A More Humane Livestock Industry, Brought to You By Crispr

Hopes were running high for cow 401, and cow 401 serenely bore the weight of expectations. She entered the cattle chute obligingly, and as the vet searched her uterus, making full use of the plastic glove that covered his arm up to his shoulder, she uttered nary a moo. A week ago, Cow 401 and four other members of her experimental herd at UC Davis were in the early stages of pregnancy. But now, following a string of disappointing checkups, it was all down to her. Alison Van Eenennaam, the animal geneticist in charge of the proceedings, kept watch from off to one side, galoshes firmly planted in the damp manure, eyes fixed on a portable ultrasound monitor. After a few moments, the vet delivered his fifth and final diagnosis. “She’s not pregnant,” he said. Van Eenennaam looked up. “Ah, shit,” she muttered.

Cow 401 and her herdmates were the product of two and a half years of research, Van Eenennaam’s attempt to create a strain of gene-edited cattle specially suited to the needs of the beef industry. Had everything gone as planned, all the calves in this experiment would have been born male—physiologically, at least. Like humans, cattle carry two sex chromosomes; those born XX are female, and those born XY are male. But it isn’t the Y that makes the man. It’s a single gene, called SRY, that briefly flickers to life as an embryo grows and instructs it to develop male traits. Using Crispr, Van Eenennaam’s team added a copy of SRY to the X chromosome too. That way, even if a cow was born genetically female, she’d be expected to appear male all the same. Since beef ranchers generally prefer males to females (more meat for the money), Van Eenennaam believed there could someday be a market for these Crispr’d animals.

Christie Hemm Klok

More than that, though, the project was a proof of concept. One [...]  read more

For Workers in the Gig Economy, Client Interactions Can Get … Weird

If you work in the gig economy, things can get weird. Like sexually suggestive, or worse. Just ask Roxanne, 27, a freelance chef who hired herself out as an in-home cook through the Kitchensurfing app. (TaskRabbit for chefs, basically.)

One client, after his girlfriend was a no-show, asked Roxanne to join him for dinner on his rooftop. “I was like, ‘No, I’m going to leave,’ she says. ‘This is too much.’”

He pressured her to stay, eager to show off his new apartment, but she said she had another booking. “I try to leave it civil; I try to make sure the situation doesn’t end up coming off badly, just try to leave it like: ‘No, thank you anyway, but I’m going to head out,’”she says. “I don’t just plainly say, ‘No, you weirded me out. Now, good-bye.’”

And it’s not just chefs. Across the gig economy, independent contractors are navigating tricky sexual waters as they work—often inside the homes of their clients. They experience everything from suggestive looks to unwanted touching to frank propositions. It’s hard to know how to respond. And the already-ambiguous situation is further complicated by the fact that most gig workers are independent contractors who need good reviews [...]  read more

How YouTube Made a Star Out of This Super-Smart Film Critic

Lindsay Ellis is just about ready to start shooting a video in her personal studio—aka a tiny second-floor room in Ellis’ western Los Angeles home—and the 34-year-old writer and YouTube essayist is making some final preparations. She gently repositions a couple of pet tortoises resting in a tank nearby, so they won’t noisily thunk their heads against the wall mid-shoot. Then she heads to a shelf stocked with Transformers of varying sizes, colors, and allegiances.

“Which Starscream should I use?” she asks, scanning her collection. She eventually selects a handful of figures, including miniature-sized versions of Starscream and Windblade that recently appeared on her wedding cake, and carries them back to her desk

If you’ve seen any of Ellis’ videos on YouTube, where she has more than half a million subscribers, you’re no doubt aware of her love for all things robots-in-disguise-related. A Transformer sometimes appears in the background as she narrates one of her thoughtful, deeply researched film-criticism essays, which have included such entries as “The Ideology of the First Order” and “The Death of the Hollywood Movie Musical.”

And for the past two years, she’s been slowly rolling out The Whole Plate, a series that deconstructs the ear-drum-splitting mayhem of the Transformers franchise through various academic lenses: Feminism. Marxism. Auteur theory. (There’s even an entry titled “ [...]  read more

Monkeys With Superpower Eyes Could Help Cure Color Blindness

In the video, a preposterously cute grey squirrel monkey named Dalton bonks his head against a computer screen in front of him. Wide-eyed and muttonchopped, Dalton has quite the set up—the screen, wide in squirrel-monkey terms, displays dots of varying sizes and colors. Below that is a monkey-sized basin, like a sink in a dollhouse kitchen remodeled with stainless steel fixtures.

Dalton is doing science. Male squirrel monkeys don’t see color well; they have a kind of red-green colorblindness. Dalton’s eyes really only see medium and short wavelengths of light—blues and greens, and their overlap color, yellow. He’s what vision scientists call a protanope. With no receptor for reddish hues, he sees reds as dark yellows and yellow-browns, and greens as mostly yellow—to the extent that human color words mean anything to a monkey.

He isn’t really bonking his head; Dalton is trained to indicate when he can see a color on the screen. “He’s actually fairly carefully touching his tongue to the screen,” says Jay Neitz, a color vision researcher at the University of Washington. Dalton sticks his tongue out, Jay says, because he knows that when he recognizes a color, a drop of grape juice will appear in the basin. Dalton really likes grape juice. And a little click will sound in the background, another bit of reinforcement. When he sees a color, [...]  read more

Finding Lena Forsen, the Patron Saint of JPEGs

Every morning, Lena Forsen wakes up beneath a brass-trimmed wooden mantel clock dedicated to “The First Lady of the Internet.”

It was presented to her more than two decades ago by the Society for Imaging Science and Technology, in recognition of the pivotal—and altogether unexpected—role she played in shaping the digital world as we know it.

Among some computer engineers, Lena is a mythic figure, a mononym on par with Woz or Zuck. Whether or not you know her face, you’ve used the technology it helped create; practically every photo you’ve ever taken, every website you’ve ever visited, every meme you’ve ever shared owes some small debt to Lena. Yet today, as a 67-year-old retiree living in her native Sweden, she remains a little mystified by her own fame. “I’m just surprised that it never ends,” she told me recently.

Lena’s path to iconhood began in the pages of Playboy. In 1972, at the age of 21, she appeared as Miss November, wearing nothing but a feathered sun hat, boots, stockings, and a pink boa. (At her suggestion, the editors spelled her first name with an extra “n,” to encourage [...]  read more

How a Trash-Talking Furry Became Esports’ Dominant Player

Las Vegas may be the boxing capital of the world, but for a long weekend every summer, it becomes the mecca of a more vicarious form of combat.

Evo, short for the Evolution Championship Series, is the world’s most prestigious tournament for fighting videogames. Whether you specialize in a long-running series like Street Fighter or newer titles like BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, Evo is the Super Bowl of virtual hand-to-hand brawling. And last August, the most dramatic moments of Evo 2018 played out in a brand-new game.

Dragon Ball FighterZ had only arrived in stores months before, but it immediately found a following among the competitive ranks of fighting-game enthusiasts. Part of the game’s appeal was owing to the beloved anime series it was based on; more was a result of the game’s well-calibrated tag-team action; all of it was palpable in the thrumming Mandalay Bay Events Center when the finals bout took place. More than 2,500 people had registered to try their hand at FighterZ, making it the most popular game of the tournament, [...]  read more

One Couple’s Tireless Crusade to Stop a Genetic Killer

In retrospect, it might have been a clue. But in early 2010, when Kamni Vallabh first began to complain that her eyesight was failing, there didn’t seem to be much cause for concern. She was 51; maybe middle age was catching up with her. Maybe the harsh western Pennsylvania winter—two record-breaking blizzards in as many weeks—was wearing her down.

The previous summer, Kamni had been in good health. She’d single-handedly organized her daughter Sonia’s wedding, 300 guests drinking and dancing in the family’s backyard in Hermitage, a tight-knit former steel town. But by her birthday, that March, it was clear that something was seriously wrong. Once a poet, Kamni could barely string a sentence together. She was distractible, easily confused; when she misplaced the TV remote, she’d look for it in the pantry. Her body, too, was rapidly declining. By May, she couldn’t eat, stand, or bathe herself. She had trouble sleeping and spent her rare moments of lucidity grieving for the burden she had placed on her family. Sonia, who was 25 at the time and living in Boston, called her mother often and visited whenever she could. “She wasn’t scared so much as sad,” Sonia remembers. “She’d say things like, ‘Look at me now. I’m so useless.’ ”

As Kamni’s symptoms worsened, what had begun with a few visits to the ophthalmologist [...]  read more

Pan Am Flight 103: Robert Mueller’s 30-Year Search for Justice

Thirty years ago last Friday, on the darkest day of the year, 31,000 feet above one of the most remote parts of Europe, America suffered its first major terror attack.

Ten years ago last Friday, then FBI Director Robert Mueller bundled himself in his tan trench coat against the cold December air in Washington, his scarf wrapped tightly around his neck. Sitting on a small stage at Arlington National Cemetery, he scanned the faces arrayed before him—the victims he’d come to know over years, relatives and friends of husbands and wives who would never grow old, college students who would never graduate, business travelers and flight attendants who would never come home.

Burned into Mueller’s memory were the small items those victims had left behind, items that he’d seen on the shelves of a small wooden warehouse, outside Lockerbie, Scotland, a visit he would never forget: A teenager’s single white sneaker, an unworn Syracuse University sweatshirt, the wrapped Christmas gifts that would never be opened, a lonely teddy bear.

A decade before the attacks of 9/11—attacks that came during Mueller’s second week as FBI director and which had awoken [...]  read more

How a Reclusive Lizard Became a Prize Find for Wildlife Smugglers

On May 30, 2008, a research team armed with GPS units, notebooks, and binoculars set out into a dense patch of jungle in Indonesian Borneo. An oil palm company had commissioned them to survey the area for important environmental and cultural assets that might be impacted should the forest be converted into a plantation. They had no idea, however, that an “exceptional herpetofaunal discovery” awaited them that morning, they later wrote.

As midday approached, the sweating group decided to take a break from their uphill trek to have lunch next to a shallow, rocky stream bed. Glancing at the creek between bites, one of the local team members spotted something of note: a brownish-yellow reptile, about a foot long, that he referred to simply as kadal—the generic Indonesian word for “lizard.” The partially submerged creature had the elongated, snakelike body of a Chinese dragon, the facial features of a cartoon dinosaur, and the pronounced scales of a mini-alligator.

For a few minutes, the strange visitor became the focus of attention as the group photographed it and gently passed it around. To their amazement, it hardly struggled and did not try to bite them. Lunch soon resumed priority, though, and they put the creature back into the stream, where it sat, unmoving, for the next hour. As the group prepared to leave, one of the team members glanced back for a final look and noted that it had disappeared.

Excerpted from POACHED: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Trafficking by Rachel Love Nuwer.

Scribe [...]  read more

The 25 Most-Read WIRED Stories of 2018

CNMN Collection

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