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The Energy Balance of Running

Human beings are great at running because they are stupendous at sweating

2 min read
Illustration by Chad Hagen
Illustration: Chad Hagen

During the two years of its monthly appearance, this column has looked at many objects—cars, turbines, airplanes, windows, mobile phones, and nuclear reactors—made by humans. Today’s focus is on the human body, specifically the way it keeps itself cool.

Before the development of long-range projectile weaponry some tens of thousands of years ago, in Africa, our ancestors had only two ways to secure meat: by scavenging the leftovers of mightier beasts or by running down their own prey. Humans were able to occupy the second of those ecological niches thanks, in part, to two great advantages of bipedalism.

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A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

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