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Ten fields of scientific roaming in 2021 will profoundly change the future of mankind

  2021 has come to an end. Looking back on this year, it is fortunate that there have been many historic breakthroughs in the scientific and technological world, and a number of remarkable scientific research achievements have emerged.
  From the technological revolution brought about by CRISPR gene editing to the prediction of protein structure by artificial intelligence technology, from the advent of the first self-reproducing robot to the first successful implantation of pig kidneys into the human body, from the exploration of the Big Bang to the successful landing of probes on Mars… … Human beings not only probe inwards to explore the mysteries of the body and the source of life, but also constantly ask questions of the universe to find the boundaries of the universe.

Schematic diagram of the brain-computer interface for decoding thoughts and writing

  Previously, authoritative media and experts jointly selected the top ten international science and technology news in 2021, including brain-computer interface, quantum entanglement of macroscopic objects, Tianwen-1 probe successfully landed on Mars, artificial intelligence predicted protein structure, and pig kidney was successfully implanted for the first time. Scientific research breakthroughs and innovations in ten different fields including the human body were selected.
  Based on this, five scholars in related fields have interpreted the innovation points of related technologies and shared their knowledge and understanding of this.
With the promotion of Facebook and Neuralink in AR and medical fields, the brain-computer interface will realize the development of technology

  ”The significance of scientific and technological development lies in meeting the needs of human beings in three aspects: expansion of their own functions, enjoyment, birth and death.” “Mathematics and semiconductor chip technology have promoted the third and fourth scientific and technological revolutions. The fifth scientific and technological revolution will exert force. In the life sciences, when the tools such as hardware and algorithms are available, by studying the most perfect and sophisticated human brain in the world, it can have a profound impact on intelligent technology, cognitive technology and biomedicine, so as to expand the human three requirements.” Ding Bo, a doctor of engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, opened the roundtable discussion with a summary and outlook on the development of science and technology.
  In July 2019, Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, announced the latest achievements of his company Neuralink’s brain-computer interface technology, which completely detonated the outside world’s attention to “brain-computer interface” technology.
  Essentially, the research question of brain-computer interface is whether and how to control external devices through EEG signals. Research on this issue has been going on since the 1970s. In 1969, German-American neurologist Eberhard Fitz had demonstrated the possibility that monkeys could use EEG signals to control external devices.
  Compared with understanding the principle of brain-computer interface technology, Ding Bo, who works in Silicon Valley, expressed that he has a stronger interest in the application and trend of this technology. CTRL-Labs, the first is contact Neuralink.”
  “The idea of ​​CTRL-Labs is not to read your thoughts, but to recognize your intentions.” When talking about the difference between the two companies, Ding Bo said, “CTRL-Labs -The armband developed by Labs no longer reads brain waves through a head-mounted EEG sensor, but intercepts signals close to the output point and wirelessly transmits the information to PCs and smartphones via Bluetooth. The EMG neural interface technology used, which captures the electrical signals produced by the muscles, ultimately allows the user to ‘type’ on a virtual keyboard by thinking.”
  In September 2019, CTRL-Labs was acquired by Facebook, which also became a landmark event in the commercialization of brain-computer interfaces. Just in the past 2021, Facebook changed its name to Meta, the concept of metaverse was proposed, and VR headsets and control technology were advanced. It is believed that the technology of non-contact brain-computer access can be the first to be commercialized in the near future.
  Ding Bo said: “Elon Musk, who is committed to realizing the greater dream of mankind, will also focus on the medical and health field of Neuralink. Through its strong capital and market appeal, it will realize industrialization and application as soon as possible.”
Muons’ abnormal behavior may reveal the existence of a fifth force

  In April 2021, the first results of the Muon Anomalous Magnetic Moment Experiment (Muon g-2) at Fermilab in the United States, participated by the Muon Physics Team of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, were announced. There have been deviations in the past.
  ”This can be said to be the most significant physical ‘discovery’ in the past 10 years, which may rewrite the entire basic physics and human understanding of the microscopic world, and may indicate that there may be new unknown particles in the world or the existence of four basic forces ( The fifth force besides gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak forces that only appear in the microscopic world.” Jingliang Miao, a PhD in condensed matter physics at Queen Mary University of London, attaches great importance to this discovery.

Top view of the muon anomalous magnetic moment storage ring

  A muon is a fundamental particle that exists in the universe, similar to an electron, with a unit of negative charge, 1/2 spin, but about 207 times the mass of an electron. High-energy cosmic rays continuously produce muons in the atmosphere, and proton accelerators can also produce large numbers of muons for experiments. The muon g-factor is a dimensionless physical quantity that reflects the connection between magnetic moment and angular momentum in the Zeeman effect.
  Miao Jingliang said: “According to ordinary quantum mechanics, the value of the g factor will be very close to 2, but the actual measurement is always biased. Because muons have spontaneous quantum fluctuations, the magnitude of the fluctuations is determined by the essential characteristics of quantum mechanics— — The wave function determines. And quantum fluctuations affect the experimental measurements.”
  Why is the latest result of the muon g factor value published by Fermilab so important? Miao Jingliang said: “The best estimate of the current theory is 2.00233183620 (86), and the average observation value after the Fermilab experiment in the United States is 2.00233184122 (82). It can be seen that the two values ​​are included in the experimental error. There is still a lot of error in these values. In statistics, the degree of significance is 4.2δ (the probability of random error is 1/40000), and generally speaking, the threshold required by physics is 5δ (the probability of random error is less than 1 /3500000), so I can’t claim new discoveries right away, but the data look close enough to be hopeful.” The results of
  this experiment strongly suggest that there is something new beyond existing theories.
When robots can reproduce themselves like living things

  Reproduction is not just a property of living things. When a robot is given the ability to make its own nervous system and brain, it can independently replicate its own “next generation.”

  When talking about the self-reproducing living robot that breaks our cognition of robots, Feng Zhenpeng, a Ph.D. from Xidian University, sorted out its research history and process for us: “In Czech writer Karel’s novel “Rosam Universal Robot Company” In the novel, the unwilling to be slave robots start a revolution and wipe out humans. But this victory has an unintended consequence: the robots will not make their own offspring, so they are in danger of extinction. In the novel, the author gives a Hollywood The formula: the last two robots fell in love and became Adam and Eve of the new world.
  But in 2000, Professor Lipson of Cornell University in New York gave an even simpler solution: give robots self-replication and The ability to evolve. In order to realize this scheme, Professor Lipson conducted an evolutionary evolution experiment on his triangular pyramid-shaped plastic robot. After hundreds of generations of reproduction in the computer, the final output program prompted the “rapid prototype replicator” to manufacture A computerized species capable of shapeshifting and crawling.

Self-reproducing living robots X enobots 3.0

  In 2008, Dr Adrian, University of Bath, UK. Developed the first product of the RepRap program, the robot “Darwin”, which successfully produced a complete replica of itself.
  In 2020, a research team from the University of Vermont and Tufts University in the United States created a new artificial species, Xenobots. After two upgrades in the past two years, the research team discovered a new way of biological reproduction, and used this discovery to create the first-ever self-reproducing living robot, Xenobots 3.0.
  Unlike previous research results, the researchers introduced artificial intelligence technology, spent months, tested billions of body types, and finally found the best design shape for the new life form on a supercomputer cluster, which will be the mother Xenobots. Determined to be “C-shaped”, the final look closely resembles the 1980s video game Pac-Man and gives them the ability to perform specific tasks.
  When talking about the application prospects of this living robot, Dr. Zhenpeng Feng said: “Maybe it can contribute to a new breakthrough in medicine – in addition to being expected to be used for precise drug delivery, the self-replication ability of Xenobots also enables regeneration. Medicine has new helpers, which undoubtedly provide pioneering solutions to combat trauma, birth defects, cancer and aging. In the future, it may provide more direct and personalized drug treatment for trauma, birth defects, cancer, aging, etc. This
  can be regarded as a milestone technological breakthrough, but it has broken through the boundary of artificial intelligence + biological science, and many users of science and technology have expressed their concerns about whether it meets the ethical review in science and technology, Feng Zhenpeng explained: “The experiment passed all necessary ethical reviews in the United States. The cells that make the Xenobots themselves are meant to develop into frog skin cells, and if they can’t replicate themselves, it will die. In this case, although it can be copied, the offspring of each copy are smaller than the original. After several generations of replication, Xenobots with less than 50 cells lose their ability to replicate themselves, and when the energy stored in the cells is exhausted, they will eventually die. In addition, the researchers of the living robot say that the cells cannot reproduce without outside help.
For the first time since its discovery, CRISPR gene editing has actually been used in the field of disease treatment

  In 2020, Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier and Professor Jennifer Doudna, pioneers of the CRISPR gene editing system, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. A year later, the results of the first in vivo CRISPR gene editing clinical trial were announced, and the therapy was safe and effective. This is the first real use of CRISPR technology in the field of disease treatment since its discovery, and can be called a milestone event.
  ”CRISPR gene editing technology can be regarded as a pair of scissors for cutting DNA. It is oriented and can copy any DNA to be modified and put it into a living cell.” Peng Zuohan, Ph. Explained the concept of CRISPR gene editing, and added: “CRISPR gene editing has well solved the problems of cumbersome, expensive and unengineered applications of the old technology, bringing about a technological revolution.”

Gene editing concept map

  CRISPR technology has a wide range of applications. It can not only be used for expression regulation and gene function research, crop breeding, animal model construction, disease detection and drug screening, but also has great development prospects in gene therapy. , cancer and other diseases provide new treatments.
  ”CRISPR’s use in gene therapy includes two types of in vitro and in vivo delivery. In vitro is mainly used in the field of immune cell therapy and hematopoietic stem cell therapy. In vivo includes the breakthrough treatment of transthyretin amyloidosis (ATTR amyloidosis) in 2021. ) disease CRISPR liver delivery, AAV delivery CRISPR treatment of AIDS, etc., have made good progress.” Dr. Peng Zuohan said.
  One concern of in vivo CRISPR gene-editing systems is that the gene-editing system may edit genome sequences other than the target sequence, thereby introducing deleterious mutations. This is often referred to as the “off-target effect”.
  Dr. Peng Zuohan also added: “In addition, CRISPR also faces the challenges of ethical review and supervision, such as the use of gene editing to edit embryonic stem cells.”
  How to solve these problems will be the next challenge for scientists .
AI-assisted computing enables rapid protein structure prediction, promising to improve quality of life for millions of patients

  The heat of AlphaFold’s accurate prediction of the structure of the human proteome has not dissipated, and the good news that artificial intelligence technology can predict the structure of proteins is coming.
  In December 2021, after unremitting efforts, David Baker’s team at the University of Washington realized the de novo design of proteins through deep network fantasy. The research results were published online in the journal “Nature”. As a famous master of protein design, David Baker has been considered a favorite candidate for the Nobel Prize in recent years.
  ”This result could ultimately improve the quality of life for millions of patients around the world,” said Hui Renjie, PhD, of the Ecole Polytechnique.

protein structure model diagram

  Every natural protein has its own unique spatial structure or three-dimensional structure, and the protein spontaneously folds into complex three-dimensional shapes, which is the key to almost every biological process. For example, the antibody proteins that make up our immune system are “Y-shaped,” similar to unique hooks, and by targeting viruses and bacteria, antibody proteins are able to detect and tag disease-causing microorganisms so they can destroy them.
  ”In order to understand the mechanism of action of a protein at the molecular level, it is often necessary to determine the three-dimensional structure of the protein. The ability to predict the shape of a protein is useful to scientists because understanding its role in the body for diagnosis and therapy is thought to be caused by the misfolding of the protein Caused diseases are critical, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and cystic fibrosis.” Hui Renjie emphasized the reason for the determination of the three-dimensional structure of proteins, and said “the use of artificial intelligence to Predicting protein structures can greatly improve computational efficiency while meeting the accuracy requirements, allowing scientists to design new and more effective ways to treat diseases in a short period of time.”
  In addition, the researcher of this work, David Baker also said in other interviews: “This method greatly simplifies protein design and opens up the possibility of directly studying the functional part of the protein.
  ” Later, they also looked forward to future innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computers, self-reproducing robots, etc., so that we are full of expectations for new breakthroughs in the future.
  Technological breakthroughs are always exciting, opening the door to our understanding of the world and breaking through the boundaries of human cognition. Looking forward to new results from scientists in 2022!

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