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Ask HN: What are the greatest discoveries in the last few years?
217 points by forgottenacc56 on June 17, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 232 comments

CRISPR for gene editing:

"Since 2013, the CRISPR/Cas system has been used for gene editing (adding, disrupting or changing the sequence of specific genes) and gene regulation in species throughout the tree of life. By delivering the Cas9 protein and appropriate guide RNAs into a cell, the organism's genome can be cut at any desired location."

(From Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CRISPR)

Edit: Hear a recent Radiolab episode on the topic (http://www.radiolab.org/story/antibodies-part-1-crispr/)

This means curing: Color Blindness, Liver Disease, Hopefully Cancers, Genetic Defects, MAYBE one day Aging?

I would first want to see people accept GMO crops. Then I'll be willing to think of people going to the doctor to change their eye color.

The problem with GMO is that it's basically a vendor lock-in scheme for agribusiness giants. It's not a good engineering solution to the real food problems we face.

Of course, the DONT EAT THE SCIENCE OR IT WILL GIVE YOU THE CANCER political nonsense is wrong. That doesn't let GMO off the hook, though. The problem it attempts to solve, on the surface, is increasing the productivity of monocropping. But productivity isn't the problem of our food chain. We can grow plenty of food, and cheaply.

So what are problems? Loss of biodiversity. Modern nutrition-related health problems like obesity and diabetes that are related to factory-manufactured junk food. Et cetera.

We should be focusing on making food fresher, better tasting, more nutritious, more interesting, and more ethical. Racing to the bottom on price isn't good for anyone but the companies that provide vendor lock-in.

> But productivity isn't the problem of our food chain. We can grow plenty of food, and cheaply.

We can. The rest of the developing world has a lot of trouble keeping people fed. There's only so much aid can do, but if we can find ways for small-time farmers to produce more, and also to transport those goods, then the rest of the world could feed itself, something small-time agriculture has historically had a lot of trouble doing.

Better, hardier crop strains aren't just a profit-making scheme, they're absolutely critical in the fight against world hunger.

GMO crops aren't invented for developing world conditions. They're invented for the developed world that can afford them. They're an extension of Green Revolution agriculture ideas. The core of Green Revolution is a focus on cash crops rather than subsistence farming - high intensity monocropping to create raw feedstock for junk food factories in the global market, rather than immediately edible food for local consumption. You don't eat soybeans. You eat things made in a factory out of soybeans.

Green Revolution is often the cause of rather than cure for hunger in the developing world. Here's an example. Ethiopia is one of the most agriculturally bountiful places on Earth. For thousands of years, it has been farmed effectively, and nomadic cattle herding was a key part of that. In the 1970s, it joined the Green Revolution. River valley land was "bought" and fenced in for industrial cattle farming, raising low quality beef for the European pet food market. This cut off access to the rivers during dry season for the nomadic herders, backed up in force by a now internationally funded army. The nomads were forced to stay in the hills, overgrazing during the dry season. A decade or so later, and the hill country desertified and the rivers silted up, ruining both the nomadic and Green Revolution cattle farming. Suddenly, a peaceful and well-fed land became the scene of a world-shaking famine and civil war.

The picture is much, much bigger than just GMO.

> GMO crops aren't invented for developing world conditions

There are, in fact, ag biotech firms that have expended resources to develop GMOs for developing world conditions and problems. Of course, there's more money in solving first world problems, attracting more investment, but that's true of pretty much every industry, not something special about GMOs.

Could you give some links? I'd love to read about this but can't find anything on Google that talks about anything earlier than 2000.

I got this back in the 1990s from reading actual books. Don't know about links offhand... I was actually thinking about this myself.

Search Google books for "green revolution ethiopia", lots of hits.

The hits are mostly modern, unfortunately.

If you find some links, post to the front page! Do you remember what the books were?

> GMO crops aren't invented for developing world conditions. They're invented for the developed world that can afford them.

This is not true for all GMO crops. Golden Rice is a prime example of a GMO crop developed specifically to fight malnutrition in the developing world.

But your argument is probably true for the stuff peddled by Monsanto and their competitors.

We produce more than enough food to feed the entire world. The issue is distribution.

It's not just distribution, it's regulation, tariffs, customs agreements that prevent or heavily restrict food imports and allow prices to remain high or low in certain areas.

Absolutely true. A big problem to African farmers is that we dump our surpluses below cost on their market, driving them into bankruptcy, but we don't allow them to compete on our market.

That's only a proximate cause. Beyond that is economics and therefore power structures.

It depends if you want to argue if it's the economics behind distribution that is the problem or not. Because the problem with everything can usually be turned into an issue with economics, I tend to draw the line where economics gets involved. In this case: distribution. I can understand how you might see that as a simplification - and in some ways it is. Even non-existing technology can boil down into being an economic problem. [0]

Since everything is an economic problem, blaming economics doesn't help people envision where the problem is. Blaming distribution shows where the problem is - which is both in our methods and the economics of doing so.

An issue with improving those methods is also an issue behind economics.

[0] non-existing technology --> which requires R&D to be developed --> R&D requires $$$ --> economic problem; especially if technology is difficult/impossible to actually create

> We can. The rest of the developing world has a lot of trouble keeping people fed.

True, but that's more an economic and political problem than one of food production. Making farmers more dependent on large corporations is not going to fix their economic problems.

The problems in the developing countries are at least partially caused by things not directly related to agriculture, for example speculation with food and subsidies in developed countries making local agriculture unprofitable.

Speculation is ultimately driven by scarcity. There's no purpose in speculating if you can't generate an arbitrage. Greater productivity on the part of small farmers will alleviate scarcity, driving food prices down.

Similarly, there are lots of markets that are unserved by the global food chain. How can one say that food subsidies in developed countries can affect these unserved markets? They can't sell to the developed world, and developed world food doesn't really make it there.

I spent some time in Colombia, not quite a developed or a developing nation, in mostly big cities, and even there much of the food consumption was local. Sure, bigger farmers would be able to sell at a profit to Western conglomerates, and Western food was available (at steep prices) in the large chain grocery stores.

But most people shopped at the ubiquitous small family-run groceries that served a mix of local agricultural output and mass-market, also locally-produced goods. I'd be very surprised if Western agricultural innovations weren't being employed to grow all of the great-tasting produce I ate there. Seeds are much much easier to transport than mangoes.

What is your point? You can not disprove what I said with one counterexample. Look for examples that confirm what I said.

I for example remember a documentary I saw a couple of months ago with starving people collecting single grains of rice, I think, from the streets at a market in India if I remember correctly. On the other side of the street behind a wall was a huge open space with hundreds, maybe thousands of tons of rice, bought by speculators hoping for rising prices but they didn't. Hell, even if everything worked as expected, less supply because everything got bought up causing rising prices in turn, this would be plain unethical extortion.

One other example that comes to mind is milk producers in Africa going out of business because of cheap subsidized milk powder flooding the markets. Cheap milk in exchange for now unemployed milk producers and capital leaving the country seems not such a great deal to me. And because of credits from the world bank they are not allowed to counter this development with import taxes. Free trade may be - not necessarily is - a good thing between equal parties, but between a rich, developed and powerful party on one side and a poor, underdeveloped and powerless party on the other side it becomes quite probable that it will not turn out as a win-win situation.

In order to turn a profit, speculators have to eventually sell their buys. So no supply restriction in the longer term.

Also war, corruption, water mismanagement, and foreign aid undercutting local growers.

Fighting world hunger by producing more food is putting out fire with gasoline.

A lot of the GMO fetishists are completely ignorant of the Green Revolution and how the economics of modern industrial food have contributed to hunger. Industrial agriculture for cash crops brings in global money, topples governments, and arms the police to run traditional agriculture off the lands that once fed the people. Third world shantytowns are filled with people who were once farmers, before "modern" agriculture was introduced to the land they once farmed.

GMO is just an extension of Green Revolution capitalism-centric agriculture. That model has done miracles for supporting the growing population and making food cheaper, but it's not a free lunch.

We're GMOing crops long before the DNA revolution. Plants were selectively bred for certain qualities since the dawn of agriculture. None of fruits or vegetables we eat in the present (even without GMO) could be found naturally few hundred years ago. We were genetically modifying them without really knowing the mechanism.

There some ecological as well as regulatory challenges. That doesn't mean GMO isn't a solid approach to improving accessibility to high quality fresh food

The magnitude of the changes that are possible now are so far beyond what was available with selective breeding, it's nonsensical to consider them in the same league. I wish people would stop trotting out that argument.

> The magnitude of the changes that are possible now are so far beyond what was available with selective breeding, it's nonsensical to consider them in the same league.

The pace, more than magnitude, of changes achievable is greater now (either with GMOs or mutation breeding) than with older forms of selective breeding (mutation breeding is, after all, a form of selective breeding.)

What about things like adding bioluminescence to organisms that never had such a gene, nor would have naturally come across it?

Seems a step or two removed from selective breeding to me, though I'm not arguing for or against GMOs, just saying that it seems to me there is a definite distinction between the processes and what they are capable of doing.

Are you sure? The Chihuahua was bred out of a wolf.

The Chihuahua does not have horns.

Here's a good paper discussing risk w.r.t. GMOs: http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/pp2.pdf

There's a massive difference between selective breeding and introducing completely new genes into an ecosystem, though.

There are absolutely forms of GMO crops that could be entirely safe, but that doesn't seem to be the area of interest of Monsanto.

Selective breeding is not the same as editing a genome. You cannot "selectively breed" a fish gene into a tomato.

Uhm. You can, in fact, selectively breed any given gene into any creature. You are, of course, aware that plant mutation rates has been accelerated with mutagens for decades in search of desirable changes.

So while it may not be a gene copied directly from a fish, it will be a base-for-base identical copy of the gene found in a fish. Then it can be merged back into the main line of the plant via a recombinant backcross technique.

This is how plant breeding has been done for quite a long time now.

> You cannot "selectively breed" a fish gene into a tomato.

The actual results of breeding and natural selection, including particularly convergent evolution, suggest that its quite possible to achieve equivalent results to that by breeding, though the timescale required, if you are relying on natural mutation as your source of variation, might be very long.

Which is why selection breeding techniques that kick up the pace of mutation with radiation or chemical mutagens are still competitive means of developing new desired traits in a world that has gene editing.

sure you can, its all just DNA... it just takes waaay longer.

"The problem with GMO is that it's basically a vendor lock-in scheme for agribusiness giants."

Hybrid seeds already did that 50 years ago.

A big problem with GMOs is that they facilitate the use of massive amounts of pesticides.

In theory you use less. Roundup Ready is supposed to use lower quantities of weedkiller but do so earlier in the growing season when everything is more vulnerable to it (thus making a resistant crop useful).

It's not a great sales slogan: "Roundup Ready - increases costs by increasing the amount of spraying you can do".

1995: Be very careful with weedicides... a few drops on our crops will kill them.

2015: Just spray the whole field... weeds, crops and all.

How roundup-ready crops are sold as a good thing, I really have no idea. Somehow the world has been convinced that dousing their food in weedicide isn't a bad idea.

"Glyphosate and its degradation product, AMPA, residues are considered to be much more toxicologically and environmentally benign than most of the herbicides replaced by glyphosate."

(Roundup is made of glyphosate.)


Like the above poster said, it's how they're applied.

I live next door to this. Every year my vineyard is blasted by idiots growing corn or soy (farmed by subcontracts of leases off my neighbours land, nice and hands off). Because it's Roundup Ready they don't care or think, they just blast. It's an ecological nightmare.

I'm not concerned about my health, I think glyphosate is mostly harmless to humans. I'm concerned about ecological diversity -- I have a bush lot, I can see the immediate damage this stuff causes to native plants.

Last year I took the growers pesticide training course here. It was very enlightening to see from the co-participants in my class just how derisive they were of the general public's concern about their large scale use of pesticides in areas they consider "theirs", as if there are no neighbours, human or natural.

And it's not like we're talking farmers growing 'food' next door -- it's soy or corn for animal feed. The land owner gets $150 an acre. It's barely profitable. It's stripped the life out of the top soil, so if you factored in the actual value of the land over 50 years, it's probably negative profit considering the permanent topsoil depletion.

It's a stupid way to organize human affairs, a total short term waste of precious expendable resources. Modern industrial agriculture is moronic and technocratic arm-chair libertarian justifiers of it who read a couple articles in The Economist and watch a TED talk are complicit in its ugliness.

Are hybrid seeds designed to be one use only like terminator seeds? How is the vendor lock-in structured?

"Are hybrid seeds designed to be one use only like terminator seeds? How is the vendor lock-in structured?"

Plant breeding 101:

Every individual has two copies of each gene: one comes form the father, on from the mother. It has been observed that individuals who mostly have different maternal and paternal versions, are more vigorous. This is called heterosis, or hybrid vigor [1].

Now, just to produce children with a high number of genes that have different paternal and maternal copies, it would be enough to have a father and a mother who mostly do not have same copies. But if father has versions G1 and G2, and mother has versions G3 and G4, the child can have any of (G1,G3), (G1,G4), (G2,G3), (G2,G4). So the features of the children are not predictable.

So plant breeders have invented this method, to use inbreeding to produce highly homozygous [2] lines first. Suppose (G1,G3) is the type you want. So first breed line A of plants which always have (G1,G1) and similarly for other genes. And breed line B which consistently have (G3,G3).

Now use A as father and B as mother, and voila, you can produce offspring that consistently have (G1,G3). So the offspring exhibit hybrid vigor, but are also predictable and similar to each other. Quality and consistency!

Now sell these seeds, everyone wants to buy highly productive consistent quality seeds. Profit!

But as long and you are the only possessor of the parent lines A and B, you are the only one who can produce this particular type of hybrid offspring. The customers only get the offspring, and you keep the lines A and B safe and secret.

If the customer tries to mate those (G1,G3) individuals with each other, they will get a mix of (G1,G1), (G1,G3) and (G3,G3), so the next generation will not be nearly as productive crop as the pure hybrid seed was.

So, the "vendor lock-in" is structured by not giving anyone else access to the parent lines A and B.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heterosis [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zygosity

Doesn't the UPOV contribute legally to the "vendor lock-in"?

Yes, many hybrid seeds are one use only. Farmers cannot save and resow the seed. They need to buy the seed each year.

The seeds might not be sterile, but even then the seed would produce unreliable plants.


This is not intentional. Its how genes work. The seed on a plant depends on the pollinator. Just like fruit trees - you plant that seed from the apple you just ate, it won't grow more of those apples. It will grow whatever that apple was pollinated with.

This is true for many flowers and garden crops, it is not true for corn, soybeans, & similar.

The viability of hybrid offspring depends on the closeness of the parents. Lots of flowers can be bread from very diverse stock and the offspring are sterile, cash crop hybrids are not made from such diversity and are generally re-plantable.

Corn is generally carefully crossed as a last step in hybridization. The next generation will grow a plant almost completely dissimilar from the one being sold.

Its an issue trying to support farmers in developing countries. Our Romanian sister church didn't accept our corn hybrids. They had their own 'land race' seed they've been creating for generations, which works well on their difficult soil. If we sent them hybrids, they'd work for one season. And then they would be dependent on us for continuous shipments of seed each spring. We left them with their self-sufficient seed.

> The problem with GMO is that it's basically a vendor lock-in scheme for agribusiness giants. It's not a good engineering solution to the real food problems we face.

GMO isn't that, Monsanto is that, and the fucked up patent system is like that.

This is like creationists saying they dislike evolution, when they really mean they dislike abiogenesis, but accept everything else about evolutionary theory.

But why is Monsanto pursuing GMO? What problem are they really trying to solve? It's not a problem of food supply. It's a problem of getting greater control and higher profits out of a saturated market.

What's good for a single business is often not good for the general public.

Friend, a question if I may. Are you reading the comments of those who respond to and attempt to engage with you with an open and generous mind?

I am listening - but I'm also educating. "Open and generous" covers both sides. I've been studying this issue for a long time - I first got involved with hunger issues when I was a kid, and later as a young adult during the Ethiopian famine.

Years of study have convinced me that the general train of thought expressed here is wrong - and have given me a theory for a reason that so many smart people are wrong about it. The wrong idea, imho, is the idea that hunger comes from insufficient food production, and that exotic technology (GMO) will solve the production problem, thus ending hunger. I think this is wrong on both counts.

The reason so many people here believe something I find obviously wrong is because of basic technofetishism. We love "science". We love exotic technology. And we want to believe exotic technology can make the world better, because it so often has. So people are starting by jumping to a conclusion (GMO is good, because science!), and working backwards to a problem they imagine it can solve (hunger). But that's not critical thinking. That's wishful thinking.

Problems first. Figure out what the actual problems are, and why we have them. Apply the Five Whys.

I regret to inform you that there is a word for what you are engaging in, and it is not a member of the set ["listening", "educating"]. Your ardor suggests something else entirely.

I am disquieted that someone who professes to care as deeply as you seems to have failed to grasp the positions of those with whom they disagree. You have caricatured those who disagree with you as technofetishists who believe MORE PRODUCTION solves all things, incapable of seeing beyond what might be done with the newest technotoy. Whereas you know better and emerge to enlighten the benighted.

I have seen this pattern before. It seems to repeatedly emerge in activists of all stripes. I wish you the best of luck.

Okay, so I'm listening. You argue that I have caricatured those I disagree with as mere technofetishists (to be fair, I've also characterized most anti-GMO arguments as Luddite).

If the argument for GMO crops is not that more production will solve the hunger problem, then what is the intent? And do you believe this represents the majority of pro-GMO arguments?

Please, understand that I love being proven wrong. If I can be convinced to change my mind on something I care about, I'm smarter for it. But it requires more than telling me I'm wrong. Tell me what's right.

Should we ban encryption because Sony uses it in their DRM software?

1. No.

2. That doesn't follow.

3. I'm not proposing that we ban GMO. I think it's important research.

Ah okay good, I'm mostly just responding to the folks who think GMOs are bad because of how Monsanto abuses intellectual property rights surrounding them.

I don't think GMOs are bad. I do think they don't solve actual problems the world faces, and introduce new problems (including but not limited to Monsanto's intellectual property abuses).

What I want to see is more focus on eating local, more decentralization of the food supply, and for people to care more about what they eat - as an aesthetic and moral experience. It's about health, and quality of life, and freedom, none of which are enhanced by loading another round into Monsanto's chamber.

"Actual problems" is a weasel phrase, I don't really know what to do with it. How are you defining "actual problems"?

And can we please separate Monsanto from GMOs? They're two entirely separate things.

It reminds me a bit of creationists who claim they don't accept evolution, when in reality what they don't accept is abiogenesis. Natural selection, genetic drift, gene flow, are not really on their minds.

It may be easier to say "GMOs don't solve actual problems", but it's just not true (bananas are supposed to have seeds, for example -- are you saying bananas aren't useful?), and bleeds your argument dry of rationality, over the course of the conversation, because it pulls focus away from the actual issue, and that's the fucked up way Monsanto is using GMOs to bully people out of their livelihood (and in some cases, their lives).

Actual problems... hunger and malnutrition. Obesity and diabetes. Food deserts. Increasing concentration of the food supply in the hands of powerful megacorporations. Loss of biodiversity. Farmers trapped in cycles of crippling debt. Dislocated workers. Desertification. Governments largely under control of financial interests.

That's a start.

(ps: Bananas are not GMO. Seedless bananas and other fruits are the result of selective breeding, not laboratory alteration. Also, look up the history of the once-dominant Gros Michael banana for what happens when you rely on uniform planting of genetic clones.)

Selective breeding is GMO, and why does GMO have to solve any of those problems?

That's like saying we shouldn't have professional sports because they don't solve obesity.

What I'm generally getting at is the hate for GMO is unfounded. It's like hating a screwgun or hammer when your contractor messes up building your kitchen.

Racing to the bottom on price isn't good for you because you have access to lots of food at prices you can easily afford. For a great many people, more and cheaper food means they can actually afford to get enough to eat.

Foods have been modified to stay fresher and be more nutritious. But you don't see them in stores.

I'd really be interested in knowing those that have been modified to be more nutritious, especially since a lot of nutritious food gets to stay out of the market due to its incapacity to stay fresh. I only know of Golden Rice, and I'm not even sure how fresh it stays.


This is a case of GMOs to preserve freshness, rather than nutrition.

The real advances have been in packaging and transportation, not genetics.

That said, the cost improvements in food aren't such a big impact on real hunger. When people are too broke to eat, making food half as expensive really doesn't have that much impact. And much of the savings-per-calorie relative to fresh food get factored into profits.

Food deserts are a huge problem in this country - places where there is no access to fresh food. They don't happen because junk food is cheap, but rather because it's stable. Fresh food can be just as cheap, if you can keep it flowing.

You're thinking too small. There are places where a 30% rise in the cost of rice means people starving en masse. And riots, because this prospect does not please said people. Major yield improvements mean stable food supplies for much of the third world.

You're not wrong about the lack of advances in genetics arriving in markets. What I think you've overlooked is that between attacks on the business models that make such advances possible and the political cover that such attacks bring to the "DON'T EAT THE SCIENCE" people... this isn't likely to change. So please, don't complain about the lack of advances in genetics until you're prepared to stop giving cover to the Luddites ranting about frankenfoods. Proposing a different - and practical and workable - business model that allows for the commercial development of GMOs without abusing copyright would be a great way to go about this.

Also: look up Golden Rice. More nutritious foods have been made. And the lock-in angle addressed. Yet the stuff is still not widely grown.

Your reading of food deserts is naive, however. Junk food isn't just cheap in money. It's cheap in time, infrastructure, and required knowledge. A burger from McD's is cheap, hot, and instantly edible. Even the cheapest of Healthy Fresh Green Things requires time to cook, facilities to cook in, equipment to cook, the knowledge to cook, and a place to store the results.

You cannot just put Healthy Fresh Green Things in food deserts and get results. People have tried, and the stuff rots on store shelves.

I agree that part of the Food Desert problem is due to the time-cost of making fresh food. But that's a macroeconomics problem, not a supply problem! Making more, cheaper junk food doesn't address the health issues or the quality-of-life impact caused by not having anything but junk food to eat.

I completely and utterly disagree that I'm "giving cover" to the people that I called (and you quoted) "DONT EAT THE SCIENCE". That's open mockery of their Luddite ways, and I come down hard on them in these discussions. I loathe their ignorance-wrapped-in-smugness attitude. But by the same token, I have no love for the people who love GMO because "It's SCIENCE!" (you know, the ones who downvote my comments on this subject), without thinking about what problems they're actually trying to solve.

Solving problems that don't actually exist is why many startups fail. There's indirection going on here. As I've said repeatedly, the problem GMOs solve isn't food supply, because we don't have a food supply problem. The population of the Earth has doubled in 50 years, and food costs have dropped 50% over that same period. Does this sound like desperate measure time? No, it sounds like what we've been doing has been tremendously successful at making food more available and less expensive.

So the the problem GMO solves isn't making more food - it's making more money for Monsanto. Is this what we really want as a society? More concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a business model that can and does buy governments? For all the self-styled libertarianism around here, people sure are eager to hand massive corporations that don't act in their interests even more power. Me, I think that's stupid.

Again, what problem are you trying to solve? And does that problem actually exist? If you start with a solution that stimulates your nerd fantasies, and then defend that solution instead of reframing the problem, you're probably wrong.

Loss of biodiversity is an observable problem. Monocropping damaging the soil is an observable problem (and is nitrogen fertilizer and Roundup a solution?). Cash crops bringing outside money and political abuse into developing countries is an observable problem - one far more directly involved in third world hunger than crop yields. I'm after the real problems of the food chain. Are you?

> The problem with GMO is that it's basically a vendor lock-in scheme for agribusiness giants.

That may be a problem with the IP regime and some specific common business practices around GMOs, but its not a problem with GMOs qua GMOs -- its a social, not technical, problem.

Right, which is why the problem is genetic engineering (GE), not genetically modified organisms (GMO) themselves.

To put it more bluntly, the horrors of this stuff (I live next to it and suffer its idiocies, see post elsewhere in thread) is the fault of engineers and marketers, not "science" per se.

You forgot the pecticides.


I think we're going to learn that at best eating GMOs are going to be as safe as eating McDonalds fast food. Which is quite safe but not a terribly wise dietary choice. Because GMOs are made (at best) to maximize the profitability of what's being sold. And when you do that you sacrifice other things and you lose awareness of others. This is especially true considering how little we know about nutrition.

We are at the stage with GMOs where we were in the 1950s with baby formula. We once thought that it would eliminate the need for human breast milk because we didn't understand the nature of human breast milk except at a very crude macrobiotic level. We now have learned that it's not a superior replacement for real human breast milk. Its a barely adequate one that we choose only if we can't get the child good human breast milk.

Why do you think GMOs are inferior? How are they fundamentally different from plants that have been human-modified for many thousands of years?

Let's get concrete. In what specific nutritional manner do you think Golden Rice is inferior to the varietal of white rice from which it was derived? And if the answer to this is that we don't know enough about nutrition to be sure, then what basis do you have for alleging its supposed inferiority?

It's inferior because we aren't adapted to it. Our bodies are highly adapted for millions of years to thrive on the food that comes out of our biosphere more or less directly. This is why super-hybridized dwarf wheat (not even GMO!), for example, which was developed in the 1960s, has been linked to all kinds health problems, including obesity. Our bodies have not had time to adapt to it, but if we look at dwarf wheat purely through the lens of economics, it's a "great" product as it has twice the calories of ordinary einkorn wheat that we've been eating for more than 10,000 years.

Would you care to address the specific question posed? Like, why Golden Rice is inferior to the rice varietal from which it is derived? Just because it doesn't come with a "100% Natural!" stamp doesn't make it bad. Neither, I should think, is the converse true. As you illustrate, there are plenty of problems with "natural" non-GMO plant breeding.

Is the position that you mean to stake out perhaps that it's possible for GMOs to be inferior, rather than that they are necessarily so?

I know nothing about Golden Rice so I can't comment on that. I think the position I'm making is that it's likely that GMOs will be inferior for all the reasons already cited. If you're trying to be more profitable, you put nutrition in the back seat. If food is just a bunch of macrobiotic chemicals disregarding a looong history of natural selection with intricacies we've only begun to understand, chances are you will not "get it right" in terms of nutrition and health of the consuming organism.

So GMOs are likely to be inferior because naturalism. Got it.

Now, now. Don't conflate what I said with the naturalistic fallacy. I didn't argue that.

For some reason I believe that cosmetic gene modifications will be more readily accepted than GMOs.

^ This is it. I can be GMO as a human and have acme free skin? Thank you and here is your $25,000. This will be seen as medical benefit since it cures disease and I can have Green/Hazel eyes.

Seriously I refuse to eat Chipotle with their fear mongering Anti-GMO stance on the front window.

Yeah, Chipotle's anti-gmo stance has really killed my desire to eat there. It's is a shame because they had previously been relatively good on the environmental front. Then they fell into the pseudo-science deep-end and here we are.

So is genetically modifying your body pretty safe?

Hell, no. CRISPR has the benefit of specificity, but the kit must be delivered to the cell by live virus, which can cause problems (heavy immune response), especially if you are infecting with a high enough titer to affect a majority of cells.

Plus, it will end racism and make anime hair color a reality.

I'm not sure I agree with ending racism. Maybe you were being tongue-in-cheek.

I mean, presumably someday far in the future, everyone will have access to the ability to alter fully their entire genome.

I would think in the next XX years, though, there will be plenty of remaining distinguishing features beyond skin color, and more importantly, plenty of people without the money to make any changes.

Besides that, I'm hopeful that we'll still retain diversity, so I'd think we'll still have plenty of races for ignorant folks to hate.

When racism is done, we'll just continue hating for other reasons. I speculate class will lead the charge next.

>Maybe you were being tongue-in-cheek.

Just a bit.

>plenty of people without the money to make any changes.

>I speculate class will lead the charge next.

Exactly, it transforms the race problem into a class problem. People will probably discriminate based on how many designer genes you have. With time, most governments (not necessarily the US) will realize how much they can save by giving people healthy genes from the start, and it won't be as much of a class divide.

Fads will come and go regarding some group of genes being better from such task or other. Like diets and workouts today, it will become tiresome for most people quickly enough.

This is good. In the last century we transformed race from a military problem to a political problem. In this century it will become a technical problem. There will be plenty of nastiness, but each step reduces nastiness by an order of magnitude.

>I'm hopeful that we'll still retain diversity

We will win a whole new diversity. There will be people with chameleon skin walking among us in this century.

>With time, most governments (not necessarily the US) will realize how much they can save by giving people healthy genes from the start, and it won't be as much of a class divide.

The poverty-as-disease model already shows that governments could save money by treating/preventing poverty rather than providing lifetimes of palliative care[1]. The problem is the moralizing about poverty.

[1] https://medium.com/basic-income/universal-basic-income-as-th...

Look, 10% of the people in my office building already have neon-colored hair. They use dye.

Its ok, the people who accept CRISPR and use it to cure their aging bodies will outlive the folks who refuse to eat GMO food :-)

On a slightly more serious note, income disparity is a thing but it also closely correlates with technology disparity. Folks who are embracing technology and using it to amplify their ability to get stuff done are generating higher incomes than those who don't. I don't see this as any different.

Those are totally different issues. Fixing genetic defects in humans does not have the potential to disrupt complex ecosystems.

The core of the problem of GMO crops on open, non-isolated fields, is that it's impossible to control the impact of new, artificial genes on complex ecosystems. Fixing defect genes in humans is a completely different issue. With its own ethical and practical concerns, sure, but totally different and unrelated concerns.

While this is a hot button topic, I've seen some pretty horrible things Monsanto has done to farmers. Accepting GMO crops would mean accepting Monsanto who has a monopoly on the industry and are well know for using sketchy tactics when dealing with farmers resistant to using their seeds.

> Accepting GMO crops would mean accepting Monsanto

No, actually, accepting GMO crops could quite well go along with targeting specific unliked business practices engaged in by Monsanto.

> who has a monopoly on the industry

No, they don't. They are the biggest player, but there a numerous others, several not much smaller.

(There's some concerns that the relations within the industry are cartel-like, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the industry get some anti-trust scrutiny, but "Monsanto has a monopoly" -- on the GMO crop industry, rather than the market for particular poorly-substitutable kinds of crops -- is not at all the case.)

>>No, actually, accepting GMO crops could quite well go along with targeting specific unliked business practices engaged in by Monsanto.

Can you explain this? It would seem as the biggest player, they have a huge advantage over other smaller companies. So much so, I couldn't name two other companies who currently compete with them.

>> No, actually, accepting GMO crops could quite well go along with targeting specific unliked business practices engaged in by Monsanto.

> Can you explain this?

The less noise there is about GMOs qua GMOs, the more possible it is to focus attention on Monsanto's (or other GM crop firms') -- or, for that matter, non-GM crop firms -- particular business practices of concern, rather than the kind of technology that goes into creating their product.

> It would seem as the biggest player, they have a huge advantage over other smaller companies. So much so, I couldn't name two other companies who currently compete with them.

Monsanto, I think, gets disproportionate attention for two reasons: (1) it absolute dominates a GM crops in two key markets in the US (virtually all the US GM corn and soy is Monsanto), and its also, of the big GM seed companies, the one that is best known as a big GM seed company, and not as a chemical (etc.) company (though, of course, Monsanto is also a chemical company, so this is completely about perception) -- most people may not think of "GM crops" when they think about DuPont, Dow, BASF, or Bayer, but they're all significant players in the GM industry.

"I've seen some pretty horrible things Monsanto has done to farmers."

[citation needed]

More likely the first (profitable) applications will be: changing eye color, hair color, losing fat, changing height, changing skin tone. Billions in each market.

More likely, the first profitable applications will not have anything to do with editing the human genome, as bad been the case for every other technique useful for genetic engineering.

Curing Genetic Defects will be the first use starting with Children. OR they will have a gene that cures Diabetes which will cause a major change in millions of lives. I still think of CRISPER as the new graphine though. Awesome discovery with promise around the corner for years and years.

Curing genetic defects in humans is sexy, but, aside from any issues of difficulty, human therapeutic applications have a longer pathway to commercial implementation than other applications. The first profitable commercial applications are more likely to involve industrially useful bacteria and new engineered crops long before any human therapies.

You don't understand. You won't see any cures, because there's no money in cures - cure somebody and they're no longer a customer. The money's in treatments, so that's where the research goes too.

If internet advertising is any guide, there is plenty of demand for baldness cures, penis enlargement, and bigger boobs. These might not be the first applications of genetic modification tech but I suspect they'll be among the commonest.

Those adverts are for the person who wants to enlarge their penis, not the parents of the unborn child who might like to.

Its simple to do; there are billions sitting on the table. Somebody will do it, somewhere.

I think you overestimate the "simple to do" part in terms of actually implementing human therapies, but, in any case, crop and industrial bacteria applications are further along toward commercialization now (some of the former may actually already be commercialized), while human therapies may be among the eventual applications, its quite unlikely (and maybe already passed into "impossible") that they will be the first profitable applications.

But the point of this technique is, its dead simple. Identify a gene and cut it out. Or add one.

It is (compared to other available techniques, at least) dead simple to cut out or add genes, yes. Practical human therapies that rely on gene editing involve more than just gene editing (and to be viable, profitable commercial applications, they require a whole lot of regulatory steps -- trials, approvals, etc. -- once all the pieces of the process are put together.)

So it won't be invented in America. But it will be made somewhere, then sold on the internet.

If it's sold on the internet, it will be available for bitcoin only, and maybe only via the darkweb.

Currently there are too many off target effects to make it safe for use in humans: http://www.technologyreview.com/news/535846/industry-body-ca...

When has 'safe' had anything to do with cosmetics? From fad diets to surgery, folks will do anything to look good. This will get made (somewhere) and sold (everywhere).

I highly doubt cosmetic uses will be the first.

The FDA approves drugs based on risk vs. safety. Having the wrong eye color is pretty low risk in terms of health.

Gene editing will be used in fatal or severely disabling diseases with no other options. Even if there are severe side effects, the FDA will likely approve them.

The FDA will have little to do with a pill sold on the internet. Folks will do anything to look good. This is going to happen, ready or not.

Modifying your genes via a pill sold on the internet? They might give it a try, but they'll get shut down real quick without FDA approval.

Hm. Silk Road took a while. And if they work, the guys that are supposed to shut it down will be taking the pills.

Thoughtful Nature feature on the subject: http://www.nature.com/news/crispr-the-disruptor-1.17673

There has been a consistent pace of advancement in understanding gene regulation, microbiological evolutionary processes, and the systems of cellular machinery and regulation. There haven't been individual huge breakthroughs that are easy to point to and say "ahah! that's the lynchpin of everything, gimme a nobel!" but it's been a steady progression of improved knowledge. It'll be interesting to see if that trend continues and what that new understanding will translate into. In large part it's this stuff which is really fulfilling the promises of things like the human genome project.

That's the first I've come across gene drives and gene drive escape. It's every bad movie about genetic engineering come to life, and just as scary.

It's not so bad if you know some evolutionary biology. Most of these things have huge fitness costs (e.g. genes that render a mosquito sterile have a fitness of zero), so the possibility of escape is less than the chance of the sun turning into a pumpkin.

What does "most of these things" mean in this context? Most of the ones that have been designed to date? The possible design space?

Truly extraordinary stuff. But does anyone else lie awake at night wondering why we can do amazing stuff like this yet can't provide everyone clean drinking water or enough protein to eat?

I don't. It is easier to control variables in a few laboratories than to control them in the entire world

Good point, on the surface the big world problems seem more straight forward because they're technically less complex. But they are much more than technical problems. Social, geopolitical etc...

You're right, though. Sourcing clean water & good food for everyone would be more important achievements. Investing in people brings cascading rewards as the people helped are better able to do themselves good and do good for others.

I think the difficulty of such problems is what frustrates me about them. If asked me to build a whole new computer operating system there are 100s of books I could turn to to get me started. When it comes to these big social issues, I don't even know where to begin.

The revolution in biotech happening from the discovery of the CRISPR process will be as important as the semiconductor in the long run: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CRISPR

Neural networks via deep learning started showing incredible results the last few years (after about 40 years of development) across a range of fields, including speech recognition, machine vision, and more. It's still early days, but combining reinforcement learning with neural networks looks like it will be very exciting too: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v518/n7540/full/nature1...

I would say, in no particular order:

    * the fact that many of the dinosaurs had feathers
    * myriad of exoplanets
    * water on Mars (and many other new data on the planet)
    * Higg's boson (confirmed to 99.999% certainty)
    * Neanderthal genes present in modern humans
    * new ancient Mayan cities
That's it from me for starters, hopefully others will join in.

I'd argue that the discovery of Denisovans might be bigger than Neanderthal genes, but they're in the same ballpark. Modern sequencing technology has led to an explosion in discoveries about early human (and other organisms') evolution.

Actually, I'd just put "rapid sequencing" right near the top of the list. When I started grad school (in 2003 if you must know), there was a feeling that it'd be very hard to get any better/faster than Sanger sequencing (and modifications of the same). Now there's a plethora of technologies that are both faster and more accurate.

> Now there's a plethora of technologies that are both faster and more accurate.

Sorry to nitpick, but the inherent error rate of high throughput sequencing platforms is still higher than capillary sequencing. This is more than mitigated for by the massive throughput advantage though.

Right, thanks for clarifying that bit. An individual run still has a much higher error rate, but the ability to do exponentially more runs results in a higher accuracy per "experiment". This is not that dissimilar from the direction that other technologies have taken when facing physical measurement limits (cryo-electron tomography comes to mind, for example).

Yes, though there's the added complication of time to answer however.

You can turn a Sanger run around relatively quickly (I'd guess hours). High throughput runs sequence many millions of fragments of DNA in parallel very slowly. The highest throughput runs take several days to complete.

This means that it's there are still (rapidly diminishing) scenarios where Sanger sequencing makes sense. Because you don't need the throughput, and you want an answer quickly.

How fast can we sequence now? What are the error rates?

About 6 Gigabases per hour, somewhere in that ballpark. Probably something like the equivalent of the human genome project (which took >10 years and 3 billion USD in the 90s) every few days.

Error rates are in the region of 1 to 0.1% generally.

I've never really worked directly with capillary data but understand it's error rate in early bases is limited by the amplification step. Which would be ~0.0001% (1 in 10000).

That said there might be a coarse filter (based on signal intensity etc) that would identify a subpopulation of high-throughput reads which have a <0.1% error rate. But I don't believe I've seen that reported. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who has thoughts on that though.

The absolute error-rate is not really a problem if the errors are random and you have the budget to sequence enough independent fragments. Sequencing becomes tricky (both Sanger and next-gen) because of non-random recurrent artifacts associated with the sequencing method or molecular manipulations done to the DNA or RNA.

Dark energy / accelerating expansion of the universe: well this goes back to 1998..

This is first on my list.

Understanding our place in the universe will tell us where we came from and where we're going. There's also clearly some fundamental physics left to master which might have unforseen practical applications.

I thought it was already clear that we come from some cells, a storm and some luck, and that we're going nowhere.

We're on our own, and I bet no science or discoveries will change this.

That's fine (although panspermia might have played a role bringing our cells from elsewhere).

But where did the universe come from? What happened before it? How far does it extend beyond our view? Are there other universes? Where are the other species? Are we stuck on this rock or is there really a way to go see it all? Etc etc.

Great list - I'd certainly go for the exoplanets as #1

> * myriad of exoplanets

More importantly: the fact that other solar systems look nothing like our own. They tend to have large (often super-Jovian) planets close to their sun, and often multiple planets closer to their sun than Mercury. There are very, very few solar systems we know of that resemble our own.

> * the fact that many of the dinosaurs had feathers

And the fact that chickens are actually coming from Dinosaurs.

What about the denosovians?

In solar cell research, the biggest recent breakthrough was probably the creation of efficient perovskite solar cells [1]. They're cheap, easy to make, and their efficiency in the lab is rising more rapidly than that of just about any other research cell since NREL began tracking (up from 3.5% in 2009 to 20.1% today) [2,3]. If their chemical stability problems can be resolved, they'll have big commercial applications.

[1] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6165/1438.2

[2] http://www.nrel.gov/ncpv/images/efficiency_chart.jpg

[3] http://www.technologyreview.com/news/517811/a-material-that-...

Not very "fundamental" but I'm very excited about low-power advancements in ICs. There are companies like AmbiqMicro making microcontrollers that are reaching 30uA/MHz and 100nA sleep modes. This is starting to make ambient and RF energy harvesting viable.


Awesome, never heard of their work.

Blockchains. Distributed consensus is incredibly powerful. It will allow us to rebuild our society around individuals instead of corporations and governments that formed because economic transaction costs were so high that economies of scale (and sometimes the use of force) were required to coordinate our society.

All economic activity will be blockchain-mediated. It will make us wealthier and freer.

The "low costs" of bitcoin are a myth. Bitcoin transactions are extremely expensive, both financially and ecologically, it's just that those costs are currently subsidized by block rewards to miners instead of paid by consumers/end-users. If bitcoin were ever to be widely adopted, the high fees would have to be passed on to users: http://www.coindesk.com/new-study-low-bitcoin-transaction-fe...

At some level, this basic fact should be incredibly obvious to anyone with any technical background: It's much cheaper and easier to operate a centralized, eventually-consistent database (today's banking system) than a distributed ledger that requires constantly burning electricity and computing resources on useless math puzzles. Nevertheless, I still see bitcoin advocates claiming bitcoin will be cheaper than the legacy transaction system.

I am not talking about Bitcoin in particular, nor am I talking about transaction fees. I am talking about transaction costs and blockchains in general.


Of the categories of transaction cost listed in that article, the only one blockchains address is the policing & enforcement cost. Even then, it only addresses one side of the policing cost: it ensures that the seller receives payment without need for a trusted intermediary, but it does nothing to ensure that the buyer receives a good that is of acceptable quality and performs the function agreed upon.

All of those transaction costs can be handled by decentralized communication backed by reputation systems. Blockchains are great platforms for reputation systems. We will soon see that while it's hard to get systems off the ground that require network effects, making them entirely open and run by no one makes them a great choice for developers and consumers. I expect that decentralization yields its own sort of network effects.

Just curious, what do you think of Stellar's consensus system?


Here is some reading material from gmaxwell: https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=144471.msg9764161#ms...

> Blockchains

Just out of curiosity and not to diminish their current practical implications, are blockchains really a new invention?

I thought the discovery of the quantity of distinct populations (~5k currently) and densities (relatively even) of upper-ocean viruses was perhaps an under-rated discovery that could lead to more advanced understanding of both the evolution of cellular organisms on earth and our current ecosystem. https://www.quantamagazine.org/20150521-ocean-viruses/

Mermistor (discovery in 1971 but actual implementation in 2008)


Wasn't sure if you had misspelled "memristor" or if there was some sort of aquatic resistor I had not heard of.

Unraveling the link between brain, lymphatic system: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150615094258.ht...

Researchers at Audi are making synthetic diesel fuel using only water and air. Miracle? No. Science.


Neat! It looks like "e-diesel" may not be price competitive yet, but hopefully it goes somewhere.

"Audi and Sunfire claim that the process to make e-diesel is 70 percent efficient. They estimate that once production is ramped up, the cost to consumers in Europe would be comparable to traditional diesel, at 1.00 to 1.50 euro per liter (approximately $4.00 to $6.00 per gallon)."


Using water, air and large amounts of heat.

(Where does that heat come from? Many possibilities, but currently from fossil fuels.)

Not for e-diesel:

First, the researchers heat up steam to very high temperatures to break it down into hydrogen and oxygen. This process requires temperatures of over 800 degrees Celsius (1,472 Fahrenheit) and is powered by green energy such as solar or wind power.

Synthetic fuel is not exactly new, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischer–Tropsch_process

Hydrocarbon production from seawater. https://www.google.com/patents/US20110281959

CRISPR, blockchain, and direct connection between brain and lymphatics system are way bigger, but this was a big one for economics and political science:

Zero-Determinant Strategies in Iterated Prisoners' Dilemma http://www.pnas.org/content/109/26/10409.full.pdf

I'd say that in terms of what we are able to do next, Graphene wins by a long way. Graphene is remarkable stuff, literally.

I'd say in terms of impact on philosophy, religion and way of life, the large number of planets we're discovering.

I fear the graphene will fall by the wayside due to legal and social pressure. News sources have already pointed out that it is significantly more dangerous, if inhaled, than asbestos; another material this is insanely useful for a number of applications but is effectively blackballed as a engineer-able material.

Another example is nuclear energy. Clean, abundant, and extremely safe. The fear of radiation exposer has turned it into a pariah in the world community; totally ignoring the fact the radioactive elements in coal emissions have kill more people in the last 30 years than 100 Three Mile Island incidences would.

Nuclear, by which I take it you mean uranium fission energy, is far from a clean energy source. Extraction and refinement both have environmental challenges, and waste disposal is very much an unsolved problem in practice. Simple in theory, but with problematic economical and political issues.

The "fear of radiation" is perhaps the least important problem (with bigger ones including cost, centralization, waste disposal and environmental issues), yet the only problem some proponents of the technology wants to discuss, perhaps with the implication that if we treat everyone else as stupid they will go away. Perhaps after so many years it is time to reevaluate that strategy.

> I fear the graphene will fall by the wayside due to legal and social pressure. News sources have already pointed out that it is significantly more dangerous, if inhaled, than asbestos; another material this is insanely useful for a number of applications but is effectively blackballed as a engineer-able material.

But, unlike asbestos, graphene won't be literally all around everyone right? And it won't be worked on by people who weren't informed of risks and provided with proper safety gear.

> But, unlike asbestos, graphene won't be literally all around everyone right?

Also unlike asbestos we may be able to manufacture products which use an astonishingly small mass of graphene to be useful. Perhaps that small mass can be suspended/isolated with other materials that will mitigate the likelihood of impacting humans.

> Another example is nuclear energy. Clean, abundant, and extremely safe.

Yeah, but what do you do about the waste? The US has tons of waste sitting around. The grand plan of using Yucca Mountain to store the waste fizzled. We have just postponed the cost to a future generation who'll have to deal with the waste we're producing today.

Harry Reid is due to retire from the Senate and whoever replaces him will not wield nearly as much power as he did when Senate leader. I think it will go into operation in 5-10 years.

> We have just postponed the cost to a future generation who'll have to deal with the waste we're producing today.

I wonder how they'll be able to tackle the problem while simultaneously dying from the lung and skin cancer they got from all that burned coal.

I lived near one of the asbestos super-sites that the EPA was still involved in monitoring. Back in the day it had been a huge asbestos mine. As far as I know, it was safe when I lived in the area but the health impacts were still being felt.

Graphene will see adoption, but will probably be halted at the first sign of asbestos like diseases. I can only imagine how hard it would be to dispose of products with graphene correctly.

I just want to be able to build huge buildings. I want that landscape in the Star Trek reboot at the beginning when the mountainous building is in the background of the Iowa landscape.

That's a good point, but asbestos used to be in everything from pipe covers to shingles to oven gloves. I don't see any proposals for such bulk deployment of graphene.

Nuclear energy is very expensive. Not in the sense that your bills are high. Cost are hidden and paid by the government, largely. The initial project's cost is astronomical, but it always goes over budgets and deadlines. Those are provisioned for in the initial contract, so the additional cost is rarely talked about.

Nuclear companies are in bad shape nowadays, because governments around the world caught up with the way they conduct business.

How is it literally remarkable stuff?

Graphene is a single layer of graphite. Graphite is used in pencils. Pencils can make marks, which are erasable, and hence re-markable.


Up voted. Well played.

So many grammar points.

An invention but also a dicovery: The EmDrive (or RF resonant cavity thruster) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EmDrive

Grid cells are pretty cool, and thought to form the basis for spacial navigation in the brain, and the discovery of these cells in 2006 won this year's Nobel prize


How sleep washes the brain of toxins: http://www.nih.gov/researchmatters/october2013/10282013clear...

This mechanism could also be the cause of the refreshment we feel after a short nap or meditation. Much harder to study though!

This study didn't show that. They showed that toxins that are injected into the brain clear faster during sleep, but not that the brain is actually clearing anything endogenous. Sounds like a technicality but the claims were overblown based on their data.

A VERY specific request, no inventions, just things found and cataloged aka discovered.


Also see pretty much every space probe of the "last few years". Pity you couldn't wait another month for the Pluto flyby, unless it completely fails there will be plenty to talk about.

I would imagine the biological sciences could list all kinds of interesting, possibly useful, critters.

The geologists and archeologists are always digging something cool up.

I think the discovery of exoplanets will have far reaching cultural implications.

We've gone from believing planets are extremely rare to knowing planets are relatively common. Now that planets are known to be common, does that mean life is common? What will that do to the cultures that, in effect, support themselves on the belief that humans and the earth are unique?

Denial has worked so far. Heck, even the relationship between forms of life on Earth is effortlessly denied by the Creationists.

This sounds more like an AskReddit post than AskHN... but I'd say printable organs, smaller and smaller computer chips, commercialization of space flight, possible warp drive tech(may get us there in 100+ years, lol not expecting anything soon).. anti-aging (expected to double or triple life expectancy by 2050.) etc...

Those are mostly inventions, as opposed to discoveries.

I'd consider most of the things you listed to be inventions/innovations. Discovery, for me, is closely connected to uncovering of a new phenomena or an effect. And invention/innovation would be the use of it for some specific purpose.

Surely the techniques and logic used to empower such inventions and innovation had to be discovered by someone at some point. For every great new invention is their not usually some discovery made sometime prior which ushered it in? For things like smaller and smaller computer chips. I'd say that Moore's Law was discovered, not invented.

Moore's Law really is neither as it's more of an observation (and, arguably, a self-fulfilling prediction). Many inventions (made possible by various discoveries in semiconductor physics and the like) have enabled Moore's Law to more or less continue. But Moore's Law itself is not any sort of natural law.

The warp drive is definitely a brand new effect.

> AskReddit post than AskHN

What's the difference, apart from the quality of answers?

If BuzzFeed could rip off the top few answers and combine them into one article "The 8 greatest discoveries of the past few years!", then it's probably not a great HN post.

You mean, worse answers here, right.

While it's not really "great", the absence of new fundamental physics this century is certainly striking...

OTOH Quantum error correcting codes are pretty bananas. Won't be useful for a good while.


EDIT: the correct answer is that gene editing stuff though.

The most wildly fundamental paper I have seen recently is last December's "Anytime Algorithms for Non-Ending Computations" by Calude and Desfontaines.


In nutrition and medicine, why red meat causes cancer in humans:


CRISPER/Cas9 for targeted gene editing.

Mary Schweitzer extracting collagen, haemoglobin, elastin, laminin from 80 million year old Hadrosaur and verifying it. [0],[1]

[0] 2012: http://www.nature.com/news/molecular-analysis-supports-contr...

[1] 2009: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17060-first-dino-blood...

That we basically know bugger all about nutrition.


Though theoretically predicted long ago, I suppose the Higgs boson can be said to have been "discovered" in 2012 when its presence was first confirmed.


Fully Homomorphic Encryption will have far reaching applications. That along with things like efficient MPC.

Preserved soft tissue was found in dinosaur bones, allowing us to see the actual structures, and apparently this is not a rare phenomenon. Maybe DNA can be extracted?

Eugene Podkletnov gravity beam generator and TT Brown experiments showing coupling between electricity and gravitation [1].


* Hackerspaces

They're an older concept than you think.

That's true. :)

Aminoacids in the tail of comets


Deep learning is pretty old. People like Hinton, LeCun and Bengio have been working in the field for decades. From what I've read, Deep Learning has become popular because there is finally enough computing power to get it done.

It has become popular because they found a better way to initialize deep networks (by incrementally fitting auto-encoder layers), where simple gradient-based optimizations of yesteryear would not converge from scratch.

Vampires! Technically speaking, parabiosis. Although it is not actually a new discovery at all, personally I'm convinced there are humans who have already transfused young blood plasma(as the linked article points out illegal stem cell transplants are common as well). Yeah, that's right, vampires.


I have gotten into the habit of appending "except when it doesn't" to every one line life sciences headline...


I went a massive life extension technology reading binge a few months back, IMHO it is, right now, possible to extend human life indefinitely.

Ageing has several causes, including the accumulation of clutter (basically poison) inside and outside of our cells. I'm not sure becoming a vampire is enough to overcome that.

Given the uncertainties, I'd still want to keep cryonics as a back up. (Though it looks unavailable here in Western Europe.)

The wear and tear theory of aging is just one of many currently popular, the body is not a mechanical machine necessarily bound to wear and tear, it can in some cases successfully heal itself, some species basically don't age (some can actually revert in lifecycles).

A competing theory is programmed aging (in which "clutter" would be an effect of, not a cause): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1369273/

Any idea if that Ray Kurzwiel guy is doing young blood transfusion? It sounds like it would fit his goals as an early adopter of life extension tech..

Do you have a recommended reading list?

Just off the top of my my head: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DRACO_%28antiviral%29 CRISPR as mentioned, anything nano(robotics, surgery etc.), as well as stem cell tech.

Down-voters know I am on to them...

Ryan Gosling and fracking.

Is reality invented or discovered? Is math invented or discovered? Was automata theory invented or discovered? OK well then is the quicksort algorithm invented or discovered? Is LISP invented or discovered? Is my code invented or discovered?

>>Is reality invented or discovered?

discovered, this is a tautology

>> Is math invented or discovered?


>> Was automata theory invented or discovered?


>>OK well then is the quicksort algorithm invented or discovered?

invented, unless you believe that humans do quicksort intuitively. In which case it wasn't invented by you, personally.

>>Is LISP invented or discovered?


>>Is my code invented or discovered?


Are invented and discovered just a matter of perspective?

If something did not exist prior to our action then it is an invention, otherwise it's a discovery.

>> Are invented and discovered just a matter of perspective?


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