Scientists urge governments to turn old TV frequencies into free “super WiFi”

Governments should sack plans to auction off old television frequencies to the highest bidder and instead use the bandwidth for free super-frequency WiFi if they want to boost the economy, scientists have said.

Old television frequencies are becoming available for other uses around the world, thanks to a switch from analogue to digital transmission.

However, while governments are for the most part auctioning these off to whoever is prepared to pay the most – usually mobile phone networks – they should instead be using the frequencies to create free-to-use, wide-range WiFi, scientists from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany have said.

This new “super WiFi” would have a far wider range than existing WiFi networks, which are mostly transmitted over wireless local area networks (WLAN) at frequencies of 2GHz or above.


WiFi transmitted over old TV frequencies could be transmitted at lower frequencies than traditional WiFi, resulting in a far wider area covered. This super WiFi’s coverage area could even be as big as several kilometres in radius, a massive improvement on existing networks.

This would mean that pricey mobile services such as 4G were no longer required, which the scientists believe would lead to more mobile internet use, and a wealth of economic benefits.

“Implementation of our approach would have far-reaching consequences,” said Arnd Weber of the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) at KIT.

“Individuals, institutions and companies would be far less dependent on expensive mobile communications networks in conducting their digital communication. This would also be of great economic benefit.”

In addition to providing direct, measurable cost savings, the technology could, according to the researchers, result in the development of a host of new technologies just as existing WiFi has.

It could also provide direct benefits during disaster scenarios, as a means of providing updates and enabling communication.


However, the big challenge here is convincing governments that this is the right move.

Many have argued they these frequencies are common property and therefore should be made available to the public free of charge, a view that has been opposition from a number of people, including the late Nobel Prize winning economist Ronald Coase.

Coase argued that the frequencies should be auctioned off to ensure they are most effectively used, and the money used by governments to fund other services.

Others have also argued that congestion would make these lower frequency networks unworkable, however Weber and his colleague Jens Elsner argue that it is possible to avoid such congestion with the right technological approach.

Ultimately, convincing governments will be a matter of showing that long-term economic benefits greatly outstrip the short-term financial gains of an auction.

While Weber and Elsner plan to make this case at the UN World Radiocommunication Conference next year, they will no doubt struggle to get many governments onboard.

In the long run, though, those of us living in areas where auctions have gone ahead could find ourselves quite jealous of the countries that choose the super WiFi option.

Featured image courtesy of gunes t, inline images courtesy of Mr. Theklan

Scientists develop unprecedented method for delivering drugs to the brain

A new study has discovered that a specific peptide – a chain of amino acids – can be used to carry molecules and nanoparticles to damaged areas of the brain – effectively enabling technology that could lead to new therapeutics for traumatic brain injuries.

The scientists from the Sanford Burnham Prebys Discovery Institute (SBP) have published their findings in Nature Communications.

Erkki Ruoslahti, senior author of the study, explained: “We have found a peptide sequence of four amino acids, cysteine, alanine, glutamine, and lysine (CAQK) that recognizes injured brain tissue. This peptide could be used to deliver treatments that limit the extent of damage.”


In the US alone, around 2.5 million sustain traumatic brain injuries every year – usually from car crashes, falls or violence. While the initial injury cannot be repaired, the damaging effects from breaking brain cells and blood vessels can be minimised immediately following the injury.

“Current interventions for acute brain injury are aimed at stabilizing the patient by reducing intracranial pressure and maintaining blood flow, but there are no approved drugs to stop the cascade of events that cause secondary injury,” said Aman Mann, first author of the study.

Numerous candidate drugs that block events post-injury that can cause secondary damage are currently in preclinical trials.

Ruoslahti added: “Our goal was to find an alternative to directly injecting therapeutics into the brain, which is invasive and can add complications. Using this peptide to deliver drugs means they could be administered intravenously, but still reach the site of injury in sufficient quantities to have an effect.”

Schematic illustrating how the intravenously injected peptide would accumulate at the site of brain injury. Image courtesy of Ryan Allen, Second Bay Studios

Schematic illustrating how the intravenously injected peptide would accumulate at the site of brain injury. Image courtesy of Ryan Allen, Second Bay Studios

The CAQK peptide works by binding to components of the meshwork surrounding brain cells known as chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans. These large proteins increase in volume following injury to the brain.

“Not only did we show that CAQK carries drug-sized molecules and nanoparticles to damaged areas in mouse models of acute brain injury, we also tested peptide binding to injured brain samples and found the same selectivity,” Mann noted.

But the discovery goes even further. According to the scientists, the same peptide can also be used to create tools to identify brain injuries, by attaching it to materials than can be detected by medical imaging devices.

“And, because the peptide can deliver nanoparticles that can be loaded with large molecules,” Ruoslahti added, “it could enable enzyme or gene-silencing therapies.”

The technology has already been licensed by start-up company AivoCode, which was recently awarded a Small Business Innovation Research grant for further development and commercialisation.

It’s exciting news: the discovery could go a long way to developing a new, effective therapy for traumatic brain injuries.

31 scientific societies remind US lawmakers that man-made climate change is real

Thirty one leading scientific societies have today written to United States policymakers reconfirming the reality of man-made climate change and urging them to take action

The letter is intended as a reaffirmation of the message conveyed in a 2009 letter, at the time signed by eighteen leading scientific organisations, in the hope of providing authoritative information to those who have the power to work towards solutions.

“Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research concludes that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver,” the collaboration said in its letter to Members of Congress. “This conclusion is based on multiple independent lines of evidence and the vast body of peer-reviewed science.”

The letter has been signed by the leaders of organisations including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Meteorological Society, the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Statistical Association.

Image courtesy of Ocean Biology Processing Group at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Above: image courtesy of ESA / NASA

Image courtesy of Ocean Biology Processing Group at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Above: image courtesy of ESA / NASA

The re-release of the letter, with its expanded consensus, is intended to drive home the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions from an objective perspective. With environmental issues often becoming politicised, the societies likely intend for their nonpartisan backgrounds to defuse accusations of political bias and enable them get straight to the science.

Citing the vast consensus of climate scientists and scientific organisations, including the US Global Change Research Program, the US National Academies and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the organisations’ message focuses on the negative impact that greenhouse gas emissions could have on many aspects of life around the world.

“To reduce the risk of the most severe impacts of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be substantially reduced,” the group said, adding that adaptation is also necessary to “address unavoidable consequences for human health and safety, food security, water availability, and national security, among others.”

Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

Already in the United States alone, the group reports that climate change has seen increased threats of extreme weather events, sea-level rise, water scarcity, heat waves, wildfires and disturbances to ecosystems and animals.

However, American politicians’ likely compliance with the suggestions of the intersociety group is uncertain, given their history with climate change.

We will have to wait to see whether the recent Paris Agreement will be ratified, but it would not be the first time the US has failed to ratify an ecological treaty; the Kyoto Protocol was notably never ratified under the Bush administration.

“Climate change is real and happening now, and the United States urgently needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said AAAS Chief Executive Officer Rush Holt, executive publisher of the Science family of journals.

“We must not delay, ignore the evidence, or be fearful of the challenge. America has provided global leadership to successfully confront many environmental problems, from acid rain to the ozone hole, and we can do it again. We owe no less to future generations.”

Insects might be touted as the food of the future, but many of us remain unconvinced about bug-based meals. However, scientists have identified another approach to tackling future food shortages, and it’s set to be a lot more appetising to the average Westerner

As the global population continues to grow, we may need to search further afield for cheap, sustainable food alternatives.

A 2013 report from the World Resources Institute warned that Earth’s agricultural system faces a challenging balancing act. The challenge: “To meet different human needs, by 2050 it [the world] must simultaneously produce far more food for a population expected to reach about 9.6 billion, provide economic opportunities for the hundreds of millions of rural poor who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and reduce environmental impacts, including ecosystem degradation and high greenhouse gas emissions.”

Despite their high protein levels, many refuse to accept insects as the future of food

Despite their high protein levels, many refuse to accept insects as the future of food

Since then, a number of solutions have been proposed. Insects, for example, have been touted as a meat replacement for some time – they are high in protein, highly sustainable and represent a cheaper alternative to meat.

They have also been eaten widely in many parts of the world for years, including much of Asia.

And a 2014 study from Ghent University in Belgium revealed that one in five meat eaters from the Western world were ready to adopt bugs into their diet – with men more likely than women to accept them.

But researchers from the University of Hohenheim in Germany have recently proposed an alternative ‘future food’ that could be more palatable than adding crushed crickets to your dinner.

Forgotten grains

Friedrich Longin and Tobias Würschum believe that untapped consumer markets exist for ancient foods – such as einkorn, emmer and spelt – which fed large sections of the global population for thousands of years before industrial farming and the green revolution took centre stage.

In an opinion piece published in the journal Trends in Plant Science, the two plant breeders argue that consumer demand in the US and Europe for high quality, healthy food presents an opportunity to reintroduce ancient wheat varieties and other plant species, in turn increasing agricultural biodiversity (without the need for creepy crawlies).

“People are interested in diversity, in getting something with more taste, with healthier ingredients, and ancient grains deliver interesting things,” Longin explains.

By testing and analysing some of the thousands of varieties of ancient wheat species found in gene banks, agronomists and cereal scientists can select those best suited to both modern farming needs and consumer preferences.

And in terms of consumer preferences, I think we can safely argue that a new (or ancient) wheat variety would trump insects as an addition to the 21st century menu.

Take your pick

The wheat flour in widely available breads and baked goods comes almost exclusively from bread wheat – just one of three species, 20 subspecies and thousands of varieties of wheat cultivated and eaten across the world for centuries.

Ancient grain einkorn is one of those being considered

Ancient grain einkorn is one of those being considered

But the development of industrial agriculture and the green revolution in the mid-1900s focused on developing cultivars that produce a high yield and have short stalks which are less likely to collapse and expose the grains to pests or mould. And as other varieties ceased to be commercially viable, traditional dishes and regional food diversity also began to disappear.

However, many of these varieties still exist in gene banks.

In their research, Longin and Würschum screened hundreds of varieties of einkorn and emmer and tested the 15 best candidates at four different locations in Germany. The results proved the importance of looking at the plants holistically.

“When you look at einkorn, it is really fantastic looking in the field, but when you get the agronomic performance, it is low-yielding and it falls down in the rain. But then we found there were so many healthy ingredients, and you taste and even see it in the end product,” says Longin.

Leading by example

Spelt is an example of an ancient grain that has successfully been reintroduced into modern markets. The main cereal crop in Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland, spelt had almost completely disappeared by the early 20th century. But after a rediscovery that started in the 1970s, today more than 100,000 hectares of spelt are grown every year in and around Germany, with an annual turnover of €1bn across Europe and an annual growth rate of over 5%.

The potential for these ancient grains is considerable, and the end results, according to the scientists, could create a self-financing strategy for providing high quality foods and preserving ancient species.

So let’s not forget about these grains of yesteryear. They may certainly prove to be more appetising than other ‘leggier’ alternatives.