Thought for the day: the genome of a cell is its software. “Mad” scientists like CJ. Venter are already finding out how to ‘install linux’ on bacterial ‘hardware’ by swapping out its own chromosome with that of another bacteria, or even a man-made chromosome.
And for some time now we have been editing the software of many cells out there: adding anti-pesticide genes, swapping out some genes to put in drought-resistant ones to help prevent famine in Africa and to deal with climate change, and in the lab it’s a daily occurrence, making certain proteins in bacteria ‘glow’ under UV light (so you can track them as they move around) by pasting in some code that we took from a squid’s software, or that of a firefly.
Meanwhile, machines to synthesise DNA (put together the long strings of A, T, G, C nucleotides in specific order) – i.e. to ‘burn the code on a cd rom’ – are getting smaller, more accurate and more affordable. It may not be long before they’re the size of a desktop printer.
Imagine, if you will, a future in which more of your food is grown by you – apart from animals, which are too hard to keep and farm in cities (I’m assuming that like most people, you live in a city). This cuts transportation costs, is safer from bioterrorism, and gives you more flexibility and independence from rising food prices as the world’s population grows. Presumably this food takes the shape of plants, fungi (like quorn, but hopefully a lot more tasty!) and ‘friendly’ bacteria like you eat in Yakult.
You will have the power to ‘upgrade the software’ on your food by downloading a ‘patch’ from “Micro(-biology)soft Update”, synthesise the DNA, zap it into your existing self-renewing stock of plant seeds/fungi/friendly bacteria, and thus improve your food intake.
Here are some examples:
- You find out you’re pregnant – just download the code for a gene that boosts the folic acid production of your carrots or your single-celled algae.
- Maybe you’re bored with the flavour of your quorn? Go to download.com and download the ‘popcorn’ taste program and swap out the genes (programs) for soy sauce flavour.
- Maybe you’ve just found out that you have a gene likely to make your eyesight degrade at a relatively young age? Many people do. Upregulate the Vitamin A gene by putting a couple more copies in.
- Maybe your husband would like to try this new strain of yeast in his beer microbrewery that his coworker just started using and gives the beer a richer aroma. Or to make it less gassy to please his flatulence-intolerant wife.
- Or maybe Micro(bio)soft needs to install a security patch to make your food resistant (and pass on that resistance to you, as an edible vaccine) to stop this annoying virus that some (bio)hacker has created
- Or they’ve found a way to make your fuel crop convert sunlight and urban CO2 to plant cellulose even faster, so you can upgrade the biofuel crop that’s growing in one corner of your rooftop. This means you can generate electricity even better than before, and sell your surplus back to the urban grid and get even more income from it.
Once the software on your food has been edited, just take it back up to your roof, or your balcony, or your windows (fungi and bacteria don’t need much space) and sow the seeds in the plant bed or seed your fungi/algae/friendly bacteria ‘aquarium’ with the new crop – it’ll have grown by Tuesday, in time for dinner.
The starting point would be Yakult having a website where you can go and customise the friendly bacteria that they put into their yoghurts and then deliver to your doorstep.
- Stewart Brand, on viruses and the scale of things
- People don't quite realise quite how prevalent viruses are. For example, the number of viruses on Earth is currently estimated to be 1 followed by 31 zeroes. For more food for thought, read on......
- Microbial fuel cell not just a hydrogen creator, can also generate electricity
- I keenly follow latest breakthroughs in biomedical science, neuroscience and bionanotechnology – I figure I could share some of that on this blog, if it’s something you’d like to see more, please let me know. The Fuel Cell Bacteria: not only can Rhodopseudomonas palustris use light to create hydrogen, it’s also got an amazing superpower: [...]...
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