2015 March 30 Monday
Higher Intensity Exercise Better Before Fatty Meal

Beware of old sayings. Everything in moderation? Bad advice.

A short burst of intensive exercise before eating a high fat meal is better for blood vessel function in young people than the currently recommended moderate-intensity exercise, according to a new study from the University of Exeter.

So the local burger joint should have exercise machines which let you pay to do a really intense leg and arm work-out before you order your half pounder with cheese.

It showed that approximately 25 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling prevented the fall in blood vessel function after the high fat meal. However, performing just eight minutes of high-intensity cycling not only prevented this fall, but improved blood vessel function to a level that was superior to moderate-intensity exercise.

We really need better integration of exercise and eating. I'm serious about the intense exercise machines right next to the ordering counter at burger joints. I'd go out for burgers more often if they had them.

By Randall Parker 2015 March 30 09:20 PM 
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2015 March 21 Saturday
Suppose US West Gets A Mega-Drought

If a mega-drought lasting decades comes to pass in the American and Canadian West what should we do about it?

According to Cook, the current likelihood of a megadrought, a drought lasting more than three decades, is 12 percent. If greenhouse gas emissions stop increasing in the mid-21st century, Cook and his colleagues project the likelihood of megadrought to reach more than 60 percent.

However, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase along current trajectories throughout the 21st century, there is an 80 percent likelihood of a decades-long megadrought in the Southwest and Central Plains between the years 2050 and 2099.

Could we build a a large fleet of nuclear power plants to desalinate water and pump it several hundred miles inland? Picture massive amounts of water pumped to the head waters of the Missouri river and rivers that flow into it such as the Milk, Yellowstone, North Platte, and South Platt? Then also pump massive quantities to the head waters of the Columbia, Spokane, Colorado, and Arkansas? Also to the inland valleys of California?

What is at stake: The plains bread basket farm fields. The viability of many states as places to live with all the infrastructure, homes, office buildings, and factories that have been built up in them. One has to compare all that sunken cost to the cost of bringing in enough water to supply enough for agriculture, industry, and residential living.

This could be the future of the American West:

So how to do a rough back-of-the envelope calculation of costs?Starting with the headwaters of the Missouri to bring, say, 20,000 cubic feet per second (cfp) of desal water to western Montana from the Washington State Pacific coast. What's the energy cost first of all? There is the energy cost of desalination. Then there is the energy cost of pumping the water uphill and over 600 miles to around Three Forks Montana. Possibly the water would get pumped to multiple locations in Montana for local uses and to feed different tributaries.

Anyone know how to do rough calculations on this?

By Randall Parker 2015 March 21 05:28 PM 
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Sink Harvested Forests Underwater To Lower Atmospheric CO2?

Can we appreciably lower atmospheric CO2 by cutting down trees and then sinking to them to the bottom of lakes and bays? Have a look at some numbers: Canada's boreal forest stores a lot of carbon.

Stores twice as much carbon per acre as tropical rain forests. In all, Canada’s boreal forests and peatlands lock in a minimum of 229 billion tons of carbon.

Humanity emits about 34.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

The ton in the first paragraph is probably the North American short ton or 907.1847 kg. The metric tonne is 1000 kg. So 229 billion tons is probably 208 tonnes (unless the press release writer got their units wrong). So next lets convert tonnes of carbon dioxide to tonnes of carbon so we can compare forest carbon to yearly released atmospheric carbon. Carbon has a molecular weight of 12. Oxygen has a molecular weight of 16. So (12/(12+(2*16))) * 34.5 = 9.4 billion tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere per year by human activity.

So if my data sources and calculations are correct so far then Canada's boreal forest contains the equivalet of about 21 years of human carbon emissions at about the current rate of emission.

Now suppose we cut down all of Canada's trees and sunk them to the bottom of lakes and Hudson's Bay. Lots of new trees would start growing up. Could they fully grow back in 21 years? If yes then we could neutralize the impact of human carbon emissions. If they would take 42 years to grow back then we'd cut the rate of increase of CO2 in the atmosphere in half. Huge impact.

Now, I'm not going to argue that cutting down all of Canada's trees all at once is a good idea. I think the climate impact of losing all those trees would be substantial and probably bad (less rain over wide areas for example). Plus, lots of birdies that spend some of their year in those forests would die. Other species probably as well.

But suppose some small percent of the trees got cut per year (and ditto in Amazon and United States and Siberia) and sunk under water. Combining across various forests we'd open up areas for more trees to grow (create holes scattered across forests) and more carbon to get pulled out of the atmosphere. In some cases just letting already cut areas return to forest would make a big impact.

Now here is where genetic engineering comes in. If we can genetically engineer crops to boost their yields we could use less space to grow crops. Then some of the current crop land could be let to return to forest. Though I suspect global population growth (especially in Africa) will prevent this from happening. Still, genetically engineered crops could at least reduce the future expansion of agriculture into more areas that are currently forests. So that would still help.

By Randall Parker 2015 March 21 10:29 AM 
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2015 March 19 Thursday
Scientists Call For Wait On Human Germ Line Genetic Alterations

Some scientists want a moratorium on using the Crispr-Cas9 genetic editing technique to modify germ line DNA. The germ line is the DNA that gets passed from parents to offspring. Basically, they are arguing against offspring genetic engineering until the safety of the technique can be assured.

A team of scientists at UCSD has just announced an improvement on Crispr-Cas9 for editing chromosomes to alter the germ line DNA. Their technique alters both chromosomes and can convert chromosomes that are heterogeneous (differing between the a pair of chromosomes) to make them homozygous for the new desired sequence. Got a better sequence you want to give to offspring? They'll get two copies of the sequence with this new technique.

I think there is a substantial chance that many Western governments will ban or greatly restrict offspring genetic engineering for a long time, not just until the tech for it becomes highly reliable and precise. If that happens the nations that ban this technology for germ line alteration will fall far behind nations that embrace this practice.

The nations that embrace the practice will evolve at a much faster rate. Imagine, for example, Singapore and Taiwan both embrace germ line genetic engineering. Within two generations their populaces will have 20+ IQ points advantages over the Western nations that prevent the use of this biotechnology. Some countries could engage a sort of genetic arms race to make far more productive populaces while other countries become very uncompetitive in just about all industries.

My expectation is that upper classes especially will flee any nations that won't let the upper classes create super kids. Citizenship in a Western industrial nation will be seen (correctly!) as less valuable than making your baby have a 140+ IQ.

This isn't just about high intelligence. Short people will want to make their kids taller.. At the same time, really tall people might opt to make their kids not quite so tall. A tall woman especially has fewer mate choices.

People with genetic risk factors for assorted medical problems will seek to avoid passing along those genes to their children. Somewhere between hundreds and thousands of genetic variants in each person are known as genetic load and have deleterious effects on health, longevity, and both mental and physical energy levels.

I expect we will see genetic editing done to create cells to grow replacement organs. Got a liver whose genetic programming is less than ideal? Take some of your cells, genetically edit them to create a higher functioning liver, then grow a replacement liver in a vat. When the liver gets installed it will be a genetic software upgrade. Or got a stomach that is easily upset? Get a genetic software update via either a new replacement stomach or via stem cells implanted in the stomach.

The biggest thing holding back germ line genetic engineering is lack of knowledge about the effects of the vast majority of genetic variants. Once we know the health and performance impacts of hundreds of thousands of genetic variants the advantage of editing the germ line will be enormous.

Update: See this interview of Harvard researcher George Church on genetic sequencing and germline genetic engineering:

Church: I don’t think that germline is the next goal (nor next logical step), but it might be an acceptable side-effect of treating genetic diseases early, safely and effectively. Many gene therapies currently in clinical trials are already aimed at young children to avoid permanent damage. Treating sperm and eggs could reduce the number of abortions (spontaneous and induced) and the number embryos needed in IVF clinics.

We will see germline genetic engineering on other species first. An obvious candidate: Canis lupus familiaris, what we call "dog". Lots of dog breeds have lots of genetic problems due to foolish breeding practices. Lots of such problems come to mind: German Shepherds with hip dysplasia and keratitis in the eye; Jack Russell Terriers with glaucoma; and Dalmatians with deafness and kidney or bladder stones. All these breeds and other breeds could get genetically repaired and made into super dogs.

Germline genetic editing of livestock will be used to create super milk cows, super egg-laying hens, and other animals that increase the efficiency of livestock farming. Of course, genetic editing of crops will be done as well to increase yields and improve quality. All this genetic editing of germ lines for commercial reasons will help make the technology more mature. In 20 years time (if not sooner) I expect germ line genetic editing will be done on humans. By that time we'll know the impacts of each genetic variant on human performance, health, and longevity. Offspring will get hundreds if not thousands of genetic improvements over the genes that their parents contributed.

By Randall Parker 2015 March 19 07:50 PM 
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2015 March 15 Sunday
Classical Music Down-Regulates Genes For Neurodegeneration

Does classical music alter genetic regulation in a way that slows brain aging?

Although listening to music is common in all societies, the biological determinants of listening to music are largely unknown. According to a latest study, listening to classical music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic neurotransmission, learning and memory, and down-regulated the genes mediating neurodegeneration. Several of the up-regulated genes were known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds, suggesting a common evolutionary background of sound perception across species.

Have you treated your brain genes to classical music lately? Earlier today I treated my brain with Beethoven's Emperor Concerto.

Naturally the researchers turned to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for a strong dose.

Listening to music represents a complex cognitive function of the human brain, which is known to induce several neuronal and physiological changes. However, the molecular background underlying the effects of listening to music is largely unknown. A Finnish study group has investigated how listening to classical music affected the gene expression profiles of both musically experienced and inexperienced participants. All the participants listened to W.A. Mozart's violin concert Nr 3, G-major, K.216 that lasts 20 minutes.

Listening to music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic function, learning and memory. One of the most up-regulated genes, synuclein-alpha (SNCA) is a known risk gene for Parkinson's disease that is located in the strongest linkage region of musical aptitude. SNCA is also known to contribute to song learning in songbirds.

This (beautiful) piece is easy to find. Here is Hilary Hahn playing it for the previous Pope: Mozart - Violin Concerto No 3 in G major, K 216

By Randall Parker 2015 March 15 08:26 PM 
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2015 March 14 Saturday
Carlos Ghosn On Phases Of Autonomous Vehicles

Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault and Nissan, has laid out a time table for steps toward fully autonomous vehicles. It all takes place in the next 10 years. Stop-and-go autonomy in the same highway lane comes in 2016.

"By the end of 2016, Nissan will make available the next two technologies under its autonomous drive strategy," said Mr. Ghosn. "We are bringing to market a traffic-jam pilot, a technology enabling cars to drive autonomously – and safely – on congested highways. In the same timeframe, we will make fully-automated parking systems available across a wide range of vehicles."

No lane changing. This just frees the driver from the need to keep on applying the brakes every time a wave of slowing travels back thru a column of cars.

Ghosn predicts automated lane changing on highways in 2018, automated city driving in 2020 (but with human driver needed for occasional intervention) and full driverless autonomy in 2025.

So fully automated highway driving comes much sooner than for cities. But none of these dates are far away. Surely the mass layoffs of truck and taxi drivers start by 2030 if not several years sooner.

Our computerized science fiction future looks like it is developing quite rapidly. A major part of it going to become reality in our life times. By contrast our biotech science fiction future still looks like it is a distant prospect. When will we get rejuvenation treatments? Pains in your knees, elbows, and back might be asking. Or perhaps your graying, receding hair says "Hey, look at me, you are powerless to stop it".

Some day people will think it barbaric that for generations humans had to accept aging as a normal unstoppable process. That day will happen years after all truck drivers lose their jobs.

Update: Delphi is taking an Audi on a cross-control self-driving road trip.

The consultancy McKinsey sees a much longer development period before autonomous vehicles make significant inroads with a critical mass not being reached until 2040. So we have about a 15-20 year range of uncertainty.

By Randall Parker 2015 March 14 12:04 PM 
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2015 March 07 Saturday
Germ line genetic engineering

Check out this Technology Review piece. Engineering the Perfect Baby: Scientists are developing ways to edit the DNA of tomorrow’s children. Should they stop before it’s too late?. My answer is No on the stopping part.

Why improve our genomes? Because some stuff in them is just broken. We all have harmful mutations. They are called genetic load. The problem is that evolution can not select harmful mutations out of existence at a fast enough rate to prevent them from surviving, in some cases for many generations. So every one of us might have hundreds or even thousands of mildly harmful mutations.

Even worse for future generations, our rate of accumulation of harmful mutations has accelerated as a result of industrialization and modern medicine. People who are less healthy due to lousy genes are more likely to survive and reproduce. We should not let our genomes decay across generations.

Another problem with human genomes: we are adapted to conditions that are unlile our current conditions. So we are maladapted to our current conditions. For example, we get diseases from modern diets. We also have immune systems looking for dangers, not finding them, and then developing allergic reactions to perfectly safe stuff. This is obviously unhealthy.

The amounts and kinds of genetic load people have differs. I would bet that Olympic athletes have lower amounts of genetic load than the average person for example. Various kinds of high functioning people are that way in part due to lower genetic load. The rest of us should be so lucky. The only way is through genetic engineering.

Germ line genetic engineering could be a problem if some people opt to create offspring who are dangerous or really annoying to the rest of us. But that's hardly a reason to deny good teeth, healthy skin, and many other good attributes to the rest of us and future generations.

What is holding us back now? Lack of knowledge. What are all the harmful mutations? We do not know. Which genetic variants will boost intelligence? We do not know. But the cost of genetic sequencing has fallen so far that we are going to find out the significance of many genetic variants in the next several years with the discovery rate going up each year as sequencing costs drop. In 2025 embryo selection based on genetic testing will be practical and powerful. Genetic editing of human embryos might be possible at that point as well.

By Randall Parker 2015 March 07 09:54 PM 
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