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The Download

The Download: extending dogs’ lives, and sex and the immune system

Plus: Polio is reemerging in wealthy countries across the world

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.

These scientists are working to extend the lifespan of pet dogs—and their owners

Matt Kaeberlein is what you might call a dog person. He has grown up with dogs and describes his German shepherd, Dobby, as “really special.” But Dobby is 14 years old—around 98 in dog years. “I’m very much seeing the aging process in him,” says Kaeberlein, who studies aging at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Kaeberlein is co-director of the Dog Aging Project, an ambitious research effort to track the aging process of tens of thousands of companion dogs across the US. He is one of a handful of scientists on a mission to improve, delay, and possibly reverse that process to help them live longer, healthier lives.

But dogs are just the beginning. Because they’re a great model for humans, anti-aging or lifespan-extending drugs that work for dogs could eventually benefit people, too. In the meantime, attempts to prolong the life of pet dogs can help people get onboard with the idea of life extension in humans. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

The quest to show that biological sex matters in the immune system

For years, microbiologist Sabra Klein has painstakingly made the case that sex—defined by biological attributes such as our sex chromosomes, sex hormones, and reproductive tissues—can influence immune responses.

Through research in animal models and humans, Klein and others have shown how and why male and female immune systems respond differently to the flu virus, HIV, and certain cancer therapies, and why most women receive greater protection from vaccines but are also more likely to get severe asthma and autoimmune disorders (something that had been known but not attributed specifically to immune differences.)

In the 1990s, scientists often attributed such differences to gender rather than sex—to norms, roles, relationships, behaviors, and other sociocultural factors as opposed to biological differences in the immune system. Klein has helped spearhead a shift in immunology, a field that long thought sex differences didn’t matter—and she’s set her sights on pushing the field of sex differences even futher. Read the full story.

—Sandeep Ravindran

The must-reads

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

1 Polio is re-emerging in wealthy countries
Its revival is highlighting areas where immunization is weaker. (FT $)
+ New York is urging all unvaccinated people to get vaccinated where possible. (Vox)
+ The majority of adults in the US will be vaccinated against the virus. (Slate $)

2 Election misinformation is thriving on TikTok
The platform’s design makes it ideal for spreading conspiracies, as the midterm US elections loom. (NYT $)
+ Politicians are still worried about the company’s links to Beijing. (NYT $)
+ Democracy and technology are plagued by similar calls to fix them. (Wired $)

3 A climate-friendly blockchain might finally be around the corner
Upgrading Ethereum could slash the blockchain’s electricity needs by 99%. (CNET)
Why Ethereum is switching to proof of stake and how it will work. (MIT Technology Review)

4 How pro-life groups successfully lobbied against abortion pills
If passed, the laws could prevent doctors in states where abortion is legal from sending pills to patients in states where it’s outlawed. (WP $)
+ Google Maps is directing people seeking abortions to pro-life clinics. (Bloomberg $)
+ Where to get abortion pills and how to use them. (MIT Technology Review)

5 We’re wasting nuclear power’s potential
Mainly because its safety is hard to calculate, and regulatory practices are poor. (New Yorker $)
+ DeepMind’s AI can control superheated plasma inside a fusion reactor. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Animal testing could become a thing of the past
Replaced by tiny lab-grown human organs. (FT $)

7 India is going after Chinese smartphone brands
Tensions between the two countries are coming to a head. (Rest of World)

8 How robotic apartments maximize every last inch of space
Moving walls and ceiling-mounted beds, at the push of a button. (WSJ $)

9 Farewell to Fifa
After 30 years, the final installation of the celebrated soccer video game with EA Sports finally champions the women’s game. (The Guardian)

10 Being a spotted lanternfly influencer is a tough job
The invasive species is everywhere, but Liv Volker is going above and beyond to stop the spread. (NY Mag $)
+ New Yorkers have been ordered to kill the bugs on sight. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“We are waiting for rain, for snow, for winter, for God.”

—Jean-Pierre Le Cunff, fire chief for the Haute-Garonne region in France, tells the BBC about the difficulties of fighting a megafire sweeping across the south of the country.

The big story

Art has been brutalized by tech’s giants. How can it survive?

December 2020

There are two stories you hear about making a living as an artist in the digital age, and they are diametrically opposed. One comes from Silicon Valley and its boosters in the media. There’s never been a better time to be an artist, it goes, if you’ve got a laptop, you’ve got a recording studio. Everyone’s an artist; just tap your creativity and put your stuff out there.

The other story comes from artists themselves. Sure, you can put your stuff out there, but who is going to pay you for it? Making art takes years of dedication, and that requires a means of support. If things don’t change, a lot of art will cease to be sustainable.

Yet people are still making art. More people than ever, in fact. So how are they managing to do it? Are the new conditions tolerable? Are they sustainable? And what does it mean, in specific practical terms, to function as an artist in the 21st-century economy? Read the full story.

—William Deresiewicz

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.)

+ This Twitter account deserves recognition for compiling the best ringtones of days gone by.
+ These Italians really don’t care that Domino’s has filed for bankruptcy.
+ The annual Art Fight competition sounds amazing.
+ I’m dying to play all of these brand new board games.
+ Check out this definitive guide to dressing like 70s icon Tom Sellick for some sartorial summer inspiration.

Deep Dive

The Download

The Download: YouTube’s deadly crafts, and DeepMind’s new chatbot

Plus: it's still unclear when, or if, the pandemic will ever be over

The Download: AI-generated art and YouTube’s algorithm

Plus: how YouTube's recommendation algorithm is failing its users

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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