Bitconned

JUST over a week ago, Schumpeter wrote about the collapse of Mt Gox, the once-dominant Bitcoin exchange that disappeared in late February along with almost half a billion dollars of customers’ cryptocurrency (and $65 million of its own)—all presumed stolen. Schumpeter’s reward for his article was open warfare in the comments section. A large minority of commenters pilloried Schumpeter for daring to criticise their belief in the almighty Bitcoin. The remainder questioned the sanity of anyone believing in what one commenter described as “the currency equivalent of unicorns.”

Mt Gox subsequently filed for bankruptcy, after which the formerly elusive Mark Karpeles, Mt Gox’s chief executive, stated that “There was some weakness in the system, and the Bitcoins have disappeared. I apologise for causing trouble.” Given the scale of Mt Gox’s apparent incompetence and the cyberheist itself, this may qualify as understatement of the year.

In the wake of Mt Gox’s implosion,…Continue reading
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The search for a cure for AIDS: If it ain’t broke…


To your very good health, sir!

GENE therapy usually works by repairing a broken gene or creating a new one where none previously existed. Breaking a working gene to effect a cure is a novel approach. That, though, is what Carl June of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues are trying to do. As they explain in the New England Journal of Medicine, by damaging a gene called CCR5 they hope to treat—and possibly cure—infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.CCR5 encodes a protein that sits on the surface membranes of T-lymphocytes, cells which are part of the immune system. The protein’s job is to latch onto signal molecules called chemokines. Unfortunately, it also latches onto strains of HIV, assisting their passage into the lymphocyte, where the virus then reproduces.A consequence is that those whose CCR5 genes are broken are immune to infection by these strains. Moreover, an HIV patient called Timothy Brown (pictured) who, in 2007 and 2008, had bone-marrow transplants from a donor with broken CCR5

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Bioprinters: Printing a bit of me

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Printing a bit of me

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Bioprinters

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Bioprinting: Building living tissue with a 3D printer is becoming a new business, but making whole organs for transplant remains elusive

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IN A state-of-the-art clean room, a scientist clad in a full-body containment suit, a hair net and blue gloves is preparing some printing cartridges—filled not with ink but a viscous milky liquid. Next to her sits a computer connected to a machine that resembles a large ice-cream dispenser, except that each of its two nozzles is made of a syringe with a long needle. Once the scientist clicks on the “run program” button, the needles extrude not a vanilla or chocolate-flavoured treat, but a paste of living cells. These bioinks are deposited in precise layers on top of each other and interspersed with a gel that forms a temporary mould around the cells.
Forty minutes later, the task is finished. Depending on the choice of bioink and …

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Genetically modified crops: Fields of beaten gold

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The rise of BlackRock

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Genetically modified crops

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Greens say climate-change deniers are unscientific and dangerous. So are greens who oppose GM crops

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IN AUGUST environmentalists in the Philippines vandalised a field of Golden Rice, an experimental grain whose genes had been modified to carry beta-carotene, a chemical precursor of vitamin A. Golden Rice is not produced by a corporate behemoth but by the public sector. Its seeds will be handed out free to farmers. The aim is to improve the health of children in poor countries by reducing vitamin A deficiency, which contributes to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and cases of blindness each year.
Environmentalists claim that these sorts of actions are justified because genetically modified (GM) crops pose health risks. Now the main ground for those claims has crumbled.

Last year a paper was published in a respected journal, Food and Chemical …

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Creativity and cheating: Mwahahaha…

FROM James Moriarty to Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the idea of the evil genius has been a staple of storytelling. But is it true? Or, to put the matter less starkly, is there a connection between creativity and dishonesty in real people who are not bent on world domination, as well as in fictional supervillains? Writing in Psychological Science, Francesca Gino of Harvard University and Scott Wiltermuth of the University of Southern California suggest that there is—and that cheating actually increases creativity.Dr Gino and Dr Wiltermuth tested the honesty of 153 volunteers with a task that involved adding up numbers for a cash reward, which was presented in a way that seemed to them to allow them to cheat undetected (though the researchers knew when they did). This was sandwiched between two tests for creativity, one of which was to work out how to fix a candle to a cardboard wall with a box of drawing pins*, and the other a word-association test. This combination showed not only that creative people cheat more, but also that cheating seems to encourage creativity—for those who cheated in the adding-up test were even better at word association than their candle-test results predicted.That result was confirmed by a second set of experiments, in which some people were given many opportunities to cheat and others few. The crucial predictor of creativity, the…

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Condom technology: Sheathing Cupid’s arrow

THEY have been made of tortoiseshell and horn. They have been made of the finest silk and the coarsest leather. They have been made of pigs’ bladders and sheep’s intestines. They have been made of rubber (natural and synthetic). They have been made of plastic. But none of these has quite fitted the bill. Condoms, though 15 billion are manufactured each year, and 750m couples use them, are not, when push comes to shove, that popular. In truth, they are awkward passion-killers that have a disturbing tendency to pop off at inconvenient moments.Build a better condom, then, and maybe the world will beat a path to your door. That, anyway, is what a select band of researchers in laboratories around the world hope will happen. So does Bill Gates, whose foundation is backing some of these efforts with grants of $100,000 apiece as seed money, and the promise of up to $1m more if the initial experimentation comes good.Mr Gates’s foundation, the biggest non-governmental source of cash for global health, is interested in condoms for the same reasons most users are. Not only do they prevent unwanted pregnancies, they also stop the transmission of venereal infections—…

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What exactly is an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurs are everybody’s favourite heroes. Politicians want to clone them. Popular television programmes such as “The Apprentice” and “Dragons’ Den” lionise them. School textbooks praise them. When the author of this blog was at Oxford “entrepreneur” was a dirty word. Today the Entrepreneur’s Society is one of the university’s most popular social clubs.

But what exactly is an entrepreneur? Here the warm glow of enthusiasm dissolves into intellectual confusion. There are two distinctive views. The first is the popular view: that entrepreneurs are people who run their own companies, the self-employed or small-business people. The second is Joseph Schumpeter’s view that entrepreneurs are innovators: people who come up with ideas and embody those ideas in high-growth companies.

Schumpeterians distinguish between “replicative” entrepreneurs (who set up small businesses much like other small businesses) and “innovative” entrepreneurs (who upset and disorganise the existing way of doing things). They also distinguish between “small businesses” and “high-growth businesses” (most small businesses…Continue reading
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