Coeliac-Approved Gluten, and Australian Space Agency, and Musk’s New Mars Plan | Vol. 4 / No. 49

A photograph of a head of wheat in a wider wheat field.

Wheat | Photo: Maria Keays, CC BY 2.0

This week we’ve got stories on a promising attempt to make gluten that Coeliac sufferers can eat, Australia’s plan to finally get their own space agency, and Elon Musk’s latest version of his plan to colonize Mars! It’s the weekly sci-tech roundup for Sunday, October 1, 2017!

Gluten for Coeliac Sufferers?

While much of the “I can’t have gluten” trend is driven by hipsters and GOOPers, roughly 1 in 100-170 people worldwide is thought to suffer from an autoimmune disorder called Coeliac Disease, which causes a damaging immune reaction when exposed to gluten. As a result, Coeliac sufferers can’t have a whole host of things—and not just bread! Wheat gluten shows up in a seemingly random assortment of foodstuffs, everything from soy sauce to hot dogs, so folks with Coeliac really need to be vigilant. But in the future, that might change. See, it’s not technically the gluten itself that causes the reaction, but a component of gluten called gliadin. There are four gliadin peptides (alpha, beta, gamma, and omega), which make up roughly 53% of the molecular structure of gluten. The other 47% of the structure is glutenins, which on the one hand aren’t responsible for the autoimmune reaction, and on the other are the part of the gluten that helps bread get its elasticity and texture. Well, now a group of scientists has published work in the peer-reviewed Plant Biotechnology Journal detailing how they used CRISPR/Cas9 to make a “low-gliaden” wheat. Using the gene-editing technology, they “knocked out” 35 of the 45 areas in the genome responsible for producing the most immunoreactive peptide, and reduced overall immunoreactivity of the end product by 85%. This is more of a proof of concept at this point, as they’ve get to eliminate it (or prove they can), but they believe once they have the design perfected, it could be inserted into more commonly-used cultivars of wheat, and Coeliac safe wheat flour could become a reality. You can read the study itself, which is open-source, at Plant Biotechnology Journal.


A photograph of Australia at night taken from the International Space Station. Inhabited areas show up brighter than the rest.
Australia at night from the ISS | Photo: NASA Goddard Space Fligth Center, CC0 (Public Domain)

Australian Space Agency

Australia, until now, has been one of the few developed nations on Earth without its own space agency—but that’s about the change. This week the government announced that it would be moving forward with the creation of just such an agency, to integrate with the country’s growing space sector, which employs as many as 11,500 people right now. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the country “will not have a NASA,” but rather something more specific to its own needs and goals. (This is a common approach: Canada, for instance, is very involved in space—who could forget that the first man to shoot a music video in space is Canadian?—but lacks the capability to launch its own astronauts.) So, congratulations, Australia—even if your space agency won’t really be called Australian Research & Space Exploration (which is probably for the best). You can read more at the Sydney Morning Herald.


A cross-section diagram of the spaceship that SpaceX will use to get to Mars, including rocket components, payload area, and small delta-wing structures near the rear.
The ITS Ship | Photo: SpaceX

The New Plan To Go To Mars

Elon Musk spoke at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia this week, and gave an updated vision of how SpaceX would be taking people to Mars—and most importantly, how they would be funding it. Last year Musk announced the Interplanetary Transport System, a way of taking a hundred people at a time to Mars for the purpose of creating a permanent settlement. He’s since scaled-back the design slightly, but only slightly, and in return he’s made a lot of the vague elements more concrete. The new ship will still launch atop the BFR (the Big you-kn0w-what Rocket), refuel in orbit, and then be able to carry 150 tons of humans and cargo to the Red Planet. It’ll also go to the moon and return without needing refueling (the trip to Mars will require the construction of a fuel depot, using Martian water and atmosphere to produce jet fuel). And the way they’re going to pay for it? They’re going to use the new rocket and ship to replace everything else they do, from the Falcon 9 and Dragon to the yet-to-fly Falcon Heavy. The new system will carry satellites to orbit (including huge ones that won’t need to unfold), carry astronauts and supplies to the ISS, and potentially run charter flights to create and supply a moon base, which with its capacity could even be done privately (lunar tourism here we come!). He ended the presentation by suggesting that the ship could even be used to get to anywhere on Earth in 30-45 minutes or less. For business and recreational travel. Astonishing. It’s clear that Musk hasn’t given up on dreaming big. If you want more details, you can watch his totally awkward presentation skills below, or read the article over at Spaceflight Now. Oh and did I mention he thinks he’ll be able to start shipping people to mars in 2024? He does.


Best of the Rest

As is the case every week, there’s more to share than I can manage, so here it is, your weekly linkspam:

That’s all for today. Have a great week.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.