Genetically Modified Tomato is a Superfood

It is a commonly-held belief that genetically modified organisms (GMO) are dangerous to our health and the environment. However, a research published in the journal Nature Communications showed that it might be possible to genetically engineer food, such as tomatoes, to make them into superfoods that are designed to improve our health and protect us against diseases.

The study was conducted at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England. It created a new variety of tomato that holds the same amount of resveratrol as 50 bottles of red wine, and the same amount of genistein as 2.5kg of tofu. Resveratrol is a compound found in peanuts, grapes and some berries that supposedly reduces inflammation, fights cancer and reduces the risks of coronary heart disease. Genistein is an estrogen-like substance found in plants (particularly soy) that helps fight osteoporosis and cancer and also offers cardiovascular benefits.

Supercharged Tomatoes
“The tomato is a wonderful production system. If metabolic engineering is targeted to the end of fruit development, the fruit can serve as a bag in which to accumulate natural products, without impacting yield,” said study leader Cathie Martin.

genetically modified tomato

To create the genetically altered tomato, Martin and her team introduced a gene from a weedy plant in the mustard family into the tomato genome. This new gene triggered the new tomato plant to produce more antioxidant compounds called flavonols (a subset of flavonoids) and phenylpropanoids. Other genes were then added to get the plant to produce specific compounds for harvesting, In this particular experiment, the resveratrol and genistein were introduced.

By introducing additional plant genes, the fruits can be altered to produce specific compounds that have certain nutritional or health benefits. “The tomato is a wonderful production system. If metabolic engineering is targeted to the end of fruit development, the fruit can serve as a bag in which to accumulate natural products, without impacting yield,” said Martin.

Changing Biotechnology
“This research gives us a better understanding of how healthy nutrients are genetically controlled in tomato, and maybe other fruits. It is a great example of how biotechnology could provide health benefits directly to consumers and will further broaden the debate on GMOs in the EU,” Huw Jones, a senior research scientist at agricultural science institute Rothamsted Research, opined.

genetically altered tomatoes

More than potentially producing a cheaper source of specific nutrients in large quantities, this research could also eventually lead to production of very nutritious fruits for human consumption. Martin stated that, “If the different compounds we have engineered in tomato can be shown to protect against chronic diseases in preclinical studies, we could consider applying for regulatory approval for commercial sales. This we are doing with high anthocyanin tomato juice which has well-proven protective effects.”

gmo tomatoes

In addition, these supercharged tomatoes could help improve the public perception of genetically engineered food. “I think when consumers see a product which offers a benefit to them, and which could not be derived by natural breeding methods, they will understand much better the potential that biotech crops have to benefit society,” Martin said.

Google Smart Reply to Answer Your Emails for You

Google recently unveiled a new smart reply feature in the Inbox by Gmail app. This feature analyzes the text of incoming email and suggests three tailored responses that users can ignore or customize. This will be integrated in the version of the Inbox app running on smartphones and tablets powered by Google’s Android software and Apple’s iOS.

Called Smart Reply and launched on November 5, this feature uses machine learning to understand the context of a message and compose replies that make sense.

Machine Learning
Smart reply may look simple but it utilizes a complex technology called machine or deep learning, which is a newer version of artificial intelligence that’s rapidly reinventing online services. Machine learning refers to certain kinds of computer algorithms that can learn how to do specific functions without being specifically programmed to do so, such as completing a task or making predictions.

Smart Reply

“The possibilities of machine learning are endless,” said Amit Singh, president of the Google for Work program, as he announced the smart-reply feature at the Web Summit tech conference. Google has been using this technology to allow its services to mimic the mental adroitness and sophistication of a real human mind.

Using machine learning, Google filters spam, deciphers human subjects in a photo, translates text, and attempts to predict trends in your spreadsheet data.

Smart Reply
Google Smart Reply starts as a smartphone app. Its advantages are numerous: it reduces the possibility of inappropriate or unlikely responses (such as an I love you reply to a business email). It also decreases the hassle of typing long responses on a small phone screen.

Google Smart Reply

Smart Reply will analyze the contents of an email and offer a few, very brief, responses. The idea is for you to rapidly reply to someone without having to manually compose a fresh message on your smartphone. “On mobile, the actions we take in writing emails are very short and typically very action-oriented,” Singh said.

The system revolutionizes Google’s reading of your email. The company already checks message content to screen out spam. Now, its electronic scrutiny is getting deeper by way of a machine-learning system known as deep neural networks. A deep learning service feeds information into a neural network (i.e., a vast network of machines that can be likened to the web of neurons in the human brain). This neural network then analyzes the information in order to learn a particular task.

Smart Reply by Google

The system also learns from human signals. It will pay attention to the way you communicate and will, over time, manage to reply to certain emails based on your habits. “The network will tailor both the tone and content of the responses to the email you’re reading,” said Google product management director Alex Gawley.

Experts on deep learning, however, caution that such systems have their limitations. “With a finite amounts of data, you can create a rudimentary understanding of the world, but humans learn about the world in all sorts of ways [we can’t yet duplicate].” said Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Chinese Internet giant, Baidu.

Microsoft’s Hypercam

A research team from the University of Washington detailed a new project at the Ubicorp 2015. The team of computer science and electrical engineers developed Hypercam, a lower-cost hyperspectral camera that uses both visible and invisible near-infrared light to see beneath surfaces and capture unseen details. The hyperspectral imaging project has since then been funded by Microsoft Research.


A Multi-Spectral Camera
The Hypercam is a multi-spectral camera that could give x-ray vision to a smartphone camera. The Hypercam is able to capture near-infrared wavelengths, a clear improvement to the blue, green, and red wavelengths captured by regular cameras.

The Hypercam’s technology utilizes both the visible and near-infrared aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum. The camera not only illuminates a scene with 17 different types of wavelengths, it also captures an image for each. Once a subject has been captured by the Hypercam, one would see regular images that are literally in-depth. The team has also developed an intelligent software that easily finds hidden differences between what the hyperspectral camera captures and what can be seen with the naked eye.

Near-Infrared Camera

Mayank Goel, the lead author of the study says “When you look at a scene with a naked eye or a normal camera, you’re mostly seeing colors. You can say, ‘Oh, that’s a pair of blue pants!’ With a hyperspectral camera, you’re looking at the actual material that something is made of. You can see the difference between blue denim and blue cotton.”


Practical Uses
The research team behind the Hypercam believes that the possibilities for it are great and its technology can be employed in different fields. Earlier and bulkier iterations of this type of technology is typically used in industrial applications and can cost between several thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.

Thanks to the ability of the Hypercam to capture near-infrared wavelengths, it is able to reflect detailed vein and textures patterns beneath the skin that are unique to a certain individual. This can aid in things like gesture recognition to biometrics.

Hypercam captures human hand

In another test, the team also took hyperspectral images of 10 different fruits over the course of a week. The Hypercam images predicted the relative ripeness of the fruits with a 94% accuracy, as compared to the 62% of a typical camera.

Hypercam can check for ripeness of fruits and vegetables

Shwetak Patel, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, said “It’s not there yet, but the way this hardware was built you can probably imagine putting it on a mobile phone. With this kind of camera, you could go to the grocery store and know what produce to pick by looking underneath the skin and seeing if there’s anything wrong inside. It’s like having a food safety app in your pocket.”


Affordable X-Ray Vision
The technology is costly. The hardware solution from the University of Washington’s team costs $800 but the technology can be used in smartphone cameras for as low as $50.

A major roadblock for the Hypercam is that the technology is not optimal in bright lights because the camera’s sensors could get confused by the wavelengths. Moreover, improvements could be made on its portability since the prototype is a bit bulky for practical purposes.

Smart Menstrual Cup

A few weeks ago, a product called Looncup appeared on Kickstarter. The Looncup is the brainchild of South Korean Ryong Hwang, who previously developed a period tracking app after learning that his girlfriend suffered from menstrual cramps. Looncup’s Kate Lee said, “LOON is a mix of moon and luna. We might switch to Lune later in the year since Loon can be seen as negative.”

The product uses Bluetooth connectivity to connect to a free iOS or Android app to track and analyze your menstrual data. According to the campaign site, women should “Think of the Looncup as your monthly period partner – a friend who drops by when you need her to help you feel better and make sure you’re taking care of your body during this special time.

A Looncup can do so much more than a tampon, pad or even a regular menstrual cup can do. It’s the world’s first smart menstrual cup, and you’ll love the way it tells you exactly how full it is, and when it’s time to refresh. Your new Looncup will precisely track your fluid volume, fluid color, and analyze your cycles.”


The Looncup Deciphers Your Flow
Like other menstrual cups in the market, the Looncup is made of soft silicone that can be crumpled tight for insertion, and sits comfortably in the vaginal canal, collecting menstrual fluid. Once full, you pull it out by the stem, empty and clean it, and put it back in.

What makes it different from the usual menstrual cups is its embedded triaxial, RGB and force sensors, and Bluetooth receivers. These are located inside the silicone and will not make contact with any part of your body. They connect via Bluetooth with a smart phone to track and analyze data during the menstrual cycle.

The Looncup app monitors menstrual data

The Looncup will send you a reminder via the app to inform you when your period is likely to arrive. It will also let you know when the menstrual cup is full and needs to be emptied. It will also analyze the color of the fluid and check for irregularities like stress, anemia, dehydration, and endometriosis.


A Few Shortcomings to Work On
The Looncup sounds like a great product, but there are some limitations. First, the battery is non-rechargeable and non-replaceable. It lasts for six months, on sleep mode when not in use. Once the battery dies, the cup may still be used as a regular menstrual cup. According to the team behind the Looncup, they are still trying to find ways to increase the battery life to a year.

smart bluetooth menstrual cup

The Looncup’s antenna also only works if the stem of the cup rests outside the vagina, which sounds incredibly uncomfortable. This menstrual cup also cannot be boiled for sterilization, unlike the regular ones. This is because the heat could easily damage the electronics. Instead, the Looncup team recommends gentle washing with soap and water.

World's First Smart Menstrual Cup

A potential roadblock is that it may also need to prove the usefulness of its features to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has recently exempted menstrual cups from premarket notification requirements, but the FDA still expects manufacturers of a new menstrual cup with different fundamental scientific technology to notify the FDA of their intention to market the new product.


The Looncup is estimated to be shipped in January 2016.

Tesla Updates Cars with Autopilot

Model S and Model X
Tesla recently released Version 7.0 of the software that powers its cars. The new release comes with the long-awaited Autopilot. The software update will gradually roll out over the next week, automatically applying itself to all Model S sedans and Model X Suvs that have been produced by the company since October 2014.

Model S gets software update for Autopilot

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said, “I think this is going to be quite a profound experience for people when they do it. We’ve been testing it for over a year, so we’ve gotten quite used to it. But I’ve noticed that when I put friends of mine in the car, and they see the car drive, they are blown away. So it’s really quite an interesting experience.”

The main feature, Autosteer is an advanced lane departure assist system. The vehicle automatically stays in a lane and only slows down when necessary (e.g., avoid traffic or steer around curves). The vehicle will change lanes when prompted by the driver and when the car detects that the coast is clear. Updated Model S and Model X vehicles will also be able to self-drive themselves into parallel parking spots. Their drivers would only need to cruise slowly past an open spot and then enable Autopark. The system will then handle all the hard work.

Tesla recommended that drivers must keep their hands behind the wheel. However, the system will let you go hands-free for as long as you want. It will eventually start beeping but there is an option to turn off the alarm. A few areas for improvement that road testers have noticed are: it does not detect things like yield signs and it also does not read traffic lights.


Hands-Free Behind the Wheels
The new Tesla software relies on machine learning, connectivity, and mapping data. At an event earlier this week, company Musk explained that the autopilot system is constantly learning and improving thanks to machine learning algorithms, the car’s wireless connection, and detailed mapping and sensor data that Tesla collects.

Autosteer on a Tesla car

Machine learning technology is a form of AI- it is the way for computers to become artificially intelligent. Musk clarified, “The whole Tesla fleet operates as a network. When one car learns something, they all learn it. That is beyond what other car companies are doing. Each driver using the autopilot system essentially becomes an expert trainer for how the autopilot should work.”

Because all of Tesla’s cars have an always-on wireless connection, data gathered from driving and autopilot is collected and analyzed by the software. The data is used to train its algorithms, which Tesla then tests and incorporates into upcoming software.


Other Self-Driving Vehicles
Tesla is not the only one in the industry taking steps to perfect the autonomous car. Toyota, Nissan, General Motors, and Google all plan to release their own versions of the driverless vehicle by 2020.

Tesla software update Autopilot

Google is using large and expensive LIDAR (light-based radar sensors) on its cars. Audi has traffic jam assist software. Even Apple is reportedly working on an electronic, partially-autonomous car. Proponents of autonomous cars expect them to significantly improve safety on roadways.