Download: Blood tests to detect cancer and the big cryptocurrency merger

Download: Blood tests to detect cancer and the big cryptocurrency merger

This is today’s edition The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s happening in the tech world.

The US is launching a trial of blood tests that promise to detect cancer earlier

News: The United States is launching a national trial to assess how effective tests designed to detect signs of multiple types of cancer in blood drawn from a patient’s arm really are. The goal is to help determine how blood test results for cancer should be interpreted, and should provide a standard approach to launching cancer screening studies as companies flood the field with new tests.

Why it matters: Most cancers cannot be reliably screened for before symptoms begin—tools like mammograms and Pap smears are the exception, not the rule. Most of these tests for early detection of multiple cancers work by looking for remnants of tumor cells that explode after the immune system attacks them. Remnants of dead tumors appear in the bloodstream, where they can potentially be detected to warn of cancer before someone feels sick. If the scan confirms the finding, a biopsy will follow.

What’s next: The trial, led by the National Cancer Institute, will begin enrolling participants in 2024 and will test how effective different blood tests are at detecting cancer in 24,000 healthy patients over four years. If the results look promising, a clinical trial nearly 10 times larger will begin. Read the full story.

—Hannah Kiros

Why Ethereum is moving to proof of stake and how it will work

Later this week, one of the world’s largest blockchains is set to move to a new way of approving transactions, away from the energy-intensive “proof-of-work” system.

If successful, the process, known as merging, should reduce Ethereum’s energy consumption by around 99.95% and potentially help it reach 100,000 transactions per second. If the merge continues on its own current exchange rate, the process should be completed on Thursday. Read our explanation how it will work.

Required reading

I combed the internet to find the funniest/most important/scary/fascinating stories about technology today.

1 The Russian government has been hit with its first climate change lawsuit
The activist group hopes to force the country’s authorities to comply with the Paris climate agreement. (The Guardian)
+ Russia’s forest biome is at serious risk from climate change. (FT $)
+ Europe’s increased demand for coal is undermining its climate credentials. (Reuters)

2 A new cancer drug appears to be more effective than chemotherapy
However, there is no evidence that it has reduced the overall number of deaths. (WSJ $)

3 Twitter whistleblower appears before the US Senate
Peiter Zatak’s testimony next week could change the course of Elon Musk’s legal battle with the platform. (CNN)
+ Here are just some of the questions that Zatko might face. (The Guardian)
+ Why Chinese authorities are buying ads on Twitter, despite the ban. (Reuters)

4 A Blue Origin rocket experienced a booster failure during launch
However, there were no people on board. (WP $)
+ Perhaps we need to broaden our search for ‘intelligent life’. (Atlantic $)

5 Why it’s so important to understand why some people don’t get Covid
And why many people think they are immune when they are not. (Wired $)
+ Long covid brain fog disproportionately affects women. (Atlantic $)
+ There is a battle over long covid in children. (MIT Technology Review)

6 CRISPR needs a smartphone moment
A push into mainstream adoption could change the way we treat genetic mutations. (Atlantic $)
+ Protein factories could help us shed light on the origins of life. (New Scientist $)
+ Cholesterol gene changes could stop the world’s biggest killer. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Why an Internet Archive lawsuit could change digital history
He might also lose a lot of it in the process. (Slate $)

8 Antarctica is in danger
We are still learning how vulnerable the East Antarctic Ice Sheet really is. (CNET)

9 How beauty’s artificial intelligence repackaged physiognomy for selfie lovers
His claims that he can read personality traits from facial features are not supported by science. (Information $)
+ Battle for “Instagram Face” (MIT Technology Review)

10 WhatsApp groups trick us into a false sense of intimacy
But abandoning them is easier said than done. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“Our main demand is not to be killed.”

– says Camila, a student from Mexico City The rest of the world how her classmates track each other’s whereabouts using WhatsApp amid a dramatic increase in violence against women in Mexico.

Big story

A 50-year-old problem that eludes theoretical computer science

October 2021

In July 2021, the proof appeared online in the respected journal ACM Transactions on Computational Theory. The result supposedly solved the problem of all problems—the Holy Grail of theoretical computer science, worth a million-dollar prize and fame that rivaled Aristotle’s.

This precious problem – known as “P vs. NP” – is considered both the most important in theoretical computer science and mathematics and completely out of reach. It addresses issues central to the promise, limitations, and ambitions of computing, asking: Why are some problems harder than others? What problems can computers realistically solve? How long will it take?

The million dollar question posed by P vs. NP is this: are these two classes of problems one and the same? Which is to say, could problems that seem so hard actually be solved by an algorithm in a reasonable amount of time, if only a real, devilishly fast algorithm could be found? Because if all tricky problems could be transformed with such algorithmic dexterity, the consequences for society—for humanity and our planet—would be enormous. Read the full story.

—Siobhan Roberts

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these strange times. (Do you have any ideas?Call me backortweet them to me.)

+ Netflix’s new thriller Glass bowsequel to Knives Out, looks like a lot of fun.
+ This Twitter account a the cat vibrates to the music is the best (thanks Melissa!)
+ Whether you’re comfortable in the water or not, we can all agree on that the waves rather majestic in appearance.
+ Teen TV shows are surprisingly good at dealing with death. Here’s why.
+ TikTok throws its weight behind California farm workers on strike.

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