Crop sniffing 🌾 Methane snow 🌨️ Furniture buy back 🛋️!

Technology News

Alphabet’s latest X project is a crop-sniffing plant buggy

Alphabet’s X lab has taken the wraps off its computational agriculture project the company is calling Mineral. The project is focused on sustainable food production and farming at large scales. One of the tools developed is a new four-wheel rover-like prototype, what the Mineral team are calling a plant buggy, to study crops, soil, and other environmental factors using a mix of cameras, sensors, and other onboard equipment. The team then uses the data collected and combines it with satellite imagery and weather data to create predictive models for how the plants will grow using machine learning and other AI training techniques.

New virtual reality software allows scientists to ‘walk’ inside cells

The software, called vLUME, allows super-resolution microscopy data to be visualised and analysed in virtual reality. “It allows scientists to visualise, question and interact with 3D biological data, in real time all within a virtual reality environment, to find answers to biological questions faster. It’s a new tool for new discoveries.” The software allows multiple datasets with millions of data points to be loaded in and finds patterns in the complex data using in-built clustering algorithms. “This software allows researchers to explore, analyse, segment and share their data in new ways. All you need is a VR headset.”

Science News

Scientists may have solved the mystery behind Pluto’s snowcapped mountains

A team of scientists have discovered the atmospheric process behind Pluto’s snowcapped mountains. Unlike the water that makes up Earth’s snow, that found on Pluto is made of methane, a type of greenhouse gas which, on this icy planetary body, acts like water vapor does on Earth. Pluto’s atmosphere is warmer at higher altitudes due to solar radiation. And the methane vapor is more abundant at higher altitudes. The methane only condenses to form snow on mountains that are high enough to reach this level of the atmosphere. This climate mechanism may be unique to Pluto, and has never been observed anywhere else in the universe.

To make mini-organs grow faster, give them a squeeze

Researchers have found that, even in the microscopic environment within a single cell, physical crowding increases the chance for interactions, in a way that can significantly alter a cell’s health and development. The researchers have shown that physically squeezing cells, and crowding their contents, can trigger cells to grow and divide faster than they normally would. Squeezing acts to wring water out of a cell. With less water to swim in, proteins and other cell constituents are packed closer together. And when certain proteins are brought in close proximity, they can trigger cell signaling and activate genes within the cell.

Business News

Ikea to buy back used furniture in recycling push

Ikea is planning a second-hand furniture venture. The Swedish giant will next month launch a scheme to buy back your unwanted Billy bookcases, and certain other of its furniture items you no longer need or want. Under the plan, it will offer vouchers worth up to 50% of the original price, to be spent at its stores. The “Buy Back” initiative will launch to coincide with Black Friday. The international scheme will see customers given vouchers to spend at Ikea stores, the value of which will depend on the condition of the items they are returning. Customers must log the item they wish to return and will then be given an estimate of its value.

BlackRock is soaring as investors plow money into ETFs

BlackRock, the owner of the wildly popular iShares family of exchange-traded funds and the world’s largest asset manager, has gotten even bigger during the Covid-19 pandemic. BlackRock now has $7.8 trillion in assets under management, a 12% increase from last year. “As investors around the world navigate current uncertainty, including the pandemic and uneven economic recovery, BlackRock is serving clients’ needs with global insights, strategic advice and whole-portfolio solutions.” The continued allure of passively managed index funds is a big reason why BlackRock is thriving during these volatile times for the market.

Miscellaneous News

The Great Barrier Reef has lost half its corals within 3 decades

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has lost 50% of its coral populations in the last three decades, with climate change a key driver of reef disturbance. Researchers assessed coral communities and their colony size between 1995 and 2017, finding depletion of virtually all coral populations. Coral reefs are some of the most vibrant marine ecosystems on the planet — between a quarter and one third of all marine species rely on them at some point in their life cycle. The Great Barrier Reef is home to more than 1,500 species of fish, 411 species of hard corals and dozens of other species.

Dunkin’ adds a spicy donut for the first time ever

Dunkin’ is adding its first-ever spicy donut, and it’s spooky too. The Spicy Ghost Pepper Donut is described as a “deliciously daring donut.” It’s baked with a classic yeast dough and topped with strawberry icing that’s mixed with a blend of cayenne and ghost pepper, one of the hottest chili peppers in the world. Like most fast food places, Dunkin’ adds quirky menu items and promotes marketing ploys to bring customers into their stores. Fast food is a zero-loyalty business with razor-thin margins, so any bump in customers is a major win.

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