The Human Genome Project (HGP) was officially declared complete in 2003. A rough draft of the human genome sequencing carried out by the HGP was formally announced in 2000 and the completed sequence was announced in 2003. This breakthrough spawned many initiatives, including Iceland’s deCode (below), and was reflected in the work I was called upon to undertake for the GOSH Child Health Portal at the time, such as designing websites for the London IDEAS Genetics Knowledge Park and the UK Newborn Screening Programme Centre (at bottom). I photographed the author of Our Genes, Steindor Erlingsson, in Reykjavik, Iceland for The Associated Press in 2002.
India is in the midst of the biggest national identification project in the country’s history. The aim is for every Indian to receive a voluntary electronic identification card containing his or her details and a unique number. Called an Aadhaar, it is a 12-digit unique number registered with the Unique Identification Authority of India (http://uidai.gov.in) (UIDAI). The project joins a growing trend across the global South to map populations in order to better achieve development goals.
About one-third of the world’s urban dwellers live in slums, and the United Nations estimates that number will double by 2030 as a result of rapid urbanization in developing countries. How to improve slum-dwellers’ living conditions and raise their standard of living is the big challenge of the 21st century.
With just four years to go until the 2015 deadline to meet the Millennium Development Goals (http://www.undp.org/mdg), and the current economic downturn reversing some gains, any tool that can make development decisions more precise has to be a benefit.
Innovators are turning to the opportunities afforded by digital technologies to reach slums and poor areas. The approaches vary, from India’s national identification system to new ways of using mobile phones and Internet mapping technologies. With mobile phones now available across much of the global South, and plans underway to expand access to broadband internet even in poorly served Africa, it is becoming possible to develop a digital picture of a slum and poor areas and map population needs.
Put to the right use, this powerful development tool can fast-track the delivery of aid and better connect people to markets and government services. In a country of severe regional disparities and caste (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste) divisions, the national identification number has the advantage of not documenting people in a way that would bring prejudice.
India’s Aadhaar is intended to serve a number of goals, from increasing national security to managing citizen identities, facilitating e-governance initiatives and tackling illegal immigration. While critics of ID schemes complain about the civil liberties implications of national identity card projects (www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk), it is a fact that countries that want to increase the social benefits available to their citizens need to understand who those citizens are, where they live and what their social needs are. India’s problem to date has been a lack of knowledge of its citizens: many millions exist in a limbo world of not being known to local authorities.
The unique number is stored in a database and contains details on the person’s demographics (name, age, etc.) and biometrics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biometrics) – a photograph, 10 fingerprints and an iris scan. Residents in an area find out about the Aadhaar through various sources, from local media to local government agencies. An ‘Enrolment Camp’ is established in the area where people go to register, bringing anything they have that can prove their identity. The biometric scanning takes place here. ID cards are issued between 20 and 30 days later.
On January 13, 2011 the project declared it had registered its millionth person, a 15-year-old named Sukrity from North Tripura. The goal is to register 600 million people in the next four years.
One of the immediate advantages to many poor people is gaining access to banking services for the first time, because an Aadhaar number is accepted as sufficient ID to open a bank account. The identification authority says the scheme will be “pivotal in bringing financial services to the millions of unbanked people in the country, who have been excluded so far because of their lack of identification.”
The Times of India reported in 2010 that Khaiver Hussain, a homeless man in an addiction treatment programme, was able to get a bank account after receiving the identification number. He was able to open an account with the Corporation Bank along with 27 other homeless people. Having a bank account has removed the fear he had of being robbed of his meagre savings while he slept.
Another homeless day labourer, Tufail Ahmed from Uttar Pradesh, said “This passbook and the UID card have given people like me a new identity. It has empowered us.” He has been able to use the saved money to rent a room with four other day labourers.
In countries where no national ID card schemes exist, people are turning to other methods to register and map populations in order to improve their living conditions.
In Kenya and Brazil, digital mapping projects are underway using mobile phones to paint a picture of the population living in slum areas and shanty towns. An NGO called Map Kibera (www.mapkibera.org) began work on an ambitious project to digitally map Africa’s largest slum, Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. The Map Kibera project uses an open-source software programme, OpenStreetMap (www.openstreetmap.org), to allow users to edit and add information as it is gathered.
Powerful tools now exist to aid digital mapping. Google Maps (www.maps.google.com) is one example.
While the project is impressively ambitious – and it remains to be seen if it is completed as planned – the economic and development implications of this vast data collection and national identification are enormous. It will enable very accurate identification of markets and needs and also of development challenges and needs. This should lead to many business innovations in the country in coming years and also draw in more business from outside the country.
1) Ushahidi is a website that was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. The new Ushahidi Engine has been created to use the lessons learned from Kenya to create a platform that allows anyone around the world to set up their own way to gather reports by mobile phone, email and the web – and map them. It is being built so that it can grow with the changing environment of the web, and to work with other websites and online tools. Website:http://blog.ushahidi.com/
2) Google Android: Get inventing! This software enables anyone to start making applications for mobile phones. And it offers a platform for developers to then sell their applications (apps). Website:www.android.com
“Cyber-security experts have unveiled one of the biggest computer hacking campaigns to date, releasing a list of 72 organisations whose networks were attacked over a five-year period. Victims include the UN and several governments.
REUTERS – Security experts have discovered the biggest series of cyber attacks to date, involving the infiltration of the networks of 72 organizations including the United Nations, governments and companies around the world. …
In the case of the United Nations, the hackers broke into the computer system of its secretariat in Geneva in 2008, hid there for nearly two years, and quietly combed through reams of secret data, according to McAfee.”
“If there are no consequences for the [UN] agencies for failures like these … there will be more breaches.”
“About this investigation: While researching cybersecurity last November, we came across a confidential report about the UN. Networks and databases had been severely compromised – and almost no one we spoke to had heard about it. This article about that attack adds to The New Humanitarian’s previous coverage on humanitarian data. We look at how the UN got hacked and how it handled this breach, raising questions about the UN’s responsibilities in data protection and its diplomatic privileges.“
“I am very honoured to join you today in this inauguration ceremony of the Regional Hub for Big Data in China, in support of the United Nations Global Platform. The inauguration of this Regional Hub is most important, and timely.
The demand for data, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is greater than ever. Governments are in need of detailed data on the spread of the virus and its impacts on society. Under these challenging circumstances, statistical institutes have had to respond urgently to the demand for data, and to present innovative solutions. Consequently, in these times of need, the statistical community is now able to effectively use Big Data and advanced technologies.
For example, census data – together with detailed geospatial information – can help identify the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. And, real-time data on the position and movement of ships, for example, can estimate the volume of cargo being transported, and thus help produce estimates on the state of the economy. These real-time shipping data are available as a global data set on the United Nations Global Platform, and can be accessed by the whole statistical community.”
Cutting-edge medical research in China is promising to boost human health and development. Futuristic science is being conducted on a large scale and it is hoped this will increase the pace of discovery.
Around the world, rapid progress is being made in understanding the role played by genes and how they affect our overall health and susceptibility to diseases. Other developments are leading to the possibility of creating replacements for organs and other body parts that have been damaged through accidents, disease or genetic faults – without the need for organ donors.
Medical advances straight out of science fiction could be closer than many believe. By using machines and gene therapy, radical new methods will emerge to deal with damage done to human bodies as a result of accidents or disease. These solutions will become, in time, quicker, smaller and cheaper and will be available to more and more countries. They will spread outwards around the global South just as mobile phones and computing electronics have done.
In China, the government is investing heavily in this cutting-edge research and attracting investment and projects from around the world to increase the pace of progress in these areas.
In September 2013, Reuters reported that a 22-year-old man named Xiaolian in Fuzhou, China had a new nose grown on his forehead to replace his original nose that had been damaged in a car accident. Conventional reconstructive surgery was not possible, so this radical new approach was taken.
The advantages of growing a nose on the patient include a reduced chance of rejection by the body when the new organ is attached. Transplants of body parts from other people come with a high risk of rejection and require many drugs to prevent it. Using skin near where the transplant is to take place, on the face, improves the chances of success and the blood vessels in the forehead offer nourishment to grow the new nose.
The procedure works like this: tissue expanders are placed on the patient’s forehead. As it grows, the doctors cut the mass of tissue into the shape of a nose and cartilage from the patient’s ribs is placed inside to give the nose shape. The new proboscis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proboscis) grows under the skin until it is the right size and then transplanted onto the patient’s face where their old nose was.
Many believe this is just the beginning and that in the future replacement organs will be also grown in a lab. And this is where the new medical technology of 3D bioprinting comes into play.
3D printing machines (http://www.k8200.eu/), or fabricators, can create 3D objects based on a design sent from a computer. This concept is now also being applied to biological materials with 3D bioprinters.
Hangzhou Dianzi University of Electronic Science and Technology (hdu.edu.cn) in China launched the Regenovo 3D Bio-printer in August 2013. It prints living tissue and looks like a silver metal frame with various nozzles situated above a platform for printing the tissue. Its makers claim it can print a liver in 40 minutes to an hour or an ear in 50 minutes.
A sheet of hydrogel is placed on the platform and then the bioprinter deposits cells into the hydrogel. As the process is repeated over and over again, layer after layer, a 3D biological structure emerges.
Unique Technology (sinounic.com) in Qingdao, Shandong province has also launched a 3D printer called “Re-human”. It is capable of printing at 15 microns and can operate in temperatures of between 0 and 300 degrees Celsius. Scientists there are working on clinical trials of 3D-printed tissue scaffolds and bones.
China is very advanced in the development of 3D manufacturing technology, and is home to the world’s largest 3D printers, developed by Dalian University of Technology (http://www.dlut.edu.cn/en/). Another Chinese company pioneering this technology is Shaanxi Hengtong Intelligent Machines (http://www.china-rpm.com/english/), which sells various laser-using rapid prototyping machines and 3D machines.
Around the world, bioprinting is currently being pioneered for printing heart valves, ears, artificial bones, joints, vascular tubes, and skin for grafts.
The number of scientific papers mentioning bioprinting tripled between 2008 and 2011 according to Popular Science. But why is this happening? Three things are occurring at once: sophisticated 3D printers are now available, there are significant advances in regenerative medicine, and CAD (computer-aided design) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer-aided_design) software continues to become more advanced.
San Diego, California’s Organovo (organovo.com), a company that designs and creates functional human tissues using 3D bioprinting, has big ambitions for the technology.
“Getting to a whole organ-in-a-box that’s plug-and-play and ready to go, I believe that could happen in my lifetime,” its chief technology officer, Sharon Presnell, told Popular Science.
In the field of gene science, China is also investing significant resources to make rapid progress. China is working to make its genetic research industry into one of the country’s pillar industries.
Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) (http://www.genomics.cn/en/index) is the world’s largest genome-mapping institute, with more than 1,000 biological analysis devices working with top-of-the-line genome-sequencing machines. What makes BGI different is scale: it can handle data in vast quantities and industrialize its research, according to China Daily.
But what will they do with this information? By doing embryo screening, it will be possible to pick the brightest zygote (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zygote) and ensure an entire generation’s intelligence is increased by five to 15 IQ (intelligence quotient) points. This could have a significant impact on the country’s economic performance, the researchers believe, and help in the country making more rapid economic and development gains. This line of research is also seen globally as being fraught with ethical dilemmas and is controversial.
But the Chinese researchers believe the country’s economic productivity, business success, international competitiveness and the amount of innovation in the economy could all increase with an IQ boost.
The eggs are fertilized in the lab with the father’s sperm and the embryos are tested until they find the smartest one.
Embryo analysis could take place on a large scale in a few years. But it is not just better brains that are possible with this technique: choices can be made about hair and eye colors, and physical attributes such as body shape.
This level of research is benefiting from vast investments in higher education in China.
And it isn’t just human beings receiving the vast investment in gene research.
To help agriculture and agribusiness, the National Center for Gene Research (NCGR) (ncgr.ac.cn) is mapping and sequencing the rice genome, and genomes of other organisms. Since 2007, it has been using the latest generation sequencing technology to map the rice genome to identify common genetic factors. It has 50 million base pairs of rice genomic DNA sequences in its public database. It is hoped this will lead to more robust rice varieties that can withstand disease and climate fluctuations and help meet the food needs of a growing global population.
1) Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine: Wake Forest Innovations was created in 2012 as a new operating division of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. As the Medical Center’s technology commercialization arm, Wake Forest Innovations supports scholarship, investing in the innovative potential of academic and clinical communities and helping translate ideas and discoveries into valuable commercial products and services. Website: http://www.wakehealth.edu/WFIRM/
2) DEKA Research & Development: DEKA Research and Development Corporation is an established company focused on the development of radical new healthcare technologies that span a diverse set of applications. Website: http://www.dekaresearch.com/index.shtml
3) Organovo: Organovo design and create functional human tissues using proprietary three-dimensional bioprinting technology. The goal is to build living human tissues that are proven to function like native tissues. Website: http://www.organovo.com/
6) Autodesk is working on CAD software for bioprinting. Website: autodesk.co.uk
7) BGI Cognitive Genetics Project: BGI Cognitive Genomics is an interdisciplinary research group at BGI, one of the largest genomics institutes in the world. The focus is human cognition, with emphasis on the use of tools made available by rapid advances in DNA sequencing technology. Website: https://www.cog-genomics.org/
8) Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology Chinese Academy of Sciences: The mission of the institute is to address fundamental questions in genetics and developmental biology and to develop new technologies for the uses in health care and agriculture sciences as well as to meet the nation’s strategic needs in science and technology. Scientists in the institute use both plant and animal models to address fundamental questions in life sciences, such as genetic control of growth and development, gene expression, signal transduction, structural and functional genomics, biotech and molecular breeding, bioinformatics and systems biology. As China owns the biggest agricultural market in the world, researchers in the Institute have also made significant efforts on water saving agriculture and agronomic studies, focusing on the improvement of crop productivity and quality as well as bio-safety. Website: http://english.genetics.cas.cn/au/
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.