Watch what it actually looks like when CRISPR snips a strand of DNA


The CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique is an important concept to know about in these days of biotech advances, but it can be pretty difficult to visualize properly. Is it really like molecular scissors? Where does the DNA go? Is it a big molecule or a small one? Fortunately a group has created a 3D animation of the process that shows it at the molecular level.

You can watch the animation, created by biologists at Russia’s Skoltech Institute and the Visual Science organization, below or at the latter’s website:

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Wonder how accurate it really is? It got the thumbs-up from none other than Jennifer Doudna, one of the people who helped discover and refine CRISPR techniques:

Molecular animations are an essential way to demystify and explain complex biological systems. Through the use of stunning imagery and attention to detail, Visual Science and Skoltech have captured the dynamic mechanisms of CRISPR-Cas proteins and their use as research tools.

These animations were created as part of a “nonprofit education project,” so if you’d like to license, modify, or otherwise use them for educational purposes, go for it.

Featured Image: Visual Science and Skoltech

Tech Fix: Your iPhone Slowed Down. Here’s What to Do When the Solution Is Just as Slow.

Apple may be dealing with the fallout for a while. The company published a lengthy memo in December saying that smartphone batteries became less effective over time and that its software was intended to prevent iPhones with older batteries from unexpected shutdowns. Apple also apologized to customers for the slowdowns, offered discounts for its battery-replacement program and said it would introduce software to gain visibility into the health of an iPhone battery.

Yet since then, consumer advocacy groups have filed lawsuits against the company for failing to disclose that the software would throttle old iPhones. The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have also started an inquiry into the matter, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be named because the details were confidential. Bloomberg earlier reported the inquiry.

Early Wednesday, Apple said in a statement that it had received questions from some government agencies and that it was responding to them; the company did not specify the agencies it had heard from. The Justice Department declined to comment.

As for the wait times that Ms. Schipper and others are experiencing for a battery replacement, a spokeswoman referred to Apple’s support webpage, which states that battery supplies at its stores may be limited.

Let’s not wait around. Here’s a guide to other solutions to keep an iPhone running in the absence of an Apple battery replacement.

Third-Party Repair Shops

Plenty of irate Apple customers are turning to local third-party repair shops to get their iPhone batteries replaced. At Mega Mobile Boston, twice as many customers are coming in for iPhone battery replacements than in years past, said Adam Fullerton, the store’s operations manager.

Third-party repairs are a decent — but imperfect — solution. One drawback is that they vary in quality; some repair shops buy lower-quality batteries that don’t last. So to find a good shop, rely on word of mouth and reviews on the web, similar to how you might seek out a good car mechanic.

Another issue is that if you service your phone with a third-party battery and later take your device in to Apple for repair, the company could refuse to service your phone. So if you go the third-party route, chances are you will have to stick with third-party repair shops through the end of your phone’s life.

There’s a less risky route here. On Apple’s support webpage, you can look up third-party repair shops that are authorized by Apple as service providers. These are fixers who have been trained by Apple and carry original parts. But the list is short.

If you find a good local fixer, there are plenty of benefits to sticking with one long term. For one, third-party shops tend to have shorter waits. Mr. Fullerton said his shop could typically get an iPhone battery replacement done in about 30 minutes. The process involves opening the device, cleaning away the old waterproofing adhesive, replacing the battery and applying a new waterproofing adhesive.

For another, local repair shops make their prices competitive with the manufacturer’s. In the case of batteries, many shops are discounting their battery replacements to match Apple’s $29 pricing.

“We’re probably losing money on it with the cost of a half-hour time from a technician,” Mr. Fullerton said. “But it’s like a loss leader in any other industry. If you’re Best Buy and you get them to buy one item at cost, maybe you can teach them something about your business.”

Finding a good repair shop can feel daunting, but if you ask around, your peers will probably have recommendations. For a sample, here’s a list of highly recommended repair shops in the United States that I compiled from talking to repair experts I trust:

■ In Chicago: uBreakiFix Chicago

■ In San Francisco: MacRepair

■ In New York: Simple Mac

■ In Boston: Mega Mobile Boston

■ In Washington: Computer Geeks

■ In Austin, Tex.: Austin Mac Repair

Fix It Yourself

You can always replace an iPhone battery by yourself. The pros: You can choose the best components for repairs and minimize costs. The cons: Learning repairs can be time consuming, and if you mess up, you have no one to blame but yourself. And again, Apple stores could refuse to service your phone if it sees you have repaired it with third-party parts.

A good place to start for D.I.Y. repairs is iFixit, a company that provides instruction manuals and components for repairing devices. It is offering discounts on battery replacement kits for older iPhones, which cost $17 to $29. Each kit includes a new battery and the tools for disassembling iPhones.

Installing a phone battery can be intimidating. Replacing an iPhone 7 battery, for example, requires eight tools and 28 steps. Kyle Wiens, the chief executive of iFixit, said some customers also opted to buy a battery from iFixit and then take it to a local repair shop for installation.

Carry a Battery Pack

If you don’t feel confident hiring a third-party fixer or installing your own battery, you can always wait for Apple to replace your battery. But since that could take weeks or months, don’t suffer with a sapped phone battery in the meantime.

A better temporary solution is to invest in a battery pack that you can carry around until replacement batteries arrive at an Apple store. Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews products, has tested hundreds of battery packs to recommend a few. My favorite is the Anker PowerCore 20100, which can charge a smartphone every day for a week.

Ms. Schipper, the Seattle resident, is considering buying a battery pack. In the meantime, she is constantly plugging her iPhone into a power outlet because her battery lasts only two hours a day.

Yet she has resisted what she thinks Apple wants: for her to buy a new phone.

“I was tempted to just chuck this phone and suck it up and spend $1,000-plus and get the iPhone X,” she said. “I said, ‘No, darn it, I have a budget I’m saving up.’ I’m not going to let Apple push me around.”

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Equifax launches its credit locking app and extends free credit freezes through June


Today was supposed to be the deadline for Equifax’s free credit freeze offering, but the company has decided to extend the service to consumers for another five months. Now, Equifax customers can request a credit freeze through June 30.

Still, January 31 is the last day to cash in on free credit monitoring through Equifax’s TrustedID Premier program, assuming you still trust the company that failed to protect the personal data of 143 million users enough to rely on it.

Equifax decided to offer these user services after a massive outcry from consumers and intense criticism from Congress last September.

Users who freeze their credit report through Equifax should also look into doing so at Experian and TransUnion, the other two major credit bureaus. Choosing to freeze your credit reports is a useful if imperfect tool for anyone concerned that their accounts or identifying information (social security numbers, birth dates, etc.) might be compromised, but it can prevent would-be identity thieves from opening a line of credit or a loan in your name.

Equifax is also introducing a new credit locking service called Lock & Alert, made available today (and free for life) in app form. It may sound redundant, but a lock and a freeze are two different services. As the company explained to CNN Money, a credit freeze can only be lifted with a pin number, while a credit lock uses “modern authentication techniques, such as username and passwords and one time passcodes for better user experience.” The Lock & Alert app is available now through the App Store and through Google Play.

Featured Image: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Amazon Wants to Disrupt Health Care in America. In China, Tech Giants Already Have.

Alibaba and Tencent, which already dominate China’s e-commerce and mobile payments sectors, are at the forefront. Among their goals: building diagnostic tools that will make doctors more efficient.

Amazon and its partners, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway, see technology as a way to provide simplified, affordable medical services. Although the alliance is still in the early stages, it could create online services for medical advice or use its overall heft to negotiate for lower drug prices.

“It’s fair to say that across the board, the Chinese tech companies have all embraced being involved in and being active in the health care space, unlike the U.S., where some of them have and some have not,” said Laura Nelson Carney, an Asia-Pacific health care analyst at Bernstein Research.

Photo

The headquarters of the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba. Alibaba, like other Chinese technology companies, has a long history of investing in the health sector, including an attempt to build a “future hospital.” Credit Wang He/Getty Images

“Few of them have made moves as big as in China,” Ms. Carney said, referring to Alibaba and Tencent’s American rivals.

Those big moves have had varying degrees of success.

In 2014, Alibaba announced a “future hospital” plan intended to make treatment more efficient by allowing patients to consult with doctors online and order drugs via the internet. But two years later, Chinese regulators stopped the sale of over-the-counter drugs on Tmall, Alibaba’s e-commerce website. They also suspended a drug-monitoring system that the company had created. And last year, the search engine company Baidu scrapped its internet health care service, which allowed patients to book doctors appointments through an app, in a bid to focus solely on A.I.

But some of the more recent initiatives have made inroads. Last year, Alibaba’s health unit introduced A.I. software that can help interpret CT scans and an A.I. medical lab to help doctors make diagnoses. About a month later, Tencent unveiled Miying, a medical imaging program that helps doctors detect early signs of cancer, in the southwestern region of Guangxi. It is now used in nearly 100 hospitals across China.

Tencent has also invested in WeDoctor Group, which has opened its own take on Alibaba’s “future hospital” in northwestern China. The service allows patients to video chat with doctors and fill their prescriptions online.

Advances in artificial intelligence have already been transformative for China’s overworked doctors.

Dr. Yu Weihong, an ophthalmologist at Peking Union Medical College Hospital, said she used to take up to two days to analyze a patient’s eyes by scrutinizing grainy images before discussing her findings with colleagues and writing up a report. Artificial intelligence software currently being tested by the hospital helps her do all that dramatically faster.

“Now, you don’t even need a minute,” she said.

The software has been developed by VoxelCloud, a start-up has raised about $28.5 million from companies including Tencent and the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. It specializes in automated medical image analysis, helping eye doctors like Dr. Yu screen patients for diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness among China’s working-age population.

There are just 20 eye doctors for every million people here, a third of the proportion in the United States. In April, Beijing announced an ambitious plan for the country’s 110 million diabetics to undergo eye tests.

“It’s impossible for one person to read that many images,” said Dr. Yu.

Ding Xiaowei, whose grandparents were doctors, founded VoxelCloud in 2016, three months after completing his doctorate in computer science at U.C.L.A. The company, which has offices in Los Angeles and the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Suzhou, is awaiting the green light from China’s version of the F.D.A. for five diagnostic tools for CT scans and retina disease.

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Tencent buildings in Shanghai. Last year, the company introduced a diagnostic tool that is already in use in nearly 100 Chinese hospitals. Credit Yuyang Liu for The New York Times

The sheer size of China’s population — nearly 1.4 billion people who could provide a vast number of images to feed into their systems — provides a potential advantage for the development of artificial intelligence. Also helping: China has fewer concerns about privacy, allowing for easier collection of data that could result in smarter and more efficient A.I. systems. Regulation here isn’t as strict as in the United States, either.

In all, more than 130 companies are applying A.I. in ways that could increase the efficiency of China’s health care system, according to Yiou Intelligence, an industry consultancy based in Beijing. They range from behemoths like Alibaba and Tencent to domestic champions iFlyTek, which invented a robot that passed a Chinese medical licensing exam, and an array of smaller start-ups.

Money is flowing in. As of last August, venture capitalists such as Sequoia and Matrix Partners had invested at least $2.7 billion in such businesses, according to Yiou. Analysts at Bernstein estimated that spending in China’s health tech industry will reach $150 billion by 2020.

Behind this push is a realization that the country’s health care system is in crisis. With no functioning primary care system, patients flock to hospitals in major cities, sometimes camping out overnight just to get treatment for a fever. Doctors are overworked, and reports of stabbings and assaults by frustrated patients and their relatives are not uncommon.

Yunfeng, the personal investment fund of the Alibaba founder Jack Ma, has invested in one company, Yitu, that hopes to address the shortfall of resources. Yitu is working with Zhejiang Provincial People’s Hospital, the best medical facility in eastern Zhejiang province, to develop software that automates the identification of early stages of lung cancer.

While it initially focused on facial recognition, Yitu has branched out into more complex image-recognition challenges, like cancer scans. Lin Chenxi, who left Alibaba to establish the company in 2012, said he hoped to use the technology to ensure equal access to medical treatment across China.

“In China, medical resources are very scarce and unequally distributed so that the top resources are concentrated in provincial capitals,” he said. “With this system, if it can be used at hospitals in rural cities, then it will make the medical experience much better.”

Trying to identify cancer nodes — shifting black-and-white splotches that look something like a Rorschach test — is grueling work, and China’s doctors have far less time and resources than their counterparts in the United States and elsewhere. Gong Xiangyang, the head of the hospital’s radiology department, likened the process to a factory, where burnout and mistakes from overwork can happen.

“We have to deal with a vast amount of medical images everyday,” he said. “So we welcome technology if it can relieve the pressure while boosting efficiency and accuracy.”

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Engine Biosciences raises $10 million in Southeast Asia’s largest institutional seed round


Life sciences startups in Asia are getting another boost with the $10 million investment in Engine Biosciences — a biotech company that’s applying machine learning to genomics for drug discovery.

With its headquarters in both Singapore and San Francisco, the company has managed to attract some impressive investors from both the U.S. and Asia. The round was co-led by Danhua Venture Capital and 6 Dimensions Capital with additional participation from WuXi Apptec, EDBI, Paviliaon Capital, Baidu Ventures, WI Harper and Nest.Bio Ventures.

Founded by a who’s who of researchers including Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Timothy Lu and Jim Collins; Mayo Clinic Assistant professor Hu Li, and University of California San Diego assistant professor, Prashant Mali, Engine is leveraging experts in synthetic biology and drug discovery to create a new way to build and test novel medicines.

According to a statement, the company will use the money to continue developing its drug discovery platform, expand the executive and scientific team in Singapore and the U.S. and beging pre-clinical studies internally and with partners — which already include undisclosed research institutions and an unnamed Fortune 500 company here in the U.S.

Combining parallel biological experimentation with machine learning to develop therapies, Engine is building a system for new drug discovery that is faster and cheaper to test than existing methodologies, the company claims.

“The biopharmaceutical industry needs better approaches for R&D to deliver therapies to patients in need faster. Legacy approaches mean that in many cases, we still have a weak
understanding of what drives disease and correspondingly, how to treat or prevent it,” said
Engine Biosciences Co-Founder and CEO Jeffrey Lu, in a statement. “Engine’s data-driven platform allows researchers to not only uncover the critical gene interactions underlying diseases, but also test therapies that specifically target these interactions in a faster, cheaper and more precise fashion than currently possible.”

So far, the technology is being used for drug repositioning, which creates new applications for xisting drugs; target discovery, which looks at potential biological factors for disease; precision medicine through targeting specific genes; and pathway analysis.

Already the company has seen proof-of-concept successes around treatments for cancer, neuro-degeneration, autoimmune disorders and skin disorders.

“The lack of insight into complex and multi-factorial biological processes within cells contributes
to the high failure rate across the drug development cycle. Engine Biosciences has pioneered a
new approach to address this by generating novel data and insights that are highly relevant to
the biological process,” said Dr. Leon Chen, Founding CEO of 6 Dimensions Capital and
member of Engine’s Board of Directors. “We expect the company’s AI platform will lead to
insightful information in complex diseases’ pathways that was not previously possible using
traditional wet lab centric biology research and we are excited to support the team with our
investment.”

Pandora is laying off about 5 percent of workforce


Streaming music service Pandora is laying off about five percent of its employee base and taking “other cost-saving measures” in an attempt to save about $45 million annually. According to Pandora’s 8-K filing, employees were notified today of the plan and the company expects the staff reduction to be complete by the end of Q1 2018.

This is all part of an ‘organizational restructuring’ that will shift some resources to ad-tech and audience development. Pandora also announced plans to expand its presence and workforce to Atlanta.

With the expected $45 million in savings, Pandora plans to reinvest that money into ad-tech, non-music content, device integration and marketing technology. While Pandora has laid off some people, it will also hire for new roles.

“As I shared last quarter, we know where and how to invest in order to grow,” Pandora CEO Roger Lynch said in a press release. “We have an aggressive plan in place that includes strategic investments in our priorities: ad-tech, product, content, partnerships and marketing. I am confident these changes will enable us to drive revenue and listener growth.”

Soraa’s new light bulbs skip the smart home and focus on the science of the color spectrum


Everyone’s trying to build a better light bulb. These days, that means things like adjustable colors and smart home connectivity — for most companies. Bay Area startup Soraa is skipping all the noise for the moment, instead making color its primary focus. For five years, the company’s been producing products for places like art galleries and hotels, where color balance is a big part of the experience.

In the past year, Soraa’s begun shifting toward the commercial market, in hopes of bringing some of that color knowledge to the home setting. As the company will point out every opportunity it gets, its founder, Dr. Shuji Nakamura, won a 2014 Nobel Prize for his LED tech, which shifts focus from blue to violet.

The company claims its Radiant bulbs have fewer color gaps than standard LEDs, offering a more accurate representation of color “as it is meant to be seen.” Anthony attended a product kick-off event for the company last night in Manhattan and smiled in the photo booth for the following two pictures.

The top uses Soraa’s Radiant bulbs and the bottom, standard LEDs. The Soraa shot certainly features a much more vivid purple background and just generally looks like the more well-lit of the two. To my eyes, the drearier bottom shot looks a little more “realistic” of the two, but maybe that says more about my own personal outlook on life than anything.

We walked away with one of the bulbs, so I’ll let you know if installing one in my apartment gives me a new lease on life. The bright purple world does seem to be the more fun one to live in.

The company’s other new Healthy bulb is an attempt to skip blue light entirely — that thing you’ve been hearing about in all those stories about how your iPad is screwing up your sleeping patterns. The long and short of it is that blue light impedes your body’s melatonin production and thus makes it hard to sleep. The Healthy bulb removes invisible blue light from the equation.

Along with the lack of smart functionality, neither bulb has a built-in ability to change colors. It’s not like the Healthy bulb slowly eliminates blue light as it gets close to bed time. Instead, you’ll probably want to save it for the bedside desk lamp you use when reading in bed.

The upshot of not having any of that advanced smart home functionality, incidentally, is that the bulbs are relatively reasonably priced, starting at $14 and $19, respectively. The prices go up from their, depending on the room you assign them to. The company is also looking into bringing some smart functionality to the table, moving forward.

The bulbs are available through Soraa’s site and Amazon. Not Home Depot, though. “No disrespect,” the company’s chief product officer told TechCrunch at last night’s event, “but if I’m in the lighting aisle at Home Depot, I’ve already lost.”

Additional reporting and photo booth modeling by Anthony Ha.