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The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Goalball: A Sport for Blind and Visually Impaired Athletes

The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The international Paralympic Games include many of the same sports that are played in the Olympics. But in addition to events like swimming, rowing, badminton, and soccer, there’s also a sport designed exclusively for athletes who are blind and visually impaired.

Goalball was first developed in Austria following the end of World War II. Austrian Hanz Lorenzen and German Sepp Reindle were looking for sports-based activities to rehabilitate blind war veterans and came up with the inventive idea of outfitting the insides of balls with bells. It quickly gained traction as a competitive sport with local teams forming in Germany and Austria. Goalball was first introduced on an international platform as a demonstration event during the 1976 Paralympic Games and was made an official event four years later.

The game consists of two teams of three all protecting their respective goals on an indoor court. Players hurl the 3-pound ball toward the opposing team’s net and the defenders use their bodies in attempts to block it. Raised bumps are placed around the court to help players feel the perimeter. Relying on audio cues, including special terms from other team members, is a huge part of the game so the audience is expected to remain silent as it's being played. To equal the playing field between athletes who are blind and those who visually impaired, all players must wear plastic black-out goggles on the court. 

Goalball is largely unknown outside the Paralympics, but organized teams are beginning to pop up in more mainstream venues. This year, UC Berkeley launched what is thought to be the first competitive collegiate goalball team in the U.S., and several other campuses have since followed suit. To watch U.S. goalball players compete on an international level, tune in to next year’s Paralympic Games in Rio.

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Cell Free Technology
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This Pixel Kit Will Let You Play Tetris With Jellyfish DNA
Cell Free Technology
Cell Free Technology

Forget playing Tetris on your phone. Now you can play it with jellyfish DNA. Bixels is a DIY game kit that lets you code your own games using synthetic biology, lighting up a digital display with the help of DNA.

Its 8-by-8 pixel grid is programmed to turn on with the help of the same protein that makes jellyfish glow, called green fluorescent protein (GFP). But you can program it to do more than just passively shine. You can use your phone and the associated app to excite Bixels' fluorescent proteins and make them glow at different frequencies, producing red, blue, and green colors. Essentially, you can program it like you would any computer, but instead of electronics powering the system, it's DNA.

Two blue boxes hold Bixel pixel grids.

Researchers use green fluorescent protein all the time in lab experiments as an imaging agent to illuminate biological processes for study. With Bixels, all you need is a little programming to turn the colorful lights (tubes filled with GFP) into custom images or interactive games like Tetris or Snake. You can also use it to develop your own scientific experiments. (For experiment ideas, Bixels' creator, the Irish company Cell-Free Technology, suggests the curricula from BioBuilder.)

A screenshot shows a user assembling a Bixel kit on video.

A pixel kit is housed in a cardboard box that looks like a Game Boy.

Bixels is designed to be used by people with all levels of scientific knowledge, helping make the world of biotechnology more accessible to the public. Eventually, Cell-Free Technology wants to create a bio-computer even more advanced than Bixels. "Our ultimate goal is to build a personal bio-computer which, unlike current wearable devices, truly interacts with our bodies," co-founder Helene Steiner said in a press release.

Bixels - Play tetris with DNA from Cell-Free Technology on Vimeo.

You can buy your own Bixel kit on Kickstarter for roughly $118. It's expected to ship in May 2018.

All images courtesy Cell-Free Technology

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Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
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Play a Game to Help Scientists Defeat a Cancer-Causing Toxin
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images

If you're used to fighting virtual zombies or flying spaceships on your computer, a new series of games available on Foldit may sound a little unconventional. The object of the Aflatoxin Challenge is to rearrange protein structures and create new enzymes. But its impact on the real world could make it the most important game you've ever played: The scientists behind it hope it will lead to a new way to fight one of the most ruthless causes of liver cancer.

As Fast Company reports, the citizen science project is a collaboration between Mars, Inc. and U.C. Davis, the University of Washington, the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The team's online puzzles, which debuted on Foldit earlier this month, invite the public to create a new enzyme capable of finding and destroying carcinogens known as aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins form when certain fungi grow on crops like corn, nuts, and grains. Developing countries often don't have the resources to detect it in food, leaving around 4.5 billion people vulnerable to it. When people do eat food with high aflatoxin levels unknowingly, they can contract liver cancer. Roughly a quarter of all liver cancer cases around the world can be traced back to aflatoxin exposure.

The toxin's connection to agriculture is why the food giant Mars is so interested in fighting it. By working on a way to stop aflatoxins on a molecular level, the company could prevent its spread more efficiently than they would with less direct methods like planting drought-resistant crops or removing mold by hand.

The easiest way for scientists to eradicate an aflatoxin before it causes real harm is by making an enzyme that does the work for them. With the Aflatoxin Challenge, the hope is that by manipulating protein structures, online players will come up with an enzyme that attacks aflatoxins at a susceptible portion of their molecular structure called a lactone ring. Destroying the lactone ring makes aflatoxin much less toxic and essentially safe to eat.

The University of Washington launched Foldit in 2008. Since then, the online puzzle platform has been used to study a wide range of diseases including AIDS and Chikungunya. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the Foldit's new aflatoxin project for the next several weeks or so, after which scientists will synthesize genes based on the most impressive results to be used in future studies.

[h/t Fast Company]

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