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Inside the experimental world of animal infrastructure

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nest infrastructure concept


But Banff’s wildlife crossings, like most, suffer from a sort of Horseless Carriage Syndrome, their designs circumscribed by existing infrastructure. Tunnels are often little-adapted culverts, the (usually concrete) tubes that ferry water under roads. And overpasses have generally been borrowed wholesale from roadways—they are built as if they are going to carry the weight of an 18-wheeler and then “top-dressed” with foliage, Lister says. 

ANDREW MERRITT

A scattering of experiments are starting to rethink this model. One is the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, the $90 million wildlife bridge under construction north of Los Angeles. Designed by architect Robert Rock, it avoids the humped arch of older bridges in favor of a vast flat expanse that needs just one column to support it between mountains and across a highway traversed each day by an estimated 300,000 cars. It is the “poster child for innovation,” says Renee Callahan, executive director of ARC Solutions, a group that researches how to build better wildlife bridges. “It’s literally designed for species from mountain lions to mule deer to deer mouse,” Callahan says. “They’re designing it all the way down—to literally the mycorrhizal layer, in terms of the soil, to make sure that the soil itself has the fungal network that can support the native vegetation.” 

There are many unknowns as construction starts, not least how different species will react to the sheer volume of vehicles passing beneath. The National Park Service will be monitoring activity on the bridge as well as DNA profiles of animals on either side of the freeway. Many are watching to see what will happen with the area’s population of mountain lions. Over time, inbreeding has led to genetic abnormalities, like a telltale kink in local cats’ tails. The agency predicted that the population would become extinct within decades without a crossing.

Across the US, the infrastructure bill’s $350 million falls far short of what will be needed to address the fragmentation created by the country’s 4 million miles of public roads. But there are a handful of innovations that could tip the cost-­benefit analysis by allowing crossings to be built at lower cost or in places where it was not feasible before. 

Animal bridges are currently built only where there is protected land on both sides of the road, as the typical expense of constructing a concrete bridge would be hard to justify on a site that someone might develop in a few years’ time. Lighter, cheaper, modular systems could be used in places whose futures are less secure, explains Huijser: “If the adjacent lands become unsuitable for wildlife, we take it apart and you can move it.” 

One candidate material for such modular systems is precast concrete. There’s also excitement about fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP), a material less dense than concrete that is made from structural fibers set in resin. FRP has been used to build foot and bike bridges in Europe and a quick-and-easy wildlife bridge in Rhenen, just south of the Gooi in the Netherlands. Currently the Federal Highway Administration does not allow it to be used in traffic infrastructure in the US, but there are growing demands for change. “These are barriers that are principally about policy and governance. They’re not about science and they’re not about technology,” says Lister.

“They know that the last thing anybody wants is for a big structure, with a lot of publicity, to get built—and then it doesn’t work.”

Darryl Jones

Designers like Lister and innovators like Callahan are vocal proponents of building wildlife bridges across the country. Road ecologists and wildlife scientists, on the other hand, remain more cautious. “They are hypercritical because they know that the last thing anybody wants is for a big structure, with a lot of publicity, to get built—and then it doesn’t work. Because everybody will come out of the woodwork and say, ‘See! Waste of time! Complete crap!’” Jones says. 

But today even cautious types want to see more built. Although we may not have conducted enough research to have all the answers, it would be dangerous to take that as a signal we should stop, Huijser says. He calls such over-cautiousness a “type II error”—a false negative. In this time of mass extinction, it is as if the house is burning down and our solution so far has been to squirt a water pistol at it a few times. To conclude that water isn’t the answer would be a mistake. 

toad

Despite the challenges in Ede and elsewhere, van der Grift says, the answer is learning while building. We still need to invest in the real work of tagging, installing trail cams, and doing DNA testing and long-term population monitoring, he emphasizes. But we must first build more crossings—and the evidence we have so far says to build big and bold. “You have to realize that you almost cannot do too much,” he says. “You do what you think is necessary, study it, and then, nine out of 10 times, you will see, ‘Oh, I should have done more.’ But there’s no point in waiting until you have figured that out.”

Matthew Ponsford is a freelance reporter based in London.

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The Blue Technology Barometer 2022/23

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The Blue Technology Barometer 2022/23


Overall ranking

Pillars

Comparative

The overall rankings tab shows the performance of the examined
economies relative to each other and aggregates scores generated
across the following four pillars: ocean environment, marine activity,
technology innovation, and policy and regulation.

This pillar ranks each country according to its levels of
marine water contamination, its plastic recycling efforts, the
CO2 emissions of its marine activities (relative to the size
of its economy), and the recent change of total emissions.

This pillar ranks each country on the sustainability of its
marine activities, including shipping, fishing, and protected
areas.

This pillar ranks each country on its contribution to ocean
sustainable technology research and development, including
expenditure, patents, and startups.

This pillar ranks each country on its stance on ocean
sustainability-related policy and regulation, including
national-level policies, taxes, fees, and subsidies, and the
implementation of international marine law.

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Experts

MIT Technology Review Insights would like to thank the following
individuals for their time, perspective, and insights:

  • Valérie Amant, Director of Communications, The SeaCleaners
  • Charlotte de Fontaubert, Global Lead for the Blue Economy, World Bank Group
  • Ian Falconer, Founder, Fishy Filaments
  • Ben Fitzgerald, Managing Director, CoreMarine
  • Melissa Garvey, Global Director of Ocean Protection, The Nature Conservancy
  • Michael Hadfield, Emeritus Professor, Principal Investigator, Kewalo Marine Laboratory, University of Hawaii
    at Mānoa
  • Takeshi Kawano, Executive Director, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology
  • Kathryn Matthews, Chief Scientist, Oceana
  • Alex Rogers, Science Director, REV Ocean
  • Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • Thierry Senechal, Managing Director, Finance for Impact
  • Jyotika Virmani, Executive Director, Schmidt Ocean Institute
  • Lucy Woodall, Associate Professor of Marine Biology, University of Oxford, and Principal Scientist at Nekton
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About

Methodology: The Blue Technology Barometer 2022/23

Now in its second year, the Blue Technology Barometer assesses and ranks how each of the world’s largest
maritime economies promotes and develops blue (marine-centered) technologies that help reverse the impact of
climate change on ocean ecosystems, and how they leverage ocean-based resources to reduce greenhouse gases and
other effects of climate change.

To build the index, MIT Technology Review Insights compiled 20 quantitative and qualitative data indicators
for 66 countries and territories with coastlines and maritime economies. This included analysis of select
datasets and primary research interviews with global blue technology innovators, policymakers, and
international ocean sustainability organizations. Through trend analysis, research, and a consultative
peer-review process with several subject matter experts, weighting assumptions were assigned to determine the
relative importance of each indicator’s influence on a country’s blue technology leadership.

These indicators measure how each country or territory’s economic and maritime industries have affected its
marine environment and how quickly they have developed and deployed technologies that help improve ocean
health outcomes. Policy and regulatory adherence factors were considered, particularly the observance of
international treaties on fishing and marine protection laws.

The indicators are organized into four pillars, which evaluate metrics around a sustainability theme. Each
indicator is scored from 1 to 10 (10 being the best performance) and is weighted for its contribution to its
respective pillar. Each pillar is weighted to determine its importance in the overall score. As these research
efforts center on countries developing blue technology to promote ocean health, the technology pillar is
ranked highest, at 50% of the overall score.

The four pillars of the Blue Technology Barometer are:

Carbon emissions resulting from maritime activities and their relative growth. Metrics in this pillar also
assess each country’s efforts to mitigate ocean pollution and enhance ocean ecosystem health.

Efforts to promote sustainable fishing activities and increase and maintain marine protected areas.

Progress in fostering the development of sustainable ocean technologies across several relevant fields:

  • Clean innovation scores from MIT Technology Review Insights’ Green Future Index 2022.
  • A tally of maritime-relevant patents and technology startups.
  • An assessment of each economy’s use of technologies and tech-enabled processes that facilitate ocean
    sustainability.

Commitment to signing and enforcing international treaties to promote ocean sustainability and enforce
sustainable fishing.

About Us

MIT Technology Review was founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1899. MIT Technology Review
Insights is the custom publishing division of MIT Technology Review. We conduct qualitative and quantitative
research and analysis worldwide and publish a wide variety of content, including articles, reports,
infographics, videos, and podcasts.

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get in touch.

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What Shanghai protesters want and fear

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What Shanghai protesters want and fear


You may have seen that nearly three years after the pandemic started, protests have erupted across the country. In Beijing, Shanghai, Urumqi, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Chengdu, and more cities and towns, hundreds of people have taken to the streets to mourn the lives lost in an apartment fire in Urumqi and to demand that the government roll back its strict pandemic policies, which many blame for trapping those who died. 

It’s remarkable. It’s likely the largest grassroots protest in China in decades, and it’s happening at a time when the Chinese government is better than ever at monitoring and suppressing dissent.

Videos of these protests have been shared in real time on social media—on both Chinese and American platforms, even though the latter are technically blocked in the country—and they have quickly become international front-page news. However, discussions among foreigners have too often reduced the protests to the most sensational clips, particularly ones in which protesters directly criticize President Xi Jinping or the ruling party.

The reality is more complicated. As in any spontaneous protest, different people want different things. Some only want to abolish the zero-covid policies, while others have made direct calls for freedom of speech or a change of leadership. 

I talked to two Shanghai residents who attended the protests to understand what they experienced firsthand, why they went, and what’s making them anxious about the thought of going again. Both have requested we use only their surnames, to avoid political retribution.

Zhang, who went to the first protest in Shanghai after midnight on Saturday, told me he was motivated by a desire to let people know his discontent. “Not everyone can silently suffer from your actions,” he told me, referring to government officials. “No. People’s lives have been really rough, and you should reflect on yourself.”

In the hour that he was there, Zhang said, protesters were mostly chanting slogans that stayed close to opposing zero-covid policies—like the now-famous line “Say no to covid tests, yes to food. No to lockdowns, yes to freedom,” which came from a protest by one Chinese citizen, Peng Lifa, right before China’s heavily guarded party congress meeting last month. 

While Peng hasn’t been seen in public since, his slogans have been heard and seen everywhere in China over the past week. Relaxing China’s strict pandemic control measures, which often don’t reflect a scientific understanding of the virus, is the most essential—and most agreed-upon—demand. 

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Biotech labs are using AI inspired by DALL-E to invent new drugs

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Biotech labs are using AI inspired by DALL-E to invent new drugs


Today, two labs separately announced programs that use diffusion models to generate designs for novel proteins with more precision than ever before. Generate Biomedicines, a Boston-based startup, revealed a program called Chroma, which the company describes as the “DALL-E 2 of biology.”

At the same time, a team at the University of Washington led by biologist David Baker has built a similar program called RoseTTAFold Diffusion. In a preprint paper posted online today, Baker and his colleagues show that their model can generate precise designs for novel proteins that can then be brought to life in the lab. “We’re generating proteins with really no similarity to existing ones,” says Brian Trippe, one of the co-developers of RoseTTAFold.

These protein generators can be directed to produce designs for proteins with specific properties, such as shape or size or function. In effect, this makes it possible to come up with new proteins to do particular jobs on demand. Researchers hope that this will eventually lead to the development of new and more effective drugs. “We can discover in minutes what took evolution millions of years,” says Gevorg Grigoryan, CEO of Generate Biomedicines.

“What is notable about this work is the generation of proteins according to desired constraints,” says Ava Amini, a biophysicist at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Symmetrical protein structures generated by Chroma

GENERATE BIOMEDICINES

Proteins are the fundamental building blocks of living systems. In animals, they digest food, contract muscles, detect light, drive the immune system, and so much more. When people get sick, proteins play a part. 

Proteins are thus prime targets for drugs. And many of today’s newest drugs are protein based themselves. “Nature uses proteins for essentially everything,” says Grigoryan. “The promise that offers for therapeutic interventions is really immense.”

But drug designers currently have to draw on an ingredient list made up of natural proteins. The goal of protein generation is to extend that list with a nearly infinite pool of computer-designed ones.

Computational techniques for designing proteins are not new. But previous approaches have been slow and not great at designing large proteins or protein complexes—molecular machines made up of multiple proteins coupled together. And such proteins are often crucial for treating diseases.  

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