A Chinese scientist claims to have genetically-engineered babies — here’s what editing DNA means

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  • A Chinese scientist claims to have genetically-engineered human babies with the revolutionary technique known as CRISPR.
  • If his claims are verified, the infants will be first ever babies with DNA that’s been edited in a lab, or so-called CRISPR babies.
  • Editing human DNA in this way could save lives, but many researchers fear unintended consequences.

Following is a transcript of the video.

In 2011, scientists created glow-in-the-dark cats. The researchers took a gene from a glowing jellyfish and inserted it into the unfertilized eggs of house cats. It was a neat trick, but they had a bigger goal in mind. They also made the cats more likely to be resistant to a feline form of AIDS by, again, manipulating their DNA. And cats aren’t that different than humans. In fact, we share around 90 percent of our DNA with them. 

So why can’t we engineer humans in the same way?  Well, we can — engineer ourselves to be resistant to life-threatening illnesses, that is. In fact, one scientist claims that he’s genetically engineered two babies using a revolutionary tool called CRISPR. But what exactly is a CRISPR baby, anyway?

Would you like to be six feet tall? Or never bald? The secret to traits like these lies in the six billion letters of your genetic code. But there can be something else in there as well. Mutations. Genetic mutations are linked to at least 6,000 medical conditions, from sickle cell anemia to Huntington’s disease. But what if you could make those mutations simply disappear? That’s where the gene-editing tool CRISPR comes in.

CRISPR is made from specialized proteins and other compounds found in certain bacteria. Normally, these proteins protect the bacteria by destroying enemy invaders like viruses, but the inventors of CRISPR figured out how to turn those proteins against genetic mutations and other genes linked to disease.  

First, they give the proteins coordinates of the wanted gene. Then, CRISPR runs a seek-and-destroy function. After that, other molecules are dispatched to repair the gene with new, healthy DNA. And just like that, you can edit the human genome.

But while edits may be quick, their changes can last for centuries. Especially if you’re editing the DNA in an embryo. Embryos start out with a single cell that eventually replicates into millions and then trillions more. So, if you alter that initial cell first, you’re manipulating the ingredients for every cell that follows later in life, and those same altered cells can be passed on from generation to generation. That’s one reason why most experiments on human embryos haven’t left the lab.

That is, except for the work of Dr. He Jiankui. He claims to have used CRISPR to target and knock out the CCR5 gene in human embryos, which is linked to HIV infection. And then he did something that shocked the scientific community. He implanted the embryos into several women, one of whom gave birth to genetically modified twins. Resistance to HIV aside, most scientists say that the procedure was too risky.  At least two studies suggest that edited cells might actually trigger cancer. And another found that CRISPR can accidentally take aim at healthy DNA.

So, while CRISPR could make us immune to disease, who knows what else we might get on the side?

Join the conversation about this story »

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More passwordless logins are coming to Android

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The FIDO Alliance and Google today announced that Android (from version 7.0 up) with the latest version of the Google Play Services, is now FIDO2 certified. At first glance, that sounds rather boring, but it will enable developers to write apps that use a phone’s fingerprint scanner or a FIDO security key to authenticate users without making them type in a password. Since I’m not aware of too many people who like to type in complicated passwords that their IT department makes them change every few months, that’s a big deal.

Developers will be able to enable password-less logins in their web and native apps. Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Firefox already fully support this feature, as does Apple’s Safari (but only in preview). In addition to the convenience, FIDO2 also promises to offer phishing-resistant security, given that this technology won’t let you authenticate on a malicious site.

“Google has long worked with the FIDO Alliance and W3C to standardize FIDO2 protocols, which give any application the ability to move beyond password authentication while offering protection against phishing attacks,” Google product manager Christiaan Brand. “Today’s announcement of FIDO2 certification for Android helps move this initiative forward, giving our partners and developers a standardized way to access secure keystores across devices, both in market already as well as forthcoming models, in order to build convenient biometric controls for users.”

It’s worth noting that Android already supported password-less authentication for native apps, but now it’ll also support these for browser logins. Once you’ve set up this new authentication mechanism (and once web apps support it), your phone will store all of the cryptographic data on the device and none of the raw fingerprint data, for example, will be transferred to anybody else.

The FIDO Alliance says this new mechanism will soon enable a billion users on modern Android devices to experience password-less logins. Developers will have to implement support in their web and native applications, though, but that’s relatively easy.

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People Are Enraged At PETA For Mercilessly Ripping The Late Steve Irwin On His Birthday

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Steve Irwin would have turned 57 on Friday. The conservationist and television personality died in February 2006 after being pierced in the heart by a stingray barb while filming an underwater documentary. He was just 44.

While many took to Twitter to praise Irwin for saving the lives of countless animals in his sanctuary, or educating millions on animal rights, or his quiet philanthropy, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) decided to blast The Crocodile Hunter after his death. On his birthday.

To honor Steve Irwin, Google changed the logo on its search page with a Google Doodle that tells the story of his life and legacy. In response to the gesture, the oft-tone deaf PETA pulled no punches in revealing how they feel about Irwin’s life work.

Mind you, this is the same dude who founded Wildlife Warriors Worldwide, an organization that aims at protecting habitat and wildlife, creates breeding and rescue programs for endangered species, and leads scientific research to aid conservation. The same dude who founded the Lyn Irwin Memorial Fund in honor of his mother, where all donations go directly to the Iron Bark Station Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which manages 3,450 acres of wildlife sanctuary.

A bit malicious that PETA took such a hard-line stance on Irwin, given that there was so much more to him than his television stunts. Twitter was pissed.

If you thought that the animal rights organization would dial back its comments after the backlash, you’re wrong. In a statement to USA TODAY, PETA said, “People should examine Steve Irwin’s record of wildlife molestation.”

[h/t USA Today]

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How To Make A Keto Margarita

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margarita

Getty Image / Joe Scarnici / Stringer

Today is National Margarita Day, which means it is time to imbibe in all the glory that is this sweet, sour, salty cocktail. But if you are on the keto diet, margaritas can be problematic to say the least. So we are going to alter your run-of-the-mill margarita and make this tantalizing tequila drink a little more keto-friendly.

The average premade margarita mix will have 27 grams and carbohydrates and 26 grams of sugar and that’s just for ONE regular size cocktail. That is going to trample any progress you’ve made on your ketogenic diet. Not to mention margarita mixes might be exposing your body to high fructose corn syrup or other artificial ingredients. Let’s get those very unhealthy numbers down shall we?

Now for margaritas, you don’t need to blow your budget and get a $100 tequila because you’re making a mixed drink. But don’t go too cheap either because then you’ll put yourself at risk for a nasty hangover. For my keto margarita, I used a Bandero Blanco Tequila, which is an absolute steal of a spirit that retails for around $35.

Bandero, which has some fantastic eye-catching packaging, is made from blue agave plants in the higher altitudes of eastern Los Altos Highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. The dryer and colder climate provides Bandero Tequila with a smooth and sweeter, almost pineapple-like flavor. This is perfect for keto margaritas because you’re going to want the spirit to supply its own sweetness because we’ll be cutting the sugar dramatically in this cocktail by not using the excessively saccharine margarita mix.

You’re supposed to stay away from fruit on the keto diet, but lime is one of the most keto-friendly fruits you’ll find out there. If you squeeze the juice from one lime you’ll get roughly 4 grams of carbs, 0.5 grams of sugar and a glycemic index of 24, one of the lowest fruits.

Normal margarita recipes would call for an orange-flavored liquor such as Triple Sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier. But those have too much sugar. You may want to use orange juice, but that too is going to have a lot of carbs and sugar. But don’t worry, because we have a couple of keto-friendly substitutes.

You could use an orange-flavored seltzer water that has zero calories and zero sugar such as Perrier’s L’Orange carbonated mineral water. Another substitute is to make your own orange-infused water by boiling water with an orange peel and then refrigerating it. Or you could just shave some orange zest into your drink and let the citrusy oils from the peel add that scrumptious orange flavor to your keto margarita.

Now you’re going to want a little sweetness to balance out the sourness of the lime juice. You could use agave nectar, but that has a great deal of sugar, even the light variation. You could use stevia, but for me that leaves an unwanted aftertaste. I added a little kiss of sweetness by adding a teaspoon (give or take on how sweet you want it) of yacon syrup. Yacon syrup is a natural sweetner derived from the yacon plant, which looks like a yam or sweet potato and is indigenous to the Andes Mountains. Yacon syrup has a glycemic index of only 1. Doesn’t get much better than that.

If you want to add salt to the rim that is your personal choice, but cutting down on sodium never hurt anybody. So there you have it, enjoy National Margarita Day, Cinco de Mayo, or any day with this keto margarita.

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12-Year-Old Builds Nuclear Reactor In His House Becomes The Youngest To Achieve Fusion

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What was it like when you were 12-years-old? What marvelous accomplishment did you achieve in your youth? Did you set a record with the most services purchased from prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas? Did you construct a bong out of a toilet paper roll? Well, your childhood achievements are a smidge lacking when compared to Jackson Oswalt, a kid who built a frigging nuclear fusion reactor in his house.

Meet Jackson Oswalt, a kid who constructed a nuclear fusion reactor at his house in Memphis, Tennessee. With some ingenuity and about $8,000 of his parents’ money, young Jackson successfully built a nuclear fusion reactor at the age of 12, just hours before his 13th birthday. This made him the youngest person to build a nuclear fusion reactor.

Richard Hull, a retired electronics engineer with the research consortium and an administrator for its website Fusor, verified Jackson’s work and have said that he is the youngest person to ever achieve fusion. Jackson consulted the Fusor website and its online forum for advice from fellow amateur physicists.

Using vacuums, pumps, and chambers that he bought off of eBay, Oswalt was able to fuse two deuterium gas atoms into helium. The youngster was able to create a neutron from smashing the atoms together and accomplish fusion. I feel bad for anyone in Jackson’s school with the slight hope of ever winning the science fair. I mean, you’ve got somebody who created fusion in your school, your baking soda volcano ain’t gonna cut it.

“The start of the process was just learning about what other people had done with their fusion reactors,” Jackson said. “After that, I assembled a list of parts I needed. [I] got those parts off eBay primarily and then often times the parts that I managed to scrounge off of eBay weren’t exactly what I needed. So, I’d have to modify them to be able to do what I needed to do for my project.”

“Being a parent of someone that was as driven as he was for 12 months was really impressive to see,” Jackson’s father Chris Oswalt said. “I mean it was everyday grinding; everyday learning something different; everyday failing and watching him work through all those things.”

Just be careful kid, one moment you’re making nuclear reactors, the next minute you’re being hunted by Libyan terrorists who you stole plutonium from to make a time machine instead of making them a nuclear weapon.

[DailyMail]

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Huawei’s Mate X is the most promising foldable phone yet

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The race to build the best foldable phone is officially on.

Not to be outdone by Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, Huawei announced its very own foldable phone called the Mate X at Mobile World Congress. And holy moly does it look superior than Samsung’s foldable phone in every way.

The world’s second-largest smartphone manufacturer believes the Mate X is two things the Galaxy Fold isn’t: the future of design and the future of technology. 

The Chinese tech giant is going as far as calling its foldable phone “the world’s fastest foldable 5G phone.” 

Compared to the Galaxy Fold, the Mate X has some noticeable advantages that make it a more promising foldable phone.

Open and close. Open and close.

Open and close. Open and close.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

For example, whereas the Fold’s screens are compromised — the exterior features a skinny and small 4.6-inch screen with huge bezels all around it and the unfolded larger interior screen has a cutout for the selfie cameras in the upper right — the Mate X’s screens are larger and stretch closer towards the edges in all modes.

The Mate X has a 6.6-inch (2,480 x 1,148) front display with 19.5:9 aspect ratio and a 6.38-inch display (2,480 x 892) with 25:9 aspect ratio on the rear when folded up. 

Unfold the whole thing and you get a larger 8-inch (2,480 x 2,220) screen with 8:7.1 aspect ratio which can be used to view more content or open two apps simultaneously.

Look, no big ugly bezels!

Look, no big ugly bezels!

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Watching a Huawei spokesperson fold and unfold the screen was truly a sight to behold. He made the Galaxy Fold look like an unfinished prototype in comparison.

And whereas Samsung’s not telling anyone how thick its Galaxy Fold is when folded up, Huawei’s proudly showing off the Mate X’s 5.4mm thickness when unfolded and 11mm thickness when folded in half. 

Unlike the Galaxy Fold, the Mate X folds backwards, not inwards.

Unlike the Galaxy Fold, the Mate X folds backwards, not inwards.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

I didn’t get to touch or hold the Mate X in my hands (nobody did), but 11mm isn’t thin for a smartphone. That said, for a foldable phone, it could be the one of the thinnest. It’s hard to say until we have proper dimensions for other foldable phones.

Check out that "falcon hinge" design.

Check out that “falcon hinge” design.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Besides the larger displays, the Mate X also sports a “grip bar.” It’s inside the narrow body where the Leica-designed cameras and USB-C port live.

The grip bar is where makes the Mate X easy to use with one hand.

The grip bar is where makes the Mate X easy to use with one hand.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

The grip bar is also an ergonomic way to, well, firmly grip the Mate X with one hand. Think of it like a rolled-up magazine.

The Mate X’s insides are equally as impressive. The foldable device is powered by Huawei’s own 7-nanometer Kirin 980 chip and Balong 5,000 5G modem.

Huawei says the 5G modem is so fast and its quad 5G antenna so ahead of the competition that the Mate X is capable of download speeds of up to 4.6 Gbps — 10x faster than most 4G modems and 2x faster than the 5G modems offered by Qualcomm’s X50 5G modem and Samsung’s Exynos 5,100 5G modem, which are only capable of download speeds up to 2.3 Gbps.

The Mate X will support fast 5G downloads with its Balong 5000 5G modem.

The Mate X will support fast 5G downloads with its Balong 5000 5G modem.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

With fast 5G connectivity, Huawei says consumers will be able to download a 1GB movie in 3 seconds.

Huawei also says it’s packed a sufficient enough battery — a 4,500 mAh power cell — to power the Mate X. Additionally, the Mate X supports 55-watt charging, allowing it to be charged up to 85 percent in 30 minutes.

Other snazzy features include a power button that doubles as a fingerprint reader.

You can still see a slight crease, but Huawei's Mate X might just be the best foldable phone we've seen yet.

You can still see a slight crease, but Huawei’s Mate X might just be the best foldable phone we’ve seen yet.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

It’s difficult to convey just how cool-looking the Mate X is. Huawei seems to have put a lot of thought into designing the device. However, as great as the screens are, it still faces the same challenges all foldable phones need to overcome.

Huawei made no mention of how durable the phone is (though it did show off a special case for it) or how well third-party Android apps work on the various display modes. The 4,500 mAh is larger than the one in the Galaxy Fold and the faster charging is great, but will it really last?

Most importantly, Huawei didn’t announce pricing. All of the innovations inside of the Mate X surely won’t be cheap and it wouldn’t surprise us if the company also charges nearly $2,000 for the foldable device. 

There are still so many questions we need answered for the Mate X, including how much RAM it has and how much storage it contains. And when can consumers buy it?

The Mate X might be the most promising foldable phone we’ve seen yet, but that’s really not saying much. Phone makers still face a huge uphill battle convincing people that foldable phones will be worth buying.

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New flaws in 4G, 5G allow attackers to intercept calls and track phone locations

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A group of academics have found three new security flaws in 4G and 5G, which they say can be used to intercept phone calls and track the locations of cell phone users.

The findings are said to be the first time vulnerabilities have affected both 4G and the incoming 5G standard, which promises faster speeds and better security, particularly against law enforcement use of cell site simulators, known as “stingrays.” But the researchers say that their new attacks can defeat newer protections that were believed to make it more difficult to snoop on phone users.

“Any person with a little knowledge of cellular paging protocols can carry out this attack,” said Syed Rafiul Hussain, one of the co-authors of the paper, told TechCrunch in an email.

Hussain, along with Ninghui Li and Elisa Bertino at Purdue University, and Mitziu Echeverria and Omar Chowdhury at the University of Iowa are set to reveal their findings at the Network and Distributed System Security Symposium in San Diego on Tuesday.

“Any person with a little knowledge of cellular paging protocols can carry out this attack… such as phone call interception, location tracking, or targeted phishing attacks.” Syed Rafiul Hussain, Purdue University

The paper, seen by TechCrunch prior to the talk, details the attacks: the first is Torpedo, which exploits a weakness in the paging protocol that carriers use to notify a phone before a call or text message comes through. The researchers found that several phone calls placed and cancelled in a short period can trigger a paging message without alerting the target device to an incoming call, which an attacker can use to track a victim’s location. Knowing the victim’s paging occasion also lets an attacker hijack the paging channel and inject or deny paging messages, by spoofing messages like as Amber alerts or blocking messages altogether, the researchers say.

Torpedo opens the door to two other attacks: Piercer, which the researchers say allows an attacker to determine an international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) on the 4G network; and the aptly named IMSI-Cracking attack, which can brute force an IMSI number in both 4G and 5G networks, where IMSI numbers are encrypted.

That puts even the newest 5G-capable devices at risk from stingrays, said Hussain, which law enforcement use to identify someone’s real-time location and log all the phones within its range. Some of the more advanced devices are believed to be able to intercept calls and text messages, he said.

According to Hussain, all four major U.S. operators — AT&T, Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), Sprint and T-Mobile — are affected by Torpedo, and the attacks can carried out with radio equipment costing as little as $200. One U.S. network, which he would not name, was also vulnerable to the Piercer attack.

The Torpedo attack — or “TRacking via Paging mEssage DistributiOn. (Image: supplied)

We contacted the big four cell giants, but none provided comment by the time of writing. If that changes, we’ll update.

Given two of the attacks exploit flaws in the 4G and 5G standards, almost all the cell networks outside the U.S. are vulnerable to these attacks, said Hussain.  Several networks in Europe and Asia are also vulnerable.

Given the nature of the attacks, he said, the researchers are not releasing the proof-of-concept code to exploit the flaws.

It’s the latest blow to cellular network security, which has faced intense scrutiny no more so than in the last year for flaws that have allowed the interception of calls and text messages. Vulnerabilities in Signaling System 7, used by cell networks to route calls and messages across networks, are under active exploitation by hackers. While 4G was meant to be more secure, research shows that it’s just as vulnerable as its 3G predecessor. And, 5G was meant to fix many of the intercepting capabilities but European data security authorities warned of similar flaws.

Hussain said the flaws were reported to the GSMA, an industry body that represents mobile operators. GSMA recognized the flaws, but a spokesperson was unable to provide comment when reached. It isn’t known when the flaws will be fixed.

Hussain said the Torpedo and IMSI-Cracking flaws would have to be first fixed by the GSMA, whereas a fix for Piercer depends solely on the carriers. Torpedo remains the priority as it precursors the other flaws, said Hussain.

The paper comes almost exactly a year after Hussain et al revealed ten separate weaknesses in 4G LTE that allowed eavesdropping on phone calls and text messages, and spoofing emergency alerts.

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Galápagos tortoise, feared extinct, spotted for the first time in more than 100 years

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Galápagos tortoise, feared extinct, spotted for the first time in more than 100 years

More than 100 years since it was last seen by humans, a species of giant tortoise has been found on the Galápagos island of Fernandina.

According to the government of Ecuador, an adult female Chelonoidis phantasticus, more commonly known as the Fernandina Giant Tortoise, was spotted on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. This species of tortoise was last seen alive in 1906. The International Union for Conservation of Nature had previously listed the turtle as critically endangered and possibly extinct.

The tortoise is said to be in good health, but underweight. It is believed that she is about 100 years old. According to the Turtle Conservancy, she’s “about half to two-thirds the size” of the only other Fernandina Giant Tortoise that’s ever been found, a deceased male discovered 113 years ago.

The expedition brought park rangers and biologists across a “three mile stretch of hardened lava flow,” where experts believed the tortoise could possibly inhabit. Led by tortoise scat, the team uncovered a bedding site and found the giant tortoise buried deep under a pile of brush, sheltering itself from the sun. 

The giant tortoise has been relocated to the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Breeding Center on the Galapagos island of Santa Cruz. 

There’s possibly more good news as well. Based on findings of tortoise scat and track marks on Fernandina Island, there’s hope that this specific animal isn’t the only Fernandina Giant Tortoise living on the island.

The Fernandina Giant Tortoise was located through a joint effort by the Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) and the U.S.-based Galápagos Conservancy’s Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI).

The search for the tortoise on Fernandina, the third largest of the Galápagos islands, was funded by Animal Planet for the series Extinct or Alive. The network says the episode documenting the whole expedition will premiere in summer 2019.

Funding is already being pledged for future expeditions to find a mate for the female tortoise that could help conserve the critically endangered species.

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EV batteries are born in Chilean evaporation ponds

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Using Landsat data from the US Geological survey, NASA’s Laren Dauphin recently imaged the Salar de Atacama in Chile. The enclosed basin is the world’s largest source of lithium, producing 29 percent of the world’s reserves. Much of it will wind up in rechargeable batteries used by EVs, laptops and smartphones, but how it gets there is surprising — think salt production, not pit mines.

Salar de Atacama is a salt flat from an ancient sea bed that contains massive reserves of lithium brine beneath its surface ("salar" means "salt flat"). It’s cut off in the east by the Andes mountains, and to the west by another range called Cordillera de Demoyko. It’s the driest desert in the world and with the high altitude (1.4 miles above sea level) the relentless sun would damage your skin in just minutes.

Just to the east is the Lascar volcano, one of the most active in Chile and part of a highly active region called the Central Volcanic Zone. The salt brines are regularly replenished with melted snow from the mountains and incoming streams, and the lithium and other salts in the flats may have derived from the nearby volcanoes.

Lithium carbonate salts are mined in much the same way as edible fleur de sel that’s famously harvested in Guérande and elsewhere. Companies pump brine containing lithium to the surface, where it’s fed via canals to plastic-lined evaporation ponds.

The Wider Image: Water fight raises questions over Chile lithium mining

Water flowing in a canal in front of Lascar volcano in Salar de Atacama (Reuters/Ivan Alvarado)

Thanks to high evaporation rates and low levels of precipitation (around one inch per year) the water quickly disappears, leaving deposits of lithium, boron and other salts. It’s then collected and transported to the nearby port city of Antofagasta for processing. Much of it eventually finds its way to lithium-ion batteries manufactured by Panasonic, Tesla, Samsung, LG Chem and others.

The square blocks in the images are the evaporation ponds, with lighter colors indicating higher concentrations of lithium. They’re replenished by canals and pumps, shown as grid-like patterns around the ponds. Two of the world’s largest lithium miners — US-based Abermarle Corp and Chile’s SQM — operate just a few miles apart in the basin.

A combination of climatic and geographic factors make the Salar de Atacama lithium beds some of the most productive in the world, more so than nearby flats in Bolivia and Argentina. However, increasing production to meet the sharply rising demand for lithium has created local conflicts.

The mining companies have been accused of pumping more brine than the ecosystem can support, draining the underground aquifers that support indigenous communities and sparse trees and plants in the region. "When people ask me, ‘Is the water going to run out?’ I tell them, ‘The truth is, we don’t know," hydro-geologist Mariana Cervetto told Reuters.

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

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