Robotic trunk 🐘 Tobacco vaccine 💉 McPlant meat 🌱!

Technology News

New ‘robotic snake’ device grips, picks up objects

Nature has inspired engineers to develop a soft fabric robotic gripper which behaves like an elephant’s trunk to grasp, pick up and release objects without breaking them. “This device also has an enhanced real-time force sensor which is 15 times more sensitive than conventional designs and detects the grip strength required to prevent damage to objects it’s handling. There is also a thermally-activated mechanism that can change the gripper body from flexible to stiff and vice versa, enabling it to grasp and hold objects of various shapes and weights – up to 220 times heavier than the gripper’s mass.”

The world’s first crewed Hyperloop trip was a success

Virgin Hyperloop has taken a massive step closer to realizing its new form of transport with its first crewed test. Company co-founder Josh Giegel and head of Passenger Experience Sara Luchian were on board for the first run. The pair traveled in a brand new, second-generation Hyperloop pod, codenamed XP-2, the “Pegasus Pod.” In order to maintain a comfortable experience for acceleration and braking, the capsule’s speed in this test was limited to 107 miles per hour due to the 500m length of the tube. Greater speeds are likely to be demonstrated when the second Hyperloop facility is built in West Virginia. 

Science News

First-Ever Flu Vaccine Derived From Tobacco Plants Just Smashed Clinical Trials

A new flu vaccine grown in plants has been put to the test in two large-scale clinical trials. The results suggest that the vaccine is not only safe, but comparable to current commercial flu vaccines. The vaccine contained virus-like particles which resembled circulating flu strains, extracted from native Australian tobacco relatives that were genetically instructed to produce the viral proteins. “To the best of our knowledge, these studies and the clinical development programme that preceded them are the largest demonstration to date of the potential for a plant-based platform to produce a human vaccine that can be safe, immunogenic, and effective.”

Brain Region Tracking Food Preferences Could Steer Our Food Choices

Researchers discovered that a specific brain region monitors food preferences as they change across thirsty and quenched states. In rats, “we saw that the neural activity when tasting the sucrose gradually increased over time while the neural activity when tasting the water decreased, which gave us evidence that the brain signal is closely related to the change in preference as the subjects became less thirsty and were less interested in the water.” The researchers were able to artificially manipulate the ventral pallidum neurons to force a shift in preference from the more desired sugar water to a less desirable flavor.

Business News

McDonald’s to make its own ‘McPlant’ items, hits faux meat maker Beyond Meat

McDonald’s said it would debut its own plant-based meat alternatives called “McPlant” in 2021. McDonald’s said under its McPlant line, it could offer products including burgers, chicken substitutes and breakfast sandwiches, which it expects to test in some markets in 2021. “Plant-based products are an ongoing consumer trend. It’s not a matter of if McDonald’s will get into plant-based, it’s a matter of when.” The decision hit shares of plant-based meat maker Beyond Meat, which was seen as the front runner for a contract as it had conducted tests of a so-called “P.L.T.” burger at nearly 100 McDonald’s locations in Ontario, Canada.

Global stocks are soaring on hopes of a coronavirus vaccine

Global stocks and US futures surged after drugmaker Pfizer said that an early look at data from its coronavirus vaccine shows it’s more than 90% effective. Stocks were rallying even before the news of a potential vaccine broke, as investors reacted positively to greater political certainty following Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election. The coronavirus remains a major risk to the economy and markets, which is why traders are reacting so enthusiastically to the news that Pfizer will seek emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration for its vaccine candidate. The vaccine is made together with German partner, BioNTech.

Miscellaneous News

An endangered white rhino was born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park

A white rhinoceros was born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, an important milestone for the near-threatened species. Kendi was pregnant for 16 months before giving birth to a male calf. The rhino will join the “crash,” or group of rhinos, at the theme park’s savannah, where visitors can see the calf in its habitat while aboard the park’s Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction. Kendi and Dugan, the father of the baby, were paired through a Species Survival Plan led by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which oversee the “responsible breeding of endangered species.”

Chris Nikic becomes first person with Down’s syndrome to finish an Ironman triathlon

A 21-year-old triathlete from Florida has become the first person with Down’s syndrome to finish an Ironman event – swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running a 26.2-mile marathon. Chris Nikic crossed the line in 16 hours 46 minutes nine seconds – less than 14 minutes under the official cut-off time – to earn official recognition from Guinness World Records. “You have shattered barriers while proving without a doubt that anything is possible.” He now has his eyes set on a being part of the 2022 Special Olympics, which will take place in Orlando, Florida.

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