Monday, February 4, 2013

2012's Science Fiction Facts!

First saw this link on Google+: 27 science fiction facts made real in 2012. Pretty awesome to think every flower in Wales has had its DNA decoded, and that we're printing replacement jaw bones of titanium on command, and that we've made a flexible and cheap solar panel. Oh, and only a little scary to think about driverless cars being street legal--but maybe that's just that old I, Robot movie talking.

What do you think about these new science facts? What do you hope we'll see in 2013?


  1. I'd heard of seven of these, but most of were news to me (oh, media, how I love your priorities). This is pretty amazing stuff. I can't wait to see what Voyager finds when the solar wind is no longer hitting it at all. And HOLODECK. I've always wanted a holodeck.
    Barcoding isn't as perfect as you'd think- especially when you have multiple recently-diverged species. Even with distance species, similarities can randomly appear completely independently of one another after long periods of divergence. I once entered a caiman sequence into a big barcoding database and it was 98% sure what I had was really an arachnid. You kind of ignore anything that doesn't match 100%...
    With plants, I'd be worried about hybridization. A barcode would give you one species when it's really a combination of two (barcoding is based on mitochondrial DNA, which only comes from the mother). Hopefully they'd keep morphological records as well to get around that possibility, but I kind of doubt it. However, it's still impressive that they've barcoded all the flowering plants in Wales.

    1. That's an awfully gator-ish looking spider ya have there... 0.o And barcoding every flowering plant in Wales now sounds even more amazingly complicated. I guess they just set a standard and say "if it's at least this close, we'll call it this."

      Meet me on Holodeck 3; we're having virtual tea with holo-Picard. Don't wear red. ^_^ Also, I also can't wait to learn what's outside the solar system! (rubs hands in impatient glee... but doesn't hold breath)

    2. 'I guess they just set a standard and say "if it's at least this close, we'll call it this."'
      - Which is exactly what significance-based statistics is all about (p-values, anyone?). There has to be a cutoff somewhere, so someone picks it based on their observations. If it's far away from that cutoff- yay! If not, maybe or maybe not a yay. It's not completely objective, but in many cases, picking a cutoff is the only way to make the continuum of the natural world fall into neat categories so our brains don't explode when we're trying to understand things.

      There's a single gene in mitochondrial DNA which is less prone to change than your average gene. I'm used to thinking in terms of animals, so I did some digging and they actually use two chloroplast genes for plants. That's what people look at when barcoding.

      I kind of poo-pooed barcoding in my previous comment, but that was only to counter the uppity-ness of a lot of the people who do the stuff. It's utility is still debated, with respected scientists on both sides of the argument. It does have the potential to be very useful as a means of identification, particularly when traces of DNA are all you have. For example: it's less time-consuming than looking at multiple genes to figure out that that skipjack tuna you've been eating is actual endangered bluefin. That also means it's more prone to error, but it's an additional line of evidence and multiple lines of evidence are more robust than one.

    3. Two chloroplat genes--interesting! And you're right... I can see the use of being able to figure out where your food came from. It would certainly help consumers enforce ethical food sourcing. Although on the whole, I can't see a ton of other uses for knowing which DNA that flowering plant has.

    4. I can see it being used in forensic cases.

  2. I'd really like teleporting to be "real." I hate driving in the car for hours.

  3. SO COOL SO COOL SO COOL!!!!! I'm really excited about this stuff--the stem-cell thing, especially. But also self-driving cars (although I do love to drive) and mind-control devices and bendy glass and and and. I saw a lot of these in another roundup, but several were new, so thanks!

    The one that really scares me, actually, is the "invisibility cloak." Super dangerous in the wrong hands, don't you think?