Category Archives: science

Simon Fraser University’s (SFU; Canada) Café Scientifique Fall 2023 events: first event is Sept. 26, 2023

From a September 7, 2023 SFU Café Scientifique announcement of their Fall 2023 event schedule (received via email),

We hope you had a great summer and are all excited for a brand new fall line-up:

SFU Café Scientifique lectures and discussions on Zoom 

Tuesdays from 5:00-6:30pm, Zoom invites are sent to those who register.

Email for inquires.

Sept 26, 2023 Vance Williams, Chemistry

Title: (Un)Natural Beauty: Art, Science and Technology

Description: While art is often described in opposition to science and technology, in reality, these disciplines are mutually supporting and reinforcing explorations of the natural and constructed world. In this presentation, I will examine the intersection of art and science and the often blurry distinction between the scientist and the artist.

[Register here for September 26, 2023 event]

October 24, 2023 Ailene MacPherson, Mathematics

Title: Who, What, Where, When, and Why: the power of genomics in public health

Description: Within days of first being identified the full genome sequence of SARS Cov-2 was published online. Here we discuss the extraordinary power and limitations of genomics for understanding disease spread and for designing effective public health interventions.

[Register here for October 24, 2023 event]

November 28, 2023 Dustin King, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Title: Decoding how life senses and responds to carbon dioxide gas.

Description: Dustin King’s Indigenous background is central to his work and relationship with the biochemical research he conducts. He brings Indigenous ways of knowing and a two-eye seeing approach to critical questions about humanity’s impact upon the natural world. 

Join Dr. King on a microscopic journey into intricate cellular systems, which make use of CO2 in incredible ways. The presence of CO2 on Earth has given rise to a diverse evolutionary tree, with plants and animals developing ingenious methods for harnessing and using CO2 in their unique habitats. We travel from the depths of the ocean floor to the air we breathe, to understand the implications of increasing CO2 levels in nature and in daily human life.

[Register here for November 28, 2023 event]

I wouldn’t have thought art/science or, as it sometimes called, sciart was a particularly obscure concept these days but it’s a good reminder that much depends on the community from which you draw your audience.

Synthetic human embryos—what now? (2 of 2)

The term they’re using in the Weizmann Institute of Science’s (Israel) announcement is “a generally accurate human embryo model.” This is in contrast to previous announcements including the one from the University of Cambridge team highlighted in Part 1.

From a September 6, 2023 news item on, Note: A link has been removed,

A research team headed by Prof. Jacob Hanna at the Weizmann Institute of Science has created complete models of human embryos from stem cells cultured in the lab—and managed to grow them outside the womb up to day 14. As reported today [September 6, 2023] in Nature, these synthetic embryo models had all the structures and compartments characteristic of this stage, including the placenta, yolk sac, chorionic sac and other external tissues that ensure the models’ dynamic and adequate growth.

Cellular aggregates derived from human stem cells in previous studies could not be considered genuinely accurate human embryo models, because they lacked nearly all the defining hallmarks of a post-implantation embryo. In particular, they failed to contain several cell types that are essential to the embryo’s development, such as those that form the placenta and the chorionic sac. In addition, they did not have the structural organization characteristic of the embryo and revealed no dynamic ability to progress to the next developmental stage.

Given their authentic complexity, the human embryo models obtained by Hanna’s group may provide an unprecedented opportunity to shed new light on the embryo’s mysterious beginnings. Little is known about the early embryo because it is so difficult to study, for both ethical and technical reasons, yet its initial stages are crucial to its future development. During these stages, the clump of cells that implants itself in the womb on the seventh day of its existence becomes, within three to four weeks, a well-structured embryo that already contains all the body organs.

“The drama is in the first month, the remaining eight months of pregnancy are mainly lots of growth,” Hanna says. “But that first month is still largely a black box. Our stem cell–derived human embryo model offers an ethical and accessible way of peering into this box. It closely mimics the development of a real human embryo, particularly the emergence of its exquisitely fine architecture.”

A stem cell–derived human embryo model at a developmental stage equivalent to that of a day 14 embryo. The model has all the compartments that define this stage: the yolk sac (yellow) and the part that will become the embryo itself, topped by the amnion (blue) – all enveloped by cells that will become the placenta (pink) Courtesy: Weizmann Institute of Science

A September 6, 2023 Weizmann Institute of Science press release, which originated the news item, offers a wealth of detail, Note: Links have been removed,

Letting the embryo model say “Go!”

Hanna’s team built on their previous experience in creating synthetic stem cell–based models of mouse embryos. As in that research, the scientists made no use of fertilized eggs or a womb. Rather, they started out with human cells known as pluripotent stem cells, which have the potential to differentiate into many, though not all, cell types. Some were derived from adult skin cells that had been reverted to “stemness.” Others were the progeny of human stem cell lines that had been cultured for years in the lab.

The researchers then used Hanna’s recently developed method to reprogram pluripotent stem cells so as to turn the clock further back: to revert these cells to an even earlier state – known as the naïve state – in which they are capable of becoming anything, that is, specializing into any type of cell. This stage corresponds to day 7 of the natural human embryo, around the time it implants itself in the womb. Hanna’s team had in fact been the first to start describing methods to generate human naïve stem cells, back in 2013; they continued to improve these methods, which stand at the heart of the current project, over the years.

The scientists divided the cells into three groups. The cells intended to develop into the embryo were left as is. The cells in each of the other groups were treated only with chemicals, without any need for genetic modification, so as to turn on certain genes, which was intended to cause these cells to differentiate toward one of three tissue types needed to sustain the embryo: placenta, yolk sac or the extraembryonic mesoderm membrane that ultimately creates the chorionic sac.

Soon after being mixed together under optimized, specifically developed conditions, the cells formed clumps, about 1 percent of which self-organized into complete embryo-like structures. “An embryo is self-driven by definition; we don’t need to tell it what to do – we must only unleash its internally encoded potential,” Hanna says. “It’s critical to mix in the right kinds of cells at the beginning, which can only be derived from naïve stem cells that have no developmental restrictions. Once you do that, the embryo-like model itself says, ‘Go!’”

The stem cell–based embryo-like structures (termed SEMs) developed normally outside the womb for 8 days, reaching a developmental stage equivalent to day 14 in human embryonic development. That’s the point at which natural embryos acquire the internal structures that enable them to proceed to the next stage: developing the progenitors of body organs.

Complete human embryo models match classic diagrams in terms of structure and cell identity

When the researchers compared the inner organization of their stem cell–derived embryo models with illustrations and microscopic anatomy sections in classical embryology atlases from the 1960s, they found an uncanny structural resemblance between the models and the natural human embryos at the corresponding stage. Every compartment and supporting structure was not only there, but in the right place, size and shape. Even the cells that make the hormone used in pregnancy testing were there and active: When the scientists applied secretions from these cells to a commercial pregnancy test, it came out positive.

In fact, the study has already produced a finding that may open a new direction of research into early pregnancy failure. The researchers discovered that if the embryo is not enveloped by placenta-forming cells in the right manner at day 3 of the protocol (corresponding to day 10 in natural embryonic development), its internal structures, such as the yolk sac, fail to properly develop.

“An embryo is not static. It must have the right cells in the right organization, and it must be able to progress – it’s about being and becoming,” Hanna says. “Our complete embryo models will help researchers address the most basic questions about what determines its proper growth.”

This ethical approach to unlocking the mysteries of the very first stages of embryonic development could open numerous research paths. It might help reveal the causes of many birth defects and types of infertility. It could also lead to new technologies for growing transplant tissues and organs. And it could offer a way around experiments that cannot be performed on live embryos – for example, determining the effects of exposure to drugs or other substances on fetal development.

For people who are visually inclined, there are two videos embedded in the September 6, 2023 Weizmann Institute of Science press release.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Complete human day 14 post-implantation embryo models from naïve ES cells by Bernardo Oldak, Emilie Wildschutz, Vladyslav Bondarenko, Mehmet-Yunus Comar, Cheng Zhao, Alejandro Aguilera-Castrejon, Shadi Tarazi, Sergey Viukov, Thi Xuan Ai Pham, Shahd Ashouokhi, Dmitry Lokshtanov, Francesco Roncato, Eitan Ariel, Max Rose, Nir Livnat, Tom Shani, Carine Joubran, Roni Cohen, Yoseph Addadi, Muriel Chemla, Merav Kedmi, Hadas Keren-Shaul, Vincent Pasque, Sophie Petropoulos, Fredrik Lanner, Noa Novershtern & Jacob H. Hanna. Nature (2023) DOI: Published: 06 September 2023

This paper is behind a paywall.

As for the question I asked in the head “what now?” I have absolutely no idea.

Synthetic human embryos—what now? (1 of 2)

Usually, there’s a rough chronological order to how I introduce the research, but this time I’m looking at the term used to describe it, following up with the various news releases and commentaries about the research, and finishing with a Canadian perspective.

After writing this post (but before it was published), the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel) made their September 6, 2023 announcement and things changed a bit. That’s in Part two.

Say what you really mean (a terminology issue)

First, it might be useful to investigate the term, ‘synthetic human embryos’ as Julian Hitchcock does in his June 29, 2023 article on Bristows website (h/t Mondaq’s July 5, 2023 news item), Note: Links have been removed,

Synthetic Embryos” are neither Synthetic nor Embryos. So why are editors giving that name to stem cell-based models of human development?

One of the less convincing aspects of the last fortnight’s flurry of announcements about advances in simulating early human development (see here) concerned their name. Headlines galore (in newspapers and scientific journals) referred to “synthetic embryos“.

But embryo models, however impressive, are not embryos. To claim that the fundamental stages of embryo development that we learnt at school – fertilisation, cleavage and compaction – could now be bypassed to achieve the same result would be wrong. Nor are these objects “synthesised”: indeed, their interest to us lies in the ways in which they organise themselves. The researchers merely place the stem cells in a matrix in appropriate conditions, then stand back and watch them do it. Scientists were therefore unhappy about this use of the term in news media, and relieved when the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) stepped in with a press release:

“Unlike some recent media reports describing this research, the ISSCR advises against using the term “synthetic embryo” to describe embryo models, because it is inaccurate and can create confusion. Integrated embryo models are neither synthetic nor embryos. While these models can replicate aspects of the early-stage development of human embryos, they cannot and will not develop to the equivalent of postnatal stage humans. Further, the ISSCR Guidelines prohibit the transfer of any embryo model to the uterus of a human or an animal.”

Although this was the ISSCR’s first attempt to put that position to the public, it had already made that recommendation to the research community two years previously. Its 2021 Guidelines for Stem Cell Research and Clinical Translation had recommended researchers to “promote accurate, current, balanced, and responsive public representations of stem cell research”. In particular:

“While organoids, chimeras, embryo models, and other stem cell-based models are useful research tools offering possibilities for further scientific progress, limitations on the current state of scientific knowledge and regulatory constraints must be clearly explained in any communications with the public or media. Suggestions that any of the current in vitro models can recapitulate an intact embryo, human sentience or integrated brain function are unfounded overstatements that should be avoided and contradicted with more precise characterizations of current understanding.”

Here’s a little bit about Hitchcock from his Bristows profile page,

  • Diploma Medical School, University of Birmingham (1975-78)
  • LLB, University of Wolverhampton
  • Diploma in Intellectual Property Law & Practice, University of Bristol
  • Qualified 1998

Following an education in medicine at the University of Birmingham and a career as a BBC science producer, Julian has focused on the law and regulation of life science technologies since 1997, practising in England and Australia. He joined Bristows with Alex Denoon in 2018.

Hitchcock’s June 29, 2023 article comments on why this term is being used,

I have a lot of sympathy with the position of the science writers and editors incurring the scientists’ ire. First, why should journalists have known of the ISSCR’s recommendations on the use of the term “synthetic embryo”? A journalist who found Recommendation 4.1 of the ISSCR Guidelines would probably not have found them specific enough to address the point, and the academic introduction containing the missing detail is hard to find. …

My second reason for being sympathetic to the use of the terrible term is that no suitable alternative has been provided, other than in the Stem Cell Reports paper, which recommends the umbrella terms “embryo models” or “stem cell based embryo models”. …

When asked why she had used the term “synthetic embryo”, the journalist I contacted remarked that, “We’re still working out the right language and it’s something we’re discussing and will no doubt evolve along with the science”.

It is absolutely in the public’s interest (and in the interest of science), that scientific research is explained in terms that the public understands. There is, therefore, a need, I think, for the scientific community to supply a name to the media or endure the penalties of misinformation …

In such an intensely competitive field of research, disagreement among researchers, even as to names, is inevitable. In consequence, however, journalists and their audiences are confronted by a slew of terms which may or may not be synonymous or overlapping, with no agreed term [emphasis mine] for the overall class of stem cell based embryo models. We cannot blame them if they make up snappy titles of their own [emphasis mine]. …

The announcement

The earliest date for the announcement at the International Society for Stem Cell Researh meeting that I can find is Hannah Devlin’s June 14, 2023 article in The Guardian newspaper, Note: A link has been removed,

Scientists have created synthetic human embryos using stem cells, in a groundbreaking advance that sidesteps the need for eggs or sperm.

Scientists say these model embryos, which resemble those in the earliest stages of human development, could provide a crucial window on the impact of genetic disorders and the biological causes of recurrent miscarriage.

However, the work also raises serious ethical and legal issues as the lab-grown entities fall outside current legislation in the UK and most other countries.

The structures do not have a beating heart or the beginnings of a brain, but include cells that would typically go on to form the placenta, yolk sac and the embryo itself.

Prof Magdalena Żernicka-Goetz, of the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology, described the work in a plenary address on Wednesday [June 14, 2023] at the International Society for Stem Cell Research’s annual meeting in Boston.

The (UK) Science Media Centre made expert comments available in a June 14, 2023 posting “expert reaction to Guardian reporting news of creation of synthetic embryos using stem cells.”

Two days later, this June 16, 2023 essay by Kathryn MacKay, Senior Lecturer in Bioethics, University of Sydney (Australia), appeared on The Conversation (h/t June 16, 2023 news item on, Note: Links have been removed,

Researchers have created synthetic human embryos using stem cells, according to media reports. Remarkably, these embryos have reportedly been created from embryonic stem cells, meaning they do not require sperm and ova.

This development, widely described as a breakthrough that could help scientists learn more about human development and genetic disorders, was revealed this week in Boston at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

The research, announced by Professor Magdalena Żernicka-Goetz of the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology, has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. But Żernicka-Goetz told the meeting these human-like embryos had been made by reprogramming human embryonic stem cells.

So what does all this mean for science, and what ethical issues does it present?

MacKay goes on to answer her own questions, from the June 16, 2023 essay, Note: A link has been removed,

One of these quandaries arises around whether their creation really gets us away from the use of human embryos.

Robin Lovell-Badge, the head of stem cell biology and developmental genetics at the Francis Crick Institute in London UK, reportedly said that if these human-like embryos can really model human development in the early stages of pregnancy, then we will not have to use human embryos for research.

At the moment, it is unclear if this is the case for two reasons.

First, the embryos were created from human embryonic stem cells, so it seems they do still need human embryos for their creation. Perhaps more light will be shed on this when Żernicka-Goetz’s research is published.

Second, there are questions about the extent to which these human-like embryos really can model human development.

Professor Magdalena Żernicka-Goetz’s research is published

Almost two weeks later the research from the Cambridge team (there are other teams and countries also racing; see Part two for the news from Sept. 6, 2023) was published, from a June 27, 2023 news item on ScienceDaily,

Cambridge scientists have created a stem cell-derived model of the human embryo in the lab by reprogramming human stem cells. The breakthrough could help research into genetic disorders and in understanding why and how pregnancies fail.

Published today [Tuesday, June 27, 2023] in the journal Nature, this embryo model is an organised three-dimensional structure derived from pluripotent stem cells that replicate some developmental processes that occur in early human embryos.

Use of such models allows experimental modelling of embryonic development during the second week of pregnancy. They can help researchers gain basic knowledge of the developmental origins of organs and specialised cells such as sperm and eggs, and facilitate understanding of early pregnancy loss.

A June 27, 2023 University of Cambridge press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the work,

“Our human embryo-like model, created entirely from human stem cells, gives us access to the developing structure at a stage that is normally hidden from us due to the implantation of the tiny embryo into the mother’s womb,” said Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, who led the work.

She added: “This exciting development allows us to manipulate genes to understand their developmental roles in a model system. This will let us test the function of specific factors, which is difficult to do in the natural embryo.”

In natural human development, the second week of development is an important time when the embryo implants into the uterus. This is the time when many pregnancies are lost.

The new advance enables scientists to peer into the mysterious ‘black box’ period of human development – usually following implantation of the embryo in the uterus – to observe processes never directly observed before.

Understanding these early developmental processes holds the potential to reveal some of the causes of human birth defects and diseases, and to develop tests for these in pregnant women.

Until now, the processes could only be observed in animal models, using cells from zebrafish and mice, for example.

Legal restrictions in the UK currently prevent the culture of natural human embryos in the lab beyond day 14 of development: this time limit was set to correspond to the stage where the embryo can no longer form a twin. [emphasis mine]

Until now, scientists have only been able to study this period of human development using donated human embryos. This advance could reduce the need for donated human embryos in research.

Zernicka-Goetz says the while these models can mimic aspects of the development of human embryos, they cannot and will not develop to the equivalent of postnatal stage humans.

Over the past decade, Zernicka-Goetz’s group in Cambridge has been studying the earliest stages of pregnancy, in order to understand why some pregnancies fail and some succeed.

In 2021 and then in 2022 her team announced in Developmental Cell, Nature and Cell Stem Cell journals that they had finally created model embryos from mouse stem cells that can develop to form a brain-like structure, a beating heart, and the foundations of all other organs of the body.

The new models derived from human stem cells do not have a brain or beating heart, but they include cells that would typically go on to form the embryo, placenta and yolk sac, and develop to form the precursors of germ cells (that will form sperm and eggs).

Many pregnancies fail at the point when these three types of cells orchestrate implantation into the uterus begin to send mechanical and chemical signals to each other, which tell the embryo how to develop properly.

There are clear regulations governing stem cell-based models of human embryos and all researchers doing embryo modelling work must first be approved by ethics committees. Journals require proof of this ethics review before they accept scientific papers for publication. Zernicka-Goetz’s laboratory holds these approvals.

“It is against the law and FDA regulations to transfer any embryo-like models into a woman for reproductive aims. These are highly manipulated human cells and their attempted reproductive use would be extremely dangerous,” said Dr Insoo Hyun, Director of the Center for Life Sciences and Public Learning at Boston’s Museum of Science and a member of Harvard Medical School’s Center for Bioethics.

Zernicka-Goetz also holds position at the California Institute of Technology and is NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Awardee.

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and Open Philanthropy.

(There’s more about legal concerns further down in this post.)

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Pluripotent stem cell-derived model of the post-implantation human embryo by Bailey A. T. Weatherbee, Carlos W. Gantner, Lisa K. Iwamoto-Stohl, Riza M. Daza, Nobuhiko Hamazaki, Jay Shendure & Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz. Nature (2023) DOI: Published: 27 June 2023

This paper is open access.

Published the same day (June 27, 2023) is a paper (citation and link follow) also focused on studying human embryonic development using stem cells. First, there’s this from the Abstract,

Investigating human development is a substantial scientific challenge due to the technical and ethical limitations of working with embryonic samples. In the face of these difficulties, stem cells have provided an alternative to experimentally model inaccessible stages of human development in vitro …

This time the work is from a US/German team,

Self-patterning of human stem cells into post-implantation lineages by Monique Pedroza, Seher Ipek Gassaloglu, Nicolas Dias, Liangwen Zhong, Tien-Chi Jason Hou, Helene Kretzmer, Zachary D. Smith & Berna Sozen. Nature (2023) DOI: Published: 27 June 2023

The paper is open access.

Legal concerns and a Canadian focus

A July 25, 2023 essay by Françoise Baylis and Jocelyn Downie of Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada) for The Conversation (h/t July 25, 2023 article on covers the advantages of doing this work before launching into a discussion of legislation and limits in the UK and, more extensively, in Canada, Note: Links have been removed,

This research could increase our understanding of human development and genetic disorders, help us learn how to prevent early miscarriages, lead to improvements in fertility treatment, and — perhaps — eventually allow for reproduction without using sperm and eggs.

Synthetic human embryos — also called embryoid bodies, embryo-like structures or embryo models — mimic the development of “natural human embryos,” those created by fertilization. Synthetic human embryos include the “cells that would typically go on to form the embryo, placenta and yolk sac, and develop to form the precursors of germ cells (that will form sperm and eggs).”

Though research involving natural human embryos is legal in many jurisdictions, it remains controversial. For some people, research involving synthetic human embryos is less controversial because these embryos cannot “develop to the equivalent of postnatal stage humans.” In other words, these embryos are non-viable and cannot result in live births.

Now, for a closer look at the legalities in the UK and in Canada, from the July 25, 2023 essay, Note: Links have been removed,

The research presented by Żernicka-Goetz at the ISSCR meeting took place in the United Kingdom. It was conducted in accordance with the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act, 1990, with the approval of the U.K. Stem Cell Bank Steering Committee.

U.K. law limits the research use of human embryos to 14 days of development. An embryo is defined as “a live human embryo where fertilisation is complete, and references to an embryo include an egg in the process of fertilisation.”

Synthetic embryos are not created by fertilization and therefore, by definition, the 14-day limit on human embryo research does not apply to them. This means that synthetic human embryo research beyond 14 days can proceed in the U.K.

The door to the touted potential benefits — and ethical controversies — seems wide open in the U.K.

While the law in the U.K. does not apply to synthetic human embryos, the law in Canada clearly does. This is because the legal definition of an embryo in Canada is not limited to embryos created by fertilization [emphasis mine].

The Assisted Human Reproduction Act (the AHR Act) defines an embryo as “a human organism during the first 56 days of its development following fertilization or creation, excluding any time during which its development has been suspended.”

Based on this definition, the AHR Act applies to embryos created by reprogramming human embryonic stem cells — in other words, synthetic human embryos — provided such embryos qualify as human organisms.

A synthetic human embryo is a human organism. It is of the species Homo sapiens, and is thus human. It also qualifies as an organism — a life form — alongside other organisms created by means of fertilization, asexual reproduction, parthenogenesis or cloning.

Given that the AHR Act applies to synthetic human embryos, there are legal limits on their creation and use in Canada.

First, human embryos — including synthetic human embryos – can only be created for the purposes of “creating a human being, improving or providing instruction in assisted reproduction procedures.”

Given the state of the science, it follows that synthetic human embryos could legally be created for the purpose of improving assisted reproduction procedures.

Second, “spare” or “excess” human embryos — including synthetic human embryos — originally created for one of the permitted purposes, but no longer wanted for this purpose, can be used for research. This research must be done in accordance with the consent regulations which specify that consent must be for a “specific research project.”

Finally, all research involving human embryos — including synthetic human embryos — is subject to the 14-day rule. The law stipulates that: “No person shall knowingly… maintain an embryo outside the body of a female person after the fourteenth day of its development following fertilization or creation, excluding any time during which its development has been suspended.”

Putting this all together, the creation of synthetic embryos for improving assisted human reproduction procedures is permitted, as is research using “spare” or “excess” synthetic embryos originally created for this purpose — provided there is specific consent and the research does not exceed 14 days.

This means that while synthetic human embryos may be useful for limited research on pre-implantation embryo development, they are not available in Canada for research on post-implantation embryo development beyond 14 days.

The authors close with this comment about the prospects for expanding Canada’s14-day limit, from the July 25, 2023 essay,

… any argument will have to overcome the political reality that the federal government is unlikely to open up the Pandora’s box of amending the AHR Act.

It therefore seems likely that synthetic human embryo research will remain limited in Canada for the foreseeable future.

As mentioned, in September 2023 there was a new development. See: Part two.

Frog pants?

How would you go about tracking these frogs?

Six images of tiny frogs wearing little plastic trackers attached to wire harnesses on their back legs.
Researchers have fitted tiny trackable radio-pants to three species of South American frogs to test their ability to navigate through the rainforest. (Submitted by Andrius Pašukonis)

You can see how tiny they are when you compare one of the frogs to a leaf visible in one of the images (top left or top right).

The answer to the question, as you may have guessed, are frog pants (or G-strings).

Sheena Goodyear’s June 13, 2023 article for the CBC’s (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) As It Happens radio show explores the question and the research and includes an embedded 6:20 radio interview with researcher, Andrius Pašukonis,

How do you track a bunch of teeny-weeny frogs across the vast rainforests of South America? By putting teeny-weeny trackers on their teeny-weeny underwear, of course.

Biologist Andrius Pašukonis and his colleagues wanted to study the navigational capabilities of poisonous frogs that are too small for most animal tracking devices.

So he designed a Speedo-like harness that wraps around their back legs and props a tiny radio tracker on their backsides. The research team dubbed the invention “frog pants” — though Pašukonis says that’s “a bit of a misnomer.”

“My French colleagues like to call it a telemetric G-string,” Pašukonis, a senior scientist at Lithuania’s Vilnius University, told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

“It’s a lot of fine motor skills and a lot of practice in handling tiny frogs and sewing little frog harnesses. But we go find them in the rainforest, and we catch them, and we put the tags on.”

My favourite part is “… sewing little frog harnesses.” Note: The following video features a commercial and then, moves onto a 2:22 interview,

More from Goodyear’s June 13, 2023 article, Note: A link has been removed,

Pašukonis was a PhD student at the University of Vienna when he first started experimenting with the frog pants design, and later put it to use while working as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in California.

He and is colleagues used the tracker pants to study the spatial skills of three frog species that range from three to five centimetres in length — diablito poison frogs in Ecuador, and brilliant-thighed poison frogs and dyeing poison frogs in French Guiana. The findings were published late last year in the journal e-Life [sic].

“The only way to study movements of animals is to be able to track them and follow them around, which nobody has managed to do or even tried to do with these tiny, tiny frogs in the rainforest,” he said.

“So that became my goal and challenge, where I spent a good part of my PhD trying different versions of different tags and different attachment methods, trial and error, to finally get to be able to put tags on and track them and study their behaviour.”

The frogs, he admits, didn’t particularly like the pants. But they didn’t seem to mind too much, and the team removed the trackers after four to six days. 

“Like any animal, they might scratch a little bit afterwards … like a dog with a new collar,” he said. “And then they just go on with their business.”

Other scientists have tried to track tiny frogs, from Goodyear’s June 13, 2023 article, Note: Links have been removed,

The design caught the eye of Richard Essner, a biologist at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who studies animal locomotion, and has a particular interest in little frogs.

“Tracking small frogs with radio telemetry is not an easy thing to do,” Essner, who wasn’t involved in the Stanford research, told CBC in an email. 

About a decade ago, he says his lab attempted to use radio telemetry to track the movement of the threatened Illinois chorus frog using a transmitter attached via an elastic belt around the waist.

“Unfortunately, we had to abandon the study because we found that the transmitter apparatus was interfering with locomotion. If the belt was too tight, it caused abrasion. If it was too loose it slid down around the legs and left the frog immobilized and vulnerable to predation,” he said.

The frog pants, he says, seem to offer a solution to this conundrum. 

Lea Randall, a Calgary Zoo and Wilder Institute ecologist who specializes in amphibians and reptiles, ran into similar obstacles while trying to track northern leopard frogs at a reintroduction site in B.C. 

Like the Stanford researchers, her team experimented with several different designs before landing on one that worked — a belt-like attachment with some “very stylish” smooth glass beads to prevent abrasion. 

“Unfortunately, due to the weight of the radio transmitters at the time we couldn’t study smaller individuals,” she said. 

“We didn’t use leg straps, but I can see the advantages of that to help keep the transmitters in place. The creative thinking and problem solving that goes into developing these kinds of studies always amazes me.”

Finally, frogs may be smarter than we think, from Goodyear’s June 13, 2023 article,

When it comes to animal cognition and behaviour, Pašukonis says frogs are understudied —  and he believes, underestimated — compared to birds and mammals.

The poisonous rainforest frogs, he says, may be only a few centimetres in size, but when they breed, they carry their tadpoles between 200 to 300 metres across the rainforest to find them the perfect puddle to grow in.

Then they turn right around, and make their way home again. 

“How could a little frog — frogs typically are not thought to be very smart — learn to navigate on such a big scale? And how do they find their way around more on a fundamental scientific level?” Pašukonis said.

“We’re uncovering that overall amphibians, for example, might be smarter or have more complicated cognitive abilities than we thought.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper published by Pašukonis and his colleagues,

Contrasting parental roles shape sex differences in poison frog space use but not navigational performance by Andrius Pašukonis, Shirley Jennifer Serrano-Rojas, Marie-Therese Fischer, Matthias-Claudio Loretto, Daniel A Shaykevich, Bibiana Rojas, Max Ringler, Alexandre B Roland, Alejandro Marcillo-Lara, Eva Ringler, Camilo Rodríguez, Luis A Coloma, Lauren A O’Connell. eLife DOI: Version of Record Published: Nov 15, 2022

This paper appears to be open access.

CRISPR-like system found in animals

I trust the eukaryotes will not be suing for intellectual property rights. (For anyone who’s interested in CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) and associated intellectual property (specifically, patent) issues, see my March 15, 2017 posting “CRISPR patent decision: Harvard’s and MIT’s Broad Institute victorious—for now.” It’s not up-to-date but as far as I know there haven’t been any major intellectual property developments since. If I’m wrong, please let me know in the Comments section of this posting.)

A june 28, 2023 news item on announces research suggesting there are naturally occurring CRISPR-like capabilities in some species,

A team of researchers led by Feng Zhang at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] has uncovered the first programmable RNA-guided system in eukaryotes—organisms that include fungi, plants, and animals.

In a study in Nature, the team describes how the system is based on a protein called Fanzor. They showed that Fanzor proteins use RNA as a guide to target DNA precisely, and that Fanzors can be reprogrammed to edit the genome of human cells. The compact Fanzor systems have the potential to be more easily delivered to cells and tissues as therapeutics than CRISPR/Cas systems, and further refinements to improve their targeting efficiency could make them a valuable new technology for human genome editing

A june 28, 2023 Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard news release by Leah Eisenstadt (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more context for the research,

CRISPR/Cas was first discovered in prokaryotes (bacteria and other single-cell organisms that lack nuclei) and scientists including Zhang’s lab have long wondered whether similar systems exist in eukaryotes. The new study demonstrates that RNA-guided DNA-cutting mechanisms are present across all kingdoms of life.

“CRISPR-based systems are widely used and powerful because they can be easily reprogrammed to target different sites in the genome,” said Zhang, senior author on the study and a core institute member at the Broad, an investigator at MIT’s McGovern Institute, the James and Patricia Poitras Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “This new system is another way to make precise changes in human cells, complementing the genome editing tools we already have.”

Searching the domains of life

A major aim of the Zhang lab is to develop genetic medicines using systems that can modulate human cells by targeting specific genes and processes. “A number of years ago, we started to ask, ‘What is there beyond CRISPR, and are there other RNA-programmable systems out there in nature?’” said Zhang.

Two years ago, Zhang lab members discovered a class of RNA-programmable systems in prokaryotes called OMEGAs, which are often linked with transposable elements, or “jumping genes”, in bacterial genomes and likely gave rise to CRISPR/Cas systems. That work also highlighted similarities between prokaryotic OMEGA systems and Fanzor proteins in eukaryotes, suggesting that the Fanzor enzymes might also use an RNA-guided mechanism to target and cut DNA.

In the new study, the researchers continued their study of RNA-guided systems by isolating Fanzors from fungi, algae, and amoeba species, in addition to a clam known as the Northern Quahog. Co-first author Makoto Saito of the Zhang lab led the biochemical characterization of the Fanzor proteins, showing that they are DNA-cutting endonuclease enzymes that use nearby non-coding RNAs known as ωRNAs to target particular sites in the genome. It is the first time this mechanism has been found in eukaryotes, such as animals.

Unlike CRISPR proteins, Fanzor enzymes are encoded in the eukaryotic genome within transposable elements and the team’s phylogenetic analysis suggests that the Fanzor genes have migrated from bacteria to eukaryotes through so-called horizontal gene transfer.

“These OMEGA systems are more ancestral to CRISPR and they are among the most abundant proteins on the planet, so it makes sense that they have been able to hop back and forth between prokaryotes and eukaryotes,” said Saito.

To explore Fanzor’s potential as a genome editing tool, the researchers demonstrated that it can generate insertions and deletions at targeted genome sites within human cells. The researchers found the Fanzor system to initially be less efficient at snipping DNA than CRISPR/Cas systems, but by systematic engineering, they introduced a combination of mutations into the protein that increased its activity 10-fold. Additionally, unlike some CRISPR systems and the OMEGA protein TnpB, the team found that a fungal-derived Fanzor protein did not exhibit “collateral activity,” where an RNA-guided enzyme cleaves its DNA target as well as degrading nearby DNA or RNA. The results suggest that Fanzors could potentially be developed as efficient genome editors.

Co-first author Peiyu Xu led an effort to analyze the molecular structure of the Fanzor/ωRNA complex and illustrate how it latches onto DNA to cut it. Fanzor shares structural similarities with its prokaryotic counterpart CRISPR-Cas12 protein, but the interaction between the ωRNA and the catalytic domains of Fanzor is more extensive, suggesting that the ωRNA might play a role in the catalytic reactions. “We are excited about these structural insights for helping us further engineer and optimize Fanzor for improved efficiency and precision as a genome editor,” said Xu.

Like CRISPR-based systems, the Fanzor system can be easily reprogrammed to target specific genome sites, and Zhang said it could one day be developed into a powerful new genome editing technology for research and therapeutic applications. The abundance of RNA-guided endonucleases like Fanzors further expands the number of OMEGA systems known across kingdoms of life and suggests that there are more yet to be found.

“Nature is amazing. There’s so much diversity,” said Zhang. “There are probably more RNA-programmable systems out there, and we’re continuing to explore and will hopefully discover more.”

The paper’s other authors include Guilhem Faure, Samantha Maguire, Soumya Kannan, Han Altae-Tran, Sam Vo, AnAn Desimone, and Rhiannon Macrae.

About Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was launched in 2004 to empower this generation of creative scientists to transform medicine. The Broad Institute seeks to describe the molecular components of life and their connections; discover the molecular basis of major human diseases; develop effective new approaches to diagnostics and therapeutics; and disseminate discoveries, tools, methods and data openly to the entire scientific community.

Founded by MIT, Harvard, Harvard-affiliated hospitals, and the visionary Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe L. Broad, the Broad Institute includes faculty, professional staff and students from throughout the MIT and Harvard biomedical research communities and beyond, with collaborations spanning over a hundred private and public institutions in more than 40 countries worldwide.

About McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT
The McGovern Institute is an inclusive and collaborative community of MIT scientists, engineers, and support staff who work together to unravel the mysteries of the brain. Our researchers are committed to meeting two of the greatest challenges of modern science: understanding how the brain works and discovering new ways to prevent or treat brain disorders. To address this scientific challenge, we study the brain at many levels and collaborate with academic, clinical, and industry partners around the world.

The McGovern Institute was established in 2000 by technology entrepreneur Lore Harp McGovern and the late Patrick J. McGovern, former chairman of International Data Group (IDG). Our director is Robert Desimone, the Doris and Don Berkey Professor of Neuroscience at MIT and former head of intramural research at the National Institute of Mental Health. The McGovern Institute has grown from six founding faculty members to more than 20 distinguished investigators including one Nobel laureate and six members of the National Academy of Sciences.


Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Fanzor is a eukaryotic programmable RNA-guided endonuclease by Makoto Saito, Peiyu Xu, Guilhem Faure, Samantha Maguire, Soumya Kannan, Han Altae-Tran, Sam Vo, AnAn Desimone, Rhiannon K. Macrae & Feng Zhang. Nature (2023) DOI: Published: 28 June 2023

This paper is behind a paywall.

Fluid mechanics in the kitchen

Caption: Dr. Maciej Lisicki is developing a formula for perfectly creamy ice cream in his laboratory. Credit Photo: Michal Czerepaniak, source: Faculty of Physics, University of Warsaw.

It’s unusual to see a scientist in an orange (maybe it could be called fire engine red?) jumpsuit as it has an altogether different meaning (prison wear) in the US.

Sadly, there isn’t a video of Dr. Maciej Lisicki or other scientists in the kitchen but here’s a description of what they’ve been up to from a June 22, 2023 University of Warsaw (Poland) press release (also on EurekAlert),

Take four brilliant physicists who specialize in fluid mechanics and put them in the kitchen. Give them pots, pans, basic foodstuffs, and a bottle of champagne. Add a COVID-19 pandemic, a pinch of boredom, and a handful of good ideas. Stir, wait, and voilà – you have a “delicious” publication that will teach you how bubbles are created in champagne, how to brew the perfect espresso, and how “kitchen revolutions” can contribute to innovations in many fields, including biomedicine and nanotechnology.

Most of us visit this place every day. But the kitchen is not just for cooking meals. “It can be an excellent place to conduct experiments and even make scientific discoveries,” argues Maciej Lisicki, of the Faculty of Physics of the University of Warsaw, co-author of a publication in the prestigious journal Reviews of Modern Physics. The team of researchers, which in addition to Maciej Lisicki includes Arnold Mathijssen of the University of Pennsylvania, Endre J.L. Mossige of the University of Oslo and Vivek N. Prakash of the University of Miami, not only explores the history of food science, but also shows how phenomena in the kitchen lead to innovations in biomedicine and nanotechnology.

COVID pandemic and bubbles in champagne

Maciej Lisicki and his fellow researchers began working on the article during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many researchers could not work in the lab and began experimenting in their homes. “It started primarily with the intention to make an educational tool, given that kitchens offer a low barrier of entry to doing science — all you need are some pots, pans, and a few ingredients to get a few reactions going—but it quickly grew into a more scientific reflection of the history of food once we realized how interwoven the fields are,” says Arnold Mathijssen.

The team of researchers constructed the results of their work along the lines of a menu. “Tasting” begins with the physics of drinks and cocktails, then moves on to main courses, and finishes with coffee and desserts, whose preparation is also based on the intuitive use of the laws of nature.

As with any good party, everything begins with the opening of a bottle of champagne. After a characteristic “pop”, we observe how a mist forms around the neck of the bottle. – This phenomenon is associated with a rapid change in pressure. Inside the bottle it reaches almost five atmospheres, but when the bottle is opened it drops to one atmosphere.  “The expansion is accompanied by a drop in temperature, which causes the water vapor that accumulates near the mouth of the bottle to freeze, and the carbon dioxide coming out of the bottle to condense”, Maciej Lisicki explains.

In their paper, the researchers also look at bubbles, which give sparkling wines their unique flavor. “Circulating bubbles force the transport of the liquid in the glass, and thus facilitate the release and spread of aromatic notes and flavors”, the researcher adds. From the section of the paper devoted to drinks and cocktails, we will also learn what makes the foam in beer so thick and stable, why aniseed drinks such as rakija and ouzo get cloudy when enough water is added (the phenomenon is even called the “ouzo effect”), and what “tears of wine” are.

When water surfs the pan

Moving on to the main course, the scientists explain the role of heat and its effect on food textures, aromas, and flavors. Among other things, they describe the Leidenfrost effect, in which a drop of liquid placed on a very hot surface forms an insulating layer of vapor, that prevents rapid boiling. “Water drops thrown onto the pan ‘surf’ and even bounce off the surface, instead of evaporating immediately”, Lisicki says. 

Proper temperature is crucial in the preparation of many foods. “It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in physics to fry the perfect steak. Everyone knows that one needs to quickly sear the meat in a sufficiently hot pan. As a result, the proteins on the surface of the steak coagulate and the moisture is kept inside”, the researcher explains. 

A Ph.D. in dishwashing

The text also includes examples of scientific discoveries that researchers have made without leaving their own kitchens. One of them is related to the biography of Agnes Pockels.

“Her story speaks of the inequality in science. She was a woman in Germany in the late 19th century, so she was not allowed to attend university for formal training, making it difficult for her to submit her research to journals,” Mathijssen says.

Running her parents’ household and spending a lot of time in the kitchen, she quickly began experimenting there. “Observing the formation of foam and films on the surface of dirty dishes, she was the first to describe the phenomenon of surface tension and developed an instrument to measure it. Initially, scientific journals were reluctant to publish the results of her experiments due to her lack of formal training and affiliation with university staff. Her first paper was published through Lord Rayleigh in Nature and contributed to the understanding of surface effects in liquids. Agnes Pockels then became well-known and respected, and all her subsequent work was published in high-profile journals. This example shows that it is possible to become a respected scientist without leaving home,” notes Maciej Lisicki.

Salad dressing vs. nanoengineering

Research in fluid mechanics can help improve food processing technologies, as well as find applications in other fields such as nanoengineering and medicine. “In an earlier study (“Rechargeable self-assembled droplet microswimmers driven by surface phase transitions”, published in Nature Physics) conducted by my team, we used a simple emulsion that is the basis of salad dressings – oil with water. We were able to make droplets of such an emulsion, with the addition of a surfactant, form tendrils under temperature and move like bacteria. Such nontoxic, biocompatible microfluidics could be used in the future, for example, to precisely deliver drugs anywhere in our bodies”, Lisicki explains. 

The review also highlights the applicability of these technologies in areas such as food safety and quality control. By deploying devices that can detect food-borne pathogens or toxins using principles of fluid dynamics, the scientific community can contribute significantly to public health.

Another key aspect of their review is the potential impact it could have on policy decisions, particularly those related to environmental sustainability and food safety. The authors highlight the significance of science-based policies, for example – referencing the announced EU ban on PFAS non-stick coatings by 2030. Using the scientific understanding offered by studies like these, policy makers can make informed decisions to foster a more sustainable and safer food future.

“Kitchen flows show us that significant scientific problems are available at our fingertips and do not always require space technology to explore them. On the other hand, more than a few cosmic technologies were born from inspiration by everyday phenomena. The kitchen can therefore entertain us, but also teach us – in this case, physics. This is why it is worth a try to unleash your curiosity and experiment!” Lisicki adds.

This research was supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-NIFA AFRI 2020-67017-30776 and 2020-67015-32330).

Faculty of Physics of the University of Warsaw
Physics and astronomy at the University of Warsaw appeared in 1816 as part of the then Faculty of Philosophy. In 1825, the Astronomical Observatory was established. Currently, the Faculty of Physics at the University of Warsaw consists of the following institutes: Experimental Physics, Theoretical Physics, Geophysics, the Department of Mathematical Methods and the Astronomical Observatory. The research covers almost all areas of modern physics, on scales from quantum to cosmological. The Faculty’s research and teaching staff consists of over 200 academic teachers, 88 of whom are professors. About 1,100 students and over 170 doctoral students study at the Faculty of Physics at the University of Warsaw.

Perhaps the paper provides more information about the ice cream research depicted in the visual image at the top of this posting. Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Culinary fluid mechanics and other currents in food science by Arnold J. T. M. Mathijssen, Maciej Lisicki, Vivek N. Prakash, and Endre J. L. Mossige. Rev. Mod. Phys. Vol. 95, Iss. 2 — April – June 2023 025004 DOI: Published: 5 June 2023 © 2023 American Physical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

D-Wave Systems demonstrates quantum advantage on optimization problems with a 5,000-qubit programmable spin glass

This May 17, 2023 article by Ingrid Fadelli for describes quantum research performed by D-Wave Systems (a company in Vancouver, Canada) and Boston University (Massachusetts, US), Note: Links have been removed,

Over the past decades, researchers and companies worldwide have been trying to develop increasingly advanced quantum computers. The key objective of their efforts is to create systems that will outperform classical computers on specific tasks, which is also known as realizing “quantum advantage.”

A research team at D-Wave Inc., a quantum computing company, recently created a new quantum computing system that outperforms classical computing systems on optimization problems. This system, introduced in a paper in Nature, is based on a programmable spin glass with 5,000 qubits (the quantum equivalents of bits in classical computing).

“This work validates the original hypothesis behind quantum annealing, coming full circle from some seminal experiments conducted in the 1990s,” Andrew D. King, one of the researchers who carried out the study, told

“These original experiments took chunks of spin-glass alloy and subjected them to varying magnetic fields, and the observations suggested that if we made a programmable quantum spin glass, it could drive down to low-energy states of optimization problems faster than analogous classical algorithms. A Science paper published in 2014 tried to verify this on a D-Wave Two processor, but no speedup was found.”

“This is a ‘full circle’ moment, in the sense that we have verified and extended the hypothesis of the UChicago [University of Chicago] and NEC [Nippon Electric Company] researchers; quantum annealing shows a scaling advantage over simulated thermal annealing,” King said. “Ours is the largest programmable quantum simulation ever performed; reproducing it classically is way beyond the reach of known methods.”

“We have a clear view of quantum effects and very clear evidence, both theoretical and experimental, that the quantum effects are conferring a computational scaling advantage over classical methods,” King said. “We want to highlight the difference between this original definition of quantum advantage and the fact that it is sometimes used as a stand-in term for quantum supremacy, which we have not demonstrated. [emphases mine] Gate-model quantum computers have not shown any capabilities approaching this for optimization, and I personally don’t believe they ever will.”

“For a long time, it was subject for debate whether or not coherent quantum dynamics were playing any role at all in quantum annealing,” King said. “While this controversy has been rebuked by previous works, this new research is the clearest demonstration yet, by far.”

An April 19, 2023 D-Wave Systems news release, which seems to have been the basis for Fadelli’s article, provides more detail in a release that functions as a research announcement and a sales tool, Note: Links have been removed,

D-Wave Quantum Inc. (NYSE: QBTS), a leader in quantum computing systems, software, and services—and the only provider building both annealing and gate-model quantum computers, today published a peer-reviewed milestone paper showing the performance of its 5,000 qubit Advantage™ quantum computer is significantly faster than classical compute on 3D spin glass optimization problems, an intractable class of optimization problems. This paper also represents the largest programmable quantum simulation reported to date.

The paper—a collaboration between scientists from D-Wave and Boston University—entitled “Quantum critical dynamics in a 5,000-qubit programmable spin glass,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature today and is available here. Building upon research conducted on up to 2,000 qubits last September, the study shows that the D-Wave quantum processor can compute coherent quantum dynamics in large-scale optimization problems. This work was done using D-Wave’s commercial-grade annealing-based quantum computer, which is accessible for customers to use today.

With immediate implications to optimization, the findings show that coherent quantum annealing can improve solution quality faster than classical algorithms. The observed speedup matches the theory of coherent quantum annealing and shows​ a direct connection between coherence and the core computational power of quantum annealing.

“This research marks a significant achievement for quantum technology, as it demonstrates a computational advantage over classical approaches for an intractable class of optimization problems,” said Dr. Alan Baratz, CEO of D-Wave. “For those seeking evidence of quantum annealing’s unrivaled performance, this work offers definitive proof.

This work supports D-Wave’s ongoing commitment to relentless scientific innovation and product delivery, as the company continues development on its future annealing and gate model quantum computers. To date, D-Wave has brought to market five generations of quantum computers and launched an experimental prototype of its sixth-generation machine, the Advantage2™ system, in June 2022. The full Advantage2 system is expected to feature 7,000+ qubits, 20-way connectivity and higher coherence to solve even larger and more complex problems. Read more about the research in our Medium post here.

Paper’s Authors and Leading Industry Voices Echo Support

“This is an important advance in the study of quantum phase transitions on quantum annealers. It heralds a revolution in experimental many-body physics and bodes well for practical applications of quantum computing,” said Wojciech Zurek, theoretical physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and leading authority on quantum theory. Dr. Zurek is widely renowned for his groundbreaking contribution to our understanding of the early universe as well as condensed matter systems through the discovery of the celebrated Kibble-Zurek mechanism. This mechanism underpins the physics behind the experiment reported in this paper. “The same hardware that has already provided useful experimental proving ground for quantum critical dynamics can be also employed to seek low-energy states that assist in finding solutions to optimization problems.”

“Disordered magnets, such as spin glasses, have long functioned as model systems for testing solvers of complex optimization problems,” said Gabriel Aeppli, professor of physics at ETH Zürich and EPF Lausanne, and head of the Photon Science Division of the Paul Scherrer Institut. Professor Aeppli coauthored the first experimental paper demonstrating advantage of quantum annealing over thermal annealing in reaching ground state of disordered magnets. “This paper gives evidence that the quantum dynamics of a dedicated hardware platform are faster than for known classical algorithms to find the preferred, lowest energy state of a spin glass, and so promises to continue to fuel the further development of quantum annealers for dealing with practical problems.”

“As a physicist who has built my career on computer simulations of quantum systems, it has been amazing to experience first-hand the transformative capabilities of quantum annealing devices,” said Anders Sandvik, professor of physics at Boston University and a coauthor of the paper. “This paper already demonstrates complex quantum dynamics on a scale beyond any classical simulation method, and I’m very excited about the expected enhanced performance of future devices. I believe we are now entering an era when quantum annealing becomes an essential tool for research on complex systems.”

“This work marks a major step towards large-scale quantum simulations of complex materials,” said Hidetoshi Nishimori, Professor, Institute of Innovative Research, Tokyo Institute of Technology and one of the original inventors of quantum annealing. “We can now expect novel physical phenomena to be revealed by quantum simulations using quantum annealing, ultimately leading to the design of materials of significant societal value.”

“This represents some of the most important experimental work ever performed in quantum optimization,” said Dr. Andrew King, director of performance research at D-Wave. “We’ve demonstrated a speedup over simulated annealing, in strong agreement with theory, providing high-quality solutions for large-scale problems. This work shows clear evidence of quantum dynamics in optimization, which we believe paves the way for even more complex problem-solving using quantum annealing in the future. The work exhibits a programmable realization of lab experiments that originally motivated quantum annealing 25 years ago.”

“Not only is this the largest demonstration of quantum simulation to date, but it also provides the first experimental evidence, backed by theory, that coherent quantum dynamics can accelerate the attainment of better solutions in quantum annealing,” said Mohammad Amin, fellow, quantum algorithms and systems, at D-Wave. “The observed speedup can be attributed to complex critical dynamics during quantum phase transition, which cannot be replicated by classical annealing algorithms, and the agreement between theory and experiment is remarkable. We believe these findings have significant implications for quantum optimization, with practical applications in addressing real-world problems.”

About D-Wave Quantum Inc.

D-Wave is a leader in the development and delivery of quantum computing systems, software, and services, and is the world’s first commercial supplier of quantum computers—and the only company building both annealing quantum computers and gate-model quantum computers. Our mission is to unlock the power of quantum computing today to benefit business and society. We do this by delivering customer value with practical quantum applications for problems as diverse as logistics, artificial intelligence, materials sciences, drug discovery, scheduling, cybersecurity, fault detection, and financial modeling. D-Wave’s technology is being used by some of the world’s most advanced organizations, including Volkswagen, Mastercard, Deloitte, Davidson Technologies, ArcelorMittal, Siemens Healthineers, Unisys, NEC Corporation, Pattison Food Group Ltd., DENSO, Lockheed Martin, Forschungszentrum Jülich, University of Southern California, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Forward-Looking Statements

This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which statements are based on beliefs and assumptions and on information currently available. In some cases, you can identify forward-looking statements by the following words: “may,” “will,” “could,” “would,” “should,” “expect,” “intend,” “plan,” “anticipate,” “believe,” “estimate,” “predict,” “project,” “potential,” “continue,” “ongoing,” or the negative of these terms or other comparable terminology, although not all forward-looking statements contain these words. These statements involve risks, uncertainties, and other factors that may cause actual results, levels of activity, performance, or achievements to be materially different from the information expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements. We caution you that these statements are based on a combination of facts and factors currently known by us and our projections of the future, which are subject to a number of risks. Forward-looking statements in this press release include, but are not limited to, statements regarding the impact of the results of this study; the company’s Advantage2™ experimental prototype; and the potential for future problem-solving using quantum annealing. We cannot assure you that the forward-looking statements in this press release will prove to be accurate. These forward-looking statements are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties, including, among others, various factors beyond management’s control, including general economic conditions and other risks, our ability to expand our customer base and the customer adoption of our solutions, and the uncertainties and factors set forth in the sections entitled “Risk Factors” and “Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements” in D-Wave Quantum Inc.’s Form S-4 Registration Statement, as amended, previously filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as factors associated with companies, such as D-Wave, that are engaged in the business of quantum computing, including anticipated trends, growth rates, and challenges in those businesses and in the markets in which they operate; the outcome of any legal proceedings that may be instituted against us; risks related to the performance of our business and the timing of expected business or financial milestones; unanticipated technological or project development challenges, including with respect to the cost and or timing thereof; the performance of the our products; the effects of competition on our business; the risk that we will need to raise additional capital to execute our business plan, which may not be available on acceptable terms or at all; the risk that we may never achieve or sustain profitability; the risk that we are unable to secure or protect our intellectual property; volatility in the price of our securities; and the risk that our securities will not maintain the listing on the NYSE. Furthermore, if the forward-looking statements contained in this press release prove to be inaccurate, the inaccuracy may be material. In addition, you are cautioned that past performance may not be indicative of future results. In light of the significant uncertainties in these forward-looking statements, you should not place undue reliance on these statements in making an investment decision or regard these statements as a representation or warranty by any person we will achieve our objectives and plans in any specified time frame, or at all. The forward-looking statements in this press release represent our views as of the date of this press release. We anticipate that subsequent events and developments will cause our views to change. However, while we may elect to update these forward-looking statements at some point in the future, we have no current intention of doing so except to the extent required by applicable law. You should, therefore, not rely on these forward-looking statements as representing our views as of any date subsequent to the date of this press release.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Quantum critical dynamics in a 5,000-qubit programmable spin glass by Andrew D. King, Jack Raymond, Trevor Lanting, Richard Harris, Alex Zucca, Fabio Altomare, Andrew J. Berkley, Kelly Boothby, Sara Ejtemaee, Colin Enderud, Emile Hoskinson, Shuiyuan Huang, Eric Ladizinsky, Allison J. R. MacDonald, Gaelen Marsden, Reza Molavi, Travis Oh, Gabriel Poulin-Lamarre, Mauricio Reis, Chris Rich, Yuki Sato, Nicholas Tsai, Mark Volkmann, Jed D. Whittaker, Jason Yao, Anders W. Sandvik & Mohammad H. Amin. Nature volume 617, pages 61–66 (2023) DOI: Published: 19 April 2023 Issue Date: 04 May 2023

This paper is behind a paywall but there is an open access version on the arxiv website which means that it has had some peer review but may differ from the version in Nature.

Uncovering the secrets of ancient Wari Empire pottery with lasers and chemistry

This is a little bit outside my usual range but the researchers are using some high end equipment for their analyses so I’m using that as an excuse to make an exception.

Caption: Example ceramic drinking cup from the Wari site of Cerro Baúl, Moquegua, Peru that are similar to the sherds included in the Laser Ablation sampling. Credit: Courtesy Cerro Baúl Archaeological Project, photo by P. R. Williams, Catalog number CB-V001.

From a March 14, 2023 Field Museum (Chicago, Illinois) news release (also on EurekAlert)

Peru’s first great empire, the Wari, stretched for more than a thousand miles over the Andes Mountains and along the coast from 600-1000 CE. The pottery they left behind gives archaeologists clues as to how the empire functioned. In a new study in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, researchers showed that rather than using “official” Wari pottery imported from the capital, potters across the empire were creating their own ceramics, decorated to emulate the traditional Wari style. To figure it out, the scientists analyzed the pottery’s chemical make-up, with help from laser beams.

“In this study, we looked at the idea of cosmopolitanism, of incorporating different cultures and practices into a society,” says M. Elizabeth Grávalos, a postdoctoral researcher at the Field Museum in Chicago and the study’s lead author. “We’re trying to show that potters were influenced by the Wari, but this influence was blended with their own local cultural practices.”

Grávalos says this model of cosmopolitanism is a little like trying to replicate a recipe from another culture, but with a local spin. “If you live in the US and you’re making pad thai at home, you might not have access to all the ingredients that someone living in Thailand would have, so you substitute some things,” she says. “Wari ceramics are a little like thatpeople throughout the empire were interested in Wari material culture, but they weren’t necessarily getting it directly from the Wari heartland. More often than not, we see local people trying to make their own version of Wari pottery.”

Grávalos and her colleagues led archaeological digs throughout Peru, working with local communities to excavate the thousand-year-old remains of households, tombs, and administrative centers, in search of Wari lifeways. The researchers were then granted permission from Peru’s Ministry of Culture to bring samples of ceramics from their excavations to Chicago for analysis.

Clay from different regions has a different chemical makeup, so studying the ceramics’ chemical makeup could tell the researchers if the pots were produced in different places or if they were all imported from the Wari capital.

“We’d take a tiny piece of a pot and used a laser to cut an even tinier piece, basically extracting a piece of the ceramic’s clay paste,” says Grávalos. “Then helium gas carried it to the mass spectrometer, which measures the elements present in the  clay paste.” (The lab set-up didn’t have open laser beams and floating shards of pottery cutting across the room, thoughthe whole process takes place on a microscopic scale inside a big boxy machine.)

The analysis showed that the pots excavated from distinct regions of Peru have different chemical signatures, and were therefore made with distinct clays. That helps show how the Wari culture spread.

Some empires, like the ancient Romans, took a “top-down” approach to spreading their aesthetic, shipping pottery across the Mediterranean so that people throughout the empire were using the official Roman style. Local potters emulating the traditional Wari style in their own work seems to hint at a more “bottom-up” approach.

“Of course, local people in all empires have some degree of agency and creative controlthe only empire that’s truly top-down is the Borg from Star Trek,” says Patrick Ryan Williams, Curator of Archaeological Science and Director of the Elemental Analysis Facility  at the Field Museum and the study’s senior author. “Even the Romans had local people doing things their own way. But what we’re finding in this study is the agency of local peoples and the importance of local economies. In some regions, we find that Wari colonists had their own production centers and were recreating Wari lifeways locally. In other areas, we see that local communities made Wari pottery in their own way. I think that’s what’s really important about this study.”

The researchers say that the patterns revealed by this pottery could help explain why the Wari empire was able to thrive for so long. “Local production, even in a cosmopolitan society with lots of far-flung connections, makes a society more resilient,” says Williams. “If you’re entirely dependent on someone far away sending you things you need, you’re extremely vulnerable.”

Beyond the economic lessons that we might learn from the Wari, Grávalos says that the study matters because “this work challenges some of the assumptions we have about how societies work, particularly Indigenous groups who are often misrepresented or left out of broader narratives of world history. There are many people whose stories haven’t been told, and this study shows their resilience and their accomplishments.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Crafting cosmopolitanism: Ceramic production and exchange during Wari imperialism (600–1000 CE) by M. Elizabeth Grávalos, David A. Reid, Donna J. Nash, and Patrick Ryan Williams. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports Available online 14 March 2023, 103878 In Press, Correctted proof. DOI:

This paper is behind a paywall.