Quinoa’s Genome, The Daily Fail, and Google’s “Zoom, Enhance” | Vol. 4 / No. 16

“Growing Quinoa Like A Damn Hippie” | Photo: Alissa Walker, CC BY-SA 2.0

In this week’s roundup we’ve got the decoding of quinoa’s genome, the Daily Mail’s exclusion from Wikipedia’s “trusted sources” list, and the latest trick from Skynet Google Brain. It’s the news roundup for Sunday, February 12, 2017!


Quinoa Decoded

“You’ve probably never heard of it.” Perhaps the most hipster of grains, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) has been eaten as a staple for thousands of years in the Andes and has only recently become popular among white people — in large part thanks to its relatively high protein content and total lack of (recent dietary bogeyman) gluten. Technically, it’s not a grain: grains are the seeds of grasses, and quinoa is the seed of a plant that’s more related to beets and spinach, but it basically looks and acts like couscous when you’re cooking it, and it makes a decent substitute for rice in a lot of dishes. But its recent rise in popularity has also caused a rise in price, because it’s a lower-yield, higher-labour product than, say, wheat. It’s mostly harvested by hand, and the outer layer has to be scrubbed off to get rid of the bitter, soapy saponins it contains. But worry not, quinoa fans, science is on the way. BBC reports that a team of researchers at the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia have completed the most detailed genetic sequencing to date of the plant, and among other things have identified one of the genes responsible for saponin production. And while I’d prefer they just directly alter the genes they need to, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be immediately going at your precious quinoa plants with CRISPR just yet. Just knowing what parts relate to what features will allow them to selectively breed for, say, fewer saponins, a higher yield, or different soil condition preferences. So with any luck, soon everyone will be able to afford quinoa. Sorry hipsters: maybe you can switch to amaranth? BBC has more on the story.


Fail Daily | Photo: Cory Doctorow, CC BY-SA 2.0

Daily Fail Gets The Axe

Wikipedia has at long last decided that the Daily Mail, a stalwart bastion of anti-immigrant scaremongering and notorious “alternative fact” purveyor, will no longer be an acceptable source of evidence. According to the Guardian, “volunteer editors on English Wikipedia have come to a consensus that the Daily Mail is ‘generally unreliable and its use as a reference is to be generally prohibited, especially when other more reliable sources exist’.” Now the way Wikipedia works means there won’t likely be a blanket restriction set up, but with editors being advised to replace all citations from the Daily Mail with other, more reliable sources, it does seem that the Daily Mail’s contributing days to the largest online encyclopedia are numbered. Objectors have pointed out that other, equally unreliable sites have not yet been banned — such as Fox “News” and Russia Today (now simply RT) — and one is forced to wonder whether the straw that broke the camel’s back was the Daily Mail’s credulous reporting of the false claim that scientists manipulated climate change data: as Snopes explained it “A tabloid used testimony from a single scientist to paint an excruciatingly technical matter as a worldwide conspiracy.” In any case, I’m not sorry to see them go, and I wouldn’t be too sorry to see other “alternative fact” purveyors deemed unreliable by the community writ large. You can read more on the story over at the Guardian.


Right: Original, Left: Pixelated, Center: Skynet’s Best Guess | Photo: Google

Zoom, Enhance

Chalking up another win for Google Brain (and another step toward inventing our own computerize overlords?), the news broke this week that a team at Google have used the powerful software to create a real life version of the TV trope of “zoom, enhance” — sort of. The team of researchers used a two-step process to take really pixelated images and make really pretty good guesses at what they used to be. They aren’t perfect — in fact the team behind it refers to the guesses as “hallucinations” — but they could prove useful to law enforcement looking through grainy surveillance footage to try to find a suspect’s whereabouts. As for whether or not it would stand up in court is another thing entirely: it wouldn’t take a particularly adept lawyer to point out that these images are “only guesses,” even if they’re good ones. You can’t recover data that have been lost, you can only make best guesses. Anyway if you need me I’ll be over here working on a pair of anti-facial recognition glasses. You can learn more over at Ars Technica, or read the preprint of the research over at arXiv.org.



In case you missed any of it, here’s what we got up to this week:

If you didn’t read them, now’s your chance!


Best of the Rest

And since we can’t possibly cover all the stories as we cower in our bunkers south of the 49th, here’s your weekly linkspam!


That’s all for this week’s news roundup. Thanks for reading, and 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.