Month: January 2020

The exposome and health: Where chemistry meets biology

Roel Vermeulen, Emma L. Schymanski, Albert-László Barabási, Gary W. Miller
Science 24 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6476, pp. 392-396
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay3164


Despite extensive evidence showing that exposure to specific chemicals can lead to disease, current research approaches and regulatory policies fail to address the chemical complexity of our world. To safeguard current and future generations from the increasing number of chemicals polluting our environment, a systematic and agnostic approach is needed. The “exposome” concept strives to capture the diversity and range of exposures to synthetic chemicals, dietary constituents, psychosocial stressors, and physical factors, as well as their corresponding biological responses. Technological advances such as high-resolution mass spectrometry and network science have allowed us to take the first steps toward a comprehensive assessment of the exposome. Given the increased recognition of the dominant role that nongenetic factors play in disease, an effort to characterize the exposome at a scale comparable to that of the human genome is warranted.


AlphaFold: Using AI for scientific discovery | DeepMind

In our study published today in Nature, we demonstrate how artificial intelligence research can drive and accelerate new scientific discoveries. We’ve built a dedicated, interdisciplinary team in hopes of using AI to push basic research forward: bringing together experts from the fields of structural biology, physics, and machine learning to apply cutting-edge techniques to predict the 3D structure of a protein based solely on its genetic sequence.


Universals and variations in moral decisions made in 42 countries by 70,000 participants

Edmond Awad, Sohan Dsouza, Azim Shariff, Iyad Rahwan, and Jean-François Bonnefon


We report the largest cross-cultural study of moral preferences in sacrificial dilemmas, that is, the circumstances under which people find it acceptable to sacrifice one life to save several. On the basis of 70,000 responses to three dilemmas, collected in 10 languages and 42 countries, we document a universal qualitative pattern of preferences together with substantial country-level variations in the strength of these preferences. In particular, we document a strong association between low relational mobility (where people are more cautious about not alienating their current social partners) and the tendency to reject sacrifices for the greater good—which may be explained by the positive social signal sent by such a rejection. We make our dataset publicly available for researchers.




Complex economic activities concentrate in large cities

Pierre-Alexandre Balland, Cristian Jara-Figueroa, Sergio G. Petralia, Mathieu P. A. Steijn, David L. Rigby & César A. Hidalgo 
Nature Human Behaviour (2020)


Human activities, such as research, innovation and industry, concentrate disproportionately in large cities. The ten most innovative cities in the United States account for 23% of the national population, but for 48% of its patents and 33% of its gross domestic product. But why has human activity become increasingly concentrated? Here we use data on scientific papers, patents, employment and gross domestic product, for 353 metropolitan areas in the United States, to show that the spatial concentration of productive activities increases with their complexity. Complex economic activities, such as biotechnology, neurobiology and semiconductors, concentrate disproportionately in a few large cities compared to less–complex activities, such as apparel or paper manufacturing. We use multiple proxies to measure the complexity of activities, finding that complexity explains from 40% to 80% of the variance in urban concentration of occupations, industries, scientific fields and technologies. Using historical patent data, we show that the spatial concentration of cutting-edge technologies has increased since 1850, suggesting a reinforcing cycle between the increase in the complexity of activities and urbanization. These findings suggest that the growth of spatial inequality may be connected to the increasing complexity of the economy.