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25 July 2019. By John Ellis.
1. Biologists have created a protein unlike any found in nature, with the power to toggle a cell’s functions on and off. The scientists linked the artificial proteins together into circuits and controlled the inner workings of yeast — and also implanted these proteins into lab-grown human cells. Experts described the new work, reported in two papers in the journal Nature on Wednesday, as a milestone in synthetic biology. “It signals the dawn of de novo designer proteins,” said Ahmad Khalil, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University who was not involved with the research. “We will see a growing tool kit of de novo-designed proteins that can be used to trigger or intervene in cellular processes.”
2. Temperatures across 98 percent of Earth’s surface were hotter at the end of the 20th century than at any time in the previous 2,000 years. Such nearly universal warming, occurring in lockstep across the planet, is unique to this current era, scientists say. By contrast, other well-known cold and warm snaps of the past, such as the Little Ice Age or the Medieval Warm Period, were, in fact, regional rather than worldwide. What’s more, the rate at which temperatures are increasing now far exceeds any previous temperature fluctuations measured in the last two millennia. Those are the conclusions of a trio of new papers examining temperature trends over the last 2,000 years, published online July 24 in Nature and Nature Geoscience. Those previous climate fluctuations were primarily driven by natural causes, including powerful volcanic eruptions, rather than human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
3. A historic heat wave is bringing unprecedented temperatures to Western Europe, and is poised to expand northeastward to Scandinavia and into the Arctic by late this weekend. Once above the Arctic Circle, the weather system responsible for this heat wave could accelerate the loss of sea ice, which is already running at a record low for this time of year.
4. German factory executives have reported that the industry is in “free fall," according to a survey that comes just hours before the European Central Bank’s policy decision. The Ifo Institute’s manufacturing business climate index slumped to minus 4.3 in July from positive 1.3 the previous month. The reading was the lowest in more than nine years and echoes a separate survey released on Wednesday that pointed to mounting troubles in Europe’s powerhouse economy. The broader Ifo sentiment gauge, which also covers Germany’s services sector, declined as well, hitting the lowest level since 2013.
5. Europe’s export engine is losing steam. That worries Mario Draghi. Mr. Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, is expected to announce on Thursday that fresh monetary stimulus is on its way, seeking to offset a downturn in world trade that has quieted the eurozone’s factories. ECB officials as recently as December believed such measures would no longer be needed. The central bankers’ change of heart reflects a weakness in the eurozone’s economy: It depends heavily on trade for growth, meaning events far from its borders hold a disproportionate sway on its prospects.
6. There was a brisk rally in government debt markets today pushing yields lower, with the European Central Bank expected to open the way for more bond-buying in a renewed effort to boost the region’s stuttering economy. Concern at faltering growth drew investors into the relative safety of government debt, with the prospect of the ECB’s return to the market as a major buyer adding to the trend.
7. It was only six months ago that the ECB started to wind down its €2.6 trillion bond-buying program, known as “quantitative easing.” But if the ECB does want to fire up QE again, however, it faces a problem: it is running out of bonds it can feasibly buy. And so speculation has turned to what new frontiers the central bank may explore.
8. Yields on U.S. government bonds have fallen broadly this year. But the decline in the yield on one particular type has been especially persistent and is, according to some investors, a sign of concern for the U.S. economy. Since last fall, the yield on 10-year Treasury inflation-protected securities, a measure of what are known as real yields, has tumbled from a high of 1.154% to a recent low of 0.241%, the stingiest rate of return since November 2016.
9. In the current oil market, few have any real sense where prices are going next. Influential London-based oil brokerage PVM said this week that the next big move in oil prices could be $30 a barrel in either direction, summing up the mood in an industry that has found itself sandwiched between two of the biggest stories in the world today. On one side are the rising tensions between Iran and the West, which have threatened to make the oil market’s doomsday scenario — imperiled supplies through the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil shipping lane — a reality. On the other, there are fears that the world economy is slowing down. Oil demand growth has been tepid. And he continued rise of the US shale oil industry means that many traders expect the oil market to be in surplus this year and next, despite the hit to supplies from Iran and Venezuela from US sanctions, and Opec’s efforts with Russia to cut production.
10. European governments are struggling to build an international coalition to protect oil tankers in Middle East waterways while pursuing diplomatic solutions after last week’s seizure of a U.K. tanker by Iran. The U.K. is spearheading a European maritime initiative that would be separate from a parallel U.S.-led plan. But London doesn’t yet have a specific proposal for securing commercial shipping, and there are signs France and other European countries have a more modest mission in mind, European diplomats said. Russia and Iran are proposing Persian Gulf protection plans of their own.
11. Boris Johnson, conducted the most brutal cabinet purge in modern political history yesterday to reunite the team that won the Brexit vote three years ago. The new prime minister shocked Westminster and Brussels by handing responsibility for no-deal preparations to Michael Gove and bringing Dominic Cummings, the former campaign director of Vote Leave, into the heart of Downing Street. In his speech outside No 10, Mr Johnson dashed hopes that he would soften his negotiating stance by issuing a “no ifs or buts” promise to leave on October 31. Sajid Javid, the new chancellor, will oversee an injection of funds into the economy to smooth the departure from the bloc.
12. China’s industrial sector has lost 5 million jobs in the last year, including 1.8 to 1.9 million jobs because of the trade war with the United States, a leading Chinese investment bank estimated on Wednesday. The total job losses represent 3.4 per cent of total employment in the industrial sector, which includes mining, manufacturing and public utilities, and 0.7 per cent of total national employment, said China International Capital Corp (CICC) economists Liang Hong and Yi Huan.
13. China’s economic and technological growth over the past 40 years has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, but the rapid development to become the world’s second largest economy has also created new problems in society, which analysts warn may now be reaching dangerous levels. Social stability is the foremost priority for Chinese leaders, and a measure of the government’s capability in the eyes of the people. President Xi Jinping said that in 2019 China should strengthen its ability to prevent and defuse any major risks to ensure sustained and healthy economic development and social stability.
14. The rapid expansion of Chinese household debt in recent years has reached an alarming level and should be contained, a leading brokerage firm warned in a recent report. Research by Guotai Junan Securities Co. found that by the end of 2018, 13 Chinese provinces and municipalities had outstanding household debt exceeding half their annual gross domestic product (GDP). Data from the Bank for International Settlements showed that China’s national average household debt ratio stood at 52.6% relative to GDP by the end of 2018, surging from 39% three years ago. The ratio is lower than in most developed countries but among the highest in developing countries.
15. China began its decades-long economic ascent as the "workshop of the world" by taking advantage of cheap labor. Now it is spending big to swap those factory workers for high-tech robots. The country's investment in smart manufacturing in 2018 surged 46% on the year to 69.6 billion yuan ($10.1 billion), according to Marketing Intelligence Resource, a Beijing-based research firm specializing in industrial products. Smart manufacturing employs robotics, automation and other technologies to increase productivity and cut labor costs. The number of subsidized investments remained unchanged at 100, while unsubsidized ones doubled to more than 1,000, according to MIR.
16. China has warned against the growing threat of pro-independence forces in Taiwan and said it would not rule out using force on the self-ruled island, which it regards as part of its territory. In the country’s latest white paper on national defense, released yesterday, Beijing blamed the Taiwanese government for the deteriorating cross-strait relations, saying it has refused to accept the “One China” policy and instead pursued “a path of separatism”, with the backing of the US government.
17. The US military said on Wednesday it sent a Navy warship through the Taiwan Strait, a move likely to anger China during a period of tense relations between Washington and Beijing. Taiwan is among a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship, which include a trade war, US sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols.
18. The number of murders in Mexico surged in the first half of this year to the country’s highest number on record, with 3,080 homicides in June alone, according to official data. Officials said that 17,065 murders took place in the first six months of 2019, up by 5.3 per cent compared with the same period last year. As many as 100 people are killed every day in Mexico, the biggest increase in violent crime since comparable records began in 1997 and surpassing the peak in 2011 when a drugs war ravaged the country.
19. SoftBank is expected to invest $40 billion into its new technology mega-fund after securing backing from an unlikely coalition of investors including Apple, Goldman Sachs and Kazakhstan’s government. SoftBank’s board is set to meet Thursday to approve the investment, according to people familiar with the matter. It comes as U.S. regulators are poised to approve the merger of Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc., a deal that will rid SoftBank of billions of dollars in debt and free it up to invest.
20. Blockchain technology is at the core of a new research project at the New York Times, aimed at making “the origins of journalistic content clearer to [its] audience.”The Times says that its "News Provenance Project," will experiment with ways to combat misinformation in the news media. The first project will focus on using a blockchain—specifically a platform designed by IBM—to prove that photos are authentic.
20. More Americans than ever are living alone these days, and many don’t want to bake full-size cakes, buy eggs by the dozen, run half-loaded dishwashers or store 24-packs of toilet paper. Consumer-products companies are taking note, catering to what they see as a lucrative market for single-person households by upending generations of family-focused product development and marketing. Appliance makers are shrinking refrigerators and ovens. Food companies are producing more single-serving options. Household-product makers are revamping packaging.
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