Brief #0 - okładka

Plastic without fossil fuels and “artificial photosynthesis”

Cambridge researchers created a device that can produce carbon-neutral fuel the same way the plants do. It is a significant breakthrough on the way to “artificial photosynthesis”. The standalone device can convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into clean energy – oxygen and formic acid – wirelessly and without any outside electricity.

Mycorrhizal fungi are organisms that live in symbiosis with plants. They send out gossamer-fine tubes called hyphae, which weave into the tips of plant roots at the cellular level. In this way, individual plants are joined to one another by an underground network – a vast, highly intricate, collaborative structure that has been dubbed the Wood Wide Web. In the future, fungi will be used in a range of new technologies from building materials to sustainable food, packaging products to waste solutions. Only 6-8% of the world’s fungi have so far even been identified.

Microscopic and little known predatory bacteria like Halobacteriovorax are among the world’s most effective hunters and may help humans in fighting diseases. Some experts think that those bacteria could someday serve as a living therapeutic that could help clear drug-resistant germs from patients in whom all other treatments have failed.

After metabolizing sulfur, Rhodospirillum rubrum bacteria gave off ethylene – the key ingredient of plastics which is made from oil and natural gas. The bacteria produce ethylene without needing oxygen, which is important as a mixture of both is explosive. According to the scientists, their discovery may one day help to produce plastics without fossil fuels.

Hackers’ offensive: LinkedIn, Tesla and New Zealand stock exchange

Hackers from Lazarus Group – linked to North Korea – used LinkedIn in an attempt to steal cryptocurrency. The attack on organizations in at least 14 countries was partially done via a fake job offer made for system administrators within the targeted entity. The offer was used for phishing and extraction of personal information and other private data, necessary to access people’s online accounts and steal bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies. Decentralized and semi-anonymous, cryptocurrencies allow North Korea to bypass economic sanctions, launder money and finance its military development.

A member of a Russian hacker group tried to persuade an employee of Tesla cars factory in Nevada to install malware in the company’s computer system offering him a million dollars bribe. Hackers planned to steal valuable data from the company’s network and then download it to the remote server and offer Tesla to ransom it under the threat of releasing the secret information.

For four days of the last week of August New Zealand’s stock exchange failed to resume trading, the result of the disruption caused by cyberattack done from abroad by an undisclosed group. So-called distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks target server, service or network by overwhelming the target or its surrounding infrastructure with a flood of Internet traffic and therefore make its functioning impossible.

Man who inspired “Hotel Rwanda” movie arrested, protests in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe

Paul Rusesabagina, the man who inspired the main character of the movie “Hotel Rwanda” and a vocal critic of the Rwandan government under Paul Kagame, was arrested on charges of terrorism. According to Rusesabagina’s family, he was “kidnapped” from Dubai and transported to Rwanda. The country’s investigation bureau’s spokesman informed that he is suspected of “being a founder or a leader or sponsor or member of violent armed extremist terror outfits … operating out of various places in the region and abroad” but he’s not yet officially charged. During the 1994 genocide, Rusesabagina sheltered 1,268 people as a manager of Hotel des Diplomates in Kigali.

The government of Zimbabwe has summoned the Vatican representative in response to the letter of Catholic bishops who accused the regime of corruption, abuse of power and “unprecedented” repression of dissidents protesting against the corruption in the country. It’s the first time the Catholic church has taken a stand on the issue.

An estimated 180 people have died in recent unrest in the state of Oromia, Ethiopia that started with the murder of Oromo artist Haacaaluu Hundeessaa. Protests came with the devastation of both private and public property. Several thousand people were arrested. For years Oromos considered themselves excluded from political and economic life. From the ethnic group comes Ethiopian prime minister and 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Abyi Ahmed. It remains unclear who killed Hundeessaa. The government claims that it was orchestrated together with the following unrest by Oromo nationalist militias and Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front in an attempt to stop ongoing reforms, but both deny the accusation.

Will the stock markets react to the results of the U.S. presidential elections?

Large external deficits and loose monetary policy fueling inflation, loss of geopolitical hegemony and weaponization of dollar via trade, financial and technology sanctions could be deciding factors if the American currency were to lose its dominant position, according to Nouriel Roubini, an economist from New York’s University. The potential shift is to take years, though and isn’t certain. For now, we lack a safe alternative. Despite Chinese efforts to make yuan more appealing to countries and investors around the world, it still isn’t one.

Results of the U.S. presidential elections may have less impact on the markets than investors expect, according to financial specialists as they warn against “overthinking it”. The historical analysis made by SunTrust Investment Advisory Group shows that during the last 75 years, presidential elections had little impact on the performance of the S&P 500 index.

In Berlin, lawmakers are questioning a top adviser to Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as the country’s financial industry’s watchdogs concerning Wirecard AG’s scandal. The company that offered Internet payment and processing services collapsed in June after admitting that a quarter of its balance sheet didn’t exist. 3.2 billion euros of its debt are most probably lost with the issue at hand being Wirecard AG’s lobbying and connections within the German government.

Sixteen-digit numbers may not be enough in Japan as the number of credit cards raised during the COVID pandemic. With six first digits denoting bank and country data, there may soon be a shortage of combinations. Cashless and online payment became more popular recently, but Japan’s ratio of those transactions is still significantly lower than that of South Korea or China. Credit card companies are considering adding one more digit to credit cards numbers.

The software that helps Kenyans count zebras

Kenya introduced database called Wildbook that helps to track individual animals in a wildlife population using natural markings. Wildbook also brings volunteers to take photographs which are then uploaded to the database. This way it automatically maps the number of the rare Grevy’s zebra. Its global population is estimated at 3,000, and Kenya is home to 95 percent of them.

Engineers working on autonomous vehicles built a collision detector, based on what they learned after examining how locusts avoided bumping into each other. Those insects rely on just one neuron that works as a movement detector. The molybdenum sulfide-based photodetector made by scientists is small and uses only a small amount of energy to complete its task.

An increase in the number of beached whales could be caused by military sonar exercises and seismic surveys for oil. Sonar may scare the animals into surfacing too quickly, causing decompression sickness. Recently  there were 29 occurrences of beaked whale stranding and sightings around the shores of northern Europe. Most of them died.

Lionfish are an invasive species in the southeast U.S. and Caribbean that have no natural predators in these areas. Lionfish were transferred from their natural ecosystem in Indo-Pacific. Scientists are working on new methods of limiting their population and protecting the native reefs. One of the means is to employ a trap similar to the one used for lobsters – to which lionfish are attracted – and a net around it that closes when pulled.

Virtual storm chasers and the ups and downs of the game industry

Virtual storm chasers are using Microsoft Flight Simulator to observe Hurricane Laura. “Flight Simulator,” a video game released recently for PC, streams the entire planet Earth in real-time, feeding in weather data from Swiss-based meteorological service Meteoblue, Azure AI cloud system and geographical details from Bing Maps. Even though it lacks perfect accuracy, the simulator brought not only players’ attention but scientists as well.

Video game makers and publishers will probably consider 2020 the best year in history as the sector is booming during the coronavirus pandemic. The number of players rose by millions, and spending grew over 30 percent, a change seen also in the price of stocks as companies from the industry gained on average 40 percent. The biggest publishers: Nintendo, Activision Blizzard and Sony, dominated the market.

Profit margins ignited the conflict between Apple, Google and Epic Games. The latter is known for Fortnite, a game played by 350 million people worldwide as well as Unreal Engine, the tool that helps independent game developers to create high-quality products with low costs. Recently, Epic Games implemented a feature to let users make in-app purchases directly, rather than using Google and Apple’s in-app purchase system, which charges commissions of 30%. In response both companies withdrew Fortnite from sales and on Friday Apple terminated Epic Games’ account, effectively banning creators of one of the most popular games in history from its store. Epic Games is now suing Apple and Google over this. The growing market for games comes with a reminder of problems among those who create them. Many feel exploited and discriminated against in their work environment. Among the issues are frat-mentality, hostility towards women, and so-called ‘permatemps’ – employees who work the same hours as their full-time colleagues but lack benefits and job security. Another issue is “crunch time”: when a game is delayed teams are working extra hours, sometimes for months, without compensation.