Cells, Data, Vaccines, Moving, Disinformation

A weekly selection of fine writing from Conked.


A Newfound Source of Cellular Order in the Chemistry of Life

Viviane Callier | Wired | 10 JAN 2021

There are over five billion proteins within a typical cell, and experiments have recently discovered that some proteins cluster into "transient assemblies called condensates". This is improving our understanding of how cells work and how fast some cellular processes operate. Condensates are involved with gene expression, how proteins are produced and when changing cell size so also is the concentration of proteins and the size of the nucleoli. Interesting research is looking for condensates in bacteria because they do not have membrane-bound compartments and overall smaller cell size. A study shows that slow-growing e.coli bacteria in cells have enzymes distributed evenly, but fast-growing cells show droplet clusters. (3,304 words)

New Research Could Enable Direct Data Transfer From Computers to Living Cells

Edd Gent | Singularity Hub | 11 JAN 2021

Our world is producing data at such a rate that storing it is becoming an issue. Researchers are now investigating a way to write "digital data directly into the genomes of living cells." Hard drives have nowhere near the capacity because just a single gram of DNA is capable of stably storing 215 million gigabytes. How to enable computers and data with biochemical genetics? Currently, it needs to be done in the lab by synthesizing DNA - an expensive and complicated process. The sequences then need to be stored carefully in vitro until accessed or spliced onto living cells. Now researchers have shown a new approach. (948 words)

22 Orphans Gave Up Everything to Distribute the World’s First Vaccine

Sam Kean | The Atlantic |  JAN 2021

While governments around the world grapple with the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine, this story explains how Spain in the 18th century used orphans to distribute the smallpox vaccine. Smallpox killed large numbers of people or left them blind or scarred forever, yet if they caught cowpox, they were immune. The British doctor who discovered this began deliberately infecting people with cowpox to render them immune to smallpox. This worked easily in Europe, but the process did not remain effective over large distances let alone to far-flung countries where it was desperately needed. The daring solution involved 22 Spanish orphans on a ship that set sail in November 1803. (1,576 words)

Ten Years, Seven Houses: The Wandering Life of the Itinerant Writer

Sarah Moss | Literary Hub | 12 JAN 2021

Writer Sarah Moss explains in this article why she and her family have moved so often, three countries and seven houses in ten years. Every move, she explains, she expects to be the house they stay so she can grow old there, yet again and again she is driven to a new environment, even in the middle of a pandemic. A move under Covid is different due to required sanitary procedures and restrictions on how far from their new base they could range, let alone house-hunting under lockdown. And yet it is the lust for "new skies and seas and languages and customs" that invigorate her. (1,496 words)

How Social Media’s Obsession with Scale Supercharged Disinformation

Joan Donavan | Harvard Business Review | 13 JAN 2021

In the wake of the Capitol siege, there have been numerous questions about the role of social media in disseminating disinformation and lack of moderation on their platforms. A time of reckoning is now occurring as many belatedly face consequences for allowing posts inciting violence on their platforms yet for over ten years their business model has been to pursue growth. This focus left them vulnerable to exploitation, whether by fake followers or junk news and moved fringe groups like QAnon into the mainstream. With platforms focus on growth, these groups provided high engagement and benefitted from recommendations. Where to from here? (1,283 words)


“The present changes the past. Looking back you do not find what you left behind.”

― Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss

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Rand Leeb-du Toit, Conkerer

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