15 March 2008

Genetic Engineering: Drew Endy's Edge Interview

Drew Endy is one of the young and edgy bio-engineers who as an MIT professor is shaping the next generation of bio-engineers to be even edgier. Dizzy times? Even dizzier times coming!
Programming DNA is more cool, it's more appealing, it's more powerful than silicon. You have an actual living, reproducing machine; it's nanotechnology that works. It's not some Drexlarian (Eric Drexler) fantasy. And we get to program it. And it's actually a pretty cheap technology. You don't need a FAB Lab like you need for silicon wafers. You grow some stuff up in sugar water with a little bit of nutrients.

...in 2003 I taught a course at MIT, the Synthetic Biology Lab with some colleagues, and we had 16 students. For the last four years this course has been doubling every year, and it's now taught independently at about 60 schools in 30 or 40 countries worldwide, it's called IGEM, the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition. There are teams of teenagers from Germany programming DNA happily there, as well as Australia, Russia, Japan, China. The competition was won by the team from Peking University this year, and six or seven hundred students participated....How do you recognize this exponential and serve it and bring more people to participate in it?

...the previous generation of people working in biotechnology are scientists, and the ones coming up now are engineers. We're going to have to invent our new world of biotechnology and I suspect we'll learn lessons around biological safety from the past generation, but all the other lessons are up for grabs. The bio-security framework is going to collapse. The IT framework based on patents isn't going to scale, and the questions of playing God or not are so superficial and embarrassingly simple that they're not going to be useful in discussion.

There are some people who understand what's going on, and who are in a position, or who have comfort acting on time scales that are relevant. It is interesting for me to learn how difficult it is for folks to appreciate what an exponential technology really implies. The fact that sequencing goes from approximately zero to human genomes in ten years. The same thing is happening with construction of genomes. And with the parts collection—the standard biological parts doubling every year. And the same thing is happening with the number of teenagers who would like to do genetic engineering; it's doubling every year. How do you actually live in a world where you're surfing that exponential in a way that's constructive and responsible? Very few people get that.___Edge.org

Anyone trying to predict the future beyond the next 5 or 10 years in bio-medicine, bio-energy, bio-weapons, bio-nanotech, etc. is clearly at a disadvantage. Because there is absolutely no way of knowing what this djinn is going to do, now that it is out of its bottle.

New technology is allowing the talented and skilled youth of today and tomorrow entry into worlds of power and performance previously limited to only a few. The need for wise oversight and guidance has never been greater.

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Blogger kurt9 said...

The come tools of biohacking will do to biotechnology that the PC and the internet did to information.

Of course the current parasitical top-down institutions are not going to like this because they will soon be obsolete. So, you will hear lots and lots of shrieking on the part of these parasites for more "regulation and oversight". I, for one, plan to ignore this shrieking.

Large scale social institutions are a disease. DIY biotech and nanotech are the cure.

Saturday, 15 March, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Spoken like a good anarchist, Kurt. My thoughts ran in that direction not so long ago.

My concerns are not so much for the survival of large scale social institutions. My perspective is fairly well laid out over the (almost) three years of this blog.

Monday, 17 March, 2008  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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