Thursday, May 30, 2013

Synthetic biology: "We are democratizing creation"

Bio-Hackers, Get Ready | TechCrunch:

'via Blog this'

Two of the most cutting edge and potentially transformative technologies under development are the virtualization of DNA into software code that can be easily manipulated, and desktop gene sequences or compilers that that allow that code to be transformed back into genes and inserted into living cells.

Some of the hacks this technology makes possible are relatively simple, like copying and pasting in a single gene or small set of genes to create a bioluminescent tree or mouse. Making more significant alterations like significantly changing the morphology (shape) of an organism in a fashion that won't kill it or prove maladaptive is much more complex and safely beyond the bleeding edge of our knowledge at this point. Then again, the average software coder these days has access to the kinds of editing tools and code libraries that allow her to create applications that would have taken an entire department to write 30 years ago. The same increasing ease of manipulation will probably prove true of genes and chromosomes over the next thirty years or so.

It's entirely possible that the next generation of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Wozniaks will spend their formative entrepreneurial years noodling around with latptops and desktop compilers in their garages, creating bacteria that produce everything from pharmaceuticals to to ultra-cheap conductors and self-healing materials.

The Techcrunch article above has one of the best short writes up on these two dovetailing technologies,  and on a pair of companies who are styling themselves the hardware - software  Wintel* alliance of the coming biotechnology revolution. It's very much worth five minutes to get an idea of where this field is headed.

Also, on a totally unrelated note: Does anyone else think that it's time to pull the genome for Ebola off the internet? Or that making the genetics of the 1918 Spanish Influenza publicly available might come back and bite us in the ass in the not-so-distant future?  Maybe it's just me, but it seems like having those online in an age of desktop gene compiling is a staggeringly bad idea.

*A long-running alliance between Microsoft and Intel

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