In today’s Bulldog wrapup of technology and science news:

  • Uber lands $3.5 billion in investment from Saudi fund
  • The Sims removes gender barriers
  • An MIT bionics expert wins a prestigious prize
  • Scientists discover a coral graveyard in Pacific

The details:

  • Uber raises $3.5 billion from Saudi investment fund

Uber said Wednesday it is getting a massive cash infusion from Saudi Arabia.

The oil-rich nation’s sovereign investment fund is putting $3.5 billion into the global transportation company, and will get a seat on Uber’s board of directors.

Funding for new tech companies has been slowing down in recent months amid concerns that many startups have been over-valued. But San Francisco-based Uber has been able to raise billions of dollars as it pursues ambitious plans to expand around the world.

Uber says its internet-based ride-hailing service now operates in nine countries of the Middle East, one of its fastest-growing markets. Eighty percent of its passengers in Saudi Arabia are women. The country doesn’t allow women to drive.

The Saudi money is part of a larger round of funding by several investors, which valued Uber at $62.5 billion. The company, which has raised well over $14 billion since its founding in 2009, says it now has more than $11 billion in cash and available credit tofund its expansion.

Uber’s regional rivals have also reported big investments this year, as on-demand ride services have grown in popularity. Apple recently invested $1 billion in China’s Didi Chuxing, while General Motors has put $500 million into U.S.-based Lyft.

  • ‘The Sims’ removes gender barriers in video game

The creators of “The Sims” are opening up gender customization options for the first time in the long-running history of the popular life simulation video game.

“The Sims” publisher Electronic Arts and developer Maxis said a free update available Thursday for “The Sims 4” will remove gender boundaries and allow players to create virtual townsfolk — or Sims, as they’re known — with any type of physique, walk style or voice they choose.

“The Sims 4” and earlier installments of the 16-year-old series previously restricted specific clothing, hair styles and other aesthetic options to either male or female characters.

EA and Maxis said over 700 pieces of content previously available to only male or female Sims will now be accessible regardless of gender in “The Sims 4” and its various expansion packs.

The studio said in a statement it wanted to “make sure players can create characters they can identify with or relate to through powerful tools that give them influence over a Sims’ gender, age, ethnicity, body type and more.”

While previous editions of “The Sims” have featured character customization restrictions based on gender, users have unofficially modified the PC game over the years to remove such barriers.

“The Sims 4” executive producer Rachel Franklin said in an email to The Associated Press that the developers have been working for over a year on the update. She noted that “female Sims can wear sharp men’s suits like Ellen (DeGeneres), and male Sims can wear heels like Prince.”

Franklin also noted players can now change their Sims’ gender at any time and specify whether they can reproduce with other characters. She said Maxis worked with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group GLAAD on the update, including following a suggestion to remove gender symbols associated with characters in the game’s gallery.

The move brings “The Sims” in line with its depiction of gay, lesbian and bisexual characters.

The franchise has included same-sex relationship options since its 2000 debut, although gamers who desired virtual nuptials for their Sims of the same sex had to wait until the release of “The Sims 3” in 2009.

The gaming medium rarely depicts or invites users to create transgender characters. The fantasy role-playing game “Dragon Age: Inquisition” from EA and developer BioWare notably featured a transgender male character named Krem in 2014.

  • US bionic engineer Hugh Herr wins prestigious Spanish prize

American bionic limb specialist Hugh Herr won Spain’s Princess of Asturias 2016 scientific research prize Wednesday in recognition of his work to improve mobility for people with disabilities.

Herr, 51, currently heads the Biomechatronic Group at the MIT Media Lab in Massachusetts, where he developed what has been described as the world’s most sophisticated ankle prostheses, prize organizers said.

Now a renowned expert in bionics and biomechanics, Herr had both legs amputated below the knee at 17 after suffering severe frostbite while mountain climbing. He subsequently directed his talents to developing technology to help people with similar problems, including special legs for himself that allowed him to continue practicing climbing.

The Asturias foundation said Herr’s research has resulted in “a class of biohybrid, ‘smart’ prostheses that are accelerating the merging of body and machine and amplifying endurance and strength.”

  • Scientists: Vibrant US marine reserve now a coral graveyard

El Nino’s super warm water has turned what had been one of the world’s most lush and isolated tropical marine reserve into a coral graveyard, federal scientists said Wednesday.

Researchers finishing an emergency undersea expedition found 95 percent of the coral dead around Jarvis Island in the Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument . In November, much of the coral had bleached white but was alive.

“There’s hardly anything left on the bottom in terms of the coral. It basically looks like a graveyard,” said the expedition chief scientist Bernardo Vargas-Angel of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The skeletons are still there but they are covered with algae.”

The algae was red, the color of blood or wine, and below it was a sea of dead coral, he said, returning from a 10-day diving expedition to the region along the equator, 1,400 miles southwest of Hawaii.

Scientists say the area around Jarvis Island is a special place that normally looks like something out of a technical color movie, vibrant with coral, plankton, fish and sharks. A unique ocean current normally brings cold water up from the deep, making it teem with life, said Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientist Anne Cohen, who is involved in the research but wasn’t on this trip.

“It’s like the Super Bowl of coral reefs, this place,” Cohen said. “The coral cover is astronomical. The amount of life that it supports is just sky high: fish, turtle, dolphins, sharks. You name it, you find it there in large numbers.”