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Global Key Rail Projects – Not Just Hyperloop!

2017 and beyond is set to be an important year for transportation, not just on land but also air and water. However, one avenue of transport that interests us the most are the global railway infrastructure projects.

Amid news that construction of the first Hyperloop project has begun in Toulouse, France, and other locations around the world are set to follow suit, below are a few of the latest innovative rail projects cropping up worldwide.

Here, we have selected the seven wonders of the railway world.

Hyperloop

The first full-scale model will be up and running by the beginning of 2018. Construction has begun in Toulouse, France and other locations including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Poland, California and Canada are close behind. The Hyperloop capsule will measure 30m in length, 2.7 m in diameter and weighs in at 20 tons. The fastest train in Japan, the Maglev bullet train, goes up to 374 mph (603 kph), but the Hyperloop capsule is expected to move at speeds of 760 mph (1223 km) per hour.

Rail Projects Around The WorldStandard Gauge Railway, Kenya

With the help of Chinese investors, Kenya Railways Corporation is building an epic new standard gauge railway (SGR) link between Mombasa and Nairobi and cutting the ten-hour journey time to just four hours. Costing close to $4 billion, the 609km-long line is expected to be completed by December 2018. The country has an overall SGR master plan which aims to connect Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan at a cost of $13 billion.

 

Melbourne Metro Tunnel, Australia

The Melbourne Metro Tunnel is set for construction in 2018. Excavation work will begin in the center of Melbourne to dig the tunnel deep beneath the city. The metro is expected to open in 2026 with two 9km tunnels at an estimated cost of $11bn.

Crossrail, UK

London’s Elizabeth line, or Crossrail, will launch in 2019 with 66 Class 345, 200m-long trains. These stat-of the-art trains will play a key role in London’s future, helping to deliver a modern, world-class transport system through the new Elizabeth line and enabling London’s transport network to cope as the UK and London’s population rises.

North-South Railway, Saudi ArabiaNorth-South Railway, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s North-South Railway is set to open in 2018. The 2,400km route will include state-of-the-art trains and is split between a 1,486km freight route and a 1,250km passenger line. Stopping at Riyadh, Al-Majma’ah, Qasim, Hail and Jouf, it will be the first major train line to connect most of the country.

 

Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high speed line, Singapore

The Kuala Lumpur-Singapore line is due to open in 2026. Trains will run at 300 km/h, with stations planned at Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Seremban, Ayer Keroh, Muar, Batu Pahat, Iskandar Puteri and Singapore. Developers claim the travel time from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore will be just 90 minutes. The project is costing an estimated $15billion.

High Speed 2, UK

Construction is scheduled for 2018 for a high-speed line between London and Birmingham. The line is expected to include stat-of-the art technology and carriages to aid customer travel experience and reduce travel times dramatically. However, there are many issue forming within government on how plans are developing and phase one is currently only penciled in for 2026. Phase two is expected to be completed by 2033.

Synthetic Biology: Fueling the Next Tech Wave

There are two definitions for synthetic biology. The first, as defined by Bio.Org calls it “the design and fabrication of biological components and systems that do not already exist in the natural world.” Synthetic Biology.Org, on the other hand, refers to it as “the re-design and fabrication of existing biological systems for useful purposes.”

The first definition has synthetic biology creating new components or processes. This is closer to a biological engineering idea where artificial biological systems are built out of existing systems. It may be thought of as an engineering solution, or process, using microbiology and biochemistry to create these new biological items or processes.

The second definition, however, is the modification of biological systems which already exist in the real world, for useful purposes. This could mean the creation of a solution for a problem by designing something new out of existing processes or organisms. The tools are created using engineering disciplines and biotechnological techniques. The most significant synthetic biology pursuits are in creating new breeds of food crops, gene synthesis, genetically engineered machines, recombinant technology, cancer research, molecular biology and others.

Driving the Future of Creation

“What synthetic biology enables us to do is analyze biological systems faster and more cheaply than ever before. In turn, engineering living systems can now benefit society in new and powerful ways”

Although some of the earliest prototypical synthetic biology applications were in HIV and cancer research, today’s growth in synthetic biology has more to do with agriculture, energy and advancements medicine. Synthetic biology research work encompasses fuels, drugs, as well as biological therapies. It can very well be the “next big technological wave” that will drive innovation and economics. Such influence was last seen with the arrival of the information age.

The potential presented by synthetic biology is limitless. “We have a newfound ability to read, write and edit DNA, the code of life,” said Michael Jewett, among the leading synthetic biologists at Northwestern University. “What synthetic biology enables us to do is analyze biological systems faster and more cheaply than ever before. In turn, engineering living systems can now benefit society in new and powerful ways. The key idea is to use our newfound abilities to make something useful, such as a new sustainable chemical or fuel or to fight disease or improve agriculture.”

The current projected market value of synthetic biology is upwards of $10.8 billion, Science Direct.com said.

One of synthetic biology’s hallmark projects was the development of the anti-malarial drug Artemisinin. This natural malaria treatment was first discovered and used thousands of years ago by Chinese herbalists and comes from the sweet wormwood plant (Artemesia Annua).  Plant extract is painfully gathered from this slow-growing species. What makes this plant special is its very rare molecular structure. It has two oxygen atoms that is linked together by an “endoperoxide bridge”, Anti Aging Systems.com explains.

According to the World Health Organization, to make the treatment readily available and more affordable, synthetic biology stepped in and “teased apart the plant’s plant’s DNA sequences and protein pathways that produce artemisinin and combined them with yeast and bacteria”. Synthetic artemisinin was produced and they were able to generate 10 million times more treatment during the latter period of the 1990s. Nowadays, synthetic Artemisinin is being considered as a viable cure or treatment for cancer.

Synthetic Biology for new food crops, research, genetics

Other Applications

  1. Disease-Fighting Bacteria

Scientists are using synthetic biology to create unique forms of bacteria that can fight and destroy tumors. At the same time, the US Department of Defense is engineering proteins that will serve as targeted vaccines.

  1. Biofuels and Renewable Energy Sources

Researchers are building microbes which can be more effective in breaking down feedstocks to produce biofuels. Switchgrass, for example, can be grown and processed as an efficient, cheap, and sustainable energy source in place of fossil fuel. Moreover, a group of geneticists and biochemists are developing oil-producing microbes as another possible source of renewable energy.

Established multinationals which are doing their own synthetic biology research include ExxonMobil, BP and DuPont. Synthetic Genomics, Interxon, and Zymergen are some of the names of startups also working on synthetic biology. Federal agencies like the National Science Foundation, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

There is a lot at stake in synthetic biology, and the bold novelty surrounding it is steeped in heavy research and cross-disciplinary thinking. It is expected that other synthetic biology projects will be undertaken in the United States and the rest of the world in the coming years. This will create a deep impact in people’s lives and continue to challenge the way they view creation and life itself.

NASA Develops Inflatable Lunar Greenhouse

NASA has created an inflatable hydroponic lunar greenhouse chamber, which is going to help astronauts prepare for their life on other planets like Mars. The organization has worked with the University of Arizona researchers in order to design the inflatable greenhouse, commonly known as the Prototype Lunar/Mars Greenhouse. The project is a bold invention that will not just help astronauts sustain good nourishment but will potentially become a life support system.

Researchers believed that there are a lot of challenges for human exploration beyond Earth, but they are persuaded that inflatable greenhouse is a good solution. The inflatable greenhouse assists crop and plant production for air revitalization, water recycling, nutrition, and waste recycling. The project’s process is called bioregenerative life support system.

“The entire system does represent, in a small way, the biological systems that are here on Earth”

The approach utilizes plants in order to scrub carbon dioxide, while supplying oxygen and food. Gene Giacomelli, the Director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at the University of Arizona, said that “We’re mimicking what the plants would have if they were on Earth and make use of these processes for life support.” He added “The entire system does represent, in a small way, the biological systems that are here on Earth.”

According to Real Clear, the scientists from the University of Arizona are probing the best types of seeds for plants to sprout on the space station. They are also discussing what materials should be taken along to make the system work on the moon or even Mars.

NASA Designs Inflatable Lunar Greenhouse

The carbon dioxide that will be exhaled by astronauts can be used by plants in order to photosynthesize and generate oxygen. The process will help astronauts create a life support system.

The inflatable greenhouse was said to cover 126 square feet and will maintain a vegetarian diet for astronauts living in on the moon or Mars. New York Post stated that humankind is a step closer towards putting astronauts on Mars and that it needs to be sure that they are well fed while they are there.

NASA was reported to have been experimenting a next generation breakfast bar that is going to provide enough calories and nutrition in order to keep astronauts going. Still, the Prototype Lunar/Mars Greenhouse project will guarantee a much safer approach when it comes to the astronauts’ health. It will provide a more autonomous approach to long-term exploration.

The future of the inflatable greenhouse is not yet determined but it already poses a great deal of success. Its bold move to enhance astronauts’ source of nourishment in space will be helpful for them to maintain a good health. With the creation of inflatable greenhouse, space exploration will already be made easier.

Inequality In Healthcare Services Linked To Low Life Expectancy

The inequality of health care services and programs may be the culprit in the life expectancy rate for Americans. This was revealed in the study made by The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (NRC/IOM).  Studies show that Americans are the least healthy among its European counterparts – even as the government spends more on healthcare programs. Further, the mortality rate among Americans due to diseases, accidents or injuries are even becoming higher than those in other affluent countries.

Contributing factors like geographical location, county by county and the level of urbanization revealed a disparity in the delivery of healthcare services across the population. The study also  bared that US males and females in almost all age groups—up to age 75 years—have shorter life expectancies than their counterparts in 16 other  wealthy, developed nations, namely: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark,  Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. (Source: National Research Council/Institute of Medicine Report by Steven H. Woolf, MD, MPH, Laudan Y. Aron, MA).

“US patients are more likely than patients elsewhere to report lapses in care quality and safety outside of hospitals”

Factors linked to the leading causes of death of most Americans are cancer, stroke, heart disease. Other trigger factors such as opioid and heroine overdose, smoking, drinking,  obesity, depression and suicide have also been cited as causes of deaths of white Americans, ages 30 to 55 years old.  However, in terms of occurrence and mortality rate for multiple diseases, other risk factors and injuries, the United States ranks at the lower rung or near the bottom. (Source: US Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2020 Framework)

The same study also revealed that the United States “…lacks universal health insurance coverage, and its health system has a weaker foundation in primary care and greater barriers to access and affordable care. Care coordination also is a problem. In multiple surveys of patients with chronic illnesses in up to 11 countries, The Commonwealth Fund has shown that US patients are more likely than patients elsewhere to report lapses in care quality and safety outside of hospitals. US patients appear more likely to require emergency department visits or re-admissions  after hospital discharge, perhaps because of premature discharge or problems with ambulatory care than those in other countries. Confusion, poor coordination, and miscommunication between clinicians and patients are reported more often in the United States than in other countries”.

While undoubtedly an affluent nation, the United States has experienced serious economic downturn that bore adverse impact on its health care programs. This inequality in the delivery of health care was further aggravated by low income and a distressing rise on the poverty level of many American households.  Yes, health is determined by more than health care, according to the NRC/IOM panel after they have  explored the differences beyond health care to explain the US health disadvantage.

Linking the findings of the NRC/IOM panel to a study done by Currie and Schwandt, earlier analyses of county-level variation in longevity was expanded by examining mortality risk by age, in addition to life expectancy.  “There were substantial geographic inequalities in the risk of death in each age group considered; however, the trajectory of inequalities over time differed by age: absolute geographic inequalities in the risk of death declined over the study period for children and adolescents, and increased for adults, especially those aged 65 to 85 years. This is broadly consistent with the recent findings by Currie and Schwandt who analyzed age-specific mortality rates among counties grouped by income and ascertained that inequality among income groups decreased for children and adolescents but increased for older adults  from 1990 to 2010”.  (Source: Chetty  R, Stepner  M, Abraham  S,  et al.  The association between income and life expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014.  JAMA. 2016;315(16):1750-1766. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.4226PubMedArticle)

Low life expectancy in the US

From 1980 to 2014, life expectancy at birth for both sexes combined in the United States increased by 5.3 or about 95% in a matter of five years for men. For women it reaches up to 95%. Substantial variation counties in central Colorado, Alaska, and along both coasts experienced much larger increases, while some southern counties in states stretching from Oklahoma to West Virginia saw little, if any, improvement over this same period.  Between 1980 and 2014, life expectancy at birth increased. Although there is a distinct gap when it comes to mortality risks on the aspect of age,  the difference between the 1st and 99th among counties in the U.S. had declined by 42.9% (95% UI, 40.4%-45.1%) among children (ages 0 to 5 years),  18.9% (95% UI, 15.2%-22.7%) for adolescents (ages 5 to 25 years), and increase by 10.1% (95% UI, 6.4%-14.1%), 15.0% (95% UI, 11.6%-18.4%), and 48.2% (95% UI, 42.7%-53.7%) for age groups 25 to 45 years, 45 to 65 years, and 65 to 85 years, respectively. Relative inequality rose for all age groups, most likely due to the overall decrease in mortality risk over this period.

These divergent trends depicted an increase in geographic inequality in life expectancy over the past three decades having been driven largely by increases in geographic inequality in the risk of deaths among the elderly.

“Even non-Hispanic white adults or those with health insurance, a college education, high incomes, or healthy behaviors appear to be in worse health in the United States than in other high-income countries”

Now, why is it that the US health disadvantage is more pronounced among vulnerable populations and even among more privileged groups?  The NRC/IOM panel also found that although US adults are less likely to smoke or drink alcohol,  they have a greater propensity for other unhealthy behaviors.  “Even non-Hispanic white adults or those with health insurance, a college education, high incomes, or healthy behaviors appear to be in worse health (eg, higher infant mortality, higher rates of chronic diseases, lower life expectancy) in the United States than in other high-income countries”.

Americans are getting sicker and die younger than most people in other wealthy nations, according to the NRC/IOM Report. Which is why the panel recommends a robust outreach in its efforts to alert the public about the scope of the US health care services and programs that they can avail. Issuing a stern warning, the NRC/IOM committee reiterates that unless prompt action to implement proven strategies, such as those outlined in Healthy People 2020,  and the recommendations of the National Prevention Council, which target the conditions responsible for the US health disadvantage and inequality in the delivery of many health programs to will address various health issues – from infant mortality to injuries, obesity, and chronic diseases – the life expectancy and mortality of many Americans regardless of age, socio-economic condition may only worsen with time.

Hope springs eternal.  Institute for Research and Medicine (IRM), underscored that  awareness is key to the foreseeable decline in high mortality incidents that affect life expectancy.  The IRM study also pointed out that  vigilance and consistency in promoting awareness of  the government’s health care programs to  the American public steps up the prevention and early detection of potential medical concerns that may require appropriate medical treatment, and would thus yield better healthcare management and consistent monitoring to help ensure an improved quality of health. A consistent and efficient delivery of health care programs to American households traversing different cities, counties, from the rural and remotest areas to the highly urbane locales  will vastly improve life expectancy – lower mortality risks and enhance the quality of life, in the long run.