Friday, May 25, 2012

Recent Reasons for Optimism Redux

Some more good news from this week:

1) Child mortality rates in Africa are falling rapidly, and the decline appears to be speeding up. Twelve African countries are seeing declines rapid enough to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of cutting child mortality by two-thirds from 1990 to 2015. Child mortality in three countries, Senegal, Rwanda and Kenya, is falling twice as fast as needed to meet the MDG.

2) In Israel, human skin cells from patients suffering from heart failure have been turned into functionally young, beating heart cells which were "equivalent to the stage of his heart cells when he was just born." The cells were successfully grafted onto rat hearts; human tests are still a ways off.

3) A telomerase gene therapy, when applied to adult mice, extended their lifespans by 24%. Telomerase encourages the regrowth of telomeres, the DNA equivalent of the plastic nub at the end of shoelaces. Telomerase has been shown to increase cultured human cell lifespans; the successful tests on mice have taken the treatment to the next step.

4) In non-health news, a British company is building robotic fish that can automatically test the seas for pollution. The latest buzzphrase seems to be "the internet of things," but the Brits are pushing past that to bring nature itself online.

5) MIT has developed a more life-changing technology for some of us: a nanotech coating for the insides of glass and plastic bottles that lets you get all of the ketchup out of the bottle. And it's not just for fun-- they estimate their coating could help save one million tons of food from being thrown out every year.

6) This morning, the SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully berthed with the International Space Station, becoming the first privately-built spaceship to do so. In the images below, which I captured from NASA's live stream, you can see both the Dragon capsule and the CanadArm used to catch it.

7) It's not quite space, but two California men launched a balloon to about 27 km and took the picture below of the recent solar eclipse (ht). As technology and living standards improve, everyday people are now accomplishing feats for hobbies and even school projects that were once the sole domain of governments and well-funded academics.

8) Earth is often thought of as the solar system's watery planet, but Jupiter's moon Europa has 2-3 times more water than we do. On the surface it's all ice, but geothermal heat could mean liquid oceans under the ice dozens of miles deep. That's good news for extraterrestrial life in our solar system.

9) The provincial government of British Columbia decided this week that its mandatory vehicle emissions inspections had been successful. With the objective of cleaner vehicle emissions achieved, the government is now phasing out the program for non-diesel vehicles, which will save drivers $23 per year per vehicle, not to mention the hassle of the inspections themselves. That may not sound like much, but any time a government actually ends a program because it achieved its objective deserves celebration.

10) Finally, not really news per se, but a nice reminder in the form of Canadian graffiti. Photo courtesy of the Expected Optimist's better half on a trip to Tsawassen, BC.

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