The future is closer than you think
For two decades, SelectScience has been publishing news and content from the front line of scientific advancement, improving communication between leading scientists and the biggest and best manufacturers across the globe, as we work towards one common goal - making the future healthier.
Operating right across the scientific spectrum, since 1998 we've been interviewing the scientists who are pushing the boundaries of what we once thought impossible and reporting on the innovative technologies and techniques that are transforming the world.
As we embark upon our 20th anniversary year, that puts us in a unique position, not just to look back at all that science has achieved, but to look forward to what it can and will achieve over the next 20 years and how those dramatic changes will affect the way we all live.
In 2040 - where will we be – a disease-free humanity, producing super-foods, or even super-humans? We welcome you to explore what the future of science could like, meet the people making that happen, and discover how they intend to do it.
“I’d like to congratulate SelectScience on an amazing 20 years in publishing to educate the scientific community. Your reviews have been extremely informative and focused on what is really important to those users. It’s been great to see your growth as a trusted business partner and I look forward to your next 20 years”
Genetically engineered embryos
We’ve come so far with genetic engineering. Since its beginnings in selective breeding, we have been able to refine our methods significantly over recent years with increasing knowledge around deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and our ability to manipulate it.
In 1974 the first genetically engineered animal was born, but recent breakthroughs in how readily we can engineer genes have accelerated this research to new heights. Revolutionary CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) systems have reduced the price, time and complexity of genetic engineering.
“I think that CRISPR/Cas9 will be optimized over the next few years and will be widely-used for gene therapy. It certainly has changed the way we do science. We can now edit the genome in very specific ways, and generate isogenic strains that differ by just a single nucleotide change. It will only get better and safer. I also think with whole exome and whole genome sequencing becoming less and less expensive, in the near future, we will all have our genomes (or at the very least, exomes) sequenced.”
Editing out disease
With today's CRISPR technology, we’re already starting to cure diseases, with hundreds of clinical trials investigating gene therapy in adults as treatment for genetic conditions, some types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and HIV/AIDS. In 20 years’ time, could we be targeting thousands of deadly genetic diseases directly in the human embryo and stopping disease even before birth?
“In 20 years’ time we will further refine the gains that have currently been made. Right now, we have proof of concept, that we can safely and efficaciously correct genes in humans, but we need to fine tune the therapies.”
Designing your perfect baby
With new powerful genetic engineering tools and the ability to modify human DNA, could we go beyond correcting genetic conditions and start to produce designer babies? As well as being disease-free, could we start gifting traits such as better muscle structure, metabolism or intelligence? This would mean steady changes to the human gene pool over time as genetic mutations pass through generations and is a topic wrapped in controversy around social, ethical and moral issues. 
Frozen in time
Freezing biological samples without damaging them (cryopreservation) has worked well for decades on a small scale, with minimal samples of liquid or tissue, such as red blood cells, sperm, and embryos, reliably frozen and thawed without risking the quality of the sample.
Developments in cryopreservation have the potential to open untold possibilities around genetic and medical applications. As the length of time samples can be viably stored increases, could we eventually reach a position where we could:
- Engineer synthetic blood or develop new blood types that could then be stored cryogenically, potentially indefinitely, eradicating blood shortages or blood-related afflictions?
- Store perfect or modified genetic samples collected over time, to be presented as part of a "designer" catalogue?
- Explore environmental biobanking (a biorepository of biological samples) - why only preserve and modify genetically superior human specimens when the possibility exists to engineer our entire natural environment?
Technology to watch
- Genome analysis
- Gene expression and molecular cloning
- Next-generation sequencing
- Freezing and cryogenics
Image courtesy of Luchschen © 123RF.com
Safe, nutritional food production
A growing population
A growing population
The world’s population is increasing at breakneck speed, if current trends continue the population will exceed 9 billion by 2040 . This will cause strain on our planet, and for scientists, maintaining the health of the planet is a primary goal.
“20 years from now, we are going to be approaching nine billion people on our planet. There's going to be much more pressure on our food supply, on crop yields, on natural resources, such as water, soil, and air. We will continue to innovate our solutions to help serve these vital areas, and continue to enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer”
Protecting food and water
From insecticide contamination in eggs to salmonella scares in baby formula, concerns around food safety rarely leave the news. The safety of our food can be compromised both inadvertently through pesticide contamination and through purposeful adulteration. As the global food market becomes increasingly stressed, managing the safety of our food will remain a top priority.
By 2040, scientists hope to have developed analytical techniques which are able to detect unexpected contaminants in foods by non-targeted methods.
“Over the next 20 years it will be important for all of the world’s governments to think outside the box and stay updated. They will need to develop non-targeted screening methods, as we will continue to see the unexpected turning up in food. We are working to develop analytical methods to assess more analytical compounds. We would like to be able to analyze a food sample for toxins and other compounds using non-targeted methods. This will enable us to detect unexpected compounds in foods much sooner.”
Plastics in the ocean is a current global crisis , but scientists have begun to push the frontiers of sustainable and degradable bioplastics for the future, where the term ‘benign by design’ is paramount. Our everyday packaging and casing materials are set to take us back to a time of more natural based materials, only with a modern twist.
Graphene is also set to aid the global drinking water scarcity crisis with its fantastic ability to sieve salty and dirty water into drinkable water, filtering out small nanoparticles, organic molecules, and large and common salts, providing fresh water to places with drinkable water scarcity.
What will you be having for dinner in 2040?
Over the next 20 years, we can expect to see renewed focus on increasing crop production yields across the globe. Continued efforts will be needed to help subsistence farmers in some of the world's poorest areas, and a rise in high-tech indoor vertical farming and controlled-environment agriculture practices may see food produced in the middle of our biggest cities to help feed the population.
Protecting our crops will remain a crucial issue and seed banks, such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault , will grow in importance to help combat pandemic plant diseases. The quality of the food you eat will rely on well-orchestrated government strategies and an ever-increasing prevalence of GM crops.
Plenty less fish in the sea
Whilst we will undoubtedly be eating farmed fish in 2040, fish from the sea might be a much rarer treat. In 2016, Dame Ellen MacArthur produced a report stating that in the future, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea .
Meeting the meat demand
By 2040, the amount of meat being consumed is likely to decrease - with a rise in low-meat diets  and lab-produced 'meat' making its way to your dinner plate .
“I think that we will consume a lot less meat, especially beef due to GHG issues. My own view is that the meat industry will undergo substantial changes over the next decade to improve on efficiencies and sustainability, and to reduce GHGs so we can all look forward to a good burger in 2028! There will be a number of innovations in terms of plant-based foods, but it's very hard to know exactly what these will be.”
Technology to watch
Early disease detection
Remote healthcare monitoring
The future of healthcare is personalized
In 20 years' time, your healthcare will be increasingly personalized to your genetic and biochemical makeup. In the future, the way doctors predict, prevent, diagnose and treat you when you are ill may all be tailored just for you .
Getting to know you
At-home personal genome testing, next-generation sequencing and gene editing technology can all provide doctors with a wealth of information about your own personal genetic make-up. This genetic data, combined with metabolomics (the study of metabolites), will help doctors to predict drug responses and risk of developing certain diseases. Examples of personalized medicine in practice can already be seen in the use of companion diagnostics  and immunotherapy in cancer patients .
"The biggest challenge that we're facing is how do we provide the best quality of care to an ever-expanding population around the globe, which is expected to be around nine billion by 2040, while addressing all the lifestyle diseases that are coming with that."
Prevention is better than cure
Scientists hope that modern technology will enable doctors to prevent diseases before they even make you unwell. Wearable health technology  and ultrasensitive tests to monitor health and the earliest predictors of disease, could enable doctors to stay one step ahead of your illness.
Catching it early
Increased understanding of how diseases are caused, and how they progress, means that illnesses could be diagnosed much earlier and lead to more effective treatments. This is increasingly important with an ever-expanding and ageing population. So how might this be done? It's all about biomarkers ...
- New clinical biomarkers – research is identifying more of the molecules, genes, or characteristics that help identify a specific disease, pathological or physiological process, meaning that we can identify a disease with more certainty.
- Liquid biopsies – modern, less invasive liquid biopsy methods enable doctors to see biomarkers in the blood without the need for traditional tissue biopsies.
- Ultrasensitive tests – advances in technology, such as ultrasensitive immunoassays, enable scientists to identify biomarkers at increasingly low levels. Ultrasensitive tests could allow diseases to be diagnosed early.
“We believe that there is a gigantic opportunity to see disease so early that you can actually prevent it and see its pathology.”
The hospital at your bedside
Point-of-care developments mean that in the future, you could be diagnosed with serious illnesses at your bedside rather than waiting for samples to be analyzed by a lab, using:
- Portable laboratory diagnostic platforms that miniaturize complex laboratory tests such as PCR for healthcare providers 
- Novel hand-held scanners or smartphone technology
Back at home, outside of the healthcare environment, non-invasive monitors will be able to track your health as you go about your daily life .
Antimicrobial resistance will be a growing concern in the future, with microorganisms, such as bacteria or viruses, genetically adapting in response to treatment with an antimicrobial drug so that the drug is no longer effective. This could mean that common infections that are curable today could become untreatable and pose a high health risk if we don’t act now.
“First-time, accurate diagnosis is key to improving treatment and reducing the effect of antibiotic resistance and that is why we are hard at work developing new diagnostic tests within the area of infectious disease.”
While antibiotics will continue to be used to treat bacterial infections, antibiotic-resistance is not the only concern. Antibiotics can kill the natural healthy bacteria in the microbiome- a complex ecosystem of hundreds of different types of microbes, including bacteria, fungi and viruses, that reside naturally in the gut and other places within the body and that play an important role in protecting us against infectious diseases . Disruption in gut microbiota can enable antibiotic-resistant bacteria to increase and take over, leaving the individual open to an untreatable infection that could easily spread to others. As we learn more about our relationship with these microbial communities and their influence on human health and disease , the door will open to new diagnostics and treatments for infectious disease.
Technology to watch
“Nobody ever discovered a drug on their own. If you want to be successful at drug discovery, you have to collaborate and partner with the best scientists wherever they may exist… whether that be technology or disease biology, such that you can bring that team together to deliver the best possible medicine you can to patients.”
Our secret sun
For years there have been concerns over our dwindling natural energy sources. But new possibilities are arising all the time, such as nuclear fusion and renewable energy. And if all else fails, we will always have the Earth's sun to learn from. Physicists believe recreating the sun inside a lab is just around the corner.
Scientists like Dr. Alexandru Boboc, Culham Center for Fusion Energy (CCFE), UK, are on a mission to benefit future generations by exploiting the sun’s trade secret – nuclear fusion.
“I personally strongly believe that the fusion community has reached the point of no return, that we can deliver the first commercial plant prototype before 2050 if there will be enough political and financial support.”
Plants to the rescue
As fossil fuels continue to deplete quickly, an alternative avenue will come to our rescue – agriculture.
Sugarcane is already used in Brazil for the generation of bioethanol fuel, returning eight times more energy than is invested, but are there better options?
- Cellulose contained in fibrous plants has huge potential as a future source of sustainable, low-carbon cellulosic biofuels. Researchers at the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology have recently examined enzymes that can break down cellulose for bioethanol production
- Beer… fermentation broths containing ethanol, such as used for beer, have recently been converted to a more useful biofuel, butanol. Butanol is a better replacement for petrol than ethanol, as ethanol mixes too easily with water and is corrosive to engines.
"If our technology works with alcoholic drinks – especially beer, which is the best model – then it shows it has the potential to be scaled up to make butanol as a petrol replacement on an industrial scale."
Low energy, high output
A large energy cost is required to power all of our current electronic equipment. Recent developments and investments in gallium nitride are set to slash these energy costs and deliver us small and faster electronics in the future, cutting the global demand for electricity by up to 20%.
“Half of the electricity we make now is wasted as heat and never used to produce actual work. Gallium nitride gives an opportunity to reduce a big portion of that wasted 50 percent.”
As energy production is set to increase by 2040, storing energy for future use will become a significant issue. Developments in materials science will provide stationary storage systems that would serve as ‘banks’ for energy. Scientists such as Professor Silke Christiansen, Freie Universität Berlin, and Helmholtz Center for Materials and Energy, are currently using correlative microscopy to understand, analyze and identify artificial and natural materials that can serve as these energy banks and help supply future demands.
Scientists at work
Your morning commute into the lab may look very similar in 2040, but will it take advantage of future fashion developments? Graphene is the thinnest material on earth, it is 200 times stronger than steel , and is touted to become common wearable material in the future. Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan, of Manchester University, has already found a way to use it to make the soles of our shoes more durable. Twenty years from now, its other unique electronic properties could be exploited to develop smart clothing that monitors your vital signs , all on the way to the lab.
Take your foot off the gas
Electric cars and vehicles will dominate the roads of the future, and it's likely that you'll be traveling to the lab, lectures and conferences via electric vehicles. With extensive funding dedicated towards cleaner vehicles, extended battery life, and recycling of car batteries , you can expect an electric car to get you where you need to be.
But will it be you at the wheel, or will you be able to put your feet up, catch a few extra minutes of sleep, or finish your grant application? Gallium nitride is set to be part of your everyday commute to work in the future, working as the eyes of your autonomous self-driving cars  and boosting the power output in the inverters of the electric cars.
Just think about it
The way we communicate has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, and there’s little doubt it will change even quicker over the next two decades, with SelectScience right at the forefront of developments.
Imagine meeting a new colleague and seeing their name, social media profiles, scientific publications and even their political leanings or favorite food at the same time thanks to further advancements in augmented reality, which supplements your world view with an array of digital information.
Imagine returning after a day in the lab and letting your home choose what you watch, eat and even help plan your schedule for tomorrow, as products ranging from fridges to door handles predict your needs and desires via a network of sensors and algorithms.
Imagine being able to communicate with someone, or even your scientific equipment, by sending your thoughts through a network directly to them - it may seem far-fetched, but scientists are already working on mind-reading programs that can translate brain activity into written or spoken words. Then imagine collaborating with someone on the other side of the world thanks to software which can translate your words, or thoughts, in real time.
Whatever happens, one thing is certain: communication between scientists on a global scale is entering a crucial phase as we work to accelerate scientific progress and make the world a healthier place.
Technology to watch