April 16, 2014

Youthful thymus regenerated in older mice

Mutant mice treated with tamoxifen showed total or near-total regeneration of their youthful thymus, while control mice also given tamoxifen showed predictable thymus function for their age. This held true for both the size of the organ itself and the abundance of the T-cells it produces. The regeneration seems to arise from the fact that FOXN1 is a transcription factor that controls expression of several other genes, and that these genes activate stem cell-like action in some thymus cells. By restoring FOXN1 levels, the researchers seem to have convinced the thymus to de-age itself — at least, in this one very specific way.

The researchers are quick to point out the possible benefits to elderly people, or those afflicted by immune diseases. Increasing the ability to fight infection could also revolutionize hospital medicine, helping vulnerable patients fight infection by “overclocking” the thymus to produce a boost of white blood cells. Restoring the immune response of sick and elderly people would be, without an ounce of hyperbole, one of the most important medical advances in all of human history.

Regeneration of the aged thymus by a single transcription factor

Thymic involution is central to the decline in immune system function that occurs with age. By regenerating the thymus, it may therefore be possible to improve the ability of the aged immune system to respond to novel antigens. Recently, diminished expression of the thymic epithelial cell (TEC)-specific transcription factor Forkhead box N1 (FOXN1) has been implicated as a component of the mechanism regulating age-related involution. The effects of upregulating FOXN1 function in the aged thymus are, however, unknown. Here, we show that forced, TEC-specific upregulation of FOXN1 in the fully involuted thymus of aged mice results in robust thymus regeneration characterized by increased thymopoiesis and increased naive T cell output. We demonstrate that the regenerated organ closely resembles the juvenile thymus in terms of architecture and gene expression profile, and further show that this FOXN1-mediated regeneration stems from an enlarged TEC compartment, rebuilt from progenitor TECs. Collectively, our data establish that upregulation of a single transcription factor can substantially reverse age-related thymic involution, identifying FOXN1 as a specific target for improving thymus function and, thus, immune competence in patients. More widely, they demonstrate that organ regeneration in an aged mammal can be directed by manipulation of a single transcription factor, providing a provocative paradigm that may be of broad impact for regenerative biology

New CRISPR/Cas9 Innovative Genomics Initiative

The University of California, Berkeley, and UC San Francisco are launching the Innovative Genomics Initiative (IGI) to lead a revolution in genetic engineering based on a new technology already generating novel strategies for gene therapy and the genetic study of disease.

The Li Ka Shing Foundation has provided a $10 million gift to support the initiative, establishing the Li Ka Shing Center for Genomic Engineering and an affiliated faculty chair at UC Berkeley. The two universities also will provide $2 million in start-up funds.

A new genomic engineering technology significantly cuts down the time it takes researchers to test new therapies. CRISPR/Cas 9 allows the creation in weeks rather than years of animal strains that mimic a human disease, allowing researchers to test new therapies. The technique also makes it quick and easy to knock out genes in human cells or in animals to determine their function, which will speed the identification of new drug targets for diseases.

In the past, for example, making a strain of mice with a specific and heritable genetic mutation took at least a year of costly experiments. Using the Cas9 technique, UC Berkeley immunologist Russell Vance disabled a gene in mice that regulates fur color and in just six weeks had a strain of mice with white coats instead of brown. Similar research in animal models ranging from rodents to primates is being done in labs around the world using the CRISPR/Cas9 technology.

April 15, 2014

Toyota has Atkinson cycle engines that get 78 mpg that will be in 14 car models in 2015

Toyota has launched two new small-displacement, Atkinson cycle engines that get 78 mpg.

Built to power the Japanese-automaker’s Aygo commuter and the 2015 Lexus RC F, respectively, the new Atkinson-cycle engines will come in 1.0 and 1.3L versions. While neither engine will generate frame-crunching torque, their higher compression ratios, improved combustion chamber design, weight reduction and reduced frictional energy loses will mean major gas savings for drivers.

Toyota plans to use the engine in at least 14 car models in 2015 and this is the first time the Atkinson design will be a stand-alone power plant. The Atkinson engine is used in the Toyota Prius.

The Atkinson engine will have 30% better fuel efficiency than the Toyota engine it replaces.

Google X tried to design a Space Elevator

Rich DeVaul, head of Google X's Rapid Evaluation team, has confirmed for the first time ever that Google's research and development lab actually tried to design a space elevator.

"It would be a massive capital investment," he said in this month's issue of Fast Company. But once this hypothetical machine was built, "it could take you from ground to orbit with a net of basically zero energy. It drives down the space-access costs, operationally, to being incredibly low."

NBF - This is not quite correct. The energy is still the electricity to create the change in potential energy.

Space elevator economics are discussed here and here.

Current proposals envision payload prices starting as low as $220 per kilogram ($100 per pound), similar to the $5–$300/kg estimates of the Launch loop, but higher than the $310/ton to 500 km orbit quoted to Dr. Jerry Pournelle for an orbital airship system.

If SpaceX is successful in developing the reusable technology, it is expected to significantly reduce the cost of access to space, and change the increasingly competitive market in space launch services. The Falcon 9 has a published cost of US$56.5 million per launch to low Earth orbit, "Falcon 9 rockets are already the cheapest in the industry. Reusable Falcon 9s could drop the price by an order of magnitude, sparking more space-based enterprise, which in turn would drop the cost of access to space still further through economies of scale. Space industry analyst Ajay Kothari has noted that SpaceX reusable technology could do for space transport "what jet engines did for air transportation sixty years ago when people never imagined that more than 500 million passengers would travel by airplanes every year and that the cost could be reduced to the level it is—all because of passenger volume and reliable reusability." SpaceX has said that if they are successful in developing the reusable technology, launch prices of around US$5 to 7 million for a reusable Falcon 9 are possible. Spacex could even bring the cost down to US$1 million by reusing a rocket hundreds of times like a commercial jetplane.

One use Falcon 9 rocket launch cost $1,862/lb
One use Falcon Heavy launch cost $1000/lb
First stage reusable Falcon 9 launch cost $1200/lb
First stage reusable Falcon Heavy launch cost $600/lb
Reusable (about fifteen times) Falcon 9 rocket launch cost all stages reusable $100/lb

April 14, 2014

Future Capitalism would be saved if there is robust 4-5% or higher growth from Technological Progress

Nextbigfuture has summarized the work of Thomas Piketty on a historical analysis of income and wealth and wealth distribution. Thomas Piketty feels that Capitalism faces a big future problem where capital returns (r) are at 4-5% per year.

The end of convergence [rise of China, India and other countries after they catch up]implies that all advanced countries will grow at the rate of technological progress which, Piketty believes, is around 1- 1.5% per year. Add to it 1% population growth and g cannot exceed 2.5% per year. If r remains, as Piketty thinks, at its historical rate of 4-5%p.a., all the negative developments from the 19th century will be repeated.

NBF - Therefore if technological progress enables more economic growth at say 5% or higher then growth keeps pace with the return on assets.

Financial Impact and Opportunity of Silex Laser Enrichment and Terrestrial Energy's Integral Molten Salt Reactor

Levis Kochin writes at SeekingAlpha. Levis is an investor in Silex and Terrestrial Energy. Nextbigfuture has covered the Silex process for laser uranium enrichment and Terrestrial Energy's Integral Molten Salt Reactor.

Some of the Nextbigfuture coverage of Silex and Terrestrial Energy

Costs and economics of Terrestrial Energy's Integral Molten Salt Reactor [nextbigfuture]

Terrestrial Energy Video update [nextbigfuture]

Terrestrial Energy successfully closed its final seed round of financing [nextbigfuture]

Laser Uranium Enrichment has completed first test loop [nextbigfuture]

GE SILEX laser uranium enrichment [nextbigfuture]

The Financial Impact Analysis of Levis Kochin

Levis Kochin is an associate Professor of Economics at the University of Washington, Seattle Campus. He earned my Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago in 1975. Lester Telser and Milton Friedman were his advisors. He have taught at the University of Washington since 1973. He has also worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the Bank of Israel, and the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

* Silex will cut the cost of nuclear fuel, a minor cost of nuclear power. Terrestrial Energy will cut the capital cost of nuclear plants- the major cost of nuclear power.

* Eighty percent of the cost of nuclear power is the capital cost of the power plant. The fuel is less than ten percent.

* Integral Molten Salt Reactor powered electricity give promise of being cheaper and safer cheaper than coal or conventional nuclear powered electricity.

Silex - a public company - is an attractive investment opportunity. Its technology for laser enrichment of uranium is markedly lower cost than the centrifuge enrichment technology of its competitors. Its licensee Global Laser Enrichment will over time take over the Uranium enrichment market and Silex is likely to receive royalties which are a multiple of the cap value of Silex. But the disruptive effect of laser enrichment is narrow. The prospects of nuclear power are only marginally affected because uranium enrichment is a small portion of nuclear power costs. Terrestrial Energy is attacking the main costs of nuclear power- capital costs, safety and waste disposal. If Terrestrial Energy succeeds, a substantial number of important public companies in nuclear reactor construction and coal will lose much of their capital value. The value of companies exploiting the oil sands will, on the other hand, be substantially enhanced.

Enrichment represents about 30% of the cost of nuclear fuel. But nuclear fuel represents only 10% of the total cost of nuclear power. The total value of nuclear electricity in the world at wholesale is about $200 Billion per year. The total value of nuclear fuel is about $20 Billion per year. (All valuations in this article are stated in U.S. dollars.)The world enrichment market is worth about $7 billion per year. Two manufacturers of centrifuges, one Russian (Rosatom) and one West European (Enrichment Technology Company) both manufacturing centrifuges designed by Gernot Zippe while a prisoner in the Soviet Union, have over 90% of the uranium enrichment centrifuge market.

Carnival of Space 349

The Carnival of Space 349 is up at Universe Today

Universe Today - You may have heard that CERN announced the discovery of a strange particle known as Z(4430). The new particle is about 4 times more massive than a proton, has a negative charge, and appears to be a theoretical particle known as a tetraquark. The results are still young, but if this discovery holds up it could have implications for our understanding of neutron stars.