The Download: gene therapy and AI chip wars

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

A new gene therapy based on antibody cells is about to be tested in humans

During the covid-19 pandemic, antibodies played a front-and-center role. We used home tests to look for them, and we took vaccines so our bodies would make more.Less attention was paid to B cells, the immune-system cells that actually make antibodies, churning out as many as 10,000 a second—and which, after an infection, can persist for years inside your bone marrow.

Now a biotechnology company based in Seattle says the US Food and Drug Administration has agreed to let it move forward with the first study in humans of a new type of gene therapy, using genetically engineered B cells. The company, Immusoft, plans to harness B cells to treat a rare inherited disease called MPS-1. If it’s successful, it could overhaul how we treat similar conditions in the future. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The US has blocked the sale of AI chips to China and Russia
It’s part of the US’s strategy to use export controls to stay at the forefront of technological development. (Protocol)
+ Inside the software that will become the next battle front in the US-China chip war. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Crypto companies will need a license to operate in California
Unsurprisingly, the crypto industry isn’t happy about it. (CoinDesk)
+ Crypto exchange Binance is making an aggressive play for traders. (FT $)
3 People think misinformation is a major global threat
Second only to climate change. (NYT $)
4 North Korea’s hackers pepper their malware with pop culture references
It’s up to experts in South Korea to decipher and block the threats. (Bloomberg $)

5 Disaster consultants are busier than ever 
When a disaster strikes, third parties deal with the endless red tape—and business is booming. (The Verge)
6 eSports provide Venezuela’s gamers with a route out of poverty
Many of the country’s youngsters grew up without the internet or electricity. (Rest of World)
7 Inside the fierce debate over psychedelic therapy
Experts worry that hype could destroy all the careful progress the field has made. (Wired $)
+ Psychedelics are having a moment and women could be the ones to benefit. (MIT Technology Review)
8 Sorry, but e-bikes are really ugly 🚲
It’s partly because we can’t agree on what we want to use them for. (The Atlantic $)
+ New electric vehicles need to be safe, as well as green. (Slate $)
+ Recycling car parts is a nice idea, but it seems pretty far off. (NYT $)
9 An AI artwork won a state art fair
Inevitably, there’s been a backlash. (Motherboard)
+ The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images. (MIT Technology Review)
10 Japan is trying to phase out floppy disks 💾
But it’s meeting stiff resistance from bureaucrats. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“The US side should immediately stop its wrongdoing.”

—A statement from Beijing calls for the US to reverse restricting the sale of AI chips to the country, according to the BBC.

The big story

El Paso was “drought-proof.” Climate change is pushing its limits.

December 2021

El Paso has long been a model for water conservation. It’s done all the right things—it’s launched programs to persuade residents to use less water and deployed technological systems, including desalination and wastewater recycling, to add to its water resources. A former president of the water utility once famously declared El Paso “drought-proof.” 

Now, though, even El Paso’s careful plans are being challenged by intense droughts. As the pressure ratchets up, El Paso, and places like it, force us to ask just how far adaptation can go. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ Whoever this is, they’re an egg-cooking maestro.
+ The Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards never fail to amaze (thanks Niall!)
+ No one enjoyed the Windows 95 launch party more than Steve Ballmer
+ Why are cakes so weird these days?
+ New footage of the Titanic is the highest quality to date—and it’s seriously spooky.

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