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WIRED Awake August 4: Food crops will provide less protein as CO2 levels rise

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Your WIRED daily briefing. Today, protein levels in key food crops could fall by as much as 14.1 per cent as by 2050, the security researcher who stopped WannaCry has been arrested for allegedly creating malware, a study has found that alcohol could help the brain encode new memories and more.

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1. Food crops will provide less protein as CO2 levels rise

A new meta-study has found that predicted increases in global carbon dioxide levels could have a serious impact on human nutrition (Popular Science). Existing research shows that food crops grown in environments with elevated carbon dioxide produce lower levels of key macronutrient protein, with rice, wheat, barley, and potato protein contents decreasing respectively by 7.6 per cent, 7.8 per cent, 14.1 per cent, and 6.4 per cent. This means that, if CO2 levels continue to rise as expected, by 2050, “assuming today’s diets and levels of income inequality, an additional 1.6 per cent or 148.4 million of the world’s population may be placed at risk of protein deficiency because of eCO2. In India, an additional 53 million people may become at risk”. 76 per cent of the world’s population gets most of its daily protein requirement from plants, and a huge swath of the planet stands to see CO2 increases high enough to affect plant protein density, in countries including China, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, and Turkey.

2. The security researcher who stopped WannaCry has been arrested for allegedly creating malware

Malware security researcher Marcus Hutchins, who goes by the handle of MalwareTech, has been arrested after attending the DEF CON computer security event in Las Vegas (WIRED). Hutchins was dubbed a hero after finding and registering a ‘kill switch’ URL used by the the WannaCry ransomware, stopping the malware from hitting more devices. Hutchins was initially detained at the Henderson Detention Center in Nevada, but it’s the FBI that has an interest in hun. An indictment from the Department of Justice, dated July 11, alleges that the 23-year-old created the Kronos malware, a banking trojan that was seen in 2014 and 2015. Andrew Mabbitt‏, the founder of security firm Fidus says the researcher was “detained” on August 2. “I’m working on getting a lawyer for @MalwareTechBlog as he has no legal representation and no visitors,” Mabbitt continued.

3. Study: alcohol could help the brain encode new memories

A study has confirmed that alcohol can help fix memories firmly in the mind (Ars Technica). The study, which involved 88 social drinkers in their own homes – alcohol has already been shown to improve memory in laboratory environments. The volunteers were asked to play a game requiring them to remember nonsense words. Later, half of them were assigned to drink as much as they wanted. The researchers found that, while sober players’ memories of the words declined a little, those who’d imbibed alcohol showed significantly better results than they had before they started drinking the previous night.

4. Meet New Horizons’ next flyby target

Scientists now know a lot more about Kuiper Belt asteroid 2014 MU69, the next target of Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft following its successful flyby of Pluto (The Verge). Last month, 2014 MU69 briefly passed in front of a star, and the occulation, seen by five different telescopes, provided new data about the asteroid’s size, shape and brightness. It appears to be around 32km in length and, rather than a round shape, it’s thought to either resemble a stretched rugby ball or to consist of two connected rocks, giving it a “rubber duck” shape. It’s also possible that the body is actually two separate rocks in close proximity.

5. Physicists capture the elusive neutrino smacking into an atom’s core

Physicists from the University of Chicago have observed a new type of neutrino interaction: a neutrino bumping into an atomic nucleus, a process known as coherent elastic scattering (WIRED). At Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, they fired a beam of neutrinos at a toaster-sized detector made of cesium iodide crystals. When the neutrino interacted with a caesium or iodine nucleus, the crystal would emit about 10 photons’ worth of dim light, cracking a window into the personality of the shyest particle. Understanding this collision could help physicists study weirder properties of neutrinos and could aid in the search for dark matter by helping them to identify and filter out noise from neutrino collision signals.

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6. Ankylosaur coloring revealed by new fossil

A superb new fossil specimen, an ankylosaur named Borealopelta markmitchelli has thrown new light on the colouration and role of the armour-plated creatures in their ecosystem (BBC News). The fossil retained the upper surface of its keratin sheath and skin, allowing the scientists to analyse samples and find the skin pigment melanin. Patterns on the skin and melanin levels show that the dinosaur was countershaded, with a pale belly and a reddish-brown back. In modern animals, countershading of this sort is a camouflage pattern, used to hide from predators. Lead author Caleb Marshall Brown says that the most likely predator of the 1,300kg ankylosaur would have been “Acrocanthosaurus – a 10m-long, 6-tonne, animal that looked superficially like Tyrannosaurus rex, but was not closely related to it”.

7. Google Play will downrank apps that don’t work properly

Google has announced that it will be demoting the Play Store rankings of apps that don’t meet certain performance and quality criteria (TechCrunch). The new measures are intended to help users find quality content among the million+ apps on the Play Store. Google Play product manager Andrew Ahn writes: “Excessive battery usage, slow render times, and crashes … can be a source of frustration. In fact, in an internal analysis of app reviews on Google Play, we noticed that half of 1-star reviews mentioned app stability. Developers who focus on app quality can see improvements in their rating, and ultimately their retention and monetization”.

8. Steam has 33 million players every day

Valve has revealed that its Steam gaming platform now has 33 million daily and 67 million monthly active players, in figures presented at the Casual Connect conference in Seattle and published by Geekwire (PC Gamer). Impressively, 14 million of those users are connected and gaming concurrently every day – up from 8.4 million in 2015. The platform is still attracting new players, too, with around 1.5 million people buying their first Steam game every month. The company is in the process of upgrading its services to better cater to its new userbase, and has just streamlined groups to make them easier to manage with a new setting that allows users to request access to certain groups, rather than only having open and invite-only group settings. It’s also rolled out new measures to clamp down on bot-driven spam groups.

9. Watch the trailer for YouTube esports comedy Good Game

YouTube has released the first trailer for its original esports-based sit-com Good Game (Polygon). The show stars YouTubers and developers the Game Grumps, Dan Avidan and Arin Hanson (most recently in the news for hit dating simulator Dream Daddy) and is executive produced by Dan Harmon (Community, Rick and Morty). The set-up follows the standard sporting underdog model as “an eternal optimist (Dan Avidan) and a miserable slacker (Arin Hanson) recruit a team of misfits to take on the esports establishment by competing for a spot in the biggest KILLCORE tournament of the year— BLOOD MATCH”. While YouTube Red is currently only available in the USA, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea, UK viewers will be able to buy the series directly on YouTube when it launches.

10. Oats Studios releases its first full-CGI free short

Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studios has released its first animated film, Kapture (The Verge). The five-minute CGI short follows a pair of weapons designers as they test their high-tech creations. Blomkamp has described Kapture as “very games-centric”. As with other Oats Studios films, assets will be available to buy on Steam if you want to help fund the project or play with Blomkamp’s designs in your own work.

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