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Nanotechnology sunscreen risk may be no small thing

CHICAGO — Zinc oxide would be the perfect sunscreen ingredient if the product didn't look quite so silly. Thick, white and pasty, it was once seen mostly on lifeguards, surfers and others who needed serious protection. But when sunscreens are made with nanoparticles, the tiniest substances that humans can engineer, they turn clear, which makes them more user-friendly.

Sunscreen is just one of the many uses of nanotechnology, which drastically shrinks and fundamentally changes the structure of chemical compounds, but products made with nanomaterials also raise largely unanswered safety questions; such as whether the particles that make them effective can be absorbed into the bloodstream and are toxic to living cells.

In the case of sunscreen, nano-particle toxicity depends on a variety of factors, including their size, structure, surface properties or coating and ability to clump together. In April, the FDA ruled that topical use of nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens is safe. The agency found 'minimal' evidence of the further penetration down to the capillary beds that would be necessary for systemic delivery to the organs, where it could have potentially deleterious effects. 

Less than two decades old, the nanotech industry is booming. Nanoparticles, measured in billionths of a meter, are already found in thousands of consumer products: cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, anti-microbial toys, sports equipment, food packaging and electronics. 

Nanomaterials help make light and sturdy tennis rackets, clothes that don't stain and stink-free socks.  But applications for nanotechnology are rapidly outpacing what scientists know about safe use. The same unusual properties that make nanoscale materials attractive may also pose unexpected risks to human health and the environment, according to the scientific literature.

“We haven't characterized these materials very well yet in terms of what the potential impacts on living organisms could be,” said Kathleen Eggleson, a research scientist at the Center for Nanoscience and Technology at the University of Notre Dame.

Scientists don't yet know how long nanoparticles stay in the human body or what they might do there. Animal research has found that inhaled nanoparticles can reach all areas of the respiratory tract; because of their small size and shape, and they can migrate quickly into cells and organs. "The smaller particles may pose risks to the heart and blood vessels, the central nervous system and the immune system, "says the Food and Drug Administration. 

Animal studies have shown that some nanoscale materials can cross the blood-brain barrier, which could allow pharmaceuticals to deliver medicine directly to the brain to treat tumors, but there's also evidence that some nanoparticles could cause damage. "Still unknown is how significant (potential damage) would be, how much nano-material would be needed to cause appreciable harm, and how well the body would be able to deal with the material and recover,” said Andrew Maynard, director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center.

The FDA acknowledged for the first time in April that nano-materials have potential new risks that may require testing. In draft guidelines on the safety of nano-materials in cosmetics, it advised companies to consult with the FDA to find out the best way to test products. The FDA plans to assess nano-enabled products on a case-by-case basis. Basic questions include which materials are harmful to humans or the environment, how exposure should be measured and what happens to nano-particles once they enter a body of water or the soil. In some cases, nano-materials have been linked to toxic effects, but scientists don't know why.

In 2009, developers generated $1 billion from sale of nano-materials; the market is expected to hit $3 trillion by 2015, says the National Research Council. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency found data gaps in six critical areas, including a review of human health and toxicological data. In January, the Research Council warned that little progress has been made on the effects of ingested nano-materials on human health.


Mad Scientists Create A Monster Using Your Genetic Code


One scientist’s vision for the future hinges on the idea of DNA as software and the creation of synthetic biological entities. His ideas inspire both hope and serious ethical quandaries. Genome expert Dr. J. Craig Venter gave a speech outlining his vision for the future of genetics at Trinity College, Dublin, and the scientist didn’t shy away from bold pronouncements. Venter described DNA as human software and suggested downloadable versions of genetic code could eradicate viruses, create new foodstuffs, foster renewable energy sources and generally transform life. Venter endorsed the idea of creating synthetic biological entities using digital technology, framing himself as a biological pioneer and challenging common conceptions of what it means to be a living thing. He named his talk ‘What is Life?’ after famed physicist Erwin Schrodinger’s pivotal lecture of the same name, belying a strong desire to make a significant contribution. Schrodinger inspired Watson and Crick’s DNA discovery, so Venter is aiming high.

(It has been reported this technology has been around for quite some time and has been used in cloning presidents, movie personalities, and world figures).


Beware Of The Singularity

One of the founding engineers of Skype and Kazaa wants to sound a warning to the human race: fasten your seatbelts, as machines are becoming so intelligent that they could pose an existential threat. Jaan Tallinn, in Australia at the moment, argues human-driven technological progress has largely replaced evolution as the dominant force shaping our future. Machines are becoming smarter than we are, but Tallinn warns that if we are not careful this could lead to a sudden global ecological catastrophe. This sounds like science fiction stuff, but consider the breadth of domains where computers have already caught up to - and then dominated - humans. We have already programmed computers to be better than us at classic games like chess, better drivers, better at voice and face recognition and, as IBM's Watson computer proved, even better at the game ‘Jeopardy‘.

Surpassing the human mind ~

In a wide-ranging interview,** Mr. Ray Kurzweil and The Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray discussed advances in artificial intelligence, nano-technology, and what it means to be human. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation: 

Mr. Murray: "If I'm reading your book correctly, basically what you're telling us is not only do we understand the human mind, but we are well on our way to being able to replicate it and, frankly, do better."

Mr. Kurzweil:  "Right. We have 300 million pattern recognizers in our neo-cortex. At the low level, it's recognizing shapes and contours. The next higher level will say, "Aha. An actual apple is in my visual field."  Another place says, "Well, someone just said the word 'apple.' "

**Raymond "Ray" Kurzweil was born February 12, 1948).  He is an American
author, inventor and futurist. Aside from futurology, he is involved in fields such as optical character recognition (OCR), test-to-speech synthesis, speech recognition  technology, and electronic keyboard instruments. He is the author of several books on health, artificial intelligence (AI), transhumanism, the technological singularity, and futurism.  Kurzweil is generally recognized as a public advocate for the futurist and transhumanist movements, due to his stances on life extension  technologies, his efforts to forecast future advances in technology, and his interest in the concept of the technological singularity. At the same time, he has attracted significant criticism from scientists and thinkers.

Scientists set to show how they hacked Hawking’s brain -

After months of tweaking, researchers are finally ready to show off a high-tech headband that can translate Stephen Hawking's brain waves into speech -  providing what could eventually become an easier avenue for the paralyzed British physicist and many others to share their deep thoughts. The system, developed by San Diego-based NeuroVigil and known as iBrain, uses a head-mounted receiver the size of a matchbox to pick up different types of brain waves. iBrain employs a computer algorithm called SPEARS to analyze the brain emanations and encode them for a text-based speech reader. Philip Low, NeuroVigil's founder, chairman, and CEO, is to present the latest results from his work with Hawking on July 7 at a Cambridge conference on consciousness.


Billionaires Crave Eternal Life

Though a sucker may be born every minute, few grow up to be billionaires. But maybe one’s enough. That seems to be the business model behind today’s wacky story about a Russian entrepreneur who wants the world’s billionaires to fund a project to find the 'key to immortality'. The entrepreneur, Dmitry Itskov, expects the first fruits in about a dozen years, when a human brain is to be transplanted into a robot body. The resulting 'avatar', as he calls it, will save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged. It’s a rather convenient timeline. Although Itskov is only 31 years old and can wait a while, the billionaires he’s canvassing on Forbes magazine’s annual list have an average age of around 66 years. Those guys can’t wait forever.

(Rumor has it that this technology already exists and has been utilized with  'clone' technology).


Researchers from the Advanced Virtuality Lab at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, just got one step step closer to creating an actual Avatar-like computer interface. As in the Hollywood movie by James Cameron, this would mean that a human could control an ‘avatar’ - in this case a robot - not a cloned alien - remotely, and by thought alone. Recently Ori Cohen and Doron Friedman enabled a human subject located in Israel to effectively direct the movements of a robot located nearly 3000km (1800mi) away at the Bèziers Technology Institute in France. This experiment was associated with the Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-Embodiment (VERE) project whose stated aim is: 'dissolving the boundary between the human body and surrogate representations in immersive virtual reality and physical reality'.


Melinda Gates: Family Planning Means Sterilizing Women In Developing Nations

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) are hosting The London Family Planning Summit (LFPS) where they will purvey their depopulation and eugenics agenda in the name of women’s rights. Both governmental and private sector representatives will be in attendance; where not only will lucrative deals for provision of contraception will be made, but the BMGF will secure donated funds to bring their brand of depopulation to third world nations. The BMGF assert that by 2050 'the global population is expected to grow to over 9 billion people' and this is unacceptable to them. By applying pressure to social programs and resources, the BMGF want to use family planning as an investment for all national governments globally.

Interesting how money corrupts moral judgment