How Owensboro Tobacco Grew A Possible Miracle Drug To Treat Ebola

August 13, 2014

By: Janet Patton
Via: Lexington Herald-Leader

In this undated photo provided by Kentucky BioProcessing, tobacco plants are grown in a controlled environment at the Kentucky BioProcessing facility in Owensboro, Ky. The company is using tobacco plants grown at this facility to help manufacture an experimental drug to treat patients infected with Ebola. (AP Photo/Kentucky BioProcessing) UNCREDITED — ASSOCIATED PRESS


When two American aid workers came down with the deadly Ebola virus recently, an experimental treatment materialized seemingly out of nowhere. How did a possible miracle drug for one of the deadliest diseases in Africa come to be grown half a world away in a small town in Kentucky?

Because of chewing tobacco, malaria, Charles Darwin and Australia.

For decades, tobacco has been a solution in search of the right problem, and Ebola might be that problem.

In the 1990s, when smoking rates slipped below 30 percent, Kentucky tobacco farmers began to look for another way to make money. And a lot of eyes turned to Daviess County.

There had always been a lot of tobacco grown in the Owensboro area, including acres of a variety known as “dark air-cured” for Pinkerton, a local chewing tobacco company.

But what was growing there now was different: it would never be smoked or dipped.

A California start-up called Biosource Technologies was paying Daviess County farmers to grow genetically altered tobacco that could produce pharmaceuticals.

One of the first was Rod Kuegel, then president of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association, the “pool” buyer for unsold tobacco for cigarettes. At the time, burley was still Kentucky’s top agricultural crop, worth more than $840 million.

But Kuegel was keen for a new opportunity.

“We grew a cat vaccine,” Kuegel said last week. Biosource was happy with the results but didn’t want to plant more.

“The man said, ‘The good thing is we got 3 million doses of cat vaccine,’” Kuegel said. “‘The downside is we’ve got 3 million doses of cat vaccine.’”

That was typical of the early stages of the business. Sure, you could do it, but would it make any money?

Why Owensboro?

For decades, farmers around Owensboro had been growing tobacco for Red Man, made by Pinkerton. In 1985, as smokeless tobaccos were gaining market share, Swedish Match bought Pinkerton. In the early ’90s, the company built a tobacco research and processing facility in Owensboro to explore the chemical potential of tobacco called the Reserca R&D Station.

Out in Vacaville, Calif., a tech startup company called Large Scale Biology was working on genetically engineering ways to make drugs with plants, including tobacco, which has long been the plant equivalent of the white lab rat.

Tobacco was the first plant to be successfully spliced with foreign genes. Tobacco mosaic virus, so named because of the mottled pattern it produces in tobacco leaves, was the first virus ever discovered and purified.

Large Scale Biology pioneered ways to use the tobacco mosaic virus to get foreign genes into plants, which would then reproduce the desired proteins.

By 1995, a company called Biosource was looking for a way to ramp up production of their experimental drugs, including a vaccine they hoped would fight malaria, so they came to Owensboro. (Biosource would acquire Large Scale Biology in 1999, choosing to keep that name.)

There was widespread interest in using tobacco to produce vaccines and treatments for everything from an antibody to fight tooth decay to an anti-inflammatory protein for use in cardiovascular surgery, along with treatments for orphan diseases — defined by the FDA as conditions that affect fewer than 200,000 people nationwide — cancer, AIDS and infectious threats.

While many companies were experimenting with genetically modified crops such as corn, tobacco — because it wasn’t a food crop — seemed safer and easier.

The technology for pharmaceutical production worked well, but commercializing the process remained problematic. Large Scale Biology had no experience in the arduous and expensive process of getting a new drug through the FDA approval process.

By 2005, the company was in financial trouble. It filed for bankruptcy in January 2006.

“It might be fair to say Large Scale Biology was ahead of its time, and ran out of money before the technology was mature enough,” said Kenneth Palmer, a University of Louisville researcher who worked at Large Scale Biology.

“They laid the groundwork — they had a very innovative group of plant virologists who developed the expression systems to induce plants to make proteins they don’t normally make, like antibodies,” Palmer said. “They developed a lot of the basic technologies currently used today.”

Daviess County farmers are progressive, Kuegel said, and many hoped Large Scale Biology would give them another revenue stream from tobacco, a crop they knew how to grow very well.

They envisioned large fields of bioengineered tobacco that wouldn’t require the same level of expensive manual labor as traditional tobacco.

But the use of a modified version of the tobacco mosaic virus sprayed on plants created new headaches: growers of conventional tobacco worried about gene transfers. And the federal Food and Drug Administration worried about consistency.

The answer was to go indoors to grow everything in a clean environment and keep the conditions tightly controlled. No thunderstorms or droughts, no hail or insect swarms.

But that also meant fewer big fields of tobacco and fewer farmers getting paid to grow it for pharmaceutical companies.

Instead, the company would build an indoor facility the size of a Wal-Mart supercenter with 32,000 square feet of growing space, filled with a totally different kind of tobacco, Nicotiana benthamiana, with its own interesting history.

Not your smoking tobacco

In December 1831, when HMS Beagle set sail on a five-year survey of South America, Charles Darwin was aboard as gentleman naturalist. Darwin was a social equal of Capt. John FitzRoy, and they got along. Ship’s surgeon Robert McCormick, who had expected to be the naturalist discovering all the new and interest flora and fauna, became increasingly put out at the favoritism shown Darwin, who got the plum trips ashore while McCormick fumed.

By April, McCormick asked for and received permission to leave; he was replaced by his assistant, the Barbados-born Benjamin Bynoe. Darwin took Bynoe under his wing, teaching him useful collecting techniques. When they arrived at the Galapagos Islands, Bynoe and Darwin camped on Santiago for a week with their servants, gathering fish, snails, birds, reptiles and some insects. Bynoe was there when Darwin began to realize that the species of the various islands were all different; before this, he had not labeled them by island.

In 1836, the Beagle returned to England via Tahiti and Australia, and Darwin went off to study his finds and write the observations that lead to his famous treatise on natural selection, On the Origin of Species.

When the Beagle left the next year to survey Western Australia, which had become a British colony in 1829, Bynoe again went along and this time was both surgeon and naturalist. Somewhere along the northern coast, Bynoe picked up a species of wild tobacco, according to a paper on the history of the plant written in 2008 by UK tobacco genomics professor David Zaitlin, UK plant pathologist Michael Goodin and two other professors at Washington State University and North Carolina State University.

A specimen of this plant wound up in the records of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, where it was eventually named in honor of botanist George Bentham, who described it in his Flora Australiensis in 1868.

Nicotiana benthamiana turns out to have unique characteristics that have made it a darling of modern science.

Because the species developed in isolation, benthamiana has no built-in resistance to much of anything, said Orlando Chambers, director of the Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development center. That makes it easy to infect with the altered tobacco mosaic virus and with agrobacterium, a gene-swapping bacteria that causes tumors in plants.

Modern science also discovered that N. benthamiana, unlike other common research plants, is terrific for a process called “agrofiltration,” in which tissues are flooded with liquid that spreads quickly throughout the entire leaf.

Benthamiana is fast growing but could never survive outside, Chambers said. It is perfect for large-scale indoor growing in soil-free systems, where the plants can be completely controlled.

In Owensboro, the facility also uses automated systems that can infuse whole plants in agrobacterium-laced solutions, which the plants soak up. The agrobacterium carries the foreign genes into the plants, which are then reproduced in bulk. In just a week or two the desired compounds are extracted from the plants.

Since the 1970s at least, tobacco researchers had known the plant could produce copious amounts of chemicals. The problem was finding something worth the effort.

One of Large Scale Biology’s last projects was an individualized “vaccine” for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that would use each patient’s own cancer to create the “cure” and grow it in bulk.

“Sixteen patients enrolled and were given 16 different vaccines, one each,” Palmer said. The goal of the trial was to see if the vaccines were safe, he said. They were, and the outcome was promising. Other pharmaceutical companies are pursuing this avenue of research.

The success came too late for Large Scale Biology, but it proved a tobacco-grown pharmaceutical could be safe. And the speed and relatively cheap cost of the process made it a very attractive option to outside drug researchers, which became the saving grace for the facility.

Owensboro hospital to the rescue

As Large Scale Biology was on the verge of going out of business, Kentucky agricultural entrepreneur Billy Joe Miles came to the rescue.

Miles, who has a farm less a mile from the plant, had toured the Owensboro facility as well as Large Scale Biology’s California labs with Gov. Paul Patton, University of Kentucky president Lee Todd and Jim Ramsey, future University of Louisville president.

“I got a call saying the company had gone bankrupt and they were going to close the plant in Owensboro,” Miles remembered last week. He quickly arranged to cover employees’ salaries and keep the doors open while he worked out a plan to save it.

As chairman of the University of Kentucky board of trustees, his first thought was UK, where the Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center is located.

But the deal didn’t quite come together, so Miles turned to two other boards with which he was affiliated: the Owensboro hospital and the Kentucky Agricultural Financing Corp., a loan pool set up with money the state got from cigarette makers in the tobacco settlement.

The ag fund loaned the hospital $3.6 million, and Owenboro Medical Health Systems completed the $6.4 million purchase that spring.

Renamed Kentucky BioProcessing, the facility has become a leader worldwide in commercial-scale production of proteins in plants, often on a contract basis.

In July 2007, KBP began a collaboration with Mapp Biopharmaceutical and Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute to work on Ebola. With a grant from the Army, ASU’s Charles Arntzen and Mapp developed the treatment that was used last week on American aid workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol.

KBP also drew the interest of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In 2010, following the H1N1 flu scare, DARPA awarded a contract to the Owensboro plant to show that flu vaccine could be made quickly and safely in tobacco plants. Benthamiana could grow the vaccine much faster than other, egg-based vaccine production systems. KBP and similar facilities are primed to grow millions of doses of vaccine for the next pandemic.

“This system would represent a significant alternative in the nation’s ability to protect itself from potential biological threats,” KBP said in a new release last year. “This proof-of-concept program will be focused on influenza, but the system would be adaptable to producing recombinant proteins against other types of pathogens.”

Kuegel, who recently toured the plant with a group of farmers, said the flu vaccine was a crucial hit.

“They created several million doses for the government,” he said. “There’s no facility in the U.S. that can replicate the speed and accuracy that Kentucky BioProcessing can deliver.”

In January, the Owensboro hospital sold KBP to Reynolds American, which is continuing to operate it as a contract bioprocessing facility.

Philip Patterson, president and CEO of Owensboro Health, said the time had come to let KBP go.

“When the board rescued it, they understood the importance of the work going on, work that was still largely conceptual at the time. But the board saw there was promise and value economically for Owensboro,” Patterson said.

“The reason we sold it was we wanted to find the right research partner, a company that could provide significant funding needed to take the next step. Obviously we found that in Reynolds American. They have the expertise at an international level to truly take the work being done at KBP and give it far reaching opportunities. … It’s exciting, and I think there’s more to come.”

The next phase

The University of Kentucky also maintains a connection to KBP. Scientists at the Tobacco Researcher center in Lexington are working on improving benthamiana, to “humanize” it so that the chemicals it reproduces are even more compatible.

Palmer now heads the Owensboro Cancer Research Center, a partnership between U of L and the hospital, and is still collaborating with KBP.

Last week, just as Ebola was making headlines worldwide, U of L and Palmer were announcing another major grant, $14.7 million from the National Institutes of Health to develop a gel that would block transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

They will use the tobacco plants to “manufacture” a critical protein from red algae.

The U of L program also has received major grants to develop a cheaper second-generation HPV vaccine to fight cervical cancer and a vaccine for cholera that also could fight colon cancer. All will be grown in KBP’s plants.

So far, only one plant-based pharmaceutical has made it onto the market anywhere in the world — a treatment for Gaucher disease, a rare genetic disorder of the liver — made by an Israeli company using carrot cells.

For Ebola, KBP was preparing for the first human drug trials later this year when the request came to ship doses to Atlanta’s Emory University for the American aid workers. Now, with calls to make the serum more widely available, those efforts may speed up.

If treatment is proved to have helped Brantly and Writebol and if the results can be borne out with further testing, the drug, called ZMapp, may give biopharmaceuticals the big winner its has long needed to attract significant investment.

Brookings Data Now: 10,000 Jobs Being Created In St. Louis Innovation District

June 14, 2014

By: Alexandria Icenhower
Via: Brookings

"innovation district banner with lofts" by izzointeractive via Flickr (CC by 2.0)


Innovation districts are geographic areas where leading-edge institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators. These areas are usually physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired. They also offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail space. Innovation districts create an atmosphere for job growth and help people connect across various sectors, generate new ideas, and accelerate commercialization.

10,000
Estimated number of jobs to be created in St. Louis upon completion of its innovation district project
The project is part of a $2 billion buildout plan that has already created 2,850 direct jobs to date and has sparked 1.5 million square feet of office and research space, housing, infrastructure, and retail in the Cortex area of St. Louis.
1,400
Expected number of multi-housing units to be built in the Research Triangle Park area of Raleigh-Durham
Research Triangle Park’s 50-year master plan calls for a greater concentration of buildings and amenities and possible construction of a light-rail transit line.
1,000
Approximate acres along the South Boston waterfront that are part of a large project to revitalize the area
More than 200 technology, life science, and other companies have now moved into the Innovation District in South Boston, adding over 6,000 jobs to date.
31
Number of member institutions that form the University City Science Center in Philadelphia’s innovation district
The member institutions from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware are leveraging their assets in teaching, research, and medicine to build the area as a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Learn more about the innovation districts report by Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner here.

Honda Is Designing Houses, Because Cars And Homes Will All Be Part Of The Smart Grid

May 1, 2014

By: Ben Schiller
Via: Co.Exist


In the future, auto companies won’t just build cars. They’ll build cars that are part of the energy infrastructure, providing back up storage for the solar panels on your roof, and reinforcing the wider electricity grid. They could even play a role in developing smart homes and technologies.

You can see as much from a prototype smart home recently opened by Honda in California. It features an enormous 9.5-kilowatt solar array, a 10-kilowatt-hour home battery unit to store excess power, Honda’s home energy management system to control the whole thing, and, of course, its electric vehicle in the garage. Designed to be energy-efficient anyway, the house produces more power than it consumes, which means its owner could actually make money from the power company.


Honda isn’t the only car-maker getting into the whole sustainable lifestyle thing. Ford also built a show-home incorporating its cars and a range of green features. And Tesla is now selling batteries for home use as well as for use in its vehicles. But this house, which Honda developed with a lot of help from the University of California, Davis, might be the most impressive. See its video here.

Based on passive design principles, the house is naturally cooler in summer and warmer in winter. There’s geothermal pump system out back that reduces the cost of heating and air-conditioning. The concrete in the foundation is about half as carbon-intensive as standard, because engineers substituted the mix with pozzolan ash.

All in all, the house uses half the energy of a similar-sized abode in the area, Honda says. It is three times more water-efficient than a typical American home. And it saves 11 tons of CO2 a year, compared to an average dwelling and vehicle. It’s also designed to make its occupants feel good: Davis’s lighting research group installed LEDs throughout to match their circadian rhythms. Really.

Of course, it’s going to be some time before we see something like this in every subdivision in America. But, when we do, you can be sure auto-makers will want part of the action. If they’re not actually building the smart house, they could be selling some of the components that make it possible.

Fast Internet Is Chattanooga’s New Locomotive

February 10, 2014

By: Edward Wyatt
Via: The New York Times


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — For thousands of years, Native Americans used the river banks here to cross a gap in the Appalachian Mountains, and trains sped through during the Civil War to connect the eastern and western parts of the Confederacy. In the 21st century, it is the Internet that passes through Chattanooga, and at lightning speed.

“Gig City,” as Chattanooga is sometimes called, has what city officials and analysts say was the first and fastest — and now one of the least expensive — high-speed Internet services in the United States. For less than $70 a month, consumers enjoy an ultrahigh-speed fiber-optic connection that transfers data at one gigabit per second. That is 50 times the average speed for homes in the rest of the country, and just as rapid as service in Hong Kong, which has the fastest Internet in the world.

It takes 33 seconds to download a two-hour, high-definition movie in Chattanooga, compared with 25 minutes for those with an average high-speed broadband connection in the rest of the country. Movie downloading, however, may be the network’s least important benefit.

“It created a catalytic moment here,” said Sheldon Grizzle, the founder of the Company Lab, which helps start-ups refine their ideas and bring their products to market. “The Gig,” as the taxpayer-owned, fiber-optic network is known, “allowed us to attract capital and talent into this community that never would have been here otherwise.”

Since the fiber-optic network switched on four years ago, the signs of growth in Chattanooga are unmistakable. Former factory buildings on Main Street and Warehouse Row on Market Street have been converted to loft apartments, open-space offices, restaurants and shops. The city has welcomed a new population of computer programmers, entrepreneurs and investors. Lengthy sideburns and scruffy hipster beards — not the norm in eastern Tennessee — are de rigueur for the under-30 set.

“This is a small city that I had never heard of,” said Toni Gemayel, a Florida native who moved his software start-up, Banyan, from Tampa to Chattanooga because of the Internet speed. “It beat Seattle, New York, San Francisco in building the Gig. People here are thinking big.”

But so far, it is unclear statistically how much the superfast network has contributed to economic activity in Chattanooga over all. Although city officials said the Gig created about 1,000 jobs in the last three years, the Department of Labor reported that Chattanooga still had a net loss of 3,000 jobs in that period, mostly in government, construction and finance.

EPB, the city-owned utility formerly named Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, said that only about 3,640 residences, or 7.5 percent of its Internet-service subscribers, are signed up for the Gigabit service offered over the fiber-optic network. Roughly 55 businesses also subscribe. The rest of EPB’s customers subscribe to a (relatively) slower service offered on the network of 100 megabits per second, which is still faster than many other places in the country.

Some specialists say the low subscriber and employment numbers are not surprising or significant, at least in the short term. “The search for statistical validation of these projects is not going to turn up anything meaningful,” said Blair Levin, executive director of Gig.U, a high-speed Internet project that includes more than three dozen American research universities. Mr. Levin cited “Solow’s paradox,” the 1987 observation by Robert M. Solow, a recipient of the Nobel in economic science who wrote that “you can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

Such is the case with many new technologies, Mr. Levin said. No one is going to design products that can run only on a one-gigabit-per-second network if no such networks exist, he said. But put a few in place, he added, and soon the supply of applications will drive a growing demand for the faster connections.

Chattanooga’s path to Gig City is part of a transformation that began long before most Americans knew the Internet existed. Named America’s most-polluted city in 1969 because of largely unregulated base of heavy manufacturing, Chattanooga has in the last two decades cleaned its air, rebuilt its waterfront, added an aquarium and become a hub for the arts in eastern Tennessee. In more recent years, an aggressive high-tech economic development plan and an upgrade of the power grid by EPB moved Chattanooga toward the one-gigabit connection.

In 2009, a $111 million federal stimulus grant offered the opportunity to expedite construction of a long-planned fiber-optic network, said David Wade, chief operating officer for the power company. (EPB also had to borrow $219 million of the network’s $330 million cost.) Mr. Wade said it quickly became apparent that customers would be willing to pay for the one-gigabit connection offered over the network.

Chattanooga has been joined in recent years by a handful of other American cities that have experimented with municipally owned fiber-optic networks that offer the fastest Internet connections. Lafayette, La., and Bristol, Va., have also built gigabit networks. Google is building privately owned fiber systems in Kansas City, Kan.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Austin, Tex., and it recently bought a dormant fiber network in Provo, Utah.

The systems are the leading edge of a push for ever-faster Internet and telecommunications infrastructure in a country that badly lags much of the world in the speed and costs of Web connections. Telecommunications specialists say that if the United States does not keep its networks advancing with those in the rest of the world, innovation, business, education and a host of other pursuits could suffer.

Even so, few people, including many who support the systems, argue that everyone in the country now needs a one-gigabit home connection. Much of the public seems to agree. According to Federal Communications Commission statistics, of the households where service of at least 100 megabits per second was available (one-tenth as fast as a gigabit), only 0.12 percent subscribed at the end of 2012. In Chattanooga, one-third of the households and businesses that get electric power from EPB also subscribe to Internet service of at least 100 megabits.

But just as few people a decade ago thought there would be any need for one terabyte of data storage on a desktop computer (more than 200 million pages of text, or more than 200 movies), even the most prescient technology gurus have often underestimated the hunger for computer speed and memory.

Fiber-optic networks carry another benefit, which is the unlikelihood that a potentially faster network will come along soon. Fiber optics can transmit data at close to the speed of light, and EPB officials say the technology exists for their network to carry up to 80 connections of 10 gigabits per second at once.

Those who use Chattanooga’s one-gigabit connection are enthusiastic. Mr. Gemayel, the Florida native who moved Banyan here from Tampa, first passed through Chattanooga in 2012, when he heard about an entrepreneurial contest sponsored by The Company Lab with a $100,000 prize. Banyan, which was working on a way to share real-time editing in huge data files quickly among far-flung researchers, won the contest. Mr. Gemayel returned to Tampa with his check.

But once there he discovered that his low-bandwidth Internet connection was hampering the development of his business. By the beginning of 2013, he had moved to Chattanooga.

Other companies have become Gig-related successes. Quickcue, a company that developed a tablet-based guest-management system for restaurants, began here in 2011 and over the next two years attracted about $3 million in investments. In December, OpenTable, the online restaurant reservations pioneer, bought Quickcue for $11.5 million.

Big technology dreams do not always pan out, of course, and Chattanooga is familiar with failed experiments. The city spent millions of dollars in the last five years to build a citywide Wi-Fi network, known as the “wireless mesh,” intended for use by residents and city agencies. It sits largely unused, and its utility has largely been usurped by 4G wireless service.

Few people here would say that the Gig has even begun to be used to its fullest. “The potential will only be capped by our selfishness,” said Miller Welborn, a partner at the Lamp Post Group, the business incubator where Banyan shares office space with a dozen other start-ups. “The Gig is not fully useful to Chattanooga unless a hundred other cities are doing the same thing. To date, the best thing it’s done for us is it put us on the map.”

For all the optimism, many boosters are aware there are limits to how far the Gig can take the city, particularly as it waits for the rest of the country to catch up.

“We don’t need to be the next Silicon Valley,” Mayor Andy Berke said. “That’s not who we’re going to be, and we shouldn’t try to be that. But we are making our own place in the innovation economy.”

Correction: February 7, 2014
An article on Tuesday about the high-speed broadband Internet service available in Chattanooga, Tenn., misspelled, in some editions, the surname of the co-founder of Banyan, a software start-up that moved there to take advantage of the fast connection. He is Toni Gemayel, not Gemeyal.

Disruptions: How Driverless Cars Could Reshape Cities

July 9, 2013

By: Nick Bilton
Via: The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — By now, seeing one of Google’s experimental, driverless cars zipping down Silicon Valley’s Highway 101, or parking itself on a San Francisco street, is not all that unusual. Indeed, as automakers like Audi, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz make plans for self-driving vehicles, it is only a matter of time before such cars become a big part of the great American traffic jam.

While driverless cars might still seem like science fiction outside the Valley, the people working and thinking about these technologies are starting to ask what these autos could mean for the city of the future. The short answer is “a lot.”

Imagine a city where you don’t drive in loops looking for a parking spot because your car drops you off and scoots off to some location to wait, sort of like taxi holding pens at airports. Or maybe it is picked up by a robotic minder and carted off with other vehicles, like a row of shopping carts.

Inner-city parking lots could become parks. Traffic lights could be less common because hidden sensors in cars and streets coordinate traffic. And, yes, parking tickets could become a rarity since cars would be smart enough to know where they are not supposed to be.

As scientists and car companies forge ahead — many expect self-driving cars to become commonplace in the next decade — researchers, city planners and engineers are contemplating how city spaces could change if our cars start doing the driving for us. There are risks, of course: People might be more open to a longer daily commute, leading to even more urban sprawl.

That city of the future could have narrower streets because parking spots would no longer be necessary. And the air would be cleaner because people would drive less. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 30 percent of driving in business districts is spent in a hunt for a parking spot, and the agency estimates that almost one billion miles of driving is wasted that way every year.

“What automation is going to allow is repurposing, both of spaces in cities, and of the car itself,” said Ryan Calo, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law, who specializes in robotics and drones.

Harvard University researchers note that as much as one-third of the land in some cities is devoted to parking spots. Some city planners expect that the cost of homes will fall as more space will become available in cities. If parking on city streets is reduced and other vehicles on roadways become smaller, homes and offices will take up that space. Today’s big-box stores and shopping malls require immense areas for parking, but without those needs, they could move further into cities.

The Autonomous Intersection Management project, created by the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, imagines cities where traffic lights no longer exist but sensors direct the flow of traffic. Although a video showing off the automated traffic intersection looks like total chaos, the researchers insist that such intersections will reduce congestion and fuel costs and can allow cars to drive through cities without stopping.

Of course, getting to a utopian city will take a little longer than circling the block looking for a spot. A spokesman for Audi said a fully automated car would not be available until the end of the decade. And the regulatory issues to be addressed before much of this could come true are, to put it mildly, forbidding.

But the pieces are starting to fall into place, at least enough to excite future-minded thinkers. Last year, Jerry Brown, the governor of California, signed legislation paving the way for driverless cars in California, making it the third state to explicitly allow the cars on the road. And federal agencies are starting to consider their impact. In May the Transportation Department made its first formal policy statement on autonomous vehicles, encouraging cities to allow testing of driverless cars.

But to some, this promise — or overpromise as the case may be — sounds familiar.

“The future city is not going to be a congestion-free environment. That same prediction was made that cars would free cities from the congestion of horses on the street,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School and a member of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford. “You have to build the sewer system to accommodate the breaks during the Super Bowl; it won’t be as pretty as we’re envisioning.”

Mr. Smith has an alternative vision of the impact of automated cars, which he believes are inevitable. Never mind that nice city center. He says that driverless cars will allow people to live farther from their offices and that the car could become an extension of home.

“I could sleep in my driverless car, or have an exercise bike in the back of the car to work out on the way to work,” he said. “My time spent in my car will essentially be very different.”

“Driverless cars won’t appear in a vacuum,” Mr. Smith said. Other predictions for the future city imagine fewer traditional-looking cars. Taking their place will be drones and robots that deliver goods.

Oh, and that food-delivery car double-parked outside? That, Mr. Calo said, will be replaced by a delivery drone.

Fight Flu With Tobacco

March 20, 2013

By: Katharine Gammon
Via: Wired


This flu season has been a particularly bad one. But an innovative method for making vaccines promises an easier and quicker response to pandemics—thanks to good ol’ tobacco. Sounds healthy, right? Currently, the majority of the 130 million seasonal flu vaccine doses administered in the US every year are made using live chicken embryos. But the process is costly, time-consuming, and requires a lot of eggs.

So Medicago, a Canadian pharmaceutical company, is testing a new idea: Coax tobacco plants into expressing the proteins to make vaccines. Last year Darpa challenged the firm to make 10 million doses in a month. Medicago succeeded, proving it can respond quickly to a new outbreak—much faster than the six months required for egg-based vaccines. This is how the tobacky gets wacky.