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The Download

The Download: Fertility for trans men, and a Q&A with CRISPR’s co-creator

Plus: Why the US hosts more child sexual abuse material than any other country

This is today's edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what's going on in the world of technology.

Trans men’s eggs have been matured in the lab—and could help them have children

Ovaries contain hundreds of thousands of underdeveloped eggs, held in a kind of suspended animation. Each month, one matures and is released—potentially to be fertilized by sperm and create an embryo. For the first time, scientists say they have managed to take eggs from the ovaries of transgender men and get them ready for fertilization in a process completed entirely outside the body.

The achievement, carried out by a team led by Evelyn Telfer, a reproductive biologist at the University of Edinburgh, suggests that viable eggs can be obtained from transgender men even after years of testosterone therapy, which can stop ovulation.

While freezing eggs is an option for transgender men who want children, this typically involves stopping testosterone treatment and allowing a menstrual cycle to return. This can take months and cause fatigue, mood changes, and sleep problems. The need for vaginal probes can prove particularly distressing for transgender men. 

Telfer and her colleagues’ alternative involves taking eggs from the ovaries and maturing them outside the body, in the lab. This new technique could not only help transgender men but also many others struggling to concieve. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

The scientist who co-created CRISPR isn’t ruling out engineered babies someday

Jennifer Doudna is the co-discoverer of CRISPR editing, the revolutionary method for engineering genes that, 10 years after her original breakthrough, is now making its way into human trials.

There’s an expanding list of applications in diagnostics and engineered plants; already researchers are exploring potential treatments to cure sickle cell disease, blindness, and liver disease. In 2020, she shared a Nobel Prize with fellow scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier. The two became the sixth and seventh women to win the award in chemistry.

Perhaps more than anyone, she has been able to relay to the public the formidable power of versatile gene editing as well as the possible downsides of the technology. Antonio Regalado, our senior editor for biomedicine, spoke to her about this and other issues, including the surprising reality of a legal system where the key CRISPR patent could go to someone other than the person who won a Nobel for the discovery. Read the full story.

The US now hosts more child sexual abuse material online than any other country

The US hosts more child sexual abuse content online than any other country in the world, new research has found. The US accounted for 30% of the global total of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) URLs at the end of March 2022, according to the Internet Watch Foundation, a UK-based organization that works to spot and take down abusive content. 

The US hosted 21% of global CSAM URLs at the end of 2021, according to data from the foundation’s annual report. But that percentage shot up by 9% during the first three months of 2022, the foundation told MIT Technology Review.

The short-term spike can at least partly be attributed to the fact that a number of prolific CSAM sites have switched servers from the Netherlands to the US. However the rise of CSAM in the US is down to a number of more long-term factors, including the lack of legal incentive for tech companies to invest time, money and resources into keeping abuse content off their platforms. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

Quote of the day

“The news today is so crazy I literally forgot I have COVID.”

— A Twitter employee reflects on Elon Musk buying the company, according to the Washington Post.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Elon Musk is buying Twitter for $44 billion
He’s unlikely to enjoy owning it as much as he thinks he will. (The Atlantic $)
+ Here’s a recap of the past fortnight: a rollercoaster ride from beginning to end. (FT $)
+ Musk claims that open sourcing Twitter’s algorithm will make it more transparent. (NYT $)
+ Trump says he wouldn’t rejoin, but his advisers aren’t convinced. (WP $)
+ Musk thinks people might be willing to pay for Twitter. Good luck with that.  (Protocol)
+ It’s prompting people to finally face up to their Twitter addictions. (Input)

2 How China wrote the playbook for censoring covid information
It’s inspired many other countries to impose restrictions in the name of public health. (New Yorker $)
+ A new covid outbreak in Beijing is heightening fears of a Shanghai-style lockdown. (NYT $)
+ Fences have been erected in Shanghai to prevent residents from leaving their homes. (BBC)

3 ​​Instagram hackers stole $3 million of Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs
They managed to compromise the official Instagram account then use it to post a phishing link. (Bloomberg $)
+ Of course there’s a social network for NFTs in the works. (Quartz)
+ Chinese NFT platforms don’t want you to trade NFTs anymore. (TR)

4 Conspiracy theories are nothing to do with evidence
And everything to do with how they make us feel. (Wired $)
+ We are living in an age of misinformation. (Vox)

5 The US is fighting back against China’s chip dominance 
By keeping its most advanced chipmaking tools to itself. (The Economist $)
+ The great chip crisis threatens the promise of Moore’s Law. (TR)

6 The crypto industry is on a lawyer hiring spree
To go mainstream, you need legal smarts. (WSJ $)
+ Dogecoin, Elon Musk’s favorite cryptocurrency, is surging after his Twitter purchase. (Bloomberg $)
+ A deep dive into the mysterious subcultures of cryptocurrency obsessives. (SCMP)
+ It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (TR)

7 The metaverse is a vile quagmire of racism, rape jokes and assault
And there’s next to no recourse for offenders, either. (The Guardian)
+ It doesn’t help that we’re struggling to define what the metaverse even is. (Wired $)
+ Facebook is opening its first physical store to try to sell its metaverse-related gadgets. (WP $)

8 Europe’s wind energy companies are being targeted by cyberattacks
Renewable energy is an increasingly attractive target for criminals as attention turns to oil and gas alternatives. (WSJ $)

9 Coders want to relieve low-income families of the burden of admin
Applying for benefits is needlessly complicated. (The Atlantic $)

10 Adapting video games for TV is so difficult to get right  
But makes for great watching when it works. (The Guardian)
+ Nintendo’s animated Super Mario Bros. movie has been delayed. (The Verge)

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

+  A highly controversial, though intriguing, look at the 101 best movie sequels (Magic Mike XXL, anyone?)
+ If you’re into marinated meat and Italian rolls, Binghamton’s Spiedie Fest sounds pretty hard to beat.
+ Fed up with Netflix recommending you nonsense? Here’s how to force it to forget what you’ve watched.
+ In exciting poetry news, a book of 10 unpublished poems by Charlotte Brontë has been returned to its Yorkshire home.
+ This spectrum of fire in all the colors of the rainbow is amazing.
+ Zoe Keller’s beautiful nature illustrations are quite something.
+ If you’re struggling with a setback, this list of pop culture’s coping mechanisms is handily reassuring.

Deep Dive

Biotechnology and health

Scientists are finding signals of long covid in blood. They could lead to new treatments.

Faults in a certain part of the immune system might be at the root of some long covid cases, new research suggests.

This baby with a head camera helped teach an AI how kids learn language

A neural network trained on the experiences of a single young child managed to learn one of the core components of language: how to match words to the objects they represent.

The first gene-editing treatment: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Sickle-cell disease is the first illness to be beaten by CRISPR, but the new treatment comes with an expected price tag of $2 to $3 million.

Weight-loss drugs: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Weight-loss drugs like Wegovy and Mounjaro are wildly popular and effective, but their long-term health impacts are still unknown.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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