahn points out: 'The United States already endures biological attacks from non-native species every year, which arrive in large numbers via the exotic pet trade.'

Kahn goes on to look at both the legal and illegal wildlife trade in the US, and efforts to curb wildlife trafficking. Great read.

Submission + - John Cook's experiment with online science trolls

Lasrick writes: John Cook is a researcher who writes about climate change denial at SkepticalScience, and he writes here about dealing with online trolls. Not only has he turned online trolling into a source of data collection, but has also come up with a very effective way to deal with trolling. Great read: 'When I turn the spotlight around to expose the techniques of science denial, the reaction can be intense.'

Submission + - Undersea cables and the future of submarine competition (

An anonymous reader writes: "The ocean floor also hosts an even more valuable resource than oil and gas: At least 95% of voice and Internet traffic travels through about 300 transoceanic fiber-optic cables along the seabed, including military transmissions and more than $4 trillion per year in financial transactions, all of which could be vulnerable to disruption if nations do not take the right precautions."

Submission + - Ban killer robots? How about defining them first? (

Lasrick writes: Global science and technology leaders like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have expressed concern about the existential risk to human society that could come from highly advanced artificial intelligence. But a key sticking point in the debate over banning autonomous weapons is the uncertainty about what exactly an autonomous weapon system is. Michael Horowitz of Perry World House at UPenn writes about how that need to first define the weapon system renders the discussion very different from arms control dialogues of the last few decades, and how effective policy will be difficult to come up with if we can’t even agree on what they are.

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