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How rice gene edited with CRISPR could help tackle climate change

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Can gene-editing technology CRISPR create new crops that help fight climate change as they grow? That’s what a group of researchers hopes to do with $11 million in funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The funding will go toward efforts to enhance plants — starting with rice — and soil so that they’re better at trapping carbon dioxide. The effort, which was announced last week, is being led by the Innovative Genomics Institute, which was founded by Nobel laureate and co-inventor of CRISPR Jennifer Doudna.

“[Jennifer] and I saw eye to eye on climate and how big of a problem it is in the world. And we just didn’t want to sit on the sidelines anymore,” says Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) executive director Brad Ringeisen.

Climate experts overwhelmingly agree that the only way to truly tackle climate change is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we’re sending into the air as we burn fossil fuels to generate electricity or power trains, planes, and cars. But humans have already dumped so much planet-heating pollution in the atmosphere that we also need to find ways to clean up some of the existing mess and prevent even more catastrophic climate change. One way to accomplish that is through plants. Plants naturally take in a common greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, during photosynthesis. Eventually, they transfer that carbon into the soil.

CRISPR can be used to make precise changes in a plant’s genome to produce desired traits. There are three targets for gene editing in IGI’s carbon removal mission. It starts with trying to make photosynthesis more efficient in plants so that they’re even better at capturing as much CO2 as possible. Second, IGI is interested in developing crops with longer roots. Plants transfer carbon into the soil through their roots (as well as from the rest of their bodies when they die). Longer roots can deposit the carbon deeper into the soil so that it isn’t so easily released into the atmosphere again. A similar effort to influence plants’ genes and develop crops with more robust roots is underway at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which received $30 million from the Bezos Earth Fund in 2020.

That brings us to the third arm of IGI’s research: boosting the soil’s capacity to store, rather than release, greenhouse gasses. Soil doesn’t typically hold onto carbon for very long. It escapes back into the atmosphere through soil microbes’ respiration as they break down plant matter. And techniques used in modern agriculture, like tilling, accelerate this process and allow soil to lose more of its carbon. One potential outcome of IGI’s CRISPR research, according to Ringeisen, is a product that could be added to the dirt to nurture a soil microbiome that holds onto carbon longer.

These are all heavy lifts that are still a very long way from fruition. The $11 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative funds three years of research, and Ringeisen expects “real world impact by seven to 10 years.” Even if they are successful at genetically engineering plants and soil microbes within that timeframe, scaling up to have a meaningful impact on the climate will still be a huge challenge.

“Plants are already extremely efficient carbon fixing machines, resulting from millions of years of evolution, so I still remain to be convinced that CRISPR can do much to improve carbon sequestration at the scale we need,” César Terrer, an assistant professor at MIT who leads a lab focused on plant-soil interactions, writes to The Verge in an email.

Terrer is not involved in the project, but he was previously a fellow at one of the institutions involved, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, “and if someone can do this [it’s] them,” he writes. Still, he cautions that focusing on ways to engineer nature to help us with climate change can be a distraction from the more urgent need to cut greenhouse gas pollution in the first place.

Agriculture is already responsible for its own enormous carbon footprint — much of it coming from livestock and fertilizer. Rice cultivation is also a big culprit for methane emissions since soggy rice paddies are an ideal home for methane-producing microbes. IGI is working on this problem as well, again looking at altering roots and microbes in the soil.

The rice genome is easier to manipulate than other crops, according to Ringeisen, in part because it’s already been studied a lot and is well understood. One of the scientists involved in IGI’s initiative is Pamela Ronald, whose research is widely known for leading to the development of rice varieties that tolerate flooding for much longer than other types using a different type of genetic engineering that’s more like precision breeding. That rice is now grown by more than 6 million farmers across India and Bangladesh, according to Ronald’s laboratory at the University of California, Davis.

IGI’s work won’t stop with rice. Sorghum is another prime candidate for gene editing to boost carbon removal, according to Ringeisen. He’s also hopeful that any new varieties they develop will come with extra incentives for farmers, like more abundant harvests that result from more efficient photosynthesis. But that’s still a few years in the future. IGI hopes to begin international field trials with farmers about three years after their research into CRISPR rice gets underway.



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‘Axie Infinity’ hack victims will only get back around a third of what they lost

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Sky Mavis, the developer of blockchain game Axie Infinity, says it will start reimbursing the victims of a $617 million hack that took place earlier this year. The attackers took $25.5 million in USDC (a stablecoin that’s pegged to the value of the US dollar) and 173,600 ether, which was worth around $591.2 million at the time. The FBI claimed North Korean state-backed hacker groups were behind the attack.

Impacted Axie Infinity players will be able to withdraw one ether token for each one they lost in the hack, Sky Mavis told Bloomberg (the company didn’t mention a USDC reimbursement). However, as with other cryptocurrencies, the value of Ethereum has plummeted since the attack in March. 

Because of that, Sky Mavis will return around $216.5 million to users. It’s possible that the price of Ethereum will rise again, but as things stand, affected users will get back around a third of what they lost.

In April, Sky Mavis raised $150 million in funding to help it pay back the victims. The developer plans to reimburse affected users on June 28th, when it restarts the Ronin software bridge that the hackers targeted. 

Axie Infinity is widely considered the most popular play-to-earn game. Players collect and mint NFTs representing creatures that battle each other, Pokémon-style. These NFTs can be sold to other players, with Sky Mavis charging a transaction fee. By February, Axie Infinity had facilitated $4 billion in NFT sales.

However, the NFT market has all but bottomed out, which has had a significant impact on Axie Infinity. For one thing, according to Bloomberg, the daily active user count dropped from 2.7 million in November to a quarter of that by the end of May.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.



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Snoop Dogg and Eminem’s Bored Ape music video is here to try and sell us on tokens

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The last couple of weeks have had a lot of bad news for some in the “web3” space, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at announcements in and around the recently-ended NFT.NYC and ApeFest 2022 events. The Bored Ape Yacht Club’s (BAYC) annual event in particular brought in musicians like The Roots, LCD Soundsystem, Haim, Lil Baby, Lil Wayne, and others to perform for its members. On the final day of the event, guests saw the premiere of this video from two of the celebrities who’ve purchased tokens, Eminem and Snoop Dogg.

The video is for a new song, From The D 2 The LBC, that isn’t the most memorable of collaborations and is mostly about smoking weed, but it constantly splices in images of the cartoon apes. Many BAYC members were disappointed in February when both men performed in the Super Bowl halftime show, and despite appearing during an event that featured crypto ads seemingly every few minutes, failed to highlight their web3 endeavors.

The price of ApeCoin has dropped 39 percent in the last month to $4.51 after peaking in late April at more than $23, while Bitcoin and Ethereum’s values are also about 38 percent lower than they were 12 months ago. The Wall Street Journal wrote on May 3rd that “NFT Sales Are Flatlining,” and the numbers haven’t improved overall since then. That report cited an NFT from Snoop’s own collection, Doggy #4292, that sold for more than $33k several months ago. Its owner currently lists the item for sale at a price of nearly $11 million, and while the highest bid at the time of the article was $210, right now someone is offering $1,218. You can see the animation or download high-res still of it from its source website right here, for free.

Despite that, now BAYC owners can point to music that uses characters from the club they spent so much money to join. Plus, they did get to see the real Snoop Dogg perform, not the fake one that some web3 company fooled people with this week during NFT.NYC.

The rappers’ NFTs were both acquired via third parties in December, near the time prices for Bitcoin and Ethereum’s most recent peaks. In a deal executed by the digital agency Six, it cost 123.45 ETH to obtain Eminem’s Bored Ape #9055. At the time, that was worth about $460,000 but it’s now equivalent to around $150,000.

The ape icon associated with Snoop Dogg, #6723, was moved in a transfer from the previous owner’s wallet, not a sale with a price recorded on the blockchain, which was enabled by MoonPay. The company has focused on making it easy for celebrities to buy high-priced NFTs, although it also makes it difficult to track exactly how these celebrity-affiliated tokens were obtained, and who actually paid the much-publicized prices.

Opening up the ability for token owners to use the images of the apes for their creative or business endeavors is a part of the Bored Ape Yacht Club’s strategy, even if it’s unclear why or how that will increase the appeal to people who haven’t spent six figures on an NFT. The way they see it, this is the beginning of a new media industry, with intellectual property rights linked to digital tokens with monetization that trickles down to everyone associated.

The truth about NFTs and copyright is a lot more complicated than that — you can follow our explanation of the state of things right here. But for now, the parties go on, with plenty of things for BAYC owners Yuga Labs to sell to members who are sticking around, like merchandise and promises of land in a metaverse that hasn’t launched yet.





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Paralyzed race driver completes Goodwood hill climb using head movement to steer

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Former Indy Racing League competitor Sam Schmidt is continuing to break new ground for accessible driving technology. The Arrow McLaren SP team co-owner has completed the signature hill climb at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed using head movements and his breath to steer — the first time anyone has demonstrated the feature at the UK event. Schmidt drove a McLaren 720S Spider modified by Arrow Electronics to track his head using infrared cameras. He controlled acceleration and braking by inhaling and exhaling through a “sip-and-puff” device. The racer also wore a semi-autonomous exoskeleton concept, the SAM Suit, that helps him walk.

Schmidt became quadriplegic in 2000 when he injured his spinal cord in a practice lap crash. He has long been an advocate for paralysis treatment, and in 2014 partnered with Arrow to drive a Corvette using a combination of head tracking, sip-and-puff and voice controls. In 2016, became the first American with a license to use an autonomous vehicle on highways, using a Corvette to drive in Nevada.

While alternative mobility solutions can return some level of autonomy to those no longer able to operate a vehicle for one reason or another, it’s not entirely clear what role Arrow’s technology might play in the future. We’ve reached out to the company for details on where it sees projects like the SAM heading. Arrow will also be racing against self-driving tech, which is becoming closer to a practical reality, with Level 3 autonomy already reaching public roads. With that said, completely driverless cars (Level 5 autonomy) will take years to arrive.

Update 6/24/22 7:27pm ET: Reached for comment, an Arrow spokesperson told Engadget that while SAM “is not precisely open source” the tech may be “available for future development if Arrow approves.”

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.



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