We Print Life

madscientistGlowing Plants is a new start-up company that wants to make light bulbs and outdoor lighting extinct with DNA manipulated plants and trees that glow in the dark.   Unless they come with an off switch I don’t think I’d be interested! Even after watching the video I thought it was a joke but subsequent research opened my eyes to a world I had no idea existed, a world I’m not so sure should, exist that is.

Antony Evans, one of the founders of Glowing Plant, believes that “being able to control and manipulate living things changes, at a fundamental level, what it means to even be human. It offers us the prospect of extending life, feeding everyone, creating a sustainable planet.” If man being able to control and manipulate living things isn’t scary enough for you, Glowing Plants will be purchasing the DNA they plan to manipulate from another new company, Cambrian Genomics.

Cambrian Genomics is the brainchild of Austen Heinz, a Duke University graduate, who recently told an audience of scientists in Austria that “every living thing is intrinsically flawed and in need of genetic modification.” Even scarier is the fact that Heinz envisions a future where nothing is natural and everything is created in a lab using synthetic DNA strands imprinted on glass slides; where one day humanity might be able to do away with, well, humanity, and all other forms of life.

Heinz isn’t into cloning – he wants to start fresh and create new organisms to replace existing organism. “It just seems obvious that eventually every human will be designed on a computer.” And, he wants the right to this uninhibited by government interference or regulations.

His future plan is to make DNA printing, a technology he developed while studying electrical engineering and computer science, part of his doctorate program in South Korea available to the common man; anyone and everyone with a credit card and a 3D Laser printer. It is what Heinz calls Democratizing creation, even though he admits his vision for the future could end up killing everyone on the planet.

Cambrian is connected to a database where users can drag and drop genes to create their product. A potential disaster could occur when users search outside the database and download sequences for diseases such as Ebola. This technology will open up avenues of bioterrorism never before imagined. The only protection against abuse Cambrian uses is a program that looks for homology between the sequences to determine what the sequence represents, something that he is willing to admit won’t happen if orders dramatically increase in the next several years.

Craig Venter, the geneticist who made headlines in 2010 when he and colleagues created the first self-replicating cell with a synthetic genome, is also a big supporter of DNA printing, which he says could easily allow people to one day download, print and inject vaccines at home. He does concede however that this technology is open for abuse and could lead to the creation of dangerous bioweapons such as retroviruses. He also admitted that DNA printing would have to be extremely accurate because any small changes could lead to proteins working in unforeseen, potentially dangerous ways

Heinz and other scientists have years of technical hurdles to clear before they can actually create living breathing humans from a plate of printed DNA. God help us if that ever happens.

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