Thursday, May 20, 2010

You get three wishes

Now that the genome is out of the bottle, you'd better make 'em good wishes.

The latest from those crazy kid scientists. They've created a cell with a synthetic genome. What that means is, the entire genetic code that is in these cells was manmade, and made from scratch. In other words, it's entire genome is synthetic. The cell itself is real. Ill-informed or ignorant news reports will suggest otherwise, connoting a Frankensteinian cast to the whole project. And no doubt the Stupids Fox News or similar will get their little panties in a wad over this. Not to worry, and here's why.

Up to now, genetic manipulation of DNA has been piecemeal and rather haphazard. This particular achievement finally allows us to make genetic changes in an orderly and systematic way. Far better and safer than what has occurred up to now - both in the lab and, more importantly, what occurs naturally out there in Nature.

No, really. Nature has a much larger and more thriving business in genetic spit swapping than humans could ever hope to accomplish, and with no protective laboratories or lab protocols in place just in case something goes wrong. Case in point: All of those "frankenfoods" that people worry about? All of those genetically modified crops? Changed naturally through existing bacteria that naturally pass genes from one species to another. We just noticed they did it, and took advantage of it. 

What happens to mutated creatures let loose in Nature? They get slaughtered. Nature has had four billion years of red-in-tooth-and-claw evolution  under her belt. There's not much she hasn't already tried and discarded that poor little monkey boys have thought of.

What about the grey goo scenario? How come some microbes don't find an advantageous mutation that allows them to take over everything? Answer again, four billion years of evolution. There are very few chemical reactions known to Man that haven't already been tried.

So, I'm not worried. I actually think that this the end of dicking around. We will finally have a worthwhile, dependable, proven nanotechnology to start making some truly cool things.

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