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Glimpsing the Future with Gizmag

by / Tuesday, 21 February 2012 / Published in Science

In the last few days, a couple of different story link sites sent me running to Gizmag. I’ve been reading it constantly ever since. It’s filled with cutting edge stories about people making the future right now.  It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen the site.  The article I did on whether we should wipe out all mosquitoes on the planet, just because we can, pulled from an article there.

Today I’m fascinated by a few stories from the online mag.  The first story details a DNA sequencer called the miniION that can whip through 100 million base pairs in under six hours.  There are plenty of faster machines out there.  Illumina’s personal DNS sequencer, the MiSeq, can rip through 550 Megabase pairs in 3 hours.  A megabase equals 1 million base pairs.  So what makes the minION special?  It’s powered by usb, barely bigger than a usb stick and costs about $900 bucks.  That’s a hell of a lot cheaper than the $50 grand the Illumina unit costs.  The cost of DNA sequencing dropped exponentially over the last few years, hurtling towards commodity status.  When everybody can sequence their DNA on their desktop for a few hundred bucks, that’s when the incredible starts happening.

The second article details the story of an Italian doctor who may have discovered a cure for Multiple Sclerosis.  Scientists have long regarded MS as incurable.  But after his wife got MS, Italian Dr. Paolo Zamboni became obsessed with finding a cure.  He ended up finding 100 year old texts the pointed to excess iron as a possible MS cause.  That synced up with some research he’d been doing that showed that the build up of iron damaged blood vessels in the brain.  He found that 90% of MS sufferers had some kind of blockage in the veins that drain blood from the brain.  He started doing surgeries to remove the blockages and two years later 73% of the 50 plus people he operated on are symptom free.  Sometimes we just make things more complicated.

As a sci-fi writer/reader, if you’re not reading Gizmag, you’re missing your next big idea.

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