Today, science uses a virus to help restore sight to the blind, learns something new about thought-controlled technology, joins Seattle’s Infinity Box Theatre Project in exploring the future of artificial intelligence, and, after May’s 400 ppm milestone, closes Seattle’s Science Festival with an earnest discussion of climate change—and an opera.

A relatively easy new gene therapy shows great promise for restoring sight
UC Berkeley researchers have developed an effective gene therapy for restoring eyesight in two types of hereditary blindness. The procedure uses a virus to deliver normal genes to a hard-to-reach retinal area that has defective genes. Photoreceptor cells incorporate the new gene into their chromosomes and sight is restored.

A similar therapy has been done in the past, but the viruses used weren’t able to travel very far, so they had to be injected directly into the retina—a much more invasive procedure with a risk of retinal detachment. The new procedure uses viruses that are able to penetrate tissues all the way in the back of the eye from an injection into the vitreous humor (the clear gel that fills most of the eyeball). Scientists hope the treatment will one day be helpful for a variety of blinding diseases, including age-related ones like macular degeneration.

With brain-computer interfacing, moving a robotic limb with your thoughts could become second nature
It’s not new that science has been exploring thought-controlled computer interfaces—electrodes placed on the brain can be activated through thought activity and signal computers. What is new is the study UW published Monday. Researchers found that test subjects who worked with brain-computer interfacing engaged their prefrontal cortex when first learning to do tasks, but fairly quickly switched to patterns associated with automatic behaviors.

Scientists and playwrights get dramatic about robots on Thursday
Who: Five local scientists, five local playwrights.
What: Thought Experiments on the Question of Being Human: a series of five plays exploring innovations in the present and future of robotics—as artificial intelligence progresses, what separates us from our inventions? Each play will be performed as a staged reading, followed by a scientist-led discussion.
When: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings (see schedule)
Where: Downstairs at Town Hall; enter on Seneca
Tickets for each event are $5, or a $17 Seattle Science Festival pass gets you in as well. More info.

Enviro-experts and journalists talk climate change on Friday
Who: Climate scientists Dr. Kevin Trenberth and Dr. Richard Alley, NY Times journalist Andrew Revkin, and environmental journalist Usha McFarling.
What: Closing night of the Seattle Science Festival. In a TED-style event, each expert will give a multimedia presentation about the most pressing issues and promising ideas about climate change. Then the Seattle Opera, along with the Youth Chorus, will perform a special 30-minute opera about nature in the Pacific Northwest, called Heron and the Salmon Girl.
When: Friday night, 7:30 pm
Where: Seattle Repertory Theater
Tickets are $15 for students, $30 general, and $60 premium. More info.

And here’s a bit of Dr. Richard Alley dancing to climate change: