Memia 2021.27: The R0 of RSV🦠// apocalypse cow, accelerated🐮// billionaires in space💸🚀// open source mRNA🧬// manicurebot💅// metacontinual hyperamericas 🇺🇸

Food-as-software

Kia ora,

Welcome to this week’s Memia scan across the latest emerging tech and thinking about the future, as always with a slant towards my corner of the world, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Roundup

  • The most clicked link in the last issue (clear winner - 19% of openers) was the video of the AI Lego app. Very neat encapsulation of very clever tech.

    • Thinking aloud, a few other use cases this technique could potentially be applied to:

      • Snap a photo of my grocery trolley and autobill me (already sorta done by Kiwi startup Imagr)

      • Snap a photo of my fridge contents and suggest recipes

      • Snap a photo of everything in this pile of junk and autolist it on TradeMe?

      • Snap a photo of this pile of old 💿CDs / tapes and autocreate my 80s-90s playlist on Spotify (I know, right!?)

  • Great conversation with Oliver Bruce on the Clubhouse app last Friday, thanks to everyone who listened in and took part as we roamed across Ollie’s diverse areas of focus including micromobility, decentralized communications networks and climatetech.

    • Clubhouse has a “no recording” policy which means that there is no download of the discussion - we’ll do it again sometime! We will go with Twitter Spaces for the next guest call so the recording is available as a podcast as well as the live event. Watch this space…

  • 🦠This week’s newsletter may be a bit less tidy(!) than usual - over the last week I have been laid low by (I suspect) the highly contagious RSV virus currently rampaging through Aotearoa (apparently let in after the Australian border was reopened in April). Nasty respiratory infection causing lots of coughing and sniffing and self pity:

    The structure of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The RSV genome is 15.2 kb of nonsegmented negative-sense RNA encoding 11 viral proteins. Viral envelope of RSV contains three transmembrane glycoproteins: attachment glycoprotein (G), fusion protein (F), and small hydrophobic protein (SH). Matrix proteins (M) are present on the inner side of the viral envelope. Viral RNA is tightly encapsidated by nucleoproteins (N) and the large proteins (L), phosphoproteins (P), and M2-1 proteins that mediate viral RNA transcription. M2-2 protein regulates viral RNA synthesis.
    The structure of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-structure-of-respiratory-syncytial-virus-RSV-The-RSV-genome-is-152-kb-of_fig1_338650436
    • Now that we’re all armchair experts in viral epidemiology I went straight for Wikipedia to find the R0 of RSV:

      “RSV is highly transmissible with a basic reproduction number (the average number of uninfected people who become infected from one infectious person) estimated to be between 5 and 25”

    • Compare that with Covid-19 which is estimated to have an R0 of between 1.9 and 2.6.

    • Pretty infectious then. Like many people I haven’t been properly ill since the border was shut at the start of last year…like pre-Columbus America, our collective immune systems are more vulnerable from isolation! Expect lots more sniffles as and when the borders do reopen to world…

🐮Apocalypse cow, accelerated

  • Environmentalist (and vegan) George Monbiot’s 2020 film Apocalypse Cow: How Meat Killed The Planet argues that the biggest problem driving humanity towards global ecological disaster is how we feed ourselves, particularly on meat. In an article from January last year, he lays out the positive effects of what he calls "FarmFree” (=synthetic, lab-based) food production:

(🎩spotting by Greg Day).

  • In particular, Monbiot’s article contains some radical projections (mostly sourced from a challenging 2019 RethinkX report):

“Research by the thinktank RethinkX suggests that proteins from precision fermentation will be around 10 times cheaper than animal protein by 2035. The result, it says, will be the near-complete collapse of the livestock industry. The new food economy will “replace an extravagantly inefficient system that requires enormous quantities of inputs and produces huge amounts of waste with one that is precise, targeted, and tractable”. Using tiny areas of land, with a massively reduced requirement for water and nutrients, it “presents the greatest opportunity for environmental restoration in human history”. “

  • Same for Dairy:

RethinkX envisages an extremely rapid “death spiral” in the livestock industry. Only a few components, such as the milk proteins casein and whey, need to be produced through fermentation for profit margins across an entire sector to collapse. Dairy farming in the United States, it claims, will be “all but bankrupt by 2030”. It believes that the American beef industry’s revenues will fall by 90% by 2035.

  • A few months ago, RethinkX came out and stated that their most recent analysis that the Covid-19 pandemic (meat processing plant shut downs…supply chain disruption) has actually accelerated their original predictions:

“[RethinkX] talk about a "food-as-software" model, in which scientists would engineer food at a molecular level and upload it to databases that are accessible to food designers worldwide. The report states this can geographically spread out food production and high quality food that is not subject to price volatility or threats posed by weather, disease or trade.”

  • However… pretty much everyone I come across in the animal-system farming sector in Aotearoa (although certainly aware of the perceived threat by now) just doesn’t believe this is going to happen. Or, if it does, there will still be a niche global market — at sustained high prices — for farmed animal protein products.

  • Personally I don’t see it long term, maybe I’m missing something.

  • You can see the problem here:

  • A lot will happen between now and 2035 - but if and when these at-least-plausible scenarios eventuate and global food supply chains do indeed migrate to the “food-as-software” model envisaged by RethinkX - not only would food supply be cheaper and more resilient - but this would indeed present a huge environmental opportunity to restore unneeded agricultural land in Aotearoa back to native forest and wetland. (With a few houses for good measure, too…)

[Weak] signals

Signals from the future I’ve been musing about this week:

💸🚀Billionaires in space

  • Space tourism is just about to go mainstream - US$250,000 buys an early adopter trip on Unity - 5 minutes of weightlessness looking out of the window at Earth’s curvature before dropping back to gravity. But these prices will rapidly come down as more firms enter the market. In 5 years, will a flight to the edge of space cost as much as a round the world plane ticket, with tens of rockets going up daily?

  • And not to put a downer on all the antics above, but it’s also worth remembering that 50 years ago in 1971, after three weeks on the world's first space station, the crew of Soyuz 11 became the only astronauts to die on their way back from space. They are unlikely to be the last. Discover Magazine tells their story:

🧬Open source mRNA

  • The Economist recently ran a series of short future scenarios This Year What If? considering the future of health. Given the recent advances in mRNA technology, they explore What if biohackers injected themselves with mRNA?

    “…It was at this point [in 2028] that the WBF, a group championing biohackers’ rights, stepped onto the public stage. It declared in its manifesto that people had the right to send genetic messages of their own making to their own cells. WBF members, it emerged, had documented successful mRNA dosing for alertness, minor tweaks to physiology (such as to prevent hair loss), and suppression of stress hormones. It was, they argued, already too late for governments to stop them…A flourishing open-source ecosystem has developed around the designs of the patches and the molecules they can produce…”.

(🎩spotting by Ben Bodley).

New Borgs

  • Scientists at at UC Berkeley have discovered something enigmatic that, like CRISPR, is associated with microbial genomes. They have named these unique entities Borgs:

    “[Borgs are…] a floating toolbox… huge, a third the size of their methane-eating hosts, they have assimilated many metabolism-relevant genes, and they have combinations of features not seen before...“

💅Manicurebot

Mind expanding

Still so much to learn. Still so little time.

Independent foreign platitude

  • Following up on last week’s mention of Aotearoa’s strategic positioning in the Indo-Pacific, Te Herenga Waka / Wellington Uni International relations professor Van Jackson is refreshingly concise about what the nebulous term “Independent Foreign Policy” might actually mean:

Podcasts keep on getting longer

Rollcall

  • 💡Regular Memia correspondent Andrew Dotchin collects his ideas on How to fix academic research and publishing: “Distributed Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) and a transparent funding model / virtual economy based on crypto ‘research tokens’ and tokenomics (token economics)”.

  • 🪙Speaking of DAOs… Mark Pascall was on RNZ recently talking about the The Wellbeing Protocol pilot in the Porirua suburb of Cannons Creek: a micro economy exercise involves each participant receiving 50 “cannon coins”, exchangeable with a digital wallet on their smartphone.

Hidden gems

Three tweets to enjoy this week:

  • 🇺🇸 I would like to visit the Metacontinual Hyperamericas one day.

  • 🥤And: The Juice on The Juice Media: great read.

Thanks as ever for getting in touch with thoughts, links and feedback - always appreciated, keep them coming!

And if you enjoy Memia, please take the time to share with a friend in Aotearoa or around the 🌎🌍🌏.

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Ngā mihi

Ben

1

During the 2000s, seven wealthy individuals paid to visit the International Space Station (ISS) facilitated by the Russian Space Agency.