Japanese researchers using silkworms to create COVID-19 vaccine

August 17, 2020

A team of scientists at Kyushu University in Japan is working to develop a possible COVID-19 vaccine using silkworms, the Nikkei Asian Review reported. The vaccine is scheduled to be tested on humans in 2021.

The researchers, led by Professor Takahiro Kusakabe at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, are utilising the silkworms like factories. Each worm produces a protein which will become the key substance in a possible vaccine. “We have about 250,000 silkworms in about 500 different phylogenies (family lines),” Kusakabe was reported as saying. From the thousands of insects in the lab, “we have found a type of silkworm that can efficiently manufacture the proteins.”

The project sees genes of the protein that forms the outer “spikes” of the coronavirus incorporated into the virus, which is then injected into a silkworm. After about four days, spike proteins that can serve as vaccine material start to be produced in large quantities by the silkworms, the report explained. Once this has happened, these proteins are removed and refined and can be made into a vaccine.

Producing spike proteins using silkworms is believed to be a safer method than using an ‘attenuated vaccines’, in which a weakened form of the virus is introduced into the human body.

Kusakabe plans to inject the spike proteins into mice first to see if this creates antibodies to block the coronavirus infection. He will then check if the antibodies can actually block the virus’s intrusion into cells. Animal testing is scheduled to be completed by early 2021, after which clinical testing on humans will begin.

“Using silkworms, you can shorten the time it takes to produce candidate substances for the vaccine to as little as about 40 days,” Kusakabe was quoted as saying.

The cost of producing the vaccine will also be lower as the silkworm method does not require large equipment.

Source: Nikkei Asian Review

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Japan launches world’s first liquid hydrogen carrier  

December 12, 2019

The ‘Suiso Frontier’ vessel was launched on 11 December 2019 from the Kawasaki Heavy Industries shipyard in Kobe, western Japan, the company said in a press release.

Image: Kawasaki Heavy Industries

The carrier ship has been designed to transport hydrogen produced in Australia to Japan. Measuring 116m long and 19m wide, the vessel is capable of conveying around 1,250m3 of liquid hydrogen, chilled to minus 253 degrees Celsius, over long distances by sea. Kawasaki will begin testing the new technology during the fiscal year 2020, and plans build an even larger vessel by 2030.

According to a report by NHK World, the head of the company’s hydrogen development centre, Motohiko Nishimura, says his team will aim to commercialize the carrier because liquefied hydrogen will likely be a key to future energy.

Hydrogen is regarded as a clean energy source because it does not emit CO2 during use. Japan’s government aims to put 200,000 hydrogen-powered cars into use across the country by 2025.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries, headquartered in Chūō-ku, Kobe and MinatoTokyo is a Japanese multinational known for manufacturing motorcycles, heavy equipment, aerospace and defense equipment, industrial robots, gas turbines, as well as ships. It employs over 34,000 people.

Source: Kawasaki Heavy Industries, NHK World

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Tata Chemicals to build UK’s first industrial carbon capture plant

June 30, 2019

Image: Tata Chemicals Europe

UK producer of soda ash, sodium bicarbonate and salt, Tata Chemicals Europe (TCE) has announced plans to build the UK’s first industrial-scale carbon capture and utilisation demonstration plant to trap carbon dioxide emissions for use in its baking soda manufacturing operations.

According to the company, the project marks a world first in capturing and purifying carbon dioxide from power generation plant emission gases to use as a raw material to manufacture high purity sodium bicarbonate. Food grade liquid carbon dioxide is an essential raw material in the production of high-grade sodium bicarbonate, a chemical used in a range of products including hemodialysis, pharmaceuticals, food and animal feed, flue gas treatments, detergents and personal care products. TCE exports 60 per cent of its sodium bicarbonate to more than 60 countries across the globe.

The cost of the project, estimated at £16.7m, will be covered by TCE with the support of a £4.2m grant from the UK Government’s Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) through the Carbon Capture and Utilisation Demonstration Programme.

The company’s Northwich industrial site is scheduled to commence the carbon dioxide capture operations in 2021.  “The project will help pave the way for other industrial applications of carbon dioxide capture and is an important step in decarbonising industrial activity and supports the Government’s recently announced target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050,” TCE said in a press release.

TCE explained the carbon capture and utilisation process as follows:

The plant will “capture carbon dioxide from the flue gases of TCE’s 96MWe gas-fired combined heat and power plant (“CHP”), which supplies steam and power to the company’s Northwich operations and other industrial businesses in the area.  The CCU plant will then purify and liquify the gas for use directly in the manufacture of sodium bicarbonate. Deploying CCU technology will reduce emissions, as captured CO2 will be effectively utilized in the manufacturing process rather than being emitted into the atmosphere.

Commenting on the project, TCE Managing Director Martin Ashcroft, said:

“The CCU demonstration plant will enable us to reduce our carbon emissions, whilst securing supplies of a critical raw material, helping to grow the export of our products across the world.  Implementing this industry leading project, with such strong environmental and operational benefits is hugely exciting, and we’re pleased to be working closely with BEIS to deliver the demonstration plant.

“We hope that this project will demonstrate the viability of CCU and pave the way for further applications of the technology to support the decarbonization of industrial activity.  Our parent company, Tata Chemicals Ltd, has supported this innovative project, enabling our UK operations to continue to reduce its carbon emissions. This project is a great example of business and Government working together to rise to the challenge of decarbonising industrial production.”

Source: Tata Chemicals Europe

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Fujitsu to launch wearable device to sense sound through body, along with corresponding events service

June 30, 2019
Users wearing Ontenna devices

Image: Fujitsu

Information technology company Fujitsu Ltd plans to launch a service supporting sports and cultural events using Ontenna, a wearable device worn on the hair to allow users to sense sound with their bodies. The Japanese multinational has also said it will be providing a free trial version of Ontenna for schools for the deaf.

What is Ontenna?

Developed in collaboration with deaf and hearing-impaired communities, Ontenna has been described as “a device that allows the user to experience sounds through the strands of their hair, much like the whiskers of a cat can sense movements in the air.”

“It conveys the characteristics of sounds using vibration and light, and enables deaf people to perceive the rhythms, patterns, and volumes of sounds through their hair,” Fujitsu explained.

Fujitsu began the research and development of Ontenna in 2015, with the aim of delivering sound to the deaf. The company has already conducting trials of the device in a variety of environments including educational settings, sports events, concerts, and tap dance exhibitions.

“Deaf people usually communicate using sign language without using their voices; however, because an Ontenna uses light to visually show that the user’s voice is reaching his or her conversation partner, they could enjoy communication using various voices. When I saw this, I felt that Ontenna would become a new communication tool,” Tatsuya Honda, Ontenna’s creator said.

The free trial of the device will be conducted in 30 schools, with the goal of encouraging the use of this device in day-to-day education for deaf students, the information technology firm said in a press release.

Service supporting sports and cultural events

Fujitsu will also offer sports and culture organizations an event support service using Ontenna from 1 July 2019. The service, costing from 200,000 JPY per day for 30 devices, will include setting up the system environment and operation on the day of the event.

“By delivering specific sounds at sports competitions and events with more dynamic vibration and light, Ontenna can convey the ambiance and a sense of unity among the audience, increasing the value of the experience,” the company said.

“Because Ontenna is not reliant on language, it can also provide a new way of attending events regardless of disability or nationality.”

Company subsidiary Fujitsu Electronics Inc will manufacture the device and plans to begin sales to individual consumers via ecommerce sites in July 2019.

Source: Fujitsu

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Apple launches own credit card, streaming service

March 25, 2019

The California-based tech giant has unveiled a raft of new products including a subscription video service and a fee-free credit card as part of its new focus on services rather than devices.

Apple Card 

Apple Card (Image: Apple)

The Apple Card will be available as both a physical card and in digital format within the Apple Wallet. The company says it has been “designed to help customers lead a healthier financial life.” The card which will become available in summer 2019 to US customers offers users cashback on purchases and will be free of fees, including annual, late, and international fees, according to the company’s VP of Apple Pay, Jennifer Bailey.

“Apple Card builds on the tremendous success of Apple Pay and delivers new experiences only possible with the power of iPhone,” said Bailey. “Apple Card is designed to help customers lead a healthier financial life, which starts with a better understanding of their spending so they can make smarter choices with their money, transparency to help them understand how much it will cost if they want to pay over time and ways to help them pay down their balance.”


Apple TV+

Apple TV+ (Image: Apple)

Inspired by the success of other streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, the tech corporation also unveiled its own hotly-anticipated video subscription service. The Apple TV+ app will include shows from providers including HBO and Hulu as well as original content starring the likes of  Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Octavia Spencer, J.J. Abrams and Jason Momoa, many of whom were present at the Apple launch event which took place on 25 March 2019 in California, US. Legendary film director Steven Spielberg will also create original content for the service.

The app will not only be available  on Apple devices but for the first time on third-party platforms including Samsung smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Sony and LG.

Pricing and availability for the Apple TV+ video subscription service will be announced later this fall (autumn), the company said.

“We’re honored that the absolute best lineup of storytellers in the world — both in front of and behind the camera — are coming to Apple TV+,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “We’re thrilled to give viewers a sneak peek of Apple TV+ and cannot wait for them to tune in starting this fall. Apple TV+ will be home to some of the highest quality original storytelling that TV and movie lovers have seen yet.”

The company also announced Apple News+, a subscription news service providing readers with access to over 300 news and magazine titles including the Wall Street Journal, New Yorker, Esquire, Vogue and National Geographic. The platform will cost USD 9.99 (GBP 7.50) per month, and will be available immediately in the US and Canada and in Europe later this year.

In addition to this, the tech firm unveiled Apple Arcade, a gaming portal with over 100 games which will be available to play offline.

Source: Apple; BBC


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Driverless pods for the disabled to be trialled in Brighton

March 17, 2019

Aurrigo’s four-seat pod named ‘Arthur’ will run for six months at the Blind Veterans training and rehabilitation centre near Brighton. Image courtesy of Aurrigo

Autonomous vehicle specialist Aurrigo has joined forces with Blind Veterans UK to test-run its driverless pods designed to provide improved mobility for those with disabilities. The trial will last for six months starting in April 2019, and will take place at the Blind Veterans UK training and rehabilitation centre in Ovingdean, near Brighton. The Coventry-based company hopes to use the real-life experiences collected to improve its driverless technology going forward.

The four-person pod, dubbed ‘Arthur’ after the founder of Blind Veterans UK Sir Arthur Pearson, was designed in consultation with sight loss charity, Guide Dogs to suit the needs of people who are blind or vision impaired. This trial will be the first time those with a vision impairment will be trialling the pods themselves and with the pods providing a real service, the company said in its press release.

“This trial is intended to see how the pods operate in a real-life environment and how veterans interact with them. We want to know about all the good things and we also want to know about things that need to be better – this should inform the next evolution of the pod and the changes/additions we may need to incorporate into the design,” explained Miles Garner, sales and marketing director for Aurrigo.

“Having feedback from Blind Veterans UK and their members taking part will be a massive boost in improving our pods and making them more user-friendly for people with disabilities. This has never been done in the world before and we are delighted that Blind Veterans UK has helped make it happen.”

The pod travels at a maximum speed of 15mph off road and will run around the most popular parts of the training and rehabilitation centre, including the main entrance, the memorial bench, chapel and activity barn. One area the study will explore is the importance of voice activated controls.

“So many of the blind veterans we support say that not being able to drive is one of the most significant things that hits you when you lose your sight, Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB was reported as saying. “It’s another way of losing independence and can make people feel more isolated.”

“Anything we can do to assist and feedback on this new technology will hopefully benefit the lives of our veterans and the wider disabled community in the years to come.”

Source: Aurrigo


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