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April 14, 2024

Brain roadmaps, Chinese hackers and viruses galore

By MICHAEL YAMAKAWA | February 28, 2013

The Next Big Thing?: Scientists are constantly seeking love from the government — a love that comes in the form of generous funding. Before the Human Genome Project, physicists were mostly happy with the big bucks they got to spend for splitting atoms open and traveling the depths of space. Envy in the field of biology soon dwindled away as the government shifted their attention towards genome studies. However, as the Human Genome Project came to a close almost ten years ago, the next big field of science has long been a mystery. Lately, it seems that the Brain Activity Map is lassoing the love of the government. Scientists are attempting to trace every highway of electrical impulse and intersection in synaptic clefts in the human brain within ten years. The endeavor is predicted to have an annual cost of 300 million dollars, and companies like Google, Microsoft and Qualcomm already plan to partake in the project.


Ubiquitous creatures: What creature do you think is the most abundant in the world? Since our bodies do, in fact, host more bacterial cells than human cells, you might be tempted to guess the most plentiful creature is some kind of bacteria. Scientists would have agreed with you until a recent discovery of a certain virus. Before this discovery, a strain of bacteria known as Pelagibacter ubique, which constitutes a third of single cell organisms in the ocean, was heralded as the most abundant organism on Earth. But scientists had one unresolved piece of the puzzle to follow up on: usually, parasites — like tapeworms — outnumber their hosts. So are there parasites that reside in P. ubique? Scientists thought that there were no extant species that invaded them, thus leading to their ubiquity. However, some researchers decided to look for this elusive parasite, a task comparable to finding a needle in a haystack made of needles. While they had the entire ocean to sample, the scientists had no idea which virus could invade the bacteria. Through a significant amount of diluting techniques to observe each virus in the ocean, researchers discovered HTVC010P — a virus able to invade P. ubique that was soon deemed the most common organism on Earth. Granted, some do not classify viruses as living, but it’s still truly mind-boggling to wrap your mind around the sheer vastness of HTVC010P’s population.


Taking the offensive for cyber protection against China: The Chinese government has long denied their affiliation with hacking in the United States, including any involvement in the recent The New York Times incident. Without hard evidence, the United States has never been able to rebuke and seek justice. In a triumphant attempt to crack down on the origin of all these attacks, Mandiant, one of the firms responsible for tracing the NYTimes hacks, claims to have found evidence of the Chinese government’s sponsorship in the hacking events. They say the hackers are traceable to networks in Shanghai near the army compound. While American politicians and the European Commission are outraged by this discovery, some are still doubtful of Mandiant’s methodology for tracking, claiming that their bias gears searches toward Chinese regions.

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