Top Stories for the Week of March 8, 2017

  • Episode 494
  • March 8, 2017
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Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday March 8, 2017

A San Francisco startup is 3D-printing entire houses in just one day

A San Francisco-based 3D-printing startup, Apis Cor, has come up with an exceedingly affordable solution for building new houses. It can 3D-print concrete walls for a small house in under 24 hours.

Apis Cor recently used its massive 3D-printer to lay down concrete walls on a test home at a site in Russia, where it has a business partner, printing out a cozy but livable 400-square-foot house.

The machine, which looks more like a small crane than a conventional 3D printer, spits out layer upon layer of a concrete mixture that the company says can last for 175 years. After printing out the walls, the printer is removed, and a group of contractors install insulation, windows, appliances, and a roof. (It’s not entirely clear whether the whole house was finished and furnished in 24 hours, or just whether the walls were printed in that time.)

The company says that it can build and furnish these small houses for a cost of about $10,000, and according to the company’s blog on the project, the windows and doors were by far the most expensive component.

These houses could be used to help quickly re-house those affected by natural disasters, the company said. They might also be of use in its home town, where an influx of technology workers in recent years has created housing shortage crisis for the city.


Sent to us by: Jeff Weston

A new method of storing data in DNA stores 215 petabytes of data on a single gram of DNA.

Ten years ago, if you wanted to back up some old photos, you might have stored them on a big, clunky external hard drive that weighed a couple of pounds and was a pain to lug around. Ten years from now, you might back up all the data from your entire life on just a few grams of DNA.

Embedded in the code of life, researchers have now encoded an 1895 French film, a computer virus and a $50 Amazon gift card.

This is not the first time scientists have turned to the double helix for storage, but it has always been difficult to encode more than a few hundred characters of data without it turning into an undecipherable mess.

In their new paper out Friday in Science, Yaniv Erlich and Dina Zielinski, from the New York Genome Center and Columbia University respectively, detail a major improvement. Their new method, dubbed “DNA Fountain,” is able to store a total over two megabytes of data in 72,000 DNA strands and easily retrieve it.

The method allows them to pack 215 petabytes of data on a single gram of DNA.

The DNA Fountain technique is remarkable in its resistance to errors and ability to maximize the storage capacity of DNA.

Before we’re all walking around with bits of DNA on our key rings instead of flash drives, however, sequencing will have to become significantly cheaper. But that might happen sooner than we realize. This year, Illumina announced plans to bring the cost of sequencing an entire human genome sequencing down to $100. Sequencing a few megabytes of data would cost a small fraction of that.


Sent to us by: Jeff Weston

Robots with real muscles and skin: it could become a thing sooner than we imagined.

Oxford University researchers said last week that robots dressed in human flesh would benefit people who need tissue transplants.

Scientists are already growing muscles, bones, and mini-organs in the lab. But these tissues are generally small and simple.

That's why two scientists from Oxford University are proposing that we use humanoid robots to grow engineered tissues instead.

At present human cells are grown in stationary environments, but their report suggests moving humanoids could help them develop in a far healthier way.

Researchers Pierre-Alexis Mouthuy and Andrew Carr propose in the latest issue of Science Robotics that robots could "wear" tissue grafts before transplantation.

Today sheets of cells are grown in stagnant tanks, but the scientists say these "fail to mimic the real mechanical environment for cells." The resulting tissues aren't accustomed to moving, stretching and straining, which can introduce problems when used by patients.

The scientists say it is not only technically possible to do, but also scientifically pertinent that this be pursued.


Sent to us by: The Albuquerque Turque

The Nintendo Switch is having big problems with its little screen.

Sales figures suggest Nintendo's new hybrid handheld console, which went on sale on Friday, has become the fastest-selling game console in the Japanese company's history, with many stores selling out on the first day of sales, and entrepreneuring poachers scooping them up and selling them for twice the price.

The Switch can be played both on televisions and as a standalone device.

But there's a problem.

Thousands of owners of Nintendo's new console, Switch, have complained about dead or stuck pixels creating distracting and annoying dark squares on their screens.

Nintendo said such pixels were "normal and should not be considered a defect". In other words, it's your problem, not theirs.

But one analyst said in response to the online photos that it was "unbelievable" Nintendo had let them leave the factory.

On a Reddit discussion thread, one user said he returned his to the store, and since it was making news, the store let him open boxes for a replacement. Three more devices had dead pixels before he finally found one that looked okay.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash